And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts around him thickened,
'Twas not from sickness' shots.
No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful eye,
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world,
By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great.
Emmeline Grangerford, a character in Huckleberry Finn, is a parody of real-life poet, Julia Moore, who was dubbed "The Sweet Singer of Michigan." Twain himself said of Moore than she had "the touch that makes an intentionally humorous episode pathetic and an intentionally pathetic one funny." We can see that so very clearly in this poem inside Huckleberry Finn, where Emmeline describes the death of an unfortunate boy, Stephen Dowling Bots. She learned of him by reading the obituaries section of the Presbyterian Observer. Emmeline loved nothing more than to write maudlin elegies to all of the obituaries she saw.
The poem is hilarious, frankly. I'm particularly tickled by "They got him out and emptied him." It's like deflating a sponge. As Twain said of Moore, this poem really did make a pathetic incident comedic.