Home  »  Specimens of American Poetry  »  John Trumbull (1750–1831)

Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.

By M’Fingal, Canto III

John Trumbull (1750–1831)

NOW warm with ministerial ire,

Fierce sallied forth our loyal ’squire,

And on his striding steps attends

His desperate clan of tory friends.

When sudden met his wrathful eye

A pole ascending through the sky,

Which numerous throngs of whiggish race

Were raising in the market-place.

Not higher school-boys’ kites aspire,

Or royal mast, or country spire;

Like spears at Brobdignagian tilting,

Or Satan’s walking-staff in Milton.

And on its top, the flag unfurl’d

Waved triumph o’er the gazing world,

Inscribed with inconsistent types

Of liberty and thirteen stripes.

Beneath, the crowd without delay

The dedication-rites essay,

And gladly pay, in ancient fashion,

The ceremonies of libation;

While briskly to each patriot lip

Walks eager round the inspiring flip:

Delicious draught! whose powers inherit

The quintessence of public spirit;

Which whoso tastes, perceives his mind

To nobler politics refined;

Or roused to martial controversy,

As from transforming cups of Circe;

Or warm’d with Homer’s nectar’d liquor,

That fill’d the veins of gods with ichor.

At hand for new supplies in store,

The tavern opes its friendly door,

Whence to and fro the waiters run,

Like bucket-men at fires in town.

Then with three shouts that tore the sky,

’T is consecrate to liberty.

To guard it from the attacks of tories,

A grand committee cull’d of four is;

Who foremost on the patriot spot,

Had brought the flip, and paid the shot.

By this, M’Fingal with his train

Advanced upon the adjacent plain,

And full with loyalty possess’d,

Pour’d forth the zeal that fired his breast.

“What mad-brain’d rebel gave commission,

To raise this May-pole of sedition?

Like Babel, rear’d by bawling throngs,

With like confusion too of tongues,

To point at heaven, and summon down

The thunders of the British crown?

Say, will this paltry pole secure

Your forfeit heads from Gage’s power?

Attack’d by heroes brave and crafty,

Is this to stand your ark of safety;

Or driven by Scottish laird and laddie,

Think ye to rest beneath its shadow?

When bombs, like fiery serpents, fly,

And balls rush hissing through the sky,

Will this vile pole, devote to freedom,

Save like the Jewish pole in Edom;

Or like the brazen snake of Moses,

Cure your crack’d sculls and batter’d noses?

“Ye dupes to every factious rogue

And tavern-prating demagogue,

Whose tongue but rings, with sound more full,

On the empty drumhead of his scull;

Behold you not what noisy fools

Use you, worse simpletons, for tools?

For liberty, in your own by-sense,

Is but for crimes a patent license,

To break of law the Egyptian yoke,

And throw the world in common stock;

Reduce all grievances and ills

To Magna Charta of your wills;

Establish cheats, and frauds, and nonsense,

Framed to the model of your conscience;

Cry justice down, as out of fashion,

And fix its scale of depreciation;

Defy all creditors to trouble ye,

And keep new years of Jewish jubilee;

Drive judges out, like Aaron’s calves,

By jurisdiction of white staves,

And make the bar, and bench, and steeple,

Submit t’ our sovereign lord, the people:

By plunder rise to power and glory,

And brand all property, as tory;

Expose all wares to lawful seizures

By mobbers or monopolizers;

Break heads, and windows, and the peace,

For your own interest and increase;

Dispute, and pray, and fight, and groan,

For public good, and mean your own;

Prevent the law by fierce attacks

From quitting scores upon your backs;

Lay your old dread, the gallows, low,

And seize the stocks, your ancient foe,

And turn them to convenient engines

To wreak your patriotic vengeance;

While all, your rights who understand,

Confess them in their owner’s hand;

And when by clamors and confusions,

Your freedom’s grown a public nuisance,

Cry ‘liberty,’ with powerful yearning,

As he does ‘fire!’ whose house is burning;

Though he already has much more

Than he can find occasion for.

While every clown; that tills the plains,

Though bankrupt in estate and brains,

By this new light transform’d to traitor,

Forsakes his plough to turn dictator,

Starts an haranguing chief of whigs,

And drags you by the ears, like pigs,

All bluster, arm’d with factious license,

New-born at once to politicians.

Each leather-apron dunce, grown wise,

Presents his forward face t’ advise,

And tatter’d legislators meet,

From every workshop through the street.

His goose the tailor finds new use in,

To patch and turn the Constitution;

The blacksmith comes with sledge and grate

To iron-bind the wheels of state;

The quack forbears his patient’s souse,

To purge the council and the house;

The tinker quits his moulds and doxies,

To cast assembly-men and proxies,

From dunghills deep of blackest hue,

Your dirt-bred patriots spring to view,

To wealth and powers and honors rise,

Like new-wing’d maggots changed to flies,

And fluttering round in high parade,

Strut in the robe, or gay cockade.

See Arnold quits, for ways more certain,

His bankrupt-perj’ries for his fortune,

Brews rum no longer in his store,

Jocky and skipper now no more:

And cleansed by patriotism from shame,

Grows General of the foremost name.

For in this ferment of the stream

The dregs have work’d up to the brim,

And by the rule of topsy-turvies,

The scum stands foaming on the surface.

You ’ve caused your pyramid t’ ascend,

And set it on the little end.

Like Hudibras your empire ’s made,

Whose crupper had o’ertopp’d his head.

You ’ve push’d and turn’d the whole world up-

Side down, and got yourselves at top,

While all the great ones of your state

Are crush’d beneath the popular weight;

Nor can you boast, this present hour,

The shadow of the form of power.

For what ’s your Congress or its end?

A power t’ advise and recommend;

To call forth troops, adjust your quotas—

And yet no soul is bound to notice;

To pawn your faith to the utmost limit,

But cannot bind you to redeem it;

And when in want, no more in them lies,

Than begging from your state assemblies;

Can utter oracles of dread,

Like friar Bacon’s brazen head,

But when a faction dares dispute ’em,

Has ne’er an arm to execute ’em:

As though you chose supreme dictators,

And put them under conservators.

You ’ve but pursued the self-same way

With Shakespeare’s Trinc’lo in the play;

“You shall be viceroys here, ’t is true,

But we ’ll be viceroys over you.”

What wild confusion hence must ensue?

Though common danger yet cements yon:

So some wreck’d vessel, all in shatters,

Is held up by surrounding waters,

But stranded, when the pressure ceases,

Falls by its rottenness to pieces.

And fall it must! if wars were ended,

You ’ll ne’er have sense enough to mend it:

But creeping on, by low intrigues,

Like vermin of a thousand legs,

’T will find as short a life assign’d,

As all things else of reptile kind.

Your Commonwealth ’s a common harlot,

The property of every varlet;

Which now in taste, and full employ,

All sorts admire, as all enjoy:

But soon a batter’d strumpet grown,

You ’ll curse and drum her out of town.

Such is the government you chose;

For this you bade the world be foes;

For this, so mark’d for dissolution,

You scorn the British Constitution,

That Constitution form’d by sages,

The wonder of all modern ages;

Which owns no failure in reality,

Except corruption and venality;

And merely proves the adage just,

That best things spoil’d corrupt to worst:

So man supreme in earthly station,

And mighty lord of this creation,

When once his corse is dead as herring,

Becomes the most offensive carrion,

And sooner breeds the plague, ’t is found,

Than all beasts rotting on the ground.

Yet with republics to dismay us,

You ’ve call’d up Anarchy from chaos,

With all the followers of her school,

Uproar, and rage, and wild misrule:

For whom this rout of whigs distracted,

And ravings dire of every crack’d head;

These new-cast legislative engines

Of county meetings and conventions;

Committees vile of correspondence,

And mobs, whose tricks have almost undone’s:

While reason fails to check your course,

And loyality ’s kick’d out of doors,

And folly, like inviting landlord,

Hoists on your poles her royal standard;

While the king’s friends, in doleful dumps,

Have worn their courage to the stumps,

And leaving George in sad disaster,

Most sinfully deny their master.

What furies raged when you, in sea,

In shape of Indians, drown’d the tea;

When your gay sparks, fatigued to watch it,

Assumed the moggison and hachet,

With wampum’d blankets hid their laces,

And like their sweethearts, primed their faces:

While not a red-coat dared oppose,

And scarce a tory showed his nose

While Hutchinson, for sure retreat,

Manœuvred to his country seat,

And thence affrighted, in the suds,

Stole off bareheaded through the woods.

“Have you not roused your mobs to join,

And make Mandamus-men resign,

Call’d forth each duffil-dress’d curmudgeon,

With dirty trousers and white bludgeon,

Forced all our councils through the land,

To yield their necks at your command;

While paleness marks their late disgraces,

Through all their rueful length of faces?

“Have you not caused us woful work

In our good city of New York,

When all the rabble, well cockaded,

In triumph through the streets paraded,

And mobb’d the tories, scared their spouses,

And ransack’d all the custom-houses;

Made such a tumult, bluster, jarring,

That ’mid the clash of tempests warring,

Smith’s weather-cock, in veers forlorn,

Could hardly tell which way to turn?

Burn’d effiges of higher powers,

Contrived in planetary hours;

As witches with clay-images

Destroy or torture whom they please:

Till fired with rage, the effulgent club

Spared not your best friend, Beelzebub,

O’erlook’d his favors, and forgot

The reverence due his cloven foot,

And in the selfsame furnace frying,

Stew’d him, and North, and Bute, and Tryon?

Did you not, in as vile and shallow way,

Fright our poor Philadelphian, Galloway,

Your Congress, when the loyal ribald

Belied, berated and bescribbled?

What ropes and halters did you send,

Terrific emblems of his end,

Till, lest he ’d hang in more than effigy,

Fled in a fog the trembling refugee?

Now rising in progression fatal,

Have you not ventured to give battle?

When treason chased our heroes troubled,

With rusty gun, and leathern doublet;

Turn’d all stone walls, and groves, and bushes,

To batteries arm’d with blunderbusses;

And with deep wounds, that fate portend,

Gall’d many a Briton’s latter end;

Drove them to Boston, as in jail,

Confined without mainprize or bail.

Were not these deeds enough betimes,

To heap the measure of your crimes:

But in this loyal town and dwelling,

You raise these ensigns of rebellion?

’T is done! fair mercy shuts her door;

And vengeance now shall sleep no more.

Rise then, my friends, in terror rise,

And sweep this scandal from the skies.

You ’ll see their Dagon, though well jointed,

Will shrink before the Lord’s anointed;

And like old Jericho’s proud wall,

Before our ram’s horns prostrate fall.”

This said, our ’Squire, yet undismay’d,

Call’d forth the constable to aid,

And bade him read, in nearer station,

The riot-act and proclamation.

He swift, advancing to the ring,

Began, “Our sovereign lord, the king”—

When thousand clamorous tongues he hears,

And clubs and stones assail his ears.

To fly was vain, to fight was idle;

By foes encompassed in the middle,

His hope, in stratagems, he found,

And fell right craftily to ground;

Then crept to seek an hiding place,

’T was all he could, beneath a brace;

Where soon the conquering crew espied him,

And where he lurk’d, they caught and tied him.

At once with resolution fatal,

Both whigs and tories rush’d to battle.

Instead of weapons, either band

Seized on such arms as came to hand.

And as famed Ovid paints the adventures

Of wrangling Lapithæ and Centaurs,

Who at their feast, by Bacchus led,

Threw bottles at each other’s head;

And these arms failing in their scuffles,

Attack’d with andirons, tongs and shovels,

So clubs and billets, staves and stones

Met fierce, encountering every sconce,

And covered o’er with knobs and pains

Each void receptacle for brains,

Their clamors rend the skies around,

The hills rebellow to the sound;

And many a groan increased the din

From batter’d nose and broken shin.

M’Fingal, rising at the word,

Drew forth his old militia-sword;

Thrice cried “King George,” as erst in distress,

Knights of romance invoked a mistress;

And brandishing the blade in air,

Struck terror through the opposing war.

The whigs, unsafe within the wind

Of such commotion, shrunk behind.

With whirling steel around address’d,

Fierce through their thickest throng he press’d,

(Who roll’d on either side in arch,

Like Red Sea waves in Israel’s march)

And like a meteor rushing through,

Struck on their pole a vengeful blow.

Around, the whigs, of clubs and stones

Discharged whole volleys in platoons,

That o’er in whistling fury fly;

But not a foe dares venture nigh.

And now perhaps with glory crown’d

Our ’Squire had fell’d the pole to ground,

Had not some power, a whig at heart,

Descended down and took their part;

(Whether ’t were Pallas, Mars or Iris,

’T is scarce worth while to make inquiries)

Who at the nick of time alarming,

Assumed the solemn form of chairman,

Addressed a whig, in every scene

The stoutest wrestler on the green,

And pointed where the spade was found,

Late used to set their pole in ground,

And urged, with equal arms and might,

To dare our ’Squire to single fight.

The whig thus arm’d, untaught to yield,

Advanced tremendous to the field:

Nor did M’Fingal shun the foe,

But stood to brave the desperate blow;

While all the party gazed, suspended

To see the deadly combat ended;

And Jove in equal balance weigh’d

The sword against the brandish’d spade:

He weigh’d; but lighter than a dream,

The sword flew up, and kick’d the beam.

Our ’Squire on tiptoe rising fair

Lifts high a noble stroke in air,

Which hung not, but like dreadful engines,

Descended on his foe in vengeance.

But ah! in danger, with dishonor

The sword perfidious fails its owner;

That sword, which oft had stood its ground,

By huge trainbands encircled round;

And on the bench, with blade right loyal,

Had won the day at many a trial,

Of stones and clubs had braved the alarms,

Shrunk from these new Vulcanian arms.

The spade so temper’d from the sledge,

Nor keen nor solid harm’d its edge,

Now met it, from his arm of might,

Descending with steep force to smite;

The blade snapp’d short—and from his hand,

With rust embrown’d the glittering sand.

Swift turn’d M’Fingal at the view,

And call’d to aid the attendant crew,

In vain; the tories all had run,

When scarce the fight was well begun;

Their setting wigs he saw decreased

Far in the horizon toward the west.

Amazed he view’d the shameful sight,

And saw no refuge, but in flight;

But age unwieldly check’d his pace,

Though fear had wing’d his flying race;

For not a trifling prize at stake;

No less than great M’Fingal’s back.

With legs and arms he work’d his course,

Like rider that outgoes his horse,

And labor’d hard to get away, as

Old Satan struggling on through chaos;

Till looking back, he spied in rear

The spade-arm’d chief advanced too near:

Then stopp’d and seized a stone, that lay

An ancient landmark near the way;

Nor shall we, as old bards have done,

Affirm it weigh’d an hundred ton;

But such a stone, as at a shift

A modern might suffice to lift,

Since men, to credit their enigmas,

Are dwindled down to dwarfs and pigmies,

And giants exiled with their cronies

To Brobdignags and Patagonias.

But while our hero turn’d him round,

And tugg’d to raise it from the ground,

The fatal spade discharged a blow

Tremendous on his rear below:

His bent knee fail’d, and void of strength

Stretch’d on the ground his manly length.

Like ancient oak o’erturn’d, he lay,

Or tower to tempests fallen a prey,

Or mountains sunk with all his pines,

Or flower the plough to dust consigns,

And more things else—but all men know ’em,

If slightly versed in epic poem.

At once the crew, at this dread crisis,

Fall on, and bind him, ere he rises;

And with loud shouts and joyful soul,

Conduct him prisoner to the pole.

When now the mob in lucky hour

Had got their enemies in their power,

They first proceed, by grave command,

To take the constable in hand.

Then from the pole’s sublimest top

The active crew let down the rope,

At once its other end in haste bind,

And make it fast upon his waistband;

Till like the earth, as stretch’d on tenter,

He hung self-balanced on his centre.

Then upwards, all hands hoisting sail,

They swung him, like a keg of ale,

Till to the pinnacle in height

He vaulted, like balloon or kite.

As Socrates of old at first did

To aid philosophy get hoisted,

And found his thoughts flow strangely clear,

Swung in a basket in mid air:

Our culprit thus, in purer sky,

With like advantage raised his eye,

And looking forth in prospect wide,

His tory errors clearly spied,

And from his elevated station,

With bawling voice began addressing.

“Good gentlemen, and friends, and kin,

For heaven’s sake hear, if not for mine!

I here renounce the Pope, the Turks,

The king, the devil, and all their works;

And will, set me but once at ease,

Turn whig or Christian, what you please;

And always mind your rules so justly,

Should I live long as old Methus’lah,

I ’ll never join in British rage,

Nor help Lord North, nor General Gage;

Nor lift my gun in future fights,

Nor take away your charter-rights;

Nor overcome your new-raised levies,

Destroy your towns, nor burn your navies;

Nor cut your poles down while I ’ve breath,

Though raised more thick than hatchel-teeth:

But leave king George and all his elves

To do their conquering work themselves.”

This said, they lower’d him down in state,

Spread at all points, like falling cat;

But took a vote first on the question,

That they ’d accept this full confession,

And to their fellowship and favor,

Restore him on his good behaviour.

Not so our ’Squire submits to rule,

But stood, heroic as a mule.

“You ’ll find it all in vain,” quoth he,

“To play your rebel tricks on me.

All punishments, the world can render,

Serve only to provoke the offender;

The will gains strength from treatment horrid,

As hides grow harder when they’re curried.

No man e’er felt the halter draw,

With good opinion of the law;

Or held in method orthodox

His love of justice, in the stocks;

Or fail’d to lose by sheriffs’ shears

At once his loyalty and ears.

Have you made Murray look less big,

Or smoked old Williams to a whig?

Did our mobb’d Oliver quit his station,

Or heed his vows of resignation?

Has Rivington, in dread of stripes,

Ceased lying since you stole his types?

And can you think my faith will alter,

By tarring, whipping, or the halter?

I ’ll stand the worst; for recompense

I trust king George and Providence.

And when with conquest gain’d I come,

Array’d in law and terror home,

Ye ’ll rue this inauspicious morn,

And curse the day when ye were born,

In Job’s high style of imprecations,

With all his plagues, without his patience.”

Meanwhile, beside the pole, the guard

A bench of justice had prepared,

Where sitting round in awful sort

The grand committee hold their court;

While all the crew, in silent awe,

Wait from their lips the lore of law.

Few moments with deliberation

They hold the solemn consultation;

When soon in judgment all agree,

And clerk proclaims the dread decree;

“That ’Squire M’Fingal having grown

The vilest tory in the town,

And now in full examination

Convicted by his own confession,

Finding no tokens of repentance,

This court proceeds to render sentence:

That first the mob a slip-knot single

Tie round the neck of said M’Fingal,

And in due form do tar him next,

And feather, as the law directs;

Then through the town attendant ride him

In cart with constable beside him,

And having held him up to shame,

Bring to the pole, from whence he came.”

Forthwith the crowd proceed to deck

With halter’d noose M’Fingal’s neck,

While he in peril of his soul

Stood tied half-hanging to the pole;

Then lifting high the ponderous jar,

Pour’d o’er his head the smoking tar.

With less profusion once was spread

Oil on the Jewish monarch’s head,

That down his beard and vestments ran,

And cover’d all his outward man.

As when (so Claudian sings) the gods

And earth-born giants fell at odds,

The stout Enceladus in malice

Tore mountains up to throw at Pallas;

And while he held them o’er his head,

The river, from their fountains fed,

Pour’d down his back its copious tide,

And wore its channels in his hide:

So from the high-raised urn the torrents

Spread down his side their various currents;

His flowing wig, as next the brim,

First met and drank the sable stream;

Adown his visage stern and grave

Roll’d and adhered the viscid wave;

With arms depending as he stood,

Each cuff capacious holds the flood;

From nose and chin’s remotest end,

The tarry icicles descend;

Till all o’erspread, with colors gay,

He glitter’d to the western ray,

Like sleet-bound trees in wintry skies,

Or Lapland idol carved in ice.

And now the feather’d bag display’d

Is waved in triumph o’er his head,

And clouds him o’er with feathers missive,

And down, upon the tar, adhesive:

Not Maia’s son, with wings for ears,

Such plumage round his visage wears;

Nor Milton’s six-wing’d angel gathers

Such superfluity of feathers.

Now all complete appears our ’Squire,

Like Gorgon or Chimæra dire;

Nor more could boast on Plato’s plan

To rank among the race of man,

Or prove his claim to human nature,

As a two-legg’d, unfeather’d creature.

Then on the fatal cart, in state

They raised our grand Duumvirate,

And as at Rome a like committee,

Who found an owl within their city,

With solemn rites and grave processions

At every shrine perform’d lustrations;

And lest infection might take place

From such grim fowl with feather’d face,

All Rome attends him through the street

In triumph to his country seat:

With like devotion all the choir

Paraded round our awful ’Squire;

In front the martial music comes

Of horns and fiddles, fifes and drums,

With jingling sound of carriage bells,

And treble creak of rusted wheels.

Behind, the crowd, in lengthen’d row

With proud procession closed the show.

And at fit periods every throat

Combined in universal shout;

And hail’d great liberty in chorus,

Or bawl’d ‘confusion to the tories.’

Not louder storm the welkin braves

From clamors of conflicting waves;

Less dire in Lybian wilds the noise

When ravening lions lift their voice;

Or triumphs at town-meetings made,

On passing votes to regulate trade.

Thus having borne them round the town,

Last at the pole they set them down;

And to the tavern take their way

To end in mirth the festal day.

And now the mob, dispersed and gone,

Left ’Squire and constable alone.

The constable with rueful face

Lean’d sad and solemn o’er a brace;

And fast beside him, cheek by jowl,

Stuck ’Squire M’Fingal ’gainst the pole,

Glued by the tar t’ his rear applied,

Like barnacle on vessel’s side.

But though his body lack’d physician,

His spirit was in worse condition.

He found his fears of whips and ropes

By many a drachm outweigh’d his hopes.

As men in jail without mainprize

View everything with other eyes,

And all goes wrong in church and state,

Seen through perspective of the grate:

So now M’Fingal’s second-sight

Beheld all things in gloomier light;

His visual nerve, well purged with tar,

Saw all the coming scenes of war.

As his prophetic soul grew stronger,

He found he could hold in no longer.

First from the pole, as fierce he shook,

His wig from pitchy durance broke,

His mouth unglued, his feathers flutter’d,

His tarr’d skirts crack’d, and thus he utter’d.

“Ah, Mr Constable, in vain

We strive ’gainst wind, and tide, and rain,

Behold my doom! this feathery omen

Portends what dismal times are coming.

Now future scenes, before my eyes,

And second-sighted forms arise.

I hear a voice, that calls away,

And cries, ‘the whigs will win the day.’

My beck’ning genius gives command,

And bids me fly the fatal land;

Where changing name and constitution,

Rebellion turns to revolution,

While loyalty, oppress’d, in tears,

Stands trembling for its neck and ears.

“Go, summon all our brethren, greeting,

To muster at our usual meeting;

There my prophetic voice shall warn ’em

Of all things future that concern ’em,

And scenes disclose on which, my friend,

Their conduct and their lives depend.

There I—but first ’t is more of use,

From this vile pole to set me loose;

Then go, with cautious steps and steady,

While I steer home and make all ready.