The longer American patriotic poems of the later eighteenth century may take the form of narratives of battle, of personal eulogies, or, perhaps most characteristically, of philosophic statements of what today is called “Americanism.” They increase in number toward the close of the century, when the air was full of American principles and ideals, and finally, in spite of their imitative style, they become in spirit at least a distinctive product without exact parallel in England. The best of them express a national aspiration that can still appeal to the patriotic reader. There is little of all this, however, in the early outbursts evoked by the French and Indian War, when the poets were generally loyal to Great Britain. On the accession of George the Third in 1761 the faculty and graduates of Harvard published a curious volume of congratulatory poems entitled Pietas et Gratulatio Collegii Cantabrigiensis Apud NovAnglos. The volume of one hundred and six pages includes thirty-one poems, three of which are in Greek, sixteen in Latin, and twelve in English. The poems in English are in the form of irregular odes or heroic couplets stilted and commonplace in subject and style. The modern reader may find amusement in such loyal lines as
Bourbons to humble, Brunswicks were ordained:But the patriotic poem was soon to transfer its allegiance. A truly remarkable quantity of narrative verse tells the story of the Revolution and celebrates its civil and military leaders. Almost everyone who wrote verse in America after the Revolution produced an ode or an epic to vindicate his patriotism. Literature was now democratic; nothing was needed but inspiration, and the air was full of that. Far above the average is the rather fine Eulogium on Major-General Joseph Warren, written by “A Columbian” ; but the vast majority of these historic and eulogistic narratives serve but to exemplify the heights of patriotism and the depths of bathos. The elaborate and laboured elegies on Washington are as numerous and as futile as might be expected. The finest eulogy on Washington was written prior to his death by Dr. Benjamin Young Prime in a pindaric ode of 1400 lines entitled Columbia's glory, or
Those mankind's rights destroyed, but these regained.