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Chapter 9: the beginnings of verse, 1610-1808

Samuel Marion Tucker, Ph.D., Professor of English in the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

The two centuries that cover the beginnings of American poetry may be divided into three periods. The first period is that of the early colonial verse which begins in 1610 with the publication of Rich's ballad on the settlement of Jamestown and ends with the seventeenth century. With 1700 begins the second period, which is one of transition in purpose, subject, and style. The third period, which is marked by the beginnings of nationalism, opens with the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 and closes with the publication of Bryant's Embargo in 1808.

Even in the light of the unliterary conditions that prevailed in the Southern and Middle colonies it is surprising to find how little verse was produced south of New England before the middle of the eighteenth century. The Southern colonists were not of a literary class, and probably would have written little or nothing under any conditions; in the Southern colonies and, to a less degree, in the Middle colonies, conditions were distinctly unfavourable to literature; and in Virginia, especially, there were no schools, no printing presses, no literary centres, and few people who cared to write books or, apparently, to read them. Yet, though the New England of the seventeenth century left us many thousands of lines of verse of various kinds, as against the less than one thousand lines left by all the colonies to the south of that region, it was Virginia that produced what is perhaps the one real American poem of the seventeenth century. This is the epitaph on the insurrectionary leader Nathaniel Bacon, written “by his Man.” The “Man” clearly was no menial but a reader and a poet. His brief elegy of forty-four lines is worthy of Ben [151] Jonson himself, and is indeed written in that great elegist's dignified, direct, and manly style:

In a word
Marss and Minerva, both in him Concurd
For arts, for arms, whose pen and sword alike
As Catos did, may admireation strike
In to his foes; while they confess with all
It was their guilt stil'd him a Criminall.

Maryland has even less to show than Virginia. The rhyming tags of verse appended to the chapters of George Alsop's Character of the province of Maryland (1666) cannot be taken seriously. The description of Maryland contained in the Carmen Seculare of a certain Mr. Lewis shows that Pope had not yet reached Baltimore in 1732, however at home he may have been in Boston and Philadelphia. Of the same type is a True relation of the Flourishing state of Pennsylvania (1686), by John Holme, a resident of that colony. The True relation is utilitarian in purpose and homely in style, but on the whole its five hundred lines in various metres, with their catalogues of native animals and plants in the manner of William Wood's verses in his New England's prospect, are rather pleasing. New York produced practically no English verse until the Revolution; and the Carolinas and Georgia continued barren until near the close of the eighteenth century, when Charleston became something of a literary centre. But Pennsylvania came to be fairly prolific early in the transition period, and continued so for almost a century until New York and Boston, as literary centres, finally displaced Philadelphia.

The earliest New England verse was as utilitarian and matter-of-fact as any prose. Narratives of the voyages, annals of the colonies, descriptions of flora, fauna, and scenery, written in the main for readers in the mother country, were versified merely for the sake of the jingle. Altogether this descriptive and historical verse amounts to less than a thousand lines. A Looking Glass for the Times (1677), by Peter Folger of Nantucket, derives interest from the fact that it was written by the maternal grandfather of Benjamin Franklin. Its four hundred lines in ballad quatrains are very bad verse, however, and, though it has been termed “A manly plea for toleration in an [152] age of intolerance,” there is still question as to whether it was actually published in the author's lifetime and, consequently, whether Folger ran any risk. The most important piece of historical verse in this period was the work of the first native-born American poet, Benjamin Tompson (1644-1714), who, as his tombstone at Roxbury informs us, was a “learned schoolmaster and physician and the renowned poet of New England,” and is “mortuus sed immortalis.” His chief production, New England's Crises, is a formal attempt at an epic on King Philip's War. The prologue pictures early society in New England and recounts the decadence in manners and morals that has brought about the crisis,--the war as God's punishment. The six hundred and fifty lines of pentameter couplets are somewhat more polished than those of the poet's contemporaries, and might suggest the influence of Dryden if there were any external reason for supposing that the Restoration poets gained admission to early New England. Tompson's classical allusions, part of his epic attempt, are in amusing contrast to his rugged and homely diction, but his poem as a whole has at least the virtue of simplicity, and is interesting as the first of a long line of narratives in verse which recount the events of the wars fought on American soil.

A Brief Account of the Agency of the Honorable John Winthrop [in obtaining a charter for Connecticut], though not published until 1725, belongs in purpose and style to the seventeenth century. The author, Roger Wolcott, afterwards governor of Connecticut, was little more of a poet than Governor Bradford, but his literary pretensions ally him with Benjamin Tompson. His couplets are rugged and his diction prosaic, in the main, but the heroic style of the battle scenes and the lofty similes employed by the hero as he recounts to Charles II the settlement and the history of the Colony, show that Wolcott too was consciously attempting an epic. His poem is a link between the unliterary historical and descriptive verse of early New England and the more pretentious epics that appeared so abundantly during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

The most characteristic poetic products of early New England are the memorial poems. Subsequent generations have made merry over their matter and style, and indeed little [153] can be said in their favour if they are to be taken as an index to the poetic taste of the time and not simply as conventional tributes to the dead. If, however, the New England elegy is to be judged on its literary merits, we should remember that it was not an isolated type, unique in the poverty of its matter and style, but that it simply reflected its English origin and was closely related to its English counterparts. Unlike the English, though, the writers of New England did not evolve a better style of their own, the elegies at the close of the century being, if anything, worse than those at the beginning. Perhaps Quarles was chiefly responsible for their pentameter couplets, rough with run — on lines and imperfect rhymes. Despite occasional variety of form in six-line stanza or quatrain, there is little variety of tone or style; and in all these thousands of lines scarcely a line of genuine poetry, or a single poem worth preservation in its entirety.

The succession of these elegies is surprisingly unbroken for at least forty years. Both authors and subjects are in the main the divines who controlled the destinies of New England and who provided its literature. When such an elegy as that on the Rev. Thomas Shepard by the Rev. Urian Oakes, president of Harvard, is discovered amid this dreary elegiac waste, its merits are sure to be exaggerated. This poem in fifty six-line stanzas, though commonplace in thought and style, is not without pathos, and gives an impression of sincerity. But the Rev. Urian Oakes himself was not so fortunate in his elegist, no less a person than the Rev. Cotton Mather, the most prolific elegist of his time. His elegy on Oakes reaches a length of over four hundred lines. To adorn his subject he “ransacks the ages, spoils the climes” ; his pentameters and his quatrains are mere doggerel, his rhymes are atrocious, and his lines rife with conceits and puns and classical and biblical allusions. John Cleveland at his best could do no worse. The real feeling that probably inspired Mather's writing is obscured by the laboured insincerity of his style. But the nadir is reached by the Rev. Nicholas Noyes (1647-1717), who in his elegies on the Rev. John Higginson and the Rev. Joseph Green shows promising possibilities of bathos, but who in his poem on the Rev. James Brayley's attack of the stone revels in such a plethora of conceits and puns as to put to the blush his most [154] gifted English contemporaries. The one elegiac poem of early New England that may be worth preserving is the Funeral song (1709), written by the Rev. Samuel Wigglesworth, son of Michael, on the death of his friend Nathaniel Clarke. Together with its real feeling, it exhibits a certain felicity of diction that bespeaks Elizabethan models; and such phrases as “where increate eternity's concealed,” “solemn music,” and “warbling divinest airs,” seem to show that Milton had reached New England. As a genre the elegy died with the decline of the clergy, and passed as a fashion passes with changed conditions.

The most interesting as well as the most pleasing figure in early New England verse is that of Anne Bradstreet, who was “fathered and husbanded” respectively by Thomas Dudley and Simon Bradstreet, both in their time governors of Massachusetts. Born in London in 1612, she emigrated in 1630 with her husband and died in 1672. Although the mother of eight children, she found time to write over seven thousand lines of verse in what must have been, to her, peculiarly uncongenial surroundings. Her brother-in-law, the Rev. John Woodbridge, when on a visit to London in 1650, published without her knowledge her poems under the title of The tenth Muse, lately sprung up in America, and a second edition followed in Boston in 1678. That her poems were read and admired is attested by such poetic tributes as that of Nathaniel Ward, who affirms that she was “a right Du Bartas girle,” and represents Apollo as unable to decide whether Du Bartas or the New England Muse was the more excellent poet. But Anne Bradstreet was not a poet; she was a winsome personality in an unlovely age. That she should have written verse at all was phenomenal, but that it should have been poor verse was inevitable. Her Exact epitome of the four Monarchies, in several thousand lines of bad pentameter couplets, is simply a rhyming chronicle of the medieval type, the matter of which was supplied by Raleigh's History of the world. Her Four elements, constitutions, ages of man, and seasons of the year, almost equally worthless as poetry, is an interesting adaptation of Sylvester's translation of the Divine weeks. She repeatedly states her admiration for Du Bartas and her indebtedness to him. Thirteen lines in the second day of the first week of his poem suggested her theme, and this she expands in the form of a medieval debat; other [155] passages from Du Bartas she condenses, expands, or merely paraphrases. She gives only about 1800 lines to the entire exposition of her elements, humours, ages, and seasons; hence she uses but a small part of the encyclopedic material of the French poem. The feeble New England imitation cannot compare with the original. Du Bartas, though often flat and prosaic, is immense in his range, and is at times even a poet; Anne Bradstreet's range is narrow; her allusions are merely to the best known historical and mythological characters; her descriptions of natural phenomena, though she might be expected to find original inspiration in her New England environment, are vague and conventional. In occasional lines of Sylvester's translation occurs something of Elizabethan spaciousness; the only meritorious lines of Anne Bradstreet's poem occur in the Spring;

The fearfull bird his little house now builds
In trees and walls, in Cities and in fields.
The outside strong, the inside warm and neat,
A natural Artificer compleat.

The verse of all her longer poems is precisely that of Sylvestera couplet, not quite loose, but less compact than the heroic couplet, with the characteristic Elizabethan freedom in rhyme and with the shifting caesura. It is not, however, in these long, dreary, and purely didactic poems that Anne Bradstreet shows her real capacity. When she walks in happier paths, with a song in her heart, remembering Spenser and Giles Fletcher, she shows that perhaps in more fortunate times she might have written poetry. Her Contemplations is a meditative and descriptive poem in thirty-three seven-line stanzas, in which occur passages at least pleasing in suggestion and rhythm, however reminiscent of greater times and talents:
When I behold the heavens as in their prime,
And then the earth (though old) stil clad in green,
The stones and trees, insensible to time,
Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;
If winter come, and greeness then do fade,
A Spring returns, and they more youthfull made;
But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once he's laid.

[156] Her lines to her husband, though not great poetry, are perhaps the most sincere, and are certainly the most human and touching she ever wrote; and her poem on the rearing of her eight children, while infelicitous in its barnyard metaphor, presents a happy and lovable picture. So lovely and pathetic is the figure of the woman herself, and so remarkable are her achievements in the light of her environment, that one finds it ungracious to speak harshly of her verse.

It is rather remarkable that so little purely religious verse was produced in early New England. Quarles, himself a Puritan, was prolific in hymns, divine songs, and paraphrases from the Bible. New England boasted a distinct literary class, not unfamiliar with great religious poetry; but its one biblical paraphrase and its one effort at writing religious song was The Bay Psalm Book. To meet the need for divine songs to sing in the churches, Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, and John Eliot supervised the preparation of a new metrical version of the Psalms. The Bay Psalm Book, as it came to be called, was the first book published on American soil, and passed through twenty-seven editions between 1640 and 1752, when it was superseded by John Barnard's New version of the Psalms of David. It surpasses even Sternhold and Hopkins in uncouthness, and as a monument of bad taste has furnished an easy target for the ridicule of subsequent and less devout generations. It is unfair, however, to take The Bay Psalm Book as an index to the poetic taste of its period, or its subsequent popularity as indicating anything more than its usefulness. It was a makeshift, and they knew it was a poor one; an edition “revised and refined” by John Dunster and Richard Lyon followed in 1647. If these were “refined,” then, as Timothy Dwight remarks, “a modem reader would almost instinctively ask, ‘What were they before?’ ”

We still possess in its original crudity the “epic of New England puritanism,” The day of doom; or, a poetical description of the great and last judgment. This was the masterpiece of the Rev. Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), who was born in England, but emigrated to America, and graduated from Harvard at the age of twenty. He was a physician as well as a theologian and a poet, amiable and humane in character, and greatly beloved. The most widely read and perhaps [157] the most representative poet of early New England, he was also, with the exception of Anne Bradstreet, the most prolific. In both subject-matter and style he is only too representative of his times. His Day of doom, first published in 1662, versifies the scriptural passages concerning the last judgment, and adds to these a statement of the Calvinistic dogmas of eternal punishment. Its two hundred eight-line stanzas tell a story which still entertains the reader, even if it has lost its power to terrify. Relatively, no poem was ever more popular; the first edition of eighteen hundred copies was sold within a year; within the century after, ten subsequent editions were published; and its final passing was coincident only with the passing of the theology that gave it birth and rendered it tolerable. The opening stanzas of the poem show some imagination and power of description; but these are borrowed plumes; all that is good in The day of doom comes from the Bible. Wigglesworth had no real poetry in him; at no period and under no conditions would he have been a poet. His God's controversy with New England, inspired by the great drought of 1662, deserves no consideration as poetry; but the poem that followed in 1669 is of greater interest. This is Meat out of the Eater; or, meditations concerning the necessity, end, and usefulness of Affliction unto God's children, a theological treatise in rhyme, over two thousand lines in length, in various metres and divided into many different sections. The reflections, with their references to biblical prototypes, the quaint and often fantastic style, point to Quarles's Emblems as their inspiration. Though even less poetic than The day of doom, the poem contains the only two good lines that Wigglesworth ever wrote:

War ends in peace, and morning light
Mounts upon Midnight's wing.

In his Vanity of Vanities, which was appended to the third edition of The day of doom in 1673, certain rather polished heroic quatrains suggest Davenant or Dryden as possible models. But, as Wigglesworth's library contained not one volume of English poetry, the poet must have found his model outside of his library; it is beyond belief that either he or any [158] other New England versifier of his period could have originated or even improved any form of verse.

The years between the close of the seventeenth century and the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 form a transition period in the development of American verse. It is interesting to note that the passing of the old century coincided almost exactly with the passing of the old models. About 1700 new literary influences came from England; the old forms of verse were discarded for others more polished; Quarles and Sylvester gave way, first to Waller, then to Pope. But the change was not one of form alone. The decline of clerical influence, the increase of security and comfort in the conditions of life, the more frequent intercourse with England-all these and other changes were reflected also in the subject-matter, the purpose, and the spirit of the new verse.

New England poets before 1700 learned nothing from the English poets of the latter half of the seventeenth century; for New England seems to have placed all the literature of the Restoration period under a rigorous embargo. There is no sufficient evidence that Dryden was known in America before 1700, in spite of some fairly regular quatrains by Michael Wigglesworth and an occasional polished couplet by Cotton Mather and Benjamin Tompson. If they knew even Milton they perhaps saw in him only the champion of divorce and of other heresies. But there are other and obvious reasons for this ignorance or neglect of Dryden and Milton. Although John Cotton had some correspondence with Quarles, there was not much literary communication of any kind between the colonies and England before the eighteenth century. New England was complete in itself.

Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747), upon his return from England in 1699, brought with him both Blackmore and Waller. This decisive event in the history of American verse marked the beginning of a new era, that of the heroic couplet. But though Colman praises Waller and Blackmore and recommends both to his daughter Jane Turell, he himself, when he wrote his Elijah's translation (1707) on the death of the Rev. Samuel Willard, imitated Dryden in his heroic couplets and his method of applying a Bible story as in Absalom and [159] Achitophel. Jane Turell (1708-1735), whose literary tastes were formed by her father, admired the “Matchless Orinda,” Blackmore, and Waller; but she wrote the couplet of Pope. Another and even earlier evidence of the influence of Pope is a poem by Francis Knapp, who was born in England in 1672, and at an uncertain date emigrated to America and settled as a country gentleman near Boston. In 1715 he addressed a poetical epistle to Pope beginning

Hail! sacred bard! a muse unknown before
Salutes thee from the bleak Atlantic shore,

which was included among the prefatory poems in a subsequent edition of Windsor Forest (first published in 1713). Thus promptly Pope crossed the Atlantic to begin his undisputed reign of almost a century. Knapp's heroic poem Gloria Brittannorum (1723), an obvious imitation of Addison's Campaign, celebrates “The most illustrious persons in camp and cabinet since the glorious revolution to the recent time,” and is perhaps the earliest example of the patriotic narrative poem that was to become so common in American after the Revolution.

But a far more distinguished exponent of the style of Pope was the Rev. Mather Byles. “To let you see a little of the reputation which you bear in these unknown climates-I transmit to you the enclosed poems,” Byles wrote to Pope in 1727. It was perhaps these poems that Byles published in a volume in 1736, and which were published anonymously in the somewhat celebrated volume of 1744, Poems by several hands. Mather Byles is a more eminent figure in the annals of American poetry than is at all warranted by his poems, which are few and altogether imitative. His reputation is due in part to the general poverty of the transition period — the barest era in our verse-and in part to his fame as a preacher and a wit. He was born in 1707, was educated at Harvard, and served as pastor of the Hollis Street church in Boston through the greater part of his ministerial life. After the Declaration, he became a staunch and vehement Tory, lost his former popularity, and died embittered and broken in 1788. He corresponded with Lansdowne, Pope, and Watts, took himself seriously as a poet, [160] at least in his younger days; and in his attention to contemporary English literature and his setting up of something approaching an aesthetic standard in verse, represents a definite change from the point of view of the generation before him. But the Puritan is still at work in him, however modern may be his style. His most ambitious poem, The Conflagration, a description of the physical phenomena of the last day, and a shorter poem, The Comet, are both in the spirit of Wigglesworth, for all their heroic couplets and artificial diction. His elegies are unadulterated Pope; and his hymns are in imitation of Watts.

One of the first volumes of miscellaneous verse published in America was the Poems by several hands (Boston, 1744). All the poems are anonymous; and aside from humorous ballads probably by Joseph Green, they merely echo Pope, with a plethora of “amorous swains” and “blushing charms.” Some were certainly written by Byles, and others are tributes to his genius. Indeed, the purpose of the volume was to extol Byles as a poet worthy to be mentioned with Homer and with his only modern rival, Pope. Already America was looking for its Homer, a search that was to continue with increasing assiduity throughout the century-and Boston found him in Byles.

More original and interesting than the poems of Byles are the humorous verses of his friend Joseph Green (1706-1780), a Boston distiller possessed of literary tastes, who ranked with Byles as a wit and social favourite. After the outbreak of the Revolution he too became a Tory, and finally found refuge in London, where he died. Though his poems seem to have been written for his own amusement and that of his friends, they are important as the first attempt to lighten the heavy Puritanism of early New England with some leaven of humour and wit. An entertainment for a winter's evening is perhaps the earliest piece of Hudibrastic verse written in America. We have travelled far from Puritan New England when a Bostonian can find amusement in the godless spectacle of a drunken parson and his tipsy companions, and can edify his fellow townsmen with a burlesque account of their nocturnal adventures.

Associated with Byles and Green in Poems by several hands was the Rev. John Adams, a young clergyman of Boston who died in 1740 at the age of thirty-five. Five years after his death his friends published his Poems on several occasions; [161] Original and translated, which contains among other pieces paraphrases from the Bible, translations from Horace, and half a dozen elegies, including one on Cotton Mather and one on Jane Turell. All these are written in the heroic couplet but in a diction more natural than Pope's. That Adams knew Milton's poems is apparent in his Address to the Supreme being. Indeed these poems, though pervaded by the Puritan spirit, yet reveal a more purely aesthetic purpose and a more careful style than can generally be found before the later years of the century.

The almanacs of Nathaniel Ames, father and son, of Dedham, Massachusetts, had their part in disseminating throughout New England a knowledge of the English poets and perhaps also in fostering a taste for humorous poetry. The brief passages from Dryden, Pope, and James Thomson (yes, and Blackmore!), prefixed to the astronomical data, and the unpretentious humorous verses scattered through the other matter, were far more widely read than the laboured and ambitious poems of the literary group in Boston. An Essay upon the Microscope is an elaborate poem, by the elder Ames, which, if not poetic, is interesting as perhaps our first ode in irregular verse.

Boston was not the only literary centre of this transition period. Franklin tells us in his Autobiography that when he first entered the printing office of Samuel Keimer in Philadelphia in 1723, he found the printer laboriously composing in type an elegy on Aquila Rose, a young poet who had just died in that city-perhaps the worst elegy ever written. The poet elegized died in 1723 at the age of twenty-eight. Within the few years preceding his death he wrote the slight occasional poems in heroic couplets that were in 1740 published in a volume by his son. Probably at no time would Aquila Rose have been a poet, but his verses were quite the best that Philadelphia had yet produced, and were to remain so until Thomas Godfrey surpassed them a generation later. Furthermore, they show that the new influences from England had reached Philadelphia as well as Boston. George Webb, a member of Franklin's “Junto,” wrote Batchelors' Hall in defence of the life led by himself and other young bachelors at their club near the city. Unconventional as that life may have been, Webb's heroic [162] couplets are as conventional as could be desired, and, together with the verses written by other members of his circle, they recall the dominant hand of Pope. Intrinsically unimportant as was all the verse written in Philadelphia in this early period, it must have done its work in creating a literary atmosphere and in establishing traditions; for this city remained throughout the entire century the centre both for the writing and the publishing of American poetry.

During the whole of the eighteenth century the long poem, didactic, descriptive, and philosophic, flourished in England, and during the latter half of the same century its imitative progeny flourished in America. There could be no justification for cataloguing these imitative efforts, since not one of them still lives in our literature, and very few of them show any distinctive American traits. In the main, their method, their ideas, their imagery are as English as those of their prototypes; their heroic couplet is that of Pope or Goldsmith; their blank verse is that of Thomson or Young.

The tide set in with imitations of Pomfret, whose Choice (1700) appeared in at least four editions in America between 1751 and 1792. In 1747 William Livingston, who was to become the famous governor of New Jersey, expressed his ideal of existence in a direct imitation of Pomfret which he called Philosophic solitude, or the choice of a rural life. Ten years later a second imitation of Pomfret followed in The choice by Dr. Benjamin Church of Boston, who longs for a home in the country, the right kind of wife, congenial friends, and leisure to read his favourite poets-Milton, Dryden, Gay, “awful Pope, unequalled bard,” and “nature-limning Thomson.” Though dwelling in a small American town, he sighs for solitude as longingly as he might have done in the midst of a world capital. Livingston and Church are half a century late in their sporadic imitations; and for a while Americans were simply catching up with almost a hundred years of English didactic poetry; but after the tide once turned, about the middle of the century, imitation was much more prompt and general and, after the Revolution, immediate and universal.

Goldsmith reached Americans almost at once, and appeared in nine editions between 1768 and 1791. His numerous imitators are all alike in using his method, his style, and [163] even his very subject-matter. Among imitations of The Deserted village may be mentioned Thomas Coombe's Peasant of Auburn (1775), which contains lines fine enough to save it from oblivion. Imitations of Thomson's Seasons began to appear soon after the first American edition was published in 1777, increased in number with the five successive editions up to 1792, and continued through at least the first decade of the nineteenth century. To read one of these is to know all, with their very fair verse, and their conventional and generalized descriptions of scenery that might as well be English as American. It is interesting to note, however, that the native element in our descriptive verse grows more pronounced in the decade preceding the first work of Bryant. The form is still that of Thomson, but the poet has at last opened his eyes to the distinctive beauty of American nature. In his Descriptive poems (1802) John D. McKinnon wrote of the Hudson and the Mohawk Rivers and our own October landscape, as well as of

tha illimitable plain
Depastured by erratic buffaloes;

and some “Untaught Bard,” writing under the influence of both Thomson and Young, in his Spring clearly foretells the coming of Thanatopsis. John Hayes, professor at Dickinson College, in the 2500 lines of blank verse of his Rural poems (1807) celebrates American birds and flowers in spite of his imitation of Milton and Thomson. Still more interesting in this respect is The Foresters (1804) of the ornithologist Alexander Wilson, a poem in 2200 lines of heroic couplets which tell the story of a journey through New York and Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls. Wilson is a scientist rather than a poet, but he sees nature sympathetically and gives what he sees in a simple and direct style. At last the poet writes with his eye on American nature and not on conventional descriptions by English poets.

The one poem that sums up all the direct imitations of Goldsmith, and Thomson, and of Denham, Milton, Pope, and Beattie as well, is Greenfield Hill. Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, at the age of nineteen graduated from Yale, where he then became a tutor. In 1777-1778 he served as chaplain in the army, and varied his duties by [164] writing patriotic songs for the soldiers. In 1783 he became pastor of the church at Greenfield, Connecticut, and in 1795 was made president of Yale. He was the first of our great college presidents, and as theologian, scholar, patriot, and writer was one of the eminent personalities of his time. As a poet he belongs to a group of writers who during the last two decades of the eighteenth century formed a literary centre at New Haven and Hartford. The chief “Hartford Wits” were Timothy Dwight, John Trumbull, Joel Barlow, David Humphreys, Richard Alsop, Lemuel Hopkins, and Theodore Dwight, a brother of Timothy, all either graduates of Yale or associated with that college. Their contemporary reputation was immense. Dwight, Barlow, and Humphreys, indeed, were practical men of affairs, and all were more or less versatile. But the reading public looked upon them as geniuses; and Freneau was the only poet aside from the Hartford group who was ever mentioned in connection with them. Yet even as they were issuing their declaration of literary independence, they were in every line betraying their dependence upon English poetic style, ideas, and imagery. Their more ambitious and laboured poems, including almost all those by Dwight, Barlow, and Humphreys, are to the modern reader the least successful. Their best work, which they themselves and the public took less seriously, is in the form of satire, and was mainly written, singly or in collaboration, by Trumbull, Theodore Dwight, Alsop, and Hopkins. Yet the work of the “Hartford Wits” in fostering poetry in a period of political and social struggle and change deserves grateful recognition from the student of American literature.

Timothy Dwight's Greenfield Hill is a medley of echoes. The poet stands upon a hill in his Connecticut parish, and, like his English predecessors, describes the view, paints the social conditions of the country, recounts its history, and prophesies its future. The 4300 lines of the poem are divided into seven parts, written variously in heroic couplet, Spenserian stanza, blank verse, and octosyllabics. The poet's desire “to contribute to the innocent amusement of his countrymen and to their improvement in manners and in economic, political, and moral sentiments” results in a history, guide-book, and treatise on manners, morals, and government, but not in a poem. To [165] say that Greenfield Hill is made to order and is inspired by morality and patriotism, is to state the genesis of all the serious work of the Hartford group.

Outrageously long poems on aesthetic subjects were rife in America toward the close of the century. At a time when society and politics were in a state of upheaval, when neither the domestic nor the foreign policy of the country had been settled, and when consequently there was so much of native interest to write about, it is incongruous to find so many poems suggested by Akenside's Pleasures of the imagination and Brooke's Universal beauty. Richard Alsop's Charms of fancy in all its 2300 lines of heroic couplets contains not a fresh image or an original idea; but The powers of genius by John Blair Linn is at least the work of a man of taste and scholarship and compares favourably with all but the very best of its British counterparts. The extreme of dulness and futility is reached in the many poems on philosophy and religion for which Pope and Young were largely responsible. Somewhat stronger and more interesting than most of these is Timothy Dwight's Triumph of Infidelity, which purports to be a satire, and which with irony and abuse rather than logic attempts to refute the arguments of the eighteenth century “infidels,” Voltaire included. Biblical paraphrases, too, multiplied after the Revolution, and appeared in large numbers between 1780 and 181o. These are supplemented by epics on biblical themes, the most celebrated of which is again the work of the indefatigable Timothy Dwight, written by the time he was twenty-two, but published when he was thirty-three and should have known better. The Conquest of Canaan (1785), in ten thousand lines of heroic couplets, owes its style to Pope's Homer and much of its method and imagery to Virgil and Milton. The epic as a whole is what might be expected when the poet's purpose is “to represent such manners as are removed from the peculiarities of any age or country, and might belong to the amiable and virtuous of any period, elevated without design, refined without ceremony, elegant without fashion, and agreeable because they are ornamented with sincerity, dignity, and religion.” Into the heroic biblical narrative are woven the loves of Irad and Selima and of Iram and Mira, who take their evening strolls through the lanes and meadows of Connecticut. Though intolerably [166] verbose, the poem contains purple passages which lift it to the level of the average eighteenth-century epic and which perhaps led Cowper to review it favourably. With a noble disregard of congruity, The Conquest of Canaan is, withal, distinctly patriotic, with its union of “Canaan and Connecticut” and its allusions to contemporary persons and events.

The third period of early American verse, which begins with 1765 and ends with 1808, is characterized by two remarkably coincident phenomena, one political, the other aesthetic. One of these is the beginning of the nationalism that produced our early patriotic poems and satires, and is marked by the passage of the Stamp Act. The other, also beginning about 1765, is the wholesale importation and reprinting of English poetry which worked with the growth of native culture to produce a great quantity of verse all more or less imitative of English models and largely independent of political conditions. All the poems of this period, whether springing from political or from purely aesthetic influences, are most conveniently treated under their various genres without regard to individual writers, though one poet, Philip Freneau, demands separate consideration.

The first ballad springing from American soil recounts a battle fought in 1725 between whites and Indians near Lovewell's Pond in Maine. Composed at the time of the event, it was for generations preserved only by word of mouth, and was not published for almost a century. Though unliterary, it tells its story with vigour and directness, and is of additional interest in that Longfellow in 1820 chose the same fight as the subject of his first poem, The battle of Lovell's Pond.

Many fugitive verses on the French and Indian War1 were published anonymously in the newspapers, the best of which are perhaps The song of Braddock's men, and the lines on Wolfe-

Thy merits, Wolfe, transcend all human praise.

Anti-British ballads began to appear immediately upon the [167] passage of the Stamp Act, to continue until the close of the Revolution. These spring from the heat of the conflict, and are as replete with patriotism as they are deficient in literary merit. Yet they admirably fulfilled their purpose of arousing public spirit, and many of them were known and sung everywhere. John Dickinson's Patriot's appeal, which begins

Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall,

gave rise to a parody which was in turn parodied in the famous Massachusetts liberty song. Almost equally popular were John Mason's Liberty's call, Thomas Paine's Liberty Tree, and Timothy Dwight's Columbia, with its refrain
Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise,
The queen of the world and the child of the skies.

But the one ballad that shows a spark of poetry is Nathan Hale, which commemorates the capture and death of the young American spy. It opens with a promise that is scarcely sustained throughout the poem:

The breezes went steadily thro the tall pines,
A saying “Oh! Hu-sh,” a saying “Oh! Hu-sh,”
As stilly stole by a bold legion of horse,
For Hale in the bush, for Hale in the bush.

Best known of the purely humorous ballads is Francis Hopkinson's Battle of the kegs (1778), which tells of the alarm felt by the British over some kegs that the Americans had charged with powder and had set floating in the Delaware River.

The hundreds of patriotic ballads, songs, and odes that appeared after the Revolution, though more ambitious and “literary,” seem less spontaneous and sincere than the earlier verse, which called a nation to arms; and for all their flaunting of the stars and stripes, they leave the reader cold. Scarcely a poet who wrote between 1780 and 1807 failed to compose at least one such poem; but, it is safe to say, the only patriotic ballads of permanent merit written between 1725 and 1807 are the sea poems of Freneau. [168]

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:
Those mankind's rights destroyed, but these regained.

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 [169] British pride Humbled, which, in spite of its conventional form and style and lack of imagination, contains passages of admirable rhetoric.

Closely related to the narratives and eulogies are the many and lengthy poems belonging to the philosophic and didactic “glory of America” type, of which Freneau seems to have been the originator. The most prolific poet of this school was Colonel David Humphreys (1753-1818), who graduated from Yale in 1771, served as aide-de-camp to Washington, and became a frequent guest at Mount Vernon. He was associated with the Hartford Wits after 1786; served as minister to Portugal in 1791, and as minister to Spain from 1797 to 1802. A versatile man like others of the Hartford group, he was not only soldier, diplomat, and poet, but also an experimenter in sheep-raising and wool-manufacture. His six patriotic poems vary in length from four hundred to one thousand lines of heroic couplets. “Every poet who aspires to celebrity strives to approach the perfection of Pope and the sweetness of his versification,” says Humphreys. All his patriotic poems are the work of an experienced versifier with full command of his subject and with little poetic inspiration. The Poem on the happiness of America celebrates liberty and democracy, American scenery, resources, achievements, and prospects, with a boundless belief in the possibilities of America and her divine mission.

No other member of the Hartford group, indeed no other man of letters of his time, lived a life so active and varied as Joel Barlow (1754-1812). After his graduation from Yale, he served as chaplain in the army, and in 1781 married and settled in Hartford as lawyer and editor. His philosophic poem The vision of Columbus, published in 1787, was read and admired in France and England. Barlow later went to France as agent of the notorious Scioto Land Company, apparently in ignorance of its fraudulent character. In Paris he became a strong partisan of democracy, and for several years divided his time between France and England, writing political pamphlets and books, and making a fortune through commerce and speculation. While resident in Savoy in 1792, he wrote what is certainly his most original and enduring poem and also one of the best pieces of humorous verse in our early literature. [170] Hasty Pudding is a mock-heroic of the conventional eighteenth-century type, in four hundred lines of heroic couplets. Its three cantos describe the making of the famous New England dish, the eating of it, and the traits that render it delectable and worthy of eulogy. The pastoral scenes are native, not imitated, the diction is simple and natural, and the humour, though rather thin, is sufficiently amusing. Barlow rendered valuable service to his native land in 1795, when he went to Algiers and secured the release of American prisoners; and again in 1798 when he helped to avert war between France and America. He returned home in 1805, and two years later published his Columbiad. He again served his country well in 8 II, when he was sent by President Madison as an envoy to Europe; but in journeying to meet Napoleon he was caught in the retreat from Moscow, and died and was buried in Poland. Though democrats in America celebrated his memory, he perhaps has never had justice done him as a patriot and typical American.

When The vision of Columbus was published in 1787 it suited the taste of the time, and its author was hailed as a genius, not only by his fellow Hartford Wits but also by the public at large. Its subject and style gave it a reputation that it could not have attained even a decade later. Barlow was misled by his temporary success into the fatal error of expanding the 4700 lines into the 8350 lines of The Columbiad. But when the latter appeared in 1807, it failed to please the very public that had welcomed its predecessor. Its failure was due less to the changes in the poem than to the development of public taste during the poet's absence in Europe. Pope's dominance had been successfully contested, and the long philosophic poem itself was in its decline. Barlow's failure was all the more striking on account of his very audacity. His Vision of Columbus was simply a philosophic poem; his Columbiad was avowedly an epic, meant to have a vaster theme, a more refined style, and a higher moral purpose than Homer's. The Columbiad, however, remains merely a “geographical, historical, political, and philosophical disquisition.” To Columbus, as he lies sick and in prison, there appears Hesper, the genius of the western world, and, with the purpose of setting forth all that Columbus and America have contributed [171] to the welfare of the world, reviews the state of Europe in the middle ages, the voyages of discovery, conquests, and colonisation, and the war of the Revolution, with references to contemporary persons and events. He concludes with a prophecy of the future glories of America. This literary dragnet has drawn into itself nothing delicate or tender and little that is truly human, for such qualities are not compatible with its forced sublimity and its declamatory and gaudy rhetoric. To the worst vices of the conventional poetic diction, Barlow in a painful effort to achieve the grandiose, has added vile phrases of his own peculiar coinage. And yet, hidden away among these thousands of lines of lahoured rhetoric, are passages really fine and free in both conception and execution. Atlas, genius of Africa, prophesies to Hesper the ruin that must follow American slavery. In the chaos

His own bald eagle skims alone the sky,
Darts from all points of heaven her searching eye,
Kens thro the gloom her ancient rock of rest,
And finds her cavern'd crag, her solitary nest.

The most vigorous poems produced in America between 1765 and 1807 were the numberless satires that marked every stage of the fight with England and of the internal strife between Whigs and Tories and, later, between Republicans and Federalists. Hudibras, The Dunciad, The Rolliad, The Anti-Jacobin, and the satires of Churchill, of Gifford, and of “Peter Pindar” bred in America songs, mock-heroics, burlesques, and satires of direct attack, in lyric measures, heroic couplets, and octosyllabics.

American political satire began with the Stamp Act. The Times (1765) by the Rev. Benjamin Church of Boston, which vigorously defends the colonists, imitates Churchill, who for four years had been famous in England as the most relentless satirist of the day, and is doubly interesting in that its author later changed his attitude and was expelled from Boston as a traitor. The Boston Port Bill evoked from John Trumbull an Elegy on the times (1775), which uses the elegiac quatrains of Gray for satiric invective; but far more important is the same author's McFingal, the most effective satire of its time. Trumbull [172] was born in what is now Watertown, Connecticut, in 1750, and graduated from Yale in 1767 in the same class with Timothy Dwight. In 1772 he published his Progress of Dullness, a satire in Hudibrastic verse on the current educational system and the ignorance of the clergy which is still interesting. After studying law in the office of John Adams in Boston, he returned to New Haven to practise, and in 1776 published the first two cantos of McFingal.2 In 1781 he published the third and fourth cantos, and in the same year removed to Hartford, where he became associated with the Hartford Wits and joined in writing The Anarchiad. After serving as State's attorney, he became a judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and finally judge of the Supreme Court of Errors, a position which he held until 1819. For some years he was the treasurer of Yale, from which he received the degree of Ll.D. in 1818. He removed to Detroit in 1825, and died there in 1831.

McFingal, Trumbull's chief work, is a political satire in favour of the whigs. As much the guide as the child of public sentiment, the piece had thirty editions. It is a burlesque epic in 3800 lines of Hudibrastic verse in four cantos, which parodies epic speeches in council, heroic encounters, and prophecy. At a town meeting held in a New England village to discuss the question of rebellion against the mother country, the whigs, led by the impassioned Honorius, and the tories, headed by Squire McFingal, an officeholder under the Crown, engage in furious argument. The whigs are finally victorious in speech and also in the battle which terminates the discussion. Under threats, McFingal's tory constable recants, but the obdurate Squire is tarred and feathered and glued to the liberty pole, where he is left to meditate his misdeeds. Escaping in the night, he convenes a meeting of fellow tories in the cellar, and relates to them the vision which he hag gained through his gift of second sight, and which prophesies final victory for the whigs. The meeting breaks up at the approach of the whigs and McFingal deserts his followers and escapes to the British. The verse runs swiftly, with considerable comic force, and contains epigrammatic couplets that might have come from Hudibras: [173]

No man e'er felt the halter draw,
With good opinion of the law,


But optics sharp it needs, I ween,
To see what is not to be seen.

The burlesque contrasts, the absurd figures of speech, the far-fetched allusions, are learned from Butler; and the verse, with its frequent elisions, its feminine rhymes, and its homely diction, is more nearly that of Hudibras than of any other satire. Churchill is responsible for such serious passages in the speeches as

For ages blest thus Britain rose
The terror of encircling foes;
Her heroes ruled the bloody plain;
Her conq'ring standard aw'd the main,

as also for the use of personifications and of the terrible:
Around all stained with rebel blood,
Like Milton's lazar house it stood,
Where grim Despair attended nurse,
And Death was gov'rnor of the house.

For all its indebtednesses McFingal remains the most entertaining satire in our early literature, and the only surviving poem by any member of the Hartford group.

The two most vigorous and prolific tory satirists were Joseph Stansbury (1750-1809), a merchant of Philadelphia, and the Rev. Jonathan Odell (1737-1818), of New Jersey. Their satires and satirical songs, odes, and ballads are generally alike both in matter and style, but Stansbury is the better poet, and has to his credit several satirical lyrics, quite as good as any of their time on either side of the water. He turns off an ode to the king, a comic ballad recounting an American reverse, or a loyal song, all with equal facility and with little of the invective characteristic of Odell. His Town meeting, a satirical ballad of over one hundred and fifty lines, is typical, but his lyric, To Cordelia, addressed to his wife from Nova Scotia [174] at the close of the Revolution, shows that he could also write a true poem. Odell, whose satires were not only in the main longer and less original, but also more virulent, was the Freneau of the tory side. Though possessed of little humour and less wit, he is at least vigorous and incisive and can give Freneau as good as he sends:

Back to his mountains Washington may trot.
He take this city? Yes-when ice is hot.

That Churchill was his model appears in his Feu de Joie; his Word of Congress (1779), four hundred lines of politico-personal invective against the Continental Congress; and in the still longer American times (1780), which attacked the leaders of the American cause with extreme bitterness and scurrility.

After the Revolution and before the adoption of the Constitution, social and political unrest produced The Anarchiad, a poem on the Restoration of chaos and substantial night (1786-1787), in which four of the Hartford group, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, David Humphreys, and Lemuel Hopkins cleverly adapted their English original The Rolliad to the conditions that gave rise to Shays's Rebellion, paper money, demagogy, and other evils of the time. The Anarchiad is in 1200 lines of heroic couplets, and is divided into fourteen parts that purport to be extracts from an ancient epic, lately discovered, which foretell conditions in the decade following the Revolution. The verse is that of Pope and Goldsmith, from whom many passages are paraphrased; the style is a parody of Homer, Dante, Milton, and Pope; and the mock-heroic method is conventional; yet the satire through its wit and good sense deserved its immense popularity. The speech of Hesper in favour of a firm union of the states is fine and eloquent; and the brilliant satirical picture of the Land of Annihilation, though obviously suggested by The Dunciad, is not unworthy of its original.

The entire story of the strife between federalist and republican, Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian, can be read in the verse satire of the time. No American shows this bitter partisanship more than Thomas Green Fessenden (1771-1837). His Terrible Tractoration, written in England about English conditions, is not political but is chiefly aimed at the critics of [175] Perkins's “metallic tractors,” an invention of which Fessenden was the agent. Its 1800 lines of Hudibrastic verse, full of references to contemporary persons and scientific matters, form a fair example of a not very admirable type of satire. Fessenden again displays his mental alertness and his indebtedness to “Peter Pindar” in Democracy Unveiled, or tyranny stripped of the Garb of patriotism. This surprising production, in which he reaches the nadir of indecent personalities, attacks Jacobinism, democracy, and Jefferson in particular, with a virulence that disregards both good sense and good taste.

The political mock-epic appears in the anonymous Aristocracy (1795), which ridicules the alleged aristocratic notions of the federalists. Also political in a sense is The group (1795), by William Cliffton, a satire on the men who hid from danger during the Revolution but who now claim the reward of patriots. Though its series of portraits in the mock-heroic style of Pope is not without vigour, it is less original and amusing than Cliffton's Rhapsody on the times, several hundred lines of octosyllabics in the style of Prior, which contains narrative and descriptive satire against unrestricted immigration.

Before the nineteenth century our social and literary satires are amusing only as futile attempts to make something out of nothing. The society and literary productions of Philadelphia are satirized in a series of poems beginning in 1762 and extending on into the next century; such as The manners of the times (1762) by “Philadelphiensis” ; the anonymous Philadelphiad; and the more vigorous but still conventional Times (1788) by Peter Markoe. Other Philadelphia satires of this type might be named without raising the average of merit. Fortunately, New York and Boston seem to have been somewhat less analytic in their attitude; though both cities were guilty of such conventional social and literary satires as Winthrop Sargent's Boston (1803). The inflated journalistic style of the last decade of the century suggested the one really clever and original literary satire of its time in America. The Echo was begun in 1791, was published serially, and appeared complete as a volume of three hundred pages in 1807. Its authors, who seem to have been Richard Alsop and Timothy Dwight, select some particularly bombastic passage from a current newspaper and travesty its style in heroic couplets [176] with a result that has not yet quite lost its flavour. The satire probably owed something to the parodies of The Anti-Jacobin, though in this case the matter and not the form is burlesqued.

At the close of the century the long satiric poem in Hudibrastic verse or heroic couplet was already passing away in England, though American versifiers continued to imitate the outworn models. In the light of The Biglow papers all these early beginnings seem faint and pale; but they are still significant as indications of the growth of national consciousness. It should also be noted that in average merit our early verse satire is probably not inferior to its counterpart in England. There is little to be said for the genre on either side of the water.

Volumes of miscellaneous short poems began to appear in 1765, but, owing to the Revolution and its attendant changes, ceased almost entirely between 1770 and 1790, and revived only during the last decade of the century. Though intrinsically of little merit, they show in the main that Pope and the long poem were not absolutely dominant and that Americans were reading English lyrical poetry and were learning to write graceful verse which certain of the public were ready to read. This public was small enough, however, for most of the volumes were published by subscription; and a remarkable number were issued by pious friends as memorials to young poets, and hence show little except that friendship may make unreasonable demands.

The poems of Thomas Godfrey (1736-1763) of Philadelphia were published two years after his death by his friend and fellow poet Nathaniel Evans. His work is highly imitative; pastorals in heroic couplet, after Pope; an Ode to friendship and a Dithyrambic on wine in the manner of Dryden's occasional odes; a Night piece in elegiac quatrains, which shows the influence of Gray and Young; songs in the manner of Shenstone and Prior; and here and there a touch of Collins. His best as well as his most ambitious poem is The Court of fancy, an allegory in heroic couplets, suggested by Chaucer's House of fame. Though conventional in style, it is not without originality, and as the first truly imaginative poem written in America is of more than passing interest. Godfrey's imitative habit could not quite cloak his spontaneity, and had he come only a generation [177] later he might have contributed more permanently to our poetry.

The poems of his friend and editor the Rev. Nathaniel Evans (1742-1767), also of Philadelphia, were issued five years after his death in a volume entitled Poems on several occasions which contains a number of unimportant occasional poems, and others imitative of Milton, Cowley, Prior, Gray, and Collins. Evans's most ambitious effort is his Ode on the prospect of peace; but more interesting is his tribute to Benjamin Franklin in praise of physical science. On the whole his poems show less native ability than Godfrey's and are equally imitative; but the work of both is significant as the beginning of our more purely lyrical verse.

Had not the Revolution interfered,3 the publication of volumes of miscellaneous poems would probably have continued unbroken. When about 1790 it began again, to continue indefinitely, the awakening of national consciousness had produced no change in the matter and style of the short poem; it was still an echo. And Philadephia was still the centre for writing and publication. But new influences-such as Mrs. Radcliffe, Ossian, and the contemporary romantic ballads — are often apparent in the last decade of the century. The sentimental, the mysterious, the horrible, environed with appropriate scenery, appear here and there in the work of such poets as William Moore Smith (1759-1821), of Philadelphia, who gives evidence of this imported “romanticism” in The Wizard of the rock, a blend of Parnell, Percy, and Goldsmith; and Maria's grave, which is placed amid the romantic scenery pictured by the poet's originals across the Atlantic. Most distinguished personally of the Philadelphia poets was Judge Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791),4 signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose many occasional poems are merely as good as the average of their kind, but whose songs, some of which are suggestive of Gay and Prior, are distinctly musical and pleasing. The Rev. John Blair Linn (1777-1804), who, like Godfrey and Evans, died young and left his work unfinished, wrote odes to solitude [178] and melancholy, pastorals and elegies, and other echoes of Shenstone, Gray, and even Mason. It is noticeable that the songs and light social lyrics of the close of the century come from Philadelphia, the social capital. The gifted and original William Cliffton (1772-1799) was both a satirist and a lyrist. His half-dozen lyrics, quite the two best of which are To fancy and To a Robin,5 are not without grace and delicacy, which he owes largely to his models, Gay, Prior, and Collins. Like Freneau and other poets of the time, Cliffton found his surroundings unsympathetic:

In these cold shades, beneath these shifting skies,
Where Fancy sickens, and where Genius dies;
Where few and feeble are the Muse's strains,
And no fine frenzy riots in the veins.

So he characterizes his environment in his epistle to William Gifford, which was prefixed to the American edition of the Baviad and Maeviad in 1799. Gifford's stinging satire on the “Della Cruscan” school of poetry was welcomed in America by Cliffton, whose verse was at least manly and sincere.

It is not certain that Joseph Brown Ladd (1764-1786) wrote his Poems of Arouet under Della Cruscan influence, for they were published in the year in which the school took its rise in Florence; they are at least an anticipation of its more languishing side. But whether or not the Della Cruscan mania had reached Charleston, where Ladd was killed in a duel, in 1786, it was certainly widespread in Boston less than a decade later. Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759-1846),6 termed by her admirers “The American Sappho,” praises Della Crusca in a fervid address prefixed to her narrative poem Ouabi, or the Virtues of Nature (1790), and as “Philenia” exchanged poetical tributes with her “Menander,” no less a celebrity than Robert Treat Paine, Jr. (1773-181I).

Boston's craving for a native poet, the bad taste of the time, and the poet's own wayward life combined to give Paine a reputation surpassing that of any of his contemporaries. At Harvard he was known by his occasional poems, and his [179] patriotic song Adams and liberty made him a celebrity. Though he practised law, he gave most of his time to the theatre and to poetry. Soon his reputation was such that he could command five dollars a line for his verse, a price never before approached in America and perhaps never since equalled. His marriage with an actress estranged him from his family, and after this event his life was that of a wastrel. His services, however, were in request upon all public occasions, from the opening of theatres to meetings of the Phi Beta Kappa. For such occasions he wrote the didactic poems, prologues, and odes in conventional but vigorous heroic couplets that form the greater part of his work. The ruling passion, for Phi Beta Kappa, and The invention of letters, for a Harvard commencement, were hailed as the spontaneous and original outbursts of genius, though both are merely laboured and conventional didactic poems of a type that was even then in its decline. In these and a few other of Paine's poems one finds rhetorical passages of some merit amid a waste of bombast and affectation but looks in vain for any imagination or real feeling. The diction embodies all the vices against which the new poetry rebelled. Della Crusca plus Pope would have crushed a more genuine talent than Paine's. His reputation is a curious evidence of the pathetic craving for a national poet and of the determination to force the birth of a genius. His Works in prose and verse, an octavo volume of over five hundred pages, was published one year after his death, with all the reverence due to a classic.

“The American Sappho” was not the only woman singer of Boston. Mrs. Susanna Rowson,7 besides her plays and novels, wrote poems which unite “sensibility” and didacticism. Her odes, hymns, elegies, nature lyrics, and songs show little observation of life or nature, and scarcely any distinctive American quality. Of all these, the patriotic lyric America, Commerce, and Freedom, which is commonplace but not without spirit, alone has survived. The Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, of Mrs. Mercy Warren (1728-1814)8 include ponderous and solemn epistles and elegies that are merely belated echoes of Pope. New York also had its woman poet in Mrs. Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752-1783), whose melancholy [180] life is reflected in the tone of her sentimental elegies, epistles, descriptive poems, and religious lyrics, in the style of the English poets of the first half of the century. Her daughter, Mrs. Margaretta Faugeres, who published her own poems with those of her mother in 1793, shows in her poem on the Hudson the growing attention to native scenery. The inquiring reader may find all the imitative qualities of our early lyric poets if he will consult the very inclusive Original poems, serious and entertaining, of Paul Allen (1775-1826), whose facile and graceful verse is indicative of English influences all the way from Prior to Cowper.

Aside from the lyrics of Freneau, the two original strains in our early lighter verse are the humorous poems of Thomas Green Fessenden and of Royall Tyler,9 and the nature lyrics of Alexander Wilson. Fessenden contributed humorous poems of New England country life to Dennie's Farmer's weekly Museum, and these were afterwards published in his Original poems. To this same magazine and also to Dennie's Port Folio, Royall Tyler contributed pictures and studies in verse of American environment and character which are worth all the pretentious imitations of his contemporaries. The lyrics scattered throughout the pages of Alexander Wilson's Ornithology and afterwards printed in his collected poems merit more attention than they have heretofore received. Wilson was scientist and poet enough to celebrate the osprey, the Baltimore bird, the hummingbird, and the bluebird in true nature lyrics which, together with those of Freneau, are not unworthy forerunners of Bryant's.

Philip Freneau was born in New York of Huguenot ancestry in 1752, and died near Freehold, New Jersey, in 1832. His long and eventful life was spent in a variety of pursuits. After he graduated from Princeton in 1771, he was author, editor, government official, trader, and farmer. As regards the genesis of his poems, two facts in his life are especially important. His newspaper work encouraged a fatal production of the satirical and humorous verse that gave him reputation; and his trading voyages inspired poems descriptive of the scenery of the southern islands, and made possible what is perhaps his most original and distinctive work, his naval ballads. [181]

From the volumes of the most recent edition of Freneau's poems, aggregating 1200 pages, the reader gains the impression that had this poet written half as much he might have written twice as well. That he was something of the artist is shown by the care with which he revised his poems for five successive editions; but his revisions are sometimes actually for the worse. Yet Freneau surpassed all his contemporaries not only in quality but also in sheer quantity and in variety of subject and form. Furthermore, his work presents an almost unique combination of satiric power, romantic imagination, and feeling for nature. At one extreme is the bitter invective of his satires; at the other, the delicate fancy of his best lyrics. His early poems show the influence of Milton, as in The power of fancy; of Gray, as in The monument of Phaon and The Deserted Farm House; and of Goldsmith, as in The American village-all of which contain lines of original power and beauty; but in his Pictures of Columbus, he reaches complete originality. When the poet has Columbus exclaim in the face of death,

The winds blow high; one other world remains;
Once more without a guide I find the way,

he shows that at last the new world has produced a poet.

In his voyages Freneau found the tropical scenery of his descriptive poems. The beauties of Santa Cruz, though unequal and crude, has a definiteness of imagery and a simplicity of diction that set it apart from the conventional school of Thomson. The House of Alight, which combines description and narrative, is the most remarkable poem written in America up to its time. In the use of “romantic” scenery and of death as a theme, Freneau was not a pioneer; but in his supernaturalism and in the strange and haunting music of his lines, he stood alone, and, as has often been remarked, anticipated Coleridge and Poe. Although Freneau was known in England, it may be doubted whether he influenced the English romantic poets. More probably, both he and they were influenced by the same general tendencies; for the romantic movement was already well under way when he wrote the The House of night. The poem is overlong, lacks unity of tone and matter, and altogether is disappointingly crude; but it contains such lines as [182]

so loud and sad it play'd
As though all music were to breathe its last,

I saw the infernal windows flaming red,


>Trim the dull tapers, for I see no dawn,

which are a source of astonishment to one who has followed the course of American poetry up to this point. But unfortunately the romantic strain which promised so richly was soon lost.

Freneau's poems of the “glory of America” type, such as his Rising glory cf America, written in collaboration with H. H. Brackenridge10 when the two were seniors at Princeton, were inspired by a great vision and still retain a certain eloquence. His burlesques of American scenes and characters, such as Slender's journey, are less successful; but his satires in both quantity and variety surpassed all but McFingal in their day. “Poet of the American Revolution” is no misnomer, if the term is to include political events up to 1815. Freneau's masters in satire are Dryden, Churchill, and “Peter Pindar” ; and his tone ranges from burlesque to invective. The political balance and The British prison ship are the most powerful and original satires of their time. The royalist printers Rivington and Gaine were his chief targets during the last years of the Revolution. In his personal satires he uses the anapest, which he was the first to popularize in America. His later satires, usually in lyrical stanzas, were suggested by “Peter Pindar” ; the phrase “Peter Pindar of America” gives the key to his contemporary reputation. That his finer work received no praise was to Preneau a source of discouragement and even of bitterness. His aspiration was lyrical; but he had fallen on evil days:

On these bleak climes by fortune thrown,
Where rigid reason reigns alone,
Where lovely fancy has no sway,
Nor magic forms about us play-
Nor nature takes her summer hue,
Tell me, what has the muse to do?

To an Author.

Freneau's newspaper work, his political affiliations, and his business ventures operated unfavourably upon his lyrical poetry. [183] Although his fervour was reawakened by the French Revolution and again by the War of 1812, almost all his best lyrics were written between 1775 and 1790. In the main these concern the American Indian, the smaller objects of nature, and the sea, and in subject at least are altogether original. The Indian Burying ground is well known; The Indian student, which curiously anticipates some phases of Wordsworth's Ruth, and The dying Indian, are scarcely less fine. His nature lyrics, such as The wild Honeysuckle, the Caty-did, and On the Sleep of plants, are the first to give lyrical expression to American nature. Their simplicity and restraint suggest Collins and Gray, but they are not imitative, and it is probable that Freneau is more original in even the style of his lyrics than has generally been acknowledged. To a man of ninety would at once be lighted upon as an imitation of Wordsworth had it not actually anticipated the Lyrical ballads. The elegiac lyric Eutaw springs, which Scott pronounced the best thing of its kind in the language, may have been suggested by Collins, but is still strongly original. However this may be, Freneau seems to merit all that his latest editor claims for him as a pioneer in the lyric of the sea. On the death of Captain Nicholas Biddle (1779) has much of Campbell's spirit and power; The Paul Jones and Captain Barney's victory over the General monk deserve more than the mere credit given to the pioneer, for they are intrinsically fine.

There remains, then, out of Freneau's voluminous product, a small body of work of permanent interest. The House of night deserves remembrance, not only for its pioneer romanticism but also for passages of intrinsic beauty and power; and a score of his lyrics, while far from perfect, are fine enough to deserve a permanent place in our anthologies. What his slender but genuine talent might have produced under more favourable conditions, even a generation later, can only be surmised, but even as it is we have in Freneau the only American poet before Bryant who possessed both imaginative insight and felicity of style.

A few general conclusions concerning early American poetry may be stated briefly. First, the sheer quantity of it is surprisingly large in proportion to the population. Again, it is not the [184] product of a new civilization, but as a whole is the extremely sophisticated result of English literary traditions. In style at least it is highly imitative of English models, and in many instances it shows an immediate transmission of literary influences. Finally, in the average merit of its style, it is, at least in the eighteenth century, quite equal to all but the very best of its time in the mother country. Altogether, the first two centuries of American poetry prepared the soil for the truly native growth that was to come after 1812-a growth that was no sudden phenomenon but simply the inevitable result of the cumulative forces of two hundred years.

1 The French and Indian War gave birth to a curious volume of Miscellaneous poems on Divers occasions, chiefly to Animate and rouse the soldiers (1756), by Stephen Tilden, which, in spite of its wretched verse, is of some interest as the first of its kind in America.

2 Published as Canto I, but since divided into two cantos.

3 Aside from patriotic songs and ballads, not much lyrical verse was published between 1770 and 1786, and that little appeared in newspapers and magazines.

4 See also Book II., Chap. II.

5 The latter is written in the eight-line anapestic stanza greatly favoured by Shenstone and later used by Cowper in his Alexander Selkirk, which occurs with notable frequency in the lyrics of this period.

6 See also Book II, Chap. VI.

7 See also Book II, Chaps. II and VI.

8 See also Book II, Chap. II.

9 See also Book II, Chaps. II, II, and VI.

10 For whom see also Book II, Chap. VI.

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