From Half-Hours With The Best Humorous Authors, selected and arranged by Charles Morris, Vol. II. American; J. B. Lippincott Company; Philadelphia; 1889, pp. 47-55.
[John Trumbull, the satirical poet of the Revolutionary period, was born at Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1750. He studied law under John Adams, and practised at New Haven and Hartford. In 1772
appeared “The Progress of Dulness,” a humorous poem, which he followed in 1782 by “McFingal,” a satirical poem which reached the highest popularity and passed through thirty editions. In the words of Griswold, “It is much the best imitation of the great satire of Butler that has been written.” The author died in 1831. We give that portion describing McFingal’s attack on the liberty-pole and its disastrous consequences, stopping short, however, of the tarring and feathering of the hero which followed his suspension in mid-air.]
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 masts, or country spire;
Like spears at Brobdingnagian tilting,
Or Satan’s walking-staff in Milton,
And on its top, the flag unfurled,
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 noble politics refined,
Or roused to martial controversy,
As from transforming cups of Circe,
Or warmed with Homer’s nectared liquor,
That filled 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,
’Tis consecrate to Liberty.
To guard it from the attacks of Tories,
A grand committee called of four is,
Who foremost on the patriot spot
Had brought the flip and paid the shot.
By this McFingal with his train
Advanced upon th’ adjacent plain,
And, full with loyalty possest,
Poured forth the zeal that fired his breast:
“What mad-brained rebel gave commission
To raise this May-pole of sedition?
Like Babel, reared 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?
Attacked by heroes brave and crafty,
Is this to stand your ark of safety?
Or, driven by Scottish laird and laddie,
Think you 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 brasen snake of Moses,
Cure your cracked skulls and battered noses?
* * * * * *
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 rams’ horns prostrated fall.”
This said, our ’Squire, yet undismayed,
Called forth the constable to aid,
And bade him read, in nearest station,
The Riot-Act and Proclamation.
He, swift advancing to the ring,
Began, “Our Sovereign Lord the King ——”
When thousand clam’rous 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 a hiding-place,
’Twas all he could, beneath a brace,
When soon the conquering crew espied him,
And where he lurked they caught and tied him.
At once, with resolution fatal,
Both Whigs and Tories rushed to battle.
Instead of weapons, either band
Seized on such arms as came to hand.
And famed as Ovid paints th’ 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,
Attacked 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 voice receptacle for brains;
Their clamors rend the skies around,
The hills rebellow to the sound,
And many a groan increased the din
From battered nose and broken shin.
McFingal, 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 th’ opposing war.
The Whigs, unsafe within the wind
Of such commotion, shrunk behinds;
With whirling steel around addressed,
Fierce through their thickest throng he pressed
(Who rolled 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 crowned,
Our ’Squire had felled the pole to ground,
Had not some power, a Whig at heart,
Descended down and took their part
(Whether ’twere Pallas, Mars, or Iris,
’Tis 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 or ’Squire to single fight.
The Whig, thus armed, untaught to yield,
Advanced tremendous to the field;
Nor did McFingal 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 weighed
The sword against the brandished spade.
He weighed; but, lighter than a dream,
The sword flew up and kicked the beam.
Our ’Squire, on tiptoe rising fair,
Lifts high a noble stroke in air,
Which hung nt, 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 train-bands encircled round,
And on the bench, with blade right loyal,
Had won the day at many a trial,
Of stone and clubs had braved th’ alarms,
Shrunk from these new Vulcanian arms.
The spade so tempered from the sledge,
Nor keen nor solid harmed its edge,
Now met it, form his arm of might,
Descending with steep force to smite;
The blade snapt short, and from his hand
With rust embrowned the glittering sand.
Swift turned McFingal at the view,
And called to aid the attendant crew.
In vain; the Tories all had run
When scarce the fight had well begun;
Their setting wigs he saw decreased
Far in th’ horizon towards the west.
Amazed he viewed the shameful sight,
And saw no refuge but in flight:
But age unwieldy checked his pace,
Though fear had winged his flying race;
For not a trifling prize at stake, —
No less than great McFingal’s back.
With legs and arms he worked his course,
Like rider that outgoes his horse,
And labored hard to get away, as
Old Satan struggling on through chaos,
Till, looking back, he spied in rear
The spade-armed chief advanced too near.
Then stopt and seized a stone that lay
An ancient landmark near the way;
Nor shall we, as old bards have done,
Affirm it weighed a hundred ton;
But such a stone as at a shift
A madman might suffice to lift,
Since men, to credit their enigmas,
Are dwindled down to dwarfs and pigmies,
And giants exiled with their cronies
To Brobdingnags and Patagonias.
But, while our hero turned him round,
And tugged to raise it from the ground,
The fatal spade discharged a blow
Tremendous on his rear below;
His bent knees failed, and void of strength
Stretched on the ground his manly length.
Like ancient oak o’erturned, he lay,
Or tower to tempests fall’n a prey,
Or mountain 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,
Where 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 a rope,
At once its other end in haste bind,
And make it fast upon his waistband,
Till, like the earth, as stretched 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 the 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 hatchet-teeth,
But leave Kind George and all his elves
To do their conquering work themselves.”
This said, they lowered him down in state,
Spread at all points, like falling cat,
But took a vote first on the question
That they’d accept his full confession,
And to their fellowship and favor,
Restore him on his good behavior.
* “And earth self-balanced on her centre hung.” — MILTON.
† Allusion to Clouds, a comedy written in 423 B. C. by Aristophanes. Elf. Ed.