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American Wit and Humor
“By water shall he die and take his end.” — Shakespeare.
Toll for Sam Patch! Sam Patch, who jumps no more,
This or the world to come. Sam Patch is dead!
The vulgar pathway to the unknown shore
Of dark futurity, he would not tread.
No friends stood sorrowing round his dying bed;
Nor with decorous woe, sedately stepp’d
Behind his corpse, and tears by retail shed —
The mighty river, as it onward swept,
In one great wholesale sob, his body drowned and kept.
Toll for Sam Patch! he scorned the common way
That leads to fame, up heights of rough ascent,
And having heard Pope and Longinus say
That some great men had risen by falls, he went
And jumped, where wild Passaic’s waves had rent
The antique rocks — the air free passage gave —
And graciously the liquid element
Upbore him, like some sea-god on its wave;
And all the people said that Sam was very brave.
Fame, the clear spirit that doth to heaven upraise,
Let Sam to dive into what Byron calls
143 The hell of waters. For the sake of praise,
He wooed the bathos down great waterfalls;
The dizzy precipice, which the eye appals
Of travelers for pleasure, Samuel found
Pleasant, as are to women lighted halls,
Crammed full of fools and fiddles; to the sound
Of the eternal roar, he timed his desperate bound.
Sam was a fool. But the large world of such,
Has thousands — better taught, alike absurd,
And less sublime. Of fame he soon got much,
Where distant cataracts spout, of him men heard
Alas for Sam! Had he aright preferred
The kindly element, to which he gave himself so fearlessly,
We had not heard
That it was now his winding-sheet and grave,
Nor sung, ’twixt tears and smiles, our requiem for the brave.
He soon got drunk with rum and with renown,
As many others in high places do —
Whose fall is like Sam’s last — for down and down,
By one mad impulse driven, they flounder through
The gulf that keeps the future from our view,
And then are found not. May they rest in peace!
We heave the sigh to human frailty due —
And shall not Sam have his? The muse shall cease
To keep the heroic roll, which she began in Greece —
With demigods who went to the Black Sea
For wool (and if the best accounts be straight,
Came back, in Negro phraseology,
With the same wool each upon his pate),
144 In which she chronicled the deathless fate
Of him who jumped into the perilous ditch
Left by Rome’s street commissoners, in a state
Which made it dangerous, and by jumping which
He made himself renowned and the contractors rich —
I say, the muse shall forget to sound
The chord whose music is undying, if
She do not strike it when Sam Patch is drowned.
Leander dived for love. Leucadia’s cliff
The Lesbian Sappho leapt from in a miff,
To punish Phaon; Icarus went dead
Because the wax did not continue stiff;
And, had he minded what his father said,
He had not given a name unto his watery bed.
And Helle’s case was all an accident.
As everybody knows. Why sing of these?
Nor would I rank with Sam that man who went
Down into Ætna’s womb — Empedocles,
I think he called himself. Themselves to please,
Or else unwillingly, they made their springs;
For glory in the abstract, Sam made his,
To prove to all men, commons, lords, and kings,
That “some things may be done, as well as other things.”
I will not be fatigued, by citing more
Who jump’d of old, by hazard or design,
Nor plague the weary ghosts of boyish lore,
Vulcan, Apollo, Phaethon — in fine
All Tooke’s Pantheon. Yet they grew divine
By their long tumbles; and if we can match
Their hierarchy, shall we not entwine
145 One wreath? Who ever came “up to the scratch,”
And for so little, jumped so bravely as Sam Patch?
To long conclusions many men have jumped
In logic, and the safer course they took;
By any other they would have been stumped,
Unable to argue, or to quote a book,
And quite dumfounded, which they cannot brook;
They break no bones, and suffer no contusion,
Hiding their woful fall, by hook and crook,
In slang and gibberish, sputtering and confusion;
But that was not the way Sam came to his conclusion.
He jumped in person. Death or victory
Was his device, “and there was no mistake,”
Except his last; and then he did but die,
A blunder which the wisest men will make.
Aloft, where mighty floods the mountains break,
To stand, the target of ten thousand eyes,
And down into the coil and water-quake,
To leap, like Maia’s offspring, from the skies —
For this all vulgar flights he ventured to despise.
And while Niagara prolongs its thunder,
Though still the rock primeval disappears,
And nations change their bounds — the theme of wonder
Shall Sam go down the cataract of long years:
And if there be sublimity in tears,
Those shall be precious which the adventurer shed
When his frail star gave way, and waked his fears,
Lest, by the ungenerous crowd it might be said,
That he was all a hoax, or that his pluck had fled.
Who would compare the maudlin Alexander,
Blubbering because he had no job in hand,
Acting the hypocrite, or else the gander,
With Sam, whose grief we all can understand?
His crying was not womanish, nor plann’d,
For exhibition; but his heart o’erswelled
With its own agony, when he the grand
Natural arrangements for a jump beheld,
And measuring the cascade, found not his courage quelled,
His last great failure set the final seal
Unto the record Time shall never tear,
While bravery has its honor — while men feel
The holy natural sympathies which are
First, last and mightiest in the bosom. Where
The tortured tides of Genesee descend,
He came — his only intimate a bear —
(We know not that he had another friend),
The martyr of renown, his wayward course to end.
The fiend that from the infernal rivers stole
Hell-drafts for man, too much tormented him,
With nerves unstrung, but steadfast in his soul,
He stood upon the salient current’s brim;
His head was giddy, and his sight was dim;
And then he knew this leap would be his last —
Saw air, and earth, and water, wildly swim,
With eyes of many multitudes, dense and vast,
That stared in mockery; none a look of kindness cast.
Beat down, in the huge amphitheater,
“I see before me the gladiator lie,”
147 And tier on tier, the myriads waiting there,
The bow of grace, without one pitying eye —
He was a slave — a captive hired to die —
Sam was born free as Cæsar; and he might
The hopeless issue have refused to try;
No! with true leap, but soon with faltering flight —
“Deep in the roaring gulf, he plunged to endless night.”
But, ere he leapt, he begged of those who made
Money by his dread venture, that if he
Should perish, such collection should be paid
As might be picked up from the “company”
To his Mother. This, his last request, shall be —
Tho’ she who bore him ne’er his fate should know —
An iris, glittering o’er his memory —
When all the streams have worn their barriers low,
And, by the sea drunk up, forever cease to flow.
On him who chooses to jump down cataracts,
Why should the sternest moralist be severe?
Judge not the dead by prejudice — but facts,
Such as in strictest evidence appear.
Else were the laurels of all ages sere.
Give to the brave, who have passed the final goal —
The gates that ope not back — the generous tear;
And let the muse’s clerk upon her scroll,
In coarse, but honest verse, make up the judgment roll.
Therefore it is considered that Sam Patch
Shall never be forgot in prose or rhyme;
His name shall be a portion in the batch
Of the heroic dough, which baking Time
142 Kneads for consuming ages — and the chime
Of Fame’s old bells, long as they truly ring,
Shall tell of him: he dived for the sublime,
And found it. Thou, who, with the eagle’s wing,
Being a goose, would’st fly — dream not of such a thing!
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