Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
CHARACTER OF M'FINGAL.
WHEN Yankees, skill'd in martial rule,
First put the British troops to school;
Instructed them in warlike trade,
And new manœuvres of parade;
The true war-dance of Yankee-reels,
And manual exercise of heels;
Made them give up, like saints complete,
The arm of flesh, and trust the feet,
And work, like Christians undissembling,
Salvation out by fear and trembling;
Taught Percy fashionable races,
And modern modes of Chevy-Chaces:12
From Boston, in his best array,
Great Squire M'Fingal took his way,
And, graced with ensigns of renown,
Steer'd homeward to his native town.
His high descent our heralds trace
To Ossian's famed Fingalian race;
For though their name some part may lack,
Old Fingal spelt it with a Mac;
Which great M'Pherson, with submission,
We hope will add the next edition.
His fathers flourish'd in the Highlands
Of Scotia's fog-benighted islands;
Whence gain'd our squire two gifts by right,
Rebellion and the second-sight.
Of these the first, in ancient days,
Had gain'd the noblest palms of praise,
'Gainst kings stood forth, and many a crown'd head
With terror of its might confounded;Page 62
Till rose a king with potent charm
His foes by goodness to disarm;
Whom ev'ry Scot and Jacobite
Straight fell in love with—at first sight;
Whose gracious speech, with aid of pensions,
Hush'd down all murmurs of dissensions,
And with the sound of potent metal,
Brought all their blust'ring swarms to settle;
Who rain'd his ministerial mannas,
Till loud Sedition sung hosannas;
The good lords-bishops and the kirk
United in the public work;
Rebellion from the northern regions,
With Bute and Mansfield swore allegiance,
And all combined to raze, as nuisance,
Of church and state, the constitutions;
Pull down the empire, on whose ruins
They meant to edify their new ones;
Enslave the Amer'can wildernesses,
And tear the provinces in pieces.
For these our squire, among the valient'st,
Employ'd his time, and tools, and talents;
And in their cause, with manly zeal,
Used his first virtue to rebel;
And found this new rebellion pleasing
As his old king-destroying treason.
Nor less avail'd his optic sleight,
And Scottish gift of second-sight.
No ancient sibyl famed in rhyme,
Saw deeper in the womb of time;
No block in old Dodona's grove
Could ever more orac'lar prove.
Nor only saw he all that was,
But much that never came to pass;
Whereby all prophets far outwent he,
Though former days produced a plenty:
For any man with half an eye,
What stands before him may espy;Page 63
But optics sharp it needs, I ween,
To see what is not to be seen.
As in the days of ancient fame,
Prophets and poets were the same,
And all the praise that poets gain
Is but for what th' invent and feign:
So gain'd our squire his fame by seeing
Such things as never would have being.
Whence he for oracles was grown
The very tripod of his town.
Gazettes no sooner rose a lie in,
But straight he fell to prophesying;
Made dreadful slaughter in his course,
O'erthrew provincials, foot and horse;
Brought armies o'er by sudden pressings
Of Hanoverians, Swiss, and Hessians;
Feasted with blood his Scottish clan,
And hang'd all rebels to a man;
Divided their estates and pelf,
And took a goodly share himself.14
All this with spirit energetic,
He did by second-sight prophetic.
Thus stored with intellectual riches,
Skill'd was our squire in making speeches.
Where strength of brains united centres
With strength of lungs surpassing Stento[n's]
But as some muskets so contrive it,
As oft to miss the mark they drive at,
And, though well aim'd at duck or plover,
Bear wide and kick their owners over:
So fared our squire, whose reas'ning toil
Would often on himself recoil,Page 64
And so much injured more his side,
The stronger arg'ments he applied;
As old war-elephants, dismay'd,
Trod down the troops they came to aid,
And hurt their own side more in battle
Than less and ordinary cattle:
Yet at town meetings ev'ry chief
Pinn'd faith on great M'Fingal's sleeve,
And, as he motioned all by rote,
Raised sympathetic hands to vote.
The town, our hero's scene of action,
Had long been torn by feuds of faction;
And as each party's strength prevails,
It turn'd up diff'rent heads or tails;
With constant rattling, in a trice
Show'd various sides, as oft as dice.
As that famed weaver, wife t' Ulysses,
By night each day's work pick'd in pieces[;]
And though she stoutly did bestir her,
Its finishing was ne'er the nearer:
So did this town with steadfast zeal,
Weave cobwebs for the public weal,
Which, when completed, or before,
A second vote in pieces tore.
They met, made speeches full long-winded,
Resolved, protested, and rescinded;
Addresses sign'd, then chose committees,
To stop all drinking of Bohea-teas;
With winds of doctrine veer'd about,
And turn'd all Whig committees out.
Meanwhile our hero, as their head,
In pomp the Tory faction led,
Still following, as the squire should please,
Successive on, like files of geese.