Old Anarch, master of chaos, marshalls his forces and rallies them for battle against Hesper, Nymph of the West.

"Behold the Reign of Anarchy"

Editor’s Note

Anthony Comegna

Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

While we do not know which of our four authors wrote each specific piece of “Anarchiad,” we do know the authors’ names and historians most remember them for their associations with the “Hartford Wits.” Originally denoting members of a Yale literary club, the moniker has become associated with what many historians see as the outdated, somewhat stale, yet entrenched and lingering New England conservatism that was soon overrun with New York liberalism. In the 1780s, New England was still the fledgling country’s heartland, its major population center (along with Virginia); New England possessed the greatest and oldest universities, their coastal cities connected the Atlantic world together, and virtually everyone there either read, wrote, or at least thought significantly about politics and society. In many ways, New England was as radical and liberal a place as you could get, but by American standards it was now ancient and wizened. And with the British gone, New Englanders looked toward the future to answer historian Carl Becker’s ‘second question of the American Revolution: Who shall rule at home?

The average New Englander had one answer; the Hartford Wits and their Federalist allies, quite another. In our previous number, Humphreys, Barlow, Trumbull, and Hopkins make special note of a matter especially important in a place like Connecticut. Rhode Islanders–flush with the spirit of democracy that comes when roughly 90% of the male population could vote in some towns–became famous for printing money during the 1780s. The British Currency Acts forbade such activity, of course, but during the Revolution people discovered some of the merits in such schemes. After all, the printing press allowed democratic majorities to express or withhold their support from the Continental Congress that controlled it. If people refused to use the Continentals–or if Congress misused their powers to flood the market with these things–the war effort might well fail. If people wanted to express their satisfaction with the government, they could use its money and support its cause. Rhode Islanders found it a convenient way to sponsor their own government’s activities, bolster their own people’s purchasing power, and no Articles of Confederation could restrain the state from doing so. As a result, Rhode Island paper flooded nearby states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, prompting localized booms and busts, dislocating business activities, and distorting behavior. Institute the sort of federal system advocated by figures like our quartet, though, and states could not engage in such reckless disregard for each other.

Our current pieces were published in January 1787, a few months before the Constitutional Convention began. It opens with more from Anarch, master of chaos, and his battle against Hesper, the daughter of the evening and nymph of the west. It concludes with Anarch’s daydreams of extinguishing knowledge, science, art, religion and anything else giving shape and order to life. Our clever Yaleys note that Anarch would love nothing more than that “The wits be hang’d; the Congress forc’d to flee | To western wilds, or headlong to the sea.”

By David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, Lemuel Hopkins

Anarchiad : a New England poem, 1786–1787



[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of January 11th, 1787.]

Bow low, ye heavens, and all ye lands, draw near,
The voice prophetic of great Anarch hear !
From Eastern climes, by light and order driven,
To me, by fate, this Western world was giv’n;
My standard rear’d, the realm imperial rules,
The last asylum for my knaves and fools.
Here shall my best and brightest empire rise,
Wild riot reign, and discord greet the skies.
Awake, my chosen sons, in folly brave,
Stab Independence! dance o’er Freedom’s grave!
Sing choral songs, while conq’ring mobs advance,
And blot the debts to Holland, Spain, and France—
Till ruin come, with fire, and sword, and blood,
And men shall ask where your republic stood.

Thrice happy race! how blest are discord’s heirs!
Blest while they know what anarchy is theirs;
Blest while they feel to them alone ‘t is given
To know no sovereign, neither law nor Heaven.
From all mankind by traits peculiar known,
By frauds and lies distinguish’d for mine own,
Wonder of worlds! like whom, to mortal eyes,
None e’er have risen, and none e’er shall rise!

Lo, the poor Briton, who, corrupted, sold,
Sees God in courts, or hears him chink in gold:
Whose soul, proud empire oft has taught to stray
Far as the Western world, and gates of day;
Though plagu’d with debts, with rage of conquest curst,
In rags and tender‐​acts he puts no trust;
But in the public weal his own forgets,
Finds heaven for him who pays the nation’s debts;
A heaven like London, his fond fancy makes,
Of nectar’d porter and ambrosial steaks.

Not so, Columbia, shall thy sons be known
To prize the public weal above their own;
In faith and justice least, as last in birth,
Their race shall grow, a by‐​word through the earth.
Long skill’d to act the hypocritic part,
Grace on the brow, and knav’ry at the heart,
Perform their frauds with sanctimonious air,
Despise good works, and balance sins by pray’r—
Forswear the public debt, the public cause;
Cheat heaven with forms, and earth with tender‐ laws,
And leave the empire, at its latest groan,
To work salvation out by faith alone.

Behold the reign of anarchy, begun,
And half the business of confusion done.
From hell’s dark caverns discord sounds alarms,
Blows her loud trump, and calls my Shays to arms,
O’er half the land the desperate riot runs,
And maddening mobs assume their rusty guns.
From councils feeble, bolder faction grows,
The daring corsairs, and the savage foes;
O’er Western wilds, the tawny bands allied,
Insult the States of weakness and of pride;
Once friendly realms, unpaid each generous loan,
Wait to divide and share them for their own.

Now sinks the public mind; a death‐​like sleep
O’er all the torpid limbs begins to creep;
By dull degrees decays the vital heat,
The blood forgets to flow, the pulse to beat;
The powers of life, in mimic death withdrawn,
Closed the fixed eyes with one expiring yawn;
Exposed in state, to wait the funeral hour,
Lie the pale relics of departed power;
While conscience, harrowing up their souls, with dread,
Their ghost of empire stalks without a head.

No more stands forth to check the rising feud,
Their great DEFENDER of the public good;
Retired, in vain his sighs their fate deplore,
He hears, unmoved, the distant tempest roar;
No more to save a realm, dread GREENE appears,
Their second hope, prime object of my fears;
Far in the south, from his pale body riven,
The deathful angel wings his soul to heaven.

Here shall I reign, unbounded and alone,
Nor men, nor demons, shake my baseless throne;
Till comes the day—but late, oh, may it spring—
When their tumultuous mobs shall ask a king;
A king, in wrath, shall heaven, vindictive send,
And my confusion and my empire end.

With arms, where bickering fires innumerous shine,
Like the torn surface of the midnight brine;
In sun‐​bright robes, that dazzles as he trod,
The stature, motion, armor of a god,
Great HESPER rose; the guardian of the clime—
O’er shadowy cliffs he stretch’d his arm sublime,
And check’d the Anarch old: “Malicious fiend,
Eternal curses on thy head descend!
Heaven’s darling purpose can thy madness mar,
To glut thy eyes with ruin, death, and war !
I know thee, Anarch, in thy cheerless plight,
Thou eldest son of Erebus and Night!
Yes, bend on me thy brows of hideous scowl;
Roll thy wild eyeballs like the day‐​struck owl;
In Zion blow the trump, resound it far;
Fire the red beacons of intestine war;
The jealous breasts inflame; set hell at work,
And crown the labors of E —s B — e;
Yet, know for this, thyself to penance called,
Thy troops in terrors, their proud hearts appall’d,
E’en Shays, that moment when eternal night
Rolls dark’ning shadows o’er his closing sight,
Shall feel, ‘t were better on a plank to lie,
Where surging billows kiss the angry sky;
‘T were better, through a furnace, fiery red,
With naked feet, on burning coals, to tread—
Than point his sword, with parricidious hand,
Against the bosom of his native land.

“Where is the spirit of bold freedom fled ?
Dead are my warriors; all my sages dead?
Is there, Columbia, bending o’er her grave,
No eye to pity, and no arm to save ?

“Sister of Freedom! heaven’s imperial child!
Serenely stern, beneficently mild,
Blest Independence! rouse my sons to fame,
Inspire their bosoms with thy sacred flame!
Teach, ere too late, their blood‐​bought rights to prize,
Bid other GREENES and WASHINGTONS arise!
Teach those who suffer’d for their country’s good,
Who strove for freedom, and who toil’d in blood,
Once more, in arms, to make the glorious stand,
And bravely die, or save their natal land.

“Yes, they shall rise, terrific in their rage,
And crush the factions of the faithless age;
Bid laws again exalt th’ imperial scale,
And public justice o’er her foes prevail;
Restore the reign of order and of right,
And drive thee, howling, to the shades of night.”

They ended parley, and both for fight address’d,
On Anarch’s helm a comet blaz’d his crest;
Infernal arms the shadowy demon steel’d,
And half the Andes form’d his ample shield;
Through parting clouds, high gleam’d his dreadful spear,
And shuddering earth proclaim’d the onset near;
Unmov’d, great HESPER drew th’ immortal sword,
And rush’d in vengeance, —

—The society of critics and antiquarians cannot sufficiently express their regrets, upon finding the sequel of this description so much defaced that they are not able to decide the issue of this astonishing conflict. The fragments still legible are truly sublime. And we have reason to conjecture that the combat ended with some disadvantage to the old Anarch.



[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of January 25th, 1787.]

SONGS on love, conviviality, martial achievements, and imperial glory, are common to all nations. The composition of such songs as tend to excite the feelings of patriotism, has been deemed an object of no small importance. It has even been supposed that this species of poetry, accompanied with music calculated for and understood by the multitude, may have as much influence on their manners, as the civil institutions of legislation. Indeed, a political writer, of eminence, has gone so far as to assert that it did not matter so much who had the power of making laws, as who had that of making songs for the people. The British seem to have sung themselves into a belief that their naval prowess is invincible. And this belief has contributed not a little to establish their empire on the main. If Americans could be taught to revere themselves; if they could be made to realize their consequence, in the scale of existence, so far from being desperate in their situation, the inhabitants of such a country, under such circumstances for happiness, might be considered as the peculiar favorites of heaven, and actors on the most conspicuous theater that ever was allotted to mankind. Such is the fact. And so the GENIUS OF AMERICA is represented to have sung, in mystical numbers, at the moment when the New World was discovered. The society of critics and antiquarians are pleased to find that this Ode is preserved, entire. They make no doubt that the wildness and grandeur of scenery, the sublimity of description, the beauty of imagery, the boldness of transition, the melody of versification, and the predictive solemnity of diction, which give sufficient demonstration of its originality, will recommend it to the amateurs of poetry and music. Should the taste of their countrymen, in general, be uncorrupted, as they flatter themselves it is, they expect this song will be introduced into most of the polite circles in the United States. The literati have often lamented that America could boast of but few original songs, worthy its imperial dignity. It is expected, if the success of the following should be in proportion to its merits, other compositions of a similar nature may yet be discovered. In the meantime, until the public mind shall be known, no further gratification of the same kind will be offered.



“The watery god, great Neptune, lay
In dalliance soft, and amorous play,
On Amphytrite’s breast,” &c.

WHERE spirits dwell, and shadowy forms,
On Andes’ cliffs, ‘mid black’ning storms,
With livid lightnings curl’d;
The awful Genius of our clime,
In thunder rais’d his voice sublime,
And hush’d the list’ning world.

In lonely waves, and wastes of earth,
A mighty empire claims its birth,
And Heaven asserts the claim;
The sails that hang in your dim sky,
Proclaim the promis’d era nigh,
Which wakes a world to fame.

Hail! ye first bounding ships that roam
Blue tumbling billows topp’d with foam,
That keel ne’er plowed before !
Here suns perform their useless round,
Here rove the naked tribes embrown’d,
Who feed on living gore.

To midnight orgies, off’rings dire,
The human sacrifice in fire,
A heavenly light succeeds:
But, lo! what horrors intervene,
The toils severe, the carnage scene,
And more than mortal deeds !

Ye FATHERS! spread your fame afar!
‘T is yours to still the sounds of war,
And bid the slaughter cease;
The peopling hamlets wide extend,
The harvests spring, the spires ascend,
‘Mid grateful songs of peace!

Shall steed to steed, and man to man,
With discord thundering in the van,
Again destroy the bliss!
Enough my mystic words reveal;
The rest the shades of night conceal,
In fate’s profound abyss !



[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of February 22d, 1787.]

The soliloquy and invocation of WRONGHEAD, with the appearance and consolatory speech of the ANARCH.

NOW marshal’d hosts assembling from afar,
Prelude the onset of approaching war
In Wronghead’s jealous soul; while thus, in sighs,
He breathes hoarse accents to the nether skies:

“O thou dark world, where chance eternal reigns,
And wide misrule, the Anarch, old, maintains;
Orcus, and Hades! hear my fervent prayer,
And aid, if Wrongheads still deserve your care:
If you receiv’d me dark’ning from the womb,
And nurs’d the hope of mischiefs yet to come;
If busied, daily, planning pop’lar schemes,
And nightly rapt in democratic dreams,
Fair discord as a goddess I revere,
And in her vineyards toil from year to year;
Still active, as the princely power of air,
To sow each jealousy, arid till with care;
If I each long‐​face in the land assail,
At Congress, Courts, and legal powers to rail;
If I at trade, great men and lawyers’ fees,
Have so harangu’d as vulgar ears to please;
If cant pretense of Liberty, the while,
Has been the universal burden of my style;
If this has gain’d me all the posts I hold,
With numerous salaries heap’d my chest with gold,
And fed my hopes that fed’ral ties no more
Shall bind the nations of the western shore;
That local schemes shall lift their narrow scale,
And our own statesmen through the land prevail;
Then, hear again, ye powers that stretch the sway,
Through the wide vast, beneath the solar day,
Hear, and dispel my anxious doubts and fears,
To me more dread than certain loss of ears.

“Since the Convention fell, no more to rise,
And grey’d these locks, and dimm’d these tearful eyes,
This more minute, less blust’ring plan, I tried,
Till wish’d success began to feed my pride:
But now, alas! stern justice rears her head,
And crowds my days with fears, my nights with dread;
Those congregated sages, who, ere now,
Had I my wish, were doom’d to guide the plow,
Are planning, still, to build a fed’ral name,
And blast lay laurels with eternal shame;
The pride of courts still brightens in their eyes,
And scorning still to pay our debt with lies,
Have rais’d these martial bands to aid their cause,
To awe each mob, and execute the laws.
Shall these succeed? and shall my labor’d schemes,
Ye sov’reign powers! disperse in empty dreams?”
He spoke, and breath’d a care‐​corroding sigh,
Then, through a dark, deep vale, bent down his eye;
When, lo! a lurid fog began to move,
And mount in solemn grandeur o’er the grove,
Convolving mists enroll’d a demon’s form,
But headless, monstrous, shapeless as a storm;
While Wronghead gaz’d, the fiend sublimer grew,
Known for the Anarch, to his raptur’d view;
Sudden, as rumbling thunder heard remote,
These stunning sounds rose, grating, through his throat:

“Beloved sage, the powers of Chaos know
Your every fear, and number every woe;
Their ken sweeps broader than the bounds of day,
And thrice ten lengths of hell, their nether sway;
Where now your world has gain’d that little hight,
Just o’er the precincts of chaotic night,
We held, of old, the reign; nor yet despair
To hold a wilder mental chaos there.

“Those warlike bands, whose music grates thine ear,
Are ills, at best, but not the worst we hear;
(Though they our much-lov’d mobs may sorely awe,
Give Union aid, and tone to fed’ral law,)—
More dang’rous foes arise, in learning’s dress,
Arm’d with the pen, and ambush’d in the press.
The laughing youth, as lessons, learn their page,
And age, approving smiles, while dullards rage;
Their shafts all poison’d in Pierian springs,
Seem now impatient, on the bending strings,
To pierce their foes;—their arrows drink the fame
Of each unfederal politician’s name.
See our best heroes, stagg’ring from the plain,
With eyes aghast, in curses vent their pain.
But give your toils not o’er—the human soul
Sinks, by strong instinct, far beneath her goal;
Fierce, bickering tribes, acknowledg’d once my sway,
From rising morning to the setting day;
Low bow’d the north, and all the spacious south
Receiv’d the precepts warm from Anarch’s mouth;
And when, o’er eastern climes, proud science shone,
And millions bow’d before her splendid throne,
My storm of Goths quench’d her meridian light,
And whelm’d her sons in anarchy and night:
There had she mourn’d her everlasting doom,
But the curs’d press dispell’d the midnight gloom.
Hence, learn, my seer, we shadowy powers who dwell
Far in the wilds of space, ‘twixt this and hell,
Thron’d on unnumber’d whirlwinds, through the void,
Nor yet by distance, time, or place, annoy’d,
Save where our envious foe, with swift surprise,
Snatch’d that small spot where now creation lies:
Learn, though strict order guides His world on high,
Where suns emblaze, and systems vault the sky;
Yet there, we oft, in wayward whirls, control
The mystic, mad’ning mazes of the soul:
But chief, where science sheds her taintless beams,
And men are haunted worst with waking dreams;
Where prejudice is headstrong, reason blind,
The soul unpolish’d, all its views confin’d;
Where self is all‐​in‐​all; and stubborn will
Shuts out each good, through jealousy of ill.
Though in thy soul these choicest gifts preside,
With an unbounded share of humble pride;
Though all the lesser virtues we can give,
Instinctive, in thy mind, immortal live;
Though all thy friends, late nicknam’d by our foes,
Each one his duty, task, and drudgery knows,
As plann’d by thee; yet know, my faithful seer,
These plans alone can scarce survive the year:
The lamp of science must be quench’d in night,
Till none, or next to none, can read or write;
The press, anon, in brazen chains must groan,
First watch’d and guarded by our saints alone;
The numerous schools that live along the shore,
Must fall, successive, and must rise no more;
The wits be hang’d; the Congress forc’d to flee
To western wilds, or headlong to the sea.

“Then shall ten thousand whirlwinds lead the way,
And he, true Anarch, here exalt his sway;
Before his face a flood of darkness roll,
Blot the dim day, and whelm the sinking pole;
Confusion, chaos, chance, his course attend,
Hoarse rumor rave, and hell’s own mobs ascend;
His sons, on fierce tornadoes, hail from far
The black effulgence of his wasting car,
And throng his courts; old Night’s dark eye shall glow,
Like seas of boiling tar, or hills of lampblack snow.”