The Wits foretell the end of Shays‐ism as they look forward to the impending Constitutional Convention.
"A Vanquish'd God"
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
We rejoin the Hartford Wits’ imitation epic in the midst of Old Anarch’s conquests. Waves of mobs destroy the institutions of power, including courts, replacing them with “heroic games, after the ancient epic manner,” displaying to the world their “pigmy penury of mind.” Once unleashed (in a place like post‐colonial North America, for example), democracy/chaos would infect the planet with a “contagion” not easily contained. Anarch’s mob “O’er Washington exalt thy darling Shays,” whose forces were busy struggling to resist state militia during the Winter of 1786–7. By the time the following crop of “American Antiquities” was published in March 1787, the Shaysites were down but certainly not out–especially given that the frontier was vast and practically ungovernable in many areas. The Wits describe Anarch in fairly horrifying terms: “His bulk immense by wounds unseemly marr’d, His helmless front by furrowing thunders scarr’d, Clotted with dark red gore, his horrent hair, Like meteors streaming on the troubled air.” But modern‐day readers may wonder why, exactly, given that in hindsight the Federalists won out so thoroughly. In fact, by December 1787 the Shays movement was effectively over. Thousands of citizens signed loyalty pledges in exchange for amnesty, but Massachusetts authorities pursued hundreds of prosecutions for rebellion against the state. Most of these, too, ended in amnesty–including for Daniel Shays–but on 6 December 1787 the state’s hangman claimed the lives of John Bly and Charles Rose for having looted during the rebellion. The Shaysites had only partially and temporarily resisted governmental duplicity and double‐standards by shutting down and directly–popularly–playing “Regulator” themselves. As of early 1787, though, the Wits and their ilk were far ahead of the game, busily gathering their own new and more powerful set of federal Regulators. Within a month after the final piece in this number was published the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia.
By David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, Lemuel Hopkins
Anarchiad : a New England poem, 1786–1787
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. VII.
EXTRACT FROM THE ANARCHIAD, BOOK XII.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of March 15th, 1787.]
IN this Book the Anarch, on the first success of his mobs in demolishing the courts of justice, institutes heroic games, after the ancient epic manner. Among other extraordinary contests, a prize is proposed to those of his heroes who would see farthest into total darkness, and shut their eyes longest to the clear light of day. Wronghead is the sole conqueror in this game, and is, thereupon, rewarded by the Anarch with a pair of spectacles, which showed every object inverted and wrapped in a mist of darkness. On this occasion, Tweedle, a poet, reared under the patronage of Copper, and now principal bard of his chaotic majesty, filled with the poetic flatus, bursts forth with an eulogium on the victor:
OH, thou! whatever title please thine ear, Judge, General, Delegate, or Registrar, Whether thou choose the high Comptroller’s air, Or frown more grimly in thy Council chair; Catch some new salary from each opening job, At Congress rail or vindicate the mob; Thou millpede of office, hear my lays, And aid the bard that sings thy welcome praise !
Oh for a muse of fire! sublime to draw The Judge unfetter’d by the rules of law; The self‐taught General, valiant to control The dangerous passions of the daring soul; In Compo’s scene, whose Christian spirit shone, Spar’d the foes’ lives, and gladly screen’d his own, Or sing in strains unus’d to mortal ear, Th’ unletter’d Statesman and Anarchian seer. Thine the dread task, on thy immortal plan, From federal ties to guard the rights of man; At power’s deep root to lay the patriot ax, Oppose the impost and prevent the tax; Bid depreciation pay the public debt, And teach the noblest art, the art to cheat; Thro’ all the States thy dark’ning mists to spread, And shroud their scenes in chaotic shade; O’er their true interest close the curtain draw, Hide them from light and cover them from law; With jealous arts misguide the wayward throng, Supremely blind, and obstinately wrong! With insect ken to local views confin’d, Display thy pigmy penury of mind; To other shores bid wealthy commerce pass, “The State surrounding with thy wall of brass;” Bid insurrection claim thy noblest praise, O’er WASHINGTON exalt thy darling Shays With thy contagion, embryo mobs inspire, And blow to tenfold rage the kindling fire; Till the wide realm of discord bow the knee, And hold true faith in Anarch and in thee.
Still may’st thou thus support th’ unfederal cause, The scourge of Congress, and the dread of laws; May never age, pain, sickness, or despair Attack thy life with unsuccessful war; Or late, when all thy race of fame is run, All parts accomplish’d, and all duties done— Proud rulers crush’d by thy supreme decree— Our Governor, Council, Judges, men like thee; Our debts all cancel’d in one fav’ring hour, And Congress bared of every plume of power; Their requisitions, by thy bold attack, Sunk in the whirlpool of the gen’ral wreck; From dreadful arts of Cincinnati free, Foiled by the breath of Wimble and of thee; All souls reduc’d, that e’er presum’d to shine, To one just level, and the rank of thine; This world forsaking, fairly may’st thou rise Above the earth, and pointing to the skies; While the great finisher of mortal strife, Shall close thy glories with the line of life; Where seraphs, then, in brighter regions burn, Go thou, a glowing seraph, in thy turn; With souls congenial, in those realms that dwell, Receive the meed you long deserv’d so well; Then draw thy comrades, in the closing string, And glad those regions with the sons you bring; And in thy patriot bosom yield a room For all the race of Wrongheads yet to come.
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. VIII.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of March 22d, 1787.]
A Brief Account of the Death of that celebrated Personage, WILLIAM WIMBLE, and of his Last Words and Dying Speech. Extracted from The Huron Gazette and the Superiopolis Advertiser, Number 11,560.
ON Friday last, agreeably to his sentence, WILLIAM WIMBLE was conveyed, by the Sheriff, to the place of execution. He appeared very penitent. He expressed to the clergyman who attended him a proper resignation to his fate, and conviction of the justice of his sentence. A vast concourse of people, as is usual, attended on the melancholy occasion, in expectation of being entertained by the eloquence of so great an orator. Nor were they disappointed. In the course of his oration, after giving a beautiful narrative of his life and conversation, and offering much good advice to the spectators, he broke out into the following pathetic exclamation: “Oh ! I have ventured like little wanton boys who swim on bladders, these many summers, on a sea of glory, but far beyond my depth. At length my high‐blown pride broke under me, and left me—” [Here the tears flowed in torrents, and stifled sighs had well‐nigh choaked articulation; when, looking round on the crowd, he espied the Sachem of Muskingum, and Joseph Copper. This sight rekindled the lightning of his dreadful eye, and bade the big bolts of eloquence to roll:] “Accursed day! hateful sight! What do my eyes behold! There walk, unchained, unmanacled, unhanged, the men who have betrayed me to this shameful fate—the men who will, ere long, effect their country’s ruin. Yes, Copper, with bitterness of soul I have seen the error of my ways. I could not die in peace without divulging our common crimes. Oh, thou tempter of unwary innocence! What cause have I, poor simple soul, to curse thee with my latest breath! My papers are in the judges’ hands—my time is short. Remember ! thou knowest thy aggravated guilt.”
This declaration corresponding with official information, a party of the sheriff’s men arrested the Sachem and Copper, who are confined in irons, for trial.
At half past eleven o’clock, A. M., WIMBLE pulled the handkerchief over his eyes, and was launched from the tail of a cart, on his voyage towards that country from whose bourne no traveler returns. His friend, Tweedle, the poet laureate, has composed an Elegy in his praise. A correspondent has favored us with a genuine copy of it, which we offer, with unfeigned pleasure, for the gratification of our kind readers:
AN ELEGY ON A PATRIOT.
Occasioned by the awful and untimely Death of the Honorable WILLIAM WIMBLE, who, by the coroner’s inquest, was found to have come to his end by suffocation.
“Hic cinis, ubique fama.”
I. IN yonder dark and narrow lodging, There rests a patriot’s body, Which, after many a slip and dodging, Death took in safe custody.
II. What though to earth his corse consign’d Must moulder and be rotten; His name, while it is kept in mind, Will never be forgotten.
III. O’er him the muse a tomb shall raise, (Or she’s an idle strumpet,) And fame (if she wo ‘nt sound his praise) May throw away her trumpet.
IV. Mine be the task to celebrate This hero sly and nimble; Whose praise shall last, in spite of fate— Who knows not WILLIAM WIMBLE?
V. To fellow creatures he was kind, To brethren, staunch and hearty; He help’d the weak, and led the blind, Whene’er he led his party.
VI. Nor is it true, what some have said, His kindness did not stop here— The mean in spirit, oft he fed, To wit, himself and Copper.
VII. Though he was lib’ral, wise, and gallant, As warmest friends could wish one; ‘Twas own’d by all, his chiefest talent Lay most in composition.
VIII. No one could equal him for style, For art and elocution; For dismal periods of a mile, The genius of confusion.
IX. His race of ancestors was long— Indeed, it was pretended His race was young—but that was wrong; From Gimblet he descended.
X. The heralds prov’d his ancient blood, By race of sire and madam, Had crept through scoundrels from the flood, And reach’d almost to Adam.
XI. Two pillars rampant were his arms— A beam, with slender cable, (I think I’ve got the herald’s terms,) A cart and coffin sable.
XII. Should man from ills be free, t’ were strange, ‘Twould be on earth a rarity; So our good hero had the mange, The itch of popularity.
XIII. He was so courteous and so bland, Throughout the whole dominion; He shook each lubber by the hand, And stole his good opinion.
XIV. He shone in many an office fair, By honorable seeking; The Army, Church, and State, his care,— A Delegate and Deacon.
XV. Adman, of Congress, asked, thus: “How comes it, Poet Timbrel! “Your State doth send a fool to us, “Whose name is WILLIAM WIMBLE?”
XVI. The poet did this speech relate— “From honest views, we sent him; “The fools are many in our State— “He goes to represent ‘em.”
XVII. And yet, though wicked wits kept sneering, ‘Tis plain as nose in face is; ‘Twas only by electioneering, He got and held his places.
XVIII. So once, upon the Ides of May, When great men quit their spouses, To Hartford come, in best array, And sit in both the Houses:
XIX. To take a seat, then, WIMBLE came, As every man supposes; But soon ‘t was found he’d lost the same, When they had counted noses.
XX. How strangely does dame fortune frown, How strangely do times alter! What long ago would buy a crown, Will purchase now a halter.
XXI. Then straightway evils came apace: By sheriff being cited, And judges taking each his place, He stood of crimes indicted:
XXII. Then he, among the goose‐cap tribes, With one Joe Copper, leaguing, Bought votes, and sold the geese for bribes, With other vile intriguing.
XXIII. Then, forc’d against his will, to stand Before twelve sturdy fellows; And only holding up his hand, They all turn’d fortune tellers.
XXIV. Who said, (ah, wonderful to tell!) By what they could discover, Though now the man was sound and well, His days would soon be over.
XXIV. And so it did this wight betide, Just like to Tyburn’s fashion, Sublime, on two-wheel’d car, to ride, And make a fine oration.
XXVI. But sad and mournful was his part; He scarce had made an end on ‘t, When off they drove the two-wheel’d cart, And left the speaker pendent.
XXVII. Still, as great men to death draw higher, They rise, and prove they’re true wits; So his last day he mounted higher, Like Haman, fifty cubits.
XXVIII. Ye statesmen all, so blithe and gay, In life’s delusive morning, Here learn each dog must have his day, And from this fate take warning:
XXIX. No further seek his faults to learn, No further search his glory— Our fame, how short! and, mortal man, Good lack! how transitory!
XXX. Yet shall the foolish folks, for aye, Whose brains would fill a thimble, Striking their pensive bosoms, say, “Here lies poor WILLIAM WIMBLE.”
N. B.—A few copies of the last words of WILLIAM WIMBLE, accurately compiled, and now first printed in a handbill at large, may be had at the Huron Printing Office. Price, one Copper.
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. IX.
EXTRACT FROM THE ANARCHIAD, BOOK XXIII.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of April 5th, 1787.]
THE situation and soliloquy of Anarch, after having been vanquished, in single combat, by Hesper.—His mother, Night, appears to him.—Her speech, in which she comforts her son by enumerating the unexpected and powerful friends who have espoused his cause, terminates with an obscure prophecy.
IN fight sore foil’d by Hesper’s vengeful sword, His shield to havoc hewn, his armor gor’d, His bulk immense by wounds unseemly marr’d, His helmless front by furrowing thunders scarr’d, Clotted with dark red gore, his horrent hair, Like meteors streaming on the troubled air, As heaves to heaven the huge volcano’s smoke, From his long trance immortal Anarch broke; Nor less appear’d, escap’d from deadly fight, Than the dread son of Erebus and Night; Around in wrath his baleful eyes he throws, And vents loud curses o’er his hopeless woes. Oh, rage! oh, torture! limbs and armor riven, On earth an exile, and the scorn of heaven! Robb’d of a world, by lying fates bestow’d, Hesper victorious! I a vanquish’d god ! Gape wide, profoundest hell! in Stygian flame Hide your lost Anarch from undying shame !
He spoke! Astonish’d from the central bound Heav’d the dark gulf and ope’d the rocking ground; From all the extremes of chaos, wild and waste, With hollow murmur swell’d the roaring blast; Ting’d with sulphureous flames, obscurely curl’d, Black clouds, expanding, swept the nether world; Thron’d on the ascending pyramid of storm, Rose, wrapp’d in vapors, Night’s majestic form; O’er her lov’d son she hung with pitying air, And sooth’d his sadness with maternal care.
Oh, blind to fate, to happier visions blind, While past disasters rankle in thy mind! While future woe thy boding bosom rends, Lo, Oreus wakes a new-form’d host of friends; To nobler champions change thy fiercest foes, And splendid triumph on thy ruin grows.
Where yonder isle the meeting tides embrace, And commerce smiles on Belgia’s thrifty race— Once bowry isle, whose woodless summits far Now lift the relics of barbarian war; Whose laurel vales with bleaching bones abound, Where slaughter drench’d the saturated ground; When a few heroes, wedg’d in firm array, Held Hessian hosts and British bands at bay; Till wider carnage round the empire spread, For nine long years, while sad Columbia bled, To save one central region, and restore Each glorious exile to his natal shore. But now, while victory greets their glad return, The Power that sav’d, th’ ungrateful miscreants spurn; I see, through Hellgate, where the whirlpool pours, How the day darkens, how confusion lowers; Where Congress dwells, I see portentous signs— Of total nature, there th’ eclipse begins. Hail ! sacred spot, imperial city, hail! Here shall our reign commence, our throne prevail; Whence hate and discord, erst by ******** hurl’d, Clung to the British prow, and fought the elder world.
Oh ! lost to virtue’s heaven‐descended flame, Lost to those realms that boast his early fame, I see his friends, (but now his friends no more,) And Vernon’s sage his fated lapse deplore; Columbia’s self the tear of anguish shed, And mourns the glories of her ******* fled! ‘Tis he, my son, shall stretch thy dark domain, By me inspir’d with dreams of boundless gain; ‘T is he, illustrious changeling, shall control Each generous thought that swell’d his active soul; Court the low crowd, his free‐born spirit brav’d, And blot the realms his former valor saved.
Lo! at his side, and guardian of his way, Our fav’rite ****** directs his steps astray; In that vile shape, predictive fate assign’d A frame well suited to so base a mind; To him no form, no grace, nor genius given, But mark’d for mischief by the hand of heaven; Him plodding patience taught to con the laws, And knavery sold to serve the British cause, To wealth and power in courts marine to rise, And glut his avarice on each rebel prize; Then foil’d, he chang’d, at our superior call, To lure his cringing pupil to his fall; With steady aim, his former toils to crown, Subvert the Congress, and exalt thy throne.
Fair to thine eyes, and number’d with thy friends, The train of selfish jealousy ascends; Blind Belisarius leads the mighty road, And gropes in darkness o’er the mystic ground; Rous’d at his call, advance an airy group, Thin, shadowy shapes, and ghastly phantoms troop; In fancy dress, the hands fantastic join’d, Revel to madness on his moody mind; He sees cadets in pigmy armies rise, And Boston fifers swarm like Hessian flies, Creative frenzy painting on his brain, By Congress rais’d, and paid the innumerous train, Himself neglected, needy, blind, and old, The R—— B——balanced by the — — In wild profusion spent each liberal grant, While war alone can rescue him from want.
The blunt Rough‐hewer, from his savage den, With learned dullness loads his lab’ring pen; In muddy streams his rumbling wits combine Big words convolving on the turbid line. Yet spare thy scorn; for, lo! by friendly hands, In Congress rear’d, the reptile Scarecrow stands; Strange to himself, for now, no more the prig, Swells in the powder’d majesty of wig, But gay, like snake from wintry garb releas’d, Shines the stiff coxcomb in his courtly vest; From side to side there struts, and smiles, and prates, And seems to wonder what’ s become of —
To check their force, our desperate foes in vain Attempt thy ruin and oppose thy reign; Ardent and bold, the sinking land to save, In council sapient as in action brave, I fear’d young HAMILTON’S unshaken soul, And saw his arm our wayward host control; Yet, while the Senate with his accents rung, Fire in his eye, and thunder on his tongue, My band of mutes in dumb confusion throng, Convinc’d of right, yet obstinate in wrong, With stupid reverence lift the guided hand, And yield an empire to thy wild command.
Rise, then, my son! the frowns of fate to dare; Blest with such aid, shall Anarch’s soul despair? Hark ! how my heroes to the field invite, Go, more victorious in thy mother’s might; Still one last conflict waits; one gleam of day Shall pierce thine empire with expiring ray, Ere light and order from their seats be hurl’d, And shade and silence veil thy vanquish’d world.