May 24, 1787
Anarchiad, a New England Poem: Part 4
Our series climaxes with Hesper’s victory over the Anarch, published just as the Philadelphia Convention began.
For our next portion, our authors present a distinctly different speaker than the familiar Old Anarch. Finally, we hear a large amount of verse representing the Wits’ own personal views. Hesper (in this case, personified as a male) speaks before his own legions gathering in Philadelphia. This crowd of wise ones is the opposite those Shaysite rebels and rag-tag Jack-tars listening to the Anarch in earlier portions, and Hesper has called them “From kindred realms, to save the sinking State.” The Philadelphians’ “guardian genius” praises them for their efforts in winning the late war, but warns them that their work is far from over. The poem laments that Revolutionary heroes should have their deaths wasted by a feckless, toothless union without any power to compel obedience to the central state. Without a monopoly on force, there would be little holding the country together against the waves of Anarch-men out there. People can be driven happily—and by the millions—into chains and servitude if only it’s dressed up in a pleasing manner. Our authors recount examples of republican backslides into monarchy from European history and even include an extract from “The Land of Annihilation,” a mythical world where destructive forces (much like those plaguing 1780s America) were consistently unleashed. The result is not some sort of competitive process where people improve over time or learn to work out their problems better—The Land of Annihilation and its problematic residents end inevitably “in one eternal void.”
In their introduction to “The Land of Annihilation,” the Hartford Wits note that the ridiculous tale “might pass for a burlesque, if it was not found in so serious a performance.” The true performance going on at the moment, though, was happening in the real Philadelphia where men like our Wits fancied themselves Hespers. They were the guardian geniuses who would stop the villainous mob, stop the incessant border wars with Indians, stop the state’s slide into bankruptcy, stop the “selfish systems,” and “jealous, local schemes,” that divided tax-payers and tax-eaters. The Great Philadelphians concluded their important business a month after our extract from “The Land of Annihilation” appeared. As the ratification debate then commenced, our Wits dutifully lined up behind the document. After all, they believed that “When nature trembles, through the deeps convuls’d, And ocean foams, from craggy cliffs repuls’d; On you she calls! attend the warning cry: ‘YE LIVE UNITED, OR DIVIDED DIE!’” Such fantastical and epically exaggerated a binary may as well have rolled off Old Anarch’s own tongue—after all, that kind of forceful, choiceless binding of people together is a recipe for absolute chaos and disaster. It took a few generations, to be sure, but 19th-century Americans suffered for the Union hastily assembled by their simultaneously terrified and self-assured elders.
Anarchiad : a New England poem, 1786-1787
By David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, Lemuel Hopkins
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. X.
EXTRACT FROM THE ANARCHIAD, BOOK XXIV.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of May 24th, 1787.]
THE SPEECH OF HESPER.
AT the opening of this Book, and previous to the great and final conflict, which, by what is legible at the close of the poem, appears to establish the Anarch in his dominion of the new world, Hesper, with a solicitude and energy becoming his high station and the importance of the subject, makes his last solemn address to his principal counselors and sages, whom he had convened at Philadelphia.
YE fires of nations, call’d in high debate
From kindred realms, to save the sinking State,
A boundless sway on one broad base to rear—
My voice paternal claims your listening ear;
O’er the wide clime my fostering cares extend,
Your guardian genius, and your deathless friend.
When splendid victory, on her trophy’d car
Swept from these shores the last remains of war—
Bade each glad State that boasts Columbia’s name,
Exult in freedom and ascend to fame;
To bliss unbounded stretch their ardent eyes,
And wealth and empire from their labor rise—
My raptur’d sons beheld the discord cease,
And sooth’d their sorrows in the songs of peace.
Shall these bright scenes, with happiest omens born,
Fade like the fleeting visions of the morn?
Shall this fair fabric from its base be hurl’d,
And whelm in dust the glories of the world?
Will ye, who saw the heavens tempestuous lower—
Who felt the arm of irritated power—
Whose souls, descending with the wasting flood,
Prepar’d the firm foundations, built in blood;
By discord seiz’d, will ye desert the plan—
Th’ unfinish’d Babel of the bliss of man?
Go search the field of death, where heroes lost,
In graves obscure, can tell what freedom cost,
Tho’ conquest smil’d; there slain amid the crowd,
And plunged, promiscuous, with no winding shroud,
No friendly hand their gory wounds to lave,
The thousands moulder in a common grave.
Not so thy son, oh LAURENS! gasping lies,
Too daring youth, war’s latest sacrifice;
His snow-white bosom heaves with writhing pain,
The purple drops his snow-white bosom stain;
His cheek of rose is wan; a deadly hue
Sits on his face, that chills with lucid dew.
There WARREN, glorious with expiring breath,
A comely corse, that smiles in ghastly death:
See MERCER bleed ; and, o’er yon wintry wall,
‘Mid heaps of slain, see great MONTGOMERY fall!
Behold those veterans, worn with want and care,
Their sinews stiffen’d, silver’d o’er their hair;
Weak in their steps of age, they move forlorn,
Their toils forgotten by the sons of scorn;
This hateful truth still aggravates their pain,
In vain they conquer’d! and they bled in vain!
Go, then, ye remnants of inglorious wars,
Disown your marks of merit, hide your scars,
Of lust, of power, of titled pride accurs’d;
Steal to your graves, dishonored, and abus’d.
For, see! proud Faction waves her flaming brand,
And discord riots o’er the ungrateful land;
Lo! to the north, a wild, adventurous crew,
In desperate mobs, the savage state renew;
Each felon chief his maddening thousands draws,
And claims bold license from the bond of laws;
In other States the chosen fires of shame
Stamp their vile knaveries with a legal name;
In honor’s seat, the sons of meanness swarm,
And Senates base the work which mobs perform;
To wealth, to power, the foes of union rise,
While foes deride you, and while friends despise.
Stand forth, ye traitors! at your country’s bar,
Inglorious authors of intestine war;
What countless mischiefs from their labors rise!
Pens dipp’d in gall, and lips inspir’d with lies!
Ye fires of ruin, prime detested cause
Of bankrupt faith, annihilated laws—
Of selfish systems, jealous, local schemes,
And union’d empire lost in empty dreams;
Your names, expanding with your growing crime,
Shall float, disgustful, down the stream of time;
Each future age applaud th’ avenging song,
And outraged nature vindicate the wrong.
Yes, there are men, who, touch’d with heavenly fire,
Beyond the confines of these climes aspire—
Beyond the praise of a transient age,
To live, immortal, in the patriot page;
Who greatly dare, though warring worlds oppose,
To pour just vengeance on their country’s foes.
And, lo! th’ ethereal worlds assert your cause;
Celestial aid, the voice of virtue draws;
The curtains blue, of yon expansion, rend
— From opening skies heroic shades descend.
See, rob’d in light, the forms of heaven appear;
The warrior spirits of your friends are near—
Each on his steed of fire, (his quiver stor’d
With shafts of vengeance,) grasps his flaming sword:
The burning blade waves high, and, dipt in blood,
Hurls plagues and death on discord’s faithless brood.
Yet, what the hope? The dreams of Congress fade,
The federal UNION sinks in endless shade;
Each feeble call, that warns the realms around,
Seems the faint echo of a dying sound;
Each requisition wastes in fleeting air,
And not one State regards the powerless prayer.
Ye wanton States, by heaven’s best blessings curst,
Long on the lap of softening luxury nurst,
What fickle frenzy raves! what visions strange
Inspire your bosoms with the lust of change,
And flames the wish to fly from fancy’s ill,
And yield your freedom to a monarch’s will?
Go, view the lands to lawless power a prey,
Where tyrants govern with unbounded sway;
See the long pomp, in gorgeous state display’d—
The tinsel’s guards, the squadron’s horse parade;
See heralds gay, with emblems on their vest—
In tissue’d robes, tall, beauteous pages, drest;
Where moves the pageant throng, unnumber’d slaves,
Lords, Dukes, and Princes, titulary knaves,
Confus’dly thine, the purple gemm’d with stars,
Sceptres, and globes, and crowns, and ruby’d cars,
On gilded orbs the thundering chariots roll’d,
Steeds snorting fire, and champing bits of gold,
Prance to the trumpet’s voice—while each assumes
A loftier gait, and lifts his neck of plumes.
High on the moving throne, and near the van,
The tyrant rides, the chosen scourge of man:
Clarions, and flutes, and drums, his way prepare,
And shouting millions rend the conscious air—
Millions, whose ceaseless toils the pomp sustain,
Whose hour of stupid joy repays an age of pain.
From years of darkness springs the regal line—
Hereditary kings, by right divine;
‘T is theirs to riot on all nature’s spoils—
For them, with pangs unblest, the peasant toils;
For them, the earth prolific teems with grain;
Their’s the dread labors of the devious main;
Annual, for them, the wasted land renews
The gifts oppressive, and extorted dues;
For them, when slaughter spreads the gory plains,
The life-blood gushes from a thousand veins—
While the dull herd, of earth-born pomp afraid,
Adore the power that coward meanness made.
Let Poland tell what woe returning springs,
Where right elective yields the crown to kings!
War guides the choice—each candidate, abhorr’d,
Founds his firm title on the wasting sword;
Wades to the throne, amid the sanguine flood,
And dips his purple in a nation’s blood.
Behold, where Venice rears her sea-girt towers,
O’er the vile crowd proud oligarchy lowers;
While each aristocrat affects a throne—
Beneath a thousand kings, the poor plebeians groan.
Nor less abhor’d, the certain woe that waits
The giddy rage of democratic States,
Whose pop’lar breath, high-blown in restless tide,
No laws can temper, and no reason guide:
An equal sway, their mind indignant spurns,
To wanton change, the bliss of freedom turns;
Led by wild demagogues, the factious crowd,
Mean, fierce, imperious, insolent and loud,
Nor fame, nor wealth, nor power, nor system draws—
They see no object, and perceive no cause;
But feel, by turns, in one disastrous hour,
Th’ extremes of license, and th’ extremes of power.
What madness prompts, or what ill-omen’d fears,
Your realm to parcel into petty States?
Shall lordly Hudson part contending powers,
And broad Potomac lave two hostile shores?
Must Alleghany’s sacred summits bear
The impious bulwarks of perpetual war?
His hundred streams receive your heroes slain,
And bear your sons inglorious to the main?
Will States cement, by feebler bonds allied,
Or join more closely, as they more divide?
Will this vain scheme bid restless factions cease,
Check foreign wars, or fix internal peace?
Call public credit from her grave to rise,
Or gain in grandeur what they lose in size?
In this weak realm, can countless kingdoms start,
Strong with new force, in each divided part—
While empire’s head, dissected into four,
Gains life by severance of diminish’d power?
So, when the philosophic hand divides
The full-grown polypus, in genial tides,
Each severed part, infused with latent life,
Acquires new vigor from the friendly knife;
O’er peopled sands the puny insects creep,
Till the next wave absorbs them in the deep.
What then, remains? Must pilgrim FREEDOM fly
From these lov’d regions, to her native sky?
When the fair fugitive the orient chased,
She fixed her feet beyond the watery waste;
Her docile sons (enough of power resign’d,
And natural rights in social leagues combin’d)
In virtue firm, though jealous in her cause,
Gave Senates force, and energy to laws;
From ancient habit, local powers obey,
Yet feel no reverence for one general sway;
For breach of faith, no keen compulsion feel,
And find no interest in the federal weal.
ut know, ye favor’d race, one potent head
Must rule your States, and strike your foes with dread,
The finance regulate, the trade control,
Live through the empire, and accord the whole.
Ere death invades, and night’s deep curtain falls,
Through ruined realms the voice of UNION calls;
Loud as the trump of heaven through darkness roars,
When gyral gusts entomb Caribbean towers—
When nature trembles, through the deeps convuls’d,
And ocean foams, from craggy cliffs repuls’d;
On you she calls! attend the warning cry:
“YE LIVE UNITED, OR DIVIDED DIE!”
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. XI.
EXTRACT FROM THE ANARCHIAD, BOOK XVII.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of August 16th, 1787.]
THE LAND OF ANNIHILATION.
THE critics are agreed that the intervention of gods, demons, and other supernatural agents, is absolutely necessary in epic poetry. The works of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, are indebted to this machinery for their brightest ornaments. But the Pagan system has been long explored; imitation has become trite and servile, and truth and reality, on such a subject, afford little assistance to poetic invention. Hence many eminent writers have recommended to the moderns to introduce some new kind of machinery, or to embellish their heroic poems by the agency of superior beings; borrowing from the mythology of India, or the wilder visions of the Goths.
The ideas of rude nations and enlightened ages concerning the future state and the inhabitants of another world, however erroneous in truth and theory, are replete with sublimity and horror. The hell of the Gothic bards is peopled with aerial beings, conceived by the boldest efforts of a terrified imagination; nor is there less sublimity in the extravagant inventions of the Shastah. Pictures of this kind, drawn by the pen of genius, most forcibly awaken our curiosity, and interest our attention. The reader who slumbers over historical narration, finds himself animated by the gods of Homer, the enchantments of Tasso, and the ghosts of Ossian. A poem so sublime, regular and complete, as THE ANARCHIAD, could not be deficient in this necessary ornament: nor can anything be more curious and entertaining than the ideas of the early inhabit, ants of this land, concerning the wonders of the invisible world: ideas equally just, but far more elevated than all the witchcraft and possessions of our immediate ancestors.
The society of critics and antiquarians have successfully deciphered the Seventeenth Book of THE ANARCHIAD, in which the poet makes a descent into the infernal regions. It is curious to observe how closely he has been followed (as, indeed, might naturally be expected) by Homer, Virgil, and their successors in modern ages. The philosophical cause which has led all poets into those regions, we shall not attempt to investigate. The following extract is more excellent in its plan, and has suffered less from the hands of imitators. THE LAND OF ANNIHILATION, described in so picturesque a manner, is a valuable addition to the subterranean geography; but the theory of a race of beings, properly the denizens of that country, who, after having mixed, undistinguished, with mankind, and performed all human functions, then returned to their primitive nihility, might pass for a burlesque, if it was not found in so serious a performance.
BEYOND the realms where stygian horrors dwell,
And floods sulphureous whelm the vales of hell;
Where Naiad furies, yelling as they lave,
In fiery eddies roll the turbid wave:
Beyond the verge of chaos’ utmost clime,
The dubious bounds of nature, space, and time;
A realm extends its unessential gloom,
The vast creation’s universal tomb!
There no fair suns emblaze the courts on high,
Nor moon, nor starry fires, the evening sky;
No matin clouds in ether hang their sails,
Nor moving spirit wakes the vernal gales;
But endless twilight, with a feeble ray,
Browns the dim horrors of the dusky day;
And silence, sameness, and eternal shade,
Th’ unbounded wild inanity pervade.
In night, pavilion’d o’er the shadowy plains,
The peerless power, ANNIHILATION, reigns!
Eldest of fiends! whose uncreating breath
Peoples the shores of darkness and of death;
Down the deep gulf’s absorbing vortex whirl’d,
Sink the vain splendors of each upper world;
Ambition’s toils, the statesman’s gloried name,
The hero’s triumph, and the poet’s fame;
Insatiate throngs, who, fired with the lust of gain,
Rive the firm earth, and force the faithless main;
Here, lulled to rest, eternal stillness keep,
And curtain’d close in dead oblivion, sleep.
Beneath his scepter, in imperial state,
His stern commands ten thousand demons wait;
Prompt, like their prince, in elemental wars
To tread out empires, and to quench the stars;
Extinguish’d worlds in delug’d fires to lave—
Sweep ruin’d systems to a common grave;
Exterminate existence, and restore
The vanquish’d vacuum to the tyrant’s power.
These the great hierarchs, whose prowess leads
The vassal throng to desolating deeds;
But far beneath them spreads a junior fry—
The pigmy populace of the nether sky;
With feeble powers, for petty toils design’d,
Their humble province is to plague mankind,
Pervade the world, excite all mortal strife,
Inspire the wrongs, and blast the joys, of life.
Matured for birth, at times on earth they rise,
Incarnate imps, and veiled in human guise;
Like man appear in stature, shape, and face—
Mix, undistinguished, with the common race;
Fill every rank, in each profession blend,
Power all their aim, and ruin all their end.
Of these, the least, in medicine’s garb arrayed,
With deadly art pursues the healing trade—
The lancet wield, prescribe the poisonous pill,
Invent the nostrum, and, unlicensed, kill;
O’erload the stygian bark with frequent freight,
And crowd with angry ghosts the ream of fate.
In sable robes, and stiff with reverend air,
Some vent their dogmas in the house of prayer;
With pious cant, or persecution’s flame,
To vilest ends abuse each sacred name;
On rites and forms, with zeal eternal dwell,
Ope heaven for self, and doom the rest to hell:
To banish blest religion, all agree,
A work, O, Murray! fate reserves for thee !
Oft at the wrangling bar, in loud renown,
The demon lurks beneath the lawyer’s gown;
Confounds all right, and, arrogant in lies,
Spreads a dark mist before the judge’s eyes;
Less dangerous thief, who, limited by fate,
Leave soul and body free, and ruin but th’ estate.
But chief the race allured by fleeting fame,
Who seek on earth the politician’s name;
Auspicious race! whom folly joys to bless,
And wealth and honor crown with glad success;
Formed, like balloons, by emptiness to rise
On pop’lar gales, to waft them through the skies,
In wond’ring air the fog-born meteors stand,
And shine the Wimbles of th’ applauding land.
And, lo ! th’ expected scene advances near—
The promised age, the fiends’ millennial year!
At that famed era, raised by angry fates,
What countless imps shall throng the new-born States !
See, from the shades, on tiny pinions swell
And rise, the young DEMOCRACY of hell!
Before their face the powers of Congress fade,
And public credit sinks, an empty shade;
Wild severance rages, wars intestine spread,
Their boasted UNION hides her dying head;
The forms of government in ruin hurled,
Reluctant empire quits the western world.
O, glorious throng! beyond all wisdom wise!
Expert to act, eccentric to devise!
In retrogressive march, what schemes advance!
What vast resources, and what strange finance!
Chimeras sage, with plans commercial fraught,
Sublime abortions of projecting thought!
To paper coin, how copper mints succeed—
How Indian wars in brains prolific breed!
What strength, what firmness, guide the public helm!
How troops disbanded guard the threaten’d realm!
How treaties thrive ! and, ‘mid the sons of Ham,
The LYBIAN LION shrinks before the LAMB!
New modes of taxing spring from Woglog’s hands,
And peerless Wimble sells the western lands!
Their task performed; again, by sovereign doom,
The fiend compels them to their native home.
Where Lethe’s streams through glooms tartarean roll,
And seeks th’ expansion of th’ oblivious pool—
From all the clime th’ innumerable crowd
Float, half-embosom’d in the genial flood;
Down the dark deep, in friendly union, flows
Tweedle’s soft verse, and Copper’s sounding prose;
Light Commutation, dancing on the wave
With federal Impost, finds the eternal grave;
Like bubble bright, the nation’s glory rides,
And Acts of Congress load the downward tides;
By Collins steered, Rhode Island joins the train,
With all things else as transient, vile, and vain.
There mansions wait, prepared in pomp, to grace
The coming heroes of the illustrious race;
When Wrongheads’ steps shall seek their natal shore,
And Night her Blacklegs to his fire restore.
Thither, again, they tend; and there, at last,
Their projects, changes, and elections past,
Wimble shall turn to froth, to Bubo Zack;
Ben change to Copper; Woglog end in Quack:
From shade to shade, from sought to sought, decoyed,
All center whence they sprang—in one eternal void.