Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  M’Fingal’s Dole

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

M’Fingal’s Dole

By John Trumbull (1750–1831)

[M’Fingal. A Modern Epic Poem.” 1782.—The Poetical Works of John Trumbull. 1820.]

M’FINGAL, rising at the word,

Drew forth his old militia-sword;

Thrice cried “King George,” as erst in distress,

Knights of romance invoked a mistress;

And, brandishing the blade in air,

Struck terror through th’ opposing war.

The Whigs, unsafe within the wind

Of such commotion, shrunk behind.

With whirling steel around address’d,

Fierce through their thickest throng he press’d,

(Who roll’d on either side in arch,

Like Red Sea waves in Israel’s march)

And, like a meteor rushing through,

Struck on their Pole a vengeful blow.

Around, the Whigs, of clubs and stones

Discharged whole volleys, in platoons,

That o’er in whistling fury fly;

But not a foe dares venture nigh.

And now perhaps with glory crown’d

Our ’Squire had fell’d the pole to ground,

Had not some Pow’r, a whig at heart,

Descended down and took their part;

(Whether ’t were Pallas, Mars or Iris,

’Tis scarce worth while to make inquiries)

Who, at the nick of time alarming,

Assumed the solemn form of Chairman,

Address’d a Whig, in every scene

The stoutest wrestler on the green,

And pointed where the spade was found,

Late used to set their pole in ground,

And urged, with equal arms and might,

To dare our ’Squire to single fight.

The Whig thus arm’d, untaught to yield,

Advanced tremendous to the field:

Nor did M’Fingal shun the foe

But stood to brave the desp’rate blow;

While all the party gazed, suspended,

To see the deadly combat ended;

And Jove in equal balance weigh’d

The sword against the brandish’d spade;

He weigh’d; but, lighter than a dream,

The sword flew up, and kick’d the beam.

Our ’Squire on tiptoe rising fair

Lifts high a noble stroke in air,

Which hung not, but, like dreadful engines,

Descended on his foe in vengeance.

But ah! in danger, with dishonor

The sword perfidious fails its owner;

That sword, which oft had stood its ground,

By huge train-bands encircled round,

And on the bench, with blade right loyal,

Had won the day at many a trial,

Of stones and clubs had braved th’ alarms,

Shrunk from these new Vulcanian arms.

The spade so temper’d from the sledge,

Nor keen nor solid harm’d its edge,

Now met it, from his arm of might,

Descending with steep force to smite;

The blade snapp’d short—and from his hand,

With rust embrown’d the glittering sand.

Swift turn’d M’Fingal at the view,

And call’d to aid th’ attendant crew,

In vain; the Tories all had run,

When scarce the fight was well begun;

Their setting wigs he saw decreas’d

Far in th’ horizon tow’rd the west.

Amazed he view’d the shameful sight,

And saw no refuge, but in flight;

But age unwieldy check’d his pace,

Though fear had wing’d his flying race;

For not a trifling prize at stake;

No less than great M’Fingal’s back.

With legs and arms he work’d his course,

Like rider that outgoes his horse,

And labor’d hard to get away, as

Old Satan struggling on through chaos;

Till looking back, he spied in rear

The spade-arm’d chief advanced too near:

Then stopp’d and seized a stone, that lay

An ancient landmark near the way;

Nor shall we as old bards have done,

Affirm it weigh’d an hundred ton;

But such a stone, as at a shift

A modern might suffice to lift,

Since men, to credit their enigmas,

Are dwindled down to dwarfs and pigmies,

And giants exiled with their cronies

To Brobdignags and Patagonias.

But while our hero turn’d him round,

And tugg’d to raise it from the ground,

The fatal spade discharged a blow

Tremendous on his rear below:

His bent knee fail’d, and void of strength

Stretch’d on the ground his manly length.

Like ancient oak o’erturn’d, he lay,

Or tower to tempests fall’n a prey,

Or mountain sunk with all his pines,

Or flow’r the plough to dust consigns,

And more things else—but all men know ’em,

If slightly versed in epic poem.

At once the crew, at this dread crisis,

Fall on, and bind him, ere he rises,

And with loud shouts and joyful soul,

Conduct him prisoner to the pole.

When now the mob in lucky hour

Had got their en’mies in their power,

They first proceed, by grave command,

To take the Constable in hand.

Then from the pole’s sublimest top

The active crew let down the rope,

At once its other end in haste bind,

And make it fast upon his waistband;

Till like the earth, as stretch’d on tenter,

He hung self-balanced on his centre.

Then upwards, all hands hoisting sail,

They swung him, like a keg of ale,

Till to the pinnacle in height

He vaulted, like balloon or kite.

As Socrates of old at first did

To aid philosophy get hoisted,

And found his thoughts flow strangely clear,

Swung in a basket in mid air;

Our culprit thus, in purer sky,

With like advantage raised his eye,

And, looking forth in prospect wide,

His Tory errors clearly spied,

And, from his elevated station,

With bawling voice began addressing.

“Good Gentlemen and friends and kin,

For heaven’s sake hear, if not for mine!

I here renounce the Pope, the Turks,

The King, the Devil, and all their works;

And will, set me but once at ease,

Turn Whig or Christian, what you please;

And always mind your rules so justly,

Should I live long as old Methus’lah,

I’ll never join in British rage,

Nor help Lord North, nor Gen’ral Gage;

Nor lift my gun in future fights,

Nor take away your Charter-rights;

Nor overcome your new-raised levies,

Destroy your towns, nor burn your navies;

Nor cut your poles down while I’ve breath,

Though raised more thick than hatchel-teeth:

But leave King George and all his elves

To do their conq’ring work themselves.”

This said, they lower’d him down in state,

Spread at all points, like falling cat;

But took a vote first on the question,

That they’d accept this full confession,

And to their fellowship and favor,

Restore him on his good behavior.

Not so our ’Squire submits to rule,

But stood, heroic as a mule.

“You’ll find it all in vain, quoth he,

To play your rebel tricks on me.

All punishments, the world can render,

Serve only to provoke th’ offender;

The will gains strength from treatment horrid,

As hides grow harder when they’re curried.

No man e’er felt the halter draw,

With good opinion of the law;

Or held in method orthodox

His love of justice, in the stocks;

Or fail’d to lose by sheriff’s shears

At once his loyalty and ears.

Have you made Murray look less big,

Or smoked old Williams to a Whig?

Did our mobb’d Ol’ver quit his station,

Or heed his vows of resignation?

Has Rivington, in dread of stripes,

Ceased lying since you stole his types?

And can you think my faith will alter,

By tarring, whipping or the halter?

I’ll stand the worst; for recompense

I trust King George and Providence.

And when with conquest gain’d I come,

Array’d in law and terror home,

Ye’ll rue this inauspicious morn,

And curse the day, when ye were born,

In Job’s high style of imprecations,

With all his plagues, without his patience.”

Meanwhile beside the pole, the guard

A Bench of Justice had prepared,

Where sitting round in awful sort

The grand Committee hold their Court;

While all the crew, in silent awe,

Wait from their lips the lore of law.

Few moments with deliberation

They hold the solemn consultation;

When soon in judgment all agree,

And Clerk proclaims the dread decree;

“That ’Squire M’Fingal having grown

The vilest Tory in the town,

And now in full examination

Convicted by his own confession,

Finding no tokens of repentance,

This Court proceeds to render sentence:

That first the Mob a slip-knot single

Tie round the neck of said M’Fingal,

And in due form do tar him next,

And feather, as the law directs;

Then through the town attendant ride him

In cart with Constable beside him,

And having held him up to shame,

Bring to the pole, from whence he came.”

Forthwith the crowd proceed to deck

With halter’d noose M’Fingal’s neck,

While he in peril of his soul

Stood tied half-hanging to the pole;

Then lifting high the ponderous jar,

Pour’d o’er his head the smoaking tar.

With less profusion once was spread

Oil on the Jewish monarch’s head,

That down his beard and vestments ran,

And cover’d all his outward man.

As when (so Claudian sings) the Gods

And earth-born Giants fell at odds,

The stout Enceladus in malice

Tore mountains up to throw at Pallas;

And while he held them o’er his head,

The river, from their fountains fed,

Pour’d down his back its copious tide,

And wore its channels in his hide:

So from the high-raised urn the torrents

Spread down his side their various currents;

His flowing wig, as next the brim,

First met and drank the sable stream;

Adown his visage stern and grave

Roll’d and adhered the viscid wave;

With arms depending as he stood,

Each cup capacious holds the flood;

From nose and chin’s remotest end

The tarry icicles descend;

Till all o’erspread, with colors gay,

He glitter’d to the western ray,

Like sleet-bound trees in wintry skies,

Or Lapland idol carved in ice.

And now the feather-bag display’d

Is waved in triumph o’er his head,

And clouds him o’er with feathers missive,

And down, upon the tar, adhesive:

Not Maia’s son, with wings for ears,

Such plumage round his visage wears,

Nor Milton’s six-wing’d angel gathers

Such superfluity of feathers.

Now all complete appears our ’Squire,

Like Gorgon or Chimæra dire;

Nor more could boast on Plato’s plan

To rank among the race of man,

Or prove his claim to human nature,

As a two-legg’d unfeather’d creature.

Then on the fatal cart, in state

They raised our grand Duumvirate.

And as at Rome a like committee,

Who found an owl within their city,

With solemn rites and grave processions

At every shrine perform’d lustrations;

And least infection might take place

From such grim fowl with feather’d face,

All Rome attends him through the street

In triumph to his country seat:

With like devotion all the choir

Paraded round our awful ’Squire;

In front the martial music comes

Of horns and fiddles, fifes and drums,

With jingling sound of carriage bells,

And treble creak of rusted wheels.

Behind, the crowd, in lengthen’d row

With proud procession, closed the show.

And at fit periods every throat

Combined in universal shout,

And hail’d great Liberty in chorus,

Or bawl’d “confusion to the Tories.”

Not louder storm the welkin braves

From clamors of conflicting waves;

Less dire in Lybian wilds the noise

When rav’ning lions lift their voice;

Or triumphs at town-meetings made,

On passing votes to regulate trade.

Thus having borne them round the town,

Last at the pole they set them down;

And to the tavern take their way

To end in mirth the festal day.

And now the Mob, dispersed and gone,

Left ’Squire and Constable alone.

The constable with rueful face

Lean’d sad and solemn o’er a brace;

And fast beside him, cheek by jowl,

Stuck ’Squire M’Fingal ’gainst the pole,

Glued by the tar t’ his rear applied,

Like barnacle on vessel’s side.

But though his body lack’d physician,

His spirit was in worse condition.

He found his fears of whips and ropes

By many a drachm outweigh’d his hopes.

As men in jail without mainprize

View everything with other eyes,

And all goes wrong in Church and State,

Seen through perspective of the grate:

So now M’Fingal’s second-sight

Beheld all things in gloomier light;

His visual nerve, well purged with tar,

Saw all the coming scenes of war.

As his prophetic soul grew stronger,

He found he could hold in no longer.

First from the pole, as fierce he shook,

His wig from pitchy durance broke,

His mouth unglued, his feathers flutter’d,

His tarr’d skirts crack’d, and thus he utter’d:

“Ah, Mr. Constable, in vain

We strive ’gainst wind and tide and rain!

Behold my doom! this feathery omen

Portends what dismal times are coming.

Now future scenes, before my eyes,

And second-sighted forms arise.

I hear a voice, that calls away,

And cries ‘The Whigs will win the day.’

My beck’ning Genius gives command,

And bids me fly the fatal land,

Where, changing name and constitution,

Rebellion turns to Revolution,

While Loyalty, oppress’d, in tears,

Stands trembling for its neck and ears.

“Go, summon all our brethren, greeting,

To muster at our usual meeting;

There my prophetic voice shall warn ’em

Of all things future that concern ’em,

And scenes disclose on which, my friend,

Their conduct and their lives depend.

There I—but first ’tis more of use,

From this vile pole to set me loose;

Then go with cautious steps and steady,

While I steer home and make all ready.”