Home  »  Colonial Prose and Poetry  »  Mather Byles

Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

Mather Byles

MATHER BYLES was, to his contemporaries, a distinguished pulpit orator and poet, but he is best remembered for his remarkable wit and quickness of repartee. He was born in Boston, March 15, 1707, and died there July 5, 1788. He was, of course, graduated at Harvard (1725), and equally, of course, studied theology, becoming in time pastor of the Hollis Street Church of his native city, where he preached sermons, the published specimens of which show command of language, power of condensed expression, and a vivid imagination. But his main ambition, doubtless, was to be considered a great poet and literary dictator, like Alexander Pope, with whom he corresponded. Unfortunately his Poem on the Death of George I. (1727), his Poetical Epistle to Governor Belcher on the Death of His Lady (1736), and his Miscellaneous Poems (1744), while they sufficed to give him provincial notoriety, have proved unreadable to subsequent generations. The specimen we give of his verse-making was composed to be sung on a vessel in which he was entrapped (by Governor Belcher) into taking a voyage without the proper accompaniment of a prayer-book.

Byles was a consistent Tory, and in 1776 left his parish on that account, after having cowed his parishioners into awed silence by his fiery and eloquent defence of his principles. In 1777 he was denounced as an enemy of his country, tried, and condemned to imprisonment and banishment; but he was in the end suffered to remain under guard in his own house, and he thus lived in Boston until his death.

Hymn Written During a Voyage.
[Poems on Several Occasions. 1744.]

  • GREAT God thy works our wonder raise;
  • To thee our swelling notes belong;
  • While skies and winds, and rocks and seas,
  • Around shall echo to our song.
  • Thy power produced this mighty frame,
  • Aloud to thee the tempests roar,
  • Or softer breezes tune thy name
  • Gently along the shelly shore.
  • Round thee the scaly nation roves,
  • Thy opening hands their joys bestow,
  • Through all the blushing coral groves,
  • These silent gay retreats below.
  • See the broad sun forsake the skies,
  • Glow on the waves and downward glide,
  • Anon Heaven opens all its eyes,
  • And star-beams tremble o’er the tide.
  • Each various scene, or day or night,
  • Lord! points to thee our nourished soul;
  • Thy glories fix our whole delight;
  • So the touched needle courts the pole.