Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
Elegy on the Death of Brigadier-General Mercer
Of Virginia, slain in the action near Princeton, January 3, 1777

 “Et generis jactatus honos, dominatio regum,
Quicquid opes, quicquid forma dedera boni,
Supremam simul hanc expectant omnia noctem;
Scilicet ad Lethum ducit honoris iter.”

ANOTHER patriot claims the votive strain;
  Fresh laurels spring around the honour’d hearse;
Lamented Mercer, late in battle slain,
  Be thine the offering of my artless verse.
’Tis nature bids the manly tear to flow,        5
  In rich oblations o’er the closing urn;
Guiltless of art, unusual feelings glow,
  And harden’d chiefs involuntary mourn.
But say, what cause, 1 from sweet domestic ease,
  Call’d forth the patriot to the doubtful strife;        10
From scenes where affluence lavish’d all to please;
  The fondling infant, and the tender wife?
Those soft endearments are, alas, no more;
  No kindred tie his willing step detains;
Resolved, he leaves Virginia’s friendly shore,        15
  To guard the soil where heaven-born Freedom reigns.
The naked Indian or the wily Gaul,
  The painted savage, and the untutor’d band;
On those no more his angry weapons fall—
  A foe more savage dares his chastening hand.        20
Now Sol uprising gilds the distant spire,
  Paints the dun umbrage of the western wood;
O’er hapless Princeton sheds his genial fire,
  Rousing the Britons to new scenes of blood.
Loud sounds the martial trumpet from afar,        25
  The watchful cavalry invest the ground;
The beat of drums proclaims the approaching war,
  While frighten’d heralds bear the tidings round.
The distant hills on each horizon blaze
  With polish’d arms and troops in vast parade;        30
No lingering terror either host delays,
  To meet the foe in hostile pomp array’d.
Intrepid Mercer leads the embattled van,
  His great example every soldier fires;
Throughout the deepening line, from man to man,        35
  The pulse of glory every breast inspires.
Swift on the foe the dauntless warrior springs,
  Braves the loud cannon’s desolating force;
Dares the grim terrors of their circling wings,
  And strews the field with many a bleeding corse.        40
But pierced he falls; he welters on the ground;
  The ruffian foe rejoice with savage cries;
While reeking bayonets blush from wound to wound,
  Stabbing the hero as he vanquish’d lies.
A corps reserved (though panting for the deed)        45
  Indignant view’d the tragic scene from far;
Onward they furious rush’d with vengeful speed,
  Plied the loud cannon, and renew’d the war.
Forced from their murdering work, the villains fly,
  In broken columns o’er the bloody field;        50
Some breathless faint, some maim’d expiring lie,
  While others trembling to the victors yield.
In vain they shun the vengeance of our arms,
  In vain the terrors of the war decline;
The grateful chace each patriot bosom warms,        55
  And showers destruction on their routed line.
Revenge appeased, with ample victory crown’d,
  For Mercer mangled, and for Haselet slain,
Sees Britain’s miscreants strew the purpled ground,
  A grateful offering on the well-fought plain.        60
Now what was virtue, (which the just admire,)
  Soul of the patriot instinct of the brave;
Quench’d is that spark that fed the genial fire,
  And Mercer slumbers in the peaceful grave.
Olympus’ towering heights, those blest abodes,        65
  Where Freedom sheds her fair auspicious ray,
Glorious he seeks, and mix’d with kindred gods,
  Breathes the pure ether of eternal day.
Note 1.
  “Dura sed emovere loco me tempora grato,
Civilisque rudem belli tulit æstus in arma.”

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