Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Origin of MFingal
By James Hammond Trumbull (18211897)
[Born in Stonington, Conn., 1821. Died in Hartford, Conn., 1897. From a Paper in The Historical Magazine, January, 1868.]
JOHN TRUMBULL, the author of MFingal, after his admission to the bar in Connecticut, prosecuted the study of law in Boston, in the office of John Adams, from November, 1773, until September, 1774. During this period, as the Memoir prefixed to the revised edition of his Works informs us, he frequently employed his leisure hours in writing essays on political subjects in the public gazettes; which had, perhaps, a greater effect from the novelty of the manner and the caution he used to prevent any discovery of the real author. Shortly after his return to Connecticut, he became a contributor to the Hartford Courantthen published by Ebenezer Watson, and afterwards by Hudson & Goodwin. Gage,whose early confidence in his ability to play the lion had much abated since his arrival at Boston, in May, 1774,was now apparently relying more upon the pen than the sword, to awe America to submission. In MFingal (Canto ii., p. 31) Trumbull retraces
Into this wordy warfare Trumbull entered with spirit and success. Imitations in burlesque of Gages magnificent and turgid Proclamations,
In true sublime of scarecrow style,
had occasionally appeared in the newspapers of Boston and in Connecticut. At so fair a mark ridicule could hardly miss its aim; and these squibs were perhaps quite as popular and effective as if their versification had been smoother or their wit more refined . On the nineteenth of June, 1775, the Courant published Gages Proclamation of the twelfth, extending free pardon to the infatuated multitude, on their return to allegiance, but proscribing Samuel Adams and John Hancock, with all their adherents, associates, and abettors, and establishing martial law throughout Massachusetts . In the Courant of the seventh and the fourteenth of August, another version of the Proclamation made its appearance; and this last was unquestionably written by Trumbull. It is somewhat remarkable that not only the evidence of authorship, but the composition itself, should have escaped the observation of so many diligent gleaners of the newspaper literature of the Revolution. It is more surprising that no editor of MFingal has detected in the burlesque Proclamation the origin of the modern epic, to which more than fifty of the two hundred and sixteen lines of this earlier composition were transferred by its author.
In a letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, Trumbull states that the poem of MFingal was written merely with a political view, at the instigation of some leading members of the first Congress, who urged [him] to compose a satirical poem on the events of the Campaign in the year 1775. The Memoir prefixed to the edition of 1820 adds, that the friends at whose solicitations the first canto was written immediately procured it to be published at Philadelphia, where Congress was then assembled. It made its appearance in an octavo pamphlet of forty pagesprinted by William and Thomas Bradfordin January, 1776, but with the date of 1775. At this time, the author had also formed the plan of the [whole] work, sketched some of the scenes of the third canto, and written the beginning of the fourth. The first canto, as originally published, was subsequently divided into two. The composition was suspended until after the surrender of Cornwallis had established the success of the Revolution, when the poem was completed and published, in Hartford, by Hudson & Goodwin, on the tenth of September, 1782. Before the close of the year (December 28), a second edition was issued by a rival Hartford publisher, Nathaniel Patten, without the authors consent.
The Proclamation Versified was published, as has been mentioned, in August, 1775. So large a portion of it is reproduced in the first three cantos of MFingal that the latter poem may be said to have grown directly out of the former. That it was the appearance of this burlesque which induced the authors friends to urge him to the composition of a longer and regularly constructed poem, in the same measure and a similar vein, is hardly doubtful.
Among the prominent members of the Congress of 1775, to whom Trumbull was personally known, and whose solicitation was likely to have weight with himbesides the delegation from his own State, including Oliver Wolcott, Roger Sherman, and Silas Deanewere John Adams, his instructor in law, and Thomas Cushing, in whose family he had lived while in Boston. They were not mistaken in their estimate of his genius and of the service which, in that period of terror and dismay, his wit, humor, and satiric power might render to the friends of American liberty, to inspire confidence in our cause, to crush the efforts of the Tory party, and to prepare the public mind for the Declaration of Independence. With these objects in view, as his Memoir informs us, he wrote the first part of MFingal. Its success abundantly justified the judgment of his friends. Its popularity was unexampled; and that the favor with which it was received, at home and abroad, was not attributable merely to the interest of its subject or the seasonableness of the publication, is sufficiently proved by the fact that more than thirty impressions had been called for before 1820, and that then, as now, it had not only its established place in every good library, but had become the prey of newsmongers, hawkers, peddlers, and petty chapmen, who, as the author complains, republished it at pleasure, without his permission or knowledge.