Nonfiction > Trent and Wells, eds. > Colonial Prose and Poetry
Trent and Wells, eds.  Colonial Prose and Poetry.  1901.
Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710
Verses from the Magnalia
COTTON MATHER was no poet, but like many of his quaint predecessors of the seventeenth century he thought it added dignity to his pages to insert poetical tributes to the distinguished men about whom he wrote. Some of these elegies and epitaphs were written by himself in the fantastic style of two generations before. Others, such as the lines on John Cotton by Benjamin Woodbridge, given in our first volume, were gathered from other sources. We here select some of Mather’s own lines, some contributed by the Rev. Nicholas Noyes (1647–1717), pastor at Salem, the most fantastic of all our poets and an inveterate punster, an epitaph by the “ingenious merchant,” Mr. Samuel Bache, and a few verses by a certain Benjamin Thompson (1642–1714), who has the credit of being our first native born poet, of whom, however, very little is known. His New England’s Crisis, which is supposed to be an epic of King Philip’s War, seems to have been preserved only in selections, but our specimen of Thompson’s verse will hardly cause great regrets for the fate of his magum opus.  1
“A Prefatory Poem, on That Excellent Book, Entituled Magnalia Christi Americana; Written by the Rev. Mr. Cotton Mather, Pastor of a Church at Boston, New England.”
By Nicholas Noyes.
To the Candid Reader.
STRUCK with huge love, of what to be possest,
I much despond, good reader, in the quest;
Yet help me, if at length it may be said,
Who first the chambers of the south display’d?
Inform me, whence the tawny people came?
Who was their father, Japhet, Shem, or Cham?
And how they straddled to th’ Antipodes,
To look another world beyond the seas?
And when, and why, and where they last broke ground,
What risks they ran, where they first anchoring found?
Tell me their patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings,
Religion, manners, monumental things:
What charters had they? What immunities?
What altars, temples, cities, colonies,
Did they erect? Who were their public spirits?
Where may we find the records of their merits?
What instances, what glorious displays
Of heav’n’s high hand, commenced in their days?
These things in black oblivion covered o’er,
(As they’d ne’er been) lie with a thousand more,
A vexing thought, that makes me scarce forbear,
To stamp, and wring my hands, and pluck my hair,
To think, what blessed ignorance hath done,
What fine threads learning’s enemies have spun,
How well books, schools, and college may be spared,
So men with beasts may fitly be compared!
Yes, how tradition leaves us in the lurch,
And who, nor stay at home, nor go to church:
The light-within-enthusiasts, who let fly
Against our pen and ink divinity,
Who boldly do pretend (but who’ll believe it)?
If Genesis were lost, they could retrieve it;
Yea, all the sacred writ; pray let them try
On the New Word, their gift of prophecy.
For all them, the new world’s antiquities,
Smother’d in everlasting silence lies:
*      *      *      *      *
Who can past things to memory command,
Till one with Aaron’s breast-plate up shall stand?
Mischiefs remediless such sloth ensue;
God and their parents lose their honor due,
And children’s children suffer on that score,
Like bastards cast forlorn at any door;
And they and others put to seek their father,
For want of such a scribe as Cotton Mather;
Whose piety, whose pains, and peerless pen,
Revives New England’s nigh-lost origin.
*      *      *      *      *
He hath related academic things,
And paid their first fruits to the King of kings;
And Alma Mater that just favor,
To shew sal gentium hath not lost its savor.
He writes like an historian, and divine,
Of Churches, Synods, Faith, and Discipline.
*      *      *      *      *
The stuff is true, the trimming neat and spruce,
The workman’s good, the work of public use;
Most piously designed, a public store.
And well deserves the public thanks, and more.
Upon the Death of Sir William Phips, Knt.
Late Captain General and Governour in Chief of the Province of the Massachuset-bay in New-England, who expired at London, Feb. 1694–1695.
        And to Mortality a sacrifice
        Falls he, whose deeds must him immortalize!
REJOICE, Messieurs; Netops rejoice; ’tis true,
Ye Philistines, none will rejoice but you:
Loving of all he dy’d; who love him not
Now, have the grace of publicans forgot.
Our Almanacks foretold a great eclipse,
This they foresaw not, of our greater Phips.
Phips our great friend, our wonder, and our glory,
The terror of our foes, the world’s rare story.
England will boast him too whose noble mind
Impell’d by Angels, did those treasures find,
Long in the bottom of the ocean laid,
Which her three hundred thousand richer made,
By silver yet ne’er canker’d, nor defil’d
By Honor, nor betray’d when Fortune smil’d.
Since this bright Phœbus visited our shore,
We saw no fogs but what were rais’d before:
Those vanish’d too; harass’d by bloody wars
Our land saw peace, by his most generous cares.
The wolvish Pagans at his dreaded name,
Tam’d, shrunk before him, and his dogs became!
Fell Moxus and fierce Dockawando fall,
Charm’d at the feet of our brave general.
*      *      *      *      *
Stout to a prodigy: living in pain
To send back Quebec-bullets once again.
Thunder, his music, sweeter than the spheres,
Chim’d roaring canons in his martial ears.
Frigates of armed men could not withstand,
’Twas tried, the force of his one swordless hand:
Hand, which in one, all of Briareus had,
And Hercules’ twelve toils but pleasures made.
*      *      *      *      *
Now lest ungrateful brands we should incur,
Your salary we’ll pay in tears, great Sir!
*      *      *      *      *
But thou chief loser, poor New-England, speak
Thy dues to such as did thy welfare seek,
The governour that vow’d to rise and fall
With thee, thy fate shows in his funeral.
Write now his epitaph, ’twill be thine own,
Let it be this, A PUBLIC SPIRIT’S GONE.
Or, but name PHIPS; more needs not be exprest;
Both Englands, and next ages, tell the rest.
On the Bright and the Dark Side of that American Pillar, the Reverend Mr. William Thompson; Pastor of the Church at Braintree. Who triumphed on Dec. 10, 1666.
BUT may a rural pen try to set forth
Such a great father’s ancient grace and worth!
I undertake a no less arduous theme,
Than the old sages found the Chaldee dream.
’Tis more than Tithes of a profound respect,
That must be paid such a Melchizedeck.
Oxford this light, with tongues and arts doth trim;
And then his northern town doth challenge him.
His time and strength he center’d there in this;
To do good work, and be what now he is.
His fulgent virtues there, and learned strains,
Tall, comely presence, life unsoil’d with stains,
Things most on worthies, in their stories writ,
Did him to moves in orbs of service fit.
Things more peculiar yet, my muse, intend,
Say stranger things than these; so weep and end.
When he forsook first his Oxonian cell,
Some scores at once from popish darkness fell;
So this reformer studied! rare first fruits!
Shaking a crab-tree thus by hot disputes,
The acid juice by miracle turned wine,
And rais’d the spirits of our young divine.
Hearers, like doves, flock’d with contentious wing,
Who should be first, feed most, most homeward bring,
Laden with honey, like Hyblæan bees,
They knead it into combs upon their knees.
*      *      *      *      *
Apollyon owing him a cursed spleen
Who an Apollos in the church had been,
Dreading his traffic here would be undone
By num’rous proselytes he daily won,
Accus’d him of imaginary faults,
And push’d him down so into dismal vaults:
Vaults, where he kept long Ember-weeks of grief,
Till Heaven alarmed sent him in relief.
Then was a Daniel in the lions’ den,
A man, oh, how belov’d of God and men!
By his bed-side an Hebrew sword there lay,
With which at last he drove the devil away.
Quakers too durst not bear his keen replies,
But fearing it half drawn, the trembler flies.
Like Lazarus, new rais’d from death, appears
The saint that had been dead for many years.
Our Nehemiah said, Shall such as I
Desert my flock, and like a coward fly!
Long had the churches begg’d the saint’s release;
Releas’d at last, he dies in glorious peace.
The night is not so long, but phosphor’s ray
Approaching glories doth on high display.
Faith’s eye in him discern’d the morning star,
His heart leap’d; sure the sun cannot be far.
In extasies of joy, he ravish’d cries,
Love, love the lamb, the lamb! in whom he dies.
An “Elegant Elegy which Mr. Samuel Bache, an Ingenious Merchant, Made” upon the Rev. John Wilson.
WHEN as the poor want succor, where is he
Can say, all can be said, extempore?
Vie with the lightning, and melt down to th’ quick
Their souls, and make themselves their pockets pick?
Where’s such a leader, thus has got the slight
T’ teach holy hands to war, fingers to fight;
Their arrow hit? Bowels to bowels meant it,
God, Christ, and saints, accept, but Wilson sent it.
Which way so e’er the propositions move,
The ergo of his syllogism’s love.
So bountiful to all: but if the poor
Was christian too, all’s money went, and more,
His coat, rug, blanket, gloves; he thought their due
Was all his money, garments, one of two.
Upon the Very Reverend Samuel Whiting.
By Benjamin Thompson.
MOUNT fame, the glorious chariot of the sun;
Through the world’s cirque, all you, her heralds, run:
And let this great saint’s merits be reveal’d,
Which, during life, he studiously conceal’d.
Cite all the Levites, fetch the sons of art,
In these our dolours to sustain a part.
Warn all that value worth, and every one
Within their eyes to bring an Helicon.
For in this single person we have lost
More riches, than an India has engrost.
When Wilson, that plerophory of love,
Did from our banks, up to his center move,
Rare Whiting quotes Columbus on this coast,
Producing gems, of which a king might boast.
More splendid far than ever Aaron wore,
Within his breast, this sacred father bore.
Sound doctrine Urim, in his holy cell,
And all perfections Thummim there did dwell.
His holy vesture was his innocence,
His speech embroideries of curious sense.
Such awful gravity this doctor us’d,
As if an angel every word infus’d.
No turgent style, but Asiatic store;
Conduits were almost full, seldom run o’er
The banks of Time: come visit when you will,
The streams of nectar were descending still:
Much like Septemfluous Nilus, rising so,
He watered christians round, and made them grow.
His modest whispers could the conscience reach,
As well as whirlwinds, which some others preach;
No Boanerges, yet could touch the heart,
And clench his doctrine by the meekest art.
His learning and his language, might become
A province not inferior to Rome.
Glorious was Europe’s heaven when such as these
Stars of his size, shone in each diocese.
*      *      *      *      *

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