Nonfiction > Trent and Wells, eds. > Colonial Prose and Poetry
Trent and Wells, eds.  Colonial Prose and Poetry.  1901.
Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775
Joseph Green
JOSEPH GREEN, a New England poet, much admired by his contemporaries, was born in Boston in 1706, and died in London, December 11, 1780. He was graduated from Harvard at twenty, became a successful merchant and literary amateur, and was one of the prime movers in the agitations of the sixties that ultimately led to independence. But, like many other good men, he shrank from open war, and he was unfortunate enough to receive an appointment by Governor Gage in 1774, as one of the so-called Mandamus Council, to remodel the government of the colony in an illiberal way. Though he did not take the oath of office, he signed the loyal address in approval of Governor Hutchinson, and was therefore proscribed and banished in 1776, finding a congenial home for his last years in England. He was regarded in Massachusetts as the best lampooner and political satirist of his generation; and as a wit, unsurpassed, unless it were by his friend, Dr. Byles. His skits and parodies are by no means so remarkable to modern as to contemporary readers, but the two specimens we give have at least an historical value. Some readers may be interested to compare the lines on Mr. Old Tenor with those written not many years ago on a Confederate note.  1
The Parson’s Psalm.
[A Parody on Mather Byles’s Stanzas written at Sea.]

        IN David’s Psalms an oversight
  Byles found one morning at his tea.
Alas! that he should never write
  A proper song to sing at sea.
Thus ruminating on his seat,
  Ambitious thoughts at length prevailed.
The bard determined to complete
  The part wherein the prophet failed.
He sat awhile and stroked his Muse, 1
  Then taking up his tuneful pen,
Wrote a few stanzas for the use
  Of his seafaring brethren.
The task performed, the bard content,
  Well chosen was each flowing word;
On a short voyage himself he went,
  To hear it read and sung on board.
Most serious Christians do aver,
  (Their credit sure we may rely on,)
In former times that after prayer,
  They used to sing a song of Zion.
Our modern parson having prayed,
  Unless loud fame or faith beguiles,
Sat down, took out his book and said,
  “Let’s sing a psalm of Mather Byles.”
At first, when he began to read,
  Their heads the assembly downward hung,
But he with boldness did proceed,
  And thus he read, and thus they sung.
With vast amazement we survey
  The wonders of the deep,
Where mackerel swim, and porpoise play,
  And crabs and lobsters creep.
Fish of all kinds inhabit here,
  And throng the dark abode.
Here haddock, hake, and flounders are,
  And eels, and perch, and cod.
From raging winds and tempests free,
  So smoothly as we pass,
The shining surface seams to be
  A piece of Bristol glass.
But when the winds and tempests rise,
  And foaming billows swell,
The vessel mounts above the skies,
  And lower sinks than hell.
Our heads the tottering motion feel,
  And quickly we become
Giddy as new-dropped calves, and reel
  Like Indians drunk with rum.
What praises then are due that we
  Thus far have safely got,
Amarescoggin tribe to see,
  And tribe of Penobscot.
A Lamentation for Old Tenor Currency.
[A Mournful Lamentation for the Sad and Deplorable Death of Mr. Old Tenor.]

        A DOLEFUL tale prepare to hear,
  As ever yet was told:
The like, perhaps, ne’er reach’d the ear
  Of either young or old.
’Tis of the sad and woful death
  Of one of mighty fame,
Who lately hath resigned his breath;
  Old Tenor was his name.
In vain ten thousands intercede,
  To keep him from the grave;
In vain, his many good works plead;
  Alas! they cannot save.
The powers decree and die he must,
  It is the common lot,
But his good deeds, when he’s in dust,
  Shall never be forgot.
He made our wives and daughters fine,
  And pleased everybody;
He gave the rich their costly wine,
  The poor their flip and toddy.
The laborer he set to work;
  In ease maintained the great:
He found us mutton, beef, and pork,
  And everything we eat.
To fruitful fields by swift degrees,
  He turned our desert land:
Where once naught stood but rocks and trees,
  Now spacious cities stand.
He built us houses strong and high,
  Of wood, and brick, and stone;
The furniture he did supply;
  But now, alas! he’s gone.
The merchants, too, those topping folks,
  To him owe all their riches;
Their ruffles, lace, and scarlet cloaks,
  And eke their velvet breeches.
He launched their ships into the main,
  To visit distant shores;
And brought them back, full fraught with gain,
  Which much increased their stores.
Led on by him, our soldiers bold
  Against the foe advance;
And took, in spite of wet and cold,
  Strong Cape Breton from France.
Who from that fort the French did drive,
  Shall he so soon be slain?
While they, alas! remain alive,
  Who gave it back again?
From house to house, and place to place,
  In paper doublet clad,
He passed and where he showed his face,
  He made the heart full glad.
But cruel death, that spareth none,
  Hath robbed us of him too;
Who through the land so long hath gone,
  No longer now must go.
In senate he, like Cæsar, fell,
  Pierced through with many a wound,
He sunk, ah, doleful tale to tell!
  The members sitting round:
And ever since that fatal day
  O! had it never been,
Closely confined at home he lay,
  And scarce was ever seen,
Until the last of March, when he
  Submitted unto fate;
In anno regis twenty-three,
  Ætatis forty-eight.
Forever gloomy be that day,
  When he gave up the ghost;
For by his death, oh! who can say,
  What hath New England lost?
Then, good Old Tenor, fare thee well,
  Since thou art dead and gone;
We mourn thy fate, e’en while we tell
  The good things thou hast done,
Since the bright beams of yonder sun
  Did on New England shine,
In all the land, there ne’er was known
  A death so mourned as thine.
Of every rank are many seen,
  Thy downfall to deplore;
For ’tis well known that thou hast been
  A friend to rich and poor.
We’ll o’er thee raise a silver tomb,
  Long may that tomb remain,
To bless our eyes for years to come,
  But wishes, ah! are vain.
And so God bless our noble state,
  And save us all from harm,
And grant us food enough to eat,
  And clothes to keep us warm.
Send us a lasting peace, and keep
  The times from growing worse;
And let us all in safety sleep,
  With silver in our purse.
Note 1. Byles’s favorite cat. [back]

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