The Genius of America Weeping the Absurd Follies of the Day—October 10, 1778 by Mercy Otis Warren

“O TEMPORA! O MORES!”

Beneath the lofty pine that shades the plain,
Where the blue mount o’erlooks the western main,
I saw Columbia’s weeping Genius stand,
A blacken’d scroll hung waving in her hand.

The pensive fair, in broken accents said,
Shall freedom’s cause by vice be thus betray’d?—
Behold the schedule that unfolds the crimes
And marks the manners of these modern times.
She sigh’d and wept—the folly of the age,
The selfish passions, and the mad’ning rage
For pleasure’s soft debilitating charms,
Running full riot in cold avarice’ arms;
Who grasps the dregs of base oppressive gains,
While luxury in high profusion reigns.
Our country bleeds, and bleeds at every pore,
Yet gold’s the deity whom all adore;
Except a few, whose probity of soul
No bribe could purchase, nor no fears control.
A chosen few, who dar’d to stem the tide
Of British vengeance in the pomp of pride,
When George’s fleets with every sail unfurl’d,
And by his hand the reeking dagger hurl’d,
The sharpen’d steel, the angry furies held,
And Albion’s offspring strew’d the purple field
With kindred blood, warm from his brother’s veins,
The crimson flood each field and village stains;
Yet back recoil’d the reeking bloody hilt,
And slaughter’d millions mark’d the tyrant’s guilt.

But ‘midst the carnage the weak monarch made,
Stern bending down his awful grandsire’s shade,
Bespoke the pupil of the Scottish thane,
“Why sully thus the glories of my reign?
“The western world oft for my house has bled,
“And Brunswick’s friends lie mingled with the dead
“In yon fair fields of glory and renown,
“Now independent of thy trembling crown;
“The lustre of thy diadem is fled,
“The brightest jewel that adorn’d thy head;
“America—no more supports thy reign,
“Nor freedom will forgive her martyrs slain.

“As I shot down across th’ empurpled plains,
“Whole cities burn’d, and Vulcan forg’d new chains.
“Yet dying patriots clasp’d the darling son,
“And bid him gird the warlike helmet on.
“The cold lip quiver’d on the blood stain’d ground,
“The spirit rising from the ghastly wound,
“The hero sob’d—the glorious work complete,
“And Britain’s barbarous policy defeat;
“‘Tis heav’n commands, and freedom is the prize,
“Adieu, my son—death seals thy father’s eyes.”

The stern majestic form about to rise,
The guardian goddess met him from the skies;
“‘Tis just, she cry’d—I urg’d the battle on,”
And, pointing down—”see, there the trophies won,
“While they believ’d heav’n’s uncontrol’d decree,
“That virtue only made them brave and free.”

The trump of war from shore to shore resounds,
And the shrill echo o’er the vale rebounds;
The distant nations hear the dread alarm,
Enkindled Europe for the conflict arm;
The Gallic powers, the western peasants join,
And distant legions form in freedom’s line;
America is hail’d from sea to sea,
Sits independent, glorious, and free;
Propitious heaven approv’d, and smil’d benign,
And guards of angels aided her design;
While still her senate, vigilant and wise,
Spreads wide her fame, and lifts her to the skies.

But he who holds the universal chain
Of all events, his system will maintain;
He through the whole creation has decreed,
Effects must follow as our actions lead;
All nature shews that heaven ne’er design’d,
Spite of themselves, to save and bless mankind.
The friendly genius lifted slow her veil,
And still hid half the melancholy tale—
When, lo! she sigh’d, the happy prospect dies,
Guilt has provok’d the vengeance of the skies;
As wealth pour’d in from every distant shore,
The gaudy lap of luxury ran o’er;
The blacken’d passions all at once let loose,
And rampant crimes scarce ask’d for an excuse.

So dissolute—yet so polite the town,
Like Hogarth’s days, the world’s turn’d upside down;
Old Juvenal, who censur’d former crimes,
Or Churchill’s pen, in more satiric rhymes,
Or crabbed Swift, in yet a rougher stile,
Might lash the vices of a venal isle;
If sermons, satires, or the law of heaven,
(Though it again from Sinai’s mount were given,)
Should all combine to censure modish vice,
It can’t be wrong, when fashion sanctifies.

Hogarth might paint, and Churchill lash the times,
Compar’d with moderns, modest were their crimes;
Not Swift himself could now defame the age,
Truth might be told in each sarcastic page;
Whoe’er delights to shew mankind absurd
The life in vogue may ample room afford.

The early creed of lisping girls and boys,
Is taste, high life, and pleasure’s guilty joys;
The modish stile the heedless parent taught,
And sins run rank, from levity of thought;
Ere the big cloud that shook the north retires,
Each generous movement of the soul expires;
All public faith, and private justice dead,
And patriot zeal by patriots betray’d;
While hot bed plants of yesterday shoot up,
Erect their heads, and reach the cedar’s top.

Thankless to heaven, and to the men ingrate,
Who ventur’d all to save a sinking state;
Who kept the shatter’d bark, and stood the deck,
When timid helmsmen left her as a wreck.
Those godlike men, those lovers of mankind,
Have nought to retrospect that pains the mind;

Placid they move amidst an heedless band,
And sigh in silence o’er a guilty land.

But when old Time is so decrepid grown,
His worn out car no more will bear him on,
When Fame throws by her faithless tinkling tube
That carol’d falsehoods round the list’ning globe,
The evergreens on yonder ether plains,
Eternal flourish to reward their pains.

Thus truth exhibits virtue in an age,
When vice, unblushing, stalk’d across the stage,
And star’d around with hideous prowling eyes,
To catch the heedless witling as he flies;
The disputant, who enters on the lift,
To foil a Newton, or to win at whist.
He lives a sceptic, if you take his word,
Thinks ’tis heroic to deny his God,
Or to dispute his providential care;
Deride his precepts, or to scoff at prayer.
His coat, his creed, his faith and genius too,
Are moderniz’d as fashion forms the cue;
Prompt and alert, with erudition fraught,
Than Locke, or Boyle, in ethics better taught;
He swears the taste the bon ton of the times,
By moralists can ne’er be constru’d crimes;
Most modern writers are much better bred,
Voltaire and Hoyle, the authors he has read,
Discard such antique, odd ideas of truth,
Such musty rules for regulating youth.

Lord Bolingbroke, among the wits a toast,
And Mandeville, the sceptic’s empty boast,
Reason so clear, that e’en their pigmy race
Who swarm and cluster in each public place,
With scientific brow can demonstrate,
Whate’er the pious sage or priest may prate,
Virtue is an enthusiastic dream,
Reveal’d religion, a long worn out theme.

At bacchanalian feasts, it is the mode
To pour libations to the red ey’d God,
‘Till penetration so out runs his sense,
That the arcana of omnipotence,
Brought to the reas’ner’s superficial test,
The Christian code becomes his wanton jest.
Scarce any decent principles remain,
A fool’s cap, perch’d on folly’s feather’d brain,
Is the learn’d signal for the warm debate
On Voltaire’s creed—or the decrees of fate;
‘Till graceful * * so improves the plan,
The deist blushes at his bolder strain;
His flowing stile, and easy periods such,
His influence sinks, because he doubts too much.
This smooth romantic bard, from east to west,
Has conjur’d up each sceptical protest
‘Gainst all religion—ev’n the most sublime,
Oral or wrote—of late or modern time.
All hope renounc’d of an immortal state,
By rote his pupils syllogisms prate—
Annihilation dissipates all fear,
We can but suffer—and enjoy while here.

As ignis fatuus floats from lake to bog,
The vapor plays in pestilential fog,
Sparkles and sinks in the dark marshy tomb,
As modern wits in metaphysic fume.

Yet they assume a self important air,
Or to confound, or proselyte the fair,
Who no ideas have of other heaven,
If dress, parade, and a gallant is given;
Who rail aloud ‘gainst puritanic rules,
And learn their morals in deistic schools;
Who prattle nonsense with the half fledg’d beau,
Can cog the die, and raffle high or low;
In folly’s lap, by childish passions toss’d,
On vanity’s delusive shallow coast;
The rippling surface hides the deep abyss,
That gapes destruction, while the hydra’s hiss,
Unheard as pleasure’s fascinating song,
In gales perfum’d, the triflers hurl along.
While wide spread ruin stalks from door to door,
Famine and sword still threat’ning to devour,
How many dance on dissipation’s wing,
No pen can paint, nor can the poet sing.

Profoundly learn’d, investigating truth,
And thus thrown off the shackles of his youth,
He’s wisest sure who makes the most of life,
Prefers a mistress to a sober wife;
The coxcomb laughs, and revels life away,
While gaming high’s the business of the day;
Pleasure shall dance in every festive bowl,
The Brute’s secure—the Man has not a soul.

From: Warren, Mrs. M., Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, 1790, I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews: Boston, pp. 246-252.
(https://archive.org/stream/poemsdramaticand00warrrich#page/246/mode/2up)

Date: 1778

By: Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814)

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