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Hugh Henry Brackenridge, first American noveli...

Hugh Henry Brackenridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After last week, you can bet it’s taken a good bit of time getting the pub all tidied up and mopped down–those celebrations always make a frenzy of it in the aftermath! But I’d say, it was worth it. Hopefully all of you are ready to get back into the usual swing of things this week, and to start things off, your latest Pretzels and Bullfights, featuring one Hugh Henry Brackenridge.

A Scot who emigrated to America in the latter half of the 1700s, Brackenridge was a man of vision. Not only did he help found one of the first western newspapers–The Pittsburgh Gazette–but he was also a member of the Pennsylvania state assembly, eventually became a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and in time of war, even served as a chaplain in George Washington’s army. He also wrote what was, in its day, considered a monumental addition to the world of western literature: the satire, Modern Chivalry. He was one of America’s first known writers, and that particular satire has even been compared to Don Quixote.

Today, I offer up but a sample of one of his poetic works (they were long, his poems were–appropriate to the time), “A poem, on the rising glory of America”, and provide a link to where you might find the rest…

~Chris Galford

A poem, on the rising glory of America

LEANDER.
No more of Memphis and her mighty kings,
Or Alexandria, where the Ptolomies.
Taught golden commerce to unfurl her falls,
And bid fair science smile: No more of Greece
Where learning next her early visit paid,
And spread her glories to illume the world,
No more of Athens, where she flourished,
And saw her sons of mighty genius rise
Smooth flowing Plato, Socrates and him
Who with resistless eloquence reviv’d
The Spir’t of Liberty, and shook the thrones
Of Macedon and Persia’s haughty king.
No more of Rome enlighten’d by her beams,
Fresh kindling there the fire of eloquence,
And poesy divine; imperial Rome!
Whose wide dominion reach’d o’er half the globe;
Whose eagle flew o’er Ganges to the East,
And in the West far to the British isles.
No more of Britain, and her kings renown’d,
Edward’s and Henry’s thunderbolts of war;
Her chiefs victorious o’er the Gallic foe;
Illustrious senators, immortal bards,
And wise philosophers, of these no more.
A Theme more new, tho’ not less noble claims
Our ev’ry thought on this auspicious day
The rising glory of this western world,
Where now the dawning light of science spreads
Her orient ray, and wakes the muse’s song;
Where freedom holds her sacred standard high,
And commerce rolls her golden tides profuse
Of elegance and ev’ry joy of life.

ACASTO.
Since then Leander you attempt a strain
So new, so noble and so full of fame;
And since a friendly concourse centers here
America’s own sons, begin O muse!
Now thro’ the veil of ancient days review
The period fam’d when first Columbus touch’d
The shore so long unknown, thro’ various toils,
Famine and death, the hero made his way,
Thro’ oceans bestowing with eternal storms.
But why, thus hap’ly found, should we resume
The tale of Cortez, furious chief, ordain’d
With Indian blood to dye the sands, and choak
Fam’d Amazonia’s stream with dead! Or why,
Once more revive the story old in fame,
Of Atabilipa by thirst of gold
Depriv’d of life: which not Peru’s rich ore,
Nor Mexico’s vast mines cou’d then redeem.
Better these northern realms deserve our song,
Discover’d by Britannia for her sons;
Undeluged with seas of Indian blood,
Which cruel Spain on southern regions spilt;
To gain by terrors what the gen’rous breast
Wins by fair treaty, conquers without blood.

EUGENIO.
High in renown th’ intreprid hero stands,
From Europes shores advent’ring first to try
New seas, new oceans, unexplor’d by man.
Fam’d Cabot too may claim our noblest song,
Who from th’ Atlantic surge descry’d these shores,
As on he coasted from the Mexic bay
To Acady and piny Labradore.
Nor less than him the muse would celebrate
Bold Hudson stemming to the pole, thro’ seas
Vex’d with continual storms, thro’ the cold strains,
Where Europe and America oppose
Their shores contiguous, and the northern sea
Confin’d, indignant, swells and roars between.
With these be number’d in the list of fame
Illustrious Raleigh, hapless in his fate:
Forgive me Raleigh, if an infant muse
Borrows thy name to grace her humble strain;
By many nobler are thy virtues sung;
Envy no more shall throw them in the shade;
They pour new lustre on Britannia’s isle.
Thou too, advent’rous on th’ Atlantic main,
Burst thro’ its storms and fair Virginia hail’d.
The simple natives saw thy canvas flow,
And gaz’d aloof upon the shady shore:
For in her woods America contain’d,
From times remote, a savage race of men.
How shall we know their origin, how tell,
From whence or where the Indian tribes arose?

ACASTO.
And long has this defy’d the sages skill
T’ investigate: Tradition seems to hide
The mighty secret from each mortal eye,
How first these various nations South and North
Possest these shores, or from what countries came.
Whether they sprang from some premoeval head
In their own lands, like Adam in the East;
Yet this the sacred oracles deny,
And reason too reclaims against the thought.
For when the gen’ral deluge drown’d the world,
Where could their tribes have found security?
Where find their fate but in the ghastly deep?
Unless, as others dream, some chosen few
High on the Andes ‘scap’d the gen’ral death,
High on the Andes wrapt in endless snow,
Where winter in his wildest fury reigns.
But here Philosophers oppose the scheme,
The earth, say they, nor hills nor mountains knew
E’er yet the universal flood prevail’d:
But when the mighty waters rose aloft
Rous’d by the winds, they shook their solid case
And in convulsions tore the drowned world!
‘Till by the winds assuag’d they quickly fell
And all their ragged bed exposed to view.
Perhaps far wand’ring towards the northren pole,
The straits of Zembla and the Frozen Zone,
And where the eastern Greenland almost joins
America’s north point, the hardy tribes
Of banish’d Jews, Siberians, Tartars wild
Came over icy mountains, or on floats
First reach’d these coasts hid from the world beside.
And yet another argument more strange
Reserv’d for men of deeper thought and late
Presents itself to view: In Pelag’s days,
So says the Hebrew seer’s inspired pen,
This mighty mass of earth, this solid globe
Was cleft in twain–cleft east and west apart
While strait between the deep Atlantic roll’d.
And traces indisputable remain
Of this unhappy land now sunk and lost;
The islands rising in the eastern main
Are but small fragments of this continent,
Whose two extremities were Newfoudland
And St. Helena.–One far in the north
Where British seamen now with strange surprise
Behold the pole star glitt’ring o’er their heads;
The other in the southern tropic rears
Its head above the waves; Bermudas and
Canary isles, Britannia and th’ Azores,
With fam’d Hibernia are but broken parts
Of some prodigious waste which once sustain’d
Armies by lands, where now but ships can range…

~Hugh Henry Brackenridge

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