Article 13

ART. XIII. Washington, or Liberty Restored; a Poem in ten Books. By Thomas Northmore, Esq. London. Longman, Hurst, &c. 1809. pp. 264.

[pp. 365-375] [original article in PDF format]

  1. MR. Northmore, having fortunately discovered, in the course of his reading, that Æschylus 'wrote his patriotic tragedy of Prometheus, to confirm the Athenians in the love of that liberty which they enjoyed,' has, after much study and fatigue, produced an epic poem, in ten books, to excite his countrymen, as he informs us, 'to struggle for that liberty which they have lost.'

  2. It is our misfortune scarcely to have heard of Mr. Northmore before, though he has been neither silent nor inactive. His life has been spent, he says, in combating 'the malignant effusions of corruption,' and, as he pathetically adds, to very little advantage! p. iv. This obscure warfare never extended, we suppose, beyond the scene of action; yet Mr. N., with a vanity very excusable in so pugnacious a character, has fully persuaded himself, that the report of it has reached the critics, and will subject his work 'to censure and abuse.' p. iv. [365]

  3. From the lentum duellum just mentioned, to the vigorous onset before us, is a prodigious advance towards final success; and unless one of Mr. N.'s antagonists speedily produce an epic poem of equal length in favour of George III., we shall feel ourselves obliged, in justice, to award him the victory.

  4. It may be objected, Mr. N. observes, that the subject of the work is too near his own times; but to this he replies, very triumphantly, that if the poem had been put off till he was dead, he could not have written it at all: other petty cavils, such as, that the Americans were enemies to this country, and the author no great friend to it, are disposed of very succinctly; they are the suggestions of malice and ignorance, and therefore deserve no answer.

  5. Mr. N. has adopted 'the imagery of Paradise Lost.' The language and versification of that poem he seems to have found somewhat too incorrect for his purpose. He has 'taken fewer liberties,' he tells us, 'than Milton, and no liberty which is not to be found in him.' p. vii. As the author's notions of liberty are peculiar to himself, we will not dispute the point with him.

  6. WASHINGTON, like Paradise Lost, opens with a grand view of the infernal regions. Satan bursts upon us surrounded by his compeers, and here occurs a remarkable improvement on Milton. In hell, as described by that trivial poet, no information could be gained of what was transacting elsewhere, and therefore Satan is involved in a long and perilous expedition to procure it. After traversing 'millions of leagues,' he reaches the sun, whence he is directed to this globe, a star among the stars, by an angel. The eyes of Satan and his compeers have been washed in euphrasy since that period, for they not only see the earth from Pandemonium, but every man on it; nay, they even see a sound in one of the American woods, which disconcerts their councils, and alarms Satan with the fear of death, so that he hastens to make 'his last speech.' This is somewhat abruptly terminated by the appearance of Seraphic Splendour, who 'glides down the western sky, and halts over York town,' where Cornwallis was defeated: for Mr. N. very judiciously begins his poem at the end of his subject. At this sight, Satan 'trembles in all his pond'rous limbs,' and exclaims,

    'Moloch, why sleepest thou? Beelzebub!
    Mammon! and all ye potentates of hell,
    Rouse, rouse your energies.
    E'en hell itself's in danger; saw ye not
    The archangel, Liberty?
    That Liberty's our death! Then farewell hell!
    Farewell our throne! Annihilation, hail!' p. 6.

    Beelzebub and Mammon take the reproof of Satan with great [366] composure; but Moloch is less passive: nothing, however, seems to mortify him so much as the charge of sleepiness.

    'Moloch, why sleepest thou? Did Moloch sleep
    When all the embattled Seraphim engaged
    In doubtful war on either side of heaven?
    Where then was Moloch, when the forked light
    Hurl'd us down headlong?'

    Ay, where indeed? He then retorts on Satan, with admirable spirit and success.

    'I never prophesied of death to hell,
    I never bid annihilation hail,
    I trembled not, because Seraphic Light
    Hath halted over York-town. If it have,
    Moloch will meet it there.
    This is the first time that Moloch branded stood
    With sleepy cowardice, and this the last!'—p. 7.

    From some unaccountable caprice, the author has judged it expedient to print his work in lines of various lengths. This disposition we have deemed it our duty to follow, though it subjects us to considerable difficulties; for as we have neither rhythm nor metre to direct us, we are obliged to trust solely to the capital letter which begins the line, and which may sometimes elude our best care.

  7. With this apology for any incidental oversight, we return to Moloch, who, after a gentle admonition from Beelzebub, grows 'temperate,' and acquiesces in the notion of dying;—with this characteristic addition, however.

    'And if we are to die, let's die the death
    Of unextinguish'd hate!'

    We have now more last words from Satan, and, we are sorry to add, very scurrilous ones where this country is concerned; he terms her governors 'money'd muckworms, merchant ministers,' &c. and expresses a great dislike of our paper currency, though in the same breath, he compliments the American secretary,

    '. . . financier Morris, who doth seem
    To have found the talisman of making gold.'

    Indeed, this is not the only instance of his inconsistency; for after celebrating the patriotism of the 'pure and virtuous' citizens of America, who stripped themselves of everything to support the army, he tells us, that the troops were actually left to starve; insomuch that had not Washington fed them without food, they must have sold themselves to the accursed gold of Britain: [367]

                            'Sometimes indeed,
    By their great leader's foresight, they regaled
    In huts of mud and logs; but even here
    No respite could they find, for none would bring
    Provisions!'—p. 22.

    Here Satan interrupts his interminable harangue to transact a little business, namely, 'to enrol the title of Arnold in the state office of hell,' for Satan makes princes almost as compendiously as Buonaparte. Arnold, therefore, is constituted, by patent, (without his fees) Prince Apollyon!

    'Instant, hell's palace rang with loud acclaim,
    Apollyon! Apollyon! was cried—
    Hail, our new prince,' &c.

    He then proceeds to inform his legions, that they must prepare to combat Washington, backed by 'Michael, and all the host of heaven.'

    'Clothed in new arms, of which they stand in need,
    Since erst with well-devised engin'ry,
    Them of their antient armour we despoiled.'

    Here Azazel, a cherub tall, who still retains the rank conferred on him by Milton, prepares to unfurl the glittering ensign; when he is prevented by Mammon, who makes a very prosing speech, by anticipation, from the history of one Belsham, a great favourite in hell, it seems, and a pestilent scribbler upon earth; in which he points out the proper method of framing acts of parliament, securing majorities, &c. &c. After venting a torrent of abuse on his 'favoured isle,' as he calls Britain, he starts up, fills a couple of empty coffers with gold, and hurries away with them to the court of St. James's.

  8. Azazel now unfurls the standard for good and all, when it is instantly consumed before his eyes: upon which, Moloch, 'rapt in himself,' seizes the staff, (for in affirming it to be consumed the author spoke by a figure,) whirls it round his head, and shouting 'victory or death!' sets all hell in motion. Beelzebub rushes forward with the van; Moloch leads on the main body, 'hissing slaughter from his horrid jaws;' and Chemos and Belial bring up the rear with the artillery and heavy baggage. Satan, thus left alone, gazes pensively on his splendid palace, which is forthwith swallowed up by a hell-quake; at this, he bursts into a flood of tears, and turns towards the next article of finery, a glittering car, of which the axle 'was formed of platina,' and the body of some 'new-discovered substance,' which the chemists, according to Mr. N., have not yet had an opportunity of analysing, and which therefore he very prudently forbears to name. [368]

  9. Into this car, Satan leaps,

    'And the ætherial steeds, who know his will,
    And need nor goad nor spur, no sooner feel
    The awful presence of their mighty chief,
    Than, quick as forked lightning, with one bound
    Spring from hell's confines to Columbia's Alps.'—p. 43.

    Where Satan procured those ætherial steeds, Mr. N. does not inform us. We never heard of them before, nor of any of their race; they are certainly most wonderful animals.

  10. Book II. Mr. N., having halted Seraphic Splendour over York town, placed Michael and his angels by the side of Washington, and 'the devil and his angels' by that of Cornwallis, deems it a fit opportunity to take a retrospective view of what was done in Switzerland five hundred years ago; and gives us a dogged account of William Tell and his apple, from that rare and authentic document, Salmon's Modern History. No mention of Satan occurs in this book: there is indeed much abuse of religion, but not by him; there is also a rapturous panegyric, in prose, on the benevolent and pacific nature of Buonaparte, who is clothed with the attributes of divinity, and very properly opposed to his Britannic Majesty, the great disturber of the peace of mankind.

  11. Book III. contains the speeches of Philip of Spain and his brother John, on the novel and interesting subject of the war in the Netherlands. Philip's case, as far as we understand it, seems somewhat pitiable.

    'Spain's despot saw, but harden'd at the sight,
    Seeing, saw not, for tyranny is blind.'

    Queen Elizabeth also makes speeches, but her's are in favour of the rights of the people, as opposed to the prerogatives of the prince; than which nothing, as every one knows, can be more germane to her real sentiments on the subject.

  12. Book IV. takes a leap of two centuries, and brings us at once to the administration of Lord North, who is honoured with the tender epithets of fool, dolt, idiot, knave, &c. as, indeed, is every one who has the misfortune to differ from Mr. N. and his oracle Belsham. As these gentle terms appeared to offer a fit occasion, the author checks his narrative to animadvert with becoming warmth on the use of hard language, which, as he truly remarks, serves only to exasperate and inflame. Recollecting too the mild and conciliating, the polite and generous language of Buonaparte's bulletins and manifestos, he reprobates with just indignation the outrageous intemperance of our own; and hints, with equal patriotism and sagacity, that such virulence only serves to make the [369] day of retribution more just. It certainly does; and we cannot therefore sufficiently applaud the saving prudence of Mr. N. who, on the expected entry of Buonaparte into St. James's, may conscientiously assure that divine hero, 'who knows how to distinguish,' that his whole vocabulary of opprobrious terms (no very confined one, by the bye) had been carefully reserved for the government of his country.

  13. Book V. continues the patriotic abuse of England, raked from the columns of some crack-brained gazetteer, and put into the mouth of Franklin. The cowardice of the British is a favourite theme: it is thus classically illustrated by 'that modest sage.'

    'If all your foes were tenfold multiplied,
    And you yourselves divided in ten parts,
    One single part in freedom's glorious cause
    Would gain an easy victory o'er the whole.'—p. 130.

    It subsequently appears, however, that this great calculator, 'at whose side sat Wisdom clothed in light,' had admitted some error into his statement; for at Bunker's hill, where this ten times tenfold disproportion did not exist, the Americans, Mr. N. says, would have been entirely defeated, had not the archangel Liberty taken upon himself the shape of Warren, and drove, as he well might, the English before him like a flock of sheep! Accident alone saved them from total destruction: their good friend, the devil, happened to be turning over 'the book of life,' (how it got into his hands, nobody knows,) when just at the critical minute, he observed the ink, with which the name of Warren was written, turn pale—

                             'gladdened at the sight,
    Instant to Death he cry'd, My son, my son!
    The hard-fought day is our's.'—p.141.

    He then orders Death 'to poise a dart with fate' and despatch him. Instead of aiming at the archangel, from whom all the mischief proceeded, Death unfortunately strikes down the real Warren, who was perfectly harmless: this, however, terrifies the counterfeit so effectually, that he retires from the field; and 'the host of disciplined warriors' is permitted to repel the 'few raw troops' of the enemy. Mr. N., however, comforts himself by adding, 'that the dead on the English side surpassed their foes thrice told.'

  14. Book VI. opens with a hymn to the 'pure soil of Virginia,' which being more crowded with slaves than any other of the American states, is judiciously described as glowing, above them all, with 'the divine love of freedom.' The song then ascends, with equal propriety, to Washington, who, we believe, to the day of his death, was seldom possessed of more than three hundred negroes at one [370] time; and celebrates his utter abhorrence of all restrictions on the natural rights of man, in the most forcible and impressive manner. Mr. N. now, as persons of a certain description are said to rush in where angels dare not tread, speeds to heaven, exalts the American chief to the office of MEDIATOR, and assures us, that he is employed in supplicating mercy over the sins of men, once his fellows. p. 152. Arnold and Clinton now make their appearance, (not in heaven, the reader may be pretty confident,) and encourage each other to mutual horrors: this introduces the mention of the loyalists, who having the folly to preserve their throats, (at least to attempt it,) and the presumption to differ from Mr. N., are described as 'fired by revenge, fury hot from hell,' &c., and the book ends with a pious ejaculation for justice upon them, which he seems to think has been somewhat too long delayed.

  15. Book VII. Washington prays for advice, and the Archangel Liberty, who is forthcoming on all occasions, is instantly at his side. From what he says, it would appear that the cause of the United States, notwithstanding the folly, knavery, and cowardice of the English, and the wisdom, virtue, and bravery of the Americans, (to say nothing of 'the host of heaven' marshalled on their side,) had really been in some danger: for the Archangel remarks, with uncommon exultation, that he now 'came with tidings of great joy;' tidings not only that Russia (the eternal enemy of slavery) had 'resolved to defend the law of nature;' but, what he seems to consider of much higher importance, that 'neutral powers had at length agreed to guarantee the rights of God!' p.175. Lest all this should be insufficient to subdue Washington's fears, the Archangel adds, that 'the fleet of pitying Louis, wrapt in celestial clouds,' had eluded the English, and was now entering the harbour. Washington has scarcely expressed his thanks for this intelligence, ere the French generals appear—all heroes—all burning with the genuine love of freedom. The spectacle overcomes the American chief, and he bursts into an involuntary song of praise:

                    ————'Our gratitude
    To mighty Louis passeth utterance:
    Next to our nature, and to nature's God,
    We owe to him our freedom.' p.176.

    Mr. N. corroborates, in a note, this statement of the benefits bestowed by mighty Louis on the Americans, as well as their deep sense of them. This is perfectly right: we only lament that he did not exemplify it by stating, from the papers before him, that festivals were instituted through the United States for the annual celebration of their benefactor's murder; and that Joel Barlow, the Laureat of America, was called upon for a song of triumph [371] over his bleeding trunk, which was not only sung with extraordinary rapture there, but in every part of Europe, where two or three Americans could be got together.

  16. Book VIII. brings us to the opening of the poem! 'Seraphic Splendour,' whom we now find to be the Archangel Liberty, 'halts over York-town,' and amuses Washington with the relation of a scurvy trick which he has just put upon the English reinforcements. 'He has lured them,' he says, 'to Eustathius,' and put out their eyes, so that they cannot discern friends from foes. p. 193. On the other hand, he clears Washington's sight, and enables him to distinguish the infernal host, which is just arrived from hell. Finding, as it should seem, that the General was not very conversant with the faces of the leaders, the Archangel condescends to point them out to him with great minuteness. Among the rest, he shows him Satan 'wrapt in thick darkness,' and concealed behind his shield, of which 'the boss was a vast and solid rock.' p. 196. Of this shield we are favoured with an elaborate description; and certainly Bedlam never produced any thing so wild and incoherent. It is madness, stark staring madness, without a glimpse of intervening reason, and evinces the writer to be, not like the lunatic of Shakespeare, 'of imagination all compact,'—but of some earthy, atrabilious matter, jumbled into effervescence by the concussion of moody passions.

  17. Book IX. opens with the battle of York-town. Cornwallis is terrified by the appearance of a balance 'in the sable sky,' in which the justice of Britain is weighed, and found wanting:

    ————'back aghast
    The hero shrank'—

    and soon after the day breaks which is to witness the total extirpation of slavery from the United States:

                                ————'the dawn
    'Gan to dispel from off the tainted earth,
    Foul slavery's latest vapours!'

    Mr. N. is the most accurate of historians as well as of poets. We have not the American census of this year before us; but if we recollect rightly, there cannot be above two millions of slaves now smarting under the lash there; nor, as we verily think, have more than three millions of them been imported and sold in those pure regions, since the glorious defeat of Cornwallis established for ever the reign of freedom there on the natural rights of man. So consistent is the language of our author, and so correct are his feelings!

  18. We must not pass over a circumstance in this book—indeed the only one worth noticing, if we except the scandalous conduct of [372] Satan, in witnessing the defeat of his allies without an effort in their favour. We allude to the singular happiness of Mr. N. in being enabled to embellish his poetry by a simile drawn from his own estate! Homer and Virgil, his great prototypes, have left us in doubt whether they possessed any property or not; they talk indeed of their Muses and their Lyre; but of their 'seats!' Mercy on us; unless on Mount Parnassus, indeed.—But hear Mr. N.

    'As when the rapid Exe, by melted snows
    And northern torrents swollen, sweeps o'er the plains,
    Nor herds, nor fields, nor hedge, nor bridge, nor town,
    Can stop its furious course, while Exon's walls
    And CLEVE's green summits echo back the roar.'—p. 216.

    'Cleves,' he subjoins, and we humbly thank him for the information, 'has long been the SEAT OF THE NORTHMORES. It is situated on a commanding eminence' (grammercy, Monsieur) 'opposite to the ancient city of Exeter, the capital of the west of England.'

    ————baccare frontem

    for, if this does not excite envy, we know not what will.

  19. Book X. Satan apologizes for his inactivity, and summons Moloch and the infernal spirits to arms. Nothing can exceed their rage, but their determined resolution: they give a horrid shout, which shakes all creation to its centre, and rush forward.—'And now the earth had gone, against the will of heaven, to eternal wreck,' had not Washington seen their approach, and called, in great haste, for the Archangel Liberty, whom Satan, just before, terms 'a puny seraph.' But what can one do against millions? Leave that to Mr. N. The seraph, puny as he is, flies to meet them, and uncovering a resplendent shield, which had hitherto 'been wrapt in clouds,' flashes it in their faces, and puts them all to flight!

    ————'Angel with archangel turn'd
    With terrible dismay; nor staid their course,
    Till thro' the gates of hell they wing'd their way!'

    Call you this backing your friends? Satan, however, Beelzebub, Moloch, and a few other chiefs, whose eyes Mr. N. thinks were stronger, remain behind, and enter into a consultation, the result of which—O most lame and impotent conclusion! is, to lay aside the arms which they had brought with such parade from hell, 'put off their heavenly forms,' and, in the shapes of their ' fellow men,' mix with the English and assist them with their advice:

    'And may success, and better fate prevail.'—p. 230.

    How Beelzebub and Moloch dispose of themselves does not appear: but Satan, finding a dead body on the field of battle, enters it, and repairs to Cornwallis, whom he advises to run away. The [373] general is easily persuaded, and the preparations for flight are in some forwardness, when the whole plan is disconcerted by Michael; who, having discovered his old antagonist in the disguise of a dead man, instantly raises a storm, which prevents the embarkation of the troops. Satan, who is justly nettled at this contretemps, takes his revenge on the following day, by furnishing death with 'a musket ball' to shot Col. Laurens, whose death is tenderly lamented by Washington and his army, and who, Mr. N. assures us in a note, was killed, 'not in this battle, but in a petty squabble somewhere else, about a twelvemonth after!' p. 236.

  20. Things now hasten to a conclusion. Cornwallis, who can neither fight nor fly, is kindly advised by the Archangel Liberty to humble himself before Washington and ask for mercy. Upon which 'he pours a flood of penitential tears ;' and his friend Satan, who has now lost all hope, takes leave of him and earth for ever, and returns to hell; leaving his splendid car to enrich the nomenclature of the chemists, when it shall fortunately be discovered behind the Apalachian mountains. Beelzebub, Moloch, and the rest, follow their chief; so that Mammon, who was then in England with his 'two coffers,' is now the only demon at large; but Mr. N. thinks that his stay among us will be short, and that the reign of universal peace and virtue will then commence. Meanwhile Michael shuts the gates of hell upon the fugitives: Cornwallis begs mercy of Washington, which is instantly granted, and Mr. N. patriotically exclaiming,

    'But cease, my soul, thus harassing thyself
    To sing of Britons vanquish'd,

    concludes with a prayer to the Archangel Liberty.

  21. Such is Washington, as far as we have been able to decypher the story. As a composition it is utterly contemptible, devoid alike of consistency, spirit, poetry, grammar, and sense. The author is evidently some gloomy discontented fanatic, who having sedulously collected all the factious and all the frantic trash which was published during the heat of the American war, and added to it whatever the restless spirit of more recent malevolence could supply, has for twenty years been sullenly brooding over the noxious mass; and now, that every one wishes to forget the transactions of that lamented period, comes forward with a heated brain, and a perverted mind, for the unworthy purpose of reviving hatred, exasperating animosity, and tearing open the wounds which the lenient hand of time had well nigh closed. Let us not, however, be misunderstood;

    ————'The attempt, and not the deed,
    Confounds us.'—

    Mr. N. will assuredly effect nothing of this; nor should we have wasted a word on his most miserable doggrel, had not the spirit in [374] which it was produced called for exposure and reprobation. We can pity honest folly, and smile indulgently at well-meant absurdity: but when we find, as here, malevolence striving, in despite of natural imbecility, to fling its venom over all that we have been accustomed to revere, and to calumniate the sense, the spirit, and the honour of our country, under the hypocritical pretence of mewling about freedom, we hold it a sacred part of our duty to reject the offender's plea of stupidity, however gross and palpable, and, as the only punishment in our power, to suspend him for an instant over the gulf of oblivion, a mark for the finger of scorn and ridicule, before we suffer him to drop, and be lost for ever.