Biography of Benjamin Tompson
Born at Braintree in 1640, graduated at Harvard in 1662.
Among the first native-born Anglo-American poets, Tompson was born into a family of zealous Puritans. He became a schoolmaster for several towns around Boston, his most famous pupil being Cotton Mather. Tompson’s fame as a poet arose from his volume New Englands Crisis (1676) and its revision New Englands Tears (London, 1676), a verse epic treating the war with the Algonkian Confederation during the 1670s as a test of the faith of the elect in New England.
This poet’s best vein is satiric,—his favorite organ being the rhymed pentameter couplet, with a flow, a vigor, and an edge obviously caught from the contemporaneous verse of John Dryden. He has the partisanship, the exaggeration, the choleric injustice, that are common in satire; and like other satirists, failing to note the moral perspectives of history, he utters over again the stale and easy lie, wherein the past is held up as wiser and holier than the present. Though New England has had a life but little more than fifty years long, the poet sees within it the tokens of a hurrying degeneracy, in customs, in morals, in valor, in piety.
Tompson's tombstone at Roxbury informs us, was a "learned schoolmaster and physician and the renowned poet of New England," and is "mortuus sed immortalis." His chief production, New England’s Crises, is a formal attempt at an epic on King Philip’s War. The prologue pictures early society in New England and recounts the decadence in manners and morals that has brought about the crisis,—the war as God’s punishment. The six hundred and fifty lines of pentameter couplets are somewhat more polished than those of the poet’s contemporaries, and might suggest the influence of Dryden if there were any external reason for supposing that the Restoration poets gained admission to early New England. Tompson’s classical allusions, part of his epic attempt, are in amusing contrast to his rugged and homely diction, but his poem as a whole has at least the virtue of simplicity, and is interesting as the first of a long line of narratives in verse which recount the events of the wars fought on American soil.
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Benjamin Tompson Poems
A Neighbours Tears
O heighth! o Depthe! upon my bended knees Who dare Expound these Wondrous Mysteries: That this rare plant is cropt before mine Eyes (Meer Shadow) left to write her Elegies.
When Londons fatal bills were blown abroad And few but Specters travel'd on the road, Not towns but men in the black bill enrol'd Were in Gazetts by Typographers sold:
On A Fortification At Boston Begun By Wo...
A Grand attempt some Amazonian Dames Contrive whereby to glorify their names, A Ruff for Boston Neck of mud and turfe, Reaching from side to side from surfe to surfe,
The Grammarians Funeral
Eight Parts of Speech this Day wear Mourning Gowns Declin'd Verbs, Pronouns, Participles, Nouns. And not declined, Adverbs and Conjunctions, In Lillies Porch they stand to do their functions.
Remarks On The Bright And Dark Side
But may a Rural Pen try to set forth Such a Great Fathers Ancient Grace and worth I undertake a no less Arduous Theme Then the Old Sages found the Chaldae Dream
IN seventy five the Critick of our years Commenc'd our war with Phillip and his peers. Whither the sun in Leo had inspir'd A feav'rish heat, and Pagan spirits fir'd?
When Londons fatal bills were blown abroad
And few but Specters travel'd on the road,
Not towns but men in the black bill enrol'd
Were in Gazetts by Typographers sold:
But our Gazetts without Errataes must
Report the plague of towns reduct to dust:
And feavers formerly to tenants sent
Arrest the timbers of the tenement.
Ere the late ruines of old Groton's cold,