Treasure Island

John Greenleaf Whittier

(17 December 1807 – 7 September 1892 / Haverhill, Massachusetts)

A Letter


'TIS over, Moses! All is lost!
I hear the bells a-ringing;
Of Pharaoh and his Red Sea host
I hear the Free-Wills singing.*
We're routed, Moses, horse and foot,
If there be truth in figures,
With Federal Whigs in hot pursuit,
And Hale, and all the 'niggers.'
Alack! alas! this month or more
We've felt a sad foreboding;
Our very dreams the burden bore
Of central cliques exploding;
Before our eyes a furnace shone,
Where heads of dough were roasting,
And one we took to be your own
The traitor Hale was toasting!
Our Belknap brother* heard with awe
The Congo minstrels playing;
At Pittsfield Reuben Leavitt* saw
The ghost of Storrs a-praying;
And Carroll's woods were sad to see,
With black-winged crows a-darting;
And Black Snout looked on Ossipee,
New-glossed with Day and Martin.
We thought the 'Old Man of the Notch'
His face seemed changing wholly —
His lips seemed thick; his nose seemed flat;
His misty hair looked woolly;
And Coös teamsters, shrieking, fled
From the metamorphosed figure.
'Look there!' they said, 'the Old Stone Head
Himself is turning nigger!'
The schoolhouse* out of Canaan hauled
Seemed turning on its track again,
And like a great swamp-turtle crawled
To Canaan village back again,
Shook off the mud and settled flat
Upon its underpinning;
A nigger on its ridge-pole sat,
From ear to ear a-grinning.
Gray H—d heard o' nights the sound
Of rail-cars onward faring;
Right over Democratic ground
The iron horse came tearing.
A flag waved o'er that spectral train,
As high as Pittsfield steeple;
Its emblem was a broken chain;
Its motto: 'To the people!'
I dreamed that Charley took his bed,
With Hale for his physician;
His daily dose an old 'unread
And unreferred' petition.*
There Hayes and Tuck as nurses sat,
As near as near could be, man;
They leeched him with the 'Democrat;'
They blistered with the 'Freeman.'
Ah! grisly portents! What avail
Your terrors of forewarning?
We wake to find the nightmare Hale
Astride our breasts at morning!
From Portsmouth lights to Indian stream
Our foes their throats are trying;
The very factory-spindles seem
To mock us while they're flying.
The hills have bonfires; in our streets
Flags flout us in our faces;
The newsboys, peddling off their sheets,
Are hoarse with our disgraces.
In vain we turn, for gibing wit
And shoutings follow after,
As if old Kearsarge had split
His granite sides with laughter!
What boots it that we pelted out
The anti-slavery women,9
And bravely strewed their hall about
With tattered lace and trimming?
Was it for such a sad reverse
Our mobs became peacemakers,
And kept their tar and wooden horse
For Englishmen and Quakers?
For this did shifty Atherton
Make gag rules for the Great House?
Wiped we for this our feet upon
Petitions in our State House?
Plied we for this our axe of doom,
No stubborn traitor sparing,
Who scoffed at our opinion loom,
And took to homespun wearing?
Ah, Moses! hard it is to scan
These crooked providences,
Deducing from the wisest plan
The saddest consequences!
Strange that, in trampling as was meet
The nigger-men's petition,
We sprung a mine beneath our feet
Which opened up perdition.
How goodly, Moses, was the game
In which we've long been actors,
Supplying freedom with the name
And slavery with the practice!
Our smooth words fed the people's mouth,
Their ears our party rattle;
We kept them headed to the South,
As drovers do their cattle.
But now our game of politics
The world at large is learning;
And men grown gray in all our tricks
State's evidence are turning.
Votes and preambles subtly spun
They cram with meanings louder,
And load the Democratic gun
With abolition powder.
The ides of June! Woe worth the day
When, turning all things over,
The traitor Hale shall make his hay
From Democratic clover!
Who then shall take him in the law,
Who punish crime so flagrant?
Whose hand shall serve, whose pen shall draw,
A writ against that 'vagrant'?
Alas! no hope is left us here,
And one can only pine for
The envied place of overseer
Of slaves in Carolina!
Pray, Moses, give Calhoun the wink,
And see what pay he's giving!
We're practised long enough, we think,
To know the art of driving.
And for the faithful rank and file,
Who know their proper stations,
Perhaps it may be worth their while
To try the rice plantations.
Let Hale exult, let Wilson scoff,
To see us southward scamper;
The slaves, we know, are 'better off
Than laborers in New Hampshire!'

Submitted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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