Skip to comments.THE ANARCHIAD: AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.óNo. I.
Posted on 05/21/2003 11:35:29 AM PDT by William McKinley
It has happily fallen to my lot to communicate, through the medium of your paper, a recent discovery still more valuable to the republic of letters. I need scarcely premise the ruins of fortifications yet visible, and other vestiges of art, in the Western country, had sufficiently demonstrated that this delightful region had once been occupied by a civilized people. Had not this hypothesis been previously established, the fact I am about to relate would have placed it beyond the possibility of doubt. For upon digging into the ruins of one of the most considerable of these fortifications, the laborers were surprised to find a casement, a magazine, and a cistern, almost entire. Pursuing their subterranean progress, near the northeast corner of the bastion, in a room that had evidently been occupied by the commandant, they found a great number of utensils, more curious and elegant than those of Palmyra or Herculaneum. But what rendered their good fortune complete, was the discovery of a great number of papers, manuscripts, &c., whose preservation through such a long lapse of years, amid such marks of hostility and devastation, must be deemed marvelous indeed, perhaps little short of miraculous. This affords a reflection, that such extraordinary circumstances could scarcely have taken place to answer only vulgar purposes.
Happening myself to come upon the spot immediately after this treasure had been discovered, I was permitted to take possession of it, in the name and for the use of our society. Amongst these relics of antiquity I was overjoyed to find a folio manuscript which appeared to contain an epic poem, complete; and, as I am passionately fond of poetry, ancient as well as modern, I set myself instantly to cleanse it from the extraneous concretions with which it was in some parts enveloped, defaced and rendered illegible. By means of a chemic preparation, which is made use of for restoring oil paintings, I soon accomplished the desirable object. It was then I found it was called THE ANARCHIAD, a Poem on the restoration of Chaos and substantial Night, in twenty-four books.
As it would swell this paper beyond the limits I had prescribed, to give a critical analysis of this inimitable work, I must content myself with observing, that the excellency of its fable, the novelty and dignity of its characters, the sublimity of sentiments, and the harmony of numbers, give it the first rank in merit amongst the productions of human genius. I might also add, that it appears, from incontestible proofs, that this work was well known to the ancients, and that, as it is the most perfect, it has undoubtedly been the model for all subsequent epic productions. Perhaps, in a future essay, I shall attempt to prove that Homer, Virgil, and Milton, have borrowed many of their capital beauties from it. At present, to show that the matter is not fabulous, as well as to give a specimen of the author's forcible style, and happy manner of expressing himself, I shall cite a few lines from the eighth book, which is denominated the Book of Vision. So lively are the descriptions following the images, so familiar and present is every object placed to our view, that the reader will, I dare say, be as much astonished as I have been myself, to find that a poet who lived so many centuries ago should have described with such amazing precision events that happened in our own times. The prophetic bard seems to have taken for the point of vision one of the lofty mountains of America, and to have caused, by his magic invocations, the years of futurity to pass before him. He begins with unfolding the beautifying scenes when those plagues to society, law and justice, shall be done away; when every one shall be independent of his neighbor; and when every rogue shall literally do what is right in his own eyes. Let us now hear the poet speak for himself, in his own words:
IN visions fair the scenes of fate unroll,
And Massachusetts opens on my soul;
There Chaos, Anarch old, asserts his sway,
And mobs in myriads blacken all the way:
See Day's stern portbehold the martial frame
Of Shays' and Shattuck's mob-compelling name:
See the bold Hampshirites on Springfield pour,
The fierce Tauntonians crowd the alewife shore.
O'er Concord fields the bands of discord spread,
And Wor'ster trembles at their thundering tread:
See from proud Egremont the woodchuck train,
Sweep their dark files, and shade with rags the plain.
Lo, THE COURT FALLS; [*] th' affrighted judges run,
Clerks, Lawyers, Sheriffs, every mother's son.
The stocks, the gallows lose th' expected prize,
See the jails open, and the thieves arise.
Thy constitution, Chaos, is restor'd;
Law sinks before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand unbars th' unfathom'd gulf of fate,
And deep in darkness 'whelms the new-born state.
I know not whether it is necessary to remark, in this place, what the critical reader will probably have already observed, that the celebrated English poet, Mr. Pope, has proven himself a noted plagiarist, by copying the preceding ideas, and even couplets almost entire, into his famous poem called "The Dunciad."
I will conclude, by entreating that the public may be acquainted that several other extracts from these curious manuscripts will be published, should the preceding specimen meet with the applause which I am confident it merits. The blessings of paper money and confusion, as now experienced in Rhode Island, are predicted in the most awful and beautiful manner. The vision then extends to Connecticut, where we shall leave it, unless a future opportunity of resuming the subject should render a further disclosure expedient.
I am &c.,
October 23, 1786.
P. S. The several printers in Massachusetts are requested to republish this, for the benefit of their kind customers.