Wednesday, March 8, 2017

More poetry by Isaac Mitchell in the Political Barometer

Of numerous Carrier Addresses indexed online by Mary S. Van Deusen, only one in 1787 seems definitely attributable to the Poughkeepsie poet Henry Livingston, Jr. Manuscript evidence exists only for the 1787 Address which is written out in Livingston's manuscript book.

Harry Croswell, the young Federalist editor of two newspapers in Hudson, New York (The Balance and The Wasp), criticized everything about his Jeffersonian nemesis Isaac Mitchell, including Mitchell's versified New Year's Addresses in the Political Barometer. Like the 1804 and 1805 Addresses that Croswell (most likely Croswell, rather than senior partner Ezra Sampson) slammed in the Balance, the 1803 Address in the Political Barometer was probably composed by Isaac Mitchell, who founded and co-edited the Barometer with Jesse Buel.

Among other of his enterprises in Poughkeepsie, Isaac Mitchell conducted the Dutchess County Academy.

Found on powered by

Mitchell introduced his fledgling newspaper in verse with the following "Proem," printed in the Political Barometer on June 8, 1802. Distinctively, Mitchell rhymes the French word "l'argent" with "wrong."
That to secure the prize, l'argent,
He'll choose the right side--or the wrong. 
Mitchell's l'argent/wrong rhyme anticipates the rhyme of l'argent with "song" in the 1803 News-boy's Address
For then, cockahoop with the magical song,
That charms from your purses the glittering l'argent,
The 1807 Carrier's New Year's Address in the Political Barometer also features l'argent as an end-rhyme, this year with long. (The correct l'argent is mistakenly transcribed "l'argeat" on the Henry Livingston website.)
Our merchants sell cheap if you'll bring the l'argent!
And our taverns deal nectar, boys, all the day long!

FORTH from the groaning, griping Press,
Array'd in typographic dress,
I to the world, am dragg'd along,
Prepar'd to hail you with a song.
"A song!" bawls out the man of news,
Is this the stuff you mean to use?
Plain, though the bait, the hook I see,
Catch birds with chaff--you'll not catch me."
Up starts young Frip--"I'll tell you plain,
I hate this newsing, nonsense strain;
We brawlie lads, all spunk and hearty,
Care not for war and Boonapartee;
Tell us of dress, that's first in ton,
And how the gay world dances on,
With fashions fresh brought o'er the sea,
Quite alamode de la Paris."
"This ne'er will do," replies old Lumpkins,
Point out some plan: increase our pumpkins;
Our corn to raise with easier toil,
Or, void of cost, to enrich our soil;
Or, with less pains our hogs to fatten,
And when for price good chances happen."
Up rose a puny-hearted fellow,
Of aspect sore, and visage sallow--
"Give us," says he, "some tales of love,
"The whispering vale and echoing grove,
The flowery fields, the garden's bloom,
And gales ting'd with their rich perfume-----."
"Hold!" bawls a wonder-hunting wight,
(Dole, death and danger his delight)
"No milk and water tales for me,
Give us loud storms which rock the sea;
Or earthquakes, swallowing towns of fame;
Or cities all enwrapt in flame;
Or thunders, shaking either pole;
(Far off, not near, I'd have them roll)
Tell us of pigmies, six feet high,
Or giants tow'ring through the sky;
Or thousands fall'n on battle's plain,
While we at home, in peace remain."
A lawyer and physician, next.
With him who twirls and twists a text,
Strait raise their voices, loud declaring,
What they've to say is worth the hearing:
One talks of writs, demurs, and pleadings,
And one of bolusses and bleedings,
While t'other tracks the bishop's gown,
Quite to the days of Peter, down.
"Zounds!" cries a grogman, o'er his bowl,
"You've he--he--hit it--on my soul!
Bishops and pumpkins--love and thunder!--
Physic and hogs--and--tales of wonder!--
What! print all this?--'tis a queer job!--
"Qu--queer, by Jove!--Landlord! More grog!"
Near, stands a politician, sly,
With sneering phiz, and leering eye,
Who not one word attempts to say;
He knows full well who'll win the day;
Full well he knows, before 'tis utter'd,
Which side the Printer's bread is butter'd--
That to secure the prize, l'argent,
He'll choose the right side--or the wrong,
And wheresoe'er he takes his stand,
He'll try, at politics, his hand.
On wings of speed I haste away.
Still hurried on by night and day:
Sometimes on post-horse, pack'd with care,
I'm hawk'd about, like pedlar's ware;
Sometimes in stage, at ease, I ride,
Gay belles and beaux attend my side;
To great men's tables oft admitted,
And with the straw-thatch'd cot I'm fitted;
East, west, and north, and south I fly,
And once a week I live and die.
Where'er I come, some praise I find,
Yet blame will oftimes sour my mind,
Miss Nan I bring some soothing strain,
Just form'd to hit her love-fraught brain,
And her, all night, in sheets, I rest with,
A bliss, gallants have ne'er been blest with.
Then next (ye stars!) old goody Blakes,
Me, roughly, by the foretop, takes,
While o'er her shoulder, grannum Jewks;
Through two large, google, glass eyes looks,
And while she thrice my name repeats,
Thus, to her crony husband, squeaks:
"O John! Dear John! What kind of cretur
Is that same thing call'd Barometer?"
"Barometer," roars surley John,
"I think 'tis call'd by neighbor Tom:
He says it feeds and lives on air,
Soars when it rains, and sinks when fair,
And warns you 'gainst the gossip's rules,
Lest you get duck'd with gadding fools;
It rises as your tempers do,
And falls, and settles with them too;
Frowns when you scold, laughs when you're mum
And ties the wrangling female's tongue*--"
"Stop there, good John," old Jewks replies,
"My tongue, till death, receives no ties;
If what you say be true, I sweer,
No Broomeater shall enter here."
This said, her fist is clench'd, and I
Think best, with post, away to fly,
Lest rattling storms around us roar,
And John sinks, sneaking, out of door.
Now here I'll close my vers'fication,
With one brief, pointed observation--
When on one plan the whole can fall,
I then will please my readers, all.
*John's description, here, of the powers of the Barometer, is a little inaccurate--in this, however, he is excusable, as the ignorant often believe what they wish to be true
The first installment of Mitchell's prose romance Albert and Eliza appeared on the same page with his "Proem." Using the pseudonym "Robert Rusticoat," Croswell of The Wasp subjected Mitchell's Proem to an elaborate "Critique":
MITCHELL, in the first number of the Barometer, bespattered a whole column, with what he called a "Proem;" and a sillier thing, perhaps, never appeared in print. Tho' it is, in fact, beneath criticism; yet I cannot refrain from troubling my readers with a few extracts and remarks.... Wasp, July 7, 1802
Glossing l'argent as "money," Croswell explicates the French word in its context as a "precious confession":
This, Mitchell, I believe is strictly true. I have no doubt, that you would, FOR MONEY, not only take "the right side--or the wrong"--but would FOR MONEY, do almost any thing, short of writing common sense.
Harry Croswell's relenteless mockery of Mitchell carried over to the July 17, 1802 issue of The Wasp
POET MITCHELL, is greatly enraged at my Critique on his proem, and I don't wonder--for it is said that he considered this same proem as one of the handsomest and prettiest pieces of verses that he ever penned. This I am not disposed to doubt, for though he has written a vast deal of poetry, his proem, in all probability, is the least exceptionable of the whole--He had vainly puffed himself up with an idea that he was one of the greatest geniuses of the age. Nay, he really believed, that impartial critics (not such as Robert Rusticoat) on reading his productions, would pronounce them far superior to Hudibras and M'Fingal. I should not have been surprised, after witnessing so much of Mitchell's vanity, if he had declared that his proem was a masterly performance--that the style was sublime--that the grammar was correct--that the rhymes were excellent, that "ting'd gales," were the most common things in the world; and that Robert Rusticoat was an ill-natured fellow, who could not distinguish good poetry from bad.
On March 15, 1803 the Poughkeepsie Journal cited "Mitchell's Proem" for the line about printers knowing which side their bread is buttered (butter = bribes from politicians). In the Barometer, Mitchell had complained about a gratuitous swipe at Republicans inserted in the Journal advertisement of a "Negro Girl" for sale. In reply, the Journal editor quoted Mitchell's former words against him--as had Croswell in his Wasp critique.

Also in 1803, Mitchell inaugurated another of his New York newspapers, the Kingston Plebian, with an introductory poem. Both productions again received sharp criticism in Hudson, this time by Croswell (most likely) in his role as co-editor of the Balance:
Mitchell imagines that we did not "relish the word Proem, which entitled his poetic address in the first number of the Barometer." He has therefore "given a different name to a similar production in the first number of the Plebian." --Mitchell certainly quite mistakes the matter. It was not the title of his first-born poetry that we disliked, for that same proem "by any other name, would be as bad." Of this we are convinced that "the Poet's Congee" (the name given to the Plebian production) is in no respect better than the Proem. We give the first couplet as a specimen, and leave the reader to judge.
"The world had long in darkness groan'd,
While man through wildering mazes roam'd." 
 --The Balance, and Columbian Repository, July 19, 1803
I'm still looking for "The Poet's Congee" by Isaac Mitchell, apparently published in the first number of The Plebian.

In January 1803 Croswell famously faced jail time after his first trial for criminal libel, so he might well have missed Mitchell's "Address" that year. Neither the Balance nor The Wasp notices the 1803 New Year's Address in the Political Barometer. However, as shown in the previous post, the next year Croswell got the idea to conduct a critical round-up of New Years Addresses. Thus, early in 1804 the Balance included Mitchell's "Political Barometer" in its critical survey, "New Year's Addresses Reviewed."

Every body knows, that it is much easier to make rhymes than to write poetry; but Mitchell, it seems, finds his powers unequal even to the former. He makes such unnatural matches in coupling his lines, that it would not be surprizing if three fourths of them should sue for bills of divorcement before the year is at an end….Mitchell is extremely apt, when hard pushed, to make metre at the expence of grammar and sense
--Balance and Columbian Repository - February 7, 1804
Three prose tales by Isaac Mitchell were serialized in the Political Barometer:
  • Albert and Eliza. Political Barometer, June 8, 1802 - July 13, 1802.
  • Melville and Phalez. Political Barometer, June 7, 1803 - July 26, 1803.
  • Alonzo and Melissa. Political Barometer, June 8, 1804 - October 30, 1804.
Related post:

No comments:

Post a Comment