Monday, July 29, 2019

A Fair Bargain by Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1868 - 1869.
"A Fair Bargain" by patriot-poet, musician, and Declaration-signer Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) was first published over the initial "H." in the April 1787 issue of the great Columbian Magazine, during Hopkinson's first stint as editor.
In 1782 the Devil begs the new United States of America, personified as the gorgeous goddess Columbia, to give him one State. Scorning the kind offer of Vermont ("already got it," in other words), Satan takes Rhode Island instead. A fitting and to the poet's mind fair bargain, since Rhode Island had devilishly opposed a 5 percent impost tax on imports.

In A History of Early American Magazines 1741-1789 (New York, 1931; reprinted Octagon Books, 1966), Lyon Norman Richardson lists "A Fair Bargain" as one of Hopkinson's contributions from  March to May 1787.

(Written in the year 1782.)
 AS Satan was taking an airing one day
Columbia's fair genius fell plump in his way,
Array'd like a goddess, and blooming as May.
Vile monster, said she, you oppose me in vain,
My people shall surely their wishes obtain;
You can but perplex us — and so mark the end on't,
For, sooner or later they'll be independant. 
What you say, quoth the fiend, I confess is too true,
But why not allow the poor devil his due?
Give me one of your states, and the rest shall be free
To follow their fate, unmolested by me.
Agreed! said the lady, if that's all you want,
Here take and enjoy it — it is my Vermont.
Oh! ho! exclaim'd Satan, how gen'rous you've grown,
So kindly to give, what's already my own.
So thank you for nothing, fair lady, I trow
The Devil is not to be bamboozled so. 
Come — down with your dust — you know what I mean.
I must have at least one of your fav'rite Thirteen.
A tear in her eye, and a sigh from her breast
The doubts and the fears of the genius confest;
But while she was puzzled, unable to find
Which state might with ease be to Satan resign'd,
The Five per cent. impost law popt in her mind.
This settled the point — she look'd up with a smile and
Presented his Fiendship the state of RHODE ISLAND.
He seiz'd the fair prize — cramm'd it into his pocket,
And darted away in a blaze, like a rocket.
"A Fair Bargain" was widely reprinted from the Columbian Magazine, for example in the Delaware Courant on May 12, 1787; Worcester Magazine Vol. 3, No. 8 (Fourth week in May, 1787), page 95; Country Journal and Poughkeepsie Advertiser, July 4, 1787; and American Museum Vol. 4 (August 1788), page 87.

Attributed to "Hopkinson" in the important anthology of early American poetry titled, The Beauties of Poetry, British and American (Philadelphia, 1791):
Throughout his political career Hopkinson wrote poetry and satire on the politically derisive [divisive] issues of the day. He penned a popular and humorous work on the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He was also an accomplished harpsichordist and composer. His work “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free,” set to the words of Thomas Parnell’s “Love and Innocence,” is the first extant secular song by a native American composer. --Penn University Archives & Records Center
Without reference to Hopkinson, "A Fair Bargain" is counted with poems that Mary S. Van Deusen would ascribe, tentatively and conjecturally, to her ancestor Henry Livingston, Jr.

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