Poetry of The Revolution
The Revolutionary period was not without its poets. From the beginning of the conflict, in 1775, to the
end, there was a copious flow of verse which sprang naturally enough from the turbulence of popular
excitement and emotion. Here and there among the crude productions of these unschooled rhymers,
one comes upon compositions which show an unexpected strength of feeling expressed with considerable
literary art. This is especially true of the political satires and the ballads which are conspicuous in Revolutionary
Foremost among the tory versifiers -- for both parties in the contest had their literary champions in metre
as in prose -- was Jonathan Odell, who invoked the muse thus: --
"Grant me for a time
Some deleterious powers of acrid rhyme,
Some ars'nic verse, to poison with the
These rats who nestle in the lion's den."
Odell came of pioneer Puritan stock and was himself a native of New Jersey. he was a graduate of
Princeton, and became a surgeon in the British army. He later went to England, where he took orders
for the Church.
Returning to New Jersey, he became rector of the parish in Burlington. With the outbreak of hostilities,
and the development of violence against all suspected of royalist sympathies, the clergyman was forced
to take flight; and as a refugee, he remained in New York until the evacuation of the British troops.
Odell's literary talent was soon engaged in the composition of satiric poems; modeled on the satires of
Dryden and Pope, they show considerable merit. Odell wrote with a trenchant pen. There is no humor
in his satire -- it is wit, caustic, biting; the tone of his verse is the tone of bitter, implacable invective. Four
satires, all written in 1779, furnish the best examples of his verse: The Word of Congress, The Congratulation,
The Feu de Joie,1 and The American Times. The following lines from the last of his satires are sufficient
to exhibit his skill in satire and in verse:--
"What cannot ceaseless impudence produce?
Old Franklin knows its value and its use:
He caught at
Paine, relieved his wretched plight,
And gave him notes, and set him down to write.
Fire from the Doctor's
hints the miscreant took,
Discarded truth, and soon produced a book, --
A pamphlet which, without the
To reason, bore the name of Common Sense.
The work like wildfire, through the
And Folly bowed the knee to Franklin's plan.
Sense, reason, judgment were abashed and
And Congress reigned triumphant in their stead."
Persistent in his attitude, irreconcilable and belligerent still, Jonathan Odell forsook the colonies at the
close of the contest and migrated to Nova Scotia, where he lived to old age, unconvinced and unrelenting
to the last.
Three Revolutionary poets of large and serious purpose, and widely famed in their generation, may be
grouped together, not only because of some similarity in their verse, but also because they were all
Connecticut men; two were conspicuous members of a coterie noted as "the Hartford Wits." That Connecticut
town, indeed, enjoyed a reputation as a literary centre through the exploits of this group. The two Hartford
poets were John Trumbull and Joel Barlow; the third of this group was Timothy Dwight.
Trumbull's contribution was a long satire, a burlesque epic, entitled McFingal. It was modeled on Butler's
Hudibras -- a famous English satire of the seventeenth century directed at the Puritans. The Yankee