The Literary History of the American Revolution,1763-1783 - Vol. 1

By Moses Coit Tyler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX.
THE SATIRICAL MASTERPIECE OF JOHN TRUMBULL: 1775.
I.-- John Trumbull in 1773 abandons letters for the law--Enters the law office of John Adams in Boston--His verses bidding farewell to verse-making-- Finds himself in the vortex of Revolutionary politics.
II.--HE relapses into verse-making--"The Prophecy of Balaam," "The Destruction of Babylon," "An Elegy on the Times, Composed at Boston during the Operation of the Port Bill"--His first words of harshness toward the mother country, whose ruin he predicts--His reluctance to surrender himself to the domination of politics.
III.-- Trumbull returns to New Haven in November, 1774--Publishes in August, 1775, a Hudibrastic burlesque on General Gage's Proclamation-- The first canto of "M'Fingal" is sent to the press before the end of 1775 --Is published in January, 1776--The action of the poem is just after the day of Lexington and Concord--The hero, Squire M'Fingal--John Adams portrayed as Honorius.
IV.--The town meeting to consider the outbreak of hostilities--Speech of Honorius against British aggressions, General Gage, and the Tories.
V.-- Squire M'Fingal makes reply--Denounces the Whigs for stupidity, for lack of patriotism, for greed and cowardice--Vindicates the military proceedings of General Gage--Predicts the utter defeat of the rebellion, with titles and estates in the hands of the Tories, and the Whigs all hanged or reduced to slavery--The indignant reply of Honorius is drowned in Tory catcalls-- The meeting breaks up in confusion.
VI.--Such was the plot of the poem in its original form--The poem completed in four cantos and published in 1782--Outline of the story as finished--Its adherence to the three unities.
VII.--The traditional criticism of " M'Fingal" as an imitation of "Hudibras" --Particulars of resemblance and of dissimilarity between the two poems-- Trumbull's real master in satire not Butler, but Churchill.
VIII.--The breadth and variety of Trumbull's literary training shown in this poem--His delicate and effective use of parody--The essential originality of "M'Fingal"--A genuine embodiment of the spirit and life of the American people in 1775--It employs satire on behalf of lofty and humane objects--Contrast therein with "Hudibras" and The Dunciad"--The enormous popularity and influence of "M'Fingal" during the Revolution and in several national emergencies since then.

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