James Madison Papers

Collegiate Doggerel, [June 1771–April 1772]

Collegiate Doggerel

Copy by William Bradford in the notebook among his papers in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Filling the first half of this eighty-five page notebook is “Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabia, Volume II,” by Hugh H. Brackenridge and Philip Freneau. This is printed in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXVI (1942), 461–78. The doggerel in the remainder of the notebook bears the general title, “Satires against the Tories. Written in the last War between the Whigs & Cliosophian[s] in which the former obtained a compleat Victory.” Each of the last three of these nineteen satires is attributed by Bradford to JM. These three are not known to exist in their original form and no reference to them has been found in any letter by or to JM. Ashbel Green, College of New Jersey, ’83, and a member of the American Whig Society, stated that “a considerable number of the pieces written by the Whigs [for a pre-Revolution paper war] was preserved and held in great estimation by the Society, while I was a member of the College” (quoted in Jacob N. Beam, American Whig Society of Princeton University, p. 61). The records, probably the source of Bradford’s copy, apparently were burned in the Nassau Hall fire of 1802.

Interpolated between the title and the text of the first of JM’s poems is the statement: “The hand writing is of Mr. Bradford’s of whom Mr. Maddison, the name given at the end, was an early friend, J W W.” These are most probably the initials of John William Wallace, a kinsman of Bradford, who in 1881 gave Bradford’s papers to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Madison’s later recollections of his membership in the Whig Society were always happy ones. Writing to it, for example, on 20 January 1827, he expressed the wish that “the Whig Society in amicable competition with its Cliosophic Rival may continue to receive & reflect the lights which will best prepare its members for a useful life, which alone can promise a happy one” (Princeton University Library).

[June 1771–April 1772]1

The aerial Journey of the2 poet Laureat3 of the cliosophic Society

The rising sun his beams had shed

And each affrighted star had fled

When tuneful Spring in rural lays

Began to mourn his doleful case

New-englands sons4 around him came

And many a wanton ruddy dame

Who view’d him nigh a purling stream

Rais’d on a stump to sing his dream.

That very dream in which they say

His soul broke loose from mortal clay

And sought the muses dome on high

Resolv’d with all his art to try

To steal a spark of wit from thence

A scourge for whiggish impudence.

But hear the very words he spoke

As from his quivering lips they broke

“Hail gentle shepherds of the grove

Your flocks about this mead may rove

While you attend my mournful tale

And echo sounds it thro’ the vale

Soon as the lamp of day was gone

And evening shades oerspread the lawn

Tir’d with the business of the day

Down on the tender grass I lay.

When sleep had clos’d my slumbering eyes

I spurn’d the earth & peirc’d the skies

Thro’ unknown tracts of air I flew

And pas’d by worlds of various hue

Beseeching every thing to tell

The place on which the Muses dwell.

At length, when coasting thro’ the spheres

Apollo’s song invades my ears

With all the sweet harmonious nine

Whose warbling notes in concert join.

Then by degrees their domes I spy’d

Which blaz’d around on every side

Straight to apollo’s hall I went

Half dead with fear, my breath quite spent

Hoping somehow to lurk beneath

And rob him of a laurel wreath

And then a poet laureat rise

The dread of whigs of every size

But while I walk’d about the hall

apollo with the muses all

Came rushing in upon the thief

I cry’d in vain for some relief

The god of day provok’d to find

A villain of so base a mind

Seiz’d on a cudgel rough & great

& mash’d my jaws & crazy pate

Euterpe then a dishclout brought

With grease & boiling water fraught

And well [beswitched?]5 my sides & back

Which lost its hide at every whack

Urania threw a chamber pot

Which from beneath her bed she brought

And struck my eyes & ears & nose

Repeating it with lusty blows.

In such a pickle then I stood

Trickling on every side with blood

When Clio, ever grateful muse

Sprinkled my head with healing dews

Then took me to her private room

And straight an Eunuch out I come

My voice to render more melodious

A recompence for sufferings odious

She brought me to the earth again

And quel’d the Tumults of my brain

Softly wispering in my ear

While she dropt the parting tear

[‘]Dear friend accept this last behest

Conceal thy folly in thy breast

Forbear to write & only sing

And future sons shall talk of Spring

But mark me well if e’er you try

In poetry with Whigs to vie

Your nature’s bounds you then will pass

And be transformed into an ass[’]

Then brother shepherds pity Spring

Who dares not write but only sing—[”]

—When thus he finished his complaint

He quit the stump & off he went

But soon forgot what Clio said

And wrote an ode & then essay’d

to sing an hymn & lo! he bray’d

And now he stands an ass confess[ed]

Of every scribbling fool, the Jest


Clio’s Proclamation

Whereas a certain mongrel race

of tawney hide & grizly face

Have dar’d to prostitute my name

To raise the scribbling fools to fame

I hereby send this Proclamat[io]n

To every land & every nation

Declaring it my full intention

To free the world from this convention

And as a sanction to my word

I’ll drive the dogs with fire & sword

Hedlong down to Pluto’s coast

There in boiling flames to roast

And then their bodies I’ll resign

To gnawing worms & hungry swine

Or to manure the farmers field

For much of dung their trunks will yeild

Very like it in their nature

As sprung from every filthy creature

But first selecting from McOrkle6

And every other stinking mortal

Whateer may be of use to those

From whom the wicked wretches rose

The poet Laureat head who scoops

May make a drum for yankey troops7

B’ing quite as empty & as sounding

His skull full thick to bear the pounding

While eckley’s8 skin & jakes9 together

When tan’d will make a side of leather

Just fit to cloath McOrkle bum10

Which now becomes a battering ram

And plac’d before a city wall

Will ward of[f]11 many a whizzing ball

And by its monstrous stench may save

Ten thousand yankes from the grave.

Great Allen12 founder of the crew

If right I guess must keep a stew

The lecherous rascal there will find

A place just suited to his mind

May whore & pimp & drink & swear

Nor more the garb of christians wear

And free Nassau from such a pest

A dunce a fool an ass at best.

J. Maddison

A poem against the Tories.

Of late our muse keen satire drew

And humourous thoughts in vollies flew

Because we took our foes for men

Who might deserve a decent pen

A gross mistake with brutes we fight

And [goblins?]13 from the realms of night

With lice collected from the beds

Where Spring & Craig14 lay down their heads

Sometimes a goat steps on the pump

Which animates old Warford’s15 trunk

Sometimes a poisonous toad appears

Which Eckley’s yellow carcuss bears

And then to grace us with a bull

Forsooth they show McOrkles skull

And that the Ass may not escape

He takes the poet Laureat’s shape

The screetch owl too comes in the train

Which leap’d from Alexander’s16 brain

Just as he scratch’d his grisly head

Which people say is made of lead.

Come noble whigs, disdain these sons

Of screech owls, monkeys, & baboons

Keep up you[r] minds to humourous themes

And verdant meads & flowing streams

Untill this tribe of dunces find

The baseness of their grovelling mind

And skulk within their dens together

Where each ones stench will kill his brother;

J. M.17

1Among his fellow Whigs were JM’s close friends, William Bradford, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, and Philip Freneau. The Whigs and their rivals, the Cliosophians, lampooned each other in verse. At least occasionally, after advance notice had been given the entire student body, these outrageous rhymes were read in the Prayer Hall of the College (Jacob N. Beam, American Whig Society, pp. 59–65). Although the Whigs customarily reproached the Cliosophians by calling them “Tories,” their rivalry had no evident political connotation whatsoever. Judging from the Whigs’ frequent references to the humble origins of the Cliosophians, there may have been a social cleavage between the two societies. In this “last war,” the Clios’ “poetic shots,” to which the Whigs were evidently replying, have not been found. See Beam, American Whig Society, pp. 43–58, for a general account of the “war.”

To determine when JM wrote these verses hinges upon dating “the last war.” Another Whig participant, Philip Vickers Fithian, identified an anti-Cliosophian satire of his own as “A Piece written at the Time of a paper-Contention between the Whigg, & Tory Societies, at Nassau-hall. Read June 22. Anno 1771” (John R. Williams, ed., Philip Vickers Fithian, I, 13–15). If this was “the last war” for which JM wrote his doggerel, it too can be dated June 1771. Since the members of the faculty objected to the distraction from study occasioned by the “paper wars,” they hardly would have sanctioned an additional outbreak between June and September 1771, when five of the participants were graduated. On the other hand, because three (JM, Brackenridge, and Samuel Spring), and perhaps Freneau also, remained in Princeton until April 1772, the “war” to which JM contributed his doggerel may have occurred between September 1771 and April 1772. Nothing is known of the movements of John Black, the other class of 1771 participant, during the months following his graduation. Fithian’s reference to a “paper-Contention” rather than the “last war,” and his mention of opponents different from those ridiculed by JM and his comrades-in-arms, also suggest that different episodes were involved. Furthermore, according to a Cliosophian membership list (cited in Beam, American Whig Society, pp. 21–22, 45), one of the Clios lampooned in “the last war” did not join the society until 12 February 1772. If this date is correct, “the last war” took place in the final month or two before JM left Princeton in April 1772. But since the Clio in question, Robert Archibald, is probably the same person whom Fithian refers to as “Richd. Archibald” in his June 1771 satire, the date of Archibald’s initiation must be deemed uncertain. Hence it seems impossible to fix the time of “the last war” more definitely than between June 1771 and April 1772.

On the score of their style, the first ten Whig poems in Bradford’s copybook have been ascribed to Brackenridge by his and Freneau’s biographers. By appending “H. B.” to the tenth, Bradford possibly intended to signify that his friend also wrote the uninitialed nine preceding ones. Although Irving Brant (Madison, I, 87–88) surmises that a portion of the eighth of these, entitled “Spring’s Adventures,” may have been by JM, the present editors, lacking proof, are content to leave the “credit” for its particularly scurrilous lines to Brackenridge. Freneau’s literary editor severely criticized JM’s poems, stating that they are “by all means the worst of the lot… . No patriotic citizen will ever venture to resurrect them” (Fred Lewis Pattee, ed., The Poems of Philip Freneau [3 vols.; Princeton, 1902–7], I, xviii). The present editors wholly concur with Pattee’s literary judgment, even while they render his prophecy inaccurate by publishing these sophomoric outpourings. The verses serve to challenge the accuracy of the widely held opinion that JM was a sedate, humorless, and faultless student, never really young in spirit (L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush [2 vols.; Princeton, 1951], II, 849–50).

2Words in italics, unless otherwise noted, signify that Bradford used a shorthand designation of them in his copy. For comment on his shorthand, see Bradford to JM, 1 March 1773, n. 11.

3Samuel Spring (1746–1819) of Massachusetts, more than any other Cliosophian, was the favorite target of Whig Society rhymesters. At the College of New Jersey commencement in September 1771 he delivered an oration entitled “The Idea of a Patriot-King.” Licensed to preach in 1774, he served as chaplain in the Arnold-Montgomery expedition to Canada in 1775–1776. From 1776 until his death, he was a pastor in Newburyport, Mass. (New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVII, 583, 586).

4The Whigs frequently put a Yankee tag on the Cliosophians, even though many of their members came from the South.

5This word is an editorial surmise to fill in a blank space left by Bradford.

6Samuel E. McCorkle (1746–1811), College of New Jersey, ’72, for long a prominent Presbyterian minister and academy head at Thyatira near Salisbury, N.C., was a charter trustee of the state university and declined appointment as its first professor of moral and political philosophy and history (William Henry Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical [New York, 1846], pp. 351, 358, 362, 472, 530–32, 543; Sprague, Annals description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (9 vols.; New York, 1857–69). description ends , III, 346–49).

7This may refer to the same incident mentioned by Brackenridge in his “A Dialogue,” the third of the Whig Society poems copied by Bradford in his notebook. Brackenridge wrote:

“Thou on thy sounding skin

Dost clash the din of war; as when of old

You followed boston’s Sons & beat the March

With Supple fingers on the sheepskin drum.”

8Joseph Eckley (1750–1811), born in London, graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1772. From 1779 to 1811 he was Congregational pastor of Boston’s Old South Church (Justin Winsor, ed., The Memorial History of Boston [4 vols.; Boston, 1880–81], III, 406, 415).

9This may refer to James Williamson who, with JM and others, received his A.B. at the 1771 commencement (information from Office of the Secretary, Princeton University). His name is given as Jacob Williamson in New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVII, 584.

10“Bum” in the eighteenth century meant “buttocks.”

11Bradford wrote “of.”

12Moses Allen (1748–1779), College of New Jersey, ’72, served briefly as pastor of Congregational churches at Wapetaw, S.C., and in St. John’s Parish, Ga. After acting for several months as chaplain of the First Georgia Continental Battalion, he died in 1779 while trying to escape from a British prison ship in the Savannah River. He visited JM for several days at Montpelier while on his way to Georgia in 1775 and was urged to spend the winter there (James Stacy, History of the Midway Congregational Church, Liberty County, Georgia [Newnan, Ga., 1899], p. 46; Kenneth Coleman, The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763–1789 [Athens, 1958], pp. 176, 187).

13This word is interpolated by the editors to fill a blank space left by Bradford.

14Archibald Craig, College of New Jersey, ’73, later practiced medicine in Albany, N.Y. (Alexander, Princeton College description begins Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College during the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1872). description ends , p. 161).

15John Warford (1745–1802), College of New Jersey, ’74, served as a Presbyterian minister in Amwell, Hunterdon County, N.J., 1776–1787, and in Salem, Washington County, N.Y., 1789–1802 (William H. Hill, comp., History of Washington County, N.Y. [Fort Edward, N.Y., 1932], p. 64).

16Isaac Alexander, M.D. (d. 1812), College of New Jersey, ’72, was from 1776 to 1778 trustee and headmaster of the Presbyterian Liberty Hall Academy in Mecklenburg County, N.C. (William H. Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, pp. 514–15).

17Commenting upon poetry in a note to John Quincy Adams on 22 November 1822, JM remarked that he had “never … been favored with the Inspiration of the Muses” (LC: Madison Papers).

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