Alexander Hamilton Papers

Poem by Major James McHenry, [14–15 December 1780]

Poem by Major James McHenry

[Albany, December 14–15, 1780]1

’Tis told, my friend, in poets lore,

The muse has an exhaustless store

From which she draws with wond’rous skill

Of choicest fancies what she will.

With these she decks the heroes’ hearse

Or forms with these immortal verse.

Last night I sought her dear retreat

And laid me at the fair one’s feet.

She knew my errand, sway’d her wand,

Then pointed to a rising stand,

From whence the fairy world was seen

And you embosomed with your Queen.

(As thus ye lay the happiest pair

A rosy scent enriched the air

While to a music softly sounding

Breathing, panting, slow, rebounding)

Love arose with pow’rful spell,

Hence, he cried, to dismal dell

Imps who haunt the gloomy breast

Ever jealous—never blest;

This is ground for holy feet

Here the sports and pleasures meet.

Then in whispers caught the ear

What the gifted only hear.

“Chains of Priests or modes of art

Weakly hold the human heart,

Hence my Eloisa said

Give me those that love has made.”

Now his fluttering wings out spread

Three times he bless’d the bridal bed,

While o’er it Faith her mantle threw

And said small care would keep it new.

Last Prudence came, in sober guise

With Pilgrim’s pace, and wisdom’s eyes;

Forth from his stole a tablet took

Which you received with thankful look.

Genius had deeply mark’d the ground,

And Plutus finely edg’d it round.

This done, he bade you long improve

In all the sweets of mutual love.

And now would friendship’s voice prevail

To point the moral of the tale.

Know then, dear Ham, a truth confest

Soon beauty fades, and love’s a guest.

Love has no settled place on earth;

A very wan’rer from his birth;

And yet who happiness would prove,

Like you must build his hopes on love,

When love his choicest gifts has giv’n

He flies to make another heav’n;

But as he wheels his rapid flight

Calm joys succeed and pure delight.

Faith adds to all; for works we’re told

Is love’s alloy, and faith the gold.

Now genius plays the lovers part;

Now wakes to many a throb the heart;

With ev’ry sun brings something new,

And gaily varies every view;

Whilst Prudence all his succour lends

To mark the point where pleasure ends.

For, borne beyond a certain goal,

The sweetest joys disgust the soul.

He too instructs us how to use,

What’s more a blessing than the muse (wealth);

For well he knows, deprived of this

That toil and care is human bliss.

All these attendants Ham are thine,

Be’t yours to treat them as divine;

To cherish what keeps love alive;

What makes us young at sixty five.

What lends the eye its earliest fires;

What rightly managed still inspires.

Steiner, James McHenry description begins Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland, 1907). description ends , 29–30.

1Steiner states: “… McHenry went to Albany for the wedding and wrote the following verses to his friend on the morning after the ceremony” (ibid., 29).

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