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The Columbiad: Book II

Joel Barlow 1754 (Redding) – 1812 (Żarnowiec)

The Argument

Natives of America appear in vision. Their manners and characters. Columbus demands the cause of the dissimilarity of men in different countries, Hesper replies, That the human body is composed of a due proportion of the elements suited to the place of its first formation; that these elements, differently proportioned, produce all the changes of health, sickness, growth and decay; and may likewise produce any other changes which occasion the diversity of men; that these elemental proportions are varied, not more by climate than temperature and other local circumstances; that the mind is likewise in a state of change, and will take its physical character from the body and from external objects: examples. Inquiry concerning the first peopling of America. View of Mexico. Its destruction by Cortez. View of Cusco and Quito, cities of Peru. Tradition of Capac and Oella, founders of the Peruvian empire. Columbus inquires into their real history. Hesper gives an account of their origin, and relates the stratagems they used in establishing that empire.

High o'er his world as thus Columbus gazed,
And Hesper still the changing scene emblazed,
Round all the realms increasing lustre flew,
And raised new wonders to the Patriarch's view.

He saw at once, as far as eye could rove,
Like scattering herds, the swarthy people move
In tribes innumerable; all the waste,
Wide as their walks, a varying shadow cast.
As airy shapes, beneath the moon's pale eye,
People the clouds that sail the midnight sky,
Dance thro the grove and flit along the glade,
And cast their grisly phantoms on the shade;
So move the hordes, in thickets half conceal'd,
Or vagrant stalking thro the fenceless field,
Here tribes untamed, who scorn to fix their home,
O'er shadowy streams and trackless deserts roam;
While others there in settled hamlets rest,
And corn-clad vales a happier state attest.

The painted chiefs, in guise terrific drest,
Rise fierce to war, and beat their savage breast;
Dark round their steps collecting warriors pour,
Some fell revenge begins the hideous roar;
From hill to hill the startling war-song flies,
And tribes on tribes in dread disorder rise,
Track the mute foe and scour the howling wood,
Loud as a storm, ungovern'd as a flood;
Or deep in groves the silent ambush lay,
Lead the false flight, decoy and seize their prey,
Their captives torture, butcher and devour,
Drink the warm blood and paint their cheeks with gore.

Awhile he paused, with dubious thoughts opprest,
And thus to Hesper's ear his doubts addrest:
Say, to what class of nature's sons belong
The countless tribes of this untutor'd throng?
Where human frames and brutal souls combine,
No force can tame them, and no arts refine.
Can these be fashion'd on the social plan,
Or boast a lineage with the race of man?
When first we found them in yon hapless isle,
They seem'd to know and seem'd to fear no guile;
A timorous herd, like harmless roes, they ran,
And call'd us Gods, from whom their tribes began.
But when, their fears allay'd, in us they trace
The well-known image of a mortal race,
When Spanish blood their wondering eyes beheld,
A frantic rage their changing bosoms swell'd;
They roused their bands from numerous hills afar,
To feast their souls on ruin, waste and war.
Nor plighted vows nor sure defeat control
The same indignant savageness of soul.

Tell then, my Seer, from what dire sons of earth
The brutal people drew their ancient birth;
If these forgotten shores and useless tides
Have form'd them different from the world besides,
Born to subjection, when in happier time
A nobler race should reach their fruitful clime;
Or, if a common source all nations claim,
Their lineage, form and faculties the same,
What sovereign secret cause, yet undisplay'd,
This wondrous change in nature's work has made;
Why various powers of soul and tints of face
In different lands diversify the race;
To whom the Guide: Unnumbered causes lie,
In earth and sea, in climate, soil and sky,
That fire the soul, or damp the genial flame,
And work their wonders on the human frame.
See beauty, form and color change with place;
Here charms of health the lively visage grace;
There pale diseases float in every wind,
Deform the figure, and degrade the mind.

From earth's own elements thy race at first
Rose into life, the children of the dust;
These kindred elements, by various use,
Nourish the growth and every change produce;
In each ascending stage the man sustain,
His breath, his food, his physic and his bane.
In due proportions where these atoms lie,
A
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:57 min read
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Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow was an American poet, diplomat, and politician. more…

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