James Madison Bell Poems >>
Modern Moses

There is a tide in men's affairs,
Leading to fame not wholly theirs —
Leading to high positions, won
Through noble deeds by others done.
And crowns there are, and not a few,
And royal robes and sceptres, too,
That have, in every age and land,
Been at the option and command
Of men as much unfit to rule,
As apes and monkeys are for school.


For seldom an assassin's blow
Has laid a benefactor low
Of any nation, age or clime,
In all the lengthened march of time,
That has not raised to power and might,
Some braggart knave or brainless wight,
Whose acts unseemly and unwise,
Have caused the people to despise
And curse the hours of his reign,
And brand him with the marks of Cain.
And yet to crown the mystery,
All these have had a Policy.


Though Cain was treach'rous and unjust,
And smote a brother to the dust —
'Tis not of him we wish to speak,
Nor of the wife he went to seek;
Nor of the blood his Nimrod spilt,
Or famous city which he built.


But choose we rather to discant,
On one whose swaggish boast and rant,
And vulgar jest, and pot-house slang,
Has grown the pest of every gang
Of debauchees wherever found,
From Baffin's Bay to Puget Sound.
And yet he occupies a sphere
And fills a more exalted chair,
(With arrogant unworthiness,
To his disgrace, I must confess),
Than any officer of State,
Or king, or princely magistrate
Of royal blood or noble birth,
Throughout the kingdoms of the earth.


But how he chance attain'd that hight,
Amid the splendor and the light,
The effulgent glory and the ray
Of this the nineteenth century,
May, to the superficial mind,
Seem much complexed and undefined;
But when the dark and shameless truth,
Is properly ascribed to Booth,
The strangeness vanishes in haste,
And we through murder stand disgraced.
Disgraced! Perhaps some other word,
Or milder term should be preferred;
And if preferred, that term might be
Exposed to My Policy.


But there's a legend much in vogue,
The act of some knave, wit or rogue,
A sort of fabled heresy,
Clothed in the garb of prophecy;
In which 'tis said that "in the day,
When kith and kindred shall array,
Their hostile armies and engage
In deadly contest, youth and age,
Lo! from the people shall arise,
One of the people in disguise;
A man loquacious in his way,
And greatly given to display;
A self-wrought garment he shall wear,
And beverage be his constant fare;
Akin his normal state shall be,
To a ship unballas'd and at sea.


And he shall favor all that's mean,
Or low, or vicious and obscene;
And pay to neither age nor youth,
A due regard, nor e'en to truth —
And he shall by his subtle vows,
Induce the people to arouse,
And bear him in their confidence,
Toward a lofty eminence.
Just here occurs a short hiatus,
And then concludes the legend thus —
And he shall owe to tragedy,
His zenith of felicity;
And unto gross apostacy,
The basis of My Policy."


But this is so obtuse, of course;
No one can really see its force;
And if they could, what is there in it
To claim attention for a minute —
Or, by which to point the hand,
To him the Chief of all the land?
In reason's name, in what relation
Could it refer to his high station,
Unless some bloody-handed fray,
Had to his office paved the way?


For you and I are well aware,
Just how he chanced obtain that chair;
For any rustic lad of skill,
Who knows the way to the nearest mill,
Would not regard the thing a task,
But say in substance, were he asked,
First and foully, through a stub and twist,
And then as the farmer claims his grist,
By being second on the list;
Why, 'tis just as plain to sanity,
As the logic of My Policy.


But as for Mose, he has been
And is to-day as free from sin
As that fond friend who kissed his Lord,
In presence of a Roman horde.
'Tis true he did somewhat disguise
His real intentions, and surprise
The loyal voters of the North,
By feigning hatred to the South;
Through which he gained their confidence,
And won that lofty eminence.


'Tis said, and yet I know not why,
His fingers wear a crimson dye,
The which retraced, would likely lead
Aback to some unlawful deed,
And only back perhaps, alas,
To constant pressure of the glass —
Or to his deep intensity,
Of interest in My Policy.


But, lest the treachery of the mind
Should chance forget a liege so kind,
We deem this quite a fitting place
To draw a picture of his grace.


His age, since men so far excel,
Their seemings none can rightly tell;
And some there are, on earth's broad stage,
Who do not really know their age;
Others who would not like their's told,
Lest some gay flame should deem them old.


But to the physiognomy
Of him, my liege, My Policy,
Of rather more than medium size,
A blooming nose and hazel eyes,
And mien, that one might think him given
To beverage, morning, noon and even';
And judge that his proboscis wore
Its crimson from the overstore;


For there are some rare nectars known
And taken to impart a tone
To the stomach, which will produce,
By repetition and abuse,
The like results; hence, many think
His glow the sad effects of drink;
Others, more prone to charity,
Ascribe it to My Policy.


'Tis said he wonders why it is,
That all the land makes such a phiz,
And why they keep in strict reserve,
A shield for the olfactory nerve;
When e'er My Policy is brought
Within the radius of their thought.


They surely do not see the point,
But act as though some out-of-joint
Machine had gained the track,
And now was keeping progress back.


O, is it not a burning shame,
That any folks with such a name
For science and philosophy,
To thus regard My Policy.


Sumner he claims is much at fault,
And Stevens plotting a revolt
Of Congress 'gainst the President,
And 'gainst his noble sentiment —
With which e'en Davis doth agree,
And all his learned constituency;
Hence, Sumner must not there remain,
And Stevens' might we ought restrain,
And Phillips should not be allowed
To exercise before the crowd,
His foul bombastic heresy,
In variance to My Policy.


His life he deems quite insecure,
And such a thought long to endure,
Is torturous in the extreme,
And breeds full many a fitful dream.
He fears some hireling knave may prove
Recreant to pretended love,
And give for brandy, water instead,
And thus consign him to the dead,
With all his virtue on his head.


His friends have counseled 'gainst alarm,
And 'gainst all apprehended harm,
And well they might, since few are more
From hurt and violence secure.
For those who practice lawless deed,
And on the life of virtue feed,
Are not accounted with his foes,
But now and e'er have been of those
Who would through nameless years protract
His office and his life intact —
The dauntless sons of chivalry,
Who glory in My Policy.


'Tis said, that in the days agone,
He pledged himself to the forlorn;
He pledged himself the bondsman's friend,
And one on whom they might depend
For counsel, succor or redress,
In all their hours of wretchedness,
And swore that he would be their guide,
And lead them past the crimson tide,
And through the wilderness that lay
Between their night and that blest day
That shines forever on the rest
Of all the worthy, free and blest;
That he their Moses would become,
And lead them to a freeman's home
And swore that he would ne'er forsake
Them, nor his pledge or promise break,
Till every bondsman in the land
Should on the plains of freedom stand.


Pledged to the sacred cause of truth;
Pledged in the early days of youth;
Pledged by the summer, winter, spring,
And pledged by all the truth may bring;
With all these pledges on his soul,
And clothed with power to control
The future destiny of those,
His wards by all his recent oaths.


Mark well his action when for aid
Their suppliant prayer to him was made?
Witness an instance of his love,
And all your former doubts remove.


Mark when that bill for the supply
Of starving millions met his eye;
A breadless, clotheless, houseless throng,
Thus rendered by his nation's wrong.
Does he the bill in haste receive
And sign, their suff'rings to relieve?


Yes, if withholding of the cup
From parched lips, whereof one sup
Would quite allay an inward pain,
And quite restore to health again
A prostrate mortal, doomed to die,
Unless his needs met swift supply,
Can be accounted as relief —
Then he in their deep hour of grief,
Did them relieve and kept his vow;
When with a dark and wrinkled brow,
He stamped his veto on their prayer,
And doomed the suppliants to despair.


O, what a "Moses" he has been!
How strenuously against the sin
Of his fathers he has fought;
And how ingeniously besought
The nation in this trying hour,
To invest with all their wonted power
Our late rebellious, loving foes,
To whom for all our recent woes,
Our wasted treasure, wasted lives,
Our orphaned children, widowed wives,
Our prostrate cities, deserted farms,
And all the joys of wars alarms,
We are most deeply debtors all,
And in meek gratitude should fall
Prostrate before them in the dust,
And yield the nation to their trust;
And to enforce the reason why,
That we should not this boon deny,
Propounds with matchless dignity,
His ineffable — My Policy.


School'd in his childhood to regard
Foul treason worthiest of reward,
And loyalty an empty name,
Meriting dark reproach and shame;
Therefore, he deems the rebels more
Worthy positions than before;
Before their nameless deeds of horror
Spread o'er our land the veil of sorrow;
And fain would from the very scurf,
E'en as from the rising surf
Of rebeldom, at once create
Grand officers of high estate,
And bring them to the nation's court,
His grave My Policy to support.


'Tis said the clergy everywhere,
Have held up holy hands in prayer
For his redemption from the thrall,
And pit of his apostate fall;
But recently by dream or word,
Have been most signally assured,
That there are no blest agencies
Of grace, outside the promises,
And in that almost boundless plan,
Salvation offered unto man,
Are no provisions that embrace
A proffered pardon in his case;
That it were madness to bewail,
Since all their efforts can but fail;
For he, to use a term uncivil,
Has long been mortgaged to the Devil;
But the fact which no one knows,
Is why the deuce he don't foreclose.
Perhaps he entertains a doubt,
And fears that Mose might turn him out;
Hence, His Satanic Majesty's
Endorsement of My Policy.


He claims that suffrage, if applied
To Negroes, should be qualified;
That they diplomacied, should hail
From Dartmouth, Harvard or from Yale,
Before entrusted for an hour
With manhood's great elective power.


But every rebel in the land,
From Maine to Georgia's distant strand;
Though dark their minds as rayless night,
Should exercise this manly right,
Though destitute of reason's force
As Balaam's ancient riding horse:
On these the boon he would confer,
Without a scruple or demur,
Because these gentlemen, quoth he,
Are members of My Policy.


His vetoes — gracious! what a list!
Never in time did there exist
Such an array of negative,
Bombastic and explanative;
'Tis said their reasons are profound,
Their logic almost passing sound;
And that such lucid rays they shed,
They're understood before they're read.


The Bureau Bill is deemed the first
Of numerous acts, by him reversed;
The power that bill sought to confer
On him, provoked his just demur,
And for this strange, unlikely fault,
His meekness rose in fierce revolt,
And flamed with wrath and power to kill,
He hurled his veto at the bill;
For actions of humanity,
Accord not with My Policy.


He next reversed the bill of rights,
Lest all the girls — that is the whites —
Should Desdemonia's become,
And fly each one her cherished home,
And take to heart some sooty moor,
As Fathers did in days before.
If but the legal right were given,
He fears that six in every seven
Of all the maids in all the land,
Would give the matrimonial hand
Unto some swarthy son or other,
And some, perhaps, might wed a brother.


This horrid thought his wrath excites,
And swearing 'gainst all "woman's rights,"
He grasped the veto in his ire,
And doomed the bill to endless fire;
For all such reciprocity,
Was foreign to My Policy.
This ghost-like thought preyed on his soul,
And robbed him of all self control,
Till from his fears, lest they obtain,
He got the veto on the brain;
The inflated type, the very worst,
With which a mortal e'er was cursed.


And hence, when e'er an act is brought,
For which his signature is sought,
How plain soever the device,
He fancies that he "smells a mice,"
And forthwith runs the trap to bring
My Policy, and sets the spring,
And waits with pain-suspended cough,
To see the curious thing go off.


And when the fancied mouse is caught
Within his fancied trap of thought,
To hear him in that frenzied laugh,
And see that full three-fingered quaff
Pass down the lining of his throat,
And find a lodgment 'neath his coat,
Would crimson o'er the cheek with shame,
And send a tremor through the frame,
The which would cause the heart to yield
To poignant truth so oft revealed,
And in that act confess they see
The secrets of My Policy.


The little giant of the West —
His labor done, was laid to rest,
And to eternalize his fame,
And thus immortalize his name,
Moses, with vassals of renown,
Comes swinging past from town to town;
And makes a quite imposing tour,
Save that he proves himself a boor
At divers times in divers ways,
All through his eagerness for praise,
For e'en despite the peerless Grant,
And monument he came to plant,
All those that were not wholly blind,
Could see he had an axe to grind;
The monument was but a ruse,
A subtle means to introduce
My liege of graceless dignity,
The author of My Policy.
'Tis said that he at times would come
To cities which were not "to home,"
From which long ere the pageant closed.
The peerless Grant grew indisposed,
And to the banks of Erie's Lake,
Repaired for reputation's sake.


But be this statement false or true,
It has the smallest part to do
With the matter of fact at hand,
Which is this, when through the land
He'd gone and played the knave and clown,
In every city, village, town,
And felt My Policy was sure
To win by virtue of the tour,
The people rise in mass and vote,
And thus most signally denote
By their vote and by their voice,
And by the subjects of their choice,
That they had blindly failed to see
The beauties of My Policy.


Hence, when the massive cavalcade
Swung round and round in grand parade,
With much chagrin, they're all dispensed,
Just where their fruitless tour commenced.
'Tis said that Moses had a dream,
The which has been his constant theme
Of thought, and converse ever since,
It seems as though he can't convince
Himself that there in truth is not
Some pre-arranged, mischievous plot
In embryo, a thing accursed;
And yet, ere long destined to burst
On him and from his famed renown
And apec glory, drag him down;
Though but a dream, 'twas so akin
Unto a fact that should have been,
And because he does not know
But what it really may be so,
And like the general that was "lame,"
Who started ere the foeman came,
Has suddenly become distres't
With pains and achings in the breast —
'Tis said when night had laid him down
(His sainted form) in sleep profound,
There stole athwart his fevered brain
A dream which caused his spirit pain;


It seemed that 'reft of every doubt,
His myriad sins had found him out,
And charged with numerous crimes and blood,
Before the bar he trembling stood,
And heard he all the evidence,
The prosecution and defense,
And heard the verdict of the court,
And felt the truth of their report;
But that which seemed to pain him most,
And deepest heartfelt anguish cost,
Was not to find the charge sustained,
But 'twas to find himself constrained
Forthwith to abdicate and be
A martyr to My Policy.


The mansion rose in all its pride,
With all its sweetness multiplied
Its grand exterior, spotless white,
A nation's glory and delight —
Its massive portals swinging round,
Without a jar or grating sound —
Its Brussels carpet, velvet chairs,
Downy couches, levees and fairs,
O, from such rare joys to part,
It seemed as though 'twould break his heart.


What next occasioned much regret,
Was the receptions which he met;
For while he knew full many there,
Not one but with a scornful air,
Spurned on him as they passed him by,
As though they feared in coming nigh
Contamination might ensue,
And they grow leprosied and untrue;
Such ingrate acts were rather more
Than he could bear his cup ran o'er,
And streaming down his blooming face,
He felt the hot tears of disgrace;


He thought of Willy, and ran in haste,
But found that he had been displaced;
He next sought Revey, Vall and Wood,
But found them in a sullen mood,
Red-eyed and swollen, as though the three
Had been in perfect sympathy;
Before them sat a demijohn,
Partly filled and partly gone —
'Twas quite enough; he'd found the place,
He held the huge thing to his face,
Till through his hands it slipped and broke,
And springing forward, he awoke
And found himself stretched on the floor,
And loudly rapping at the door
Were wardens, whom from sleep profound,
Had been affrighted by the sound;
And to each other wildly calling,
To learn what ponderous thing had fallen.
"Go way," from the within was said,
"No one is hurt — confound that bed;"
Then gathering up his graceless form,
Exhausted some, and somewhat worn,
And opening wide his hazel eyes,
And gazing round in glad surprise,
Poured on the night's tranquility,
This strange and marked soliloquy —


"Can these bright scenes belie their seeming?
What means all this — have I been dreaming?
Surely, this is the mansion still,
Despite their numerous threats of ill;
Despite him and his numerous wiles,
I'm still the heir of fortune's smiles,
Despite them and their myriad threats,
Their aimless, soulless epithets;
I am still the President
Of proud Columbia's vast extent."


And forthwith from his breast a flask
He drew, and stripped it of its mask,
All sparkling to its very fill,
A goodly half-pint, less a gill,
The which in oriental style,
Dispatched he at a single smile;
Then threw the needless flask aside,
And with a pompous look of pride,
And seeming consequential air,
He sank into an easy chair,
And gravely mused upon the past,
And mused on subjects far too vast,
Except for some learned debauchee,
Or adept in My Policy.


O, were I but a dramatist,
What stores of thought I would enlist,
What telling words I would indite,
And what a play my pen should write;
I'd hie me to the nation's dome;
Amid its splendors I would roam,
Discant on palace, hall and court,
And on the nation's grave support,
Until I placed upon the stage
The grandest burlesque of the age;


"Moses! Moses!" should be my theme;
Not He that through the crimson stream
Led out from Egypt Israel's host;
But "our Mose" of rant and boast,
Who from the nation's balcony,
Cajoled a drunken revelry,
In telling words of pothouse lore,
The which had ne'er been heard before,
Since Kidd, the terror of the wave,
Placed men's life-chart within the grave.


Oh, Demosthenes! in silence rest,
Henceforth "our Mose" shall be the test
Of all oratorical display,
And for a sample, by the way,
Witness his chaste and classic art,
In his description of sweetheart,
And Penny nibbling at his heels,
And then how graphic he reveals
His wond'rous buncombe, and his pluck,
In that grave story of the duck.
And when you have read, O think of the stage,
And the wonderful star of a wonderful age!