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The hint for the fable of the following poem was furnished by The numerous ruins which yet remain visible in the interior of Nortlı America, and particularly in the vicinity of the Ohio and the Mississippi: ruins which demonstrate, that, long anterior to the first voyage of Columbus, the section of country which I have designated, was inhabited by a nation more civilized than the wandering tribes in whose possession it was found by the English and French. Indeed, even at that early day, the imperfect and perishable traditions of the North American savages seem to have preserved no trace of a record to whom those ruins belonged; or by whom, for what purpose, or at what period they were reared. Towers of stone, containing implements and idols of copper; the embankments of fortresses, judiciously located and traced with all the accuracy and mathematical skill which the ablest modern engineer can boast; and barrows or tumuli, in which have, for ages, been inhumed the bones of forgotten thousands; all proclaim the country to have been, “in the olden time," the seat of a people, numerous, warlike and civilized, far beyond what can be predicated of either the present aborigines, or their ancestors.
Who, or whence, were the authors of these ruins and what has become of them? are questions which curiosity has asked, and which philosophers, the orists and historians have attempted to answer, in vain. They have been ascribed to the lost Jewish tribes; to a Welch colony; and to know not what other strange origin: and grave and learned dissertations have been penned by learned and grave men, in support of each of the theories.
In this conflict of absurd opinions, and unsupported conjectures, I have thought it allowable to embellish a poetic tale with a theory of my own: and one which, if it needs that merit, is at least as plausible and as well supported by authentic history and doubtful tradition, as either of those to which I have alluded.
In the ninth century, Harold Honfagre, or Harsager, conquered twelve of the petty chieftains of Norway, and united their territories into a kingdom. Naddohr, one of those petty chiefs, fleeing from Harold, turned pirate; discovered and colonized Greenland; and in one of his voyages from Norway to that country, with colonists, is supposed to have perished by shipwreck.–So says history: but I have taken the liberty to alter his supposed fate, and to make him and his companions the founders of a Norwegian colony, near the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi. It can hardly be necessary to add; that this colony retains the superstitious opinions, ceremonies and practices of its Scandinavian ancestors, who were not, at that period, converted to Christianity.
The poem opens with a grand feast, introductory to a splendid hunting excursion, and preparatory to the annual religious rites in honor of Odin: the time, about three hundred years after the first landing of Naddohr on the continent, and when the colony had become numerous and powerful. Then follows the great hunting, by the king and nobles; in the course of which, Ruric, the king's son, surprises and carries off, by force, Escalala, the daughter of a powerful Indian chief, and the heroine of the poem. This produces a general and destructive war between the aborigines and colonists, ending in the utter extermination of the latter; and this result is produced, chiefly, by the energy, skill and implacable revenge of Escalala.
Such are the materials which, amid the pressure of misfortunes and the distracting cares of business, I have ventured to embody in the following little poem: a poem which aims at no higher rank, and aspires to no greater dignity , than such as belong to a tale of fancy; and in which-without stopping to inquire which school of poetry is the best, I have indulged that frequent change of nieasure which forms one of the most prominent characteristics of modern minstrelsy. Mount Clemens, Territory of Michigan,
June 10, 1822.
In that elysian land, where nature showers
her wildest powers;
Land of the brave, the generous and the free,
Nor less in enterprise than arms renowned, Where genius points, thy children still are found. If dauntless Commerce spread th' adventurous sail To catch the breath of earth’s remotest gale; Who guides the bark? who dares the untravelled brine? Columbia! 'tis some freeborn child of thine.
Prompt at her need, if energy require A frame of iron and a soul of fire, To traverse Afric's unknown sands and dare Their thousand perils; see thy Ledyard there: “When can he start?” is asked, with doubting eye; (1) “To-morrow”-is his brief but firm reply.
If Art, if Science, of invention ask (2) A helping hand, to aid their god-like task; Thy FRANKLIN, RITTENHOUSE, and BUSHNELL stand,
The chosen vot'ries of her high command;
If Eloquence would charm the raptured ear,
Distinguished thus for every generous art
If British genius woo' the tuneful Nine,