J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

“A speaking Egg they substitute”

As I quoted yesterday, a parodic item in the Freeman’s Journal of Portsmouth on 28 Jan 1777 stated that the following lines were discovered on a marble rock by a highly symbolic hermit. They were an answer to the “prophetic Egg” found in Plymouth around that time, warning that Gen. William Howe would conquer America.
——Britannia– sinks beneath her Crimes,
She dies——she——dies——Let Empire rise,
And Freedom cheer the Western Skies.

When every art and menace fails,
And Tory lies and Tory tales,
Are universally abhor’d,
They now pretend to fear the Lord.
Instead of virtue, a long face;
Instead of piety, grimace;
Pretend strange revelation giv’n,
And intimation sent from Heav’n.

To carry on the schemes of Bute,
A speaking Egg they substitute,
A strange Phænomenon indeed,
The stratagem must sure succeed;
And every mortal die with fear,
When they the sad prediction hear.

The Egg was laid without the Tent
Ergo it was from Heav’n sent;
The Egg was found within a barn,
Ergo from it we surely learn,
When Eggs can speak what Fools indite,
And Hens can talk as well as write,
When Crocodiles shed honest tears,
And truth with Hypocrites appears;
When every man becomes a knave,
And feels the spirit of the Slave;
And when veracity again,
Shall in a Tory's bosom reign;
When vice is virtue, darkness light,
And Freemen are afraid to fight;
When they forget to play the men,
And with the spirit of a hen,
Desert the just, the sacred cause,
And op’ning Heaven smiles applause;
On such a bloody barbarous foe,
Then I’ll be conquered by a Howe.
“Bute” means the third Earl of Bute, tutor to George III and prime minister for less than a year in the early 1760s. American Patriots continued to invoke him as a villain because he was Scottish, because he was a Tory in British politics, and because his name was easy to rhyme.

Frank Moore reprinted this poem (without citing a source) in his Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution in 1855. More people probably saw it in that book than in the original newspaper.

TOMORROW: How to inscribe a message on an egg.


Joanq said...

Some of the poem sounds like it can apply to today's politics.

So,who was the hermit?

J. L. Bell said...

I don’t think there was a hermit. I think whoever wrote this item made up the story to lampoon people believing in the egg. And if some readers didn’t get the joke and put their faith in the hermit, that worked, too.

Todd Gardner said...

I suspect your also familiar with the Leeds England prophetic hen of 1806. What is it with eggs? I suspect it is what they represent..new life. Which makes this egg series somewhat ironic in the sense that the perpetrator of the Plymouth egg was trying to hold onto the past and use Howe to enforce that notion. What a messy scrambled business of deceit.