Monday, August 20, 2012

The Sot-Weed Factor



Condemned by fate to wayward curse,
Of friends unkind, and empty purse:
Plagues worse than filled Pandora's Box,
I took my leave of Albion's Rocks:
With heavy heart, concerned that I
Was forced my native soil to fly.
And the Old World must bid goodbye.
But Heaven ordained it should be so.
And to repine is vain we know:
Freighted with fools, from Plymouth sound,
To Maryland our ship was bound.
Where we arrived in dreadful pain,
Shocked by the terrors of the main:
For full three months, our wavering boat.
Did through the surly ocean float.
And furious storms and threatening blasts,
Both tore our sails and sprung our masts:
Wearied, yet pleased, we did escape
Such ills, we anchored at the cape.
But weighing soon, we plowed the bay,
To cove it in Piscato-way,
Intending there to open store
I put myself and goods ashore:
Where soon repaired a numerous crew,
In shirts and drawers of Scotch-cloth blue.
With neither stockings, hat, nor shoe.
These sot-weed planters crowd the shore,
In hue as tawny as a Moor:
Figures so strange, no God designed,
To be a part of humankind:
But wanton nature, void of rest,
Molded the brittle clay in jest.
At last a fancy very odd
Took me. This was the Land of Nod.
Planted at first, when vagrant Cain,
His brother had unjustly slain:
Then conscious of the crime he'd done,
From vengeance dire, he hither run;
And in a hat supinely dwelt,
The first in furs and sot-weed dealt.
And ever since his time, the place,
Has harbored a detested race;
Who when they could not live at home,
For refuge to these worlds did roam;
In hopes by flight they might prevent,
The Devil and his foul intent;
Obtain from tripple tree repreive,
And Heaven and Hell alike deceive:
But e're their manners I display,
I think it fit I open lay
My entertainment by the way:
That strangers well may be aware on,
What homely diet they must fare on.
To touch that shore, where no good sense is found,
But conversation's lost, and manners drowned.
I crossed unto the other side,
A river whose impetuous tide,
The savage borders does divide;
In such a shining odd invention,
I scarce can give its due dimension.
The Indians call this watery wagon
Canoe, a vessel none can brag on;
Cut from a poplar-tree, or pine,
And fashioned like a trough for swine:
In this most noble fishing-boat,
I boldly put myself afloat:
Standing erect with legs stretched wide,
We paddled to the other side:
Where being landed safe by hap,
As sol fell into Thetis' Lap
A ravenous gang bent on the stroul,
Of wolves for prey, began to howl;
This put me in a panic fright,
Least I should be devoured quite:
But as I there a musing stood,
And quite benighted in a wood.
A female voice pierced through my ears.
Crying, You rogue drive home the steers
I listened to the attractive sound,
And straight a herd of cattle found
Drove by a youth, and homewards bound:
Cheered with the sight, I straight thought fit,
To ask where I, a bed might get.
The surly peasant bid me stay,
And asked from whom I'd run away.
Surprised at such a saucy word,
I instantly lugged out my sword:
Swearing I was no fugitive.
But from Great Britain did arrive.
In hopes I better there might thrive.
To which he mildly made reply
I beg your pardon, Sir that I
Should talk to you unmannerly;
But if you please to go with me
To yonder house, you'll welcome be.
Encountring soon the smokey seat,
The planter old did thus me greet:
"Whether you come from jail or college,
You're welcome to my certain knowledge;
And if you please all night to stay,
My son shall put you in the way."
Which offer I most kindly took.
And for a seat did round me look:
When presently amongst the rest,
He placed his unknown English guest,
Who found them drinking for a whet,
A cask of cider on the fret,
Till supper came upon the table,
On which I fed whilst I was able.
So after hearty entertainment,
Of drink and victuals without payment;
For planters tables, you must know,
Are free for all that come and go.
While pon and milk, with mush well stored
In wooden dishes graced the board;
With hominy and cider-pap,
(Which scarce a hungry dog would lap)
Well stuffed with fat, from bacon fried,
Or with molasses dulcified.
Then out our landlord pulls a pouch,
As greasy as the leather couch
On which he sat, and straight begun
To load with weed his Indian gun;
In length, scarce longer than one's finger,
Or that for which the ladies linger:
His pipe smoked out with awful grace,
With aspect grave and solemn pace;
The reverend sire walks to a chest,
Of all his furniture the best,
Closely confined within a room,
Which seldom felt the weight of broom;
From thence he lugs a keg of rum,
And nodding to me, thus begun:
"I find, says he, you don't much care,
For this our Indian country fare;
But let me tell you, friend of mine,
You may be glad of it in time,
Tho' now your stomach is so fine;
And if within this land you stay,
You'll find it true what I do say."
This said, the rundlet up he threw,
And bending backwards strongly drew:
I plucked as stoutly for my part,
Altho' it made me sick at heart,
And got so soon into my head
I scarce could find my way to bed;
Where I was instantly conveyed
By one who passed for chambermaid;
Tho' by her loose and sluttish dress,
She rather seemed a Bedlam-Bess.
Curious to know from whence she came,
I pressed her to declare her name
She blushing seemed to hide her eyes,
And thus in civil terms replies:
"In better times, ere to this land,
I was unhappily trappan'd,
Perchance as well I did appear,
As any Lord or Lady here,
Not then a slave for twice two year.
My clothes were fashionably new,
Nor were my shifts of linen blue
But things are changed now at the hoe,
I daily work, and barefoot go.
In weeding corn or feeding swine,
I spend my melancholy time.
Kidnapped and fooled, I hither fled,
To shun a hated nuptial bed.
And to my cost already find,
Worse plagues than those I left behind."
Whatever the wanderer did profess.
Good faith I could not choose but guess
The cause which brought her to this place.
Was supping ever the priest said grace,
Quick as my thoughts, the slave was fled,
(Her candle left to show my bed)
Which made of feathers soft and good,
Close in the chimney-corner stood;
I threw me down expecting rest,
To be in golden slumbers blessed:
But soon a noise disturbed my quiet.
And plagued me with nocturnal riot:
A puss which in the ashes lay,
With grunting pig began a fray:
And prudent dog, that feuds might cease,
Most strongly barked to keep the peace.
This quarrel scarcely was decided,
By stick that ready lay provided:
But reynard arch and cunning loon.
Broke into my apartment soon:
In hot pursuit of ducks and geese,
With fell intent the same to seize:
Their cackling plaints with strange surprise,
Chased sleep's thick vapors from my eyes:
Raging I jumped upon the floor,
And like a drunken sailor swore;
With sword I fiercely laid about,
And soon dispersed the feathered rout:
The poultry out of window flew,
And reynard cautiously withdrew:
The dogs who this encounter heard,
Fiercly themselves to aid me reared,
And to the place of combat run,
Exactly as the field was won.
Fretting and hot as roasting capon,
And greasy as a slab of bacon;
I to the orchard did repair,
To breathe the cool and open air,
Expecting there the rising day,
Extended on a bank I lay;
But fortune here, that saucy whore,
Disturbed me worse and plagued me more,
Than she had done the night before.
Hoarse croaking frogs did 'bout me ring,
Such peals the dead to life would bring,
A noise might move their wooden king.
I stuffed my ears with cotton white
For fear of being deaf outright,
And cursed the melancholy night:
But soon my vows I did recant,
And hearing as a blessing grant;
When a confounded rattlesnake,
With hissing made my heart to ache:
Not knowing how to fly the foe,
Or whether in the dark to go;
By strange good luck, I took a tree,
Prepared by fate to set me free;
Where riding on a limb astride,
Night and the branches did me hide,
And I the Devil and Snake defied.
Nor yet from plagues, exempted quite,
The cursed mosquitoes did me bite;
Till rising morn' and blushing day,
Drove both my fears and ills away;
And from night's errors set me free.
Discharged from hospitable tree;
I did to planter's booth repair,
And there at breakfast nobly fare,
On rasher broiled of infant bear:
I thought the cub delicious meat,
Which never did ought but chestnuts eat,
Nor was young orsin's flesh the worse,
Because he sucked a pagan nurse.
Our breakfast done, my landlord stout,
Handed a glass of rum about;
Pleased with the treatment I did find,
I took my leave of host so kind;
Who to oblige me, did provide,
His eldest son to be my guide.
And lent me horses of his own,
A skittish colt, and aged roan,
The four-legged prop of his wife Joan.
Steering our barks in trot or pace,
We sailed directly for a place
In Maryland of high renown,
Known by the name of Battle Town.
To view the crowds did there resort.
Which justice made, and law their sport,
In that sagacious country court:
Scarce had we entered on the way,
Which through thick woods and marshes lay;
But Indians strange did soon appear,
In hot pursuit of wounded deer;
No mortal creature can express,
His wild fantastic air and dress;
His painted skin in colors dyed,
His sable hair in satchel tied,
Showed savages not free from pride:
His tawny thighs, and bosom bare,
Disdained a useless coat to wear,
Scorned summer's heat, and winters air;
His manly shoulders such as please,
Widows and wives, were bathed in grease
Of cub and bear, whose supple oil,
Prepared his limbs against heat or toil.
Thus naked Pict in battle fought,
Or undisguised his mistress sought;
And knowing well his ware was good,
Refused to screen it with a hood:
His visage dun, and chin that ne'er
Did razor feel or scissors bear,
Or knew the ornament of hair,
Looked sternly grim, surprised with fear,
I spurred my horse as he drew near:
But roan who better knew than I,
The little cause I had to fly;
Seemed by his solemn steps and pace,
Resolved I should the specter face,
Nor faster moved, tho' spurred and licked,
Than Balaam's ass by prophet kicked.
"Kekicknitop," the heathen cried;
"How is it Tom?" My friend replied,
Judging from thence the brute was civil,
I boldly faced the courteous Devil;
And lugging out a dram of rum,
I gave his tawny worship some;
Who in his language as I guess,
(My guide informing me no less,)
Implored the Devil, me to bless.
I thanked him for his good intent,
And forwards on my journey went,
Discoursing as along I rode,
Whether his race was framed by God
Or whether some malignant power,
Contrived them in an evil hour
And from his own infernal look;
Their dusky form and image took:
From thence we fell to argument
Whence peopled was the continent.
My friend supposed Tartarians wild,
Or Chinese from their home exiled;
Wandering through mountains hid with snow,
And rills did in the valleys flow,
Far to the south of Mexico:
Broke through the bars which nature cast,
And wide unbeaten regions past,
Till near those streams the human deluge rolled,
Which sparkling shined with glittering sands of gold,
And fetch Pizarro from the Iberian shore,
To rob the natives of their fatal store.
I smiled to hear my young logician,
Thus reason like a politician;
Who never by fathers pains and earning
Had got at Mother Cambridge learning;
Where lubber youth just free from birch
Most stoutly drink to prop the church:
Nora with grey grout had taken pains
To purge his head and cleanse his reins:
And in obedience to the college
Had pleased himself with carnal knowledge:
And tho' I liked the youngster's wit,
I judged the truth he had not hit;
And could not choose but smile to think
What they could do for meat and drink,
Who over so many deserts ran,
With brats and wives in caravan:
Unless perchance they'd got the trick,
To eat no more than porker sick;
Or could with well contented maws.
Quarter like bears upon their paws.
Thinking his reasons to confute,
I gravely thus commenced dispute,
And urged that though a Chinese host,
Might penetrate this Indian coast;
Yet this was certainly most true,
They never could the Isles subdue;
For knowing not to steer a boat,
They could not on the ocean float,
Or plant their sunburnt colonies,
In regions parted by the seas:
I thence inferred Phænicians old,
Discovered first with vessels bold
These western shores, and planted here,
Returning once or twice a year,
With naval stores and lasses kind,
To comfort those were left behind;
Till by the winds and tempest tore,
From their intended golden shore;
They suffered shipwreck, or were drowned,
And lost the world so newly found.
But after long and learned contention,
We could not finish our dissention:
And when that both had talked their fill.
We had the self same notion still.
Thus parson grave well real and sage,
does in dispute with priest engage;
The one protests they are not wise,
Who judge by sense and trust their eyes;
And vows he'd burn for it at stake,
That man may God his maker make;
The other smiles at his religion,
And vows he's but a learned widgeon:
And when they have emptied all their store
From books and fathers, are not more
Convinced or wiser than before.
Scarce had we finished serious story,
But I espied the town before me,
And roaring planters on the ground,
Drinking of healths in circle round:
Dismounting steed with friendly guide,
Our horses to a tree we tied,
And forwards passed amongst the route,
To choose convenient quarters out:
But being none were to be found,
We sat like others on the ground
Carousing punch in open air
Till cryer did the court declare;
The planting rabble being met,
Their drunken worships likewise set:
Cryer proclaims that noise should cease,
And straight the lawyers broke the peace:
Wrangling for plaintiff and defendant,
I thought they never would make an end on it:
With nonsense, stuff, and false quotations,
With brazen lies and allegations;
And in the splitting of the cause,
They used such motion with their paws,
As sure their zeal was strongly bent,
In blows to end the argument.
A reverend judge, who to the shame
Of all the bench, could write his name;
As pettifogger took offence,
And wondered at his impudence.
My neighbors dash with scorn replies,
And in the face of justice flies:
The bench in fury straight divide,
And scribbles take, or judges side;
The jury, lawyers, and their clients,
Contending, fight like earth-born giants:
Bust sheriff wily lay perdue,
Hoping indictments would ensue,
And when...
A hat or wig fell in the way,
He seized them for the Queen as stray:
The court adjourned in usual manner,
In battle blood and fractious clamor;
I thought it proper to provide,
A lodging for myself and guide,
So to our inn we marched away,
Which at a litle distance lay;
Where all things were in such confusion,
I thought the world at its conclusion:
A herd of planters on the ground,
Overwhelmed with punch, dead drunk we found:
Others were fighting and contending.
Some burnt their clothes to save the mending.
A few whose heads by frequent use,
Could better bare the potent juice,
Gravely debated state affairs.
Whilst I most nimbly tripped upstairs;
Leaving my friend discoursing oddly,
And mixing things profane and godly.
Just then beginning to be drunk,
As from the company I slunk,
To every room and nook I crept,
In hopes I might have somewhere slept;
But all the bedding was possessed
By one or other drunken guest:
But after looking long about,
I found an ancient corn-loft out.
Glad that I might in quiet sleep,
And there my bones unfractured keep.
I lay'd me down secure from fray,
And soundly snored till break of day:
When waking fresh I sat upright,
And found my shoes were vanished quite,
Hat, wig, and stocking, all were fled
From this extended Indian bed:
Vexed at the loss of goods and chattel,
I swore I'd give the rascal battle,
Who had abused me in this sort.
And merchant stranger made his sport.
I furiously descended ladder:
No hare in March was ever madder:
In vain I searched for my apparel.
And did with host and servants quarrel;
For one whose mind did much aspire
To mischief, threw them in the fire;
Equipped with neither hat nor shoe,
I did my coming hither rue,
And doubtful thought what I should do:
Then looking round, I saw my friend
Lie naked on a table's end;
A sight so dismal to behold,
One would have judged him dead and cold;
When wringing of his bloody nose,
By fighting got we my suppose;
I found him not so fast asleep,
Might give his friends a cause to weep:
"Rise Oronooko, rise," said I,
"And from this Hell and bedlam fly."
My guide starts up, and in amaze,
With bloodshot eyes did 'round him gaze;
At length with many a sigh and groan,
He went in search of aged roan;
But roan, tho' seldom used to falter,
Had fairly this time slipped his halter;
And not content at night to stay
Tied up from fodder, ran away:
After my guide to catch him ran,
And so I lost both horse and man;
Which disappointment, tho' so great,
Did only mirth and jests create:
Till one more civil than the rest,
In conversation for the best,
Observing that for want of roan,
I should be left to talk alone;
Most readily did me intreat,
To take a bottle at his seat;
A favor at that time so great,
I blest my kind propitious fate;
And finding so a fresh supply,
Of clothes from storehouse kept hard by,
I mounted straight on such a steed,
Did rather curb, than whipping need;
And straining at the usual rate,
With spur of punch which lay in pate,
E'er long we lighted at the gate;
Where in an ancient cedar house,
Dwelt my new friend, a cockerouse;
Whose fabric, tho' 'twas built of wood,
Had many springs and winters stood;
When sturdy oaks, and lofty pines
Were leveled with muskmelon vines,
And plants eradicated were,
By hurricanes into the air;
There with good punch and apple juice,
We spent our hours without abuse;
Till midnight in her sable vest,
Persuaded Gods and men to rest;
And with a pleasing kind surprise,
Indulged soft slumbers to my eyes.
Fierce Æthon courser of the sun,
Had half his race exactly run;
And breathed on me a fiery ray,
Darting hot beams the following day,
When snug in blanket white I lay:
But heat and chinces raised the sinner,
Most opportunely to his dinner;
Wild fowl and fish, delicious meats,
As good as Neptune's doxy eats,
Began our hospitable treat;
Fat venison followed in the rear,
And turkeys wild, luxurious cheer.
But what the feast did most commend,
Was hearty welcome from my friend.
Thus having made a noble feast,
And eat as well as a pampered priest,
Madera strong in flowing bowls,
Filled with extreme, delight our souls;
Till wearied with a purple flood,
Of generous wine (the giant's blood,
As poets feign) away I made,
For some refreshing verdant shade;
Where musing on my rambles strange,
And fortune which so oft did change;
In midst of various contemplations
Of fancies old, and meditations,
I slumbered long...
Till hazy night with noxious dews,
Did sleep's unwholesome fetters lose;
With vapors chilled and misty air,
To fireside I did repair,
Near which a jolly female crew
Were deep engaged at lanctre-looe,
In night-trails white, with dirty mien,
Such sights are scarce in England seen:
I thought them first some witches bent
On black designs in dire convent.
Till one who with affected air,
Had nicely learned to curse and swear:
Cried dealing's lost is but a flam,
And vowed by God she'd keep her Pam.
When dealing through the board had run,
They asked me kindly to make one;
Not staying often to be bid,
I sat me down as others did:
We scarce had played a round about,
But that these Indian froes fell out.
Damn you, says one, though now so brave,
I knew you late a four-years slave;
What if for planter's wife you go,
Nature designed you for the hoe.
Rot you replies the other straight,
The captain kissed you for his freight;
And if the truth was known aright,
And how you walked the streets by night,
You'd blush (if one could blush) for shame,
Who from Bridewell or Newgate came.
From words they fairly fell to blows,
And being loathe to interpose,
Or meddle in the wars of punk,
Away to bed in haste I slunk.
Waking next day, with aching head,
And thirst that made me quit my bed;
I rigged myself, and soon got up,
To cool my liver with a cup
Of water fresh and clear,
Not half so good as English beer;
Which ready stood in kitchen pail,
And was in fact but Adam's Ale;
For planters cellars you must know,
Seldom with good October flow,
But perry quince and apple juice,
Spout from the tap like any sluice;
Until the cask's grown low and stale,
They're forced again to goad and pail.
The soothing draught scarce down my throat,
Enough to put a ship afloat,
With cockerouse as I was sitting,
I felt a fever intermitting:
A fiery pulse beat in my veins,
From cold I felt resembling pains:
This cursed seasoning I remember
Lasted from March to cold December:
Nor would it then its quarters shift,
Until by Cardus turned a drift.
And had my doctress wanted skill,
Or kitchen physic at her will,
My father's son had lost his lands,
And never seen the Goodwin Sands:
But thanks to fortune and a nurse
Whose care depended on my purse,
I saw myself in good condition,
Without the help of a physician:
At length the shivering ill relieved,
Which long my head and heart had grieved;
I then began to think with care,
How I might sell my British ware,
That with my freight I might comply,
Did on my charter party lie:
To this intent, with guide before,
I tripped it to the eastern shore;
While riding near a sandy bay,
I met a Quaker, yea and Nay:
A pious conscientious rogue,
As ever wore bonnet or a brogue,
Who neither swore nor kept his word.
But cheated in the fear of God:
And when his debts he would not pay,
By light within he ran away.
With this sly zealot soon I struck
A bargain for my English truck,
Agreeing for ten thousand weight,
Of sot-weed good and fit for freight,
Broad Oronooko bright and sound.
The growth and product of his ground;
In cask that should contain complete,
Five hundred of tobacco neat
The contract thus betwixt us made,
Not well acquainted with the trade,
My goods I trusted to the cheat,
Whose crop was then aboard the fleet;
And going to receive my own,
I found the bird was newly flown:
Cursing this execrable slave,
This damned pretended godly knave;
On due revenge and justice bent,
I instantly to counsel went,
Unto an ambodexter quack,
Who learnedly had got the knack
Of giving glisters, making pills,
Of filling bonds, and forging wills;
And with a stock of impudence,
Supplied his want of wit and sense;
With looks demure, amazing people,
No wiser than a daw in steeple;
My anger flushing in my face,
I stated the preceding case:
And of my money was so lavish,
That he'd have poisoned half the parish,
And hanged his father on a tree,
For such another tempting fee;
"Smiling," said he, "the cause is clear,
I'll manage him you need not fear;
The case is judged, good sir, but look
In Galen, No, in my Lord Cook,
I vow to God I was mistook:
I'll take out a provincial wit;
Upon my life we'll win the Cause,
With all the ease I cure the yaws."
Resolved to plague the holy brother,
I set one rogue to catch another;
To try the cause then fully bent,
Up to Annapolis I went,
A city situate on a plain,
Where scarce a house will keep out rain;
The buildings framed with cypress rare,
Resembles much our Southwark Fair:
But stranger here will scarcely meet
With marketplace, exchange, or street;
And if the truth I may report,
'Tis not so large as Tottenham Court.
St. Mary's once was in repute,
Now here the judges try the suit,
And lawyers twice a year dispute:
As oft the bench most gravely meet,
Some to get drunk, and some to eat
A swinging share of country treat.
But as for justice right or wrong,
Not one amongst the numerous throng,
Knows what they mean, or has the heart,
To give his verdict on a stranger's part:
Now court being called by beat of drum,
The judges left their punch and rum,
When pettifogger doctor draws,
His paper forth, and opens cause:
And least I should the better get,
Bribed quack suppressed his knavish wit.
So maid upon the downy field,
Pretends a force, and fights to yield:
The biased court without delay,
Adjudged my debt in country pay:
In pipe staves, corn, or flesh of boar,
Rare cargo for the English shore:
Raging with grief, full speed I ran,
To join the fleet at Kicketan;
Embarked and waiting for a wind,
I left this dreadful curse behind.
May cannibals transported over the sea
Prey on these slaves, as they have done on me:
May never merchant's, trading sails explore
This cruel, this inhospitable shore;
But left abandoned by the world to starve,
May they sustain the fate they well deserve:
May they turn savage, or as Indians wild,
From trade, converse, and happiness exiled:
Recreant to Heaven, may they adore the sun,
And into pagan superstitions run
For vengeance ripe...
May wrath divine then lay those regions waste
Where no man's faithful, nor a woman chaste.


— Ebenezer Cook


Little survives to this day of the works of Ebenezer Cook (ca. 1670 - ca. 1732). Born in London, England the humorist/satirist divided his time between England and the American colonies. The Sot-Weed Factor — composed entirely of hudabrists — is best known today as the inspiration for the 1960 novel of the same name by the American novelist John Barth. The main protagonist in Barth's novel is called Ebenezer Cook and the plot loosely follows the poem.