After working together for a month and a half, through 87 more email messages and
almost daily phone calls, the lack of a smoking gun was beginning to take its toll on Don's
confidence that we could convince the public of Henry's authorship. The thing that drove Don
crazy was the lack of an "original" poetry source. All we had was what seemed to be a transcript,
but we couldn't find anyone who had ever seen the original. That meant we couldn't guarantee
that it really existed. The Dutchess County Historical Society and the Adriance Library both
swore that they didn't have it, and the fifty poems that Cornelia Goodrich had described as being
in the New York Historical Society could have been turned into paper airplanes and sailed out
the window for all the curators of that library could tell us. The New York Public Library had
more confidence that they knew what they had, and they were pretty sure they didn't have it.
But even if we found the book, if the transcript that we had was complete, then the poems
stopped too soon. Don explained,
"It's unfortunate that so little poetry by Livingston has
survived later than 1787. The Po'k Journal in 1805-25 published many verses similar in tone,
meter, prosody to "A Visit," one or more of which may be the Major's, but we can't use
anonymous poems to demonstrate authorship of another anonymous or disputed poem. If you
have any prose by the Major later than 1800, that could be as useful for my purposes as poetry
from the 1770's and 1780's."(1)
But I didn't and so, gradually, the contacts with Don just seemed to fade away. We
exchanged 33 emails in the month of September, then 11 in October and, finally, none in
November. When I called him, he always responded to my hello with a burst of hopeful energy,
asking if I was calling to say I'd found the manuscript book or some later work of Henry's, but
I'd have to disappoint him again, and explain that I was just calling to give him current status.
My newspaper searching was producing some results. I now knew that the election to the
U.S. Congress of two of Henry's friends, Melancthon Smith and Egbert Benson, had been
announced the same day that the paper informed the Poughkeepsie subscribers that a sloop was
sunk in the Hudson River 300 feet out from Henry's dock, its mast sticking up through the ice.(2)
Don was right. This wasn't getting us any closer to proving Henry's authorship.
The poems I was finding all seemed to be published between 1787 and 1793. If there
were later works, they were eluding me. But what I was finding, I was loving. One of his poems,
a rebus from his poetry manuscript, turned up in the American Magazine of 1788, so I was
learning something about where Henry was submitting his writing.
Take the name of the Deity lovers obey
And the golden tress'd God whose bright car gives the day;
The beverage by gentle & simple most taken
And the colour maids wear when they think they're forsaken.
Add the flower whose odour unremittingly pleases
And the chief who at Troy seiz'd the horses of Rhesus.
The Goddess refulgent whose far beaming rays
Can pour upon error meridian blaze.
What makes the dear ladies and honey regarded
Or the looks of poor Strephon by Phyllis discarded;
The name of a lady who never was born,
And that period of day between evening and morn:
The initials of these if properly placed
Will discover a damsel angellicly grac'd;
Health dwells on her cheek, love laughs in her eye
Her form is Elysium; to gaze is to die;
The Shepherds in love press fondly about her
All swearing by Cupid they can't live without her:
Impell'd by her merit, not less than her charms,
With the pinions of rapture I fly to her arms.(3)
Frustrating as it was not to be able to give Don what he needed, I felt that I was, at least,
making some progress toward understanding Henry, so I stayed at the microfilm reader and
hoped for the best. The best turned out to be Steve Thomas. Steve called near Christmas to let
me know that he wanted to get in touch with Don. It was the breakthrough we were looking for.
Steve didn't have the poetry manuscript book, but he did have a full transcript. Since we
hadn't known for sure how much of the manuscript we had, we could now verify that we'd had
almost the entire book, and that the poems, as we feared, didn't extend past 1787. We still
needed the original to prove that the poems in the transcriptions weren't some later invention.
Steve did have a music manuscript book in Henry's hand, as well as several loose poems and
letters. The music manuscript seemed to be a collection of other people's songs that Henry had
copied for his own enjoyment, but it gave us an idea of what the original poetry manuscript
should look like. And in the transcript, Don found the survival of our quest. Several
of the poems were clearly marked as having been written in 1827. Not only had Henry kept
writing past 1807/8, he had kept his style and cleverness and grace into his 78th year.
The miser Midas to his store
Was anxious to add more and more-
Poor Jupiter no peace could have
From his eternal restless Crave;
And his petitions wax'd so bold
He prayed whate'er he touch'd were gold;
Jove in a pet, supplied his want
And sent down Hermes with the grant.
The Save-all, Have-all, now elated
Flew to his Queen and all related
In transport took her in his arms
But found a mass of golden charms:
Amaz'd he sought his sofa's down
The sofa was metalic grown -
Affrighted now, the bell he found;
'Twas turned to gold, and could not sound.
His guards attended to his call
And rush'd en-masse into the hall,
A well appointed martial band -
He seized their leader by the hand
And beg'd assistance - but behold!
The galant captain turn'd to gold.
A cup of wine he next besought
The wine was by a servant brought,
But e'er he took a single sip
A lump of gold assailed his lip.
Dispirited and almost spent
'Twas gold and gold, where'er he went.
Till loosed from life's enfeebled holde
He perished in the midst of gold.
Now Don could make the argument that Henry would have been writing in the period
when the children said they remembered him reciting the poem. While Don returned with a
second wind to his writing analysis, I went back to searching for more about, or by, Henry.
Don and I had confidence that Poughkeepsie newspaper pieces signed R were by Henry.
This pseudonym was so well known in the Hudson River town that some writers actually
directed their comments to R.
The following question, being no more than simple division, it is
therefore offered for solution; and may probably afford a little amusement for some of our
Philosophers, Mathematicians, and even your correspondent R-."(4)
Frequently these pieces leave
you first blinking, and then laughing in pleasure.
It was on the 25th of February, in a night uncommonly
serene, that Professor Zeritef Shoralow, wrapped in threefold
thickness of fur, turned his gigantic tube full on the planet Jupiter;
when, to his astonishment, he found that immense frozen globe
brought, as it were, within the reach of his hand for inspection. The
mountains, rivers, houses, men, women, and even the very hens
and chickens were perfectly apparent.(5)
The problem was with the anonymous pieces in the Poughkeepsie papers, and in pieces
signed R from other publications. Compare the previous Poughkeepsie Journal piece by R,
which analyzes the cultures the professor observes on the various planets through the telescope
lens carved from the ice of the River Volga, with a piece by R from the New-York Weekly
Early in the morning of the day in which the mysteries of
Diana, were wont to be celebrated, I departed for the Oracle of
Jupiter Ammon. My blundering guide, mistook the name for the
planet Jupiter for which he shaped his course, but lost his way and
about sunset landed me in a valley of the Moon, at the foot of the
It certainly feels like Henry's writing but, because there's no backup proof, all we can
say about such pieces, especially the humorous ones, is that they're possibly by him. Henry's
humor is usually right out there where you can't help tripping over it.
Souse into your arms she leaps like an otter
And smears your new coat with her piggin of butter.(7)
It's a visual humor, Charlie Chaplin pratfall jokes, with a twist of phrase that lets your
ears enjoy the joke, as well.
Then hoops at right angles that hang from the knees
And hoops at the hips in connection with these,(8)
In Henry's world, trees talk(9),
laws reward the criminal for horse theft(10), whispers rise
from minerals in the ground(11),
and love is expressed as jealousy of a lap dog.
Thou little four-led'd paltry varlet,|
It makes my colour rise like scarlet
To see thee jump unpon a knee
Where I would give the world to be.
Nay, I could name the very time
When I beheld that nose of thine
Approach those lips which once to kiss
I felt the height of all my bliss.
These eyes have seen thy head at rest
Upon my lovely Delia's breast;
A breast from beauty's model made
Where all the loves & graces play'd.
I've seen thee gaze upon those eyes
Where roguish Cupid ever lyes
And meet a glance so soft, so kind
That envy fill'd my aching mind.
Spadille, in pity to my pain
Attempt thy perness to restrain.
It hurts my soul to see a waste
Of fondness thou canst never taste.
Could I but take thy envied place
I'd gaze upon her lovely face
Till all inflamed with all her charms
Around her neck I'd throw my arms
And riot in a sea of blisses
While giving and receiving kisses.(12)
Although Henry has a habit of reusing phrases, and has some favorite habits of style and
spelling, what Henry writes about and how he approaches a topic ranges all over the mental map.
And because his humor is frequently written with such a straight face, it's necessary to constantly
question whether a supposedly scientific article about an egg discovered to have a tiny shelled
egg inside is true, or just another of Henry's put-ons.(13)
Two of Henry's prose pieces have
the quality of ghost stories told around a fire at summer camp. In one, Henry describes the
loyalty of the Esquimaux [Eskimos] to family with spine tingling images.
Two small canoes passing Hayes's River, got to the
middle of it, when one of them sunk, in which was an Indian man,
his wife and child: the other canoe being small, and incapable of
receiving more than one of the parents and the child, produced a
very extraordinary contest between the man and his wife; not but
that both of them were willing to devote themselves to save the
other, but the difficulty lay in determining which would be the
greatest loss to the child. The man used many arguments to prove it
more reasonable that he should be drowned than the woman; but
she alleged on the contrary, it was for the advantage of the child
that she should perish, because, he, as a man, was better able to
hunt, and, consequently, to provide for it. The little time there was
still remaining, was spent in mutual expressions of tenderness; the
woman strongly recommending, as for the last time, to her
husband, the care of her child. This being done, they took leave in
the water; the woman quitting the side of the canoe, was drowned,
and the man, with the child, got safe on shore.(14)
Don Foster has identified the source of Henry's information in both pieces as Eric
Pontoppidan's Natural History of Norway(15),
the same source used by Edgar Allan Poe in his
1841 Descent into the Maelstroom.(16)
Clement Moore was eleven when the New-York Magazine,
to which his father subscribed, arrived at their house with this story of
For the New-York Magazine.
Of the celebrated WHIRLPOOL called the MAELSTROOM, on the Coast of
Norway, WITH AN INTERESTING ENGRAVING.
NATURE has no where assumed a more terrific form than in this vortex.
In latitude 67, midway between the mountain Hesslegen, in the province of
Losoden, and the island of Ver, lies a smaller island called Moskoe.
The water between this latter island and the continent is 400 fathoms deep,
but the depth between Moskoe and Ver is not more than ten feet. -- When it is
flood, the stream runs up between Moskoe and Losoden with a boisterous
rapidity; but when it is ebb, returns to the sea with a violence and noise
unequalled by the loudest cataracts. It is heard at the distance of many leagues,
and forms a vortex of great depth and extent; so violent, that if a ship comes near
it, it is immediately drawn irresistibly into the whirl, and there disappears, till, at
the turn of the tide, it rises again in scattered fragments. When it is agitated by a
storm, it has reached vessels at more than four miles distance, where the crews
thought themselves in perfect security. Perhaps it is not in the power of fancy to
conceive a situation of more horror, than that of being thus driven forward by the
sudden violence of an impetuous torrent to the vortex of a whirlpool, of which the
noise and turbulence, still increasing as it is approached, are an earnest of quick
and inevitable destruction; -- while the wretched victims, in an agony of despair
and terror, cry out for that help which they know to be impossible, and see before
them the dreadful abyss in which they are about to be plunged.
Even animals who have come too near the vortex, have expressed the
utmost terror, when they find the stream irresistible. Whales are frequently carried
away, and the moment they feel the force of the water, they struggle against it
with all their might, bellowing in a frightful manner. The like happens frequently
to bears who attempt to swim to the island.
In the month of June, in the year 1786, a scene of distress was exhibited
here, unequalled perhaps in the annals of misery. Ulrie Strelix, eldest son of the
Count of Herndale, had married Adelia, second daughter of the Lord of Losoden.
The nuptials were celebrated in great pomp at the seat of the latter nobleman,
which is in the neighbourhood of the Maelstroom, and at the foot of mount
Hestlegen. Among other amusements, it was determined to go over to the island
Weroy in a pinnace, and while away some time among its rural beauties. The
vessel accordingly was elegantly decorated, and carried over in safety the
illustrious pair, with a large number of their friends, which comprehended all the
first personages of the country.
During their stay upon the island, a storm arose and detained them longer
than they intended to stay: it abated, however, in the evening, and it was resolved
to proceed early next morning with the flood to the port they set out from. The
morning arrived, and the more experienced mariners were anxious to have the
company embarked: but the ladies, not accustomed to such early expedition were
unhappily too tardy; for, instead of being under way at daybreak, the sun
illuminated the summit of mount Hesllegen before all were on board. The tide,
altho' far spent, was still rapid in their favour, and a southern breeze aided their
progress. But these favourable appearances soon were no more. A violent north
gale suddenly arose, and with it a precipitated return of the tide. The sails were
immediately furled, and the sailors exerted themselves to the utmost with the oars
to stem the wind and current; but their efforts were fruitless, and all the terrors of
the Maelstroom rushed upon the imaginations of the forlorn voyagers: the women
shrieked out in distress, and in their confused endeavours to assist the rowers,
retarded, instead of assisting them. The roaring of the dreadful gulph grew more
and more distinct, and the pinnace already got within the circuitous eddy, which
whirls a vessel a hundred times around the vortex before its final destruction, and
thereby procrastinates and increases the misfortune.
All exertions to escape were now intermitted, and distressful despair
exhibited itself in as many attitudes as there were individuals. To add to their
misery, in one part of the revolutions around the abyss, they came so near the
abode of Lord Losoden, as to perceive the shore crowded with their friends, who
in agonies saw, but could not alleviate their miseries.
At length the horrible chasm appeared in full tremendous view. It was
sunk many fathoms below the level of the ocean -- was gloomy as midnight, and
stunned with its thunder. The agonies of the wretched victims were now wrought
to the utmost height of human endurance. Some shrieked to heaven for
commiseration -- others, on their knees poured out their souls in silent, but
emphatic tears -- while others stood motionless as statues with mighty woe. The
hapless Adelia clung around her husband's neck, and watered his bosom with her
tears; while the once happy husband, speechless with grief, pressed her to his
throbbing heart, and felt a thousand deaths in this excruciating anticipation.
The violence of the motion now became excessive -- the vessel was in a
moment on the brink of the fearful declivity -- it plunged in the roaring grave -- a
general shriek arose -- and they were -- no more!
Chapter 9: Opening Up the New York Economy