Battle of Niagara: a Poem Without Notes by John Neal

John Neal by Sarah Miriam Peale, c. 1823, Portland Museum of Art – Portland, Maine

The full title of this book is Battle of Niagara: A Poem, Without Notes : and Goldau, Or, The Maniac Harper. It was originally published under the pseudonym Jehu O’Cataract in 1818.

Click to see the full-text of the book at Google Books.

From Charles Dow*:

John Neal was of Quaker descent but was read out of the society. He was a pioneer in American literature, being the first American contributor to English and Scotch quarterlies. He was an artist, a lawyer, traveler, journalist, athlete and an advocate of woman suffrage in 1838.

“The Battle of Niagara” was written when the author was a prisoner, or so he informs the reader. It has a metrical introduction with four cantos which tell the story of the Battle of Niagara. This story is interspersed with various flights of poetic fancy on the scenery and surroundings of the Falls.

N.B. The Battle of Niagara is now formally known as the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Other names have included the Battle of Niagara Falls and the Battle of Bridgewater.

*Dow, Charles Mason. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls. Albany: State of New York, 1921, p. 699

From Frank H. Severance:**

As I survey the literature of this- period I find no bolder utterance, no fiercer defiance of Great Britain’s “Hordes,” than in the sonorous stanzas of some of our gentle poets. Iambic defiance, unless kindled by a grand genius, is a poor sort of fireworks, even when it undertakes to combine patriotism and appreciation of natural scenery. Certainly something might be expected of a poet who sandwiches Niagara Falls in between bloody battles and gives us the magnificent in nature, the gallant in warfare and the loftiest patriotism in purpose, the three strains woven in a triple paean of passion, 94 duodecimo pages in length. Such a work was offered to the world at Baltimore in 1818, with this title-page: “Battle of Niagara, a Poem without Notes, and Goldau, or the Maniac Harper. Eagles and Stars and Rainbows. By Jehu O’Cataract, author of ‘Keep Cool.’ ” I have never seen “Keep Cool,” but it must be very different from the “Battle of Niagara,” or it belies its name. The fiery Jehu O’Cataract was John Neal, or “Yankee Neal,” as he was called.

The “Battle of Niagara,” he informs the reader, was written when he was a prisoner; when he “felt the victories of his countrymen.” The poem has a metrical introduction and four cantos, in which is told, none too lucidly, the story of the battle of Niagara, with such flights of eagles, scintillation of stars and breaking of rainbows, that no quotation can do it justice. In style it is now Miltonic, now reminiscent of Walter Scott. The opening canto is mainly an apostrophe to the Bird, and a vision of glittering horsemen. Canto two is a dissertation on Lake Ontario, with word-pictures of the primitive Indian. The rest of the poem is devoted to the battle near the great cataract—and throughout all are sprinkled the eagles, stars and rainbows. Do not infer from this that the production is wholly bad; it is merely a good specimen of that early American poetry which was just bad enough to escape being good.

** Severance, Frank H. Notes on the Literature of the War of 1812. Paper Read at the annual meeting of the Ontario Historical Society, 1912.

Source:  John Neal. Battle of Niagara: A Poem, Without Notes : and Goldau, Or, The Maniac Harper. Baltimore:  N.G. Maxwell. From the Portico Press, Geo. W. Grater, printer, 1818

Read about the Battle of Lundy’s Lane

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