"Glass" by Henry Schoolcraft

A Poem, Lake Dunmore, 1814.

Henry Schoolcraft


Mankind resemble glass; they are, like it,

For use or fashion, show or service fit;

Some bright and fair, some dull and more obscure,

These prized as good, those, estimed poor;
To grace a kitchen, or a parlour made

As use is most consulted, or parade;

But all as various; and eke they are,

As frail, as brittle, and as keen a ware.

Their bases differ, as our chemists say,
This made of sand, that fashioned out of clay

Yet shall we, in both compositions find,

Similitude in beauty, use and kind.

To man, tis true some small objections lie

In point of texture and transparency,
But though we grant him, in material blind,

Yet lacks he not, transparency of mind

And we no surer faults in each detect

By rays of light, than rays of intellect.

So nice the processes, the art requires,
So pure th’ ingredients, so intense the fires,

Where tumours grow, where phthysic’s fitful breath,

Forbodes the public faith, a sudden death.

Felons, freckles, frightful fire warts,

Are all disclosed as clear as limpid quartz.

His voice and pen are graced with equal skill,

To lash, report, or advocate a bill.

Speak without nostrums, clear his throat when lost,

But ever loudest, when they shuffle most.

Alike to him, the subject, time or stage,
Fierce to discuss, and ready to engage

If finance—there Blaberius is at home

If raising troops, he votes with general glum.

In peace he’s noisy, but if wars involve’

He blasts the foe by one august “Resolve.”
Prate, prate, prate, prate! the error of the land,

His voice, by every vulgar breeze is fanned

Nor learn from Witherspoon his course to run,

The simple cause, “to stop when he has done.”


The statesman glitters in a light so clear,
He’s very like a laudy chandelier,

Which seems ten thousand diamonds in a mass,

Yet is it but a frail, and brittle glass.

Search well its rise by dull mechanic arts

Deduct what labour, art and luck imparts,
Inquire the elements of which tis made,

How the glass dwindles, how the glories fade!

A closer view, deprives the gaud of dress,

And still a closer, shews the wonder less

Till shift of every ornament of trade
By skill imparted, or by labour made,

Such just connection links the several parts,

That let one fail, and vain are vitric arts.

Hence faults arise—such faults in glass there be,

And all perfection is but in degree.
So men are good, or evil, just and wise,

Compared to devils or to deities,

And this a good and pious man we call,

Opposed to that, who lacks the virtues all

None are quite perfect, and the best I wot,
Heav’n mend them! may display a flaw or spot

And the whole question, talk it o’er and o’er,

Is who has fewest foibles to deplore.

[Fickle Congressman]

First in my verse, and every freeman’s prayer,

The fickle Congressman demands my care
Whose veering course, by no fixed chart confined,

Like the thatched canoass, shifts with every wind,

And now for peace and now for commerce bawls,

Or erudite in legislative calls,

Bent on the means he just opposed before,
Now fierce to man, and now desert the shore,

In peace he deems no method like a war,

In war pacific—ties absorb his care.

Dread sage! Who feedeth voters upon hope,

What art those but the nation’s telescope
A brass-tubed winter glass, through which we spy,

Navie’s on land and armies in the sky

Debate instead of action, arms, and might

Glooms in success, and crime in every fight.

This glass if poised against the commonwealth,
Detects each secret of disease or health,

That neither sinks nor flares, by day or night,

A dull and dim monotony of light.

On all he meets, he vents his studied wit,

So Flash replied, thus Dunsonius writ
He tells how ancient Goths surnamed a screw,

Or Chaldee sages uttered, “how d’yo do”

O’erweening elf, who cudgels his poor brains,

To bring to life its intellectual grains.


Some glasses, so ingeniously are made,
The work of art, as human sight to aid

These are intended for the lawyer’s eye

Through which his causes he doth magnify,

Discovers every flaw, and clearly sees,

How much his client’s case depends on fees
A statute spectacle of feudal times

Or pocket magnifier of small crimes,

Stuck o’er with forms and briefs—with tapes and flaws,

Scraps of bad Latin and digests of laws.

To render it a true—a perfect type,
As well in mass, as mould, resembling tripe

The artist strewed it thick with flint calcined,

To show its hard, unfeeling, bitter kind;

To make acrid, biting, quick to fly,

He added caustic lime and alkali;
To make it subtil, and a thing to dread,

He mingled sulphur, arsenic and lead.

Its ruling powers he gave by gold and chalk,

Denoting love of wealth, and love of talk;

Thus mixed, and placed in stone-dissolving heats,
The mixture swells and fumigates, and sweats

Ev’n like a suitor floundering in the laws,

Whom gripe has mired, in a ten year’s cause.

[High Office]

Back to its native atoms searched and scan’d

Ends in an ash-pit or a bank of sand.
So shines the man in office high and great,

Proud if tho insignificance of state,

And he doth the public good enshelf,

By all the little low born arts of pelf.

Raised from low means, but not of low pretence,
Without showing wisdom, piety or sense.

But trace well the mazy arts, by which he rose,

How self prevailed with these, deception those

How some by plotting his acts subscribe,

Then takes a place, and wot much nary a bribe.
Observe the studied steps, the mincing cares

Of art stamps a man bold and of pleasant words and airs

What loss of probity this action reveals

And that, what lack of independence seals,

Deduct what trick and finish create,
The glitter pomp and circumstance of state,

Their own how like in use and art’s fragile mass,

A[n] empty demagogue or a brittle glass.

There is in states, and eke there ever was,

A monster christened, popular applause
Let him but blow the candle of favour out

And the pompus dwindles to a lout

Unfit for office of so high a call,

And down he goes with a crashing fall,

And alike sorrowful our moments pass,
Or if a statesman falls, or if a glass.


The pedant next invites my critic pen,

Lumbered with scraps of books, and jests of men

Lost wit, exploded science, learning stale

Fore’er at a quotation, or a tale.
He is a gaudy flower vase—painted fine

Less meant to do a service than to shine

But shining always, through every phase,

We loathe him as an undiminished blaze

“When last I touched it—ah me! Last and first,
“No other near, to quench a burning thirst,

“Its tender nature, tense and unprepared,

“Flew sounding, and observe sir, it is mar’d.”


The critic is a glass, if right I spy,

That has an overdose of alkali,
Whence, as the searching fires upon it fall,

The mixture yields a very copious gall

And when the fierce caloric flame abates,

The caustic principle predominates,

It wants more basis, and demands our care
For fear it prove a light frail rotten ware.


The dandy—ever first in Fortune[’]s track,

Who drains his pockets to adorn his back

Where daily cares pastes, washes, scents divide

A neck-cloth tight, small waiste, and cossacks wide
What wave can match this thing of lace and steel,

So exquisite, so sweet, and so genteel!

Why then, a flint-glass, face in lady’s sight,

In him lead, rats bane, silica unite,

But so ill portioned, and by fire refined,
The ware itself is of imperfect kind

Whence the whole surface is obscured by veins

His tongue all rats bane, and all lead his brains

A trifling, laughing, silly, giddy boy

Who live and move and breathe, the Lord knows why.


Glass has the pliant property I wot,

To take each fancy shape, applied when hot

So has the turncoat, who if touched with skill

Is moulded into what so’er you will.

[Village Merchant]

The village merchant, —fain I would him pass!
He is a sheet of plain green window glass

Far less for ornament than use designed,

Good in its place, when perfect in its kind.

A sheet—through which, the vain may estimate

How soon small sums mount upward into great
Count every cost, revolving fashion brings,

Its useless gauds, and unsubstantial things

Then see, when those sure coming foes assail,

The quarter day, the sheriff and the jail.


And eke Tapinus you can ne’er escape,
Without discovering he deals in tape

So set and formal, that he seems prepared

To mete out words, like dry-goods by the yard,

E’en like his city prototype—brisk elf!

The great magician of the arts of pelf
Discoursing now of tariffs, now of shops,

Banks, pressures, losses, and sales, debentures, crops,

Mercantile gossip! Yet so frail a pane,

As scarce the breath of heaven to sustain

Each post affrights him, and if duns provoke,
Talks of compounding, and anon is broke.

[Wealthy Friend]

The wealthy Friend is like such costly ware,

As people prize the more, because ‘tis rare

A beautious article of foreign make,

And seldom used, for fear the vessel break.
“Touch not that sacred vase—pray have a care,

The owner cries—“ we handle not such ware

“Immense the cost, every day demands

“The price of uselessness, is sparing hands.

[Anxious Manufacturer]

One instance more, is all I shall prefer,
It is yon anxious Manufacturer

Whose brows lean kast, with solemn discontent,

Grim business languishing, or cash misspent.

He is a mirror, on whose curtained breast,

Columbia’s ample image stands confest,
And if that envious vail aside we draw,

Affixed by commerce, prejudice and law,

Bright to theories, the wandering eye shall see,

A land more wealthy, and a state more free

But while the arts, a double force oppose,
In foreign interests, and domestic foes

But half her powers of nature still appear,

And enterprize stands poised in her career.

[Fame, Love, Beauty, Time, Hope, Life ]

Fame is a wineglass, made of purest flint,

All beautious to behold but nothing in’t,
Love is a pairing sweet, a brittle glass,

And beauty only seen a shadows pass;

Time is an hour-glass, that with ceaseless play,

Silently, softly, swiftly runs away;

And hope is a camera—pretty bill!
That dazzles, promotes and cheats us still:

But of all types, the vitricant can make,

Life is the frailest and most apt to break,

The dark diopton ebe of the mortal span,

That shades, reflects, and truly pictures man.

[Peace and War]

And now for peace, and now for war is bent,

The men of Hartford, or the men of Ghent.

If principle be named—why as to that,

If Tompkins rules he’s quite a democrat,

But if new names a shifting rage embrace,
Tis just his taste—so he secures a place.

Great men are swayed by principle; to him,

The rule is impulse, pelf or whim

Forever in a sunbeam, or a frost

As hope presents, or fate denied a post
Now here, now there the fickle impulse guides,

Oft shifting principles and changing sides

Till bought and sold—oft promised oft delayed

At last he droops, disheartened and dismayed

Then rails at men and fortune[,] fate and care
And ends a timed existence in despair.


Though not to glass, yet what to glass pertains,

Compares the miser, hoarding up his gains,

Too hard to fuse—too impure and opake

He is the vase to melt in, and to make.

[Smiling Landlord]

The smiling landlord is a cheerful glass,

To all who drink and pay, who spend and pass

But tarry long—pay little—you shall find

He is a metal of a different kind.


Shall Rosalinda pass, The Graces’ care!
Herself the type and pattern of the Fair,

And no just likeness in a mass so clear,

Be found for beauty’s hope or virtue’s fear?

That in the female heart like colour plays

Changing like hues within the prism’s rays
Now red, now green, now yellow and now white

Forever changing, to th’ admirers sight,

If hard to fire, be yours the gross offence,

Ye popinjays, the maid loved common sense.

Note: subtitled breaks are added here [in square brackets] to more clearly denote sections. Schoolcraft’s own editorial judgments have been respected and archaic punctuation and spelling retained. Evidence within the poem itself suggests that further work may have been intended. Transcription by Paul Engle, 2016.

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