Sot Weed from the Maryland Muse

tobacco

EBENEZER COOKE (fl. ca. 1680s—1730s?) of Maryland is a major figure in colonial American literature. He is best known for the long satirical poem “The Sot-Weed Factor.” (The sot-weed is tobacco, mainstay of the Southern, and American economy in the colonial period, and the factor is a figure long familiar in the South—the seaport merchant who sold and exported the plantations’ tobacco, cotton, or rice, and shipped to the plantation such purchased goods as were requested. A Yankee writer named Barth in the 20th century appropriated Cooke’s title for a novel.) The first item is from “The Sot-Weed Factor” (1708) and the second is a preface to Cooke’s long poem “The Maryland Muse.” (1731). Cooke shows the humorous and positive spirit of the South at a time when the literature of New England consisted entirely of Puritan cant.

While riding near a Sandy Bay,
I met a Quaker, Yea and Nay;
A Pious Conscientious Rogue,
As e’er woar 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.

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Old Poet,
As you may remember,
You told me sometime in September,
Your pleasant Muse was idly sitting,
Longing for some new Subject fitting
For this Meridian, and her Inditing,
Worth Praise and Pence for Pains in Writing.
I therefore (thinking it great Pity
A Muse should pine, that is so witty)
Have sent an old, authentick Book,
For Her in Doggrel Verse to Cook;
For since it never was in Print,
(Tho’ wondrous Truths are written in’t)
It may be worthy Clio’s Rhimes,
To hand it down to future Times.

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