Editors’ note: Chuck Park has delivered two inspiring classes reviewing the high culture which dominated the American Revolution. This is groundbreaking work, which you won’t find elsewhere. It contributes to Donald Trump’s goal of reviving that great cultural foundation. You can watch Chuck’s classes here part 1, and here part 2. Below is Chuck’s post summarizing this work.
President John F. Kennedy launched the visionary Apollo project, sending humans to the Moon, along with great water projects to ensure water self-sufficiency for the Western States. That unleashed an untold wave of technological optimism across American culture which ended with Kennedy’s assassination and the dawn of the zero-growth movement and environmentalism. At the same time Kennedy invited the great classical cellist Pablo Casals to the White House, allowing his beautiful music to work its magic in fostering the creativity of the human mind.
In both those actions, Kennedy recaptured the wedding of great economic projects and frontier scientific endeavors with classical culture, the creative intellectual platform which characterized the nation’s founding and the American Revolution.
The defining feature which separated the emerging Anglo-Dutch Empire centered in Britain at the time of the Revolution from the Renaissance rooted opposition of our founders and their English allies was their irreconcilable concepts of Man. The British Empire faction, spawned in the tradition of their Roman and Venetian forebearers, stated that human beings were nothing more than clever beasts. The Renaissance tradition was committed to the idea that Man was a creative being, made in the living image of the Creator and participating in his Creation.
The members of the resistance to the 1683 William of Orange Dutch takeover of Britain on behalf of Empire were founding members of the intellectual conspiracy which led to the founding of our Republic. The Anglo/Dutch imperialists immediately moved to set up the British East India Company and the private central bank, the Bank of England, modeled on the Dutch East India Company and the slave trading Rotterdam financial banking system.
The different phases of the resistance to this imperial system of Empire spawned one of the greatest periods of creative thought in the fields of Philosophy, Science, and Culture seen since the Renaissance itself. I am focusing on the lesser-known role of Satire, Music, Drama, and Art in this post because a similar classical cultural revival is critical to defeating the same globalist Empire forces today.
The Unique Role of the German Genius, Gottfried Leibniz
From the time of the Dutch takeover of Britain until roughly 1714, Leibniz coordinated a two-fold strategy to defeat the Empire faction, centered on advanced science and classical art. As the confidant of the Electress Sophie of Hanover, the lawful successor to the Throne upon the death of Queen Anne, Leibniz was in the position to become the next Prime Minister of Great Britain, but this was thwarted when Sophie died.
Leibniz was in direct collaboration with the anti-Empire leadership in Britain who were battling to become the trusted advisors to Queen Anne. His “republican faction” was composed of such figures as Jonathan Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, the physician to the Queen, John Gay, and Alexander Pope, among others.
The Empire faction who dominated the policies of Queen Anne between 1702 and 1710 were evil individuals such as Charles Montague, one of the founders of the Bank of England in 1694 and later the Chancellor of the Exchequer; John Locke, the proponent of colonial looting and slavery; John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough and Captain-General of the British Army and finally, Sarah Jennings Churchill, the Queen’s First Lady and a major influence on the Queen.
Between 1710 and 1714, the Swift led grouping was able to wrest control from the Empire operatives, securing the appointments of Swift allies Alexander Spotswood as Governor of Virginia and Robert Hunter as Governor of New York/New Jersey. Hunter had also been sponsored by Dr. Arbuthnot as a member of the British Royal Society, joining other key leaders of America, such as Cotton and Increase Mather and John Winthrop Jr. Those appointments, coupled with Leibniz’s collaborators John Logan and Ben Franklin in Pennsylvania, enabled America to sustain a heathy resistance to the British Empire from the early 1700’s up through the American Revolution and beyond.
With the death of Queen Anne in 1714, however, the direct battle for control of Britain was lost. The death of Leibniz two years later made America the last best hope for “republicanism.”
The Power of the Cultural Weapon
The following is not intended to be a thorough review. Rather it involves broad strokes which will hopefully evoke an understanding of the depth and profundity of the culture which developed in the early United States and provoke the reader to study it further. We’ll start with Jonathan Swift, who with Dr. Arbuthnot, John Gay, and others coalesced into a group known as the Scriblerus Society in Britain.
Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726, is one of the greatest pieces of satire known to man. He exposed and ridiculed the perversities of the newly created British Empire and the false axioms upon which it was based. In Gulliver’s visit to Laputa, Gulliver is able to conjure up both Homer and Aristotle. He describes the “Blind Homer,” who ushered in the Age of Reason as…” the taller and comelier Person of the two, walked very erect for one of his Age, and his Eyes were the most quick and piercing I ever beheld.” By contrast, he says Aristotle introduced the dead science of empiricism and is “stooped much and made use of a Staff. His visage was meager, his Hair lank and thin, and his Voice hollow.”
This description is reminiscent of the Rembrandt painting Aristotle on Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Even though from different eras, both Rembrandt and Swift represented the fundamental contrast between the vibrant humanist conception of Man and the man of the Oligarchical system—static, fixed, and bestial.
In Chapter Five in the second book of Gulliver’s visit to Laputa, Swift completely ridicules the British Royal Society. While exposing the ridiculous epistemology underlying the experiments conducted there, he alludes to the famous Leibniz/Newton controversy by responding to a Professor in Laputa who prided himself on a worthless machine he had created by saying: “I told him, although it were the Custom of our Learned in Europe to steal the Inventions from each other, he had thereby at least this Advantage, that if it became a Controversy which was the right Owner; yet I would take such Caution, that he should have the Honour entire without a rival.”
Later Swift, after attacking Descartes and “exploding his theory of Vortices,” alludes to Newton and predicts:” the same Fate to Attraction, whereof the present Learned are such zealous Asserters.” Most importantly, he attacks the impossibility of describing “Systems of Nature… by attempting to demonstrate them from Mathematical Principles.”
Again, these were fundamental differences that reflected the Leibnizian dynamic concept of Nature as compared to the static Aristotelian/Newtonian description of Nature. This epistemological battle was not lost on the intellectuals of America like James Logan and Ben Franklin, both of whom were intimately familiar with Gulliver’s Travels and other works by Swift.
Another polemic embedded within Gulliver’s commentaries was a description of the oligarchical colonial policy in stark terms. He describes the process by which “pirates discover unknown territory; loot and plunder it; torture the native leaders to reveal where Gold can be found on their lands and drag a few natives back to their home country where the pirates demand pardon and divine right to seize and occupy the new land all in the name of the Kingdom.” He then mocks the British imperialists with biting irony: “But this Description, I confess, doth by no means affect the British Nation, who may be an example to the whole World for their Wisdom, Care and Justice in planting Colonies… And to crown all, by sending the most vigilant and virtuous Governors, who have no other Views than the Happiness of the People over whom they preside, and Honour of the King their Master.”
Swift’s description of the ‘Yahoos” is an extreme description of the beastman who the Empire’s philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, denoted as constituting mankind. On the other hand, the idyllic Platonic society based on pure reason led by the Houyhnhnms, so enticing to Gulliver, did not yet exist in the real world.
Swift tells us directly that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels to instruct those fighting for a just society suitable for humans against the bestial ideas of Empire. Through Gulliver he states – “I imposed upon myself as a Maxim, never to be swerved from, that I would strictly adhere to Truth . . . As my sole Intention was the Publick Good, I cannot be altogether disappointed. For, who can read the Virtues I have mentioned in the glorious Houyhnhnms, without being ashamed of his own Vices, when he considers himself as the reasoning, governing animal of his Country? … I write for the noblest End, to inform and instruct Mankind…”
John Gay was a key collaborator of Swift in the Scriblerus Society. Two years after Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, Gay published The Beggar’s Opera. This was a devastating ridicule of Minister Walpole’s Empire faction who took over England with the ascension of King George I. The play was immensely popular with the population in England and was known and widely read in America. William Bryd II in his Diary, Progress to the Mines, relates how on a trip to meet with Governor Spotswood in 1732, he was delayed by heavy rains at the house of Thomas Randolph, and both read parts from the Beggar’s Opera aloud to pass the time.
Handel, Swift, and America
Georg Fredrick Handel, who graduated from the German University of Halle established by the collaborator of Leibniz, Hermann Franke, moved to London in 1712 and took up residence at the home of Lord Burlingame, whose home served as a meeting place for the Scriblerus Society.
Handel composed the ode “Eternal Source of Light Divine” for Queen Anne’s birthday on February 6, 1713, and, in 1737, he composed the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, “The Ways of Zion do Mourn.” Queen Caroline had studied under Leibniz and encouraged Leibniz to exchange letters with Samuel Clarke, the apologist for Isaac Newton’s world outlook. She then arranged for the publication of the famous Leibniz/Clarke letters.
Handel viewed the creation of his music to be in the true “republican” concept of culture which was to bring beauty into the world as a means to uplift and nourish the soul of the listener. He rebuked a Nobleman who described his Messiah as Noble entertainment, saying: “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.”
The music of Handel and Bach, among others, was promulgated by the Moravians who settled in Pennsylvania in 1741. Ben Franklin spent several weeks studying their music and he wrote that the Moravians in Bethlehem had “very fine music in the church” and that “flutes, oboes, French horns and trumpets, accompanied the organ.” One of the Moravian acquaintances of Franklin not only composed music but built, between 1759 and 1761, the first violin, viola, and cello ever made in America. Franklin himself created the Glass Armonica in 1761 and later both Mozart and Beethoven composed music for it.
In 1762, Elijah Dunbar organized singing meetings in Stoughton MA, and in 1774 the famous revolutionary composer, William Billings set up a similar school in Boston. In 1786, Dunbar established the Stoughton Musical Society. It is the oldest, still existing musical institution in America.
A historic singing contest was arranged between the Dorchester First Parish Church Choir and the Stoughton Choir. The Stoughton performers won the contest by singing, by heart, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” as their finale.
George Washington, an avid concert goer, attended concerts by Alexander Reinagle in Philadelphia. Reinagle was in direct correspondence with Bach’s son, C. P. E Bach and modeled his compositions on his music. After meeting Mozart in Europe, around 1790 he introduced both Haydn’s and Mozart’s music to Philadelphia audiences. Washington asked Reinagle to give his step-niece piano lessons and upon Washington’s death Reinagle composed a funeral piece in his honor. Washington was also a supporter of the theater.
The Swift Networks and Theater in America
The establishment of the classical American theater was also a direct result of the battle between the British oligarchical faction and the Scriblerus Society networks in England.
When the Churchill/Walpole allied owner of the Drury Lane theater refused to perform the Beggar’s Opera, John Gay turned to the Lincoln Fields Theater, owned by another Scriblerus Society ally, John Rich. The Beggar’s Opera was immensely popular and became the longest running production in London history at the time.
It should come as no surprise that the first theater production by professional actors in America was the Beggar’s Opera performed in New York in 1750. Two years later, the British Hallam family moved to America and performed Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Hallam family came from an acting family associated with John Rich, the owner of Lincoln Fields Theater and later Convent Gardens Theater. Later, Lewis Hallam Jr opened a theater in New York and performed the first American authored play entitled The Prince of Parthia. It was written by Thomas Godfrey, the son of the inventor and close collaborator of James Logan and Ben Franklin. The influence of Shakespeare is evident throughout the play, particularly in the scene, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, where two minor characters reference the fickleness of the mob.
Charles Willson Peale, the famous American artist and scientist painted a famous picture, in 1771, of Nancy Hallam performing in the Shakespeare play Cymbeline.
The Artistic Gift of America to Great Britain
Ironically, the establishment of America’s visual arts culture was the result of Ben Franklin and his collaborators deployment, in 1760, of the young American Genius, Benjamin West, to study painting in London and Italy. Benjamin West never returned to America, but he trained and inspired three generations of American artists.
On a trip to Italy, West studied all the great Renaissance paintings and studied briefly under Anton Rafael Mengs, himself a student of the great German scholar of Greek antiquity, Johann Winkelman. When he returned to London, West co-founded, in 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts and later became its President.
Reflecting the depth of classical culture which was shaping the thinking of the American people before our Revolution, Benjamin West, in 1756, using an engraving as a model, painted the Death of Socrates.
Under the British Roman Empire worshipping oligarchy, it was sacrilege to paint any figures of current history unless they were garbed in Roman togas. In 1770, West revolutionized Art by painting a scene from the French and Indian War portraying the Death of Captain Wolfe in the native background and garb of America at the time. He followed this up, in 1771, with a painting commissioned by the son of William Penn, celebrating Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. In 1805, Benjamin West celebrated the great scientific genius of Ben Franklin, by painting Ben Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky.
In the same year, Charles Willson Peale, a famous student of West’s and the sculptor William Rush, founded the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In a letter to the newly formed Academy West said that he envisioned the United States as an “empire bursting into magnitude of the first order,” with Philadelphia taking the role of “Athens”—where the fine arts would flourish thanks to the “eminent men” of her “greatly distinguished Academy.”
West’s influence shaped America’s visual arts and culture well into the period of the American Civil War and beyond. Some of his most famous students were Robert Fulton (1765-1815) painter and inventor of the steamboat; William Dunlap, painter, and major figure in promoting theater in America; Thomas Sully (1783-1872) famous for his portraits in 1824 of John Quincy Adams and General Lafayette; and Samuel Morse (1791-1872) painter and developer of the telegraph and Morse code. Probably the most familiar to Americans today was John Trumbull. Trumbull painted “The Declaration of Independence,” the “Surrender of General Burgoyne,” the “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis” and “George Washington Resigning His Commission,” all of which can be seen adorning the Rotunda of the United States Capitol today.
An excerpt from a letter from John Trumbull to Ben Franklin in 1789 captures the revolutionary spirit that motivated his actions: “I have begun a series of pictures of the great Events of the Revolution. The prosecution of that plan brings me to America. I hope by confining my pencil to subjects so interesting to Human Nature that I shall not only meet the approbation of my Country, but ... that I may Render some distant service to Posterity.”
Charles Willson Peale
Born in Delaware in 1741, Peale joined the patriotic Sons of Liberty at the age of 23. Peale had studied art in London under Benjamin West and used Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting as his guide, and the works of Raphael as his model.
In 1772, two years after returning from his studies with West, Peale painted a miniature portrait of George Washington and another of Martha Washington that Washington wore as a locket around his neck for most of his life.
From early on, Peale recognized the revolutionary role that America was destined to play in world history. He dedicated his life, through his paintings, to preserving for posterity the individuals and events that were shaping that revolution in his lifetime. He served with Washington in the two crossings of the Delaware in 1777. Two years later, Peale painted the picture of Washington at the Battle of Princeton, portraying him as confidant on the battlefield and prepared to wage the next phase of the war.
Peale painted every major American figure including Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton plus lesser-known figures who played a role in the formation of our nation all the way up to the 1820’s. Peale and his sons also fostered “great projects” that helped develop the culture and scientific advancement of America. Peale had been elected in 1786 to the American Philosophical Society. The Society, between 1806 and 1808, funded the excavation of the remains of the first Mastodon discovered in Upstate New York. Peale captured his direction the project in his famous painting The Exhumation of the Mastodon.” The bones were exhibited in the Peale Museum established by Peale in 1784.
The Peale Museum, later named the Philadelphia Museum, was made easily affordable to encourage attendance. It housed specimens of birds, insects, flowers, and butterflies collected from all over America but also specimens sent to Peale from as far away as China and India. The entirety of the specimens from the Lewis and Clarke expedition were housed in the Museum and his sons participated in and collected rarities from expeditions to the Colorado Rockies and South America. Peale offered lectures from his “faculty” of scientists who were usually from the America Philosophical Society next door to the Museum as well as musical concerts. He kept an organ in the Museum because he thought the best way to educate the public was to unite art with science to demonstrate the harmony of the universe.
This nation was founded on the idea that Genius exists. It must be cherished and taught, and we must fight for the right for it to flourish since all future human advances depend upon it. In that light, our founders created institutions which nourished its development and the young government promoted Genius among the people while protecting their creations for posterity. That is our true heritage and a gift from our forefathers. That gift requires us to reach down and bring forth that Genius in our people yet again today. Our great world historic genius, the Prometheus of his Age, Ben Franklin understood this well, capturing the essence of this spirit in his poem, “Genius, An Irregular Ode.”
Genius; An Irregular Ode
Poem by Ben Franklin (excerpts)
“Let there be Light”- Th’ Almighty Spoke-
Observant of the Great Command,
All should the sole Supreme invoke
Science to spread o’er every land;
Science! Whom superior powers are given.
The friend of Man, and delegate of Heaven.
“Let there be Light”- Th’ Angelic throng,
Silent, surveyed the spacious void;
Then echoed in their cheerful song,
(Still in Jehovah’s praise employed
Serving in truth the universal cause)
And sang “Let there be Light,”—
And Light there was.
Homer! Stand forth!—Thy genius known,
To thee we every tribute pay;
Thy fancy raised the poets throne,
Which future ages shall obey.
By thee full many a realm was taught
But Shakespeare tears the laurel from thy
Dryden to Philip’s son a fane has reared,
A temple stronger than the Hero’s name;
Though like a God by some he was revered
The Bard has more illustrious made his fame.
Hear’st thou?- Can thy mind refrain
From applauding Dryden’s strain?
Earth the sweetest airs resounding.
Skies those sweetest airs rebounding-
Ambition for a moment sinks to rest,
And valour droops, reposed on Beauty’s breast.
Pope! on the Bust of Dryden still recline
May ye still flourish in eternal fame,
Till Hayley shall assert an equal name!
Congreve! be silent!- Sheridan! We hear;
We smile with Steele; but Addison revere.
Siddons! We own thy imitative powers
Are truly great—but is not Morris ours?
Painting! May thy canvas Glow!
Let thy vivid colours show
What Nature has Expressed?
Display the likeness-bold-alive-
Let Art with Nature fairly strive;-
And both will bow to West.
Patriot! Philosopher and Sage!
Immortal be thy name!
Virtue shall spread thy worth through every age,
And Wisdom celebrate thy fame.
In council wise, firm in debate,
Thy virtue oft preserved each state:
Those states acknowledged flourishing and free.
Shall yield the palm of Genius still to thee.
Genius! Stand forth! With thee conduct the Arts,
To thee obedient may they ever prove!
Correct our manners, dignify our hearts,
And bind us in the bands of genuine Love.