September 9, 2011

Pollock: Gold is King

Born in Philadelphia in 1823, Edward Pollock started working in a factory at age 11. At 14, he ran away from home to find better work. By 1852, he had moved to California in the hopes of finding gold. Throughout his childhood, he never attended a day of school but mastered the English language and literature on his own. Eventually, he went to law school and practiced as an attorney before the California Supreme Court.

On September 9, 1858, Pollock addressed the Society of California Pioneers with a long poem, "Gold is King":

My friends, and Pioneers, once more to you
My thanks, good wishes, and respects are due;
The circling years, that glide in joy or pain,
But bind us closer in their lengthening chain,
Enclosed more firmly, as we all draw nigh
The grateful solitude where all shall die.

As a relatively uncivilized part of the world, California is depicted by Pollock as a battlefield, where friends have fallen, from which foes have fled and, of course, many "remain to fight the battle of the day." But, he warns, prospecting for gold is as dangerous as the golden calf which became a false idol in the time of Moses.

Yes, Gold is King, and vices he controls;
King of all sordid and ignoble souls;
Strong to destroy, but powerless to save;
Impotent, save for pleasure and a grave.
But not one generous heart can Gold seduce
To bend its energies to evil use.

Can Gold buy love? I know you blush with shame
That dross should mingle with that sacred name;
Gold may be King in clouded walks by night,
In lawless passions and impure delight;
But the fond heart, the tearful eye, the cheek
That waits the kisses that it fain would seek,—
The rapturous tender pulses of that love
Which shuns the blessed in the realms above,—
Can these be bought?—can these by wealth be made,
Like gold or cotton, articles of trade?

...Gold is not King: 'tis Virtue that controls
The tides that ebb or swell in noble souls.
The faithless lawyer, statesman, priest, or spy,
Lost to all shame, cupidity may buy;
But there are millions, strong in truth divine,
Who scorn the yellow Monarch of the Mine,
Who shield the State, and calmly tell the world
This land shall flourish while her flag's unfurled,—
Not hirelings, but our unbought volunteers:
In the first rank I greet you, Pioneers.

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