On io9 Jess Nevins points towards an 1867 poem by John T. Trowbridge that while it may not have been the first steampunk epic, was one of the most popular and influential. See what you think:
If ever there lived a Yankee lad,
Wise or otherwise, good or bad,
Who, seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump
With flapping arms from stake or stump.
Or, spreading the tail
Of his coat for a sail,
Take a soaring leap from post or rail,
And wonder why
He couldn’t fly
And flap and flutter and wish and try —
If ever you knew a country dunce
Who didn’t try that as often as once.
All I can say is, that’s a sign
He never would do for a hero of mine.