James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 30 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 30 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to be the demon state of the monikin mind; as opposed to worship,
to charity, brotherly love, and all the virtues. On its pecuniary
penalties, he touched by exhibiting a tax-sheet. Buttons which cost
sixpence a gross, he assured the house, would shortly cost sevenpence a
gross. - Here he was reminded that monikins no longer wore buttons. - No
matter, they bought and sold buttons, and the effects on trade were
just the same. The political penalties of war he fairly showed to be
frightful; but when he came to speak of the domestic penalties, there
was not a dry eye in the house. Captain Poke blubbered so loud that I
was in an agony lest he should be called to order.

"Regard that pure spirit," he cried, "crushed as it has been in the
whirlwind of war. Behold her standing over the sod that covers the hero
of his country, the husband of her virgin affections. In vain the orphan
at her side turns its tearful eye upwards, and asks for the plumes that
so lately pleased its infant fancy; in vain its gentle voice inquires
when he is to return, when he is to gladden their hearts with his
presence - " But I can write no more. Sobs interrupted the speaker, and
he took his seat in an ecstasy of godliness and benevolence.

I hurried across the house, to beg the brigadier would introduce me to
this just monikin without a moment's delay. I felt as if I could take
him to my heart at once, and swear an eternal friendship with a spirit
so benevolent. The brigadier was too much agitated, at first, to attend
to me; but, after wiping his eyes at least a hundred times, he finally
succeeded in arresting the torrents, and looked upwards with a bland
smile.

"Is he not a wonderful monikin?"

"Wonderful indeed! How completely he puts us all to shame! - Such a
monikin can only be influenced by the purest love for the species."

"Yes, he is of a class that we call the third monikinity. Nothing
excites our zeal like the principles of the class of which he is a
member!"

"How! Have you more than one class of the humane?"

"Certainly - the Original, the Representative, and the Speculative."

"I am devoured by the desire to understand the distinctions, my dear
brigadier."

"The Original is an every-day class, that feels under the natural
impulses. The Representative is a more intellectual division, that
feels chiefly by proxy. The Speculatives are those whose sympathies are
excited by positive interests, like the last speaker. This person has
lately bought a farm by the acre, which he is about to sell, in village
lots, by the foot, and war will knock the whole thing in the head. It is
this which stimulates his benevolence in so lively a manner."

"Why, this is no more than a development of the social-stake system - "

I was interrupted by the speaker, who called the house to order. The
vote on the resolution of the last orator was to be taken. It read as
follows: -

"Resolved, that it is altogether unbecoming the dignity and character
of Leapthrough, for Leaplow to legislate on the subject of so petty a
consideration as a certain pitiful treaty between the two countries."

"Unanimity - unanimity!" was shouted by fifty voices. Unanimity there
was; and then the whole house set to work shaking hands and hugging each
other, in pure joy at the success of the honorable and ingenious manner
in which it had got rid of this embarrassing and impertinent question.




CHAPTER XXVII. AN EFFECT OF LOGARITHMS ON MORALS - AN OBSCURATION, A
DISSERTATION, AND A CALCULATION.


The house had not long adjourned before Captain Poke and myself were
favored with a visit from our colleague Mr. Downright, who came on an
affair of absorbing interest. He carried in his hand a small pamphlet;
and the usual salutations were scarcely over, before he directed our
attention to a portion of its contents. It would seem that Leaplow was
on the eve of experiencing a great moral eclipse. The periods and dates
of the phenomenon (if that can be called a phenomenon which was of too
frequent occurrence) had been calculated, with surprising accuracy, by
the Academy of Leaphigh, and sent, through its minister, as an especial
favor, to our beloved country in order that we should not be taken by
surprise. The account of the affair read as follows: -

"On the third day of the season of nuts, there will be the commencement
of a great moral eclipse, in that portion of the monikin region which
lies immediately about the pole. The property in eclipse will be the
great moral postulate usually designated by the term Principle; and the
intervening body will be the great immoral postulate, usually known
as Interest. The frequent occurrence of the conjunction of these two
important postulates has caused our moral mathematicians to be rather
negligent of their calculations on this subject of late years; but, to
atone for this inexcusable indifference to one of the most important
concerns of life, the calculating committee was instructed to pay
unusual attention to all the obscurations of the present year, and this
phenomenon, one of the most decided of our age, has been calculated with
the utmost nicety and care. We give the results.

"The eclipse will commence by a motive of monikin vanity coming in
contact with the sub-postulate of charity, at 1 A. M. The postulate in
question will be totally hid from view, in the course of 6 h. 17 m.
from the moment of contact. The passage of a political intrigue will
instantly follow, when the several sub-postulates of truth, honesty,
disinterestedness, and patriotism, will all be obscured in succession,
beginning with the lower limb of the first, and ending with all the
limbs of the whole of them, in 3 h. 42 m. from the moment of contact.
The shadow of vanity and political intrigue will first be deepened
by the approach of prosperity, and this will be soon succeeded by the
contact of a great pecuniary interest, at 10 h. 2 m. 1s.; and in exactly
2 m. and 3-7 s., the whole of the great moral postulate of Principle
will be totally hid from view. In consequence of this early passage of
the darkest shadow that is ever cast by Interest, the passages of the
respective shadows of ambition, hatred, jealousy, and all the other
minor satellites of Interest, will be invisible.

"The country principally affected by this eclipse will be the Republic
of Leaplow, a community whose known intelligence and virtues are perhaps
better qualified to resist its influence than any other. The time of
occultation will be 9 y. 7 m. 26 d. 4 h. 16 m. 2 s. Principle will begin
to reappear to the moral eye at the end of this period, first by the
approach of Misfortune, whose atmosphere being much less dense than that
of Interest, will allow of imperfect views of the obscured postulate;
but the radiance of the latter will not be completely restored until the
arrival of Misery, whose chastening colors invariably permit all truths
to be discernible, although through a sombre medium. To resume:

"Beginning of eclipse, 1 A. M.

Ecliptic opposition, in 4 y. 6 m. 12 d. 9 h. from beginning of eclipse.

Middle, in 4 y. 9 m. 0 d. 7 h. 9 m. from beginning of eclipse.

End of eclipse, 9 y. 11 m. 20 d. 3 h. 2 m. from beginning.

Period of occultation, 9 y. 7 m. 26 d. 4 h. 16 m. 2 s."

I gazed at the brigadier in admiration and awe. There was nothing
remarkable in the eclipse itself, which was quite an every-day affair;
but the precision with which it had been calculated added to its other
phenomena the terrible circumstance of obtaining a glimpse into the
future, I now began to perceive the immense difference between living
consciously under a moral shadow, and living under it unconsciously. The
latter was evidently a trifle compared with the former. Providence had
most kindly provided for our happiness in denying the ability to see
beyond the present moment.

Noah took the affair even more at heart than myself. He told me, with a
rueful and prognosticating countenance, that we were fast drawing near
to the autumnal equinox, when we should reach the commencement of a
natural night of six months' duration; and although the benevolent
substitute of steam might certainly in some degree lessen the evil, that
it was a furious evil, after all, to exist for a period so weary without
enjoying the light of the sun. He found the external glare of day bad
enough, but he did not believe he should be able to endure its total
absence. "Natur' had made him a 'watch and watch' critter. As for the
twilight of which so much was said, it was worse than nothin', being
neither one thing nor the other. For his part, he liked things 'made out
of whole cloth.' Then he had sent the ship round to a distant roadstead,
in order that there might be no more post-captains and rear-admirals
among the people; and here had he been as much as four days on nothing
but nuts. Nuts might do for the philosophy of a monkey, but he found,
on trial, that it played the devil with the philosophy of a man. Things
were bad enough as they were. He pined for a little pork - he cared
not who knew it; it might not be very sentimental, he knew, but it was
capital sea-food; his natur' was pretty much pork; he believed most men
had, in some way or other, more or less pork in their human natur's;
nuts might do for monikin natur', but human natur' loved meat; if
monikins did not like it, monikins need not eat it; there would be
so much the more for those who did like it - he pined for his natural
aliment, and as for living nine years in an eclipse, it was quite out
of the question. The longest Stunnin'tun eclipses seldom went over three
hours - he once knew Deacon Spiteful pray quite through one, from apogee
to perigee. He therefore proposed that Sir John and he should resign
their seats without delay, and that they should try to get the Walrus
to the north'ard as quick as possible, lest they should be caught in the
polar night. As for the Hon. Robert Smut, he wished him no better luck
than to remain where he was all his life, and to receive his eight
dollars a day in acorns."

Although it was impossible not to hear, and, having heard, not to
record the sentiments of Noah, still my attention was much more strongly
attracted by the demeanor of the brigadier, than by the jeremiad of the
sealer. To an anxious inquiry if he were not well, our worthy colleague
answered plaintively, that he mourned over the misfortune of his
country.

"I have often witnessed the passage of the passions, and of the minor
motives, across the disc of the great moral postulate, Principle; but
an occultation of its light by a pecuniary Interest, and for so long a
period, is fearful! Heaven only knows what will become of us!"

"Are not these eclipses, after all, so many mere illustrations of the
social-stake system? I confess this occultation, of which you seem to
have so much dread, is not so formidable a thing, on reflection, as it
at first appeared to be."

"You are quite right, Sir John, as to the character of the eclipse
itself, which, as a matter of course, must depend on the character of
the intervening body. But the wisest and best of our philosophers hold
that the entire system of which we are but insignificant parts, is
based on certain immutable truths of a divine origin. The premises,
or postulates, of all these truths, are so many moral guides in the
management of monikin affairs; and, the moment they are lost sight of,
as will be the case during these frightful nine years that are to come,
we shall be abandoned entirely to selfishness. Now selfishness is
only too formidable when restrained by Principle; but left to its own
grasping desires and audacious sophisms, to me the moral perspective is
terrible. We are only too much addicted to turn our eyes from Principle,
when it is shining in heavenly radiance, and in full glory, before
us; it is not difficult, therefore, to foresee the nature of the
consequences which are to follow its total and protracted obscuration."

"You then conceive there is a rule superior to interest, which ought to
be respected in the control of monikin affairs?"

"Beyond a doubt; else in what should we differ from the beasts of prey?"

"I do not exactly see whether this does, or does not accord with the
notions of the political economists of the social-stake system."

"As you say, Sir John, it does, and it does not. Your social-stake
system supposes that he who has what is termed a distinct and prominent
interest in society, will be the most likely to conduct its affairs
wisely, justly, and disinterestedly. This would be true, if those great
principles which lie at the root of all happiness were respected; but
unluckily, the stake in question, instead of being a stake in justice
and virtue, is usually reduced to be merely a stake in property. Now,
all experience shows that the great property-incentives are to increase
property, protect property, and to buy with property those advantages
which ought to be independent of property, viz., honors, dignities,
power, and immunities. I cannot say how it is with men, but our
histories are eloquent on this head. We have had the property-principle
carried out thoroughly in our practice, and the result has shown that
its chief operation is to render property as intact as possible, and the
bones, and sinews, and marrow of all who do not possess it, its slaves.
In short, the time has been, when the rich were even exempt from
contributing to the ordinary exigencies of the state. But it is quite
useless to theorize on this subject, for, by that cry in the streets,
the lower limb of the great postulate is beginning to be obscured, and,
alas! we shall soon have too much practical information."

The brigadier was right. On referring to the clocks, it was found that,
in truth, the eclipse had commenced some time before, and that we were
on the verge of an absolute occultation of Principle, by the basest and
most sordid of all motives, pecuniary Interest.

The first proof that was given of the true state of things, was in the
language of the people. The word Interest was in every monikin's mouth,
while the word Principle, as indeed was no more than suitable, seemed to
be quite blotted out of the Leaplow vocabulary. To render a local term
into English, half of the vernacular of the country appeared to
be compressed into the single word "dollar."

"Dollar - dollar - dollar" - nothing but "dollar! Fifty thousand
dollars - twenty thousand dollars - a hundred thousand dollars" - met one
at every turn. The words rang at the corners - in the public ways - at the
exchange - in the drawing-rooms - ay, even in the churches. If a temple
had been reared for the worship of the Creator, the first question was,
how much did it cost? If an artist submitted the fruits of his labors to
the taste of his fellow-citizens, conjectures were whispered among the
spectators, touching its value in the current coin of the republic. If
an author presented the offspring of his genius to the same arbiters,
its merits were settled by a similar standard; and one divine, who
had made a strenuous, but an ill-timed appeal to the charity of his
countrymen, by setting forth the beauties as well as the rewards of
the god-like property, was fairly put down by a demonstration that his
proposition involved a considerable outlay, while it did not clearly
show much was to be gained by going to heaven!

Brigadier Downright had good reasons for his sombre anticipations, for
all the acquirements, knowledge, and experience, obtained in many years
of travel, were now found to be worse than useless. If my honorable
colleague and covoyager ventured a remark on the subject of foreign
policy, a portion of politics to which he had given considerable
attention, it was answered by a quotation from the stock market; an
observation on a matter of taste was certain to draw forth a nice
distinction between the tastes of certain liquors, together with a
shrewd investigation of their several prices; and once, when the worthy
monikin undertook to show, from what struck me to be singularly good
data, that the foreign relations of the country were in a condition to
require great firmness, a proper prudence, and much foresight, he was
completely silenced by an antagonist showing, from the last sales, the
high value of lots up town!

In short, there was no dealing with any subject that could not
resolve itself into dollars, by means of the customary exchanges.
The infatuation spread from father to son; from husband to wife; from
brother to sister; and from one collateral to another, until it pretty
effectually assailed the whole of what is usually termed "society." Noah
swore bitterly at this antagonist state of things. He affirmed that he
could not even crack a walnut in a corner, but every monikin that passed
appeared to grudge him the satisfaction, small as it was; and that
Stunin'tun, though a scramble-penny place as any he knew, was paradise
to Leaplow, in the present state of things.

It was melancholy to remark how the lustre of the ordinary virtues grew
dim, as the period of occultation continued, and the eye gradually
got to be accustomed to the atmosphere cast by the shadow of pecuniary
interest. I involuntarily shuddered at the open and undisguised manner
in which individuals, who might otherwise pass for respectable monikins,
spoke of the means that they habitually employed in effecting their
objects, and laid bare their utter forgetfulness of the great postulate
that was hid. One coolly vaunted how much cleverer he was than the law;
another proved to demonstration that he had outwitted his neighbor;
while a third, more daring or more expert, applied the same grounds of
exultation to the entire neighborhood. This had the merit of cunning;
that of dissimulation; another of deception, and all of success!

The shadow cast its malign influence on every interest connected with
monikin life. Temples were raised to God on speculation; the government
was perverted to a money-investment, in which profit, and not justice
and security, was the object; holy wedlock fast took the aspect of
buying and selling, and few prayed who did not identify spiritual
benefits with gold and silver.

The besetting propensity of my ancestor soon began to appear in Leaplow.
Many of those pure and unsophisticated republicans shouted, "Property is
in danger!" as stoutly as it was ever roared by Sir Joseph Job, and dark
allusions were made to "revolutions" and "bayonets." But certain proof
of the prevalence of the eclipse, and that the shadow of pecuniary
interest lay dark on the land, was to be found in the language of what
are called the "few." They began to throw dirt at all opposed to them,
like so many fish-women: a sure symptom that the spirit of selfishness
was thoroughly awakened. From much experience, I hold this sign to be
infallible, that the sentiment of aristocracy is active and vigilant.
I never yet visited a country in which a minority got into its head
the crotchet it was alone fit to dictate to the rest of its
fellow-creatures, that it did not, without delay, set about proving its
position, by reviling and calling names. In this particular "the few"
are like women, who, conscious of their weakness, seldom fail to make up
for the want of vigor in their limbs, by having recourse to the vigor of
the tongue. The "one" hangs; the "many" command by the dignity of force;
the "few" vituperate and scold. This is, I believe, the case all over
the world, except in those peculiar instances in which the "few" happen
also to enjoy the privilege of hanging.

It is worthy of remark that the terms, "rabble," "disorganizers,"
"jacobins," and "agrarians," [Footnote: It is scarcely necessary to tell
the intelligent reader there is no proof that any political community
was ever so bent on self-destruction as to enact agrarian laws, in
the vulgar sense in which it has suited the arts of narrow-minded
politicians to represent them ever since the revival of letters. The
celebrated agrarian laws of Rome did not essentially differ from the
distribution of our own military lands, or perhaps the similitude is
greater to the modern Russian military colonies. Those who feel an
interest in this subject would do well to consult Niebuhr. NOTE BY THE
EDITOR.] were bandied from one to the other, in Leaplow, under this
malign influence, with precisely the same justice, discrimination,
and taste, as they had been used by my ancestor in London, a few years
before. Like causes notoriously produce like effects; and there is no
one thing so much like an Englishman under the property-fever, as a
Leaplow monikin suffering under the same malady.

The effect produced on the state of parties by the passage of the
shadow of Pecuniary Interest, was so singular as to deserve our notice.
Patriots who had long been known for an indomitable resolution to
support their friends, openly abandoned their claims on the rewards of
the little wheel, and went over to the enemy; and this, too, without
recourse to the mysteries of the "flapjack." Judge People's Friend was
completely annihilated for the moment - so much so, indeed, as to think
seriously of taking another mission - for, during these eclipses, long
service, public virtue, calculated amenity, and all the other bland
qualities of your patriot, pass for nothing, when weighed in the scale
against profit and loss. It was fortunate the Leapthrough question was,
in its essence, so well disposed of, though the uneasiness of those who
bought and sold land by the inch, pushed even that interest before the
public again by insisting that a few millions should be expended in
destroying the munitions of war, lest the nation might improvidently
be tempted to make use of them in the natural way. The cruisers were
accordingly hauled into the stream and converted into tide-mills,
the gun-barrels were transformed into gas-pipes, and the forts were
converted, as fast as possible, into warehouses and tea-gardens. After
this, it was much the fashion to affirm that the advanced state of
civilization had rendered all future wars quite out of the question.
Indeed, the impetus that was given, by the effects of the shadow, in
this way, to humanity in gross, was quite as remarkable as were its
contrary tendencies on humanity in detail.

Public opinion was not backward in showing how completely it was acting
under the influence of the shadow. Virtue began to be estimated by
rent-rolls. The affluent, without hesitation, or, indeed, opposition,
appropriated to themselves the sole use of the word respectable, while
taste, judgment, honesty, and wisdom, dropped like so many heirlooms
quietly into the possession of those who had money. The Leaplowers are
a people of great acuteness, and of singular knowledge of details.
Every considerable man in Bivouac soon had his social station
assigned him, the whole community being divided into classes of
"hundred-thousand-dollar monikins" - "fifty-thousand-dollar
monikins" - "twenty-thousand-dollar monikins." Great conciseness in
language was a consequence of this state of feeling. The old questions
of "is he honest?" "is he capable?" "is he enlightened?" "is he wise?"
"is he good?" being all comprehended in the single interrogatory of "is
he rich?"

There was one effect of this very unusual state of things, that I had
not anticipated. All the money-getting classes, without exception,
showed a singular predilection in favor of what is commonly called a
strong government; being not only a republic, but virtually a democracy,
I found that much the larger portion of this highly respectable class
of citizens, were not at all backward in expressing their wish for a
change.

"How is this?" I demanded of the brigadier, whom I rarely quitted;
for his advice and opinions were of great moment to me, just at this
particular crisis - "how is this, my good friend? I have always been led
to think trade is especially favorable to liberty; and here are all
your commercial interests the loudest in their declamations against the
institutions."

The brigadier smiled; it was but a melancholy smile, after all; for his
spirits appeared to have quite deserted him.

"There are three great divisions among politicians," he said - "they who
do not like liberty at all - they who like it, as low down as their
own particular class - and they who like it for the sake of their
fellow-creatures. The first are not numerous, but powerful by means
of combinations; the second is a very irregular corps, including, as
a matter of course, nearly everybody, but is wanting, of necessity, in
concert and discipline, since no one descends below his own level; the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 30 of 34)