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third are but few, alas, how few! and are composed of those who look
beyond their own selfishness. Now, your merchants, dwelling in towns,
and possessing concert, means, and identity of interests, have been able
to make themselves remarkable for contending with despotic power, a
fact which has obtained for them a cheap reputation for liberality of
opinion; but, so far as monikin experience goes - men may have proved
to be better disposed - no government that is essentially influenced by
commerce has ever been otherwise than exclusive, or aristocratic."

I bethought me of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, the Hanse Towns, and all the
other remarkable places of this character in Europe, and I felt the
justice of my friend's distinction, at the same time I could not but
observe how much more the minds of men are under the influence of names
and abstractions than under the influence of positive things. To this
opinion the brigadier very readily assented, remarking, at the same
time, that a well-wrought theory had generally more effect on opinion
than fifty facts; a result that he attributed to the circumstance
of monikins having a besetting predisposition to save themselves the
trouble of thinking.

I was, in particular, struck with the effect of the occultation of
Principle on motives. I had often remarked that it was by no means safe
to depend on one's own motives, for two sufficient reasons; first,
that we did not always know what our own motives were; and secondly,
admitting that we did, it was quite unreasonable to suppose that our
friends would believe them what we thought them to be ourselves. In
the present instance, every monikin seemed perfectly aware of the
difficulty; and, instead of waiting for his acquaintances to attribute
some moral enormity as his governing reason, he prudently adopted a
moderately selfish inducement for his acts, which he proclaimed with
a simplicity and frankness that generally obtained credit. Indeed, the
fact once conceded that the motive was not offensively disinterested and
just, no one was indisposed to listen to the projects of his friend,
who usually rose in estimation, as he was found to be ingenious,
calculating, and shrewd. The effect of all this was to render society
singularly sincere and plain-spoken; and one unaccustomed to so much
ingenuousness, or who was ignorant of the cause, might, plausibly
enough, suppose, at times, that accident had thrown him into an
extraordinary association with so many ARTISTES, who, as it is commonly
expressed, lived by their wits. I will avow that, had it been the
fashion to wear pockets at Leaplow, I should often have been concerned
for their contents; for sentiments so purely unsophisticated, were
so openly advanced under the influence of the shadow, that one was
inevitably led, oftener than was pleasant, to think of the relations
between meum and tuum, as well as of the unexpected causes by which they
were sometimes disturbed.

A vacancy occurred, the second day of the eclipse, among the
representatives of Bivouac, and the candidate of the Horizontals would
certainly have been chosen to fill it, but for a contretemps connected
with this affair of motives. The individual in question had lately
performed that which, in most other countries, and under other
circumstances, would have passed for an act of creditable national
feeling; but which, quite as a matter of course, was eagerly presented
to the electors, by his opponents, as a proof of his utter unfitness to
be intrusted with their interests. The friends of the candidate took
the alarm, and indignantly denied the charges of the Perpendiculars,
affirming that their monikin had been well paid for what he had done.
In an evil hour, the candidate undertook to explain, by means of a
handbill, in which he stated that he had been influenced by no other
motive than a desire to do that which he believed to be right. Such a
person was deemed to be wanting in natural abilities, and, as a matter
of course, he was defeated; for your Leaplow elector was not such an ass
as to confide the care of his interests to one who knew so little how to
take care of his own.

About this time, too, a celebrated dramatist produced a piece in which
the hero performed prodigies under the excitement of patriotism, and the
labor of his pen was incontinently damned for his pains; both pit and
boxes - the galleries dissenting - deciding that it was out of all nature
to represent a monikin incurring danger in this unheard-of manner,
without a motive. The unhappy wight altered the last scene, by causing
his hero to be rewarded by a good, round sum of money, when the piece
had a very respectable run for the rest of the season, though I question
if it ever were as popular as it would have been, had this precaution
been taken before it was first acted.




CHAPTER XXVIII. THE IMPORTANCE OF MOTIVES TO A LEGISLATOR - MORAL
CONSECUTIVENESS, COMETS, KITES, AND A CONVOY; WITH SOME EVERY-DAY
LEGISLATION; TOGETHER WITH CAUSE AND EFFECT.


Legislation, during the occultation of the great moral postulate
Principle by the passage of Pecuniary Interest, is, at the best, but a
melancholy affair. It proved to be peculiarly so with us just at that
moment, for the radiance of the divine property had been a good deal
obscured in the houses, for a long time previously, by the interference
of various minor satellites. In nothing, therefore, did the deplorable
state of things which existed make itself more apparent, than in our
proceedings.

As Captain Poke and myself, notwithstanding our having taken different
stands in politics, still continued to live together, I had better
opportunities to note the workings of the obscuration on the ingenuous
mind of my colleague than on that of most other persons. He early began
to keep a diary of his expenses, regularly deducting the amount at night
from the sum of eight dollars, and regarding the balance as so much
clear gain. His conversation, too, soon betrayed a leaning to his
personal interests, instead of being of that pure and elevated cast
which should characterize the language of a statesman. He laid down the
position, pretty dogmatically, that legislation, after all, was work;
that "the laborer was worthy of his hire"; and that, for his part, he
felt no great disposition to go through the vexation and trouble of
helping to make laws, unless he could see, with a reasonable certainty,
that something was to be got by it. He thought Leaplow had quite laws
enough as it was - more than she respected or enforced - and if she wanted
any more, all she had to do was to pay for them. He should take an early
occasion to propose that all our wages - or, at any rate, his own; others
might do as they pleased - should be raised, at the very least, two
dollars a day, and this while he merely sat in the house; for he wished
to engage me to move, by way of amendment, that as much more should
be given to the committees. He did not think it was fair to exact of
a member to be a committee-man for nothin', although most of them were
committee-men for nothin'; and if we were called on to keep two watches,
in this manner, the least that could be done would be to give us TWO
PAYS. He said, considering it in the most favorable point of view, that
there was great wear and tear of brain in legislation, and he should
never be the man he was before he engaged in the trade; he assured me
that his idees, sometimes, were so complicated that he did not know
where to find the one he wanted, and that he had wished for a cauda, a
thousand times, since he had been in the house, for, by keeping the
end of it in his hand, like the bight of a rope, he might always have
suthin' tangible to cling to. He told me, as a great secret, that he was
fairly tired of rummaging among his thoughts for the knowledge necessary
to understand what was going on, and that he had finally concluded
to put himself, for the rest of the session, under the convoy of a
God-like. He had been looking out for a fit fugleman of this sort, and
he had pretty much determined to follow the signal of the great God-like
of the Parpendic'lars, like the rest of them, for it would occasion less
confusion in the ranks, and enable him to save himself a vast deal of
trouble in making up his mind. He didn't know, on the whole, but eight
dollars a day might give a living profit, provided he could throw all
the thinking on his God-like, and turn his attention to suthin' else;
he thought of writing his v'y'ges, for he understood that anything from
foreign parts took like wild-fire in Leaplow; and if they didn't take,
he could always project charts for a living.

Perhaps it will be necessary to explain what Noah meant by saying that
he thought of engaging a God-like. The reader has had some insight into
the nature of one set of political leaders in Leaplow, who are known by
the name of the Most Patriotic Patriots. These persons, it is scarcely
necessary to say, are always with the majority, or in a situation to
avail themselves of the evolutions of the little wheel. Their great
rotatory principle keeps them pretty constantly in motion, it is true;
but while there is a centrifugal force to maintain this action, great
care has been had to provide a centripetal counterpoise, in order to
prevent them from bolting out of the political orbit. It is supposed
to be owing to this peculiarity in their party organizations, that
your Leaplow patriot is so very remarkable for going round and round a
subject, without ever touching it.

As an offset to this party arrangement, the Perpendiculars have taken
refuge in the God-likes. A God-like, in Leaplow politics, in some
respects resembles a saint in the Catholic calendar; that is to say, he
is canonized, after passing through a certain amount of temptation and
vice with a whole skin; after having his cause pleaded for a certain
number of years before the high authorities of his party; and, usually,
after having had a pretty good taste of purgatory. Canonization
attained, however, all gets to be plain sailing with him. He is spared,
singular as it may appear, even a large portion of his former "wear and
tear" of brains, as Noah had termed it, for nothing puts one so much at
liberty in this respect, as to have full powers to do all the thinking.
Thinking in company, like travelling in company, requires that we should
have some respect to the movements, wishes, and opinions of others; but
he who gets a carte blanche for his sentiments, resembles the uncaged
bird, and may fly in whatever direction most pleases himself, and feel
confident, as he goes, that his ears will be saluted with the usual
traveller's signal of "all's right." I can best compare the operation of
your God-like and his votaries, to the action of a locomotive with
its railroad train. As that goes, this follows; faster or slower, the
movement is certain to be accompanied; when the steam is up they fly,
when the fire is out they crawl, and that, too, with a very uneasy sort
of motion; and when a bolt is broken, they who have just been riding
without the smallest trouble to themselves, are compelled to get out
and push the load ahead as well as they can, frequently with very rueful
faces, and in very dirty ways. The cars whisk about, precisely as the
locomotive whisks about, all the turn-outs are necessarily imitated,
and, in short, one goes after the other very much as it is reasonable to
suppose will happen when two bodies are chained together, and the
entire moving power is given to only one of them. A God-like in Leaplow,
moreover, is usually a Riddle. It was the object of Noah to hitch on
to one of these moral steam-tugs, in order that he too might be dragged
through his duties without effort to himself; an expedient, as the old
sealer expressed it, that would in some degree remedy his natural want
of a cauda, by rendering him nothing but tail.

"I expect, Sir John," he said, for he had a practice of expecting by
way of conjecture, "I expect this is the reason why the Leaplowers dock
themselves. They find it more convenient to give up the management of
their affairs to some one of these God-likes, and fall into his wake
like the tail of a comet, which makes it quite unnecessary to have any
other cauda."

"I understand you; they amputate to prevent tautology."

Noah rarely spoke of any project until his mind was fairly made up; and
the execution usually soon followed the proposition. The next thing I
heard of him, therefore, he was fairly under the convoy, as he called
it, of one of the most prominent of the Riddles. Curious to know how he
liked the experiment, after a week's practice, I called his attention to
the subject, by a pretty direct inquiry.

He told me it was altogether the pleasantest mode of legislating that
had ever been devised. He was now perfectly master of his own time, and
in fact, he was making out a set of charts for the Leaplow marine, a
task that was likely to bring him in a good round sum, as pumpkins were
cheap, and in the polar seas he merely copied the monikin authorities,
and out of it he had things pretty much his own way. As for the Great
Allegory, when he wanted a hint about it, or, indeed, about any other
point at issue, all he had to do was to inquire what his God-like
thought about it, and to vote accordingly. Then he saved himself a great
deal of breath in the way of argument out of doors, for he and the rest
of the clientele of this Riddle, having officially invested their patron
with all their own parts, the result had been such an accumulation of
knowledge in this one individual, as enabled them ordinarily to floor
any antagonist by the simple quotation of his authority. Such or such
is the opinion of God-like this or of God-like that, was commonly
sufficient; and then there was no lack of material, for he had taken
care to provide himself with a Riddle who, he really believed, had given
an opinion, at some time or other, on every side of every subject
that had ever been mooted in Leaplow. He could nullify, or mollify, or
qualify, with the best of them; and these, which he termed the three
fies, he believed were the great requisites of a Leaplow legislator.
He admitted, however, that some show of independence was necessary,
in order to give value to the opinion of even a God-like, for monikin
nature revolted at anything like total mental dependence; and that he
had pretty much made up his mind to think for himself on a question that
was to be decided that very day.

The case to which the captain alluded was this. The city of Bivouac was
divided in three pretty nearly equal parts which were separated from
each other by two branches of a marsh; one part of the town being on a
sort of island, and the other two parts on the respective margins of the
low land. It was very desirable to connect these different portions of
the capital by causeways, and a law to that effect had been introduced
in the house. Everybody, in or out of the house, was in favor of the
project, for the causeways had become, in some measure, indispensable.
The only disputed point was the length of the works in question. One who
is but little acquainted with legislation, and who has never witnessed
the effects of an occultation of the great moral postulate Principle, by
the orb Pecuniary Interest, would very plausibly suppose that the whole
affair lay in a nutshell, and that all we had to do was to pass a law
ordering the causeways to extend just as far as the public convenience
rendered it necessary. But these are mere tyros in the affairs of
monikins. The fact was that there were just as many different opinions
and interests at work to regulate the length of the causeways, as there
were, owners of land along their line of route. The great object was to
start in what was called the business quarter of the town, and then
to proceed with the work as far as circumstances would allow. We had
propositions before us in favor of from one hundred feet as far as up to
ten thousand. Every inch was fought for with as much obstinacy as if
it were an important breach that was defended; and combinations and
conspiracies were as rife as if we were in the midst of a revolution. It
was the general idea that by filling in with dirt, a new town might be
built wherever the causeway terminated, and fortunes made by an act of
parliament. The inhabitants of the island rallied en masse against
the causeway leading one inch from their quarter, after it had fairly
reached it; and, so throughout the entire line, monikins battled for
what they called their interests, with an obstinacy worthy of heroes.

On this great question, for it had, in truth, become of the last
importance by dragging into its consideration most of the leading
measures of the day, as well as six or seven of the principal ordinances
of the Great National Allegory, the respective partisans logically
contending that, for the time being, nothing should advance a foot in
Leaplow that did not travel along that causeway, Noah determined to take
an independent stand. This resolution was not lightly formed, for he
remained rather undecided, until, by waiting a sufficient time, he
felt quite persuaded that nothing was to be got by following any other
course. His God-like luckily was in the same predicament, and everything
promised a speedy occasion to show the world what it was to act on
principle; and this, too, in the middle of a moral eclipse.

When the question came to be discussed, the landholders along the first
line of the causeway were soon reasoned down by the superior interests
of those who lived on the island. The rub was, the point of permitting
the work to go any further. The islanders manifested great liberality,
according to their account of themselves; for they even consented that
the causeway should be constructed on the other marsh to precisely such
a distance as would enable any one to go as near as possible to the
hostile quarter, without absolutely entering it. To admit the latter,
they proved to demonstration, would be changing the character of their
own island from that of an entrepot to that of a mere thoroughfare. No
reasonable monikin could expect it of them.

As the Horizontals, by some calculation that I never understood, had
satisfied themselves it might better answer their purposes to construct
the entire work, than to stop anywhere between the two extremes, my duty
was luckily, on this occasion, in exact accordance with my opinions;
and, as a matter of course, I voted, this time, in a way of which I
could approve. Noah, finding himself a free agent, now made his push for
character, and took sides with us. Very fortunately we prevailed, all
the beaten interests joining themselves, at the last moment, to the
weakest side, or, in other words, to that which was right; and Leaplow
presented the singular spectacle of having a just enactment passed
during the occultation of the great moral postulate, so often named. I
ought to mention that I have termed principle a postulate, throughout
this narrative, simply because it is usually in the dilemma of a
disputed proposition.

No sooner was the result known, than my worthy colleague came round
to the Horizontal side of the house, to express his satisfaction with
himself for the course he had just taken. He said it was certainly very
convenient and very labor-saving to obey a God-like, and that he got on
much better with his charts now he was at liberty to give his whole mind
to the subject; but there was suthin' - he didn't know what - but "a sort
of Stunin'tun feeling" in doing what one thought right, after all, that
caused him to be glad that he had voted for the whole causeway. He did
not own any land in Leaplow, and therefore he concluded that what he had
done, he had done for the best; at any rate, if he had got nothin' by
it, he had lost nothin' by it, and he hoped all would come right in the
end. The people of the island, it is true, had talked pretty fair about
what they would do for those who should sustain their interests, but he
had got sick of a currency in promises; and fair words, at his time
of life, didn't go for much; and so, on the whole, he had pretty much
concluded to do as he had done. He thought no one could call in question
his vote, for he was just as poor and as badly off now he had voted, as
he was while he was making up his mind. For his part, he shouldn't be
ashamed, hereafter, to look both Deacon Snort and the Parson in the
face, when he got home, or even Miss Poke. He knew what it was to have a
clean conscience, as well as any man; for none so well knew what it was
to be without anything, as they who had felt by experience its want. His
God-like was a very labor-saving God-like, but he had found, on inquiry,
that he came from another part of the island, and that he didn't care a
straw which way his kite-tail (Noah's manner of pronouncing clientele)
voted. In short, he defied any one to say ought ag'in' him this time,
and he was not sorry the occasion had offered to show his independence,
for his enemies had not been backward in remarking that, for some days,
he had been little better than a speaking-trumpet to roar out anything
his God-like might wish to have proclaimed. He concluded by stating that
he could not hold out much longer without meat of some sort or other,
and by begging that I would second a resolution he thought of offering,
by which regular substantial rations were to be dealt out to all the
human part of the house. The inhumans might live upon nuts still, if
they liked them.

I remonstrated against the project of the rations, made a strong appeal
to his pride, by demonstrating that we should be deemed little better
than brutes if we were seen eating flesh, and advised him to cause
some of his nuts to be roasted, by way of variety. After a good deal of
persuasion, he promised further abstinence, although he went away with a
singularly carnivorous look about the mouth, and an eye that spoke pork
in every glance.

I was at home the next day, busy with my friend the brigadier, in
looking over the Great National Allegory, with a view to prevent
falling, unwittingly, into any more offences of quoting its opinions,
when Noah burst into the room, as rabid as a wolf that had been bitten
by a whole pack of hounds. Such, indeed, was, in some measure, his
situation; for, according to his statement, he had been baited that
morning, in the public streets even, by every monikin, monikina,
monikino, brat, and beggar, that he had seen. Astonished to hear that
my colleague had fallen into this disfavor with his constitutents, I was
not slow in asking an explanation.

The captain affirmed that the matter was beyond the reach of any
explanation it was in his power to give. He had voted in the affair of
the causeway, in strict conformity with the dictates of his conscience,
and yet here was the whole population accusing him of bribery - nay,
even the journals had openly flouted at him for what they called his
barefaced and flagrant corruption. Here the captain laid before us six
or seven of the leading journals of Bivouac, in all of which his late
vote was treated with quite as little ceremony as if it had been an
unequivocal act of sheep-stealing.

I looked at my friend the brigadier for an explanation. After running
his eye over the articles in the journals, the latter smiled, and cast a
look of commiseration at our colleague.

"You have certainly committed a grave fault here, my friend," he said,
"and one that is seldom forgiven in Leaplow - perhaps I might say never,
during the occultation of the great moral postulate, as happens to be
the case at present."

"Tell me my sins at once, brigadier," cried Noah, with the look of a
martyr, "and put me out of pain."

"You have forgotten to display a motive for your stand during the late
hot discussion; and, as a matter of course, the community ascribes the
worst that monikin ingenuity can devise. Such an oversight would ruin
even a God-like!"

"But, my dear Mr. Downright," I kindly interposed, "our colleague, in
this instance, is supposed to have acted on principle."

The brigadier looked up, turning his nose into the air, like a pup that
has not yet opened its eyes, and then intimated that he could not see
the quality I had named, it being obscured by the passage of the orb of
Pecuniary Interest before its disc. I now began to comprehend the case,
which really was much more grave than, at first, I could have believed
possible. Noah himself seemed staggered; for, I believe, he had fallen
on the simple and natural expedient of inquiring what he himself would



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 31 of 34)