James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 17) online

. (page 32 of 35)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 32 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

crisis "how is this, my good friend? I have


always been led to think that trade is especially
favorable to liberty ; and here are all your com
mercial 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 politi
cians," 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 numer
ous, but powerful by means of combinations ; the
second is a very irregular corps, including, as a
matter of course, nearly every body, but is want
ing, of necessity, in concert and discipline, since no
one descends below his own level ; the 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 con
cert, 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-wrough

444 THE MOfflKIKS.

theory had generally more effect on opinion than
fifty facts; a result that he attributed to the circum
stance of monikins having a besetting predispogition
to save themselves the trouble of thinking.

I was, in particular, struck with the etiect 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 singu
larly sincere and plain-spoken ; and one unaccus
tomed 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, live by their wits.
I will avow that, had it been the fashion to wear
pockets at Leaplow, I should often have been con
cerned for their contents; for sentiments so purely
unsophisticated, were so openly advanced under tho
influence of the shadow, that one was inevitably
led, oftener than was pleasant to think of the rela-


tions between meum and tuum, as well as of the
unexpected causes by which they were sometimes

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 conlre-tems
connected with this affair of motives. The individual
in question had lately performed that which, in most
otl er countries, and under other circumstances,
w uld have passed for an act of creditable national
fe ;ling ; but which, quite as a matter of course, was
e gerly presented to the electors, by his opponents,
; > a proof of his utter unfitness to be intrusted with
' leir interests. The friends of the candidate took
iie 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 abili
ties, 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 pro
duced a piece in which the hero performed prodi
gies 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 man
ner, 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


nad a very respectable run for the rest of the sea
son, though I question if it ever were as popular as
t would nave been, had this precaution been taken
oefore it was first acted.


The importance of motives to a legislator Moral consecutive-
ness, comets, kites, and a convoy; with some e very-day
legislation ; together with cause and effect.

LEGISLATION, during the occultation of the great
moral postulate Principle by the passage of Pecu
niary 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
nouses, for a long time previously, by the inter
ference of various minor satellites. In nothing,
therefore, did the deplorable state of things which
existed make itself more apparent, than in our

As Captain Poke and myself, notwithstanding
our having taken different stands in politics, still
continued to live together, I had better opportuni
ties 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 conversa
tion, too, soon betrayed a leaning to his personal in
terests, instead of being of that pure and elevated
cast which should characterize the language of a


statesman. He laid down the position, prett> dog
matically, 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 com
plicated 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


^pwt^~ * r

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 signals 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 did n'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 insignt into
the nature of one set of political leaders in Leap-
low, 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 organ
izations, that your Leaplow patriot is so very
remarkable for going round and round a subject,
without ever touching it.

As an ofF-set to this party arrangement, the Per
pendiculars have taken refuge in the God-likes. A
God-like, in Leaplow politics, in some respects re
sembles a saint in the Catholic calendar; that is to
ay, 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 think
ing. Thinking in company, like travelling in com
pany, 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 what
ever direction most pleases himself, and feel confi
dent, 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 rail
road train. As that goes, this follows; faster or
slower, the movement is certain to be accompa
nied ; 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 imi
tated, 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 Rid
dle, It was the object of Noah to hitch on to one of


these moral steam-tugs, in order that he too might
oe 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 prac
tice of expecting by way of conjecture, " I expect
this is the reason why the Leaplowers dock them
selves. 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

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 experi
ment, 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 wha'
his God-like thought about it, and to vote accord
ingly. Then he saved himself a great deal of breath
in the way of argument out of doors, for he and


the rest of the clientelle of this Riddle, having offi
cially invested their patron with all their own parts,
the result had been such an accumulation of know
ledge in this one individual, as enabled them ordina
rily 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 opin
ion, 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 opinions of even a God-like, for moni-
kin 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 tfcis.
The city of Bivouac was divided into 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 por
tions of the capital by causeways, and a law to that
effect had been introduced in the house. Every-
oody, 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 of
Pecuniary Interest, would very plausibly suppose
.hat the whole affair lay in a nut-shell, and that al
we had to do was to pass a law ordering the cause
ways to extend just as far as the public conve
nience 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 cause
ways, 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 revolu
tion. It was the general idea that by filling in with
dirt, a new town might be built wherever the cause
way 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
ef heroes.

On this great question, for it had, in truth, become
of the last importance by dragging into its consider
ation most of the leading measures of the day, as
well as six or seven of the principal ordinances of
Jie Great National Allegory, the respective parti
sans logically contending that, for the time being,
nothing should advance a foot in Leapiow that did
not travel along that causeway, Noah determined
to take an independent stand. This resolution was


not lightly formed, for he remained rather unde
cided, until, by waiting a sufficient time, he felt
quite persuaded that nothing was to be got by fol
lowing 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 con
sented 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 hos
tile 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 ex
pect 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 narra
tive, simply because it is usually in the dilemma of
a disputed proposition.

No sooner was the result known, than my wor
thy colleague came round to the Horizontal side
of the house, to express his satisfaction with him
self 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 cur
rency in promises ; and fair words, at his time of
life, did n'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 b without anything, as they who had *elt


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 did n't care a straw which way his kite-tail
(Noah's manner of pronouncing dientelle) voted.
In short, he defied any one say aught 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 inhu-
mans 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 prom
ised 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, unwit
tingly, into any more offences of quoting its opin
ions, 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 beg-


gar, that he had seen. Astonished to hear that my
colleague had fallen into this disfavor with his con
stituents, 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 con
science, 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 Cap
tain laid before us six or seven of the leading jour
nals 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.

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 32 of 35)