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THE PURITAN:



A SERIES OF ESSAYS,



CRITICAL, MORAL, AND MISCELLANEOUS



BY JOHN OLDBUG, ESQ.




, Gen. xxxvii. 19.



VOL. II.






BOSTON:
PUBLISHED BY PERKINS & MARVIN.

PHILADELPHIA :
HENRY PERKINS.

1836.




TO



Entered according to Act of Congress, in tke year 1836,

By PERKINS & MARVIN,
in the Clerk s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.



CONTENTS TO VOLUME II.



Number. Page.

XXXT. The Value of General Principles, 9

XXXII. The same subject A Touch on Abolitionism, .... 16

XXXIII. Hebrew Poetry, 24

XXXIV. The same subject continued, 34

XXXV. The Morality of Macbeth, 43

XXXVI. The Great Change, 58

XXXVII. Female Influence, 64

XXXVIII. The Good Wife, 71

XXXIX. Emulation in Schools, 79

XL. Same subject continued, 93

XLI. The River of Life, 106

XLII. The Love of Solitude no Test of Virtue Rousseau A

Sonnet, 114

XLTII. Caucuses The Necessity and Wisdom of them, ... 120

XLIV. Town Meeting Described The Learned Cobbler, ... 127

XLV. Squire Wilson, or the Village Politician His Epitaph, . 134

XL VI. Mysteries and Mystification, 140



IV

XL VII. Republicanism Favorable to Love and Domestic Enjoy
mentThe Art of Courting, 147

XLVIII. A Love Story, 153

XLIX. An Oration for the Fourth of July The Popular Style

Imitated, 160

L. What is Truth ? 189

LI. The Law of Laws, 192

LII. A Sick Bed Poetry, 199

LI 1 1. Human Life Depression not Repentance, 205

LIV. The Bird s Nest in the Moon, 216

LV. A Man made Houseless by his House, 229

LVI. The Golden Image, 235

LVII. The Ship with too Much Sail and too Little Ballast, . . 241

LVIII. Morbid Poetry Home-sickness, 247

LIX. Character of American Periodical Writers Franklin

Dickinson Fiske Dennie Sampson, and others, . . 255

LX. A Farewell to the Reader, 263



THE

TJNIVEESITY




THE PURITAN.



No. 31.

Find out moon-shine ; find out moon-shine.

Midsummer Night s Dream.

I HAVE illustrated the vagueness of general terms,
(out of which general principles must be formed,)
in instances brought from material objects ; because
such exemplifications are most clear and convincing.
But the remark is stronger when applied to intellect
uals. Of these, the most specific parts are more dark
than of tangible substances ; and of course general
terms must increase the obscurity. " Indeed," says
one of the greatest metaphysicians of our own country,
"there is a vast indistinctness, and unfixedness in
most, or at least very many of the terms used to ex
press things pertaining to moral and spiritual matters.
Whence arise innumerable mistakes, strong preju
dices, inextricable confusion, and endless contro



versy ! "



VOL. II.



10 THE PURITAN.

Now in forming general terms in politics or morals,
the authors of them must have two objects in view
their inclusiveness, and their clearness. If a general
term be very wide, it of course must be very inclu
sive ; it must embrace all the cases, which the speaker
wishes to cover ; and the wider the general resem
blances, the less the approximation to perspicuity in
particular cases. I speak of a fish, for example ; and
I wish to include in that term, all the living creatures
which inhabit the waters. But it may mean a large
fish or a small one, a whale or a minnow, a shell fish
or a fish with a skin, a halibut or an eel. Now it
has been unfortunate, especially in immaterial things,
that writers have been more intent on the inclusive-
ness of their general terms, than on their clearness.
The question has not been so much, how much infor
mation will the term convey, as whether it covers the
whole ground ; and hence the accuracy of the philos
opher has only been the darkness of the man. The
fact is, that these two things hold an inverse ratio to
each other. This is the misfortune of all generic
philosophy. It only turns to us the darkest side of
things. As you make a term inclusive, you must of
course make it obscure. As a sun placed in a remote
quarter of the heavens, becomes to a spectator on this
earth, a twinkling star, shedding a feeble light, and
only useful as a guide-mark to a wanderer on the
wilderness or ocean, so a truth pushed to its highest
generality, becomes less clear, even should its true-



THE PURITAN. 11

ness not be lost. Or, it is like a candle in a room,
which reflects much light when its rays are confined
and returned by the walls ; but remove the walls, and
its straggling lustre, in the wide expanse of darkness
around it, is in danger of being lost.

Let us illustrate this by an example. Suppose I
am asking what is the nature of virtue. It is evident
here that I wish to find some term, which will cover
all the cases in which virtue can be found. If I leave
out one instance, or class of instances, my definition
is not complete. I fix my mind on this fact, and pro
ceed with this fear before my eyes. In other words,
it is obvious that I am attending to the inclusiveness
of my definition. As if I were drawing out a piece
of wax, to see how far its tenacity could be carried ;
it is certain I should not care how fine the thread was,
provided it did not absolutely break. But I may
stretch my wax so that the thread may become almost
invisible ; and I may make my definition so inclusive
as to make its clearness almost lost. In either ease,
I may gain my object on one side. I may show how
ductile the wax is, and how inclusive my terms are ;
but then, I lose on the other side, and the collective
advantages, required in this world of experience and
practice, are perhaps comparatively unseen. The
definition of virtue, I affirm to be benevolence. This
is a very general word, coming from the Latin bene
and volo to wish well; to have a good will to any
person or object. In this definition, I am anxious to



12 THE PURITAN.

include all the cases of virtue which can occur in im
agination or practice. But any word placed in that
position insensibly gets an enlarged character^ frit
borrows its chief force from its place ; it receives as
much light from the thing it seems to illuminate, as it
can possibly communicate to it. Two general prin
ciples, laid beside each other, are like two parallel
lines ; you may dispute endlessly, which is the primi
tive standard of comparison. The one has as much
right to that term as the other.

If instead of saying that the foundation of all virtue
is benevolence, I should say that it was cJiamasish a
word borrowed from the language of Nootka Sound
the hearer would immediately wish to know what this
word means. I could only answer him by saying it
means the soul and essence of all virtue ; and this
definition would be much more clear than benevo
lence ; for the word chamasish has none of those
more specific expressions which always cleave to a
term, when we lift it up from common use, to generic
regions ; and cleave to it in spite of our definitions.
But such a word shows at once, that our definition is
reciprocal ; and of course, lets in very little light on
the recrion of truth.

O

There are two reasons, which make the terms of
the widest generality proportionally obscure ; and the
maxims we form by them. In the first place, it is
hard to know whether they are true ; and secondly,
supposing their truth, it is harder to make the specific



THE PURITAN. 13

deductions ; for both which reasons, I have always
had a less value for broad maxims in politics and re
ligion, than some seem to put on them. I say not
that they are useless ; but the light is so distant, as to
shed very little radiance of any practical utility on
my private and purblind path.

Yet it is precisely these principles, formed by the
coldest philosophers in their closets, that have had the
greatest agency in exciting the popular passions, and
setting the world on fire. Robespierre kept all
France in commotion, and the guillotine moving, by
certain abstract principles, taken from Helvetius and
Rousseau ; and I have seen religious books which
seem to make the very fate of the gospel depend on
the definition of virtue, i. e. that it is impartial benev
olence. New England is not the only country, in
which a lens of ice, taken from a polar sea of philoso
phy, has become a glass to collect the rays of the sun
to a focus, and pour them on the regions of the burn
ing line of popular excitement. Why is it so ? How
can so much passion come from such inadequate
means ? How can you make men fight for a meta
physical abstraction ? Nothing is more common ;
and the reason is because the mind admires the vast,
the immense, the indefinite ; and where the object is
obscure, the passions will be proportionably inflamed.

The truth is, the value of a general principle de
pends almost wholly on the deductions you make from
it. Spinoza taught that all things were but develop-



14 THE PURITAN.

ments of God ; confounding the author with his work,
he made man, and all material things, but particles of
the Deity ; certain deductions were made of himself,
or followers from this system, which struck mankind
with horror. A pious divine of our own country,
given too much perhaps to abstract speculation, ap
proached very near to the same general principle.
He too, taught, that all we see, and are, are in a sense
but the developments of God. But his deductions
were pious, and his general principles were embraced
by a numerous class of devoted Christians. In the
days of the French Revolution, thrones were over
turned, churches robbed, the nobles chased from the
land, property confiscated, and the sanctuary of
private rights invaded by the rude hand of ruffian
violence, under the shelter of the general principles
of liberty and equality. I too, believe in liberty and
equality ; and adopt these words in what I conceive
their most rigorous sense. I believe it is departing
from the principles of equality, that our land is now
suffering all the evils that open upon us, and will open
us, until we learn to make wiser deductions from this
noble principle. For what is liberty? Not the lib
erty to do wrong. What is equality ? Not the
equality of property, but of rights. Now when we can
found our republic on strict equality, the only equality
which justice allows that is, when those men only
vote in the disposal of property, who have property at
stake ; our frame of government may stand, and not



THE PURITAN. 15

before. Universal suffrage is one of the grossest
violations of political equality ; and unless it is re
strained, or modified, our liberty will be destroyed.
But we see, at any rate, that the truth of the principle
depends on the deductions we make from it. The
light of the sun will be colored by the glass through
which we permit it to enter our room.



THE PURITAN

No. 32.



He could raise scruples dark and nice,
And after solve em in a trice ;
As if divinity had catch d
The itch, on purpose to be scratch d ;
Or, like a mountebank, did wound
And stab herself with doubts profound,
Only to show with how small pain
The sores of faith are heal d again ;
Although by woful proof we find,
They always leave a scar behind.

Hiidibras, Canto I.

THUS we find the value of general principles have
been vastly overrated ; their inclusiveness diminishing
their perspicuity, and leaving room for a diversity of
deductions, according to the fancy or prejudices of
the holder.

If we should suppose a candle placed before a
female domestic, and ask what point of knowledge
was most valuable to her, as to any use which she
could apply it, we shall find, that v^at she needs to



THE PURITAN. 17

know is, that the object is a candle ; that is, a sub
stance made of tallow, and a cotton wick, and that it
will burn and give light on the application of fire or
a match ; and if you go higher in the generic scale,
in proportion as you ascend, you communicate a kind
of knowledge she is less and less interested to acquire.
You may tell her that it is a compound of animal
and vegetable matter ; very well, the knowledge is
of some importance ; it may teach her the source
from which candles are derived, but hardly how to
light them : or, you may tell her that it is matter ;
very well, that teaches her to distinguish it from
spirit: or, you may say it is a created substance;
that will teach her not to be a Spinozaist. But every
step you take in the ascending scale, you depart from
those qualities which bear on practice, and constitute
real knowledge. Just so it is in intellectual generali
zation ; what we are most interested to know, is the
nearest class to which they belong. It is a matter of
gratitude, that the useful is most clear.

To illustrate the vagueness of the most general
principles on which philosophy attempts to build her
splendid but changing fabrics, it may be remarked,
that though volumes have been written on politics,
and the most comprehensive minds have encountered
the theme, yet they have never been able to build up
a consistent system as a legitimate deduction from
first principles. This is one of the chief sources of
the perplexity of the subject, and may be one reason



18 THE PURITAN.

why men have been so long banded into parties. In
every age, there are certain interminable questions
which are always debated and never settled, and
which will continue to employ the ingenuity, and ex
cite the passions of mankind, until Infinite Perfection
takes the reins of government into his own hands,
and all debate is lost in the perfection of his sway.
Respecting the origin of government, there appears
to be two theories, the one or the other of which you
must adopt, as there is seen no possible third supposi
tion. You must either say, with Filmer and all high
tories, that kings reign by a divine right, and all
popular privileges are a concession from their good
ness; or you must conclude, with Hooker and Locke,
that all government is founded on consent ; it origi
nated from the people, and is a power held in trust ;
and if so, it may be abused, it may be forfeited, and
the people may resume their rights. This lays a
broad foundation for republicanism. Now whichever
of these theories you adopt, you may make a train of
deductions from them, by the strictest logic, which is
utterly inconsistent with the welfare of mankind. If
you say that kings reign by a divine right, accounta
ble indeed to God, but to no lower power, why then,
see ! you establish tyranny ; every invasion on the
prerogatives of the most absolute despot, unless he
consent, is an usurpation ; and the people are nailed
down to a servitude which no wisdom can soften, and
no time remove. The Dey of Algiers must reign



THE PURITAN. 19

forever ; he must riot in blood, and the people must
submit. If, on the other hand, you say that the chief
magistrate holds his power in trust, and the people
may resume their delegated rights, it then becomes
a question, when; how; in whose judgment; has
the trust been forfeited, and who shall say when the
power shall be resumed ? If you answer with Dr.
Paley, that each man must judge for himself, (and
there appears on these principles no other answer
possible,) why, then, see ! what a string of conse
quences you open to mankind. Carry these princi
ples out, and I see not how any government can
stand. For as soon as its laws pinch on my interest,
I denounce their justice ; I say the trust is forfeited ;
I resume my original rights. The people are the
judges in the last appeal, and I ain one of the people.
On these principles, popular commotions are vindica-
ble ; Lynch law becomes the last resource of justice ;
and as soon as the sovereign mob choose to say that
magistrates are useless, and courts have abused their
trusts, how will you cross their path by your general
principles ? They only teach that the sovereign
people, free, enlightened, and competent to their high
station, are the sources of all power, and were sent
into the world to judge of their rulers, and not to
obey them.

Such is the difficulty of founding politics on gen
eral principles, so clear, that no bad deduction can
be made from them. You must take your choice
between these two theories ; and yet of these two



20 THE PURITAN.

only schemes, the one leads to anarchy, and the other
to despotism ; the one is a river that stagnates and
fills the atmosphere with putrefaction ; the other is a
torrent which roars to destruction.

Of all the great men who have looked down on the
sphere of politics, from a throne of light, it appears
to me that Edmund Burke was one who had his mind
most stored with general principles. It is well known
that this great man was charged with inconsistency ;
though, I suspect, that his was the inconsistency
of the boatman, who leans to the one or the other
side of his skiff, as he sees it incline by the passen
gers, or dip in the waves. When he considered the
influence of the crown as too strong, he was on the
side of liberty ; and when he saw French principles
breaking in like a torrent, he changed his ground
only to meet the change of circumstances. This, I
consider as the truest consistency. But perhaps part
of that wise man s deviations in principles, is owing
to the fact, that in politics, no general principles can
be found which suit all occasions ; and that God has
decreed that we should feel our way through fragmen
tary knowledge ; and that to complete a system, is a
proof rather of the ambition, than of the wisdom of
him who attempts it.

If the subject were not so delicate, I might show
the same thing in theology. You must either admit
or deny the foreknowledge of God ; yet what a train
of deductions can be made from either of the postu
lates of this dilemma !



THE PURITAN. 21

There is one general principle that is now setting
our land on fire. All men are born free and equal,
have certain inalienable rights ; and therefore it is
wrong for man to hold property in man. Slavery is a
sin, and ought immediately to be abandoned. But
surely these principles, so clear in their abstraction,
so congenial to the purest sentiments of liberty and
religion, cannot be maintained, as justifying certain
obvious deductions, independent of all the conditions
of time and place. In Algiers, I may say, that all
men are born free and equal ; but if I proceed to
strip the Dey of his usurped power, and restore the
people to their original rights, without instruction,
without preparation, I shall only change a government
which accomplishes the objects of government imper
fectly, for anarchy ; and I shall fill the streets with
blood. So with respect to the other part of these
propositions. Slavery is a sin, and ought immediately
to be abandoned. I suppose any rational man would
say that the word ought, refers only to what is possible;
for, impossibitium nulla rst obl tgatio, there is no obli
gation which binds to impossibilities ; and in a vast
political movement, I take it, an impossibility is, that
the instant removal of which will be attended with
greater evils than the temporary continuance. At
any rate, let a man beware, because a principle is
clear in the abstract, that it is therefore equally clear
in its application to every possible, practical case.
The maintaining of which position has been the



22 THE PURITAN.

source of half the political and moral delusions which
have distracted our earth.

The object of these remarks, is not to prove the
entire uselessness of general principles, even when
they are most general. They certainly show an
object on one side, or rather on one point, and will
always be followed out by all analytic minds. I only
wish to remind all lovers of them, that the most
general side is always the darkest ; that it teaches us
the least of the nature of an individual thing ; and
that the value or worthlessness of general principles,
always depend on the application a man makes of
them ; and he is never to be charged with an appli
cation which he disavows. O how much charity
would this single recollection spread through the
world ! It would be *il to the breakers of a troubled
sea.

We are living in a very excited age, and an excite
ment which comes, as usual, from some metaphysical
principles. We are treading the old track, and are
fighting because our maxims are too general to be
fully understood. The cloud is dark, and is therefore
surcharged with thunder. Would it not be well for
us to remember the words of one of the wisest politi
cians that ever brought the dictates of philosophy to
calm the passions of mankind. " I cannot," says
Edmund Burke, " stand forward and give praise or
blame to any thing which relates to human actions
and human concerns, on a simple view of the object,
as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the



THE PURITAN. 23

nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction.
Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for
nothing) give in reality to every political principle its
distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The
circumstances are what render every civil and politi
cal scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Ab
stractly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is
good ; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago,
have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a govern
ment, (for she then had a government,) without in
quiring what the nature of that government was, or
how it was administered 1 Can I now congratulate
the same nation upon its freedom ? Is it because
liberty in the abstract is to be classed among the
blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate
a madman, who has escaped from the protecting re
straint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his
restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty ?
Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer,
who has broke prison, on the recovery of his natural
rights ? This would be to act over again the scene
of the criminals condemned to the galleys, and then
heroically deliver the metaphysic knight of the sor
rowful countenance."*

If we must bring down these general principles to
bear on our agitated land, let us, at least, endeavor to
be as calm as those philosophic minds from which
they are supposed to have originated.

* Reflections on French Revolution.



THE PURITAN
No. 33.



I love to breathe where Gilead sheds her balm;
I love to walk on Jordan s banks of palm ;
I love to wet my foot in Hermon s dews ;
I love the promptings of Isaiah s muse :
In Carmcl s holy grots I ll court repose,
And deck my mossy couch with Sharon s deathless rose.

Pierpontfs rfirs of Palestine.



HEBREW POETRY.

IN the earliest ages of the world, poetry was a very
serious employment. It was the first form in which
the contemplative powers of man manifested them
selves ; and to it may be traced, as a germ, our
history, our fiction, our philosophy, and our laws.
Even the solemn attributes of the Deity, and the
tremendous truths of religion, are supposed to have
been first delivered to mankind, by the inspiration
of the poet, through the melody of song.

The reason for this peculiarity in the history of



THE PURITAN. 25

nations, must be sought for in the counsels by which
God instructs his creatures. Men are slow in their
movements ; they are immersed in a material body,
and distracted by its wants. In the earlier stages of
society, life is but a struggle for subsistence ; and it
must be some glaring object, some powerful motive,
which allures men over the bridge which separates
action from thought. Matter will attract any one s
attention, even a child s, when it is first shown. But
when we disrobe it of its form and color, and attempt,
without its impressions, to lead the unpractised mind
into the intellectual world, it must be done by new
arts, to excite interest. The speaker must have deep
feeling ; and clothe that feeling in measured lan
guage. This is the universal history of the literary
dawn ; when the object ceases to arrest the eye, it
must take a new embodiment, and charm the ear.
The people, who can no longer look, must make a
new use of their eyes they must be forced to weep.
But though mind is sluggish in its movements, and
it takes all the art of the poet to rouse it to its first
attention, it must not be supposed that, when the at
tention is once up, it acts with any feeble interest.
It takes much, to make a savage pass the bounds from
the world of matter to the world of intellectual
forms ; but when he is once there, the very indefi-
niteness of the objects, together with the newness of
the scene, absorbs his whole soul ; he feels an interest
which he never felt before ; he rises as to a new

VOL. II. 3



26 THE PURITAN.


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