Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) online

. (page 13 of 15)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


elor of forty, who boards and means to board all his
days in Tremont House, that he would read not a
syllable farther.] As I looked upon these sleeping in
nocents, I could not but regard them as so many little
birds, which I must fold under my wing, and protect,
if possible, in security in my nest. But when I thought
of the huge cows that were feeding around them ; the
ugly hoofs that might crush them into ruin ; in short,



THE PURITAN. 223

when I remembered the Bird s Nest in the Moon, I
trembled and wept.

But why weep ? Is there not a special Providence
in the fall of a sparrow 1 It is very possible, that the
nest which I saw was not in so precarious a condition
as it appeared to be. Perhaps some providential in
stinct led the bird to build her fragile house in the
ranker grass, which the kine never bite, and, of course,
on which they would not be likely to tread ; perhaps
some kind impulse may guide that species so as not
to tread even on a bird s nest. At any rate, chance
might lead to an escape. I have never heard, and
I despair now of ascertaining the important fact,
that the nest I saw was actually crushed by the foot
of a cow. Perhaps the joyful mother saw her young
expand their wings, and inherit their paternal air ;
perhaps the progeny of those very eggs are now singing
in the groves around Boston. There is a merciful
God, whose care and protection extend over all his
works, who takes care of the sparrow s children and
of mine.

I think I have read somewhere, that, if a man
wishes to learn to pray, he must go to sea ; but, with
all due submission to the author of this wise remark,
I think we should rather say Let him be married and
have a family of children. It is almost impossible to
be an in6del with a little progeny rising round you.
If Hume could have seen a little lisping girl, come
and climb his knees and address him as a father



224 THE PURITAN.

" Papa, who made all things?" he would have almost
involuntarily answered God. If a man wishes to
learn to pray for protection during the night, let him
go, as I have done, and see his children asleep, and
remember the pestilence that walks in darkness. Let
him experience the feelings of an anxious father,
bending over the sleeping forms of his tender children,
and conscious of the thousand dangers, seen and
unseen, that hover around their defenceless heads.
It was over her dear little sleeping infants if she
had any I imagine, that Mrs. Barbauld penned the
following beautiful remarks : " If prayer were not en
joined to the perfection, it would be permitted to the
weakness of our nature. We should be betrayed into
it, if we thought it sin ; and pious ejaculations would
escape our lips, though we were obliged to preface
them with God forgive me for praying ! "

A family of children, walking amidst a thousand
dangers and often escaping, is one of the most strik
ing proofs of a particular Providence that ever met
my mind. To talk about the general laws of nature,
immutable and unbendible to the interposing will of
the Deity ! Away with such metaphysical trash ; it
is just fit for old bachelors to write. Until I had
children, I never knew what the Scriptures meant,
when they say that the very hairs of our head are
all numbered. I was once standing in a public road,
and saw a team of three yokes of oxen and a horse,
moving very fast along the road without a driver. A



THE PURITAN.

little child was standing in the road directly before the
wagon, with no time for escaping. The whole train
of cattle passed directly over the child, throwing it
down, and apparently crushing it into jelly. Every
spectator thought it dead ; its life was not worth a
pin s fee; the anxious mother ran to rescue her off
spring ; but, alas, too late ; and her piercing shrieks
spoke her despair. But lo, when the little urchin was
picked up, instead of being found a corpse, as was by
all expected, its roguish smile seemed to say that it
regarded the event as a good joke, which it would
willingly see repeated. Every one of the beasts,
though moving so rapidly, had contrived to shun the
child ; and this event, together with the Bird s Nest
in the Moon, have convinced me, that verily there is a
God, and that he governs the world by a particular
providence.

I have often thought it was unfortunate that some
of the great geniuses, who have undertaken to en
lighten the world by their infidelity, were not mar
ried men. It would have done more to help them to
digest the venom of their spleen, than all the long
volumes of rejoinders which have been written by
metaphysical theologians. For, to say nothing of the
powerful smiles of a woman, when that woman is your
wife, reflecting aiid beaming the very benevolence of
a creating God, there are some things in a married
life, which are enough to overthrow the faith of the
most stubborn infidel, that ever apportioned his incre-



226 THE PURITAN.

dulity to his ignorance. I myself was rather inclined
to infidelity when I was first married. But the smiles
of the honey-moon softened me, and I bought a Bible
to lie in our parlor. When my wife first sent me
after the doctor, at midnight, my faith began to
waver ; and I was absolutely staggered when I heard
the new-born infant cry. As I looked on the little
miracle, I was ashamed, and renounced my former
faith ; and every new prattler, that has risen around
me, has made me a better Christian. I now actually
read the Bible with my children, and we pray over it.
I sometimes tell my former companions in infidelity,
when they try to flout rne out of my religion, that
they are welcome to our old belief to all its wisdom
and all its comforts. They are old bachelors still.

And no wonder that such an unnatural life should
lead to such an absurd faith. Hume was an old
bachelor, and every page of his philosophy smells of
his folly. Hobbs was an old bachelor, and so was
Voltaire, and Rousseau, and Jeremy Bentham, and
Tom Paine. I have always thought it a thousand
pities, that Mademoiselle Curchod did not wind her
chains more effectually around Gibbon s heart. I
imagine that Cupid, the little god of love, might
have expelled a great deal of Paganism from the
pages of his splendid history. Some, to be sure,
will be infidels in the bosom of wedlock, as some
would be fools in the very palaces of Solomon. But
this is not the order of nature. Her virtuous in
stincts lead to truth.



THE PURITAN. 327

In that beautiful dialogue which Plato has written,
in which he describes the closing scene in the life of
Socrates, Plato makes his master Socrates, in the
course of the discussion, attempt to account for the
existence of skepticism ; and he traces it to the same
cause as that which produces misanthropy. He thinks
that men of rash judgments and irritable tempers,
when they have once confided in a character super
ficially virtuous, and have found themselves deceived,
pass a judgment on the whole species, and spend the
rest of their lives in revenging their disappointment
by railing at mankind. In like manner, he supposes,
that when a hasty mind has been deceived by an ap
parent demonstration, and afterwards discovers that
the demonstration is false, it loses its confidence in
all reasoning, and views all things in the universe as
floating, like the waters of the Euripus, without order
and without end. Such a man is TMV ?e OVTMV rife
dlrfieiuz gf Gadfly, deprived of the certainty of real
existence, and imputes to reason the darkness of his
own mind.

I have generally noticed that infidelity and misan
thropy have an affinity for each other, and are often
combined in the same heart. But how is a man to
avoid misanthropy ? No man ever became a misan
thrope under the smiles of an affectionate wife, and
surrounded by a family of ruddy children. These
are tender chains, which connect us with the uni
verse ; they bind us in harmony with our species ;



228 THE PURITAN.

they lead us to feel our need of a higher protector,
to see the glory and the goodness, and therefore to
believe in the existence of God.

When a man is once on a wrong track, every step
he takes only leads him so much farther out of the
way. God, when he built the world, designed to pack
men together in families; and it is the only way in
which you can throw the human species together,
without impairing their principles and endangering
their virtue. A man goes into a splendid city, he
becomes too licentious, or too lazy, or too proud to
establish a family. He passes his time among the
rubicund inmates of a fashionable boarding-house.
He spends his evenings at the theatre or billiard-table.
He rails at women, and hates children, because he
only knows the vilest of the sex, and has never seen
a child which was his own. His affections become
warped, his heart is insulated ; and, because he has
lost his humanity, he has never found his religion. O
how I should like, before such a fellow goes to his
lonely grave, and his rotten carcass manures the
ground, to throw into his narrow heart, one straw
from my Bird s Nest in the Moon !



THE PURITAN
No. 55.



King Stephen was a worthy peer,

His breeches cost him but a crown;
He held them sixpence all too dear,

With that he called the tailor lown;
He was a wight of high renown,

And thou wert but of low degree ;
Tis pride that pulls the country down,

Then take thine auld cloak about thee.

Old Ballad.

To John Ollbu<r, Esq.

SIR, Shall I tell you my story? You will find it
exemplify an error too prevalent in our land. I was
the son of a very frugal family ; my father was a far
mer in the county of Worcester, who suffered nothing
to be done in a slow or drivelling manner. In
summer we were up with the sun, to hear the
Bob O Lincon, to follow the plough and tend the hay ;
and in winter I went to school, to improve my mind,
and to prepare to be a good republican. I was
peculiarly apt in the mysteries of arithmetic ; wrote



230 THE PURITAN.

a fine hand, and made a rapid progress in all my
winter studies, until our schoolmaster declared it was
a shame that such a rising genius should be buried
in the country, and confined to the labors of an
agricultural life. Accordingly, I persuaded my
father to place me in a mercantile house in Boston,
where my facilities with my pen and readiness at
business, soon made me distinguished. I served my
time with a very liberal master, who, when I was one
and twenty, put me in as a supercargo to one of
his vessels ; and I made several profitable voyages
both for myself and him. I believe I hit the true
medium between meanness and extravagance ; for
though I always appeared well in company, and never
failed to pay my shot in any necessary expenses, I
yet took care not to involve myself in expenses
beyon^ my means. If I was entrapped into a
costly , (which it was seldom,) I always came

off with honor, but took special care for the future.
I was soon enabled to set up for myself; my business
was flourishing. I had a wholesale store in State
street, and I was soon in a condition to offer myself
as a respectable candidate for marriage. Many of
the city belles, I verily believe, (I speak without
vanity,) set their caps for me. At least, respectable
fathers often invited me to dine ; and wonderful con
veniences were opened to me, to get acquainted with
any lady I wished. But I preferred a humble con
nection from my native town. I married a girl, who,



THE PURITAN. 231

like myself, had been brought up on a farm ; but she
had an improvable genius, a fine mixture of lady
like politeness and good housewifery ; and, after a
few months residence in the city, she became as
accomplished as the best. These were the golden
days of my prosperity. Like St. Paul at Rome, I
lived in my own hired house ; but my business was
prosperous ; my appearance was equal to that of
other merchants. I had a frugal and affectionate
wife, with no debts but such as I could pay, and a
clear conscience according to the common measure
of moral obligation.

In this course, I soon acquired something like
forty thousand dollars ; and I frequently proposed to
my wife the expedient of building a house, and be
coming lord of my own tenement; having the pleasure
of saying that " I reside in a shelter from which no
man could legally turn me out." But^> -;~ ; .iways
checked my vanity ; reminded me that we were doing
well now ; told me how many merchants had foiled
by the extravagance of domestic expenses, and con
cluded with a quotation from Mr. John Rogers s
poetry, where he tells his children not to build their
house too high.

About this time, in the hey-day of my pecuniary
prosperity, my prudent wife died ; and after mourn
ing for sometime with a husband s bitterness and
brevity, I began to wipe away my tears and look
around for another. My condition was altered ; I



232 THE PURITAN.

was now, comparatively a rich man, and I wanted a
companion suited to my station. Accordingly,- I
married into one of the most aristocratic families in
Boston. My new partner was a perfect lady. I had
no reason to complain of her person or accomplish
ments ; but she was as ignorant of economy as a
child. In short, she began to incite me to do what I
was too prone to perform already to purchase a
handsome house in the west end of the town.

It seems to be a sort of maxim among Bostonians,
(at least the most superficial of them,) that a man
must lay out half his estate in a house. If he is
worth ten thousand dollars, he must spend five thou
sand on his habitation, and so on up to the highest
opulence a man can obtain. I was worth about forty
thousand dollars, and therefore calculated to expend
twenty thousand on my house. But, alas ! experi
ence always outruns the most rigid calculation. I
had supposed that even with such an expensive house,
I should have twenty thousand dollars left for trade,
and this with the credit, which is so liberally granted
in our country, would enable me to rise to my expen
ses, and justify my splendor by my success. I bought
my house we entered it; and now began my career
of splendor and misfortune. In the first place, no
man buys a house without altering it a little. This
cost me two thousand dollars ; then I was obliged to
purchase a new supply of furniture ; new carpets for
more spacious rooms, new chairs for new visitors ;



THE PURITAN. 233

and finally I was obliged to enlarge my domestic
establishment in all respects ; so that my expenses
were multiplied to a fearful amount. In short, it was
just as it was with my dress, when a boy in the coun
try, if I stuck to my old clothes, all was frugal and
of a piece ; but if I bought a new coat, I must add a
new waistcoat, and pantaloons, and a hat, and boots,
until my whole person was renovated, and all parts
refreshed except my poor purse.

To add to my misfortunes, just about this time my
business became embarrassed. I had launched into
some daring speculations, just as business was on the
point of depression ; and had I had at command my
whole capital, I might have survived it. But you are
aware that business has its turns of rise and depres
sion, like the ebbing and flowing of the sea. Busi
ness was now on the wane ; my speculations were
bad, and my notes at the iank increased to a fearful
amount. My name was on a great deal of bad paper ;
and I was obliged to lay a heavy mortgage on my
house. I concealed my condition from my wife, and
I considered it as a point of policy to shine out in my
living and equipage as much as possible. But one
morning, after we had entertained one of our most
expensive parties, a man failed on whose paper was
my name to a large amount. My creditors became
suspicious, and the next day I was obliged to fail
also. Our house was attached the mortgage was
sued my wife was in tears, and my whole family in

VOL. II. 16



234 THE PURITAN.

the utmost distress. It was a blow from which I
have never been able to recover. We were soon
obliged to move into the country in the most abject
poverty ; and I write this account, that every man
who purchases or builds a house, may learn wisdom
from my mistakes ; and not make the very roof
which should protect him, the means of exposing his
houseless head to exile and ruin.

C. NEEDHAM.



THE PURITAN

No. 56.



It is clearly demonstrable, that the production of cotton depends not BO
much on soil and climate, as on the existence of domestic slavery. In the
relaxing latitudes where it grows, not one half the quantity would be pro
duced, but for the existence of this institution ; and every practical planter
will concur in the opinion, that if all the slaves in these States were now
emancipated, the American crop will be reduced, the very next year, from
1,200,000 to 600,000 bales. No great skill in political economy will be re
quired to estimate how enormously the price of cotton would be increased
by this change, and no one who will consider how largely this staple con
tributes to the wealth of manufacturing nations, and to the necessaries and
comforts of the poorer classes all over the world, can fail to perceive the
disastrous effects of so great a reduction in the quantity, and so great an
enhancement in the price of it. In Great Britain, France and the United
States, the catastrophe would be overwhelming ; and it is not extravagant to
say, that for little more than two millions of negro slaves, cut loose from
their tranquil moorings and set adrift upon the untried ocean of at least a
doubtful experiment, ten millions of poor white people would be reduced to
destitution, pauperism and starvation. An anxious desire to avoid the last
sad alternative of an injured community, prompts this final appeal to the
interests and enlightened philanthropy of our confederate States. And we
cannot permit ourselves to believe, that our just demands, thus supported
by every consideration of humanity and duty, will be rejected by States who
are united to us by so many social and political ties, and who have so deep
an interest in the preservation of that union. Gov. Me Duffies Message to
South Carolina Legislature, 1835.

I HAVE placed this motto at the head of my paper
as an absolute curiosity. It is impossible for bur-



236 THE PURITAN.

lesque to go beyond it. Indeed, it is precisely the
instance which Montesquieu brings, in that sarcastic
chapter which he has written on the origin of slavery.
What the theoretic Frenchman says, as bitter, biting
irony, our republican governor brings forward as
sober, political truth. Le sucre seroit trop cher si Von
ne faisoit, travailler la plante qui le produit par dcs
esdaves* So we must trample on the laws of God,
and violate the rights of humanity, because, if we
should attempt to respect them, sugar and cotton
would become too dear.

I have hitherto avoided taking any part in the
temporary questions which are now agitating the
country throughout all its borders ; because I wish
my book to be the repository, only of those truths
which are permanent, and which the mind of the
reader may receive with the least prejudice and
objection. But this motto contains a principle, (car
ried to be sure to its highest extreme, and therefore
more proper to be made a monument,) which must
prove the bane of all free government. It is setting
expediency higher than moral principle ; or rather
it is bringing an argument from expediency, not to
modify but to overthrow the highest rule of righteous
ness. This is the great error of our land ; this is the
bane of republicanism. For, as in a Russian house
made for winter, you can only throw up the windows
and diminish the battlements in safety, by increasing

* De L Esprit Des Lois Livre xv. c. v.



THE PURITAN. 237

the general mildness of the atmosphere ; so with re
spect to government, you can only throw off the
restraints of external power, by increasing the preva
lence of deep principle in voluntary hearts. When
interest is the criterion of wisdom, liberty will degen
erate into despotism.

It has been observed by lord Coke, that corpora
tions have no souls ; and it would seem in all collec
tive bodies, from the parish to the nation, that in most
of their deliberations, the immortal nature of man,
with all its wants and wishes, is forgotten. Man, in
his private capacity, has a body and a spirit ; and
the sensualities of the first are infinitely inferior to
the everlasting wants of the last. But when men are
associated in political bodies, the high principles of a
deathless spirit, seem to be lost in the transient regu
lations of a material life ; and there seems to be a
total divorce between politics and principle.

There is no science for which I feel a greater dis
trust, as to its details, and a deeper abhorrence, as to
its general principles, than that of political economy
the great idol of the age. Nebuchadnezzar the
king, made an image of gold, whose height was three
score cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits : and
he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of
Babylon. * * * * Then an herald cried aloud,
To you it is commanded, O people, nations and lan
guages, that, at what time ye hear the sound of the
cornet, fute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and



238 THE PURITAN.

all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the
golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set
tip ; and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth,
shall in the same hour be cast into the midst of a
burning fiery furnace. Yet in despite of all the
charms of this united music, and all the terrors of this
flaming furnace, I must hesitate to fall before this
golden image, more dazzling to the imagination,
than conducive to the well-being of man.

In the first place, as to its induction Is it so per
fect as to lay the foundation of much certain know
ledge ? We will suppose, to please the modern poli
tician, that trade is the great channel of public duty,
and that beef and pudding are the supreme objects of
national felicity. Still the investigations of the politi
cal economist, run into such an infinite number of
infinitesimal items, as to elude the comprehension of
the most careful mind in its most patient investiga
tion. He will find his regulations have touched but
the smaller part of the springs which move the wheels
of the complex machine. There is a wisdom in
nature, which any partial interference of man only
disturbs and deteriorates ; and as the water, dropped
from the clouds, finds its way over the mountains, to
the brooks and springs which conduct it over the
earth, in obedience to pre-established laws, which the
wisdom of man would in vain attempt to improve or
destroy ; so, I suspect, the interests of men, in marts
and cities, in towns and nations, are balanced by a



THE PURITAN. 239

wisdom, which we only disturb when we touch it.
What should we say to a college of physicians, col
lected to devise means to keep up an equality in the
birth of the sexes ?

The uncertainty of the science, the differences
amongst the highest authorities, increases the suspi
cion, that the inductions must be very imperfect
among millions of facts where thousands of causes
meet and mingle.

But it is the spirit of the science which is most
deleterious. Its assumptions are not grounded on
the true nature of man. It is not true that man be
comes a sensual being as soon as he joins the body
politic, and delegates his representatives in congress
to take care of his sensual interests alone. The soul
is the creature of principle ; and there are principles
never to be violated, however great the loss or the
gain. In the scramble for wealth and power, which
is daily increasing in some high quarters, and flowing
like lava-torrents from the top of some ignited moun
tain to every quarter of the land, he is the valuable
politician, who will dare to avow his reverence and
respect for ETERNAL RIGHTEOUSNESS ; and will own
that expediency is not the predominating object in
the code of a politician.

Republicanism has its tendencies ; and one of
them is to leap over the rules of right, for accomplish
ing gain. The only antagonist power to this dan
gerous propensity, is a reverence for justice to the



240 THE PURITAN.

incurring of some loss. This is the last lesson
learned by individuals; and nations need to be taught
it still more. The famous anecdote of Aristides, illus
trates the point at which I aim. Whea he refused
to burn the fleet of an enemy, though highly advan
tageous to the public, because it was NOT KIGHT, he
taught a lesson to all succeeding statesmen, more
noble, more profitable too, than all the systems of


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 15)