Leonard Withington.

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

. (page 14 of 15)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


political economy ever written. How great the mind
into which such conceptions could enter ! How
noble the people who could support him ! Bat it is
no very criminal libel to say that Gov. McDuffie is
not Aristides, and South Carolina is not Athens.

Indeed we are fast going down the hill which de
grades human nature to the lowest competitions.
Already politics has become a game of skill to secure
a cunning interest. This is now avowed ; and hy
pocrisy drops her mask because there is not reverence
enough for virtue to induce her to wear it. The
transition has been awful and rapid. We are a young
people, with all the vices of a hoary empire on our
heads.



THE PURITAN
No. 57.



Still they were wise, whatever way they went.

Dryden.



IT seems to be generally agreed, that our republic
is in a perilous condition commotions are heard of
from every quarter. The supremacy of the laws is set
aside ; the statutes of justice and mercy are veiled,
while the sovereign people signify their supreme will ;
and a short cut to rectitude, (or at least to vengeance,)
seems now to be chosen by those who are impatient
of the law s delay. A mob in a great city is a mat
ter of course ; and, even in Bundleborough itself,
we have some thoughts of attempting one to pull
down Mr. Needle s sign, whom we suspect of being
a secret abolitionist. We have hardly materials
enough for a genuine riot, but if we can turn out all
the paupers from our workhouse ; all the boys from
our two animal schools, (as they were called in town-



242 THE PURITAN.

meeting,) and all the scolds and termagants, we may
make a pretty respectable mob, and be in the fashion,
which is the glory of all towns.

The reason of this general agitation over our
country, is a matter of some curiosity. What is it
that has thus let loose the spirit of discord and dis
turbance, to break our own repose, and make us a
reproach in the sight of other nations? Has the
devil broke his chain ? or has the angel, foretold in
Revelation, to whom was given the key of the bot
tomless pit, come down and opened that horrid chasm,
so that there arises a smoke out of the pit, as the
smoke of a great furnace ? Some cause has produced
this fermented state of things, open or latent; a cause
which, if sagacity could discover, wisdom might be
employed to remove it.

We are told by physicians that there are some dis
eases of the body, for the origin of which we must
look into the mind. They are caused by grief, or
care, or depression ; so that in these cases we must
seek a moral medicine for a mortifying mischief. In
the diseases of nations, a similar remark is sometimes
true. For their outward faults, you must look into
their ideal world. You must inquire into the state of
religion and philosophy among them. You must in
quire into the processes of education in schools and
colleges. There the steam is generated, which moves
the engine. There is a public soul ; and its habits



THE PURITAN. 243

and opinions will govern the body politic in all its
material developments.

Now, if we look into the ideal of our own age and
country, we shall find that its characteristic is, that
no principle is fixed, no foundation is laid ; a uni
versal skepticism has seized the public mind as to
every human interest, and not a corner-stone is laid
in politics, religion, morals, or education. We are,
to be sure, on the verge of a glorious millennium ;
the day of light and felicity is soon to dawn upon us ;
but this day is future, and all the light and splendor
of it, only serves to throw darkness on the present
hour. Our hopes are in discovery ; we have nothing
in possession. The description which Dr. Johnson
has given of the age of Hudibras, is too faithful a
picture of our own time. " It is scarcely possible,"
says he, " in the regularity and composure of the
present, to imagine the tumult of absurdity and
clamor of contradiction, which perplexed doctrine,
disordered practice, and disturbed both public and
private quiet, in that age when subordination was
broken, and awe was hissed away; when any unset
tled innovator, who could hatch a half-formed no
tion, produced it to the public ; when every man
might become a preacher, and almost every preacher
could collect a congregation."

These must be considered as the tendencies of re
publicanism, and they can only be overcome by some
opposite tendencies of a moral and voluntary kind.



244 THE PURITAN.

I was a few days since conversing with a lawyer,
and expressing my astonishment, considering the na
ture of our courts, that any culprit was ever brought
to execution. I observed to him that crimes were
always secret, and there must be evidence technically
sufficient; then the justice must commit him; the
grand jury must find a bill ; the attorney general was
intrusted with A vast deal of discretionary power ; the
traverse jury must be unanimous in their verdict ;
one man with a scruple in his mind may defeat their
decision ; then comes the motion for arrest of judg
ment, or for a new trial ; the judge must pronounce
sentence, and finally the executive power may grant
a pardon. So many were the tripping stones in the
way to justice, in the plainest cases. The lawyer re
plied it would be so, were it not that the very difficulty
in the theory was counteracted by a moral spirit in
the practice. Nay, the consciousness of this diffi
culty almost produced this reacting spirit. In like
manner it seems to me, our only salvation from cer
tain tendencies in republicanism, must come from
a consciousness of them, and an antagonist spirit
produced by that knowledge.

Republicanism has a tendency to rash innovation,
and must be counteracted by a moral bearing the other
way. It wants a stable philosophy, and a fixed and
binding religion. Party spirit has existed ever since
man has existed in the social state ; and I have often
thought it might be reduced, like the questions in



.THE PURITAN. 245

algebra, to a certain formula. Whatever the subject,
political or religious, there are the innovators and
conservatives, and these again are subdivided into
divisions more or less developed, according to cir
cumstances. There is your headlong innovators,
root and branch men, radicals, enthusiasts, jacobins,
or whatsoever name they assume, and the moderate in
novators. So on the other side, the conservators are
subdivided into two orders, more or less tenacious.
Now the rectitude of these principles depends on cir
cumstances. Our blessed Saviour was an innovator ;
but then we know from Josephus and other sources,
it was in opposition to the phariseeism of the Jewish
religion. Cicero was a conservative, but then it was
in opposition to the corruptions of Rome, and the
ambition of Csesar. On understanding this formula,
depends almost all the light we derive from history.
One of the strongest proofs of the truths of the gos
pel, historically speaking, is seen by viewing this
very question correctly. But however this may be,
in this age monarchy and all its appendages fall into
the favor and custody of the conservatives. Repub
licanism was born in innovation, and loves innovation.
Innovation in politics ; innovation in morals ; innova
tion in principle ; innovation in practice. We are
on a whirling stream, sure to go fast, and not very
sure whither we go. It is the spirit of this age that
nothing is fixed. Every foundation totters, and every
fundamental principle is disputed. Now, if you were



246 THE PURITAN.

to see a great fleet, spreading all their canvass, throw
ing over their ballast and committing themselves to
the wildest winds, you would see in visibles the in
visible spirit of our times. We cannot entirely pre
vent it. But we may counteract it by a spirit of
moral conservation. Let us lay the injunction on
our youth ; let us teach it to our children, that old
principles tried by experience, are not lightly to be
shaken. We have something to keep as well as to
gain.

Some excellent men, in giving exhortations on this
subject, have been deceived by the value of their
object. They seem to think that by exhorting the
young men in our colleges to cast off the chains of
authority, they shall stimulate their powers, and make
them original geniuses. One eminent writer has said,
11 that the chief object of past ages has been to rear
prison walls around the human mind." I accept his
metaphor, and would observe that these walls never
imprisoned one original genius ; they only serve as a
test of his strength, by showing how easily he can
leap over them ; and, as to the majority of students,
they were not born to expand the horizon of human
knowledge. But, whatever we want in these days,
we do not want less reverence for authority. There
are too many who, with the unjust judge s moral char*
acter, have his dangerous intrepidity I FEAR NOT

GOD, NEITHER REGARD MAN.



UNIVERSITY;




THE PURITAN.



No. 58.



O gracious God ! how far have we
Prophaned thy heavenly gift of poesy ?
Made prostitute and profligate the muse,
Debased to each obscene and impious use,
Whose harmony was first ordained above,
For tongues of angels and for hymns of love.



Dryden,



A SOUND and healthful literature is so necessary to
the good morals of a country, that it should be sup
ported by all the dictates of a just criticism ; and by
literature, I mean not the elaborate volumes, which
please a few in their closets, but those light and
readable pages which fly, like scattered blossoms, to
every part of our land. The number is very few
who form their opinions from deep examination.
Some phantom of fancy, some spark, blown on the
winds of chance, strikes the vacant and youthful
mind, awakes the imagination, combines with their
passions, and ripens into a confirmed belief. There



248 THE PURITAN.

are thousands of vain girls, who have extracted their
theology from novels, and equally vain gentlemen,
who have received their whole code of ethics from
the mouth of a player.

For this reason, I have always thought it a matter
of gratitude that the English language has so much
excellent poetry. Perhaps there is no tongue under
heaven, in which so much solid truth is arrayed in
such attractive verse. Spenser has dressed all the
moral virtues in pleasing allegories ; Fletcher sung
the mysteries of redemption ; Sir John Davis proves
to us the immortality of the soul, in better arguments
(it must be confessed) than poetry. Drummond and
Crashaw give us the raptures of mystic and medita
tive devotion. And to come to later times, who ever
united so much devotion with so much poetry, as Dr.
Watts ! for I must dissent from the criticism of Dr.
Johnson on the great man great he certainly was ;
great as a Christian, and great as a poet ; to prove
which, I would only propose this one test the diffi
culties which his genius overcame. When a poet
sings of love and rapture ; of moonlight walks and
bright eyes ; of smelling flowers and gushing streams;
of the tender meeting and the parting agony, he
touches a sensual chord, and his very subject does
half his work for him. His very terms intoxicate the
host of youths and virgins that gather around his
song. Not so the poet that touches on the solemn
themes of devotion. There the bent of nature is



THE PURITAN. 249

against him, and he must kindle his fire with green
wood on the frozen wilds of the forest. We owe
much to those authors, who have employed melody
on the side of virtue and religion. They had a hard
task to execute ; they had to disjoin ideas long asso
ciated, and to awaken the cold admiration of reluc
tant readers. They cultivated frankincense in Green
land.

The fashionable poetry of the present day, is what
may be denominated morbid poetry ; and as it is, or
at least has been, (for there are some symptoms of the
dawning of a better day,) infatuating the sensitive
youth of our land, let me give its characteristics.

Now the mark of morbid poetry is not that it is
drawn from the depths of nature, as some of its man
ufacturers pretend, nor that it is the result of strong
feeling ; but that it comes from a mind introspective
and inverted ; a mind nervous and moody ; that
dwells among its own musings ; a mind in as unnatu
ral a state as can be imagined. Hence in morbid
poetry you will find strong feelings produced by no
adequate cause. I am no enemy to strong feeling ;
the author may touch the deepest tones of the heart ;
he may pour forth his strains of rapture and agony,
if he will only assign a sufficient cause for them, and
make his hero feel as most other people would feel in
similar circumstances. This is the aim of wisdom,
and the triumph of real genius. But when he intro
duces a moody gentleman, such as God never made
VOL. ii. 17



250 THE PURITAN.

and earth never saw ; when he makes him in deep
anguish without any calamities ; seeking he knows
not what, and disappointed at the loss of that which
never existed ; when it is his sole aim and delight
" to bring a lover, a lady, and a rival, into the fable ;
to entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex
them with oppositions of interest, and harass them
with violence of desires inconsistent with each other;
to make them meet in rapture, and part in agony ;
to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous
sorrow ; to distress them as nothing human ever was
distressed ; to deliver them as nothing human ever
was delivered ; "* when this is the case, I must think
that such poetry is the sickly progeny of a sickly sire;
and if it becomes so by imitation or affectation, why
this only makes the fault worse. For of all diseases,
voluntary sickness is the most disgusting.

Perhaps these remarks might be illustrated by an
example. Of all the characters which Shakspeare
has drawn, none comes so near the introspective and
excessively meditative, as Hamlet. He is sad and
solitary ; he almost approaches to insanity before he
feigns it ; arid yet, though Hamlet is actually diseased,
nothing is further from morbid poetry, than the whole
drama which paints his character. It is the very
bloom and efflorescence of sound and healthful nature ;
and why ? Because there is an adequate cause for

* Dr. Johnson s Preface to Shakspeare.



THE PURITAN. 251

all Hamlet s feeling. We see great events acting on
a fair specimen of human nature. The reader feels if
he were young, had lost a father, and were perplexed
as to the character of a mother ; and, above all, were
he met by an awful messenger from the supernatural
world, he would feel and act as Hamlet does. But
what a wide difference between the meditations of
Hamlet and those of some of the heroes of lord
Byron !

Some writers are deceived into this faulty poetry,
by looking for strong feeling in a wrong direction.
They look for it within ; they think to move our
sympathy by increasing the sensitiveness of their
heroes, rather than by exciting natural emotions by
great events. Hence they surround themselves with
splendid haloes of their own creation ; plunge into
the dark and mystical ; and speculate, and feel as
they hope none ever speculated and felt before.

Such minds do love the marvellous too well
Not to believe it.

Hence the poems of Dana, though rich in descrip
tion, and crowded with sentiment, must fail to strike a
sympathetic string in the general breast ; and hence,
in the productions of Coleridge, we find so many
traces of genius and opium.

Having thus spoken of poetry, I shall now, like
some other authors, give a specimen which violates
my own criticism. Of all the inverted states of mind



252 THE PURITAN.

which a man feels in common life, perhaps none are
more morbid, than when he is thoroughly home-sick.
When I was in college, I went out one winter vacation
to keep school in a village in Connecticut. I was
young, moody, among strangers, and hated my occu
pation. One fair moonlight evening in winter, I
walked out on the shore of Long Island Sound, to
lament my cruel fate, i. e. the cruel fate of being
obliged to do something for my living ; and, seated
on a little eminence, indulged in the feelings which
generated the following lines.

A THOUGHT OF HOME.

Reposed in caverns dark and drear,

The nothern tempest sleeps awhile ;
Old winter, in his frowns severe,

Old frowning winter deigns to smile.

On a lorn hill, whose snowy height

Seems reared the storms and seas to brave,

I sit companion of the night,

And listener to the breaking wave.

From home removed, midst strangers cast,

While hopes excite, or fears benumb,
I think of pleasant moments past,

Or happier moments yet to come.

I ii ve they re here strong memory speaks,

Anticipation brings her store ;
With bounding heart and burning cheeks,

I feel the joys once felt before.



THE PURITAN. 253

The plain for sport, the bower for love,

Where youth or boyhood used to go;
The elms that spread their arms above

The rapid brook that ran below.

The shaded pond the laboring mill,

To which the salt creek winding strayed

The spire beyond the savin hill

The ancient school-house, half decayed j

All, all are here I am not blind,

Not duped by fancy s flattering zeal ;
Tis not the mockery of the mind ;

Tis something that I deeply feel.

My mother ! o er the distant stile,

Tis she ! she looks she now is near ;
I guess her by that heavenly smile

I know her by that bursting tear.

My sister ! dost thou near me stand,

And every doubt and cloud remove ?
Do I not press thy ofiered hand,

And kiss the lips of chastest love ?

My father ! at that sacred name,

With reverence, love and awe I bow ;
I fill anew the filial flame,

Twas duty once, but rapture now.

Friends ! how they haste with generous zeal,

The wanderer on his way to meet;
They smile upon me, and I feel

The sum of happiness complete.






254 THE PURITAN.

Where am I ? All the charm is o er :
No father, friends or sister nigh ;

The wave beats lazy on the shore ;
The wind sighs loud and passes by.






THE PURITAN

No. 59.



His anger moral and his wisdom gay.

Pope.



IN this paper, I design to give a sketch-like view of
those illustrious predecessors, whose footsteps I am
endeavoring to follow in humble imitation.

Cotton Mather, quoting Basil, mentions a certain
art of drawing many doves, by anointing the wings
of a few with a fragrant ointment, and so sending
them abroad, that by the fragrancy of the ointment,
they may allure others into the house. There are a
certain class of writers, whose object it is to fill up
men s minds and spare time, and to allure them to
goodness, not merely by the ponderous truths of the
ology, or the deep arguments of philosophy, but by
the fragrance of those intellectual wings, with which
they wake the fancy and infold the heart.

I have already mentioned Addison. After some






256 THE PURITAN.

considerable interval, followed the illustrious author
of the Rambler. Of a work so well known, it may
be both difficult and needless to say any thing new,
or which has not a thousand times been presented to the
reader s mind. It is a book, which is always the
delight of young students in colleges, when they begin
to write themes ; because it has exactly the unbusi
nesslike style, which the mind relishes and craves
when it writes solely for criticism ; but our admira
tion of Johnson almost always abates with the progress
of life. His false antithesis, his uniform roll of sen
tence, his pomposity and pendentry have often been
pointed out, and severely censured ; yet, after all his
errors, where is the man, who like him, can chain the
attention to mere didactic discussion without the aid
of narrative? Criticism, with me, I have already re
marked, is an affair of feeling; and if I were to be
called to watch with a sick man, where the object was
to sit in idleness and repell sleep, and if a narrative
volume were prohibited, I would certainly take a
volume of the Rambler.

He has certainly his weak points ; his allegories I
always pass over ; though all Addison s are excellent.
His wit is much what we may suppose his dancing
would have been, had he, as was reported of him, taken
lessons of Vestris. His pictures of life and man
ners are rather clumsy ; and his women are strange
formal phantoms, such as earth never saw and I hope
never will see. But when he writes a paper on the



THE PURITAN. 257

misery of man, the vanity of life and the solemnities
of a death-bed, he warbles out his groans with the
sweetest melody, and I am sure to follow his eloquence
though his philosophy should lead me to despair.
His criticisms, too, if not always true, are always su
premely beautiful.

It has been lamented by some serious people, that
both he and Addison, when they touch with so much
felicity, on some of the parts of religion, had not more
clearly seen, or more clearly displayed the central
truth the terms of our acceptance with the Deity.
There are expressions in both these great writers, on
this point, which every evangelical reader wishes
away. But we should consider in all works, the
writer s end ; and what would have been the condi
tion of English literature if Addison and Johnson had
had the principles of Voltaire and Rousseau !

Toaaov tvegd didsw, oaov ovgaro; eg dno you j/.

Scarcely had Johnson finished his Rambler, when
Dr. Hawkesworth began his renowned work. The
Adventurer was partly written by Johnson, and in
most of its pages closely imitates him. But it is not as
an imitator that Hawkesworth s best excellence ap
pears. His peculiar brightness, as it appears to me,
is the skill with which he can construct some natural
story to illustrate some moral principle. I recollect



258 THE PURITAN.

one which began in thoughtless lying and endel in a
fatal duel.

The Mirror has all the characteristics of the man
who has been called the Scotch Addison. Indeed
the author of the Man of Feeling, could not fail of
producing an interesting periodical. His book, I
should suppose, must be a favorite with the ladies;
and most youthful eyes, like mine, have*probably wept
over the stories of Sir Edward and La Roche, This
writer is inexpressibly tender and delicate. But this
is his chief praise. His natural tenderness sup
plies the place of deeper principle ; and there are few
of our popular writers who have so seldom bound their
precepts on the conscience, by the strong sanctions of
revealed religion.

I have not space to characterize the World, the
Looker-on, the Lounger, the Connoisseur, and various
other volumes written with various ability, and des
tined to oblivion, from their very number, perhaps,
rather than their want of merit. But one I must
notice Cumberland s Observer ; a periodical paper
only in name ; but a beautiful repository of literary
history and criticism. His criticism however, too
often revolves on one pivot, and that fixed in a wrong
position. In analyzing a drama, he always turns a
very scrutinizing eye on the probability of the fable
the last thing I think of when I read a play ; for I
agree with Mr. Puff, in Sheridan s Critic " O lud,
Sir, if people who want to listen, or overhear, were



THE PURITAN. 259

not always connived at in a tragedy, there would be
no carrying on any plot in the world." There is no
end to such criticism.

From British writers let us turn to those of our
own land ; and here the first shape that meets us,
is the renowned Franklin. His good sense taught
him, to write to the circumstances and wants of
his own country, and hence instead of conjuring
up the aristocratic images of a foreign land, and
painting them in colors which had already been ex
hausted, he remembered that he dwelt among the
farmers and tradesmen of an infant country all of
them free and equal, and all struggling for a subsis
tence ; and hence he teaches them the lessons of fru
gality and economy. He was the first American
author who possessed thf > patavinity of morals ; and in
this respect his sagacity, his originality, his rustic wit
and household wisdom, are equal to all antiquity and
above all praise. His style, too, is the happiest for
his purpose imaginable. It is a great pity, that in
addition to his life and essays, another little volume,
consisting of his beauties, (and his essence is in
his beauties,) has not been collected. If a man
could believe prudence to be the sum of virtue, could
live as Franklin did, to be eighty years old, and then
return, as Franklin wished, to live his life over again,
then this great writer s morality would be all existence
could wish, or conscience demand. But if there be


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 15)