Leonard Withington.

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

. (page 7 of 15)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

With thunders he, and lightnings blasts their sight.
O Sun invisible ! that dost abide

Within thy bright abysmes, most fair, most dark,
When with thy proper rays thou doest thee hide,

O ever shining, never full seen mark,
To guide me in life s night, thy light me show,
The more I search of thee, the less I know !


OF no subject have we had so much romance in
stead of reason, as of solitude ; that power of which
so many have written and so few have improved. All
the misses at our boarding-schools, think it necessary
to write, at least, one paper on solitude, in which the
lady pours out the effusions of her fancy, in lines


which belie every wish of her heart; in which the
gayest and most superficial will be most sentimental.
Indeed, woman, from her earliest hoars to her last, is
a bundle of contradictions. At least you cannot
predict her course of conduct by her literary exer ci
tations. I have known a young lady to read Sher
lock on Death, when she was going to a ball ; and
Mr. Hitchcock s Essay on Eating, with a pound of
wedding-cake in her hand. If you see before a pair
of bright eyes, Enfield s Philosophy, you may con
clude she is going to take a walk with an emptv-pated
lover ; and if she is studying Zimmerman on Soli
tude, it is clear she is just about to be married.
Whatever women may say or sing about solitude, it
is certain their sphere is society ; and therefore I
heartily advise them to let alone a subject, on which
they cannot utter a word without acting the part of
affected, little hypocrites.

Solitude is by no means, as has been said, a test of
virtue. We retire for very different objects. A
shopkeeper, when he goes alone, goes to cast up his
accounts ; the miser, to reckon his money ; the bat
tered beau and libertine, to put on his plasters, to
dress his sores and take his medicines ; and the am
bitious man, to lay his schemes for advancement and
power. Some retire to write idle books, and some to
read them ; and some in solitude fill their imagina
tions with images of voluptuousness, more exquisite
and more seductive than any that are found in real


life. I hardly know a more sensual wretch than
Rousseau. Indeed, it seems to me when the Prince
of Darkness raised up advocates for his cause, and
patrons of infidelity, it was a master-piece of policy,
to commit it to two such men as Rousseau and Vol
taire ; they were perfect correlatives. Voltaire took
all the laughers, and Rousseau all the weepers. Vol
taire was all sarcasm and satire, and Rousseau all
romance and sentiment ; and thus between them
both, they swept the board. They have done more
than any others to undermine the religious principles
of mankind ; and, to this hour, reign without rivals,
the giants of licentious principles on the continent of
Europe Yet Rousseau was a lover of solitude. He
even once attempted to establish a plan of seclusion
for life, though he found that his fancy had imposed
on his feelings. Hear how he exposes his singular
views. " Sometimes." says he, speaking of Madame
de Warrens, who, by the way, was one of the chastest
harlots that ever departed from virtue, through the
sublimest of principles, " Sometimes I quitted this
dear friend, that I might enjoy the uninterrupted
pleasure of thinking of her; this is a caprice I can
neither excuse nor fully explain ; I only know this
was really the case, and therefore avow it. I re
member that Madame de Luxembourg told me one
day, in raillery, of a man, who used to leave his mis
tress, that he might enjoy the satisfaction of writing to
her. I answered, I could have been this man. I


might have added, that I had done the very same."
In another place, he describes, in his own glowing
language, how he filled up his solitary moments,
when he lived as a kind of amorous dependent on
this peculiar lady. "If all this, (i. e. his happiness,)
consisted in facts, actions or words, I could somehow
or other convey an idea of it. But how shall I de
scribe what was neither said or done, nor even
thought ; but enjoyed, felt, without my being able to
particularize any other object of my happiness than
the bare idea. I rose with the sun and was happy ;
I walked and was happy ; I saw Madame de War
rens and was happy ; I quitted her and was still
happy ! Whether I rambled through the woods, over
the hills, or strolled along the vallies, read, was idle,
walked in the garden, or gathered fruits, happiness
still accompanied me ; it was fixed on no particular
object : it was within me, nor could I depart from it
a single moment." Such was the solitude of Rousseau.
I only wish, in the abundance of his communicative
ness, he had informed us, whether this happiness,
which he thinks so mystical, did or did not, in any
part of it, arise, in addition to Madame de Warrens
charms, from opium or brandy.

The good man, too, Idves occasional solitude. He
is very happy when alone ; and he is not in the least
perplexed to tell the cause of his happiness. It arises
from a conscious sense of the presence of God, and a
contemplation of his infinite perfections. When he


enters the shades, he feels himself to be in the bosom
of his Father and friend. He hears his voice in the
passing breeze, and sees his glory in the stars of the
sky. Whether he prostrates himself in humble peni
tence before the throne of mercy, or rises to a view
of the wonders of creation and redemption ; whether
he looks on God, or himself; whether he surveys his
past life, or looks on to future emancipation and glory ;
his emotions are high, though his passions are at
peace. He tastes many a precious drop from the
river of life, and returns from retirement to the
world, more strengthened for duty, and more prepared
to fulfil all the engagements of a social being. No
hours are more profitable to the Christian, than those
which he passes alone.

It may be a serious question then, to each one of
my readers, not whether he loves solitude ; for that is
ambiguous ; but how he fills up the profitable or per
nicious hours, which to solitude are given. Do you
reflect ; look inward ; meditate pray commune
with God and commune with yourself, when you
retire from the haunts of business and activity ? Is
your solitude a root to bear the branches of benevo
lent exertion ? Or do you retire to fill ?

But I must close my paper with a


I l"ve the shade ; I love the lonely walk,

Where, while the zephyrs whisper peace around,
And the bat flies o er grass by trees imbrowned,

Descending spirits, seem to meet and talk,


And giant-shadows in procession stalk ;

While the low sun in glory, though profound,

Sprinkles his pearls o er all the dewy ground,
In hues, which fancy soothe, but reason balk.

Father of nature ! Father of our race !

Of the refulgent sun the rain the dew!
Who hear st the hungry ravens when they cry ;

let me here thy secret footsteps trace ;
Thou God of nature, ocean, earth, and sky,
Subdue ray soul and be my father too !


No. 43.

The love of popularity, is the all-tainting vice of a republic.

Dr. Chunninff.

NOTHING is more deceiving, than judging of theo
ries, without an eye to their operation in practice ;
and especially is it so in politics. I have often sus
pected, and indeed the suspicion is almost ripened
into a confirmed belief, that all the boasted forms of
government, which have been most admired for their
excellence, have little value in the abstract, and are
only wise in reference to the past history of the people.
They were expedients, which their present habits and
prejudices rendered necessary. Take the British
constitution, as an example. They have three inde
pendent powers, each of which has a negative on
each other. In theory, then, we may say, that each
may perpetually resist the other, put a negative on all
its proceedings, and the whole government must per-


petually stand still. It is easy to put a drag-chain
on your waggon, when preparing to descend the hill,
which shall perfectly stop it ; but the great question
is, how shall it move, and move with the requisite
moderation 1 In theory, therefore, the British con
stitution provides not a particle of remedy for these
evils ; but they are found in their past history. Hav
ing suffered the commotions of two revolutions, and
an obstinate family having been twice driven from the
throne, all parties feel the necessity of proceeding
by compromise. The parliament is careful of pre
senting an offensive bill to the king; and the king,
for years, has not exercised the power of the veto ;
and thus, by accommodating their abstract constitu
tion with a moral power which corrects its evils, the
government proceeds, with some jarring, to accom
plish the imperfect objects at which government

Our own constitution was made with the utmost
care ; and, I have no doubt, was intended to be so
completely finished, that it should go, like perpetual
motion, of its own accord. But such is the impossi
bility of anticipating all possible exigencies in pre
vious speculation, that our constitution, formed as it
was in a later age, and by the wisest men, after the
maturest experience, yet in its adaptation to practi
cable life, owes its feasibility to certain expedients,
for which its luminous sections have made no pro

VOL. II. 9


Much has been said about our caucuses; and that
American word has been thought to express an as
sembly, where selfishness and faction meet, to plan
their devices, and exercise their violence. Dr. Dvvight
somewhere describes a caucus, as a place where the
party-man and the demagogue come, to plot for de
ceiving the people, and to control the lawful assemblies.
To say that a man figures at a caucus, is to insinuate
everything bad of him, as a politician. Yet I see
not how it would be possible to go along with our
elections, without these previous assemblies. They
were not brought in by faction, but by necessity; and
in condemning them, we are acting the part of the
bigots of the middle ages, who condemned all usury,
and the Jews as brokers and usurers, who always
existed, though always persecuted, because it was
impossible for commerce to exist, without money s
being lent on trust, and the lender s being rewarded
for that trust.

Let us consider, for a moment, how it is in the
election of governor. The constitution makes provi
sion for the act of voting; it requires a hundred
thousand people and more to come together on a set
day, and cast their votes for a chief magistrate.
"Those persons, who shall be qualified to vote for
senators and representatives, within the several towns
of this commonwealth, shall, at a meeting to be called
for that purpose, on the first Monday of April, annu-
$lly, give in their votes for a governor, to the select*


men, who shall preside at such meetings: and the
town-clerk, in the presence and with the assistance
of the selectmen, shall, in open town-meeting, sort
and count the votes, and form a list of the persons
voted for, with the number of votes for each person
against his name ; and shall make a fair record of
the same in the town-books, and a public declaration
thereof in the said meeting ; and shall, in the pres
ence of the inhabitants, seal up copies of the said
list, attested by him and the selectmen, and transmit
the same to the sheriff of the county," &,c.* This is
all that is said, respecting the choice of governor.
Now, how are a hundred thousand people to coincide
in one man, or hope or expect such a miracle, without
some concert 1 There must be some previous nomi
nation ; there must be some effort, to bring up men,
well qualified, before the public eye, and fasten their
merits on the public attention. As there are no legal
assemblies for this, it is done in voluntary meetings,
called caucuses ; and it seems to me, an honest
citizen may go to them, without the imputation of
being a lover of faction, or a follower of dema

If these nominations were not made in these
caucuses, they must be made by single citizens, or
editors of newspapers, which would be infinitely

* Constitution of Massachusetts, Chap. II., Art. i., Sec* 2L


As caucuses seem to be necessary, so it seems to
me, some of them are managed with singular wisdom.
I see nothing which the most dreaming theorist could
desire to mend. Take the usual method in which a
governor is nominated, as an example. The mem
bers of the legislature, previous to the next election,
assemble on some evening, to consult on this impor
tant point. They are supposed to be the wisest men
in the commonwealth; they come from all parts of
the State ; they stand in a responsible situation, and
their characters are well known. Such nominations
are as little likely to fail either from want of wisdom,
or want of virtue, as any that can be devised.

Respecting the lower caucuses, more might be
said ; they too often fall into the hands of busy and
irresponsible men. No government can be worse,
than that which is managed by secret agents, behind
a curtain. But the defect of these caucuses, happens
through the negligence of our best citizens. They
have imbibed such a prejudice for the word, and have
such a perfect detestation of a meeting called for the
purposes of violence and faction, that they often stay
away from them ; and leave their purposes to be fore
stalled by agents of less virtue, but more activity. It
should be remembered, that the caucus is the most
important meeting; there resides the spirit of the
election, and in the other only the form. Here,
minds are compared, wills are united, and the pro
ceedings here fix the election, as the planting of the
seed decides the character of the tree.


It may be asked, whether caucuses should be con
fined to men of one party, as is now generally the
case ? or whether a general meeting of free citizens,
should be invited? In times of high excitement, I
apprehend the exclusive mode is the best. If in an
informal meeting, you were to bring two parties
together, there would be danger of a tumultuous
assembly, and no decision. But in calmer times, it
would perhaps be best to collect all, and to adjust
differences by a mutual compromise.

It is an evil, that caucuses are held in the evening.
A man is not the same being by candle-light, that he
is in sunshine ; no, not the wisest and best. It is
true, it will be said on the other side, that the evening
is the season of leisure ; and that it would be difficult
for artisans and men of business to leave their work,
during earlier hours. How far these evils counter
balance those of nocturnal deliberations, deserves to
be considered. But I am sure no man ought to
allow himself to make any important decision, after
ten o clock at night. He will be apt to find it a work
of darkness, in more senses than one. Late sessions,
late courtships, late meetings, are the ruin of our
welfare, in politics, love, and religion.

One evil of caucuses is, that there is often a frst
cause before the Jirst ; a caucus before the caucus,
where a number of busy men have already anticipated
the decisions of the meeting. It is as hard to trace
things to their first causes in politics, as it is to find


the end of the little fibrous roots of a tree, which run
deep in the ground. To prevent this, I could wish
that a caucus could always hold two sessions. Let
them first meet to discuss matters, interchange opi
nions, hear speeches, (which should be short, and not
inflammatory,) and run over a list of candidates. Let
them choose a large committee of nomination, and
then adjourn ; for it is an excellent thing to sleep,
after a debate, before a decision. Let them come
together, to hear the report of their committee, and
fix on their candidates. All this should not be con
sidered as a subsidiary part of an election. It seems
to be essential to a union of efforts, and a wise

Republicanism is a car, which can only accomplish
its journey, by going slow enough. The people will
generally be right, if you can only keep them in
pause long enough to think. For this reason, in all
our proceedings, we should avoid hasty decisions. A
great deal has been said about long speeches, irrele
vant repetition, and a needless consumption of time,
in our State legislature. This is a preservative evil
in republicanism. I had rather be vexed with long
speeches, than ruined by rash legislation. I have
sometimes thought it would be wise, to hire ten long-
winded tribunes, to consume the day for the preser
vation of our laws, and to save us from the evils of
perpetual innovation.


No. 44.

For though most hands dispatch apace,
And make light work (the proverb says),
Yet many different intellects
Are found t have contrary effects ;
And many heads t obstruct intrigues,
As slowest insects have most legs.


YOUTHFUL recollections are not easily effaced ; and
I look back with some pleasure on the eloquence I
heard, and the scenes I witnessed, in former days, at
our Bundleborough town-meetings.

In the first place, a half sheet of fools-cap paper,
with all the articles to be debated, written out in a
fair hand, was pasted up at the porch-door of the
meeting-house, and other conspicuous places in town,
signed by the selectmen, warning all good citizens
worth sixty pounds in money, to come and vote on
their municipal affairs. Sometimes it was to choose
a governor, sometimes representatives to the State


legislature, and sometimes to raise monies to defray the
expenses of the town ; and if any one wished to have
a birds-eye view of politics and politicians, he might
have seen it there. There were dupes and knaves,
demagogues and gulls, management and jealousy, art
and deception, rustic shrewdness and rustic elo
quence ; all the tricks and knaveries of social life
played off to perfection, so that what our primer was
to other books, our town-meetings were to more dig
nified assemblies. I am an impartial judge of politics,
for I began life by looking down on its operations
from a gallery ; and I must own, from that day to
this, I have seen little in the science to enamor me
with its beauties.

On the appointed day, the meeting-house was
thrown open ; and in the great pew immediately under
the pulpit, a little elevated above the rest of the audi
ence, were collected the town-clerk, the selectmen,
and whoever had a right to that dignified seat. The
first business was to choose a moderator, to regulate
the meeting a very needful officer; and here the
choice almost invariably fell upon squire Wilson,
whose silver tongue, and cautious wisdom, made him
the hero of our town. How often have I seen him
walk to the chair, with all the dignity of a speaker in
the house of commons, taking off his three-cornered
hat, showing on his back the circle, which the club
of his powdered wig had made on his coat, every step
firm and deliberate, every look a thunderbolt of


wisdom ! Then came his handsome apologies He felt
" wholly incompetent to discharge the arduous duties
imposed upon him ; it was a violent constraint on
his conscious sense of inability to take that exalted
chair ; he should need all the candor and indulgence
of his fellow townsmen, to conduct the business of
this important meeting ; but reiving on their good
sense and generosity, the proofs of which, on many
trying occasions, he had so often received, he would,
according to his poor abilities, endeavor to discharge
the duties of a Bundleborough moderator." All this
appeared to me, in those days, as the very topmost
flights of modesty and eloquence. I had heard the
names of Demosthenes and Cicero, but what they
could do more or better, I could not imagine.

In every age, it seems that peculiar modesty on the
superficies is required of the man, who presides over
a deliberative assembly. Demosthenes had it in his
orations, and always takes care to hoist it into notice
in the beginning of his speech ; Cicero mixes it with
all his vanity ; and it is well known how the speaker
of the house of commons, was accustomed to plead
with and petition the king, to set aside his election
and excuse him from an honor, for which he panted
with all his heart. " Till Sir Fletcher Norton was
elected speaker," says the editor of Blackstone s Com
mentaries, "on 29th Nov. 1774, every gentleman,
who was proposed to fill that honorable office, aifected
great modesty, and if elected, was almost forced into


the chair, and at the same time, he requested per
mission to plead, in another place, his excuses and in
ability to discharge the office, which he used to do on
being presented to the king." He goes on to say, a
little after, " Sir John Gust was the last speaker who
addressed the throne in the language of diffidence, of
which the following sentence may serve as a speci
men ; I am now a humble suitor to your majesty,
that you would give your faithful commons an oppor
tunity of rectifying this, the only inadvertent step
which they can ever take, and be graciously pleased
to direct them to present some other to your majesty,
whom they may not hereafter be sorry to have chosen,
nor your majesty to have approved. " See Blackstone s
Commentaries, vol. I. page 181, note. But all this I
had seen without going to England, in Bundleborough,
my dear native town.

Our sharpest debates, as in the British parliament,
used to be about money matters. This was wont to
call forth all the eloquence of the house, and some
times exhaust the whole session of six hours. Some
times Dr. Snivelwell would want to have his salary
raised; for the whole town was but one parish.
Sometimes our schools must be multiplied, and some
times a new road was to be laid out. In all these
debates, there were two parties, the savers and the
spenders ; and each of them guided, notwithstanding
their professions, a little by private interest. Those
gentlemen, whose property was invisible and paid the


smallest taxes, in proportion to their wealth, were
always most ready to vote away the town s money ;
whereas the farmer, whose purse was small and
whose lands must be taxed, was invariably the most
parsimonious and saving.

I remember I used to compare our venerable cler
gyman to the king ; his church to the house of lords ;
and the people, in town-meeting assembled, to the
commons. Our reverend king was very willing to
have his salary increased ; the church were not very
adverse to it, or, at least, less so than the lower house ;
but the commons were always griping the purse-
strings. Thus we had deep management and warm

It was curious sometimes to notice the mistakes
made by rustic eloquence. Great liberties were often
taken with the king s English, and we used to show
that we were true freemen, by violating the laws of
language. I recollect the discussion was once re
specting continuing our schools throughout the year ;
when one crentleman remarked that we were an an-


cient, growing town, and needed two annual schools ;
when an honest farmer started up, and said, " that
for his part, he never went to an animal school, nor
his father before him ; and he did not see why our
children should need animal schools. He thought we
had better save our money, and leave animal schools
to the Boston fops, who needed them." On another
occasion, it was objected to an agricultural gentleman,


who had made a speech rather inconclusive in its
reasoning, that his ground was not tenable. " Not
tillable, Mr. Moderator," said he ; "I own as much
tillable ground as any other man ; I pay the largest
tax of any one in town ; and, Sir, is it to be objected
to me, that my ground is not tillable ?" So the
worthy man, like some logicians, found his mistake to
be an error in tcrminis.

There was one famous speaker in our rustic senate,
who was accustomed to attract great attention. He
went by the name of the learned cobbler. He had a
thin person, a loud voice, a meagre and haggard
look, and as much brass in his face, as prevented
him from ever being abashed. He was always in the
opposition ; and had he been in the British parliament,
would soon have been in the ministry. His gesticu
lation was very vehement ; and I remember a part
of his speech against raising our minister s salary.
" Turn your eyes," said he, " my fellow-townsmen, to

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 15)