Leonard Withington.

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

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I am a determined enemy of late hours in all possible
concerns. I love the sun ; I love his light ; and I
love that better light, of which his resplendent visage
is but a feeble emblem. I once sat up on an arbitra
tion all night, in a case, in which it seemed to be
necessary ; but the decision was such as satisfied
none of the parties, no impartial hearer, and such as
I myself could never after bear to think on, during
the hours of sunshine.

The whole secret of choosing well in matrimony,
may be taught in three words Explore the character.
A violent love-fit is always the result of ignorance ;
for there is not a daughter of Eve, that has merit
enough to justify romantic love, though thousands and
thousands, may reasonably inspire that gentle esteem,
which is infinitely better. A woman-worshipper and
a woman-hater, both derive their mistakes from igno
rance of the female world ; for if the characters of
women were thoroughly understood, they would be
found too good to be hated, and yet not good enough
to be idolized.



No. 48.

At length the morn and cold indifference came ;
When, fully sated with the luscious banquet,
I hastily took leave ; and left the nymph
To think on what was past, and sigh alone.

Fair Penitent.

MY design in this number, is to illustrate the re
marks of the former number, by a story, which I have
heard from several elder people, and which I believe
to be strictly true.

On the banks of the Merrimack, there dwelt a
young lady, whose accomplishments were above her
birth. She was not a finished beauty ; but had a
delicate, interesting countenance, and a wit and
vivacity, which made her the life and delight of all the
companies with which she chose to mingle. Her ed
ucation had been good, for that day, (the commence
ment of the revolutionary war,) and her character was
brightened by that good sense (I had almost said ge-

VOL. II. 11


nius) which, however untaught, always forms the
foundation of the interest we take, either in woman
or man. She was addressed by a young and enter
prising youth ; the master of a vessel, of a family
rather more genteel than her own ; who was consid
ered every way worthy of her. The parents of the
young man, it is true, made some objections at first,
because the girl belonged to a plain household; but
when they came to be acquainted with her, after a
short visit at their house, every objection vanished ;
her personal charms overcame the impediments of her
birth, and the mother of the young captain declared,
that she was as much in love with the girl as her son.
It was considered as a very happy connection. Two
of the most sprightly youth of both sexes, the life of
all parties, and the delight of all friends, were to be
united ; and nobody wondered, (which is in itself a
wonder,) that the one had chosen the other.

The young lover made several voyages to sea for
he was taught by his father, though he might marry a
girl without much property, he must earn some money
before marriage, or love would starve on penury
and affection freeze. His adventures were good ; his
voyages, though long, were generally prosperous ; and
he was rising to that independence, which, on all
principles of prudence, might justify marriage. But
somehow, from some secret reason, unaccountable to
all but the parties concerned, just before his last voy
age, (previous to a disaster I am going to relate,) his


affections became cold; and, though the lady s charms
were the same, and her interest the same, he treated
her with the indifference of a cloyed lover. He
seemed insensibly to lose his esteem for her ; and on
parting for this memorable voyage, they almost agreed
to dissolve their connection. However they left the
matter ambiguous; and it was evident that the thought
of parting was more painful to the lady than to the
man. Amidst all her lightness, and wit, and appa
rent trifling, it was obvious there was some deep-
seated affliction preying on her heart. She smiled,
and told him she did not doubt she should soon see
him back again ; for a bad penny was soon returned ;
but the speech was uttered in a mixed tone, and fol
lowed by some insuppressible tears.

During that voyage, he was taken by the British
cruisers ; he was carried into Deptford, and confined
in a mariner s prison for several years. The war
continued ; no opportunity of exchange occurred ; his
letters were intercepted, and all thoughts of home,
and its once charming connections, were obliterated
from his heart.

I ought to mention, perhaps, that though he was a
man not destitute of moral impressions, and of the
strictest sentiments of honesty and honor, yet he had
that loose notion prevalent in New England, that
marriage rectifies all the slips previous to its cere
mony ; and had he known of any disaster at home,
he would certainly felt bound in conscience to return
and repair it.


When peace was declared, he was liberated, and
once more began his career of commercial enterprise.
He concluded that his connection with his once-loved
Mehitable was dissolved ; he had been long from
home, he heard nothing ; he supposed she was mar
ried ; and like the bounding bird, on St. Valentine s
day, he thought he was once more at liberty to spread
the painted wing of freedom, and choose for himself
another mate.

He went to the West Indies, and there found an
opportunity of gratifying fancy and fortune both.
There was a daughter of a rich merchant in the place,
an only child, who attracted his attention. She was
young, comely, rich, and willing to receive a youthful
adventurer as her partner for life. As the young
man bore an excellent character, her father could
make no objection ; and they were married ; the
bridegroom writing home to tell his parents of his sit
uation, and prospects, with a signification for the
present that he should make his residence in the
West Indies.

But just as the marriage was finished, a vessel from
Nevvburyport arrived in the island. It was natural
for him to walk down to the shore, hear the news,
inquire about home, and talk with one who had just
come from the paternal abode. " Your parents are
well," said the new arrived captain, "and things go on
as usual ; but do you know about Mehitable ? She
is the mother of a child of whom you are supposed to


be the father. She is shut up in her father s house ;
she never sees company ; she weeps night and day ;
and the only recompense you can ever make her, is
to return and marry her ; for I am sure she is a fine
girl, and is now spoiled for every body but yourself."

It would be difficult to conceive the horror that
came over the face of Mehitable s lover. " O that I
could call back yesterday ! O that I could undo
the work of a few short hours." He ought to
have thrown his retrospections farther back. But
he was married, and no reparation remained for
poor Mehitable. Perhaps I should mention here, that
her father, though poor, at least not rich, was a very
proud and severe man. When he found out her situ
ation, after her lover s capture in England, he said to
her, with a dreadful look, dreadful at least to a guilty
daughter, " You may stay in my house ; I will not
turn you out of doors. But never let me see your
face again, never until the grave has covered your
body or mine." This awful command was complied
with. For seven years, the fallen, afflicted daughter
spent her time in her father s house, in a solitary cham
ber, (weeping almost literally day and night,) some
times hearing his voice, but never seeing his face.

Sad too, was the task which the bridegroom in the
West Indies had to perform to his wife. Concluding
that honesty was the best policy, he went home and
told his bride the whole story. He confessed his for
mer attachment to poor Mehitable ; acknowledged


that he was the father of a son, not his wife s ; allowed
her merit and his own guilt and declared it was his
intention, as it was certainly his duty, to make every
provision for the education of a child, which he was
the means of introducing into the world in such un
happy circumstances. Here was a trying case !
What should a woman do? What a wife ? Should
she give way to rage or magnanimity 1 Should she
show her own virtue by kindness and generosity, or
by invectives and triumphs over the fallen and op

I rejoice to say she acted the better part. She
sent every article of comfort that her kindness could
devise for her unfortunate rival. Teas, sugars, sweet
meats, oranges, dress, money, (but what is money
when affection bleeds !) were sent over in almost every
vessel. The boy was ordered to be put to school.
She even allowed her husband to write a soothing
letter to the heart he had seduced, bleeding over the
reputation he had destroyed. This, I consider, as
the highest flight of female generosity. Noble woman !
Two words are enough for your eulogy.

In a few years, (three, I think,) this generous wife
fell a prey to the climate ; and left her husband at
liberty to return home and raise his former love from
her deep degradation. And now, I suppose, my reader
imagines we are to have smooth sailing. The youth
is to return, raise up his drooping flower, kiss away
her tears, speak the accents of tenderness and conso-


lation, and spend the rest of his days in reputation
and happiness. But no ! The just Power that is
never offended with impunity, had otherwise deter
mined. It is true, he tried to do all this ; he went
home, released Mehitable from her bondage ; married
her, and tried every method to raise her to the honors
of a wife. But her cheerfulness was gone ; her vivac
ity was gone ; her innocence was gone ! and it was
generally agreed, that they passed together a cheer
less, unhappy life ; and I recommend this story to
the deep consideration, not only of those who trifle
with, what Shakspeare calls, the beforehand sin, but
of all those, who think that a subsequent recompense,
however ample, always removes the whole evil of a
preceding transgression.


No. 49.

Yet much remains

To conquer still : Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than War: New foes arise
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains :

Milton s Sonnet to Cromwell.

ALREADY have I told my readers, that whatever
might be my efforts, the cruel and ungrateful world
always seemed to make it a point to leave me to ob
scurity and neglect. No deathless laurels bloomed
for me. Votes bore not my name ; and essays, epi
grams, sermons, epic poems, though calculated for
immortality, went to immediate oblivion. But once
in my life my disastrous stars made a sudden revolu
tion from the nadir to the zenith ; and I was chosen
to deliver an oration, on the 4th of July, to the whole
assembled town of Bundleborough. Here was a great
occasion. Much was expected ; and I endeavored to
arise to the height of the great argument set before me.


As however the oration, though I thought it my mas
ter-piece, was not requested for the press, I shall
publish it here.


Hail, natal day ! Hail, happy country, where every
sound is the echo of tranquillity, and every blossom the
efflorescence of delight! Hail, Columbia, the glory of all
lands, the home of the brave, and the paradise of the
free ! Hail, those noble heroes ! who poured out their
blood like water to purchase our liberties, though some
of them had been so starved by oppression that they
had scarcely any blood to shed ! Hail, this blessed
morn ! when the blushing aurora, leading on the
joyful hours from the golden gates of the east, and
calling up every tuneful bird, reminds us, as she
drives her airy chariot over the sil.er drops of dew,
of the times, which tried men s souls. Hail, the fair
sex ! whose beauties incite the patriot and reward
the conqueror, as he returns home on his triumphal
car, to lay, in his sweet, domestic nest, the eggs of
hope, and brood over them, with fond, parental care,
until he hatches the chickens of innocent enjoyment.
Hail, Washington ! Hail, Green ! Hail, Bunker Hill,
and Lexington ! or rather, (to speak without an an
achronism,) Lexington and Bunker Hill ! Hail, every
thing that ought to be hailed on such a glorious day
as this ! And now, fellow citizens, having got through


this travelled paragraph, which it has almost ex
hausted my ingenuity to write, and my breath to
speak, let me lay aside my sublimities and call you,
through the rest of this oration, to hear a little plain
common sense.

It is certain, whatever may be the purposes of hu
man nature, man was never made for solitude. His
station is society ; his passion-, his wants, his desires
and his aversions, all point him to the social scene ;
and mix him with the great ocean of which his own
existence is a constituent drop. This consideration
should urge us to take a deep interest in the welfare
of our fellow creatures ; to improve that community
from which it is impossible for us to retreat. Though
the solitary island, the silent grove, the peaceful cell,
the lonely bed, and the tranquil stream, may occa
sionally amuse a romantic imagination, yet in these
respects, truth and fancy are entirely opposite. No
man can, probably, bear a perfect seclusion from his
species. This remark is not confuted by the history
of the ancient monks. It was eminently a social
passion that drove them into retirement. They were
sought out and admired in their cells ; and the wil
derness was often to them, a passage to the episcopal
throne. Whatever storms may pass over the sea of
life, whatever passions may rage, however vice may be
exalted and virtue depressed, it is the duty of a good
man to face the difficulties. As politicians have said,
that the most tyrannical government, is better than


anarchy ; so it may be said, with equal truth, that the
most corrupt society is better than solitude. The
whole system of social virtue, is built on the divine
command, " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
This implies that we have a neighbor. It is social
life alone that can give meaning to the law of God.

It is not uncommon to find some men, whose in
tentions are the best, whose perceptions are the most
clear, and whose morality is most refined, shuffled
out their influence, because they could not bear the
roughness of the contest because they would not
purchase popularity at the market-price because
when their motives were misunderstood, and their
character torn, they shrunk in discouragement from
an ungrateful world, and felt in evil times, that a
private station was the post of honor. This, however,
is a fatal mistake. Evil times are precisely the occa
sions when the influence of good men is most needed.
The station that mortifies their pride, which they call
their feelings, that taxes their modesty, is precisely
the station which in duty they ought to keep. It is
true, you will see the noisy and the bold run away
with much of the influence. You will see the meanest
abilities succeeding by arts, which you cannot use. You
will see the grossest hypocrisy for a while pass unde
tected ; and the crowd so completely deceived, that
they will consider it almost as treason to show them
their true interest. But what then ? Let not the
good man despair. The arts of deception are ex-


haustible. The influence of truth is eternal. Like
a constant stream, never foaming and never dry it
wears away the obstacle by a ceaseless flow. The
people, it is true, sometimes sleep over their interest ;
they not only sleep, but they dream. Yet however
soft their slumbers, or wild their dreams, they must
wake at last. It has been the fatal mistake of some
good men, that they have not waited for the waking
hour. They have been defeated by their own de

In farther pursuing this subject, I solicit your pa
tience while I shall discuss the following propositions.

1st. That most of the real good accomplished in the
world, has been done by cool and impartial men not
the slaves of a party.

2d. That much more good would have been done,
if such men had not too soon abandoned their cause.

3d. They ought to persevere and support each

1. That most of the real good accomplished in the
world, has been done by cool and impartial men not
the slaves of a party.

A moment s reflection must convince us that utility
is a distant object ; to be looked at only by a cool and
considering mind. It is like the rainbow which
bounds the prospect and is to be seen by him alone,
who cast his sight forward and elevates his eye, to
that heaven in which the beautiful arch is completed.
Impartial discernment is necessary even to form a


view of so remote an object ; and still more is it ne
cessary to pursue and overtake it. Passion blinds the
mind ; passion is employed in seeing and devouring
the gratifications within its reach. It throws a man
on little arts and temporary expedients ; and urges
him to lose the welfare of his country, in his own re
vengeful and ambitious ends. Take any one of the
passions, and in their violence how completely will
they cloud the strongest intellect, and make a man
an incompetent judge, wherein he is thus inflamed.
Anger has been called a short madness; pleasure has
entered the cool breast, and broken down the most
resolved heart ; and even without the passions, a cold
and villanous selfishness has bound the man to the
worst of purposes, and rendered him as incapable of
serving his country, as he was dead to the glory of his
God. Such is the effect of these qualities in their
separate state. But party spirit is a combination of
them all. It is a collection of flames, raging with
intense fury, and imparting to each other reciprocal
heat. It wraps up in one deluded mind, every prin
ciple which can blind human nature, and inflame its
corruptions to the highest degree. It is a combina
tion of rage, revenge, malice; selfishness, pride, in
terest, ambition ; all broken from their restraints, and
set to run in the full career of their utmost wishes.
You all know that when men act in crowds, the
checks of conscience are diminished, because the
sense of responsibility is divided. They counte-


nance each other, and there are none to punish
where the majority are involved in the crime. If I
wished to picture human nature in its worst and most
degraded form : if 1 wished to add one more to the
melancholy proofs we have of the great depravity of
our race, 1 would show you an ignorant and bigoted
populace, inflamed by libels ; misled by demagogues ;
calling for revenge on imaginary crimes, and raving
with that hunger which must be appeased with blood.
Such scenes rather shock those fine speculations
which we sometimes hear of the dignity of human
nature. They show us man as he is ; or at least
as he may be ; and they teach us how incapable an
inflamed crowd is of seeing the plainest truth, or
pursuing their most obvious interest.

If we turn to facts, we find that public utility has
been seen and sought only by unparty-like men.
II is. dry unrolls her thick volume ; and the same bright
moral has been found on every page. Some men
have kept a steady career ; and amidst all the
shoutings and shakings of the crowd, have walked
firmly to the same objects. They did not always save
their country ; but they retarded its ruin and almost
sanctified its fall. Among the examples, I would
mention the name of Cicero. His letters show his
strong love of his country ; and how that love made
him slow in joining the violent sections into which
Rome was split. He reasoned ; he remonstrated ; he
exposed the faults of both sides ; he blamed the ex-


cesses of all ; and though his influence was impaired
by his constitutional timidity, yet a few more such
men, and Rome might have been free. His writings
are almost the only relics of permanent utility which
the political struggles of that time have left behind.
We have the authority of lord Clarendon for saying,
that Hampden and Pym, before the waverings of the
king made it impossible to trust him, were moderate
men. They were driven to violence by dire necessity.
And where shall we find brighter names? New Eng
land is hardly indebted more to any of her own patriot
sons. She may almost claim them as her own. I
might adduce also the example of the eloquent Burke,
who changed his apparent ground only because the
wants of the times were changed. When he saw the
power of the crown to be too great, he plead the cause
of freedom ; and when the mounds of society were
broken, and a mad liberty was coming in like a fiood,
with a perfect consistency, he went over to the other
side, and plead the cause of order and power. These
are the great examples which history leaves us. They
might easily be multiplied ; and they go to support
the point, that when a man s reason and conscience
are trammeled, his usefulness is also confined.

Perhaps there may seem to be one exception to
these remarks ; and that is, when the world is sunk
in a long and lazy slumber, when tyranny and oppres
sion have a strong hold on the mind ; it may be said
that a violent man is necessary to wake them from


their sleep. Thus it is often said, that Luther was
the exact instrument to produce the reformation.
Something, perhaps, must be granted to the force of
these examples. But after all, the good performed by
a violent man, is generally a violent good. It passes
for its full worth ; and is seldom lasting, unless a
more cautious spirit moves after him, and mends up
the mischief he has done. It is like lighting the
lamps of a dark room the first only makes the strik
ing transition from total darkness ; while all the lustre
of the lights that follow, shooting their radiance and
mixing their beams, and constituting the brightness,
are hardly noticed. It is the fate of the best men to
be feebly praised.

2. That much more good would have been done, if
such men had not too soon abandoned their cause.

It is one of the few advantages which the wicked
have over the good, that they always pursue their
purposes with greater activity. This truth has been
noticed by our Saviour the children of this world are
wiser in their generation than the children of light ;
and we may see from observation, that men become
zealous, just in proportion to the badness of their
cause. So cold is human nature in the cause of
virtue, that that cause never engrosses all our powers.
The most glowing Christian is seldom so ardent in
the pursuit of his benevolent objects, as the man of
pleasure in pursuit of his crimes. The sincerest
patriot hardly watches to preserve his country, as the


traitor does to overthrow it. Sad perversity of human
nature ! Mournful proof of the imperfection of man !
In a bad heart, all the passions move together ; they
rush to their objects, urged by instinct, by appetite,
by false reason. The whole soul floats on one on
ward stream, in which there is neither counter-current
nor eddy. But a good cause, never calls out the un
divided man ; because the best are but partially good.
The good man is cool, is cautious, is fearful he acts
by intervals, and is scrupulous about his means ; while
the bad man is urged by a reckless desperation ; he
feels he has nothing to lose ; he is regardless of means ;
and he tramples all inferior considerations under foot
in the pursuit of his ends. The purest virtue, like
water, is never more beautiful than when it settles into
tranquillity. But vice never sleeps.

There is something in politics very discouraging to
a man of fine and delicate morality. The virtues of
the politician are not the virtues of the man. In the
stormy region of public life, all the maxims which
constituted the honor and glory of a private station
are assaulted and shaken. New interests are felt ;
new passions are awake, and a new scene is opened.
The immeasurable glitter of the prize for which they
run the toil with which it must be pursued and the
difficulty of obtaining it excites the strongest desires,
and makes the candidates little scrupulous as to the
measures they employ. I appeal to experience, and ask
my hearers, if you have not felt your views of human

VOL. II. 12


nature sink, when you have entered the troubled
scene, and viewed the great actors with a closer in

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 15)