Leonard Withington.

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

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


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 relicrion,

I have not space to characterize the JVorld, 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 the 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



260 THE PURITAN.

such a thing as religion, then But I must conceal

my severe censures, and spare the venerable dead.

The high praises bestowed by the Edinburgh
Review, on the works of Dickinson, led me to an impa-
tient search after the Farmer's Letters ; and I must
say, I read them with disappointment. Though the
author assumes with great parade, the character of a
practical man, yet the reader may judge of the justice
of that claim, by his pretending to plough with a little
child riding on the beam ; which is very sentimental.
His tale of a gibbeted negro in the southern States,
is so horrible, that the reader is compelled to disbe-
lieve it ; his style is redundant, and he labors hard
at the vain effort of making backwoodsmen happy,
and log-houses picturesque. These foreign critics
are doubly unjust ; they know not how to praise us.

There was a couple of volumes published in Massa-
chusetts some forty years, ago, called the Moral Mon-
itor, not wholly unworthy of notice. As another fol-
lower in the bright succession, we may notice Dennie,
who refused " to beat down mud walls with roses,"
but whose papers were a selection of roses collected
in a golden string. People as old as I am, will re-
member some other fugitive names, which had only
an ephemeral existence. Such as the Gleaner, sup-
posed to be written by a clergyman's wife, and too
foolish to be approved by any body ; the Gossip, in a
Magazine published in Boston thirty years ago, con-



THE PURITAN. 261

sidered as the work of the same hand, and bearing
marks of equal folly. The Ordeal, in a paper called
the Emerald, was a far more respectable production.
But all its merits could not redeem it from oblivion.

Purpureas veluti cum flos succisus aratro
Languescit moriens, lassove papavera collo
Demisere caput, pluvia cum forte gravantur.

But one of the best of these writers, and one who
has placed the lighter morals on their only solid foun-
dation, and that too in a sweet and playful style, is
Mr. Sampson, the author of the Brief Remarker.
This author has not contented himself in dealing out
moral truisms, nor has he plunged into a dazzling
deluge of perverse originality. He has some pene-
trating remarks on human nature, and many of his
papers are beautiful, original and just. I am sure
my commendation is impartial ; for I know the man
only from his book.

Thus have I endeavored to do justice to all my pre-
decessors, so far as I know them. My book comes
after, like a humble servant to the illustrious train.
I could wish such pleasing themes had fallen into
more skilful hands ; but if Mr. Everett will conde-
scend to be governor ; if Dr. Channing and Dr.
Beecher will waste their energies on temporary con-
troversies ; if Mr. Irving will write semi-novels, and
Mr. Paulding exaggerated caricatures for satires — '



262 THE PURITAN.

why then the moral and the 'permanent must fall into
such hands as those of John Oldbug. I say — John

OtDBUG.

Phcebus ! what a name !
To fill the speaking trump of future fame.



\

THE PURITAN

No. 60.



Now Mr. Great-heart was a strong man; so he was not afraid of a lion.

Pilffiim^ti Progress,



Behold ! I have reached my last number. After
having long been tossed by the billows and beaten by
the tempest, I am at last sailing by the buoy of Point
Alderton, and have the prospect of casting my an-
chor, for a quarantine, by Rainsford's island. I
mean, I am about closing my book ; and it requires
no small share of intrepidity to deliver the offspring
of one's brain, to this cold and censorious world. I
am afraid of the lions. In anticipation I hear them
roar already ; and fancy I can see the critics devour-
ing my harmless pages, with that merciless spirit with
which they can at once gratify their hunger and
satiate their revenge.

But I am not answerable for consequences ; and
the first thing I have to tell the reader, is, that time



264 THE PURITAN.

has intercepted my purposes ; and many things^
which I designed to have put into my volumes, have
slipped through my fingers and are gone — probably
forever. Whether this be thy sorrow or mine, I must
tell thee that I intended to have described my aunt
Hannah's death-bed ; to have made much more use
of my uncle Gideon ; to have invited thee to a husk-
ing ; to have talked more about that New England
feast — a thanksgiving ; to have given the history of a
debt ; to have told thee some capital stories, related by
my grandfather, about the Indians ; to have brought up
New England manners and incidents, in more viva-
cious pictures than any I have yet been able to paint.
I had some flowers, at the bottom of my basket, more
sweet, more fair, than any I have yet presented thee.
\ But, alas ! how do our designs shrivel in the execution !
My last hour has come; and, instead of weaving new
narratives, I must give my closing advice.

Remember then, my friendly reader, who hast thus
followed me patiently to my last page, that thou art
a REPUBLICAN ; thy duties, like those of all other
men, arise from thy station ; and there are certain
tendencies in republicanism, which will certainly
upset our happiness, unless they are resisted by an
antagonist spirit. You have observed, no doubt, that
many things preserve their position by balancing.
Hold up a pair of scales, for example ; see two boys
tilting on a rail ; see Signor Blitz, walking the slack
Tope, (if that is among his jugglings, for I have never



THE rURITAN. 265

seen this ihaumaturgus work his wonders,) consider
a ship loaded with iron ; or rise to the planets, re-
volving in their orbits ; and you will find that every
thing keeps its place, and sounds its notes in concord
with the universal harmony, by the counteracting in-
fluence of two Opposite powers. Republicanism tends
to ambition ; offering the prizes of office to all, it dif-
fuses the cravings of that dangerous passion, through
all the ranks of life. ^ All hate to work and love to
rule.' This then must be counteracted by an antago-
nist spirit ; and as powerful as the tendency to which
it is opposed. Need I tell you that the spirit is
religion ? a religion which enforces humility — am-
bition's balance and ambition's cure. Republicanism
tends to self-glorification ; — the will of the people — a
free, enlightened community ! the last great empire !
a people capable of self-government ! a wonderful
people !

Columbia ! Columbia ! to glory arise !

The queen of the world and the child of the skies.

These visions, for aught I know proper in their
place, can only be overcome by opening a book
which tells us in rather plain language — that men of
low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie.
Republicanism tends to excitement and disorganiza-
tion ; and therefore the counter-spirit must be strict
subordination in schools and families. Heaven de-
liver us, I say, from republican schools and families ;

VOL, II. 18



266 THE PURITAN.

there every master and father must and shall be king ;
and here let me advise you, attentively to peruse Sir
William Temple's account of the Netherlands. The
Dutch vi^ere a vi^ise people. They understood liberty.
They were the first who resisted oppression on con-
sistent principles, and they long preserved it. Now
their peculiarity was, that while their theory and
public system was very free, it was overcome, in its
tendencies to excess, by the strictest system of do-
mestic manners, and by the severest municipal regu-
lations. Republicanism tends to make men unsocial
— to alienate them into factions. As Dr. Goldsmith
says —

That independence Britons prize so high,
Keeps man from man, and breaks the social tie.

How much more is this true of Americans ! Every
thing is here addressed to the many ; and the proverb
tells us that many men have many minds. Shaks-
peare, who, with all his genius, I fear, was no true
republican, has described the disposition of the many
with too much severity. In Corolanus, he makes
one of the honest citizens say — We have been called
so (i. e. the many headed multitude) of many ; not
that our heads are some brown, some black, some au-
burn, some bald; but that our wits are so diversely
colored; andt?'uly, I think, if all our wits were to
issue out of one skull, they would fly east, west, north,
south ; and this consent of one direction, woidd be at



THE PURITAN. 267

once to all points of the compass. — Corolanus, Act IT.
scene 3. Indeed we find we have always something
to quarrel about. A candidate, a tariff, a new law,
an old one, masonry or anti-masonry, colonization or
abolitionism, a bank or a bridge, a foreigner or a fool.
Even in my dear native town, Bundleboroiigh, we
always had our factions. Squire Wilson wanted a
new road, and Col. Crane would oppose it ; Tom
Long wanted a license, and some of the selectmen
would say he should not have it ; the singers would
quarrel, or Dr. Snivelwell would threaten to ask a
dismission ; in short, we had something to keep us in
commotion year in and year out.

Difficulty is behind, fear is before ;

When he gets up the hill he hears the lions roar ;

A Christian man is never long at ease ;

When one fright's gone, another doth him seize.

The counter spirit to this, is great meekness and
benevolence. An obstinate man makes a sad re-
publican.

Nor must a man be blown about by every shifting
wind of doctrine. Republicanism is naturally an in-
novator, and we want some discreet conservatives.
The truth is, in our vi^hirl-a-gig times, a wise man
must bend, like the tree, to recover himself when the
wind is over. He must resemble the nave of a
wheel — not a worse knave — which turns gently with
the circumference; conforms, but preserves its centre;



268 THE PURITAN.

turns, but turns less, and connects its swiftest motion
with the progress of the vehicle. Such are the politi-
cians we want, and such should be our citizens.

But, above all things, in the perilous times which I
foresee are coming, (perilous I say, but not clearly de-
structive,) if you are a good man, preserve your sin-
cerity. Bring out the individuality of your charac-
ter ; and never shrink from the roaring of the popular
lions of the day. When I have gone to a public
meeting, and heard some of our flaming orators,
puffing and blowing, and rolling out hyperboles,
which must be figures of speech to save them from
being lies, I have said — but I am afraid to tell
what I have said. I have said it to my wife and
children ; and thanks be to the Father of mercies, the
freedom of speech still lingers around the fireside.

My last paragraph shall be to explain a hard word.
I have used the word antithesis; and by it, I mean
that which cannot be understood without its correla-
tive opposite ; as light without darkness, heat with-
out cold, matter without spirit, and spirit without
matter ; and so, reader, take my explanation, and my

last

Farewell.



k



BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY



3 9999 06399 929 4



APR M -liie





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

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