Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) online

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in the breeze and feel the sun, the trees must be
nearly as possible of a height.

I consider our country as having passed over the
important line, which separates rational liberty from
that excess of the principle, which may lead to self-
destruction. In Massachusetts, the step was taken
without noise ; and no man seemed to appreciate its
importance. But it is taken ; and nothing now re-
mains, but to regret it; for, in our land, there is no
recession from popular privileges. In Massachusetts,
previous to the last convention, two hundred dollars
in property, was required, to constitute a man a voter.
This, you will say, was a restriction little enough.
Noio, suffrage is universal. Every man, not a pauper,
finds his way to the polls. This, taken in connection
with the rapid manner in which the increasing ine-
qualities in wealth crowd down numbers into the
lowest rank, and the rapid influx of foreigners among
us, draws a dark cloud over our prospects. 1 some-


times imagine I can hear the thunders of revolution
roaring around the tomb of freedom.

The truth is, nine tenths of the questions which
we debate and settle in our halls of legislation and
town-meetings, are questions o^ jiroperty. The voter
ought to know something of the nature of property ;
of its value ; and he ought to know this from expe-
rience. He ought not to be an adventurer, hanging
loose on society, with nothing at stake. He ought to
give this proof and pledge of his being a good citizen,
that he has earned something for himself How shall


a man know how to manage the interests of a town,
or state, or whole nation, who cannot provide for his
own household ? When such men become the ma-
jority, we have reached the precipice, and nothing
remains, but to plunge into the waves below.

Here, then, my friend, has been our great mistake.
Universal suffrage, already, makes our vessel rock on
the waves, and may prove its ruin. When it is said
that virtue and intelligence, in a republic, are neces-
sary to its existence, it must mean that we hope to
preserve them within a certain circle ; within the
political sphere ; among those whose knowledge and
virtue prompt them to effort ; and raise them to some
degree of property. To think to make those intelli-
gent and virtuous, who are above or below this sphere,
would be contrary to all experience ; and will, in the
end, I fear, be found to be romance and ruin.

Still, I would not be too hasty in anticipating the


result. There are a great many things to be consid-
ered on the other side. Liberty is woven into our
habits : from the parish caucus to the highest legis-
lature, we are a debating people. There is land
enough ; and if some are always sinking to abject
poverty, others are always rising to fill the ranks of
the precious middle class. We have schools, and
colleges, and books, and newspapers, in abundance.
The means of popular knowledge lie on the ground
around us, as the manna did around the camp of
Israel. And, lastly, the present is a trying day. We
have hardly yet recovered from the giddiness of inde-
pendence ; nor consolidated our imported population
with the old into one consistent mass. We wait with
hope and anxiety, for the revelations of time.

As to your own country and condition, all I should
say to your warm radicals, could I be admitted to
whisper in their ear, would be compressed in the old,
plain proverb — Keep in the frying-pan. All govern-
ments are a choice of evils ; and no form, is worth
the price of a revolution.

Yours, John Oldbug.


No. 28.

Ask me what makes one keep, and one bestow ?
That Power, who bids the ocean ebb and flow.
Bids seed-time, liarvest, equal course maintain,
Through reconciled extremes of drought and rain ;
Builds life on death, on change duration founds,
And gives the eternal wheels to know their rounds.

Pope's Moral Essays, Epistle III., line 163 — 167.

In the long winter evenings which we were ac-
customed to spend over my grandfather's fire, I have
often heard him tell the story of the family of the
Packwells ; and as it illustrates the alternation of
wealth and poverty in the same household in New
England, I beg leave briefly to repeat it.

Old David Packwell was a man who blew a fisher-
man's horn through the roads of Bundleborough, for
nearly sixty years. It was his custom to run in debt
for the necessaries of life, and for one article more
necessary than all the rest — rum — as long as any one
would trust him. Then he would go out on the


water and catch a fare of fishes, and sell them, to
make himself, as he called it, square with the world,
and prepare the way for a new stock of credit. He
was a short, thick, hard, weather-beaten man, never
known to be intoxicated, though he poured down his
throat a constant stream of strong water, at the rate
of nearly two gallons per week. In short, he was
wretchedly poor, hardened to drinking, though never
drunk, because the spirit had no more efficacy on his
carcass, than on a well-seasoned cask. He lies
buried in Bundleborough grave-yaid, under a flat
grave-stone, with this singular epitaph ; which, what
it had to do with his character, no man could ever

The sweet remembrance of the just,
Shall flourish when he sleeps in dust.

His son Solomon \fSLS a very different character.
Old Packwell always had a notion that children
should be educated well ; and of education he had
no other conception than sending them constantly to
school. Solomon was not a very apt scholar, so far
as books were concerned ; he never read for amuse-
ment or information, but he was always in his place.
He learned to read, write, and cypher, with decency ;
he was sensible, shrewd, and observing ; and, above
all, he had a peculiar tact at getting money. Long
before the close of his schoolboy days, he had dis-
covered the art of catching birds in a trap cage,


and carrying them into Boston and selling them ; of
collecting dandelions in the spring, and carrying
them to the market with other vegetables, so that it
was as natural for money to collect around his fingers,
as it was to fly from those of his father. When he
became eighteen years old, he went to Boston and
began a series of exertions, which ended in the ac-
cumulation of a splendid fortune. His first business
was to drive round a single-horse cart, loaded with
sand, which he dealt out to families at three or four
coppers the half-peck. But whatever was his occupa-
tion, he was sure to gather money, under those power-
ful brokers, enterprise and economy.

One anecdote has often been told of him, from
which a plain, old woman, predicted his future afflu-
ence. He had brought her some sand and received
his pay, when she, noticing his diligence and exer-
tion, asked him if he would not take, sometlting to
drink; which phrase, by the v/ay, always, in New-
England, implies something more than water. It
was before the temperance reformation commenced.
"And, Madam," said he, "how much will this some-
tiiing cost you ? " " Perhaps," the lady replied,
" three coppers." *' Well, Madam," said he, " give
me the three coppers, and I will take my draught at
your pump." From that time, it was foreseen that
his prudence would end in wealth.

Packwell soon after accumulated capital enough to
set up a wood- wharf ; and here the same enterprise


and shrewdness followed him. Whether measuring
sand, or cording wood, he never lost sight of the main
chance. He was just a hard dealer enough to escape
the character of a cheat. Some complained of him,
to be sure, of buying at a wholesale price in the
summer season, and selling off by the foot, or half
foot, his piles, for whatever they would fetch. But
this is the very policy of trade ; and Packwell had
very little to do with generosity or pity. It was
about the time that the British army was in Boston,
that his business was in its most flourishing state. He
puzzled his head very little about the idle notions of
liberty ; whether the stamp act was right or wrong,
he never knew ; and if his wood brought him British
gold, he never troubled himself about the political
principles of the man to whom he sold it. Hancock
deserted his house, and found, on his return to
Boston, that it was torn to pieces ; but Solomon
Packwell staid by, and made hay while the sun shone
on him. Hancock got fame, and Packwell got

In all the subsequent commotions, Mr. Packwell
never burnt his fingers by sticking them too far into
the political furnace. If he met with a warm tory,
he would hear him talk ; would nod and wink ; would
turn off his questions by some sideway remark, which
meant any thing and every thing ; would always pro-
fess himself a warm believer in all the truisms which
no party disputed ; and if he met a whig, he would


deal exactly so with him. In like manner, in Shays'
rebellion; at the formation of the federal constitution;
and during the hot contests which followed after-
wards, though the country was in a blaze, and every
man, from the lawyer to the scavinger, thought it
necessary to dispute, Mr. Packwell minded his own
business, and kept his eye on the main chance. He
went to no caucuses, made no speeches, scarcely
went to a town-meeting. The only office to which
he was ever elevated, was that of fireward. Here,
everybody saw he was trustworthy, because he owned
a great many wooden buildings in a particular street,
and so they gave him the long pole.

In the mean time, riches flowed in upon him in an
increasing ratio. First, he could reckon his ten
thousands, then his hundred thousands, and finally,
his property rose to half a million. He now began
to shine out in his dress and equipage ; for, strictly
speaking, he was no miser. He added to his single-
horse chaise a carriage ; enlarged his house ; in-
creased his furniture; and wore ruffles around his
wrists. He bought him a country-seat in Bundle-
borough, his native town, and spent his summer
months there, cracking his jokes among the farmers
and mechanics. He was popular, though no man
thought him a Solomon, except in his given name.
He would never injure you, unless you made a bargain
with him, and then he was sure, by hook or by crook,
to get the best end of the stick.
' 16


Pack well had a large family of children, and a
wife, whose history was similar to his own. Having
struggled with the evils of poverty, and being some-
what deficient in the accomplishments of the circles
with which they were now called to mingle, they
resolved that their children should be effectually de-
livered from all these evils. They accordingly sent
them to the best schools, i. e. the most expensive ;
hired private tutors for them; bought pianoes for the
daughters, and whole libraries for the sons ; in short,
supposed themselves to be educating them, because
they concluded they never could be educated enough.
In the mean time, they made no small display of
their vi^ealth in^ the sight of these- children ; they were
rolled in carriages, and galloped in riding-schools,
, and taught to expect mines of gold which never
could be exhausted. Thus all the stamina of char-
acter was destroyed, and like hop-vines or pea-stems,
they could only creep up with something to lean on.
Strictly speaking, in all the substantial of an active
character, they were not half so well educated as
their parents, in their original poverty. They had no
self-exertion ; no self-dependence ; and all they knew,
was to spend the inheritance their father had ac-
quired. Their eldest son, Harry Pack well, I remem-
ber — a boy who^ boasted that he could eat four biscuit,
toasted, for his breakfast ; and afterwards he became
corpulent, and died of his own fat. The second son
was prematurely put into the command of a vessel,


which he got on to the rocks and perished in her ;
four of the daughters married four bankrupts; the
remaining; daughter was a miser, who hoarded her
property to be sure, and almost starved herself in a
voluntary poverty ; but finally she died, and her ill-
kept wealth went to a host of dissipated nephews and
nieces ; and so ended the accumulations of the Pack-
well family. They are all now wretchedly poor, and
may go, if they would act wisely, to their grand-
father's original occupation of selling sand for their
own support.

This is the round, which is run through in Boston
by thousands of families. It is as regular as the
ebbing and flowing of the sea. But will not men
learn sometime before the millennium comes, (and
they certainly will then,^ that life was given for higher
purposes than to gather wealth, and that wealth can
be appropriated in a better way than to corrupt their
children? " My hearers," said an Episcopal clergy-
man in Boston, now dead, " you might give ten
thousand dollars more a year, in charity, and yet keep
enough in your purses to corrupt all your posterity."
The science of statistics might be applied to teach
the lessons of morality.


No. 29.

A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.

Bacon's Essays,

Nothing is more common in the Avorld, than to
produce a false impression, without telling a lie. This
is done by an intentional concealment of some part
of the circumstances pertaining to the subject, which
the person to whom you address yourself, has, by
supposition, a right to know. I have already men-
tioned a case, in the conduct of my unhappy father.
Poor man ! His half-truths, were lies of vanity.
They were poor expedients to cover over his own
poverty. In every other case, he was a man of the
strictest veracity. But how many are there, that keep
back part of the facts in more important cases ; from
the drayman, who tells his partial story by the street
side, to the historian, who fills his pages with muti-
lated representations which he knows will deceive,


until his book shall be no more ! Most people deal
with truth, as New England farmers paint their
houses ; adorning the front with the purest white,
while the hinder part is slobbered over with Spanish-
brown, or even covered with the rust and moss of the
weather ; so that a man is ashamed to admit a
stranger into his back door.

This partial representation, has affected no part of
literature more disastrously than biography. I am
now old enough to have known some of those people,
whose matchless virtues fio-Qre in books : and I must
confess, that I know not one of them, of whom all
the follies are told. They are generally slid over by
a few barren confessions that they were imperfect ;
but nothing is distinctly seen ; no one fault is set in
its forcible light; and we survey them as a sort of hu-
man angels, rather than frail and erring men. To
this fault, I am aware, there is strong temptation.
For who would wound the heart of a weeping widow,
or a fond son, by mentioning the imperfections of a
husband and father, when their virtues are magnified
by remembering affection, and every fault comes to
them, softened by the twilight of the tomb !

For this reason, I have very little confidence in
modern biography. It has too little truth in it, to
make its narratives instructing. Not only faults are
dimly shown or entirely concealed, but surviving
friends are still more impatient of hearing those little
ridiculous follies, which mark man as man, and give


all the truth and fidelity to the colorings of our na-
ture. It is well that the great Johnson died without
a family or relatives ; we owe to this circumstance,
perhaps, that best biography from the greatest of all
fools — Jemmy Boswell.

In order to show the importance of the whole truth,
to the knowledge of character, I shall give some ac-
count of Mr. James Background, a fellow-townsman
of mine, in the remarkable villacre of Bi.ndleborough;
and if the reader should find the close of the story
upset the beginning, I beg him to remember, it is
owing to my determination to tell the whole truth.

Now I begin by solemnly declaring that Mr. Back-
ground had a great many virtues. He was a middle-
sized man, of a fine shape, and a remarkably mild
countenance. He almost always had a smile on his
face, and his voice was remarkably sweet and winning.
He was an honest man, never made a promise but
what he kept, and never contracted a debt, which he
was not willing to pay. Once on a time, he owed a
neighbor a note of a hundred dollars ; the note was
lost, and the holder had no proof of its existence ;
but Mr, Background renewed the note without hes-
itation. No man could ever say that he violated his
word, however the times or his interest might change.
His word was as good as his bond.

Nor was Mr. Background destitute of the sympa-
thies of our nature. He felt for the wants of the
suffering, and was always ready, to the extent of his


means, to afford them relief. There was a fire in our
town, and a very thrifty trader was burnt out, losing
his house, shop, and all his capital. His case excited
compassion ; and, on the paper for his relief, Mr.
Background put down the largest sum of any man
in the place, according to his property. Nor was this
a solitary act. To him, the hungry widow never
lifted her imploring hands in vain ; and he; never sent
the unclothed orphan away naked. That almost
universal vice — avarice, was not the tyrant that dom'=>
ineered in his generous soul.

But he had this higher praise, that his charities
were always skilfully bestowed. He was one of the
wisest men in this respect, I ever knew. Like Job,
the cause he knew not, he would search out ; and
gave in such a manner as to promote industry, and
not to encourage idleness. He was charitable, not
only of his money, but of his skill and time.

This worthy man was no backbiter ; never gave
severe characters of people, when they were not
present ; but was always remarkably tender of the
faults of his neighbors. If he heard a slanderous
story, he would always ask, how do you know it to
be true ? and nothing moved his indignation more,
than to see the levity with which some thoughtless
persons would sport with another's good name. He
was ever for drawing a veil over the faults of his ac*
quaintance, and if he could say nothing good "of -them,
he said nothinor.


He was remarkably temperate. Before alcohol
was proscribed by societies, he took little or none.
His table was plain ; his fare frugal ; his house and
fences in the best order. As the stranger passed by
them, he pointed and said, there dwells a wise and
enterprising man.

Mr. Background was a professing Christian, and
was very regular in his attendance on the ordinances
of religion. His seat in the sanctuary, on the Sab-
bath, was filled by his presence, and his family sat
beside him in decent array. He reverenced the Bible ;
and professed his serious belief in the great doctrines
of religion ; and, in most things, adorned those doc-
trines, by a sober life and conversation. None could
say that he was a filthy-talker, or licentious, or a
trifler ; for his words were always few, judicious,
sober, and to the point. He sent his children to
school ; taught them their Bible and catechism ; and
seemed to desire to leave his country that best of all
legacies, a well-regulated family. In all these things,
the life and conversation of Mr. James Background
were blameless.

One thing, I would not omit, and that is, for the
forty years I knew him, he never once called on the
assessors, to have his taxes abated.

By this time, I am afraid the reader begins to think
I am preaching a funeral sermon, and drawing the
image of one of those faultless monsters, winch the
world never saw. But now comes the reverse of the


Mr. Background, notwithstanding his mild face,
had a violent temper, which either he could not, or
would not govern ; and during its paroxysms, he was
a perfect Nero. He was cruel to dumb beasts, to
excess. Six horses he whipped to death ; and five
others he injured to such a degree, as to lose half
their value. The case of one poor old horse was dis-
tressing. The animal had previously been weakened
by his cruelty ; and he was endeavoring to make the
beast draw home an overloaded cart of sand. They
came to a miry place in the road ; the wheel sank ;
the horse stopped ; Background got into a passion,
and beat the poor, staggering creature, already ema-
ciated by his cruelty, until he sunk down, groaning
and dying at his feet. To one of his children, it was
suspected he gave a watery head, by a passionate
blow on the side of his forehead. The physician
said nothing, and his wife wept.

Such was the whole character of Mr. James Back-
ground. Having shown this sketch, however, to Dr.
Snivel well, our minister, he begs me to scratch out
the last paragraph. He assures me the truth is not
to be spoken at all times ; and that trifles had better
sink into oblivion. He says, moreover, if I do not
learn to draw moral pictures with more discretion, I
shall never be able to sell my Biographical Dictionary
pf living characters, which I have for twenty years,
been preparing for speedy publication.

No. 30.

These metaphysic rights, entering into common life, like rays of light,
which pierce into a dense medium, are, by the laws of nature, refracted
from their straight line Indeed, in the gross and complicated mass of human
passions and concerns, the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of
refractions and reflections, that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they
continued in the simplicity of their original direction.

Burke's Reflections on French Revolution,

Though New England has been a place remarka*
ble for the utility of all its designs, and the plain,
common-sense character of all its inhabitants, yet it
has also been distinguished for the refinement of its
speculations, and the subtle, metaphysical character
of some of its leading men. I can remember the
time, when the discourses of the pulpit were abstruse
essays, rather than sermons ; and when the humblest
hearers in an audience, were required to follow all the
dark distinctions, which an acute head could make
clear about the purposes of God, the origin of sin, the
nature of moral agency, in order to their salvation.


These points were carried from the pulpit to the fire-
side ; and nothing was more common, than to see a
farmer with a spade in his hand, or a shoemaker in
his leather apron, settling the nicest points in theology
by the way-side, and sometimes with a success more
honorable to their intellects than their hearts. Our
contests with Great Britain, previous to the revolu-
tionary war, brought up before the public mind, most
of the abstractions of politics ; and thus New England,
from her peculiar situation, has become the land of
gerural prin ijlis. Everything we do, in our asso-
ciated capacity, must be the deduction from some
general principle. I have known the whole country
set on fire by a metaphysical abstraction, which one
would think, like the sun in winter, to be too distant to
warm us ; and, however beautiful, might be esteemed
as cold as the reflections • of that same sun from a
mountain of ice.

This singular union of the love of general princi-
ples, and the utilitarianism of common sense, which
characterizes our land, is to be sought for in our his-
tory. When our fathers fled to this land, from what
they considered as the terrors of persecution, it was
the love of a peculiar system of religion, that animated
their resolution, and supported their sufferings. Cal-
vinism was, to them, the gospel ; they saw its beauties
in no other form ; they found its consolations in no
other source. Calvinism, metaphysical as it is, has
always been a system, which has laid strong hold on


the hearts of those who cordially embrace it. Its
very deformity to other minds, makes it more precious
to them, as the mother embraces with new fervor the
child, which every other mouth condemns. Besides,
it was the religion for which they had suffered ; and
we always embrace, with peculiar ardor, the object
we have reached through pain. This system was at"
tacked by the multiplying opinions, which must be
expected to arise in a growing country ; and it was
strongly defended by one of the most mastea-ly minds,
which our country has ever produced. Jonathan
Edwards, of Northampton, had one of the clearest

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