« PreviousContinue »
In another part of his works St Pierre has introduced the following epitaph, written by himself upon Rousseau.
He cultivated music, botany, and eloquence he disdained fortune, and contended with hypocrites and tyrants. He improved the condition of infants, and increased the happiness of mothers; and he was persecuted. He lived and died in the hope, which is common to us all, of a better life.'
We have left ourselves no room for observations on the works of Rousseau; nor, after all that has been said upon the subject, would it be easy to offer any thing very new or interesting. His reputation, as a vigorous and elegant writer, remains undiminished; and is probably as well established as that of any author of modern times. His philosophical opinions are variously esteemed, according to the views and interests of those who judge them; but as they accord in substance with the liberal ideas, which are making such rapid progress in all parts of the world, they stand a good chance of gaining, rather than losing, hereafter in the public estimation. The spirit of his political writings is excellent; but their scientific value is not perhaps so great as it has sometimes been considered. The theory of a Social Contract, though somewhat plausible at first view, does not bear the test of accurate examination, and is rarely admitted at the present day by competent judges. But the examination of this subject would require of itself a long treatise; and it is much too important and extensive to be touched upon, even superficially, at the close of an article.
ART. II.—A Discourse delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1820, in commemoration of the first settlement of New England. By Daniel Webster. Boston, 1821, 8vo.
AMERICANS have been repeatedly charged by those foreign writers, who find it for their interest to hold up our national character to ridicule before the great republic of letters, with being deficient in that patriotic attachment to the land we spring from, in that filial and pious regard for the ashes of our forefathers, which the people of other countries feel proud to cherish. We are scornfully told of the shifting population of our villages, and reproached with a migratory, restless, and unstable disposition, and are pointed to the enterprising spirit
of adventure, which is constantly pouring out the inhabitants of the eastern states into the luxuriant valley of the Mississippi, in the proof and justification of the charge. You have no fixed and settled feeling of affection for the spot, on which you were born and bred, say our accusers; none of that deep veneration for the genius of the place,' which lifts up the soul of an Asiatic, as he wanders through groves consecrated for uncounted years to the repose of his fathers' dust, and the worship of his fathers' gods; or which inspires the European, while he gazes on temples, palaces, and monuments of the dead, in whose revered piles every stone is associated with some heart-thrilling recollection of the past; none of those lofty sentiments of awe, which are awakened in the breast of the inhabitant of an older country, as he treads upon the field of battle, that has been fattened with the blood, and immortalized by the achievements of his gallant ancestry. From this unfounded charge, we desire no more ample vindication of our name, than is afforded by the strain of ardent love of country pervading Mr Webster's discourse, which we trust and believe meets with a response in the bosom of every native American. Destitute, as we know our country to be, of those works of ancient art, upon whose pillared halls and sculptured marble the admiration of mankind has been accumulating fresh glories, age after age; and destitute, as we hope it will long continue, of those costly structures, which have been piled up in the old world by caprice, by luxury, by superstition, or by pride, at the expense of unutterable misery on the part of an oppressed people, still we contend, and we may cite the occasion, upon which, and the place wherein this discourse was delivered, no less than the discourse itself, to bear us out in maintaining, that Americans regard the scenes of their national glory with sentiments, as honorable to their character, as they are worthy of the cause of liberty and of patriotism.
We have come to this Rock,' says Mr Webster, in the course of his introductory remarks, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers, our sympathy in their sufferings, our gratitude for their labors, our admiration of their virtues, our veneration for their piety, and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and to establish. And we would leave here, also, for the generations, which are rising up rapidly to fill our places,
some proof, that we have endeavoured to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religious liberty, in our regard to whatever advances human knowledge, or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin. There is a local feeling connected with this occasion, too strong to be resisted; a sort of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us. We feel that we are on the spot, where the first scene of our history was laid; where the hearths and altars of New England were first placed; where christianity, and civilization, and letters made their first lodgment, in a vast extent of country, covered with a wilderness, and peopled by roving barbarians. We are here, at the season of the year, at which the event took place. The imagination irresistibly and rapidly draws around us the principal features and the leading characters in the original scene. We cast our eyes abroad on the ocean, and we see where the little barque, with the interesting group upon its deck, made its slow progress to the shore. We look around us, and behold the hills and promontories, where the anxious eyes of our fathers first saw the places of habitation and of rest. We feel the cold which benumbed, and listen to the winds which pierced them. Beneath us is the Rock, on which New England received the feet of the Pilgrims. We seem even to behold them, as they struggle with the elements, and, with toilsome efforts, gain the shore. We listen to the chiefs in council; we see the unexampled exhibition of female fortitude and resignation; we hear the whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see, what a painter of our own has also represented by his pencil, chilled and shivering childhood,-houseless, but for a mother's arms,-couchless, but for a mother's breast,-till our own blood almost freezes. The mild dignity of Carver and of Bradford; the decisive and soldier-like air and manner of Standish; the devout Brewster; the enterprising Allerton; the general firmness and thoughtfulness of the whole band; their conscious joy for dangers escaped; their deep solicitude about dangers to come; their trust in heaven; their high religious faith, full of confidence and anticipation-all these seem to belong to the place, and to be present upon the occasion, to fill us with reverence and admiration.' pp. 10-12.
Indeed, the honorable testimony borne throughout this discourse to the character of our ancestors, to our own estimation of that character, and to our sincere and warm attachment to the land, in which are the graves of our kindred and our race, is one of its most remarkable features. It fastens our attention while Mr Webster is placing before us, in the most
lively and graphic coloring, the circumstances of the settlement of Plymouth, while he traces the peculiar qualities of the colonies which settled New England, in distinction from others of ancient and modern times, while he looks back to seize and delineate the leading traits of our history for the last hundred years, and most of all in his elucidation of the nature of society and government in New England. We have no design to attempt following him through all these comprehensive topics, illustrated and adorned as they have been by his masterly hand. Our design is merely to introduce a few observa. tions upon one or two subjects, which it did not come within the scope or nature of the discourse to discuss minutely, but which the perusal of it suggests, concluding with a brief notice of the period in the history of New England immediately preceding the event so admirably commemorated by Mr Webster.
The difference between the colonies of New England and those established by the Greeks and Romans, and by the nations of modern Europe in the East and West Indies, with the effects of this difference upon the character of our country, is very fully explained in the discourse. And it is worthy of observation that much, perhaps most, of this difference, great as it is, will appear, on examination, to have been contrary to the manifest wishes and declared intent of the Enslish government, and of all the original grantees of New England. Paradoxical as this may be thought, it is not the less a literal truth. At the commencement of the revolution, the confederate colonies might be arranged in five distinct classes. In some of them, as in Virginia and New York, the property of the colony and the administration of its government were united in the crown. In others, like the Carolinas, the crown had reserved to itself the government of the colonies, which were owned by certain individuals. A third kind was that where both the colony and its government had been granted to personal proprietaries and their heirs, as Pennsylvania to William Penn, and Maryland to lord Baltimore. All the colonies of New England, Plymouth, Massachusetts with Maine and New Hampshire, its dependences, New Haven, Connecticut, and Rhode Island originally constituted a fourth division, in which both the government and the ownership of the colony resided in the people themselves, who occupied the soil; but after the consolidation of Plymouth and Massachusetts into a single province, governed by agents of the crown, the condition of Massachusetts was
unlike that of any other colony in English America. Now it is evident from this, in the first place, that, as the colonists in this part of the country, unlike the rest of the colonists, united in their own persons the possession of the soil, the proprietorship of the colony, and the direction of all departments of the government, of course they were almost independent of the metropolis from the beginning. It is equally clear that nothing could have been farther from the design of king James, than to allow of this independence. These colonies, as planned by the projectors of them, or at least as organized by their charters, were mere private trading companies, incorporated by the crown for the better management of their business, like any other mercantile corporation. Hence, in the old laws of Massachusetts, we do not find the colonists spoken of either as the subjects of any prince, or as the citizens of any state, but as freemen of the corporation, whose affairs were regulated by a governor with a board of assistants or directors, controlled in the last instance by all the corporators assembled in general court. This simple fact is the key to much which is obscure in the early laws, history, and pretensions of New England. When the first charters were drawn up, as the whole tenor of them plainly proves, no one ever dreamed that they comprised a constitution of civil government; and that the grantees had a right to transfer themselves and their charters to America, in order to establish there a new form of government and a new code of laws independent of those of England, was an exposition of the charters, as unexpected as it was displeasing to the metropolis. Assuredly, the English council never anticipated that the transcendent powers of the governor of a mighty province were concealed under the seemingly insignifi cant authority of the head of an obscure trading corporation; nor that such a corporation, under the guise of by-laws, was about to erect a peculiar system of internal administration, the germ and outline of a form of government for future independent nations; nor that this corporation would assume to itself the right of establishing a representative legislature, contrary to the express provision of its charter; nor still less that the colonists could so shelter themselves under the obscurities of their charter, as to substitute treason to the colony in the place of treason to the king, exercise the privilege of coining money, and otherwise invade the most sacred branches of the royal prerogative with impunity. Yet such was the course pursued New Series, No. 11.