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SARGENT SMITH

SMITH PRENTISS

LAFAYETTE

(Eulogy by Sargent S. Prentiss, lawyer, orator, Member of Congress, from Mississippi (born in Portland, Maine, September 30, 1808; died in Laguerre, near Natchez, Miss., July 1, 1850), delivered in Jackson, Miss., August, 1835, after the death of Lafayette.)

Death, who knocks with equal hand at the door of the cottage and the palace gate, has been busy at his appointed work. Mourning prevails throughout the land, and the countenances of all are shrouded in the mantle of regret. Far across the wild Atlantic, amid the pleasant vineyards in the sunny land of France, there, too, is mourning; and the weeds of sorrow are alike worn by prince and peasant. Against whom has the monarch of the tomb turned his remorseless dart that such widespread sorrow prevails? Hark, and the agonized voice of Freedom, weeping for her favorite son, will tell you in strains sadder than those with which she “ shrieked when Kosciusko fell” that Lafayette—the gallant and the good-has ceased to live.

The friend and companion of Washington is no more. He who taught the eagle of our country, while yet unfledged, to plume his young wing and mate his talons with the lion's strength, has taken his flight far beyond the stars, beneath whose influence he fought so well. Lafayette is dead! The gallant ship, whose pennon has so often bravely streamed above the roar of battle and the tempest's rage, has at length gone slowly down in the still and quiet waters. Well mightest thou, O Death, now recline beneath the laurels thou hast won; for never since, as the grim messenger of Almighty Vengeance, thou camest into this world, did a more generous heart cease to

heave beneath thy chilling touch, and never will thy insatiate dart be hurled against a nobler breast! Who does not feel at the mournful intelligence, as if he had lost something cheering from his own path through life; as if some bright star, at which he had been accustomed frequently and fondly to gaze, had been suddenly extinguished in the firmament?

History's page abounds with those who have struggled forth from the nameless crowd, and, standing forward in the front ranks, challenged the notice of their fellow men; but when, in obedience to their bold demands, we examine their claims to our admiration, how seldom do we find aught that excites our respect or commands our veneration. With what pleasure do we turn from the contemplation of the Cæsars and Napoleons of the human race to meditate upon the character of Lafayette! We feel proud that we belong to the same species; we feel proud that we live in the same age; and we feel still more proud that our own country drew forth and nurtured those generous virtues which went to form a character that for love of liberty, romantic chivalry, unbounded generosity and unwavering devotion, has never had a parallel.

The history of this wonderful man is engraved upon the memory of every American, and I shall only advert to such portions of it as will best tend to illustrate his character. In 1777 our fathers were engaged in rescuing from the fangs of the British lion the rights which their sons are now enjoying. It was the gloomiest period of the Revolutionary struggle. Our army was feeble; an insolent and victorious enemy was pressing hard upon it; despondency had spread through its ranks. It seemed as if the last hope of Freedom was gone. Deep gloom had settled over the whole country; and men looked with a despairing aspect upon the future of a contest which their best wishes could not flatter them was doubtful. It was at this critical period that their hopes were renovated and their spirits roused by the cheering intelligence that at Charleston, in the State of South Carolina, there had just arrived a gallant French nobleman of high rank and immense wealth, eager to embark his person and his fortunes in the sacred cause of Liberty! New impulse was given to the energies of our dispirited troops. As the first ray

of morning breaks upon the benighted and tempest-tossed mariner, so did this timely assistance cheer the hearts of the war-worn and almost despairing soldiers of Freedom. The enthusiastic Frenchman, though but a beardless youth, was immediately taken into the affections and the confidence of Washington. Soon, too, did he flash his maiden sword upon his hereditary foes and proved, upon the field of Brandywine, that his blood flowed as freely as his treasure in the cause he had espoused. That blood was the blood of the young Lafayette. But nineteen summers had passed over his brow, when he was thus found fighting side by side with the veteran warriors of Bunker Hill.

How came he here? Born to a high name and a ricli inheritance; educated at a dissipated and voluptuous court; married to a young and beautiful woman;-how came he to break through the blandishments of love and the temptations of pleasure and thus be found fighting the battles of strangers, far

away

in the wilds of America ? It was because, from his infancy, there had grown up in his bosom a passion more potent than all others: the love of liberty. Upon his heart a spark from the very altar of Freedom had fallen and he watched and cherished it with more than vestal vigilance. This passionate love of liberty; this fire which was thenceforth to glow unquenched and undimmed, impelled him to break asunder the ties both of pleasure and affection. He had heard that a gallant people had raised the standard of revolt against oppression and he hastened to join them. It was to him the Crusade of Liberty; and, like a Knight of the Holy Cross, he had enlisted in the ranks of those who had sworn to rescue her altars from the profane touch of the tyrant.

More congenial to him by far were the hardships, the dangers, and the freedom of the American wilds than the case, the luxury, and the slavery of his native court. He exchanged the voice of love for the savage yell and the hostile shout; the gentle strains of the harp and lute for the trumpet and drum and the still more terrible music of clashing arms. Nor did he come alone or emptyhanded. The people in whose cause he was about to peril his life and his fortune were too poor to afford him even the means of conveyance, and his own court threw every

obstacle in the way of the accomplishment of his wishes. Did this dampen his ardor? Did this chill his generous aspiration ? No; it added new vigor to each. “I will fit out a vessel myself,” exclaimed the enthusiastic youth; and in spite of the sneers of the young and the cautions of the old the gallant boy redeemed his pledge. Soon a proud ship was seen flying fast and falcon-like across the wide Atlantic. She landed on our shores like a bird of promise; and by her present aid and hopes of future succor infused new vigor into our almost palsied arms.

Such was the commencement of a career destined to be more brilliant than any of which we read in tale or history, realizing the wildest wishes of youthful enthusiasm and showing how the romance of real life often exceeds the strangest fictions of the imagination. From the moment of joining our ranks the young hero became the pride and the boast of the army. He won the affections of the stern-browed and iron-souled warriors of New England and was received with open arms by the warmhearted and chivalrous sons of the South. Though the down of manhood had scarcely begun to spring upon his cheek, yet were his counsels eagerly listened to by the hoary leaders and the scarred veterans of the war. On the field of battle he was impetuous and brave; in the council the wisdom of Nestor flowed from his lips.

But it is not my intention to go into a detailed account of the services rendered by Lafayette to the country of his adoption. Suffice it to say that, throughout the Revolutionary struggle, with unchanged fidelity and undeviating devotion, he continued to pour forth his blood and his treasure in the sacred cause he had espoused; and when at length, full of honors, without one single stain upon his bright escutcheon, he returned to his native land, the voices of millions of freemen were united in invoking the blessing of heaven upon his head. Thenceforth a halo of glory surrounded him, and he was hailed by all the world as the Apostle of Liberty! Full well did he deserve the title! For not more truly does the needle point to the pole than did all his feelings point to the great principles of civil freedom.

During the sanguinary scenes of the French Revolution, when the people had quaffed so deeply at the fountain of

liberty that they became drunk and frenzied with the unusual draughts, Lafayette alone lost not his equanimity. He alone dared to oppose the wild excesses of the Jacobins; and though he was unable entirely to stem the maddened torrent, which seemed let loose from hell itself, yet many are the thanks due to his unwearied exertions to restrain it within the banks of law and order. Throughout those troublesome times he was found at his post, by the side of the Constitution and the laws; and when at length the whole foundations of society were broken up and the wild current of licentiousness and crime swept him an exile into a foreign land, still did he hold fast his integrity of soul. In the gloomy dungeons of Olmutz, the flame of patriotism glowed as brightly and as warmly in his breast as ever it did when fanned by the free breezes of the mountains. The dungeons of Olmutz! What associations are connected with the name! They form a part of the romance of history. For five long years was the Friend of Liberty immured in the prison of the tyrant. In vain did the civilized world demand his release. But what nations could not effect, came near being accomplished by the devoted exertions of two chivalric young men; and one of them was a South Carolinian whose father had extended the hospitality of his house to Lafayette, when on his first visit to America he landed in the city of Charleston. Strange, that, after the lapse of so many years, the little child who had then climbed upon his knee should now be periling his life for his rescue! There is nothing in history to compare with this romantic episode of real life, unless, perhaps, the story of the minstrel friend of the lion-hearted Richard, wandering through those very dominions, tuning his harp beneath every fortress, till at length his strains were answered and the prison of the royal Crusader discovered. But the doors of the Austrian dungeon were at length thrown open and Lafayette returned to France. Great changes, however, had taken place in his absence. The flood of the Revolution had subsided. The tempest of popular commotion had blown over, leaving many and fearful evidences of its fury; and the star of the Child of Destiny had now become lord of the ascendant. Small was the sympathy between the selfish and ambitious Napoleon and

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