The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 3/The Pocket-Celebration of the Fourth
Well, it has happened, and we have survived it pretty well. The Democratic Almanacs predicted a torrent, a whirlwind, and we know not what meteoric phenomena,--but the next day Nature gave no sign, the dome of the State-House was in its place, the Monument was as plumb as ever, no chimney mourned a ravished brick, and the Republican Party took its morning tea and toast in peace and safety. On the whole, it must be considered a wonderful escape. Since Partridge's time there had been no such prophecies,--since Miller's, no such perverse disobligingness in the event.
But what had happened? Why, the Democratic Young Men's Celebration, to be sure, and Mr. Choate's Oration.
The good city of Boston in New England, for we know not how many years, had been in the habit of celebrating the National Birthday, first, with an oration, as became the Athens of America, and second, with a dinner, as was meet in the descendants of Teutonic forefathers. The forenoon's oration glorified us in the lump as a people, and every man could reckon and appropriate his own share of credit by the simple arithmetical process of dividing the last census by the value he set upon himself, a divisor easily obtained by subtracting from the total of inhabitants in his village the number of neighbors whom he considered ciphers. At the afternoon's dinner, the pudding of praise was served out in slices to favored individuals; dry toasts were drunk by drier dignitaries; the Governor was compared to Solon; the Chief Justice to Brutus; the Orator of the Day to Demosthenes; the Colonel of the Boston Regiment to Julius Cæsar; and everybody went home happy from a feast where the historic parallels were sure to hold out to the last Z in Lemprière.
Gradually matters took a new course; the Union was suddenly supposed to lie at the point of dissolution, and what we may call the Doctor-Brandreth style of oratory began. Every orator mounted the rostrum, like a mountebank at a fair, to proclaim the virtues of his private panacea for the morbid Commonwealth, and, as was natural in young students of political therapeutics, fancied that he saw symptoms of the dread malady of Disunion in a simple eruption of Jethro Furber at a convention of the Catawampusville Come-outers, or of Pyrophagus Quattlebum at a training of the Palmetto Plug-Uglies,--neither of which was skin-deep. The dinners became equally dreary. Did the eye of a speaker light on the national dish of beans, he was reminded of the languid pulse of the sentiment of union; did he see a broiled chicken, it called up to his mind's eye the bird of our _un_common country, with the gridiron on his breast, liable to be reduced at any moment to the heraldic duality of his Austrian congener by the strife of contending sections pulling in opposite directions; an innocent pippin was enough to suggest the apple of discord; and with the removal of the cloth came a dessert of diagnoses on the cancer that was supposed to be preying on the national vitals. The only variety was a cringing compliment, in which Bunker Hill curtsied to King's Mountain, to any Southern brother who chanced to be present, and who replied patronizingly,--while his compatriots at the warmer end of the Union were probably, with amiable sincerity, applying to the Yankees that epithet whose expression in type differs but little from that of a doctorate in divinity, but which precedes the name it qualifies, as that follows it, and was never, except by Beaumarchais and Fielding, reckoned among titles of honor or courtesy.
A delusion seemed to have taken possession of our public men, that the people wanted doctors of the body-politic to rule over them, and, if those were not to be had, would put up with the next best thing,--quacks. Every one who was willing to be an Eminent Statesman issued his circulars, like the Retired Physician, on all public occasions, offering to send his recipe in return for a vote. The cabalistic formula always turned out to be this:--"Take your humble servant for four years at the White House; if no cure is effected, repeat the dose."
Meanwhile were there any symptoms of disease in the Constitution? Not the least. The whole affair was like one of those alarms in a country-town which begin with the rumor of ten cases of confluent small-pox and end with the discovery that the doctor has been called to a case of nettle-rash at Deacon Scudder's. But sober men, who loved the Union in a quiet way, without advertising it in the newspapers, and who were willing to sacrifice everything to the Constitution but the rights it was intended to protect, began to fear that the alarmists might create the disease which they kept up so much excitement about.
This being the posture of affairs, the city of Boston, a twelvemonth since, chose for their annual orator a clergyman distinguished for eloquence, and for that important part of patriotism, at least, which consists in purity of life. This gentleman, being neither a candidate for office nor the canvasser of a candidate, ventured upon a new kind of address. He took for his theme the duties consequent upon the privileges of Freedom, ventured to mention self-respect as one of them, and commented upon the invitation of a Virginia Senator, the author of the Fugitive Slave Bill, to a Seventeenth-of-June Celebration, while the Senators of Massachusetts were neglected. In speaking of this, he used, we believe, the word "flunkeyism." It is not an elegant word; it is not even an English one;--but had the speaker sought for a Saxon correlative, he could hardly have found one that would have seemed more satisfactory, especially to those who deserved it; for Saxon is straightforward, and a reluctance to be classified (fatal to science) is characteristic of the human animal.
An orator who suggests a new view of any topic is a disturber of the digestive organs,--this was very properly a matter of offence to the Aldermen who were to dine after the oration,--but an orator who tampers with the language we have inherited from Shakspeare and Milton, and which we share with Tupper, was an object for deeper reprobation. The Young Men's Democratic Association of Boston are purists; they are jealous for their mother-tongue,--and it is the more disinterested in them as a large proportion of them are Irishmen; they are exclusive,--a generous confusion of ideas as to the meaning of democracy, even more characteristically Hibernian; they are sentimental, too,--melancholy as gibcats,--and feared (from last year's example) that the city might not furnish them with a sufficiently lachrymose Antony to hold up before them the bloody garment of America, and show what rents the envious Blairs and Wilsons and Douglasses had made in it. Accordingly they resolved to have a public celebration all to themselves,--a pocket-edition of the cumbrous civic work,--and as the city provided fireworks in the evening, in order to be beforehand with it in their pyrotechnics, they gave Mr. Choate in the forenoon.
We did not hear Mr. Choate's oration; we only read it in the newspapers. Cold fireworks, the morning after, are not enlivening. You have the form without the fire, and the stick without the soar. But we soon found that we were to expect no such disappointment from Mr. Choate. He seems to announce at the outset that he has closed his laboratory. The Prospero of periods had broken his wand and sunk his book deeper than ever office-hunter sounded. The boys in the street might wander fancy-free, and fire their Chinese crackers as they listed; but for him this was a solemn occasion, and he invited his hearers to a Stoic feast of Medford crackers and water, to a philosophic banquet of metaphors and metaphysics.
We confess that we expected a great deal. Better a crust with Plato than nightingales' tongues with Apicius; and if Mr. Choate promised only the crust, we were sure of one melodious tongue, at least, before the meal was over. He is a man of whom any community might be proud. Were society an organized thing here, as in Europe, no dinner and no drawing-room would be perfect without his talk. He would have been heard gladly at Johnson's club. The Hortensins of our courts, with a cloud of clients, he yet finds time to be a scholar and a critic, and to read Plato and Homer as they were read by Plato's and Homer's countrymen. Unsurpassed in that eloquence which, if it does not convince, intoxicates a jury, he was counted, so long as Webster lived, the second advocate of our bar.
All this we concede to Mr. Choate with unreserved admiration; but when, leaving the field where he had won his spurs as the successful defender of men criminally accused, he undertakes to demonstrate the sources whence national life is drawn, and the causes which lead to its decay,--to expound authoritatively the theory of political ethics and the principles of sagacious statesmanship, wary in its steps, and therefore durable in its results,--it becomes natural and fair to ask, What has been the special training that has fitted him for the task? More than this: when he comes forward as the public prosecutor of the Republican Party, it becomes our duty to examine the force of his arguments and the soundness of his logic. Has his own experience given him any right to talk superciliously to a great party overwhelmingly triumphant in the Free States? And does his oration show him to possess such qualities of mind, such grasp of reason, such continuity of induction, as to entitle him to underrate the intelligence of so large a number of his fellow-citizens by accusing them of being incapable of a generalization and incompetent to apprehend a principle?
The Bar has given few historically-great statesmen to the world,--fewer than the Church, which Mr. Choate undervalues in a sentence which, we cannot help thinking, is below the dignity of the occasion, and jarringly discordant with the generally elevated tone of his address. Burke, an authority whom Mr. Choate will not call in question, has said that the training of the bar tends to make the faculties acute, but at the same time narrow. The study of jurisprudence may, no doubt, enlarge the intellect; but the habit of mind induced by an indiscriminate advocacy--which may be summoned to the defence of a Sidney to-day and of a spoon-thief to-morrow--is rather that of the sophist than of the philosophic reasoner. Not truth, but the questionable victory of the moment, becomes naturally and inevitably the aim and end of all the pleader's faculties. For him the question is not what principle, but what interest of John Doe, may be at stake. Such has been Mr. Choate's school as a reasoner. As a politician, his experience has been limited. The member of a party which rarely succeeded in winning, and never in long retaining, the suffrages of the country, he for a time occupied a seat in the Senate, but without justifying the expectations of his friends. So far, his history shows nothing that can give him the right to assume so high and mighty a tone in speaking of his political opponents.
But in his scholarship he has a claim to be heard, and to be heard respectfully. Here lies his real strength, and hence is derived the inspiration of his better eloquence. The scholar enjoys more than the privilege, without the curse, of the Wandering Jew. He can tread the windy plain of Troy, he can listen to Demosthenes, can follow Dante through Paradise, can await the rising of the curtain for the first acting of Hamlet. Mr. Choate's oration shows that he has drawn that full breath which is, perhaps, possible only under a Grecian sky, and it is, in its better parts, scholarly in the best sense of the word. It shows that he has read out-of-the-way books, like Bodinus "De Republicâ," and fresh ones, like Gladstone's Homer,--that he can do justice, with Spinoza, to Machiavelli,--and that in letters, at least, he has no narrow prejudices. Its sentences are full of scholarly allusion, and its language glitters continually with pattins of bright gold from Shakspeare. We abhor that profane vulgarity of our politics which denies to an antagonist the merits which are justly his, because he may have been blinded to the truth of our principles by the demerits which are justly ours,--which hates the man because it hates his creed, and, instead of grappling with his argument, seeks in the kitchen-drains of scandal for the material to bespatter his reputation. Let us say, then, honestly, what we honestly think,--the feeling, the mastery and choice of language, the intellectual comprehensiveness of glance, which can so order the many-columned aisle of a period, that the eye, losing none of the crowded particulars, yet sees through all, at the vista's end, the gleaming figure of thought to enshrine which the costly fabric was reared,--all these qualities of the orator demand and receive our sincere applause. In an age when indolence or the study of French models has reduced our sentences to the economic curtness of telegraphic despatches, to the dimension of the epigram without its point, Mr. Choate is one of the few whose paragraphs echo with the long-resounding pace of Dryden's coursers, and who can drive a predicate and six without danger of an overset.
Mr. Choate begins by congratulating his hearers that there comes one day in our year when "faults may be forgotten,-- ... when the arrogance of reform, the excesses of reform, the strife of parties, the rivalries of regions, shall give place to a wider, warmer, juster sentiment,--when, turning from the corners and dark places of offensiveness, ... we may go up together to the serene and secret mountain-top," etc. Had he kept to the path which he thus marked out for himself, we should have had nothing to say. But he goes out of his way to indulge a spleen unworthy of himself and the occasion, and brings against political opponents, sometimes directly, sometimes by innuendo, charges which, as displaying personal irritation, are impolitic and in bad taste. One fruit of scholarship, and its fairest, he does not seem to have plucked,--one proof of contented conviction in the truth of his opinions he does not give,--that indifference to contemporary clamor and hostile criticism, that magnanimous self-trust, which, assured of its own loyalty to present duty, can wait patiently for future justice.
His exordium over, Mr. Choate proceeds to define and to discuss Nationality. We heartily agree with him in all he says in its praise, and draw attention, in passing, to a charming idyllic passage in which he speaks of the early influences which first develope in us its germinal principle. But when he says, that the sentiment of a national life, once existing, must still be kept alive by an exercise of the reason and the will, we dissent. It must be a matter of instinct, or it is nothing. The examples of nationality which he cites are those of ancient Greece and modern Germany. Now we affirm, that, with accidental exceptions, nationality has always been a matter of race, and was eminently so in the instances he quotes. If we read rightly, the nationality which glows in the "Iliad," and which it was, perhaps, one object of the poem to rouse or to make coherent, is one of blood, not territory. The same is true of Germany, of Russia, (adding the element of a common religious creed,) and of France, where the Celtic sentiment becomes day by day more predominant. The exceptions are England and Switzerland, whose intense nationality is due to insulation, and Holland, which was morally an island, cut off as it was from France by difference of language and antipathy of race, and from kindred Germany by the antagonism of institutions. A patriotism by the chart is a monster that the world ne'er saw. Men may fall in love with a lady's picture, but not with the map of their country. Few persons have the poetic imagination of Mr. Choate, that can vivify the dead lines and combine the complex features. It seems to us that our own problem of creating a national sentiment out of such diverse materials of race, such sometimes discordant or even hostile traditions, and then of giving it an intenseness of vitality that can overcome our vast spaces and our differences of climate and interest, is a new problem, not easily to be worked out by the old methods. Mr. Choate's plan seems to consist in the old formula of the Fathers. He would have us think of their sacrifices and their heroisms, their common danger and their common deliverance. Excellent, as far as it goes; but what are we to do with the large foreign fraction of our population imported within the last forty years, a great proportion of whom never so much as heard even of the war of 1812? Shall we talk of Bennington and Yorktown to the Germans, whose grandfathers, if they were concerned at all in those memorable transactions, were concerned on the wrong side? Shall we talk of the constancy of Puritan Pilgrims to the Romanist Irishman, who knows more of Brian Boroo than of the Mayflower?
It will be many generations before we become so fused as to have a common past, and the conciliation and forbearance which Mr. Choate recommends to related sections of country will be more than equally necessary to unrelated races. But while we are waiting for a past in which we can all agree, Mr. Choate sees danger in the disrespect which he accuses certain _anonymi_ of entertaining for the past in general. But for what past? Does Mr. Choate mean our own American past? Does he refer us to that for lessons of forbearance, submission, and waiting for God's good time? Is the contemplation of their own history and respect for their own traditions the lenitive he prescribes for a people whose only history is a revolution, whose only tradition is rebellion? To what past and to what tradition did the Pilgrim Fathers appeal, except to that past, older than all history, that tradition, sacred from all decay, which, derived from an antiquity behind and beyond all the hoary generations, points the human soul to the God from whom it derived life, and with it the privilege of freedom and the duty of obedience? To what historical past did Jefferson go for the preamble of the Declaration, unless to the reveries of a half-dozen innovating enthusiasts, men of the closet,--of that class which Mr. Choate disparages by implication, though it has done more to shape the course of the world than any number of statesmen, whose highest office is, commonly, to deal prudently with the circumstances of the moment?
Mr. Choate does a great injustice to the Republican Party when he lays this irreverence for the past to their charge. As he seems to think that he alone has read books and studied the lessons of antiquity, he will be pleased to learn that there are persons also in that party who have not neglected all their opportunities in that kind. The object of the Republicans is to bring back the policy and practice of the Republic to some nearer agreement with the traditions of the fathers. They also have a National Idea,--for some of them are capable of distinguishing "a phrase from an idea," or Mr. Choate would find it easier to convert them. They propose to create a National Sentiment, in the only way that is possible under conditions like ours, by clearing the way for the development of a nation which shall be, not only in Fourth-of-July orations, but on every day in the year, and in the mouths of all peoples, great and wise, just and brave, and whose idea, always august and venerable, by turns lovely and terrible, shall bind us all in a common nationality by our loyalty to what is true, our reverence for what is good, our love for what is beautiful, and our sense of security in what is mighty. That is the America which the Fathers conceived, and it is that to which the children look forward,--an America which shall displace Ireland and Germany, Massachusetts and Carolina, in the hearts of those who call them mother, with an image of maternity at once more tender and more majestic.
There is a past for which Republicans have indeed no respect,--but it is one of recent date; there is a history from which they refuse to take lessons except for warning and not example,--but it is a history which is not yet written. When the future historian shall study that past and gather materials for writing that history, he will find cause for wonder at the strength of that national vitality which could withstand and survive, not the efforts of Mr. Choate's dreadful reformers, but of an administration calling itself Democratic, which, with the creed of the Ostend Manifesto for its foreign, and the practice of Kansas for its domestic policy, could yet find a scholar and a gentleman like Mr. Choate to defend it.
Mr. Choate charges the Republicans with being incapable of a generalization. They can, at least, generalize so far as this, that, when they find a number of sophistries in an argument, they conclude that the cause which requires their support must be a weak one. One of the most amusing of these in the oration before us is where (using the very same arguments that were urged in favor of that coalition in Massachusetts against the morality of which the then party of Mr. Choate exclaimed so loudly) he extols the merits of Compromise in statesmanship. In support of what he says on this subject, he quotes from a speech of Archbishop Whately a passage in favor of Expediency. It is really too bad, that the Primate of Ireland, of all men living, should be made the abetter in two fallacies. In the first place, Mr. Choate assumes that there are certain deluded persons who affirm that all compromises in politics are wrong. Having stuffed out his man of straw, he proceeds gravely to argue with him, as if he were as cunning of fence as Duns Scotus. One would think, from some of the notions he deems it necessary to combat, that we were living in the time of the Fifth-Monarchy men, and that Captain Venner with his troop was ready to issue from the garrets of Batterymarch Street, to find Armageddon in Dock Square, and the Beast of the Revelation in the Chief of Police. There is no man who believes that the ship of State, any more than an ordinary vessel, can be navigated by the New Testament alone; but neither will be the worse for having it aboard. The Puritans sailed theirs by Deuteronomy, but it was a Deuteronomy qualified by an eye to the main chance. Mr. Choate's syllogism may be stated thus: Some compromises are necessary in order to carry on a free government; but this is a compromise; therefore it is necessary. Here is the first fallacy. The other syllogism runs thus: Expediency is essential in politics; so also is compromise; therefore some particular compromise is expedient. Fallacy number two. The latent application in this part of Mr. Choate's oration is, of course, to Compromises on the Slavery question. We agree with him, that no man of sense will deny that compromise is essential in politics, and especially in our politics. With a single exception, all that he says on this topic is expressed with masterly force and completeness. But when we come to the application of it, the matter assumes another face. Men of sense may, and do, differ as to what _is_ a compromise, or, agreeing in that, they may differ again as to whether it be expedient. For example, if a man, having taken another's cloak, insist on taking his coat also, the denudee, though he might congratulate himself on having been set forward so far on his way toward the natural man of Rousseau, would hardly call the affair a compromise on the part of the denuder. Or again, if his br other with principles should offer to compromise about the coat by taking only half of it, he would be in considerable doubt whether the arrangement were expedient. Now there are many honest people, not as eloquent as Mr. Choate, not as scholarly, and perhaps not more illogical, who firmly believe that our compromises on the question of Slavery have afforded examples of both the species above described. It is not unnatural, therefore, that, while they assent to his general theory, they should protest against his mode of applying it to particulars. They may be incapable of a generalization, (they certainly are, if this be Mr. Choate's notion of one,) but they are incapable also of a deliberate fallacy. We think we find here one of the cases in which his training as an advocate has been of evil effect on his fairness of mind. No more potent lie can be made than of the ashes of truth. A fallacy is dangerous because of the half-truth in it. Swallow a strong dose of pure poison, and the stomach may reject it; but take half as much, mixed with innocent water, and it will do you a mischief. But Mr. Choate is nothing, if not illogical: recognizing the manifest hand of God in the affairs of the world, he would leave the question of Slavery with Him. Now we offer Mr. Choate a _dilemma_: either God _always_ interferes, or _sometimes_: if always, why need Mr. Choate meddle? why not leave it to Him to avert the dangers of Anti-slavery, as well as to remedy the evils of Slavery?--if only sometimes, (_nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus,_) who is to decide when the time for human effort has come? Each man for himself, or Mr. Choate for all?
Let us try Mr. Choate's style of reasoning against himself. He says, "One may know Aristophanes and Geography and the Cosmical Unity and Telluric Influences," (why _didn't_ he add, "Neptune, Plutarch, and Nicodemus"!) "and the smaller morals of life, and the sounding pretensions of philanthropy," (this last, at any rate, is useful knowledge,) "and yet not know America." We must confess, that we do not see why on earth he should. In fact, by the time he had got to the "Telluric Influences," (whatever they are,) we should think he might consider his education completed, and his head would even then be as great a wonder as that of the schoolmaster in the "Deserted Village." In the same way, a man might have seen a horse, (if only a clothes-horse,) a dog, a cat, and a tadpole, and yet never have seen the elephant,--a most blame-worthy neglect of opportunities. But let us apply Mr. Choate's syllogistic process to the list of this extraordinary nameless person's acquirements. The Republican Party do _not_ know any of these amazing things; _ergo_, they must know America; and the corollary (judging from Mr. Choate's own practice, as displayed in the parts of his oration which we are sure he will one day wish to blot) would seem to be, that, having the honor of her acquaintance, they may apply very contemptuous epithets to everybody that disagrees with them. The only weak point in our case is, that Mr. Choate himself seems to allow them the one merit of knowing something of Geography,--for he says they wished to elect a "geographical President,"--but, perhaps, as they did not succeed in doing so, he will forgive them the possession of that accomplishment, so hostile to a knowledge of America.
We confess that we were surprised to find Mr. Choate reviving, on "the serene and secret mountain-top,"--which, being interpreted, means the rather prosaic Tremont Temple,--the forgotten slang of a bygone political contest, as in the instance we have just quoted of the "geographical President." We think that Colonel Fremont might be allowed to rest in peace, now that a California court has decided--with a logic worthy of Mr. Choate himself--that he has no manner of right to the gold in his Mariposa mines, _because_ he owns them. But we should like to have Mr. Choate define, when he has leisure, where an unfortunate candidate can take up his abode, in order to escape the imputation of being "geographical." It is a grave charge to be brought against any man, as we see by its being coupled with those dreadful Telluric Influences and Cosmical (ought we not to _dele_ the _s?_) Unities; and since the most harmless man in the world may become a candidate before he expects it, it would be charitable to warn him beforehand what is an allowable _habitat_ in such a contingency.
We said we were surprised at seeing our old friend, the "geographical President," again; but we soon found that he reappeared only as the file-leader of a ragged regiment of kindred scarecrows,--nay, with others so battered and bedraggled, that they were scarce fit to be the camp-followers of the soldiery with whom Falstaff refused to march through Coventry. The sarcasms which Mr. Choate vents against the Anti-slavery sentiment of the country are so old as to be positively respectable,--we wish we could say that their vivacity increased with their years,--and as for his graver indictments, there never was anything so ancient, unless it be an American lad of eighteen. There are not a great many of either, but they are made to recur often enough to produce the impression of numbers. They remind us of the theatric army, composed always of the same old guard of supernumeraries and candle-snuffers, and which, by marching round and round the paper forest in the background, would make six men pass muster very well for sixty, did not the fatally regular recurrence of the hero whose cotton armor bunches at the knees, and the other whose legs insist on the un-Grecian eccentricity of being straight in profile and crooked in a front view, bring us back to calmer estimates.
We used the word _indictments_ with design, both as appropriate to Mr. Choate's profession and exactly descriptive of the thing itself. For, as in an indictment for murder, in order to close every loophole of evasion, the prudent attorney affirms that the accused did the deed with an awfully destructive _to-wit_,--with a knife, axe, bludgeon, pistol, bootjack, six-pounder, and what not, which were then and there in the Briarean hands of him the said What's-his-name, so Mr. Choate represents the Republican Party to have attempted the assassination of the Constitution with a most remarkable medley of instruments. He does not, indeed, use the words "Republican Party," but it is perfectly clear from the context, as in the case of the "geographical President," for whom the charges are intended. Out of tenderness for the artist, let him for whom the garment is intended put it on, though it may not fit him,--and for our own parts, as humble members of the Anti-slave-trade, Anti-filibuster, and Anti-disreputable-things-generally Party, we don our Joseph's coat (for Mr. Choate could not make one that was not of many colors) with good-humored serenity.
Of course, Sectionalism is not forgotten. The pumpkin-lantern, that had performed so many offices of alarm, though a little wrinkled now, was too valuable a stage-property to be neglected. In the hands of so skilful an operator, its slender body flutters voluminous with new folds of inexpensive cotton, and its eyes glare with the baleful terrors of unlimited tallow. Mr. Choate honestly confesses that sectional jealousies are coeval with the country itself, but it is only as fomented by Anti-slavery-extension that he finds them dreadful. When South Carolina threatened disunion unless the Tariff of the party to which Mr. Choate then belonged were modified, did he think it necessary for the Protectionists to surrender their policy? There is not, and there never was, any party numerically considerable at the North, in favor of disunion. Were homilies on fraternal concessions the things to heal this breach, the South is the fitting place for their delivery; but mouth-glue, however useful to stick slight matters together, is not the cement with which confederacies are bound to a common centre. There must be the gravitation of interest as well as of honor and duty. We wonder that the parallel case of Scotland and England did not occur to Mr. Choate, in speaking upon this poin t. Scotland was clamorous and England jealously contemptuous, for nearly a century. Twice since the union, the land of cakes has been in rebellion; but as long as a pound Scots was only a twentieth part of a pound English,--as long as the treasury was filled chiefly from south the Tweed, and the sons of poor and proud Scottish lairds could make glittering abstractions from it,--as long as place was to be won or hoped for,--there was no danger. So with us,--though Jacob and Esau quarrelled already in the womb, yet, so long as the weaker and more politic brother can get the elder brother's portion, and simple Esau hunts his whales and pierces his untrodden forests, content with his mess of pottage,--honestly abiding by his bargain, though a little puzzled at its terms,--we think that fratricide, or the sincere thought of it, is very far off.
* * * * *
We should be glad to extract some passages of peculiar force and beauty,--such as that where Mr. Choate rebukes the undue haste of reformers, and calls to mind the slow development and longevity of states and ideas. But our duty is the less pleasing one of pointing to some of the sophistries of the argument and some of the ill-advised ebullitions of the orator. We leave his exegesis of "Render unto Cæsar" to answer itself; but what can be worse than this,--worse in taste, in temper, in reason?
"There is a cant of shallowness and fanaticism which misunderstands
and denies this. There is a distempered and ambitious morality which
says civil prudence is no virtue. There is a philanthropy,--so it
calls itself,--pedantry, arrogance, folly, cruelty, impiousness, I
call it, fit enough for a pulpit, totally unfit for a people,--fit
enough for a preacher, totally unfit for a statesman."
Think of it!--fit enough for St. Augustine and St. Francis, (to mention no greater names,) fit enough for Taylor and Barrow, for Bossuet and Fénelon, but not for Mr. Buchanan or Mr. Cushing!
In another place Mr. Choate says, "that even the laughter of fools, and children, and madmen, little ministers, little editors, and little politicians, can inflict the mosquito-bite, not deep, but stinging." As this is one of the best of his sarcasms, we give it the advantage of the circulation of the "Atlantic,"--generous and tidal circulation, as he himself might call it. We do not think the mosquito image new,--if we remember, the editor of the Bungtown Copperhead uses it weekly against "our pitiful contemporary,"--though the notion of a mosquito-bite inflicted by a laugh is original with Mr. Choate, unless Lord Castlereagh may have used it before. But we would seriously ask Mr. Choate who the big ministers of the country are, if the Beechers, if Wayland, Park, Bushnell, Cheever, Furness, Parker, Hedge, Bellows, and Huntington are the little ones?
There is an amusing passage in which Mr. Choate would seem to assume to himself and those who agree with him the honors of martyrdom. This shows a wonderful change in public opinion; though the martyrs in the "Legenda Aurea" and Fox seem to have had a harder time of it than we supposed to be the case with Mr. Choate.
We have not space to follow him farther, and only the reputation of the man, and the singularity of the occasion, which gave a kind of national significance to the affair, would have tempted us to intrude upon the select privacy of the Young Men's Democratic Association.
Finally, as Mr. Choate appears to have a very mean opinion of the understandings and the culture of those opposed to him in politics, we beg to remind him, since he has been led out, like Balaam, to prophesy against the tents and armies of the Republican Israel, and has ended by proving their invincibility, that it was an animal in all respects inferior to a prophet, and in some to a politician, who was first aware of the presence of the heavenly messenger; and it may be that persons incapable of a generalization--as that patient creature undoubtedly was--may see as far into the future as the greatest philosopher who turns his eyes always to the past.
Footnote 1: We may be allowed to wonder, however, at his speaking of "memories that burn and revel in the pages of Herodotus,"--a phrase which does injustice to the simple and quiet style of the delightful Pepys of Antiquity.