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A New Laughing-stock.

Really, the gods are good. If Pan is sometimes, as during the present season, a little niggardly, or red-eyed Mars unusually rampant, have we not always Momus with us, and reason to bless the sensitive divinities [74] that banished him from Olympus? What an intolerable world this would be, if all the fools were out of it! But we need not fear for the succession, while the sunny sections of this confederacy continue to produce such a crop of choice ones, born to the motley. The last and finest fool who has wandered here, is an ancient gentlemen from New Orleans — a certain General Palfrey--who left Massachusetts half a century ago, and who came to Boston to celebrate the last Fourth of July. Had he but made his festive and anniversary visit sooner, he might have eaten dinner at the Revere House with the Hon. Benjamin F. Hallet, and filled himself at that peripatetic and perennial fountain of dish-water. Had he even given notice of his intention of visiting Boston, different arrangements might have been made. Unfortunately, his guide took him to the Music Hall. Unfortunately, Mr. George Sumner was the Orator of the Day. Unfortunately, Mr. George Sumner did not know that the New Orleans gentleman was in the house, and so missed the opportunity of gratifying an illustrious personage. Unfortunately, Mr. Sumner, instead of spouting in a safe and general way, after the old fashion, discussed freely and earnestly the Dred Scott decision, and did not speak in very affectionate terms of Mr. Chief Justice Taney. To this, General Palfrey was obliged to listen. His too officious friends had probably conducted him to a front seat, so that egress would have been difficult; and pleased or displeased, he was compelled to stay.

If Mr. George Sumner had been speaking in New [75] Orleans, or even in Washington, the General might have silenced him by knocking him down; but such an experiment, however sweet, safe and effectual elsewhere, would have been a perilous one in Boston. So the martial veteran was forced to keep quiet. We do not understand why he did not go into convulsions. His escape from apoplexy appears to us little short of miraculous. But he did escape, and the oration delivered, went down to Faneuil Hall, with a sour stomach and a feeble appetite for his dinner. Here he masticated in grim wrath until somebody gave, as a toast, “Cotton cloth,” or “Cotton culture,” or “Cotton Gins,” or “Cotton hats,” or “Cotton something,” and the company called upon General Palfrey to respond. He arose. He pulled out the plug — if we may use the expression — and deluged the company with molten lava. He relieved himself. “He thought,” says the report, “that it was rather hard to be invited to a celebration for the purpose of hearing the laws of the United States trampled under foot.” He considered Mr. Sumner's oration ill-timed, and “he was not afraid to say so.” Of course he was not afraid. He knew how perfectly safe he was in Boston. He knew that no tar-pot was bubbling in the neighborhood. He knew that the company would keep their feathers to sleep upon. He knew that no bludgeon would drum a retaliating tattoo upon his reverberating cranium. He knew that no committee would wait upon him and warn him to leave Boston within twelve hours. Of course he was not afraid. [76]

But suppose that at a Fourth of July dinner in New Orleans, some ardent New Englander, having listened to a spicy and spasmodic attack upon his opinions, or to some concentrated sneer at the home of his love and honor, should dare to rise and to retort. Imagine the riot! Picture the excitement! Think of the glassy shower thickening around those fated brows! What meetings would there be! What ardent and active committees! What thunderous resolutions! With what rapidity would the imprudent Norman be hurried from the dinner-table to the jail, and from the jail to the railway station! Nay, the unfortunate offender might fare worse. His house might be ransacked and his shop plundered; his family might be insulted, or might read in the morning papers that its head had been hung from a lamp-post, or that the pistol or the knife had done the work of the halter.

Oh, it is all very well for some wandering patriarch, the owner of a score or two of black men, when he comes within our borders, to assert and to exercise freedom of speech in a way which makes us very sick, if it does not make us very savage. We must sit and quietly listen while some inane babbler blasphemes our religion, sneers at our policy, questions our patriotism, distorts our motives, and insults our common-sense. It has not occurred, thus far, to these tindery folks, that their blundering nonsense is as disagreeable to us, especially upon the Fourth of July, as the plainest Anti-Slavery discourse could possibly be to them. That is because we do not employ their [77] own practical and unscrupulous method of protest. That is because, when we are insulted, we keep our tempers, and too often hold our tongues.

We suppose that this singular lack of common courtesy, this disinclination to take what they are so willing to give, exhibited by Southern men frequently upon occasions in themselves insignificant, may be attributed to a certain brutality of intellect, to be observed also in some of the lower forms of animal life. The old gentleman who made such a distressing show of himself in Faneuil Hall is not to be despised, for he is a human being. Foolish and weak as he is, he is still “a man and a brother.” If Providence has not bestowed upon him the ordinary intelligence of humanity, or if his opportunities have been so limited that he cannot deport himself decorously at a civilized dinner-party, we should regard this Thracian as we do the inmates of a lunatic asylum, or of a school for feeble-minded youth. No moral law commands us, however, not to laugh at him in our sleeves; and if such law existed, it would not be respected. But we will be contented with a quiet giggle. When a bull-dog has lost all his teeth, he may growl as deeply as he pleases. When he has not lost his teeth; when he can bite as well as snarl, and proposes to exercise the biting faculty upon our calves, it may not be amiss to brain him. But an ancient Tray, like General Palfrey, should be privileged to go through the whole gamut of growls, and, to vary the performance, if he pleases, by a solfeggio of snarls. [78]

This view of the matter seems to have been that of the Faneuil Hall committee. General Palfrey was, after all, not angry enough to run away without finishing his dinner — he was too old a dog for that — so that after the repast was over, and people were deserting the banquet-hall, a small sort of a lawyer got upon his legs and “proposed a toast complimentary to the General.” Then. somebody called for the inevitable three cheers. Then others shook the General by the hand, so that he went back to his tavern quite mollified, and reassured that there was still a little dough left in Boston. We think that herein the more sagacious spirits of the company pursued a judicious course. Had General Palfrey ambled away in his wrath, nobody can tell how the trade of Boston might have suffered. And if there was policy in these little attentions, there was also humanity. This native of Boston was spared the pain of feeling that flunkeyism had altogether died out in the city of his nativity; and he will return to his crescent home to tell his neighbors that while the public men New England are hopeless traitors, the gentlemen who eat the public dinners are not bad fellows to break bread with after all.

July 11, 1859.

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