previous next

Chapter 2: the secular writers

So far we have had to do with the strictly Puritan period of Colonial writing. The clergy were still for a long time to produce much of the best work; but by the beginning of the eighteenth century took place that rise of the secular instinct which found its best expression somewhat later in Franklin; the humane instinct from which an essential part of any strong national literature must spring. At this particular period the impulse expressed itself in three principal forms: the almanac, the diary, and the humorous or satirical poem.

Madam Knight.

The most striking of the early diarists was Madam Sarah Kemble Knight, who was born in Boston in 1666, taught school there, was reputed excellent as a teacher of English composition, and in 1706 was the instructor of Benjamin Franklin. Her account of a journey on horseback from [25] Boston to New Haven gives us an excellent impression of rustic Colonial life on its homely side. It began on Monday, October 2, 1704, and occupied five days; and the amusing diary was written at odd moments during the journey. A kinsman rode with her as far as Dedham, where she went, as was apparently the custom in that period, to the minister's house to wait for the stage. She declined to stay there over night, but was escorted by Madam Belcher, the minister's wife, to the tavern to seek for a guide. The tavernkeeper's son offered his services, and she thus proceeds:--

Upon this, to my no small surprise, son John arose [the landlord's son], and gravely demanded what I would give him to go with me? “ Give you?” says I, “are you John?” “Yes,” says he, “for want of a better;” and behold! this John looked as old as my host, and perhaps had been a man in the last century. “Well, Mr. John,” says I, “make your demands.” “Why, half a piece of eight and a dram,” says John. I agreed, and gave him a dram (now) in hand to bind the bargain.

My hostess catechised John for going so cheap, saying his poor wife would break her heart . . . [Here half a page of manuscript is gone.] His shade on his horse resembled a globe on a gate post. His habit, horse and furniture, its looks and goings incomparably answered the rest. [26]

Thus jogging on with an easy pace, my guide telling me it was dangerous to ride hard in the night (which his horse had the sense to avoid), he entertained me with the adventures he had passed by late riding, and imminent dangers he had escaped, so that, remembering the heroes in “ Parismus ” and the “ Knight of the Oracle,” I did n't know but I had met with a prince disguised.

When we had rid about an hour, we came into a thick swamp, which by reason of a great fog, very much startled me, it being now very dark. But nothing dismayed John; he had encountered a thousand and a thousand such swamps, having a universal knowledge in the woods ; and readily answered all my inquiries, which were not a few.

In about an hour, or something more, after we left the swamp, we came to Billings's, where I was to lodge. My guide dismounted and very complacently helped me down and showed me the door, signing to me with his hand to go in; which I gladly did — but had not gone many steps into the room, ere I was interrogated by a young lady I understood afterwards was the eldest daughter of the family, with these, or words to this purpose ; viz., “ Law for me!--what in the world brings you here at this time of night? I never see a woman on the road so dreadful late in all the days of my ” versal life. Who are you? Where are you going? I “m scared out of my wits! ” --with much more of the same kind. I stood aghast, preparing to reply, when in comes my guide — to him madam turned, roaring out: “ Lawful heart, John, is that you?--how de do Whlere in the world are you going with this woman? Who is she?” John made no answer, but sat [27] down in the corner, fumbled out his black junk, and saluted that instead of Deb; she then turned again to me and fell anew into her silly questions, without asking me to sit down.

I told her she treated me very rudely, and I did not think it my duty to answer her unmannerly questions. But to get rid of them, I told her I came there to have the post's company with me to-morrow on my journey, etc. Miss stared awhile, drew a chair, bade me sit, and then ran up stairs and put on two or three rings (or else I had not seen them before), and returning, set herself just before me, showing the way to Reding, that I might see her ornaments, perhaps to gain the more respect. But granam's new rung sow, had it appeared, would have affected me as much. I paid honest John with money and dram according to contract, and dismissed him, and prayed Miss to show me where I must lodge. She conducted me to a parlor in a little back lean-to, which was almost filled with the bedstead, which was so high that I was forced to climb on a chair to get up to the wretched bed that lay on it; on which having stretched my tired limbs, and laid my head on a sad-colored pillow, I began to think on the transactions of the past day.

Samuel Sewall.

Contemporary with Madam Knight was Judge Samuel Sewall, one of the raciest autobiographers since Pepys. He will be remembered mainly for his diary, but not seldom struck a genuine literary note elsewhere; as when he describes the farms and marshes on the Merrimac :-- [28]

As long as Plum Island shall faithfully keep the commanded post, notwithstanding all the hectoring words and hard blows of the proud and boisterous ocean; as long as any salmon or sturgeon shall swim in the streams of Merrimac, or any perch or pickerel in Crane Pond; as long as the sea-fowl shall know the time of their coming, and not neglect seasonably to visit the places of their acquaintance; as long as any cattle shall be fed with the grass growing in the meadows, which do humbly bow down themselves before Turkey-Hill; as long as any sheep shall walk upon Old-Town Hills, and shall from thence pleasantly look down upon the River Parker, and the fruitful marshes lying beneath; as long as any free and harmless doves shall find a white oak or other tree within the township, to perch, or feed, or build a careless nest upon, and shall voluntarily present themselves to perform the office of gleaners after the barley-harvest; as long as Nature shall not grow old and dote, but shall constantly remember to give the rows of Indian corn their education by pairs; so long shall Christians be born there, and being first made meet, shall from thence be translated to be made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

His diary, like the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys, was intended only for the writer. Samuel Sewall was born in England in 1652, but came to America with his parents when a child and graduated at Harvard in 1671, at nineteen. Till 1730 he was a conspicuous leader in the Massachusetts Colony, and was [29] the only one of the judges concerned in the witchcraft trial who made public confession in later life, standing before the congregation to own that he had been wrong in his rulings, and spending one day in each of the remaining thirty-nine years of his life in fasting and prayer for the wrong he had done. In 1700 he wrote a tract against African slavery. In his diary he often wrote with energy and power, but never so quaintly as in describing his love affairs, if such they may be called, with Puritan ladies, in the effort to secure a third wife. His second having died on May 26, 1720, he proceeded Oct. 1 (four months later) to make overtures for a third:--

8r. 1. [1720] Saturday, I dine at Mr. Stoddard's: from thence I went to Madam Winthrop's just at 3. Spake to her, saying, my loving wife died so soon and suddenly, 't was hardly convenient for me to think of marrying again; however I came to this resolution, that I would not make any court to any person without first consulting with her. Had a pleasant discourse about 7 (seven) single persons sitting in the Fore-seat 7r. 29th, viz. Madm Rebekah Dudley, Catharine Winthrop, Bridget Usher, Deliverance Legg, Rebekah Loyd,

Lydia Colman, Elizabeth Bellingham. She propounded one and another for me; but none would do, said Mrs. Loyd was about her age. [Mrs. Winthrop herself was [30] at this time fifty-six and had had twelve children; Judge Sewall was sixty-eight and had had fourteen, of whom only three survived him.]

Octobr. 3. Waited on Madam Winthrop again; it was a little while before she came in. ... Then I usher'd in discourse from the names in the Fore-seat; at last I pray'd that Catharine [Mrs. Winthrop] might be the person assign'd for me. She instantly took it up in the way of denial, as if she had catch'd at an opportunity to do it, saying she could not do it before she was asked. Said that was her mind unless she should change it, which she believed she should not; could not leave her children. I express'd my sorrow that she should do it so speedily, pray'd her consideration, and ask'd her when I should wait on her again. She setting no time, I mentioned that day sennight. Gave her Mir. Willard's Fountain Open'd with the little print and verses; saying, I hop'd if she did well read that book, we should meet together hereafter, if we did not now. She took the book, and put it in her pocket. Took leave.

8r. 6th. A little after 6 P. M. I went to Madam Winthrop's. She was not within. I gave Sarah Chickering the maid 2 s., Juno, who brought in wood, 1 s. Afterward the nurse came in, I gave her 18d., having no other small bill. . . . Madam seem'd to harp on the same string. Must take care of her children; could not leave that house and neighborhood where she had dwelt so long. I told her she might do her children as much or more good by bestowing what she laid out in house-keeping, upon them. Said her son would be of age the 7th of August. I said it might be inconvenient for her to dwell with her daughter-in-law, who must be [31] mistress of the house. I gave her a piece of Mr. Belcher's cake and ginger-bread wrapped up in a clean sheet of paper: told her of her father's kindness to me when Treasurer, and I Constable. My daughter Judith was gone from me and I was more lonesome — might help to forward one another in our journey to Canaan.

In the evening I visited Madam Winthrop, who treated me with a deal of courtesy; wine, marmalade. . . .

8r. 11th, 1720. I writ a few Lines to Madam Winthrop to this purpose: “Madam, These wait on you with Mr. Mayhew's Sermon, and Account of the state of the Indians on Martha's Vineyard. I thank you for your unmerited favours of yesterday; and hope to have the happiness of waiting on you to-morrow before eight o'clock after Noon. I pray God to keep you, and give you a joyful entrance upon the two hundred and twenty-ninth year of Christopher Columbus his Discovery; and take leave, who am, Madam, your humble Servt. S. S.”

8r. 12. Mrs. Anne Cotton came to door ('t was before 8.) said Madam Winthrop was within, directed me into the little room, where she was full of work behind a stand; Mrs. Cotton came in and stood. Madam Winthrop pointed to her to set me a chair. Madam Winthrop's countenance was much changed from what 't was on Monday, look'd dark and lowering. At last, the work, (black stuff or silk) was taken away, I got my chair in place, had some converse, but very cold and indifferent to what 't was before. Ask'd her to acquit me of rudeness if I drew off her glove. Enquiring the reason, I told her 't was great odds between handling [32] a dead goat and a living lady. Got it off. I told her I had one petition to ask of her, that was, that she would take off the negative she laid on me the third of October; She readily answer'd she could not, and enlarg'd upon it;. . . Told her the reason why I came every other night was lest I should drink too deep draughts of pleasure. She had talk'd of Canary, her kisses were to me better than the best Canary. ...

8r. 19. Midweek. .. . Was courteous to me; but took occasion to speak pretty earnestly about my keeping a coach: I said 't would cost £ 100. per annum: she said 'twould cost but £ 40 ....

8r. 20. Madam Winthrop not being at Lecture, I went thither first; found her very serene with her daughter Noyes, Mrs. Dering, and the widow Shipreeve sitting at a little table, she in her arm'd chair. She drank to me, and I to Mrs. Noyes. After awhile pray'd the favour to speak with her. She took one of the candles, and went into the best room, clos'd the shutters, sat down upon the couch. She told me Madam Usher had been there, and said the coach must be set on wheels, and not by rusting. She spake something of my needing a wig. Ask'd me what her sister said to me. I told her, She said, If her sister were for it, she would not hinder it ...

She receiv'd me courteously. I ask'd when our proceedings should be made public: She said They were like to be no more public than they were already. Offer'd me no wine that I remember. I rose up at 11 o'clock to come away, saying I would put on my coat, she offer'd not to help me. I pray'd her that Juno might light me home, she open'd the shutter, and said [33] 'twas pretty light abroad; Juno was weary and gone to bed. So I came home by starlight as well as I could.

October 24. ... Told her I had an antipathy against those who would pretend to give themselves; but nothing of their estate. I would a proportion of my estate with my self. And I supposed she would do so. As to a Perriwig, My best and greatest Friend, I could not possibly have a greater, began to find me with hair before I was born, and had continued to do so ever since; and I could not find in my heart to go to another.

Nov. 2. Midweek, went again and found Mrs. Alden there, who quickly went out. Gave her about i pound of sugar almonds, cost 3s. per £. Carried them on Monday. She seem'd pleas'd with them, ask'd what they cost. Spake of giving her a hundred pounds per annum if I died before her. Ask'd her what sum she would give me, if she should die first? Said I would give her time to consider of it.

Novr. 4th. Friday. I ask'd her Whereabout we left off last time; mention'd what I had offered to give her; Ask'd her what she would give me; She said she could not change her condition: She has said so from the beginning; could not be so far from her children, the Lecture. Quoted the Apostle Paul affirming that a single life was better than a married. I answer'd That was for the present distress.

. . . Found her rocking little Katy in the cradle. I excus'd my coming so late (near eight). She set me an armed chair and cushion; and so the cradle was between her arm'd chair and mine. Gave her the remnant of my almonds; Slfe did not eat of them as before; but laid them away; I said I came to enquire [34] whether she had alter'd her mind since Friday, or remained of the same mind still. She said, Thereabouts. I told her I loved her, and was so fond as to think that she loved me; she said had a great respect for me. I told her, I had made her an offer, without asking any advice; she had so many to advice with, that 't was an hindrance. The fire was come to one short brand besides the block, which brand was set up in end; at last it fell to pieces, and no recruit was made: She gave me a glass of wine. I think I repeated again that I would go home and bewail my rashness in making more haste than good speed. I would endeavour to contain myself, and not to go on to sollicit her to do that which she could not consent to. Took leave of her. As came down the steps she bid me have a care. Treated me courteously. Told her she had enter'd the 4th year of her widowhood. I had given her the News-Letter before: I did not bid her draw off her glove as sometime I had done. Her dress was not so clean as sometime it had been. Jehovah jireh! [ “The Lord will provide.” ]

Midweek, 9r. 9. Dine at Bror. Stoddard's: were so kind as to enquire of me if they should invite Mm. Winthrop; I answer'd No.

About the middle of Decr. Madam Winthrop made a treat for her children; Mr. Sewall, Prince, Willoughby: I knew nothing of it; but the same day abode in the Council Chamber for fear of the rain, and din'd alone upon Kilby's pies and good beer.

In less than a year later, he called on Madam Ruggles, another widow, and says in his diary, “I showed my willingness to [35] renew my old acquaintance [as a suitor]; she expressed her inability to be serviceable. Gave me cider to drink. I came home.” Eight months later he married Mrs. Mary Gibbs, still another widow, and himself made the prayer at the wedding, as if the time had come to take matters into his own hands.

This is not, it may seem, a very noble kind of literature; but it is, at its best, one of the most permanent. The masterpieces in such intimate or first-hand literature, with its triumphs of self-revealment, are few. Samuel Sewall was not a Montaigne, or even quite a Pepys, but enough has been quoted to indicate his real if inferior success in a vein similar to theirs.

Philip Freneau.

In judging the early poetry of America, we must remember that the poetic product of England was of secondary value from the death of Milton, in 1674, till the publication of Burns's Scotch poems, in 1786, and of Coleridge's and Wordsworth's lyrical ballads, in 1798. We cannot wonder that in America, during the same period, among all the tasks of colonial and Revolutionary life, no poetry of abiding power was produced. The same year that saw Burns's first poems published [36] (1786) saw also those of the first true American poet, Philip Freneau, who, if he left a humbler name than Burns, as befitted a colonist, at least dictated a line of poetry to each of two leading English poets. It has been said that there was no book published in America before 1800 which has now a sure place in general literature. But Freneau before that date gave two lines to general literature which in a manner saved his time, although the lines bore to the general public the names of Scott and Campbell, who respectively borrowed them.

The first is found in Freneau's Indian Burying-ground, the last image of that fine visionary stanza:--

By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews,
In vestments for the chase array'd,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer-a shade.

Campbell has given this line a rich setting in O'Connor's child:--
Now on the grass-green turf he sits,
His tassell'd horn beside him laid;
Now o'er the hills in chase he flits,
The hunter and the deer a shade.


There is also a line of Sir Walter Scott which has its origin in Freneau. In the introduction to the third canto of Marmion in the apostrophe to the Duke of Brunswick, we read:--

Lamented chief — not thine the power
To save in that presumptuous hour,
When Prussia hurried to the field,
And snatch'd the spear but left the shield.

In Freneau's poem on the heroes of Eutaw, we have this stanza:--

They saw their injur'd country's woe;
The flaming town, the wasted field,
Then rush'd to meet the insulting foe;
They took the spear — but left the shield.

An anecdote which the late Henry Brevoort was accustomed to relate of his visit to Scott, affords assurance that the poet was really indebted to Freneau, and that he would not, on a proper occasion, have hesitated to acknowledge the obligation. Mr. Brevoort was asked by Scott respecting the authorship of certain verses on the battle of Eutaw, which he had seen in a magazine, and had by heart, and which he knew were American. He was told that they were by Freneau, when he (Scott) remarked, ‘The poem is as fine a [38] thing as there is of the kind in the language.’

Mary S. Austin's Life of Freneau, quoted from Duyckinck, pp. 219, 220.

Circumstances did not allow Freneau to develop a disinterested poetic art. In those stirring days there was, as he complained, little public favor for anything but satire. He had inherited hatred for tyranny with his Huguenot blood; and there was a vein of bitterness in him which was ready enough to be worked, no doubt, when the time came. Mr. Tyler calls him “the poet of hatred rather than of love;” certainly his reputation at the moment was won as a merciless satirist.

The Hartford wits

Freneau was a classmate of James Madison at Princeton. Contemporary with him were three men of Connecticut and Yale,--Timothy Dwight, Joel Barlow, and Jonathan Trumbull. Like Freneau, these writers began by tentative experiments in prose and verse, and like him they were swept into the current of the Revolution and into the service of political satire. For a time these three writers, who came to be known as the “Hartford wits,” constituted a genuine literary centre in Connecticut.


Literature of the Revolution.

The period of their brief supremacy was a remarkable one. The year 1765 marks the end of the colonial period of American writing. Much was still to be uttered from the colonial point of view, but it could no longer go unchallenged. For the next twenty years little was written which did not concern itself in some way with the question of American rights or American independence. The influence exerted during the first half of this period by the satirical verses of Freneau and the Hartford group would be hard to exaggerate. We have to do only with the literary quality of this work; and from such a point of view, at least, Freneau and Trumbull stand clearly above the rest.

John Trumbull

John Trumbull was born in 1750. He passed his examination for Yale College at the age of seven, sitting in the lap of an older man to write. When his body was big enough, he entered college, retaining some sort of connection with the institution for most of the time until 1773. He was a close and intelligent student of English literature, and it is not surprising that his early prose and verse are imitative [40] in form. So is most of the prose and verse in any age. The fact remains to be insisted upon that if his essays and his verse are Addisonian and Butlerian, they have the unmistakable quality of literature. His Ode to sleep, written at about the close of his New Haven residence, owns a greater master than Pope or Butler:--

Descend, and graceful in thy hand,
With thee bring thy magic wand,
And thy pencil, taught to glow
In all the hues of Iris' bow.
And call thy bright, aerial train,
Each fairy form and visionary shade,

That in th' Elysian land of dreams,
The flower-inwoven banks along,
Or bowery maze that shades the purple streams,
Where gales of fragrance breathe th' enamor'd song,
In more than mortal charms array'd,

People the airy vales and revel in thy reign.

This was written at twenty-three, an age which may be expected to produce imitative work. In the mean time, during 1772 and 1773, Trumbull gave unmistakable evidence of his power as a satirist, by producing The power of Dullness, a long poem in three parts, published separately, and ridiculing [41] the current method of university education. The book is forgotten, but some of its epigrammatic couplets still linger, like:--

For metaphysics, rightly shown,
But teach how little can be known.

First from the dust our sex began,
But woman was refined from man.

This is the measure of Butler's Hudibras, which Trumbull was to employ again in his masterpiece, McFingal. The first canto of McFingal was published in April, 1775, soon after Lexington and Concord. The hero is a Scottish-American Tory, and the scene is laid at a New England town meeting; an admirable setting for the most famous of the Revolutionary satires. It has not become quite a classic; for, with all his wit and taste, Trumbull lacked the fire of imagination, and the exquisite sense of fitness in expression which belong to creative genius.

Printed oratory.

Critics who wish to confine themselves to considering the expression of life in literature, must often be embarrassed by the fact, that, in very important historical periods, life often finds an intense and [42] effective, though not in itself permanent, expression outside of literature. At the dawn of our national life, American intellect found its strongest utterance, not like Greece in poetry, but like Rome in oratory.

It has always been recognized that, as between the two nations from whom all modern European civilization depends, the literature of Greece began in poetry, and the intellectual life of Rome in oratory and statesmanship. Cicero points out that literature did not come to the Romans until after their habits were fully formed. “It is natural to associate the idea of poetry with youth, both in nations and individuals. Yet the evidence of their language, of their religion, and of their customs leads to the conclusion that the Romans, while prematurely great in action and government, were in the earlier stages of their national life little moved by any kind of poetical imagination.” Cicero expressly points out in his Tusculan Disputations that poets came late to Rome but orators early. All this is singularly true of the United States of America as compared with European states. America had astonished Europe with oratory and statesmanship [43] before its literature was born. If it has been often asserted that there was no book published in America, before 1800, which retains a place in literature, it has also been more than once asserted that since 1800, with the exception of Daniel Webster and Wendell Phillips, America has not produced an orator. Both opinions are one-sided; but what is true is that in America, as in Rome, oratory reached its climax first; literature came later.

Europeans did not, of course, hear the early congressional speeches, which, however, often went across the ocean in the shape of pamphlets. In many cases, those early orators retain their English reputation to this day, but not in all. My friend, Mr. Ernest Hartley Coleridge, grandson of the poet, who is now engaged at the British Museum on an annotated edition of Byron, once crossed the great reading-room to ask me if I had ever heard of any such American name as P. Henry, and showed me such a reference in a note to one of Byron's poems. He expressed pleasure when I told him that there certainly was a man named Patrick Henry, with whom I was not personally acquainted, [44] but who had apparently been rather prominent during the war of the Revolution.

It is to be remembered that the newspaper was then practically nothing, but the pamphlet was everything, and the English Civil War, it was often said, was fought in pamphlets. We know now what amazement was produced in Europe when the men who had been supposed to be ignorant backwoodsmen showered the world all at once with statements and arguments which really had dignity, nobility, and force. Such were those four documents sent out by the very first Continental Congress: (1) John Jay's Declaration of rights and Grievances; (2) Richard Henry Lee's Memorial to the inhabitants of the British colonies; (3) John Dickinson's Address to the inhabitants of Quebec; (4) Lee and Dickinson's Petition to the King's most excellent Majesty. These are to be classified not as literature, but rather as printed oratory. An opinion of their high quality does not rest on American judgment alone, but on the verdict given by Lord Chatham in the House of Lords, on Jan. 20, 1775 :--

When your lordships look at the papers transmitted [45] us from America, “said Lord Chatham,” when you consider their decency, firmness and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow, that in all my reading and observation — and it has been my favorite study — I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master-states of the world — for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion,--under such a compilation of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. I trust it is obvious to your lordships, that all attempts to impose servitude upon such men, to establish despotism over such a mighty continental nation, must be vain, must be fatal.

Fisher Ames.

This fine intellectual exhibition, if it belonged rather to statesmanship than to literature, should have prepared the way for literature. The more cultivated English people were not unprepared for seeing it in the American colonies; for Horace Walpole, the most brilliant man of his time, had written to his friend Mason, two years before the Declaration of Independence, that there would “one day be a Thucydides in Boston and a Xenophon at New York.” Unfortunately a different influence came in the way. In New England, whence much of this intellectual work had proceeded, the prevailing party among [46] educated men consisted soon after the war of an essentially conservative class, the Federalists, who had lost all faith in popular government, on the election of Jefferson. In the Massachusetts circle under that name of which George Cabot was the leader, the ablest writer was confessedly Fisher Ames, who wrote the first elaborate and really thoughtful essay on American literature (first published in 1809, after his death), in which he cuts off all hope of any such product, at least until some future age may have destroyed all free institutions, and the return of despotism may bring in literature and art among its ornaments. Like most men in that day, he believed literature the world over to be in a dying condition; and at the time when Wordsworth and Coleridge were just beginning to be read, he wrote as follows--

The time seems to be near, and, perhaps is already arrived, when poetry, at least poetry of transcendent merit, will be considered among the lost arts. It is a long time since England has produced a first-rate poet. If America has not to boast at all what our parent country boasts no longer, it will not be thought a proof of the deficiency of our genius.


He looks gloomily upon the future, however, as regards America, and predicts only a social and political ruin, out of which literature may yet revive amid the ruins of freedom. He goes on to say:--

But the condition of the United States is changing. Luxury is sure to introduce want; and the great inequalities between the very rich and the very poor will be more conspicuous, and comprehend a more formidable host of the latter. The rabble of great cities is the standing army of ambition. Money will become its instrument, and vice its agent. Every step, and we have taken many, towards a more complete, unmixed democracy is an advance towards destruction: it is treading where the ground is treacherous and excavated for an explosion. Liberty has never yet lasted long in a democracy; nor has it ever ended in anything better than despotism. With the change of our government, our manners and sentiments will change. As soon as our emperour has destroyed his rivals and established order in his army, he will desire to see splendour in his court, and to occupy his subjects with the cultivation of the sciences.

If this catastrophe of our publick liberty should be miraculously delayed or prevented, still we shall change. With the augmentation of wealth, there will be an increase of the numbers who may choose a literary leisure. Literary curiosity will become one of the new appetites of the nation; and as luxury advances, no appetite will be denied. After some ages we shall have many poor and a few rich, many grossly igno. [48] rant, a considerable number learned, and a few eminently learned. Nature, never prodigal of her gifts, will produce some men of genius, who will be admired and imitated.

Works of Fisher Ames, pp. 468, 472.

This despairing kind of hopefulness was the utmost to which this highly cultivated man could attain.

So deep-rooted was this pessimism among them that in talking in my youth with the survivors of the old Federalists, I was never really able to trace a ray of light among them, or even a word of vivacity, in their days of defeat, except one reported to me as uttered, I am happy to say, by my grandfather, who was one of what were called the “Essex Junto” by Jefferson, and who probably wrote the once noted “Laco” letters, attacking John Hancock. Mr. James Richardson of Rhode Island, perhaps the last survivor of that circle, has testified that once, in George Cabot's house in Brookline, there was a general moaning among these leaders of a lost cause, and it became a serious question how to treat the victorious Democrats. All were in favor of going down with their colors flying and treating all Democrats as criminals, [49] with sternness only; until Stephen Higginson said, “Gentlemen, if you have to live in the house with a cat, you cannot always call her cat, sometimes you must call her pussy.”

Here came in the value of a sunnier clime and sunnier tempers in Philadelphia, which, whatever Horace Walpole may have thought, was destined to be, rather than Boston or New York, the pioneer in American literature, as in social refinement. It may be that Stephen Higginson, who had been for a year a member of the Continental Congress in its closing period, at Philadelphia, may have learned in the society of that city to “call pussy.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: