« ZurückWeiter »
where, hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no general ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the acuon, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in a readjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible, I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.
His temper was naturally irritable and high-toned ; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath.
In his expenses he was honorable, but exact ; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility, but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects, and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections, but he exactly calculated every man's value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it.
His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect, and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. Although in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas nor fuency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short, and embarrassed. Yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history.
His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalizing his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors.
On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indim *t; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.
I HAVE just finished reading O'Meara's Bonaparte. It places him in a higher scale of understanding than I had allotted him. I had thought him the greatest of all military captains, but an indifferent statesman, and misled by unworthy passions. The flashes, however, which escaped from him in these conversations with O'Meara prove a mind of great expansion, although not of distinct development and reasoning.
He seizes results with rapidity and penetration, but never explains logically the process of reasoning by which he arrives at them. This book, too, makes us forget his atrocities for a moment, in commiseration of his sufferings. I will not say that the authorities of the world, charged with the care of their country and people, had not a right to confine him for life, as a lion or tiger, on the principles of self-preservation. There was no safety to nations while he was permitted to roam at large. But the putting him to death in cold blood, by lingering tortures of mind, by vexations, insults, and deprivations, was a degree of inhumanity to which the poisonings and assassinations of the school of Borgia and the den of Marat never attained. The book proves, also, that nature had denied him the moral sense, the first excellence of well-organized man. If he could seriously and repeatedly affirm that he had raised himself to power without ever having committed a crime, it proves that he wanted totally the sense of right and wrong. If he could consider the millions of human lives which he had destroyed,,or caused to be destroyed; the desolations of countries by plunderings, burnings, and famine; the destitutions of lawful rulers of the world, without the consent of their constituents, to place his brothers and sisters on their thrones; the cutting up of established societies of men, and jumbling them discordantly together again at his caprice; the demolition the fairest hopes of mankind for the recovery of their rights and amelioration of their condition; and all the numberless train of his other enormities, the man, I say, who could consider all these as no crimes, must have been a moral monster, against whom every hand should have been lifted to slay him.
[From the Notes on Virginia.] It is difficult to determine on the standard by which the manners of a nation may be tried, whether catholicor particular. It is more difficult for a native to bring to that standard the manners of his own nation, familiarized to him by habit. There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people, produced by the existence of slavery among us.
The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it — for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. The parent storms; the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to the worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part and the amor patriæ of the other! For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another ; in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race, or entail his own
miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed. For in a warm climate no man will labor for himself who can make another labor for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God ? that they are not to be violated but with his wrath ? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever ; that, considering numbers, nature, and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events ; that it may become probable by supernatural interference. The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history, natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one's mind. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition · mollifying, the way, I hope, preparing, under the auspices of Heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.
[From a Letter to Mrs. Adams.) I COMMUNICATED the letters, according to your permission, to my granddaughter, Ellen Randolph, who read them with pleasure and edification. She is justly sensible of, and flattered by, your kind notice of her, and additionally so by the favorable recollections of our northern visiting friends. If Monticello has anything which has merited their remembrance, it gives it a value the more in our estimation ; and could I, in the spirit of your wish, count backward a score of years, it would not be long before Ellen and myself would pay our homage personally to Quincy. But those twenty years ! Alas ! where are they? With those beyond the flood. Our next meeting must, then, be in the country to which they have flown - a country for us not now very distant. For this journey we shall need neither gold nor silver in our purse, nor scrip, nor coats, nor staves. Nor is the provision for it more easy than the preparation has been kind. Nothing proves more than this that the Being who presides over the world is essentially benevolent, stealing from us, one by one, the faculties of enjoyment, searing our sensibilities, leading us, like the horse in his mill, round and round the same beaten circle, –
until, satiated and fatigued with this leaden iteration, we ask our own congé.
I heard once a very old friend, who had troubled himself with neither poets nor philosophers, say the thing in plain prose, that he was tired of pulling off his shoes and stockings at night, and putting them on again in the morning. The wish to stay here is thus gradually extinguished, but not so easily that of returning once in a while to see how things have gone on. Perhaps, however, one of the elements of future felicity is to be a constant and unimpassioned view of what is passing here. If so, this may well supply the wish of occasional visits. Mercier has given us a vision of the year 2440 ; but prophecy is one thing, and history another. On the whole, however, perhaps it is wise and well to be contented with the good things which the Master of the feast places before us, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than thoughtful about what we have not.
You and I, dear madam, have already had more than an ordinary portion of life, and more, too, of health than the general measure. On this score I owe boundless thankfulness. Your health was, some time ago, not so good as it had been, and I perceive in the letters communicated some complaints still. I hope it is restored; and that life and health may be continued to you as many years as yourself shall wish, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate and respectful friend.
John Trumbull was born in Watertown, Conn., April 24, 1750, and belonged to a family distinguished for ability and character. He entered Yale College at the age of thirteen, although it was said he passed a satisfactory examination for admission when he was seven
He was an intimate friend of Timothy Dwight in college and in after life. In 1771 he was tutor in college for two years, and afterwards read law in the office of John Adams, in Boston. It was a good school for law, and for patriotism likewise. Upon his return to New Haven in 1774, he began the composition of McFingal, the poem by