Another key to his strong hold upon the popular mind was to be found in his thorough Americanism of training and sympathy. Surcharged with European learning, he yet remained at heart the Lexington farmer's-boy, and his whole atmosphere was indigenous, not exotic. Not haunted by any of the distrust and over-criticism which are apt to effeminate the American scholar, he plunged deep into the current of hearty national life around him, loved it, trusted it, believed in it; and the combination of this vital faith with such tremendous criticism of public and private sins formed an irresistible power. He could condemn without crushing,—denounce mankind, yet save it from despair. Thus his pulpit became one of the great forces of the nation, like the New York "Tribune." His printed volumes had but a limited circulation, owing to a defective system of publication, which his friends tried in vain to correct; but the circulation of his pamphlet-discourses was very great; he issued them faster and faster, latterly often in pairs, and they instantly spread far and wide. Accordingly he found his listeners everywhere; he could not go so far West but his abundant fame had preceded him; his lecture-room in the remotest places was crowded, and his hotel-chamber also, until late at night. Probably there was no private man in the nation, except, perhaps, Beecher and Greeley, whom personal strangers were so eager to see; while from a transatlantic direction he was sought by visitors to whom the two other names were utterly unknown. Learned men from the continent of Europe always found their way, first or last, to Exeter Place; and it is said that Thackeray, on his voyage to this country, declared that the thing in America which he most desired was to hear Theodore Parker talk.
Indeed, his conversational power was so wonderful that no one could go away from a first interview without astonishment and delight. There are those among us, it may be, more brilliant in anecdote or repartee, more eloquent, more profoundly suggestive; but for the outpouring of vast floods of various and delightful information, I believe that he could have had no Anglo-Saxon rival, except Macaulay. And in Mr. Parker's case, at least, there was no alloy of conversational arrogance or impatience of opposition. He monopolized, not because he was ever unwilling to hear others, but because they did not care to hear themselves when he was by. The subject made no difference; he could talk on anything. I was once with him in the society of an intelligent Quaker farmer, when the conversation fell on agriculture: the farmer held his own ably for a time; but long after he was drained dry, our wonderful companion still flowed on exhaustless, with accounts of Nova Scotia ploughing and Tennessee hoeing, and all things rural, ancient and modern, good and bad, till it seemed as if the one amusing and interesting theme in the universe were the farm. But it soon proved that this was only one among his thousand departments, and his hearers felt, as was said of old Fuller, as if he had served his time at every trade in town.
But it must now be owned that these astonishing results were bought by some intellectual sacrifices which his nearer friends do not all recognize, but which posterity will mourn. Such a rate of speed is incompatible with the finest literary execution. A delicate literary ear he might have had, perhaps, but he very seldom stopped to cultivate or even indulge it. This neglect was not produced by his frequent habit of extemporaneous speech alone; for it is a singular fact, that Wendell Phillips, who rarely writes a line, yet contrives to give to his hastiest efforts the air of elaborate preparation, while Theodore Parker's most scholarly performances were still stump-speeches. Vigorous, rich, brilliant, copious, they yet seldom afford a sentence which falls in perfect cadence upon the ear; under a show of regular method, they are loose and diffuse, and often have the qualities which he himself attributed to the style of John Quincy Adams,—"disorderly, ill-compacted, and homely to a fault." He said of Dr. Channing,—"Diffuseness is the old Adam of the pulpit. There are always two ways of hitting the mark,—one with a single bullet, the other with a shower of small shot: Dr. Channing chose the latter, as most of our pulpit orators have done." Theodore Parker chose it also.
Perhaps Nature and necessity chose it for him. If not his temperament, at least the circumstances of his position, cut him off from all high literary finish. He created the congregation at the Music Hall, and that congregation, in turn, moulded his whole life. For that great stage his eloquence became inevitably a kind of brilliant scene-painting,—large, fresh, profuse, rapid, showy;—masses of light and shade, wonderful effects, but farewell forever to all finer touches and delicate gradations! No man can write for posterity, while hastily snatching a half-day from a week's lecturing, during which to prepare a telling Sunday harangue for three thousand people. In the perpetual rush and hurry of his life, he had no time to select, to discriminate, to omit anything, or to mature anything. He had the opportunities, the provocatives, and the drawbacks which make the work and mar the fame of the professional journalist. His intellectual existence, after he left the quiet of West Roxbury, was from hand to mouth. Needing above all men to concentrate himself, he was compelled by his whole position to lead a profuse and miscellaneous life.
All popular orators must necessarily repeat themselves,—preachers chiefly among orators, and Theodore Parker chiefly among preachers. The mere frequency of production makes this inevitable,—a fact which always makes every finely organized intellect, first or last, grow weary of the pulpit. But in his case there were other compulsions. Every Sunday a quarter part of his vast congregation consisted of persons who had never, or scarcely ever, heard him before, and who might never hear him again. Not one of those visitors must go away, therefore, without hearing the great preacher define his position on every point,—not theology alone, but all current events and permanent principles, the Presidential nomination or message, the laws of trade, the laws of Congress, woman's rights, woman's costume, Boston slave-kidnappers, and Dr. Banbaby,—he must put it all in. His ample discourse must be like an Oriental poem, which begins with the creation of the universe, and includes all subsequent facts incidentally. It is astonishing to look over his published sermons and addresses, and see under how many different names the same stirring speech has been reprinted;—new illustrations, new statistics, and all remoulded with such freshness that the hearer had no suspicions, nor the speaker either,—and yet the same essential thing. Sunday discourse, lyceum lecture, convention speech, it made no difference, he must cover all the points every time. No matter what theme might be announced, the people got the whole latitude and longitude of Theodore Parker, and that was precisely what they wanted. He broke down the traditional non-committalism of the lecture-room, and oxygenated all the lyceums of the land. He thus multiplied his audience very greatly, while perhaps losing to some degree the power of close logic and of addressing a specific statement to a special point. Yet it seemed as if he could easily leave the lancet to others, grant him only the hammer and the forge.
Ah, but the long centuries, where the reading of books is concerned, set aside all considerations of quantity, of popularity, of immediate influence, and sternly test by quality alone,—judge each author by his most golden sentence, and let all else go. The deeds make the man, but it is the style which makes or dooms the writer. History, which always sends great men in groups, gave us Emerson by whom to test the intellectual qualities of Parker. They cooperated in their work from the beginning, in much the same mutual relation as now; in looking back over the rich volumes of the "Dial," the reader now passes by the contributions of Parker to glean every sentence of Emerson's, but we have the latter's authority for the fact that it was the former's articles which originally sold the numbers. Intellectually, the two men form the complement to each other; it is Parker who reaches the mass of the people, but it is probable that all his writings put together have not had so profound an influence on the intellectual leaders of the nation as the single address of Emerson at Divinity Hall.
And it is difficult not to notice, in that essay in which Theodore Parker ventured on higher intellectual ground, perhaps, than anywhere else in his writings,—his critique on Emerson in the "Massachusetts Quarterly,"—the indications of this mental disparity. It is in many respects a noble essay, full of fine moral appreciations, bravely generous, admirable in the loyalty of spirit shown towards a superior mind, and all warm with a personal friendship which could find no superior. But so far as literary execution is concerned, the beautiful sentences of Emerson stand out like fragments of carved marble from the rough plaster in which they are imbedded. Nor this alone; but, on drawing near the vestibule of the author's finest thoughts, the critic almost always stops, unable quite to enter their sphere. Subtile beauties puzzle him; the titles of the poems, for instance, giving by delicate allusion the key-note of each,—as "Astraea," "Mithridates," "Hamatreya," and "Etienne de la Boece,"—seem to him the work of "mere caprice"; he pronounces the poem of "Monadnoc" "poor and weak"; he condemns and satirizes the "Wood-notes," and thinks that a pine-tree which should talk like Mr. Emerson's ought to be cut down and cast into the sea.
The same want of fine discrimination was usually visible in his delineations of great men in public life. Immense in accumulation of details, terrible in the justice which held the balance, they yet left one with the feeling, that, after all, the delicate main-springs of character had been missed. Broad contrasts, heaps of good and evil, almost exaggerated praises, pungent satire, catalogues of sins that seemed pages from some Recording Angel's book,—these were his mighty methods; but for the subtilest analysis, the deepest insight into the mysteries of character, one must look elsewhere. It was still scene-painting, not portraiture; and the same thing which overwhelmed with wonder, when heard in the Music Hall, produced a slight sense of insufficiency, when read in print. It was certainly very great in its way, but not in quite the highest way; it was preliminary work, not final; it was Parker's Webster, not Emerson's Swedenborg or Napoleon.
The same thing was often manifested in his criticisms on current events. The broad truths were stated without fear or favor, the finer points passed over, and the special trait of the particular phase sometimes missed. His sermons on the last revivals, for instance, had an enormous circulation, and told with great force upon those who had not been swept into the movement, and even upon some who had been. The difficulty was that they were just such discourses as he would have preached in the time of Edwards and the "Great Awakening"; and the point which many thought the one astonishing feature of the new excitement, its almost entire omission of the "terrors of the Lord," the far gentler and more winning type of religion which it displayed, and from which it confessedly drew much of its power, this was entirely ignored in Mr. Parker's sermons. He was too hard at work in combating the evangelical theology to recognize its altered phases. Forging lightning-rods against the tempest, he did not see that the height of the storm had passed by.
These are legitimate criticisms to make on Theodore Parker, for he was large enough to merit them. It is only the loftiest trees of which it occurs to us to remark that they do not touch the sky, and a man must comprise a great deal before we complain of him for not comprising everything. But though the closest scrutiny may sometimes find cases where he failed to see the most subtile and precious truth, it will never discover one where, seeing, he failed to proclaim it, or, proclaiming, failed to give it force and power. He lived his life much as he walked the streets of Boston,—not quite gracefully, nor yet statelily, but with quick, strong, solid step, with sagacious eyes wide open, and thrusting his broad shoulders a little forward, as if butting away the throng of evil deeds around him, and scattering whole atmospheres of unwholesome cloud. Wherever he went, there went a glance of sleepless vigilance, an unforgetting memory, a tongue that never faltered, and an arm that never quailed. Not primarily an administrative nor yet a military mind, he yet exerted a positive control over the whole community around him, by sheer mental and moral strength. He mowed down harvests of evil as in his youth he mowed the grass, and all his hours of study were but whetting the scythe.
And for this great work it was not essential that the blade should have a razor's edge. Grant that Parker was not also Emerson; no matter, he was Parker. If ever a man seemed sent into the world to find a certain position, and found it, he was that man. Occupying a unique sphere of activity, he filled it with such a wealth of success, that there is now no one in the nation whom it would not seem an absurdity to nominate for his place. It takes many instruments to complete the orchestra, but the tones of this organ the Music Hall shall never hear again.
One feels, since he is gone, that he made his great qualities seem so natural and inevitable, we forgot that all did not share them. We forgot the scholar's proverbial reproach of timidity and selfishness, in watching him. While he lived, it seemed a matter of course that the greatest acquirements and the heartiest self-devotion should go together. Can we keep our strength, without the tonic of his example? How petty it now seems to ask for any fine-drawn subtilties of poet or seer in him who gave his life to the cause of the humblest! Life speaks the loudest. We do not ask what Luther said or wrote, but only what he did; and the name of Theodore Parker will not only long outlive his books, but will last far beyond the special occasions out of which he moulded his grand career.
* * * * *
Io triumphe! Lo, thy certain art, My crafty sire, releases us at length! False Minos now may knit his baffled brows, And in the labyrinth by thee devised His brutish horns in angry search may toss The Minotaur,—but thou and I are free! See where it lies, one dark spot on the breast Of plains far-shining in the long-lost day, Thy glory and our prison! Either hand Crete, with her hoary mountains, olive-clad In twinkling silver, 'twixt the vineyard rows, Divides the glimmering seas. On Ida's top The sun, discovering first an earthly throne, Sits down in splendor: lucent vapors rise From folded glens among the awaking hills, Expand their hovering films, and touch, and spread In airy planes beneath us, hearths of air Whereon the morning burns her hundred fires.
Take thou thy way between the cloud and wave, O Daedalus, my father, steering forth To friendly Samos, or the Carian shore! But me the spaces of the upper heaven Attract, the height, the freedom, and the joy. For now, from that dark treachery escaped, And tasting power which was the lust of youth, Whene'er the white blades of the sea-gull's wings Flashed round the headland, or the barbed files Of cranes returning clanged across the sky, No half-way flight, no errand incomplete I purpose. Not, as once in dreams, with pain I mount, with fear and huge exertion hold Myself a moment, ere the sickening fall Breaks in the shock of waking. Launched, at last, Uplift on powerful wings, I veer and float Past sunlit isles of cloud, that dot with light The boundless archipelago of sky. I fan the airy silence till it starts In rustling whispers, swallowed up as soon; I warm the chilly ether with my breath; I with the beating of my heart make glad The desert blue. Have I not raised myself Unto this height, and shall I cease to soar? The curious eagles wheel about my path: With sharp and questioning eyes they stare at me, With harsh, impatient screams they menace me, Who, with these vans of cunning workmanship Broad-spread, adventure on their high domain,— Now mine, as well. Henceforth, ye clamorous birds, I claim the azure empire of the air! Henceforth I breast the current of the morn, Between her crimson shores: a star, henceforth, Upon the crawling dwellers of the earth My forehead shines. The steam of sacred blood, The smoke of burning flesh on altars laid, Fumes of the temple-wine, and sprinkled myrrh, Shall reach my palate ere they reach the Gods.
Nay, am not I a God? What other wing, If not a God's, could in the rounded sky Hang thus in solitary poise? What need, Ye proud Immortals, that my balanced plumes Should grow, like yonder eagle's, from the nest? It may be, ere my crafty father's line Sprang from Erectheus, some artificer, Who found you roaming wingless on the hills, Naked, asserting godship in the dearth Of loftier claimants, fashioned you the same. Thence did you seize Olympus; thence your pride Compelled the race of men, your slaves, to tear The temple from the mountain's marble womb, To carve you shapes more beautiful than they, To sate your idle nostrils with the reek Of gums and spices, heaped on jewelled gold.
Lo, where Hyperion, through the glowing air Approaching, drives! Fresh from his banquet-meats, Flushed with Olympian nectar, angrily He guides his fourfold span of furious steeds, Convoyed by that bold Hour whose ardent torch Burns up the dew, toward the narrow beach, This long, projecting spit of cloudy gold Whereon I wait to greet him when he comes. Think not I fear thine anger: this day, thou, Lord of the silver bow, shalt bring a guest To sit in presence of the equal Gods In your high hall: wheel but thy chariot near, That I may mount beside thee! ——What is this? I hear the crackling hiss of singed plumes! The stench of burning feathers stifles me! My loins are stung with drops of molten wax!— Ai! ai! my ruined vans!—I fall! I die!
* * * * *
Ere the blue noon o'erspanned the bluer strait Which parts Icaria from Samos, fell, Amid the silent wonder of the air, Fell with a shock that startled the still wave, A shrivelled wreck of crisp, entangled plumes, A head whence eagles' beaks had plucked the eyes, And clots of wax, black limbs by eagles torn In falling: and a circling eagle screamed Around that floating horror of the sea Derision, and above Hyperion shone.
* * * * *
I confess to knowledge of a large book bearing the above title,—a title which is no less appropriate for this brief, disrupted biographical memorandum. That I have a right to act as I have done, in adopting it, will presently appear,—as well as that the honored name thus appropriated by me refers neither io the dictionary nor the filibustero, both of which articles appear to have been superseded by newer and better things.
At the first flush, Fur would seem to be rather a sultry subject to open either a store or a story with, in these glowing days of a justly incensed thermometer.
And yet there is a fine bracing mountain-air to be drawn from the material, as with a spigot, if you will only favor your mind with a digression from the tangible article to the wild-rose associations in which it is enveloped.
Think of the high, wind-swept ridges, among the clefts of which are the only homesteads of the hardy pioneers by whose agency alone one kind of luxury is kept up to the standard demand for it in the great cities. It might not be so likely a place to get fancy drinks in as Broome Street, certainly, we must admit, as we picture to ourselves some brushy ravine in which the trapper has his irons cunningly set out for the betrayal of the stone-marten and the glossy-backed "fisher-cat,"—but the breeze in it is quite as wholesome as a brandy-smash. The whirr of the sage-hen's wing, as she rises from the fragrant thicket, brings a flavor with it fresher far than that of the mint-julep. It is cheaper than the latter compound, too, and much more conducive to health. Continuing to indulge our fancy in cool images connected with fur and its finders, we shall see what contrasts will arise. The blue shadow of a cottonwood-tree stretching over a mountain-spring. By the edge of the sparkling water sits, embroidering buckskin, a red-legged squaw, keeper of the wigwam to the ragged mountain-man who set the traps that caught the martens which furnished the tails that mark so gracefully the number of skins of which the rich banker's wife's fichu-russe is composed. Here is a striking contrast, in which extremes meet,—not the martens' tails, but the two men's wives, the banker's and the trapper's, brought into antithetical relation by the simple circumstance of a fichu-russe, the material of which was worn in some ravine of the wilderness, mayhap not a twelvemonth since, by a creature faster even than a banker's wife. Great is the hereafter of the marten-cat, whose skin may be looked upon as the soul by which the animal is destined to attain a sort of modified immortality in the Elysian abodes of Wealth and Fashion,—the place where good martens go!
The men through whose intervention eventual felicity is thus secured to the fur-creature are as much a race in themselves as the Gypsies. No genuine type of them ever approaches nearer to the confines of civilization than a frontier settlement beckons him. Old Adams, the bear-tutor, might have been of this type once, but he is adulterated with sawdust and gas-light now, with city cookery and spurious groceries. Many men of French Canadian origin are to be found trading and trapping in the Far West; although, taken in the aggregate, there are no people less given to stirring enterprise than these colonial descendants of the Gaul. The only direction, almost, in which they exhibit any expansive tendency is in the border trade and general adventure business, in which figure the names of many of them conspicuously and with honor. The Chouteaus are of that stock; and of that stock came the late Major Aubry, renowned among the guides and trappers of the southwestern wilderness; and if J.C. Fremont is not a French Canadian by birth, the strong efforts made about the time of the last Presidential election to establish him as one had at least the effect of determining his Canadian descent.
Pierre La Marche was a Franco-Canadian of the spread-eagle kind referred to. Departing widely from the conservative prejudices of his race, his wandering propensities took him away, at an early age, from the primitive colonial village in which he first saw the light of day. He was but fourteen years old when he left his peaceful and thoroughly whitewashed home on the banks of the St. Francois, in company with a knot of Canadian voyageurs, whose principles tended towards the Red River of the North. Leaving this convoy at Fond-du-Lac, he pushed his way on to the Mississippi, alone and friendless, and, falling in with a party of trappers at St. Louis, accompanied them when they returned to the mountain "gulches" in which their business lay.
After six years of trapper and trader life, but little trace of the simple young Canadian habitant was left in Pierre La Marche. He spoke mountain English and French patois with equal fluency. There was a decision of character about him that commanded the respect of his comrades. When the other trappers went to St. Louis, they used to drink and gamble away their hard-won dollars, few of these men caring for anything beyond the indulgence of immediate fancies. But Pierre was ambitious, and thought that money might be made subservient to his aspirations in a better way than speculating with it upon "bluff" or squandering it upon deteriorating drinks.
About this time of his life, Pierre began to think that the fact of his being "only a French Canadian" was likely to be a bar to his advancement. He despised himself greatly for one thing, indeed,—that his name was La Marche, and not Walker,—which patronymic he made out to be the nearest Anglo-Saxon equivalent for his French one. He adopted it,—calling himself Peter Walker,—and had an adventure out of it, to begin with.
While trading furs at St. Louis, on one occasion, he offered a remnant of his stock to a dealer with whom he was not acquainted. They had an argument as to prices. The dealer, a man of hasty temper, asked him his name.
"Walker," was the reply.
When La Marche arose from the distant corner into which he was projected in company with the bundle of furs levelled at his head, revenge was his natural sentiment. Drawing his heavy knife from its sheath, he flung it away: the temptation to use it might have been too much for him. Small in stature, but remarkable for muscular strength, and for inventive resource in the "rough-and-tumble" fight, La Marche clenched with the burly store-keeper, who was getting the worst of it, when some of his employes interfered. This led to a general engagement. Several of La Marche's companions now rushed in, and in five minutes their opponents gave out, succumbent to superior wind and sinew.
Next morning, when the trappers took their way out of St. Louis, La Marche was a leader among them for life. But the reason of the store-keeper's rage was for many years a mystery to him. He knew not the enormity of "Walker," as an exponent of disparagement; he simply thought it a nicer name than La Marche, while it fully embodied the sentiment of that name. He adopted it, then, as I said before, and went on towards posterity as Peter Walker.
I heard many strange anecdotes of Peter Walker at the residence of a retired voyageur, who used to sing him Homerically to his chosen friends. These voyageurs are professional canoe-men; adventurers extending, sparsely, from the waters of French Canada to those of Oregon,—and sometimes back. Honest old Quatreaux! I mentioned his "residence" just now, and the term is truly grandiloquent in its application. The residence of old Quatreaux was a log cabane, about twenty feet square. Planks, laid loosely upon the cross-ties of the rafters, formed the up-stairs of the building: up-ladder would be a term more in accordance with facts; for it was by an appliance of that kind that the younger and more active of the sixteen members composing the old voyageur's family removed themselves from view when they retired for the night. A partition, extending half-way across the ground-floor, screened off the state or principal bed from outside gaze; at least, it was exposed to view only from points rendered rather inaccessible by tubs, with which these Canadian families are generally provided to excess. This apartment was strictly assigned to me, as a visitor; and although I firmly declined the honor,—chiefly with reference to certain large and very hard fleas I knew of in its dormitory arrangements,—it was kept religiously vacant, in case my heart should relent towards it, and the family in general slept huddled together on the outer floor, without manifest classification: the two old people; son and wife; daughter and husband; children; the extraordinary little hunch-backed and one-eyed girl, whom nobody would marry, but everybody liked; dogs. I used to stretch myself on a buffalo-robe before the wood-fire, in company with a faithful spaniel, who was as wakeful on these occasions as if he suspected that the low-bred curs of the establishment might pick his pockets.
Quatreaux's cabane was situated on the edge of an extensive tract of marsh,—lagoon would be a more descriptive word for it, perhaps,—a splashy, ditch-divided district, extending along the borders of a lake for miles. Snipe-shooting was my motive there; and dull work it was in those dark, Novembry, October days, with "the low rain falling" half the time, and the yellow leaves all the time, and no snipe. But whether we poled our log canoe up to some stunted old willow-tree that sat low in the horizontal marsh, and took shelter under it to smoke our pipes, or whether we mollified the privation of snipe in the cabane at night with mellow rum and tobacco brought by me, still was Walker the old voyageur's favorite theme.
Old Quatreaux spoke English perfectly well, although his conservatism as a Canadian induced him to prefer his mother tongue as a vehicle for general conversation. But I remarked that his anecdotes of Walker were always related in English, and on these occasions, therefore, for my benefit alone: for but little of the Anglo-Saxon tongue appeared to be known to, or at least used by, any member of his numerous family. Indeed, I can recall but two words of that language which I could positively aver to have heard in colloquial use among them,—poodare and schotte. And why should the old voyageur have thus reserved his experiences from those who were near and dear to him? Simply because most of his adventures with Walker were not of the strictly mild character becoming a family-man. But it was all the same to these good people; and when I laughed, they all took up the idea and laughed their best,—the little hunch-backed girl generally going off into a kind of epilepsy by herself, over in the darkest corner of the room, among the tubs.
When divested of the strange Western expletives and imprecations with which the old man used to spice his reminiscences, some of them are enough. I remember one, telling how Peter Walker "raised the wind" on a particular occasion, when he got short of money on his way to some distant trading-post, in a district strange to him. It is before me, in short-hand, on the pages of an old, old pocket-book, and I will tell it with some slight improvements on the narrator's style, such as suppressing his unnecessary combinations of the curse.
Mounted on a two-hundred-dollar buffalo-horse, for which he would not have taken double that amount, Peter Walker found himself, one afternoon, near the end of a long day's ride. He had but little baggage with him, that little consisting entirely of a bowie-knife and holster-pistols,—for the revolver was a scarce piece of furniture then and there. Of money he was entirely destitute, having expended his last dollar upon the purchase of his noble steed, and of the festive suit of clothes with which he calculated upon astonishing people who resided outside the limits of civilization. The pantaloon division of that suit was particularly superb, consisting principally of a stripe by which the outer seam of each leg was made conducive to harmony of outline. He was about three days' journey from the trading-post to which he was bound. The country was a frontier one, sparsely provided with inns.
The sun was framed in a low notch of the horizon, as he approached a border-hostelry, on the gable of which "Cat's Bluff Hotel" was painted in letters quite disproportioned in size to the city of Cat's Bluff, which consisted of the house in question, neither more nor less. In that house Peter Walker decided upon sojourning luxuriously for that night, at least, if he had to draw a check upon his holsters for it.
Having stabled his horse, then, and seen him supplied with such provender as the place afforded, he looked about the hotel, which he found to be an institution of very considerable pretensions. It seemed to have a good deal of its own way, in fact, being the only house of entertainment for many miles upon a great south-western thoroughfare, from which branched off the trail to be taken by him tomorrow,—a trail which led only to the trading-post or fort already mentioned.
The deportment of the landlord was gracious, as he went about whistling "Wait for the wagon," and jingling with gold chains and heavy jewelry. Still more exhilarating was the prosperous confidence of the bar-keeper, who took in, while Walker was determining a drink, not less than a dozen quarter-dollars, from blue-shirted, bearded, thirsty men with rifles, who came along in a large covered wagon of western tendency, in which they immediately departed with haste, late as it was, as if bound to drive into the sun before he went down behind the far-off edge. Walker used to say, jocularly, that he supposed this must have been the wagon for which the landlord whistled, and which came to his call.
Everything denoted that there was abundance of money in that favored place. Even small boys who came in and called for cigars and drinks made a reckless display of coin as they paid for them, and then drove off in their wagons,—for they all had wagons, and were all intent upon driving rapidly in then toward the west.
But, as night fell, travel went down with the declining day; and Walker felt himself alone in the world,—a man without a dollar. Nevertheless, he called for good cheer, which was placed before him on a liberal scale: for landlords thereabouts were accustomed to provide for appetites acquired on the plains, and their supply was obliged to be both large and ready for the chance comers who were always dropping in, and upon whom their custom depended. So he ate and drank; and having appeased hunger and thirst, he went into the bar, and opened conversation with the landlord by offering him one of his own cigars, a bunch of which he got from the bar-keeper, whom he particularly requested not to forget to include them in his bill, when the time for his departure brought with it the disagreeable necessity of being served with that document.
Western landlords, in general, are not remarkable for the reserve with which they treat their guests. This particular landlord was less so than most others. He was especially inquisitive with regard to Walker's exquisite pantaloons, the like of which had never been seen in that part of the country before. His happiness was evidently incomplete in the privation of a similar pair.
"Them pants all wool, now?" asked he, as he viewed them with various inclinations of head, like a connoisseur examining a picture.
"All except the stripes," replied Walker;—"stripes is wool and cotton mixed; gives 'em a finer grain, you see, and catches the eye."
The landlord respected Walker at once. Perhaps he might be an Eastern dry-goods merchant, come along for the purpose of making arrangements to inundate the border-territory with stuffs for exquisite pantaloons. He proceeded with his interrogatories. He laid himself out to extract from Walker all manner of information as to his origin, occupation, and prospects, which gave the latter an excellent opportunity of glorifying himself inferentially, while he affected mystery and reticence with regard to his mission "out West." At last the landlord set him down for an agent come on to open the sluices for a great tide of foreign emigration into the territory,—an event to which he himself had been looking for a long time, and the prospect of which had guided him to the spot where he had established his hotel, which he now looked upon as the centre from which a great city was destined immediately to radiate. And the landlord retired to his bed to meditate upon immense speculations in town-lots, and, when sleep came upon him, to dream that he had successfully arranged them through the medium of an angel with a speaking-trumpet, whose manifest wardrobe consisted of a pair of fancy pantaloons with stripes on the seams and side-pockets, exactly like Walker's.
Walker, too, retired to rest, but not to sleep, for his mind was occupied in turning over means whereby to obtain some of the real capital with which people here seemed to be superabundantly provided. He had speculations to carry out, and money was the indispensable element. Had he only been able to read the landlord's thoughts, he might have turned quietly over and slept; for so held was that person's mind by the idea that his ultimate success was to be achieved through the medium of his unknown guest, that he would without hesitation have lent him double the sum necessary for his financial arrangements.
There was a disturbance some time about the middle of the night. People came along in wagons, as usual, waking up the bar-keeper, whose dreams perpetually ran upon that kind of trouble. Walker, who was wide awake, gathered from the conversation below that the travellers had only halted for drinks, and would immediately resume their way westward with all speed. He arose and looked out at the open window, which was about fifteen feet from the ground. Something white loomed up through the darkness: it was the awning of one of the wagons, which stood just under the window, to the sill of which it reached within a few feet. Walker, brought up in the rough-and-ready school, had lain down to rest with his trousers on. A sudden inspiration now seized him: he slipped them rapidly off, and dropped them silently on to the roof of the wagon, which soon after moved on with the others, and disappeared into the night. This done, he opened softly the door of the room, and, leaving it ajar, returned to bed and slept.
Morning was well advanced when Walker arose, and began operations by moving the furniture about in an excited manner, to attract the attention of those in the bar below, and convey an idea of search. Presently he went to the door of the room, and, uttering an Indian howl, by way of securing immediate attendance, cried out,—
"Hullo, below! where's my pants?—bar-keeper, fetch along my pants!—landlord, I don't want to be troublesome, but just take off them pants, if you happen to have mistook 'em for your own, and oblige the right owner with a look at 'em, will you?"
Puzzled at this address, which was couched in much stronger language—according to old Quatreaux's version of it—than I should like to commit to paper, the landlord and bar-keeper at once proceeded to Walker's room, where they found him sitting, expectantly, on the side of the bed, with his horse-pistols gathered together beside him. Of course, they denied all knowledge of his pantaloons,—didn't steal nobody's pants in that house, nor nothin'.
Walker looked sternly at them, and, playing with one of his pistols, exclaimed, with the usual redundants,—
"You lie!—you've stole my pants between you; you've found out what they were worth by this time, I guess; but I'll have 'em back, and that in a hurry, or else my name a'n't Walker,—Peter Walker."
He added his Christian name, because a reminiscence of the mystery belonging to his patronymic by itself flashed upon him.
Now the name of Pete Walker was potent along the frontier, because of his influence with the wild mountain-men, who did reckless deeds on his account, unknown to him and otherwise. Another vision than that of last night overcame the landlord,—a vision of Lynch and ashes.
"So you're Pete Walker, be you?" asked he, in a tone of mingled respect and admiration, slightly tremulous with fear. "How do you do, Mr. Walker?—how do you find yourself this morning, Sir?"
"I didn't come here to find myself," retorted Walker, fiercely. "I found my door open, though, when I woke up,—but I couldn't find my pants. You must get 'em, or pay for 'em, and that right away."
"Them cusses that passed through here last night!" exclaimed the landlord. "I guess the pants is gone on the sundown trail, stripes and all."
Walker thought it was quite probable that they had; but they were stolen from that house, and the house must pay for them.
Lynch and ashes again blazed before the landlord's eyes.
"How much might the pants be worth, now, at cost price?" asked he. "All wool, you say, only the stripes; but, as they was nearly all stripes, you needn't holler much about the wool, I reckon. How much, now?"
"Two hundred and ten dollars," replied Walker, with impressive exactness.
"Thunder!" exclaimed the landlord. "I thought they might be fancy-priced, sure-ly, but that's awful!"
"Ten dollars, cash price, for the pants," proceeded Walker, "and two hundred for that exact amount in gold stitched up in the waistband of em."
"The Devil has got 'em, anyhow!" said the landlord,—"for I saw a queer critter, in my sleep, flying about with 'em on. Wings looks kinder awful along o' pants with stripes. There'll be no luck round till they're paid for, I guess. Couldn't you take my best checkers for 'em, now, with fifty dollars quilted into the waistband,—s-a-ay?"
"My name's Walker,—Peter Walker," was the reply.
The landlord was no match for that name, so disagreeably redolent of Lynch and ashes. Thorough search was made upon the premises, and to some distance around, in the wild hope that the missing trousers might have walked off spontaneously, and lain down somewhere to sleep; but, of course, nothing came of the investigation, although Walker assisted at it with his usual energy. All compromise was rejected by him, and it was not yet noon when he rode proudly away from the lone hostelry, in the landlord's best checkers, for which he kindly allowed him five dollars, receiving from him the balance, two hundred and five dollars, in gold.
I forget now what Walker did with that money, although Quatreaux knew exactly, and told me all about it. Suffice it to say that he made a grand coup with it, in the purchase of a mill-privilege, or claim, or something of the kind. Less than a year after the events narrated, he again rode up to the lone hostelry, which was not so lonely now, however; for houses were growing up around it, and it took boarders and rang a dinner-bell, and maintained a landlady as well as a landlord, besides. The landlord was astonished when Walker counted out to him two hundred and five dollars in gold,—surprised when to that was added a round sum for interest,—ecstatic, on being presented with a brand-new pair of pantaloons, of the same pattern as the expensive ones formerly so admired by him. But his features collapsed, and for some time wore an expression of imbecility, when he learned the details of the adventure, and found out that "some things"—landlords, for example—"can be done as well as others."
It was with little reminiscences like the one just narrated that old Quatreaux used to wile away the time, as we threaded the intricate ditches of the marsh in his canoe, so hedged in by the tall reeds that our horizon was within paddle's length of us. With that presumptive clairvoyance which appears to be an essential property of the French raconteur, he did not confine himself to external fact in his narratives, but always professed to report minutely the thoughts that flashed through the mind of such and such a person, on the particular occasion referred to. He was a master of dialects,—Yankee, Pennsylvanian Dutch, and Irish.
"Where did you get your English, old man?" I asked him, as we scudded across the lake in our canoe, with a small sail up, one red October evening.
"In Pennsylvania," replied he. "I went there on my own hook, when I was about twelve year old, and worked in an oil-mill for four year."
"In an oil-mill? Perhaps that accounts for the glibness with which language slips off your tongue."
"'Guess it do," said the old voyageur, with ready assent.
We nearly got foul of a raft coming down the lake, manned with a rugged set of half-breeds, who had a cask of whiskey on board, and were very drunk and boisterous.
"Ugly customers to deal with, those brules," remarked I, when we had got clear away from them.
"Some on 'em is," replied the old voyageur. "Did you notice the one with the queer eye,—him in the Scotch cap and shupac moccasons?"
I had noticed him, and an ill-looking thief he was. One of his eyes, either from natural deformity or the effect of hostile operation, was dragged down from its proper parallel, and planted in a remote socket near the corner of his mouth, whence it glared and winked with super-natural ferocity.
"That's Rupe Falardeau," continued my companion. "His father, old Rupe, got his eye taken down in a deck-fight with a Mississippi boatman; and this boy was born with the same mark,—only the eye's lower down still. If that's to go on in the family, I guess there'll be a Falardeau with his eye in his knee, some time."
In the deck-fight in which old Rupe got his ugly mark Pete Walker had a hand; and the part he took in it, as related to me by old Quatreaux, who was also present, affords a good example of the tact and coolness which gave him such mastery over the wild spirits among whom he worked out his destiny.
Walker was coming down a lumbering-river—I forget the name of it—on board a small tug-steamboat, in which he had an interest. He had gone into other speculations beside furs, by this time, and had contracts in two or three places for supplying remote stations with salt pork, tea, and other staple provisions of the lumbering-craft.
Stopping to wood at the mouth of a creek, a gang of raftsmen came on board,—half-breed Canadians of fierce and demoralized aspect,—men of great muscular strength, and armed heavily with axes and butcher-knives. The gang was led by Rupe Falardeau, a dangerous man, whether drunk or sober, and one whose antecedents were recorded in blood. These men had been drinking, and were very noisy and intrusive, and presently a row arose between them and some of the boat-hands. Fisticuffs and kicks were first exchanged, but without any great loss of blood. Knives were then drawn and nourished, and matters were beginning to assume a serious aspect, when Walker made his appearance forward of the paddle-box, pointing a heavy pistol right at the head of the ringleader.
"Rupe!" shouted he, in a voice that attracted immediate attention, "drop that knife, or else I shoot!"
The crowd parted for a moment, and Rupe, standing alone near the bows, wheeled round with a yell, and glared fiercely at the speaker.
"Drop that knife!" repeated Walker.—"One, two, three!—I'll give you a last chance, and when I say three again, I shoot, by thunder!"
The last word had not rolled away, when the gleaming knife flashed from the hand of Rupe, glanced close by Walker's ear, and sped quivering into the paddle-box, just behind his head.
"Good for you, Rupe!" exclaimed Walker, lowering his pistol, with a pleasant smile,—"good for you!—but, sacre bapteme! how dead I'd have shot you, if you hadn't dropped that knife!"
The forbearance of Walker put an end to the row. Rupe, disarmed at once by the loss of his knife and the coolness of Walker, was seized by a couple of the deck-hands, and might have been secured without injury to his beauty, had not a Mississippi boatman, who owed him an old grudge, struck him on the face with a heavy iron hook, lacerating and disfiguring him hideously for life.
"But why didn't Walker shoot Falardeau, old man?" asked I of the voyageur, wishing to learn something of the etiquette of life and death among these peculiar people, who appear to be so reckless of the former and fearless of the latter.
"Ah!" replied he, "Rupe was too valuable to be shot down for missing a man with a knife. Such a canoe-steersman as Rupe never was known before or since: he knew every rock in every rapid from the Ottawa to the Columbia."
Some time after this I again fell in with young Rupe, under circumstances indicating that his life was not considered quite so valuable as that of the old gentleman from whom he inherited his frightful aspect.
In company with a friend, one day, I was beating about for wild-fowl in a marshy river, down which small rafts or "cribs" of timber were worked by half-breeds and Canadians.
About dark we came to a small, flat island in the marsh, where we found an Iroquois camp, in which we proposed to pass the night, as we had no camping-equipage in our skiff. The men were absent, hunting, and there was nobody in charge of the wigwam but an ugly, undersized squaw, with her two ugly, undersized children.
We were much fatigued, and agreed to sleep by watches, knowing the sort of people we had to deal with. It was my watch, when voices were heard as of men landing and pulling up a canoe or boat. Presently three men came into the wigwam, railing-men, dressed in gray Canada homespun and heavy Scotch bonnets. The light of the fire outside flashed on their faces, as they stooped to enter the elm-bark tent, and in the foremost I recognized the hideous Rupe Falardeau, Junior. This man carried in his hand a small tin pail full of whiskey. He was very drunk and dangerous, and greatly disgusted at the absence of the Iroquois men, with whom he had evidently laid himself out for a roaring debauch.
I woke up my companion, and a judicious display of our double-barrelled guns kept the three scoundrels in check. They insisted on our tasting some of their barbarous liquor, however, and horrible stuff it was,—distiller's "high-wines," strongly dashed with vitriol or something worse. No wonder that men become fiends incarnate on such "fire-water" as that!
By-and-by they slept,—two of them outside, by the fire,—Falardeau inside the wigwam, the repose of which was broken by the hollow rattle of his drunken breath.
In the dead of the night something clutched me by the arm. It was the ugly squaw, who forced a greasy butcher-knife into my hand, pointing towards where the raftsman lay, and whispering to me in English,—"Stick heem! stick heem!—nobody never know. He kill my brother long time ago with this old knife. Kill heem! kill heem now!"
I did not avail myself of the opportunity thus afforded me for the improvement of river society: nay, worse, I connived at the further career of the redoubtable Rupert Falardeau, Junior; for, on leaving in the morning, I roused him with repeated kicks, thus saving him for that time, probably, from the Damoclesian blade of the vengeresse.
L'ete de Saint Martin!—how blue and yellow it is in the marshes in those days! It is the name given by the French Canadians to the Indian Summer,—the Summer of St. Martin, whose anniversary-day falls upon the eleventh of November; though the brief latter-day tranquillity called after him arrives, generally, some two or three weeks earlier. Looking lakeward from the sedgy nook in which we are waiting for the coming of the wood-ducks, the low line of water, blue and calm, is broken at intervals by the rise of the distant masquallonge, as he plays for a moment on the surface. But the channels that separate the flat, alluvial islets are yellow, their sluggish waters being bedded heavily down with the broad leaves of the wintering basswood-trees, which, in some places, touch branch-tips across the narrow straits. The muskrat's hut is thatched with the wet, dead leaves,—no thanks to him; and there is a mat of them before his door,—a heavy, yellow mat, on which are scattered the azure shells of the fresh-water clams to be found so often upon the premises of this builder. Does he sup on them, or are they only the cups and saucers of his vegeto-aquarian menage? Blue and yellow all,—the sky and the sedge-rows, the calm lake and the canoe, the plashing basswood-leaves and the oval, azure shells.
Also Marance, the voyageur's buxom young daughter, who came with us, today, commissioned to cull herbs of wondrous properties among the vine-tangled thickets of the islands. Blue and yellow. Eyes blue as the azure shells; hair flashing out golden gleams, like that of Pyrrha, when she braided hers so featly for the coming of some ambrosial boy.
"I must marry you, Marance," said I, jocularly, to the damsel, as I jumped her out of the canoe,—"I shall marry you when we get back."
It is good to live in a marsh. No fast boarding-house women there, lurking for the unwary; no breaches of promise; "no nothing" in the old-man-trap line. Abjure fast boarding-houses, you silly old bachelors, and go to grass in a marsh!
Marance laughed merrily, as she tripped away; then, turning, she said,—
"But what if I never get back? I may lose myself in these lonely places, and never be heard of again."
"Oh, in that case," replied I, hard driven for a compliment, "in that case, I must wait until Gilette"—a younger sister—"grows up. She will be exactly like you: I must only wait for Gilette."
"You remind me of Pete Walker," said the old man, as we shot away up the channel, our canoe ripping up the matted surface like the cue of a novice, when he runs a fatal reef along the sere and yellow cloth of some billiard-table erewhile in verdure clad. "You are as bad as Pete Walker, who thought one sister must be as good as another, because they looked so much alike."
And then, as we loitered about in the bays, the old man told me the story of Walker's honeymoon, which was a sad and a short one. This is the story.
Near that wild rapid of the Columbia River known as the "Dalles," there was, years ago, a Jesuit mission, established in a small fort, built, like that at Nez-Perces, of mud. The labors of the holy men composing the mission involved no inconsiderable amount of danger, devoted as they were to the hopeless task of reforming such sinners as the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Gros-Ventres, the Flat-Heads, the Assiniboines, the Nez-Perces, and a few other such.
Some of these missionaries had sojourned for a long time with a branch of the Blackfoot tribe, among whom they found two young white girls, remarkable for their exact resemblance to each other, and therefore supposed to be twins. I say supposed, because of their origin there was no trace. All that was known about them was, that they were the sole survivors of a train of emigrants, attacked and murdered by the Nez-Perces, who, actuated by one of those whims characteristic of the red men, spared the lives of the two children, and adopted them into the tribe. Subsequently, in a skirmish with the Blackfeet, they fell into the hands of the latter, among whom they had lived for some time, when they were ransomed by the missionaries, at the price of certain trading-privileges negotiated by the latter for the tribe.
When adopted by the Jesuits, the children had lost all remembrance of their parentage; nor had they any names except the Indian ones bestowed upon them by their captors. The good fathers christened them, however, arranging them alphabetically, by the names of Alixe and Bloyse, and confiding them to the especial charge of the wife of a trader connected with the station, who had no family of her own. They were fair-haired children, probably of German or Norwegian origin, and had grown up to be robust young women of seventeen, when Walker saw them for the first time, as he stopped at the Dalles on his way from Fort Nez-Perces about one hundred and twenty-five miles higher up the Columbia.
Walker, whose business detained him for some time at the mission, decided upon marrying one of the fair-haired sisters,—he did not much care which, they were so singularly alike. Alixe happened to be the one, however, to whom he tendered a share in his fortunes, which she accepted in the random manner of one to whom it was of but little consequence whether she said "Yes" or "No." Bloyse would have followed him, and him only, to the end of all; but he never knew it at the right time, though the women of the fort could have told him.
It was late one afternoon when he was married to Alixe, in the chapel of the mission. That was the night of the massacre. Two hours after the wedding, the Blackfeet, combined with some allied tribe, came down like wolves upon the fort. There was treachery, somewhere, and they got in. In the thick of the fight, and when all seemed hopeless, Walker shot down a tall Indian who was dragging his bride away to where the horses of the tribe were picketed. In a second he had leaped upon a horse, and, holding the young girl before him, galloped away in the direction of a stream running into the Columbia,—a stream of fierce torrents, navigable only at one place, and that by flat-bottomed boats or scows, in which passengers warped themselves across by a grass rope stretched from bank to bank. Once over this river, he could easily reach a friendly camp, where he and his bride would have been in safety.
The moon had risen when he reached the ferry. Turning the horse adrift, he lifted the young woman into the scow, and began to warp rapidly across by the rope with one hand, while he supported his fainting companion close to him with the other. Suddenly, a sharp click sounded from the opposite bank: the rope gave way, and Walker and his companion were precipitated violently into the water, the boat shooting far away from beneath their feet. It ran a strong current there, culminating in a furious rapid not two hundred yards lower down. Retaining his grasp of the young woman, Walker fought bravely against the stream, down which he felt they were sweeping, faster and faster, until a violent concussion deprived him, for a moment, of consciousness. When he came to himself, he was still swimming, but his companion was gone. The current had driven them forcibly against a rock, throwing her from his grasp. The wild rapid was just below them. She was never heard of again; but Walker managed to reach the shore, where he must have lain long in an exhausted condition, for it was daylight when he awoke to any recollection of what had happened.
The ferry-rope had been cut, as he afterwards discovered, by an Indian, in whose brother's removal by hanging he had been instrumental, and who had been watching him, day and night, for the purpose of wreaking a bitter vengeance.
Returning to reconnoitre, with some of his friends, Walker found the mission a heap of ruins,—blackened walls, charred rafters, and unrecognizable human remains.
Long afterwards, he learned that his bride was again living among the Blackfeet;—for it was Bloyse, and not Alixe, with whom he had galloped away to the fatal ferry, in the confusion of that terrible night. It was poor Bloyse who went away from his arms down those crushing rapids. It was Alixe, his bride, who shot back the bolts for the entrance of the Blackfeet. She was secretly betrothed in the tribe, and it was her betrothed whom Walker shot down as he was rushing away in triumph with his supposed fiancee of the pale-faces. She married another Indian of the tribe, however; for she was a savage woman at heart, and could live among savages only.
"Sisters may be as like as two walnuts, to look at," said the old voyageur, when he had finished his narration. "Take any two walnuts from a heap, at random, though, and, like as not, you'll find one on 'em all heart and the other all hollow."
"True," replied I; "but these be wild adventures for one whose boyhood was passed in a peaceful and thoroughly whitewashed home on the banks of the St. Francois."
"'Guess they be," said the old voyageur.
* * * * *
THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCER AND ITS EDITORS.
The families of Gales and Seaton are, in their origin, the one Scotch, the other English. The Seatons are of that historic race, a daughter of which (the fair and faithful Catherine) is the heroine of one of Sir Walter Scott's romances. It was to be supposed that they whose lineage looked to such an instance of devoted personal affection for the ancient line would not slacken in their loyalty when fresh calamities fell upon the Stuarts and again upset their throne. Accordingly, the Seatons appear to have clung to the cause of their exiled king with fidelity. Henry Seaton seems to have made himself especially obnoxious to the new monarch, by taking part in those Jacobite schemes of rebellion which were so long kept on foot by the lieges and gentlemen of Scotland; so that, when, towards the close of the seventeenth century, the cause he loved grew desperate, and Scotland itself anything but safe for a large body of her most gallant men, he was forced, like all others that scorned to submit, to fly beyond the seas. Doing so, it was natural that he should choose to take refuge in a Britain beyond the ocean, where a brotherly welcome among his kindred awaited the political prescript. It is probable, however, that a special sympathy towards that region which, by its former fidelity to the Stuarts, had earned from them the royal quartering of its arms and the title of "The Ancient Dominion," directed his final choice. At any rate, it was to Virginia that he came,—settling there, as a planter, first in the county of Gloucester, and afterwards in that of King William. From one of his descendants in a right line sprang (by intermarriage with a lady of English family, the Winstons) William Winston Seaton, the editor, whose mother connected him with a second Scotch family, the Henrys,—the mother of Patrick Henry being a Winston. These last had come, some three generations before, from the old seat of that family in its knightly times, Winston Hall, in Yorkshire, and had settled in the county of Hanover, where good estates gave them rank among the gentry; while commanding stature, the gift of an equally remarkable personal beauty, a very winning address, good parts, high character, and the frequent possession among them of a fine natural eloquence, gave them as a race an equal influence over the body of the people. In William (popularly called Langaloo) and his sister Sarah, the mother of Patrick Henry, these hereditary qualities seem to have been particularly striking; so that, in their day, it seemed a sort of received opinion that it was from the maternal side that the great orator derived his extraordinary powers.
The Galeses are of much more recent naturalization amongst us,—later by just about a century than that of the Seatons, but alike in its causes. For they, too, were driven hither by governmental resentment. Their founder, (as he may be called,) the elder Joseph Gales, was one of those rare men who at times spring up from the body of the people, and by mere unassisted merit, apart from all adventitious advantages, make their way to a just distinction. Perhaps no better idea of him can be given than by likening him to one, less happy in his death, whom Science is now everywhere lamenting,—the late admirable Hugh Miller. A different career, rather than an inferior character, made Joseph Gales less conspicuous. He was born in 1761, at Eckington, near the English town of Sheffield. The condition of his family was above dependence, but not frugality.
Be education what else it may, there is one sort which never fails to work well: namely, that which a strong capacity, when denied the usual artificial helps, shapes out to its own advantage. Such, with little and poor assistance, became that of Joseph Gales, obtained progressively, as best it could be, in the short intervals which the body can allow to be stolen between labor and necessary rest.
Now the writer is thoroughly convinced, that, after this boy had worked hard all the day long, he never would have sat down to study half the night through, if it had not been a pleasure to him. In short, no sort of toil went hard with him. For he was a fine, manly youngster, cheerful and stalwart, one who never slunk from what he had set about, nor turned his back except upon what was dishonest. He wrought lightsomely, and even lustily, at his coarser pursuits; for, in that sturdy household, to work had long been held a duty.
Thus improving himself, at odd hours, until he was fit for the vocation of a printer, and looked upon by the village as a genius, our youth went to Manchester, and applied himself to that art, not only for itself, but as the surest means of further knowledge. Of course he became a master in the craft. At length, returning to his own town to exercise it, he grew, by his industry and good conduct, into a condition to exercise it on his own account, and set up a newspaper,—"The Sheffield Register."
Born of the people, it was natural that Joseph Gales should in his journal side with the Reformers; and he did so: but with that unvarying moderation which his good sense and probity of purpose taught him, and which he ever after through life preserved. He kept within the right limits of whatever doctrine he embraced, and held a measure in all his political principles,—knowing that the best, in common with the worst, tend, by a law of all party, to exaggeration and extremes. Beyond this temperateness of mind nothing could move him. Thus guarded, by a rare equity of the understanding, from excess as to measures, he was equally guarded by a charity and a gentleness of heart the most exhaustless. In a word, it may safely be said of him, that, amidst all the heats of faction, he never fell into violence,—amidst all the asperities of public life, never stooped to personalities,—and in all that he wrote, left scarcely an unwise and not a single dishonest sentence behind him.
Such qualities, though not the most forward to set themselves forth to the public attention, should surely bring success to an editor. The well-judging were soon pleased with the plain good sense, the general intelligence, the modesty, and the invariable rectitude of the young man. Their suffrage gained, that of the rest began to follow. For, in truth, there are few things of which the light is less to be hid than that of a good newspaper. "The Register," by degrees, won a general esteem, and began to prosper. And as, according to the discovery of Malthus, Prosperity is fond of pairing, it soon happened that our printer went to falling in love. Naturally again, being a printer, he, from a regard for the eternal fitness of things, fell in love with an authoress.
This was Miss Winifred Marshall, a young lady of the town of Newark, who to an agreeable person, good connections, and advantages of education, joined a literary talent that had already won no little approval. She wrote verse, and published several novels of the "Minerva Press" order, (such as "Lady Emma Melcombe and her Family," "Matilda Berkley," etc.,) of which only the names survive.
Despite the poetic adage about the course of true love, that of Joseph Gales ran smooth: Miss Marshall accepted his suit and they were married. Never were husband and wife better mated. They lived together most happily and long,—she dying, at an advanced age, only two years before him. Meantime, she had, from the first, brought him some marriage-portion beyond that which the Muses are wont to give with their daughters,—namely, laurels and bays; and she bore him three sons and five daughters, near half of whom the parents survived. Three (Joseph the younger, Winifred, and Sarah, now Mrs. Seaton) were born in England; a fourth, at the town of Altona, (near Hamburg,) from which she was named; and the rest in America.
To resume this story in the order of events. Mr. Gales went on with his journal, and when it had grown quite flourishing, he added to his printing-office the inviting appendage of a book-store, which also flourished. In the progress of both, it became necessary that he should employ a clerk. Among the applicants brought to him by an advertisement of what he needed, there presented himself an unfriended youth, with whose intelligence, modesty, and other signs of the future man within, he was so pleased that he at once took him into his employment,—at first, merely to keep his accounts,—but, by degrees, for superior things,—until, progressively, he (the youth) matured into his assistant editor, his dearest friend, and finally his successor in the journal. That youth was James Montgomery, the poet.
On the 10th of April, 1786, Mrs. Gales gave birth, at Eckington, their rural home, to her first child, Joseph, the present chief of the "Intelligencer." [Mr. Gales has since died.] Happy at home, the young mother could as delightedly look without. The business of her husband throve apace; nor less the general regard and esteem in which he was personally held. He grew continually in the confidence and affection of his fellow-citizens; endearing himself especially, by his sober counsels and his quiet charities, to all that industrious class who knew him as one of their own, and could look up without reluctance to a superiority which was only the unpretending one of goodness and sense. Over them, without seeking it, he gradually obtained an extraordinary ascendancy, of which the following is a single instance. Upon some occasion of wages or want among the working-people of Sheffield, a great popular commotion had burst out, attended by a huge mob and riot, which the magistracy strove in vain to appease or quell. When all else had failed, Mr. Gales bethought him of trying what he could do. Driven into the thick of the crowd, in an open carriage, he suddenly appeared amongst the rioters, and, by a few plain words of remonstrance, convinced them that they could only hurt themselves by overturning the laws, that they should seek other modes of redress, and meantime had all better go home. They agreed to do so,—but with the condition annexed, that they should first see him home. Whereupon, loosening the horses from the carriage, they drew him, with loud acclamations, back to his house.
Such were his prospects and position for some seven years after his marriage, when, of a sudden, without any fault of his own, he was made answerable for a fact that rendered it necessary for him to flee beyond the realm of Great Britain.
As a friend to Reform, he had, in his journal, at first supported Pitt's ministry, which had set out on the same principle, but which, when the revolutionary movement in France threatened to overthrow all government, abandoned all Reform, as a thing not then safe to set about. From this change of views Mr. Gales dissented, and still advocated Reform. So, again, as to the French Revolution, not yet arrived at the atrocities which it speedily reached,—he saw no need of making war upon it. In its outset, he had, along with Fox and other Liberals, applauded it; for it then professed little but what Liberals wished to see brought about in England. He still thought it good for France, though not for his own country. Thus, moderate as he was, he was counted in the Opposition and jealously watched.
It was in the autumn of 1792, while he was gone upon a journey of business, that a King's-messenger, bearing a Secretary-of-State's warrant for the seizure of Mr. Gales's person, presented himself at his house. For this proceeding against him the following facts had given occasion. In his office was employed a printer named Richard Davison,—a very quick, capable, useful man, and therefore much trusted,—but a little wild, withal, at once with French principles and religion, with conventicles, and those seditious clubs that were then secretly organized all over the island. This person corresponded with a central club in London, and had been rash enough to write them, just then, an insurrectionary letter, setting forth revolutionary plans, the numbers, the means they could command, the supplies of arms, etc., that they were forming. This sage epistle was betrayed into the hands of the Government. The discreet Dick they might very well have hanged; but that was not worth while. From his connection with the "Register," they supposed him to be only the agent and cover for a deeper man,—its proprietor; and at the latter only, therefore, had they struck. Nothing saved him from the blow, except the casual fact of his absence in another country, and their being ignorant of the route he had taken. This his friends alone knew, and where to reach him. They did so, at once, by a courier secretly despatched; and he, on learning what awaited him at home, instead of trusting to his innocence, chose rather to trust the seas; and, making his way to the coast, took the only good security for his freedom, by putting the German Ocean between him and pursuit. He sailed for Amsterdam, where arriving, he thence made his way to Hamburg, at which city he had decided that his family should join him. To England he could return only at the cost of a prosecution; and though this would, of necessity, end in an acquittal, it was almost sure to be preceded by imprisonment, while, together, they would half-ruin him. It was plain, then, that he must at once do what he had long intended to do, go to America.
Accordingly, he gave directions to his family to come to him, and to Montgomery that he should dispose of all his effects and settle up all his affairs. These offices that devoted friend performed most faithfully; remitting him the proceeds. The newspaper he himself bought and continued, under the name of the "Sheffield Iris." Still retaining his affection for the family, he passed into the household of what was left of them, and supplied to the three sisters of the elder Joseph Gales the place of a brother, and, wifeless and childless, lived on to a very advanced age, content with their society alone. The last of these dames died only a few months ago.
At Hamburg, whence they were to take ship for the United States, the family were detained all the winter by the delicate health of Mrs. Gales. This delay her husband put to profit, by mastering two things likely to be needful to him,—the German tongue and the art of short-hand. In the spring, they sailed for Philadelphia. Arrived there, he sought and at once obtained employment as a printer. It was soon perceived, not only that he was an admirable workman, but every way a man of unusual merit, and able to turn his hand to almost anything. By-and-by, reporters of Congressional debates being few and very indifferent, his employer, Claypole, said to him,—"You seem able to do everything that is wanted: pray, could you not do these Congressional Reports for us better than this drunken Callender, who gives us so much trouble?" Mr. Gales replied, with his usual modesty, that he did not know what he could do, but that he would try.
The next day, he attended the sitting of Congress, and brought away, in time for the compositors, a faithful transcript of such speeches as had been made. Appearing in the next morning's paper, it of course greatly astonished everybody. It seemed a new era in such things. They had heard of the like in Parliament, but had scarcely credited it. Claypole himself was the most astonished of all. Seizing a copy, he ran around the town, showing it to all he met, and still hardly comprehending the wonder which he himself had instigated. It need hardly be said that here was something far more profitable for Mr. Gales than type-setting.
But to apply this skill, possessed by none else, to the exclusive advantage of a journal of his own was yet more inviting; and the opportunity soon offering itself, he became the purchaser of the "Independent Gazetteer," a paper already established. This he conducted with success until the year 1799, making both reputation and many friends. Among the warmest of these were some of the North Carolina members, and especially that one whose name has ever since stood as a sort of proverb of honesty, Nathaniel Macon. By the representations of these friends, he was led to believe that their new State capital, Raleigh, where there was only a very decrepit specimen of journalism, would afford him at once a surer competence and a happier life than Philadelphia. Coming to this conclusion, he disposed of his newspaper and printing-office, and removed to Raleigh, where he at once established the "Register." Of his late paper, the "Gazetteer," we shall soon follow the fortunes to Washington, where it became the "Intelligencer": meantime, we must finish what is left to tell of his own.
At Raleigh he arrived under auspices which gave him not only a reputation, but friends, to set out with. Both he soon confirmed and augmented. By the constant merit of his journal, its sober sense, its moderation, and its integrity, he won and invariably maintained the confidence of all on that side of politics with which he concurred, (the old Republican,) and scarcely less conciliated the respect of his opponents. He quickly obtained, for his skill, and not merely as a partisan reward, the public printing of his State, and retained it until, reaching the ordinary limit of human life, he withdrew from the press. In the just and kindly old commonwealth which he so long served, it would have been hard for any party, no matter how much in the ascendant, to move anything for his injury. For the love and esteem which he had the faculty of attracting from the first deepened, as he advanced in age, into an absolute reverence the most general for his character and person; and the good North State honored and cherished no son of her own loins more than she did Joseph Gales. In Raleigh, there was no figure that, as it passed, was greeted so much by the signs of a peculiar veneration as that great, stalwart one of his, looking so plain and unaffected, yet with a sort of nobleness in its very simplicity, a gentleness in its strength, an inborn goodness and courtesy in all its roughness of frame,—his countenance mild and calm, yet commanding, thoughtful, yet pleasant and betokening a bosom that no low thought had ever entered. You had in him, indeed, the highest image of that stanch old order from which he was sprung, and might have said, "Here's the soul of a baron in the body of a peasant." For he really looked, when well examined, like all the virtues done in roughcast.
With him the age of necessary and of well-merited repose had now come; and judging that he could attain it only by quitting that habitual scene of business where it would still solicit him, he transferred his newspaper, his printing-office, and the bookstore which he had made their adjunct in Raleigh, as in Sheffield, to his third son, Weston; and removed to Washington, in order to pass the close of his days near two of the dearest of his children,—his son Joseph and his daughter Mrs. Seaton,—from whom he had been separated the most.
In renouncing all individual aims, Mr. Gales fell not into a mere life of meditation, but sought its future pleasures in the adoption of a scheme of benevolence, to the calm prosecution of which he might dedicate his declining powers, so long as his advanced age should permit. A worthy object for such efforts he recognized in the plan of African colonization, and of its affairs he accepted and almost to his death sustained the management in chief; achieving not less, by his admirable judgment, the warm approval and thanks of that wide-spread association, than, by the most amiable virtues of private life, winning in Washington, as he had done everywhere else, from all that approached him, a singular degree of deference and affection.
But the close of this long career of honor and of usefulness was now at hand. In 1839, he lost the wife whose tenderness had cheered the labors and whose gay intelligence had brightened the leisure of his existence. She had lived the delight of that intimate society to which she had confined faculties that would have adorned any circle whatever; and she died lamented in proportion by it, and by the only others to whom she was much known,—the poor. Her husband survived her but two years,—expiring at his son's house in Raleigh, where he was on a visit, in April, 1841, at the age of eighty. He died as calm as a child, in the placid faith of a true Christian.
Still telling his story in the order of dates, the writer would now turn to the younger Joseph Gales. As we have seen, he arrived in this country when seven years old, and went to Raleigh about six years afterwards. There he was placed in a school, where he made excellent progress,—profiting by the recollection of his earlier lessons, received from that best of all elementary teachers, a mother of well-cultivated mind. His boyhood, as usual, prefigured the mature man: it was diligent in study, hilarious at play; his mind bent upon solid things, not the showy. For all good, just, generous, and kindly things he had the warmest impulse and the truest perceptions. Quick to learn and to feel, he was slow only of resentment. Never was man born with more of those lacteals of the heart which secrete the milk of human kindness. Of the classic tongues, he can be said to have learnt only the Latin: the Greek was then little taught in any part of our country. For the Positive Sciences he had much inclination; since it is told, among other things, that he constructed instruments for himself, such as an electrical machine, with the performances of which he much amazed the people of Raleigh. Meantime he was forming at home, under the good guidance there, a solid knowledge of all those fine old authors whose works make the undegenerate literature of our language and then constituted what they called Polite Letters. With these went hand in hand, at that time, in the academies of the South, a profane amusement of the taste. In short, our sinful youth were fond of stage-plays, and even wickedly enacted them, instead of resorting to singing-schools. Joseph Gales the younger had his boyish emulation of Roscius and Garrick, and performed "top parts" in a diversity of those sad comedies and merry tragedies which boys are apt to make, when they get into buskins. But it must be said, that, as a theatric star, he presently waxed dim before a very handsome youth, a little his senior, who just then had entered his father's office. He was not only a printer, but had already been twice an editor,—last, in the late North Carolina capital, Halifax,—previously, in the great town of Petersburg,—and was bred in what seemed to Raleigh a mighty city, Richmond; in addition to all which strong points of reputation, he came of an F.F.V., and had been taught by the celebrated Ogilvie, of whom more anon. He was familiar with theatres, and had not only seen, but even criticized the great actors. He outshone his very brother-in-law and colleague that was to be. For this young gentleman was William Seaton.
Meantime, Joseph, too, had learnt the paternal art,—how well will appear from a single fact. About this time, his father's office was destroyed by fire, and with it the unfinished printing of the Legislative Journals and Acts of the year. Time did not allow waiting for new material from Philadelphia. Just in this strait, he that had of old been so inauspicious, Dick Davison, came once more into play,—but, this time, not as a marplot. He, strange to say, was at hand and helpful. For, after his political exploit, abandoning England in disgust at the consequences of his Gunpowder Plot, he, too, had not only come to America, but had chanced to set up his "type-stick" in the neighboring town of Warrenton, where, having flourished, he was now the master of a printing-office and the conductor of a newspaper. Thither, then, young Joseph was despatched, "copy" in hand. Richard—really a worthy man, after all—gladly atoned for his ancient hurtfulness, by lending his type and presses; and, falling to work with great vigor, our young Faust, with his own hands, put into type and printed off the needful edition of the Laws.
He had also, by this time, as an important instrument of his intended profession, attained the art of stenography. When, soon after, he began to employ it, he rapidly became an excellent reporter; and eventually, when he had grown thoroughly versed in public affairs, confessedly the best reporter that we ever had.
He was now well-prepared to join in the manly strife of business or politics. His father chose, therefore, at once to commit him to himself. He judged him mature enough in principles, strong enough in sense; and feared lest, by being kept too long under guidance and the easy life of home, he should fall into inertness. He first sent him to Philadelphia, therefore, to serve as a workman with Birch and Small; after which, he made for him an engagement on the "National Intelligencer," as a reporter, and sent him to Washington, in October, 1807.
To that place, changing its name to the one just mentioned, the father's former paper, "The Gazetteer," had been transferred by his old associate, Samuel Harrison Smith. Its first issue there (tri-weekly) was on the 31st of October, 1800, under the double title of "The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser." The latter half of the title seems to have been dropped in 1810, when its present senior came, for a time, into its sole proprietorship.
More than twice the age of any other journal now extant there,—for the "Globe" came some thirty, the "Union" some forty-five years later,—the "Intelligencer" has long stood, in every worthy sense, the patriarch of our metropolitan press. It has witnessed the rise and fall around it of full a hundred competitors,—many of them declared enemies; not a few, what was more dangerous far, professed friends. Yet, in the face of all enmity and of such friendship, it has ever held on its calm way, never deserting the public cause,—as little extreme in its opposition as in its support of those in power; so that its foes never forgot it, when they prevailed, but its friends repeatedly. To estimate the value of its influence, during its long career, would be impossible,—so much of right has it brought about, so much of wrong defeated.
Though it came hither with our Congress, a newspaper had once before been set up here,—either upon the expectation created by the laying of certain corner-stones, in 1792, that the Government would fix itself at this spot, or through an odd local faith in the dreams of some ancient visionary dwelling hard by, who had, many years before, foretold this as the destined site of a great imperial city, a second Rome, and so had bestowed upon Goose Creek the name of Tiber, long before this was Washington. The founder of this Pre-Adamite journal was Mr. Benjamin Moore; its name, "The Washington Gazette"; its issue, semi-weekly; its annual price, four dollars; and the two leading principles which, in that day of the infancy of political "platforms," his salutatory announced, were, first, "to obtain a living for himself," and, secondly, "to amuse and inform his fellow-mortals." How long this day-star of our journalism shone, before night again swallowed up the premature dawn, cannot now be stated. It must have been published at what was then expected to be our city, but is our penitentiary, Greenleaf's Point.
To the "Intelligencer" young Mr. Gales brought such vigor, such talent, and such skill in every department, that within two years, in 1809, he was admitted by Mr. Smith into partnership; within less than a year from which date, that gentleman, grown weary of the laborious life of the press, was content to withdraw and leave him sole proprietor, editor, and reporter. An enormous worker, however, it mattered little to him what tasks were to be assumed: he could multiply himself among them, and suffice for all.
In thus assuming the undivided charge of the paper, the young editor thought it becoming to set forth one main principle, that has, beyond a question, been admirably the guide of his public life: he said to his readers,—"It is the dearest right, and ought to be cherished as the proudest prerogative of a freeman, to be guided by the unbiassed convictions of his own judgment. This right it is my firm purpose to maintain, and to preserve inviolate the independence of the print now committed into my hands." Never was pledge more universally made or more rarely kept than this.
It was towards the close of Mr. Jefferson's Presidency that Mr. Gales had entered the office of the "Intelligencer"; and it was during Mr. Madison's first year that he became joint-editor of that paper. Of these Administrations it had been the supporter,—only following, in that regard, the transmitted politics of its original, the "Gazetteer," derived from the elder Mr. Gales. Bred in these, the son had learnt them of his sire, just as he had adopted his religion or his morals. Sprung from one who had been persecuted in England as a Republican, it was natural that the son should love the faith for which an honored parent had suffered.
The high qualities and the strong abilities of the young editor did not fail to strike the discerning eye of President Madison, who speedily gave him his affection and confidence. To that Administration the "Intelligencer" stood in the most intimate and faithful relations,—sustaining its policy as a necessity, where it might not have been a choice. During the entire course of the war, the "Intelligencer" sustained most vigorously all the measures needful for carrying it on with efficiency; and it did equally good service in reanimating, whenever it had slackened at any disaster, the drooping spirit of our people. Nor did its editors, when there were two, stop at these proofs of sincerity, nor slink, when danger drew near, from that hazard of their own persons to which they had stirred up the country. When invasion came, they at once took to arms, as volunteer common-soldiers, went to meet the enemy, and remained in the field until he had fallen back to the coast. And during the invasion of Washington, moreover, their establishment was attacked and partially destroyed, through an unmanly spirit of revenge on the part of the British forces. In October, 1812, proposing to himself the change of his paper into a daily one, as was accordingly brought about on the first of January ensuing, Mr. Gales invited Mr. Seaton, who had by this time become his brother-in-law, to come and join him. He did so; and the early tie of youthful friendship, which had grown between them at Raleigh, and which the new relation had drawn still closer, gradually matured into that more than friendship or brotherhood, that oneness and identity of all purposes, opinions, and interests which has ever since existed between them, without a moment's interruption, and has long been, to those who understood it, a rare spectacle of that concord and affection so seldom witnessed, and could never have come about except between men of singular virtues.
The same year that brought Gales and Seaton together as partners in business witnessed an alliance of a more interesting character; for it was in 1813 that Mr. Gales married the accomplished daughter of Theodorick Lee, younger brother of that brilliant soldier of the Revolution, the "Legionary Harry."
But, at this natural point, the writer must go back for a while, in order to bring down the story of William Seaton to where, uniting with his associate's, the two thus flow on in a single stream.
He was born January 11th, 1785, on the paternal estate in King William County, Virginia, one of a family of four sons and three daughters. At the good old mansion passed his childhood. There, too, according to what was then the wont in Virginia, he trod the first steps of learning, under the guidance of a domestic tutor, a decayed gentleman, old and bedridden; for the only part left him of a genteel inheritance was the gout. But when it became necessary to send his riper progeny abroad, for more advanced studies, Mr. Seaton very justly bethought him of going along with them; and so betook himself, with his whole family, to Richmond, where he was the possessor of houses enough to afford him a good habitation and a genteel income. Here, then, along with his brothers and sisters, William was taught, through an ascending series of schools, until, at last, he arrived at what was the wonder of that day,—the academy of Ogilvie, the Scotchman. He, be it noted, had an earldom, (that of Finlater,) which slept while its heir was playing pedagogue in America: a strange mixture of the ancient rhapsodist with the modern strolling actor, of the lord with him who lives by his wits. Scot as he was, he was better fitted to teach anything rather than common sense. The writer must not give the idea, however, that there was in Lord Ogilvie anything but eccentricity to derogate from the honors of either his lineage or his learning. A very solid teacher he was not. A great enthusiast by nature, and a master of the whole art of discoursing finely of even those things which he knew not well, he dazzled much, pleased greatly, and obtained a high reputation; so that, if he did not regularly inform or discipline the minds of his pupils, he probably made them, to an unusual degree, amends on another side: he infused into them, by the glitter of his accomplishments, a high admiration for learning and for letters. Certainly, the number of his scholars that arrived at distinction was remarkable; and this is, of course, a fact conclusive of great merit of some sort as a teacher, where, as in his case, the pupils were not many. Without pausing to mention others of them who arrived at honor, it may be well enough to refer to Winfield Scott, William Campbell Preston, B. Watkins Leigh, William S. Archer, and William C. Rives.
The writer does not know if it had ever been designed that young Seaton should proceed from Ogilvie's classes to the more systematic courses of a college. Possibly not. Even among the wealthy, at that time, home-education was often employed. The children of both sexes were committed to the care of private tutors, usually young Scotchmen, the graduates of Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, sent over to the planter, upon order, along with his yearly supply of goods, by his merchant abroad. Or else the sons were sent to select private schools, like that of Ogilvie, set up by men of such abilities and scholarship as were supposed capable of performing the whole work of institutions.