Atlantic Monthly, Volume 2, Issue 10, August, 1858
Author: Various
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Mr. Choate charges the Republicans with being incapable of a generalization. They can, at least, generalize so far as this, that, when they find a number of sophistries in an argument, they conclude that the cause which requires their support must be a weak one. One of the most amusing of these in the oration before us is where (using the very same arguments that were urged in favor of that coalition in Massachusetts against the morality of which the then party of Mr. Choate exclaimed so loudly) he extols the merits of Compromise in statesmanship. In support of what he says on this subject, he quotes from a speech of Archbishop Whately a passage in favor of Expediency. It is really too bad, that the Primate of Ireland, of all men living, should be made the abetter in two fallacies. In the first place, Mr. Choate assumes that there are certain deluded persons who affirm that all compromises in politics are wrong. Having stuffed out his man of straw, he proceeds gravely to argue with him, as if he were as cunning of fence as Duns Scotus. One would think, from some of the notions he deems it necessary to combat, that we were living in the time of the Fifth-Monarchy men, and that Captain Venner with his troop was ready to issue from the garrets of Batterymarch Street, to find Armageddon in Dock Square, and the Beast of the Revelation in the Chief of Police. There is no man who believes that the ship of State, any more than an ordinary vessel, can be navigated by the New Testament alone; but neither will be the worse for having it aboard. The Puritans sailed theirs by Deuteronomy, but it was a Deuteronomy qualified by an eye to the main chance. Mr. Choate's syllogism may be stated thus: Some compromises are necessary in order to carry on a free government; but this is a compromise; therefore it is necessary. Here is the first fallacy. The other syllogism runs thus: Expediency is essential in politics; so also is compromise; therefore some particular compromise is expedient. Fallacy number two. The latent application in this part of Mr. Choate's oration is, of course, to Compromises on the Slavery question. We agree with him, that no man of sense will deny that compromise is essential in politics, and especially in our politics. With a single exception, all that he says on this topic is expressed with masterly force and completeness. But when we come to the application of it, the matter assumes another face. Men of sense may, and do, differ as to what is a compromise, or, agreeing in that, they may differ again as to whether it be expedient. For example, if a man, having taken another's cloak, insist on taking his coat also, the denudee, though he might congratulate himself on having been set forward so far on his way toward the natural man of Rousseau, would hardly call the affair a compromise on the part of the denuder. Or again, if his brother with principles should offer to compromise about the coat by taking only half of it, he would be in considerable doubt whether the arrangement were expedient. Now there are many honest people, not as eloquent as Mr. Choate, not as scholarly, and perhaps not more illogical, who firmly believe that our compromises on the question of Slavery have afforded examples of both the species above described. It is not unnatural, therefore, that, while they assent to his general theory, they should protest against his mode of applying it to particulars. They may be incapable of a generalization, (they certainly are, if this be Mr. Choate's notion of one,) but they are incapable also of a deliberate fallacy. We think we find here one of the cases in which his training as an advocate has been of evil effect on his fairness of mind. No more potent lie can be made than of the ashes of truth. A fallacy is dangerous because of the half-truth in it. Swallow a strong dose of pure poison, and the stomach may reject it; but take half as much, mixed with innocent water, and it will do you a mischief. But Mr. Choate is nothing, if not illogical: recognizing the manifest hand of God in the affairs of the world, he would leave the question of Slavery with Him. Now we offer Mr. Choate a dilemma: either God always interferes, or sometimes: if always, why need Mr. Choate meddle? why not leave it to Him to avert the dangers of Anti-slavery, as well as to remedy the evils of Slavery?—if only sometimes, (nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus,) who is to decide when the time for human effort has come? Each man for himself, or Mr. Choate for all?

Let us try Mr. Choate's style of reasoning against himself. He says, "One may know Aristophanes and Geography and the Cosmical Unity and Telluric Influences," (why didn't he add, "Neptune, Plutarch, and Nicodemus"!) "and the smaller morals of life, and the sounding pretensions of philanthropy," (this last, at any rate, is useful knowledge,) "and yet not know America." We must confess, that we do not see why on earth he should. In fact, by the time he had got to the "Telluric Influences," (whatever they are,) we should think he might consider his education completed, and his head would even then be as great a wonder as that of the schoolmaster in the "Deserted Village." In the same way, a man might have seen a horse, (if only a clothes-horse,) a dog, a cat, and a tadpole, and yet never have seen the elephant,—a most blame-worthy neglect of opportunities. But let us apply Mr. Choate's syllogistic process to the list of this extraordinary nameless person's acquirements. The Republican Party do not know any of these amazing things; ergo, they must know America; and the corollary (judging from Mr. Choate's own practice, as displayed in the parts of his oration which we are sure he will one day wish to blot) would seem to be, that, having the honor of her acquaintance, they may apply very contemptuous epithets to everybody that disagrees with them. The only weak point in our case is, that Mr. Choate himself seems to allow them the one merit of knowing something of Geography,—for he says they wished to elect a "geographical President,"—but, perhaps, as they did not succeed in doing so, he will forgive them the possession of that accomplishment, so hostile to a knowledge of America.

We confess that we were surprised to find Mr. Choate reviving, on "the serene and secret mountain-top,"—which, being interpreted, means the rather prosaic Tremont Temple,—the forgotten slang of a bygone political contest, as in the instance we have just quoted of the "geographical President." We think that Colonel Fremont might be allowed to rest in peace, now that a California court has decided—with a logic worthy of Mr. Choate himself—that he has no manner of right to the gold in his Mariposa mines, because he owns them. But we should like to have Mr. Choate define, when he has leisure, where an unfortunate candidate can take up his abode, in order to escape the imputation of being "geographical." It is a grave charge to be brought against any man, as we see by its being coupled with those dreadful Telluric Influences and Cosmical (ought we not to dele the s?) Unities; and since the most harmless man in the world may become a candidate before he expects it, it would be charitable to warn him beforehand what is an allowable habitat in such a contingency.

We said we were surprised at seeing our old friend, the "geographical President," again; but we soon found that he reappeared only as the file-leader of a ragged regiment of kindred scarecrows,—nay, with others so battered and bedraggled, that they were scarce fit to be the camp-followers of the soldiery with whom Falstaff refused to march through Coventry. The sarcasms which Mr. Choate vents against the Anti-slavery sentiment of the country are so old as to be positively respectable,—we wish we could say that their vivacity increased with their years,—and as for his graver indictments, there never was anything so ancient, unless it be an American lad of eighteen. There are not a great many of either, but they are made to recur often enough to produce the impression of numbers. They remind us of the theatric army, composed always of the same old guard of supernumeraries and candle-snuffers, and which, by marching round and round the paper forest in the background, would make six men pass muster very well for sixty, did not the fatally regular recurrence of the hero whose cotton armor bunches at the knees, and the other whose legs insist on the un-Grecian eccentricity of being straight in profile and crooked in a front view, bring us back to calmer estimates.

We used the word indictments with design, both as appropriate to Mr. Choate's profession and exactly descriptive of the thing itself. For, as in an indictment for murder, in order to close every loophole of evasion, the prudent attorney affirms that the accused did the deed with an awfully destructive to-wit,—with a knife, axe, bludgeon, pistol, bootjack, six-pounder, and what not, which were then and there in the Briarean hands of him the said What's-his-name, so Mr. Choate represents the Republican Party to have attempted the assassination of the Constitution with a most remarkable medley of instruments. He does not, indeed, use the words "Republican Party," but it is perfectly clear from the context, as in the case of the "geographical President," for whom the charges are intended. Out of tenderness for the artist, let him for whom the garment is intended put it on, though it may not fit him,—and for our own parts, as humble members of the Anti-slave-trade, Anti-filibuster, and Anti-disreputable-things-generally Party, we don our Joseph's coat (for Mr. Choate could not make one that was not of many colors) with good-humored serenity.

Of course, Sectionalism is not forgotten. The pumpkin-lantern, that had performed so many offices of alarm, though a little wrinkled now, was too valuable a stage-property to be neglected. In the hands of so skilful an operator, its slender body flutters voluminous with new folds of inexpensive cotton, and its eyes glare with the baleful terrors of unlimited tallow. Mr. Choate honestly confesses that sectional jealousies are coeval with the country itself, but it is only as fomented by Anti-slavery-extension that he finds them dreadful. When South Carolina threatened disunion unless the Tariff of the party to which Mr. Choate then belonged were modified, did he think it necessary for the Protectionists to surrender their policy? There is not, and there never was, any party numerically considerable at the North, in favor of disunion. Were homilies on fraternal concessions the things to heal this breach, the South is the fitting place for their delivery; but mouth-glue, however useful to stick slight matters together, is not the cement with which confederacies are bound to a common centre. There must be the gravitation of interest as well as of honor and duty. We wonder that the parallel case of Scotland and England did not occur to Mr. Choate, in speaking upon this point. Scotland was clamorous and England jealously contemptuous, for nearly a century. Twice since the union, the land of cakes has been in rebellion; but as long as a pound Scots was only a twentieth part of a pound English,—as long as the treasury was filled chiefly from south the Tweed, and the sons of poor and proud Scottish lairds could make glittering abstractions from it,—as long as place was to be won or hoped for,—there was no danger. So with us,—though Jacob and Esau quarrelled already in the womb, yet, so long as the weaker and more politic brother can get the elder brother's portion, and simple Esau hunts his whales and pierces his untrodden forests, content with his mess of pottage,—honestly abiding by his bargain, though a little puzzled at its terms,—we think that fratricide, or the sincere thought of it, is very far off.

* * * * *

We should be glad to extract some passages of peculiar force and beauty,—such as that where Mr. Choate rebukes the undue haste of reformers, and calls to mind the slow development and longevity of states and ideas. But our duty is the less pleasing one of pointing to some of the sophistries of the argument and some of the ill-advised ebullitions of the orator. We leave his exegesis of "Render unto Caesar" to answer itself; but what can be worse than this,—worse in taste, in temper, in reason?

"There is a cant of shallowness and fanaticism which misunderstands and denies this. There is a distempered and ambitious morality which says civil prudence is no virtue. There is a philanthropy,—so it calls itself,—pedantry, arrogance, folly, cruelty, impiousness, I call it, fit enough for a pulpit, totally unfit for a people,—fit enough for a preacher, totally unfit for a statesman."

Think of it!—fit enough for St. Augustine and St. Francis, (to mention no greater names,) fit enough for Taylor and Barrow, for Bossuet and Fenelon, but not for Mr. Buchanan or Mr. Cushing!

In another place Mr. Choate says, "that even the laughter of fools, and children, and madmen, little ministers, little editors, and little politicians, can inflict the mosquito-bite, not deep, but stinging." As this is one of the best of his sarcasms, we give it the advantage of the circulation of the "Atlantic,"—generous and tidal circulation, as he himself might call it. We do not think the mosquito image new,—if we remember, the editor of the Bungtown Copperhead uses it weekly against "our pitiful contemporary,"—though the notion of a mosquito-bite inflicted by a laugh is original with Mr. Choate, unless Lord Castlereagh may have used it before. But we would seriously ask Mr. Choate who the big ministers of the country are, if the Beechers, if Wayland, Park, Bushnell, Cheever, Furness, Parker, Hedge, Bellows, and Huntington are the little ones?

There is an amusing passage in which Mr. Choate would seem to assume to himself and those who agree with him the honors of martyrdom. This shows a wonderful change in public opinion; though the martyrs in the "Legenda Aurea" and Fox seem to have had a harder time of it than we supposed to be the case with Mr. Choate.

We have not space to follow him farther, and only the reputation of the man, and the singularity of the occasion, which gave a kind of national significance to the affair, would have tempted us to intrude upon the select privacy of the Young Men's Democratic Association.

Finally, as Mr. Choate appears to have a very mean opinion of the understandings and the culture of those opposed to him in politics, we beg to remind him, since he has been led out, like Balaam, to prophesy against the tents and armies of the Republican Israel, and has ended by proving their invincibility, that it was an animal in all respects inferior to a prophet, and in some to a politician, who was first aware of the presence of the heavenly messenger; and it may be that persons incapable of a generalization—as that patient creature undoubtedly was—may see as far into the future as the greatest philosopher who turns his eyes always to the past.

Footnote 1: We may be allowed to wonder, however, at his speaking of "memories that burn and revel in the pages of Herodotus,"—a phrase which does injustice to the simple and quiet style of the delightful Pepys of Antiquity.


DR. ASA GRAY'S Botanical Series, New York, Ivison & Phinney, consisting of—

I. How Plants Grow, etc., with a Popular Flora, etc. 16mo. pp. 233.

II. First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology. 8vo. pp. 236.

III. Introduction to Structural and Systematic Botany and Vegetable Physiology. 8vo. pp. 555.

IV. Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, including Virginia, Kentucky, etc. 8vo. pp. 636.

V. Same as IV., with the Mosses and Liverworts added, illustrated by Engravings, pp. 739.

VI. Same as IV., with II. bound up with it. pp. 872.

The first-named of these books is a new candidate for public favor; the others are revised and improved editions of books which have already been favorably received. We have sometimes thought that the popularity of a school-book is in inverse proportion to its merits, and are glad to learn that five editions of Dr. Gray's "Structural and Systematic Botany" are witnesses against the truth of this assumption. No man can deny that Dr. Gray's books are all of the highest order of merit. The accuracy and extent of his scholarship are manifest on every page,—a scholarship consisting not merely in an extensive acquaintance with the works of other botanists, but in a careful confirmation of their results, and in additions to their knowledge, by an observation of Nature for himself. His clearness of style is an equally valuable characteristic, making the reader sure that he understands Dr. Gray, and that Dr. Gray understands the subject. In the "Manual" this clearness of style extends to the judicious selection of distinctive marks, whereby allied species may be distinguished from each other. Even the most difficult genera of golden-rods, asters, and grasses become intelligible in this manual; and many a less difficult genus which puzzled our boyhood, with Beck's, Eaton's, and Pursh's manuals, became so plain in Gray, that we cannot now imagine where was the difficulty. The extent of the field which Gray's Manual covers prevents him, of course, from giving such lifelike descriptions of plants as may be found in Dr. Bigelow's "Plants of Boston and its Vicinity," or such minute word-daguerreotypes as those in Mr. Emerson's "Trees of Massachusetts,"—books which no New England student of botany can afford to be without; but, on the other hand, the description of each species, aided by typographical devices of Italics, etc., is sufficient for any intelligent observer to identify a specimen. The exquisite engravings, illustrating the genera of Ferns, Hepaticae, and Mosses, are also a great assistance.

The volume which we have marked III. is the fifth revised edition of the "Botanical Text-Book." It contains a complete, although concise, sketch of Structural Botany and Vegetable Physiology, and a birds'-eye view of the whole vegetable kingdom in its subdivision into families, illustrated by over thirteen hundred engravings on wood. It has become a standard of botany, wherever our language is read.

For those who do not wish to pursue the study so far, the "First Lessons" is one of the most happily arranged and happily written scientific text-books ever published, and is illustrated by three hundred and sixty well-executed wood-cuts. This takes scholars of thirteen or fourteen years of age far enough into the recesses of the science for them to see its beauties, and to learn the passwords which shall admit them to all its hidden and inexhaustible treasures. It goes over substantially the same ground that is covered by the volume we have marked III., but in simpler language and with much less detail; and closes with clear practical directions how to collect specimens and make an herbarium.

The first book is intended for children of ten or twelve years old, at home or in school. We hail it as a remarkably successful effort of a truly learned man to write a book actually adapted to young children. While all teachers, and writers upon education, insist on the importance of having a child's first impressions such as shall not need to be afterwards corrected, and such as shall attract the child towards the study to which it is introduced, our elementary books have usually sinned in one or both these points. They are either dry and repulsive, or else vague and incorrect;—frequently have both faults. But the child is here told "how plants grow" in a very pleasant manner, with neat and pretty pictures to illustrate the words, by one whose thorough knowledge and perspicuity of style prevent him from ever giving a wrong impression. The "Popular Flora" which is appended, contains a description of about one hundred families of the most common cultivated and wild plants, and of the most familiar genera and species in each family. The English names are in all cases put in the foreground in bold type,—while the Latin names stand modestly back, half hidden in parentheses and Italics; and these English names are in general very well selected,—although we think that when two or three English names are given to one plant, or one name to several plants, Dr. Gray ought to indicate which name he prefers. He allows "Dogwood" to stand without rebuke for the poison sumac, as well as for the flowering cornel; and gives "Winterberry" and "Black Alder" without comment to Prinos verticellata. A word of preference on his part might do something towards reforming and simplifying the popular nomenclature, and this child's manual is the place to utter that word. We think also that in a second edition of this Popular Flora it would be well to give a popular description of a few of the most beautiful flowers belonging to those families which are too difficult for the child properly to analyze. Thus, Arethusa, Cypripedium, Pogonia, Calopogon, Spiranthes, Festuca, Osmunda, Onoclea, Lycopodium, Polytrichum, Bryum, Marchantia, Usnea, Parmelia, Cladonia, Agaricus, Chondrus, and perhaps a few other genera, furnish plants so familiar and so striking that a child will be sure to inquire concerning them, and a general description could easily be framed in a few words which could not mislead him concerning them.

In writing for children, Dr. Gray seems to have put on a new nature, in which we have a much fuller sympathy with him than we have ever had in reading his larger books. We do not like that cold English common sense which seems reluctant to admit any truth in the higher regions of thought; and we confess, that, until we had read this little child's book, "How Plants Grow," we had always suspected Dr. Gray of leaning towards that old error, so finely exposed by Agassiz in zooelogy, of considering genera, families, etc., as divisions made by human skill, for human convenience,—instead of as divisions belonging to the Creator's plan, as yet but partially understood by human students.

We hope that the appearance of this masterly little book, so finely adapted to the child's understanding, may have the effect of introducing botany into the common schools. The natural taste of children for flowers indicates clearly the propriety and utility of giving them lessons upon botany in their earliest years. Go into any of our New England country-schools at this season of the year, and you will find a bouquet of wild flowers on the teacher's desk. Take it up and separate it,—show each flower to the school, tell its name, and its relationship to other and more familiar cultivated flowers, the characteristic sensible properties of its family, etc.,—and you will find the younger scholars your most attentive listeners. And if any practical man ask, What is the use of the younger scholars learning anything about wild flowers, which the cultivation of the country may soon render extinct, and which are but weeds at best?—there are two sufficient answers ready: first, that all truth is divine, and that the workmanship of infinite skill is beautiful and worthy of the eyes which may behold it; secondly, that no mental discipline is better adapted for the young mind than this learning how to distinguish plants. No more striking deficiency is observable, in most men, than the lack of a power to observe closely and with accuracy. The general inaccuracy of testimony, usually ascribed to inaccuracy of memory, is in fact to be attributed to inaccuracy of observation. In like manner, a large proportion of popular errors of judgment spring from an imperfect perception of the data on which the true conclusions should be founded. The best remedy for this lack of clear perceptions would evidently be the cultivation of those habits of close observation and nice discrimination necessary in a successful naturalist.


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