The Columbiad
by Joel Barlow
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

No. 33.

Where Freedom's sons their high-born lineage trace, And homebred bravery still exalts the race:

Book V. Line 345.

The author of this poem will not be suspected of laying any stress on the mere circumstance of lineage or birth, as relating either to families or nations. The phrase however in the text is not without its meaning. Among the colonies derived from the several nations of Europe in modern times, those from the English have flourished far better than the others, under a parity of circumstances, such as climate, soil and productions. The reason of this undeniable fact deserves to be explained.

Colonies naturally carry with them the civil, political and religious institutions of their mother countries. These institutions in England are much more favorable to liberty and the development of industry than in any other part of Europe which has sent colonies abroad. But this is not all: when men for several generations have been bred up in the habit of feeling and exercising such a portion of liberty as the English nation has enjoyed, their minds are prepared to open and expand themselves as occasion may offer. They are able to embrace new circumstances, to perceive the improvements that may be drawn from them, and not only make a temperate use of that portion of self-control to which they are accustomed, but devise the means of extending it to other objects of their political relations, till they become familiar with all the interests of men in society.

The habitual use of the liberty of the press, of trial by jury in open court, of the accountability of public agents and of some voice in the election of legislators, must create, in a man or a nation, a character quite different from what it could be under the habitual disuse of these advantages. And when these habits are transplanted with a young colony to a distant region of the earth, enjoying a good soil and climate, with an unlimited and unoccupied country, the difference will necessarily be more remarkable.

A most striking illustration of this principle is exhibited in the colonies of North America. This coast, from the St. Laurence to the Missisippi, was colonized by the French and English, (I make no account of the Dutch establishment on the Hudson nor of the Swedish on the Delaware; they being of little importance, and early absorbed in the English settlements.) If we look back only one hundred years from the present time, we find the French and English dominions here about equally important in point of extent and population. The French Canada, Acadia, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Florida and Louisiana were then as far advanced in improvement as the English settlements which they flanked on each side. And the French had greatly the advantage in point of soil, interior navigation and capability of extension. They commanded and possessed the two great rivers which almost met together on the English frontier. And the space between the waters of those rivers on the west was planted with French military posts, so as to complete the investment.

New Orleans was begun before Philadelphia, and was much better situated to become a great commercial capital. Quebec and Montreal were older, and had the advantage of most of our other cities. Add to this that the French nation at home was about twice as populous as the English nation at home; and as that part of the increase of colonial population which comes from emigration must naturally be derived from their respective mother countries, it might have been expected that the comparative rapidity of increase would have been in favor of the French at least two to one.

But the French colonists had not been habituated to the use of liberty before their emigration; and they were not prepared nor permitted to enjoy it in any degree afterwards. Their laws were made for them in their mother country, by men who could not know their wants and who fell no interest in their prosperity; and then they were administered by a set of agents as ignorant as their masters; men who, from the nature of their employment and accountability, must in general be oppressive and rapacious.

The result has solved a great problem in political combination. One of these clusters of colonies has grown to a powerful empire, giving examples to the universe in most of the great objects which constitute the dignity of nations. The other, after having been a constant expense to the mother country, and serving for barter and exchange in the capricious vicissitudes of European despotism, presents altogether at this day a mass of population and wealth scarcely equal to one of our provinces.

This note is written at the moment when Louisiana, one of the most extensive but least peopled of the French colonies, is ceded to the United States. The world will see how far the above theory will now be confirmed by the rapid increase of population and improvement in that interesting portion of our continent.

No. 34.

Beneath him lay the sceptre kings had borne, And the tame thunder from the tempest torn.

Book V. Line 429.

Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis.

This epigraph, written by Turgot on the bust of Franklin, seems to have been imitated from a line in Manilius; where noticing the progress of science in ascribing things to their natural and proper causes instead of supernatural ones, he says,

Eriput Jovi fulmen, viresque tonandi, Et sonitum ventis concessit, nubibus ignem.

No. 35.

And Knox from his full park to battle brings His brazen tubes, the last resort of kings.

Book V. Line 665.

Ultima ratio regum; a device of Louis XIV engraved on his ordnance, and afterwards adopted by other powers. When we consider men as reasonable beings and endowed with the qualities requisite for living together in society, this device looks like a satire upon the species; but in reality it only proves the imperfect state to which their own principles of society have yet advanced them in the long and perhaps interminable progress of which they are susceptible. This ultima ratio being already taken out of the hands of individuals and confided only to the chiefs of nations is as clear a proof of a great progress already made, as its remaining in the hands of those chiefs is a proof that we still remain far short of that degree of wisdom and experience which will enable all the nations to live at peace one with another.

There certainly was a time when the same device might have been written on the hatchet or club or fist of every man; and the best weapon of destruction that he could wield against his neighbour might have been called ultima ratio virarum, meaning that human reason could go no farther. But the wisdom we have drawn from experience has taught us to restrain the use of mortal weapons, making it unlawful and showing it to be unreasonable to use them in private disputes. The principles of social intercourse and the advantages of peace are so far understood as to enable men to form great societies, and to submit their personal misunderstandings to common judges; thus removing the ultima ratio from their own private hands to the hands of their government.

Hitherto there has usually been a government to every nation; but the nations are increasing in size and diminishing in number; so that the hands which now hold the ultima ratio by delegation are few, compared with what they have been. I mean this observation to apply only to those extensions of nationality which have been formed on the true principles of society and acquiesced in from a sense of their utility. I mean not to apply it to those unnatural and unwieldy stretches of power, whose overthrow is often and erroneously cited as an argument against the progress of civilization; such as the conquests of Alexander, the Roman generals, Omar, Gengis Khan and others of that brilliant description. These are but meteors of compulsive force, which pass away and discourage, rather than promote, the spirit of national extension of which I speak.

This spirit operates constantly and kindly; nor is its progress so slow but that it is easily perceived. Even within the short memorials of modern history we find a heptarchy in England. Ossian informs us that in his time there was a great number of warlike states in Ireland and as many more in Scotland. Without going back to the writings of Julius Cesar to discover the comparative condition of France, we may almost remember when she counted within her limits six or seven different governments, generally at war among themselves and inviting foreign enemies to come and help them destroy each other. Every province in Spain is still called a kingdom; and it is not long since they were really so in fact, with the ultima ratio in the hands of every king.

The publicist who in any of those modern heroic ages could have imagined that all the hundred nations who inhabited the western borders of Europe, from the Orknies to Gibraltar, might one day become so far united in manners and interests as to form but three great nations, would certainly have passed for a madman. Had he been a minister of Phararnond or of Fingal he could no more have kept his place than Turgot could keep his after pointing out the means of promoting industry and preventing wars. He would have been told that the inhabitants of each side of the Humber were natural enemies one to the other; that if their chiefs were even disposed to live in peace they could not do it; their subjects would demand war and could not live without it. The same would have been said of the Seine, the Loire and every other dividing line between their petty communities. It would have been insisted on that such rivers were the natural boundaries of states and never could be otherwise.

But now since the people of those districts find themselves no longer on the frontiers of little warlike states, but in the centre of great industrious nations, they have lost their relish for war, and consider it as a terrible calamity; they cherish the minister who gives them peace, and abhor the one who drives them into unnecessary wars. Their local disputes, which used to be settled by the sword, are now referred to the tribunals of the country. They have substituted a moral to a physical force. They have changed the habits of plunder for those of industry; and they find themselves richer and happier for the change.

Who will say that the progress of society will stop short in the present stage of its career? that great communities will not discover a mode of arbitrating their disputes, as little ones have done? that nations will not lay aside their present ideas of independence and rivalship, and find themselves more happy and more secure in one great universal society, which shall contain within itself its own principles of defence, its own permanent security? It is evident that national security, in order to be permanent, must be founded on the moral force of society at large, and not on the physical force of each nation independently exerted. The ultima ratio must not be a cannon, but a reference to some rational mode of decision worthy of rational beings.

No. 36.

Else what high tones of rapture must have told The first great action of a chief so bold!

Book V. Line 767.

General Arnold, the leader of this detachment, had acquired by this and many other brilliant achievements a degree of military fame almost unequalled among the American generals. His shameful defection afterwards, by the foulest of treason, should be lamented as a national dishonor; it has not only obliterated his own glory, but it seems in some sort to have cast a shade on that of others whose brave actions had been associated with his in the acquisition of their common and unadulterated fame.

The action here alluded to, the march thro the wilderness from Casco to Quebec, was compared in the gazettes of that day to the passage of the Alps by Hannibal. And really, considered as a scene of true military valor, patient suffering and heroic exertion (detached from the idea of subsequent success in the ulterior expedition) the comparison did not disgrace the Carthaginian. Yet since the defection of Arnold, which happened five years afterwards, this audacious and once celebrated exploit is scarcely mentioned in our annals. And Meigs, Dearborn, Morgan and other distinguished officers in the expedition, whom that alone might have immortalized, have been indebted to their subsequent exertions of patriotic valor for the share of celebrity their names now enjoy.

See the character of Arnold treated more at large in the sixth book.

No. 37.

See the black Prison Ship's expanding womb Impested thousands, quick and dead, entomb.

Book VI. Line 35.

The systematic and inflexible course of cruelties exercised by the British armies on American prisoners during the three first years of the war were doubtless unexampled among civilized nations. Considering it as a war against rebels, neither their officers nor soldiers conceived themselves bound by the ordinary laws of war.

The detail of facts on this subject, especially in what concerned the prison ships, has not been sufficiently noticed in our annals; at least not so much noticed as the interest of public morals would seem to require. Mr. Boudinot, who was the American commissary of prisoners at the time, has since informed the author of this poem that in one prison ship alone, called the Jersey, which was anchored near Newyork, eleven thousand American prisoners died in eighteen months; almost the whole of them from the barbarous treatment of being stifled in a crowded hold with infected air, and poisoned with unwholesome food.

There were several other prison ships, as well as the sugar-house prison in the city, whose histories ought to be better known than they are. I say this not from any sort of enmity to the British nation, for I have none. I respect the British nation; as will be evident from the views I have given of her genius and institutions in the course of this work. I would at all times render that nation every service consistent with my duty to my own; and surely it is worthy of her magnanimity to consider as a real service every true information given her relative to the crimes of her agents in distant countries. These crimes are as contrary to the spirit of the nation at home as they are to the temper of her laws.

No. 38.

Myrtles and laurels equal honors join'd, Which arms had purchased and the Muses twined;

Book VI, Line 273.

General Burgoyne had gained some celebrity by his pen, as well as by his sword, previous to the American war. He was author of the comedy called The Heiress, and of some other theatrical pieces which had been well received on the London theatres.

No. 39.

Deep George's loaded lake reluctant guides Their bounding larges o'er his sacred tides.

Book VI. Line 285.

The water of Lake George was held in particular veneration by the French catholics of Canada. Of this they formerly made their holy water; which was carried and distributed to the churches thro the province, and probably produced part of the revenues of the clergy. This water is said to have been chosen for the purpose on account of its extreme clearness. The lake was called Lac du Saint Sacrement.

No. 40.

His savage hordes the murderous Johnson leads, Files thro the woods and treads the tangled weeds,

Book VI. Line 389.

This was general sir John Johnson, an American royalist in the British service. He was the son of sir William Johnson, who had been a rich proprietor and inhabitant in the Mohawk country, in the colony of New York, and had been employed by the king as superintendant of Indian affairs. Sir William had married a Mohawk savage wife; and it was supposed that the great influence which he had long exercised over that and the neighboring tribes must have descended to his son. It was on this account that he was employed on the expedition of Burgoyne; in which he had the rank of brigadier general, and the special direction of the savages.

No. 41.

Are these thy trophies, Carleton! these the swords Thy hand unsheath'd and gave the savage hordes,

Book VI. Line 685.

General sir Guy Carleton, afterwards lord Dorchester, was the British governor of Canada and superintendant of Indian affairs at the time of Burgoyne's campaign. Having great influence with the warlike tribes who inhabited the west of Canada and the borders of the Lakes, he was ordered by the minister to adopt the barbarous and unjustifiable measure of arming and bringing them into the king's service in aid of this expedition.

This was doubtless done with the consent of Burgoyne, tho he seems to have been apprehensive of the difficulty of managing a race of men whose manners were so ferocious, and whose motives to action must have been so different from those of the principal parties in the war. Burgoyne, in his narrative of this campaign, informs us that he took precautions to discourage that inhuman mode of warfare which had been customary among those savages. He ordered them to kill none but such persons as they should find in arms fighting against the king's troops; to spare old men, women, children and prisoners; and not to scalp any but such as they should kill in open war. He intimated to them that he should not pay for any scalps but those thus taken from enemies killed in arms.

It is unfortunate for the reputation of the general and of his government, that they did not reflect on the futility of such an order and the improbability of its being executed. A certain price was offered for scalps; the savages must know that in a bag of scalps, packed and dried and brought into camp and counted out before the commissary to receive payment, it would be impossible to distinguish the political opinions or the occupation, age or sex of the heads to which they had belonged; it could not be ascertained whether they had been taken from Americans or British, whigs or tories, soldiers killed in arms or killed after they had resigned their arms, militia men or peasants, old or young, male or female.

The event proved the deplorable policy of employing such auxiliaries, especially in such multitudes as were brought together on this occasion. No sooner did hostilities begin between the two armies than these people, who could have no knowledge of the cause nor affection for either party, and whose only object was plunder and pay, began their indiscriminate and ungovernable ravages on both sides. They robbed and murdered peasants, whether royalists or others; men, women, children, straggling and wounded soldiers of both armies. The tragical catastrophe of a young lady of the name of Macrea, whose story is almost literally detailed in the foregoing paragraphs of the text, is well known. It made a great impression on the public mind at the time, both in England and America.

General Carleton, in the preceding campaigns, when the war was carried into Canada, had been applauded for his humanity in the treatment of prisoners. But the part he took in this measure of associating the savages in the operations of the British army was a stain upon his character; and the measure was highly detrimental to the royal cause, on account of the general indignation it excited thro the country.

No. 42.

That no proud privilege from birth can spring, No right divine, nor compact form a king;

Book VII. Line 39.

The assumed right of kings, or that supreme authority which one man exercises over a nation, and for which he is not held accountable, has been contended for on various grounds. It has been sometimes called the right of conquest; in which is involved the absolute disposal of the lives and labors of the conquered nation, in favor of the victorious chief and his descendants to perpetuity. Sometimes it is called the divine right; in which case kings are considered as the vicegerents of God.

This notion is very ancient, and it is almost universal among modern nations. Homer is full of it; and from his unaffected recurrence to the same idea every where in his poems, it is evident that in his day it was not called in question. The manner in which the Jews were set at work to constitute their first king proves that they were convinced that, if they must have a king, he must be given them from God, and receive that solemn consecration which should establish his authority on the same divine right which was common to other nations, from whom they borrowed the principle.

There are some few instances in history wherein this divine right has been set aside; but it has generally been owing rather to the violence of circumstances, which sometimes drive men to act contrary to their prejudices, tho they still retain them, than to any effort of reasoning by which they convinced themselves that this was a prejudice, and that no divine right existed in reality. For it does not violate this supposed right, to change one king for another, or one race of kings for another, tho done in a manner the most unjust and inhuman. In this case the same divine right remains, and only changes, with the diadem, from one head to another. And tho this change should happen six times in one day (as in one instance it has done in Algiers by the murder of six successive kings) they would still say it was God who did it all; and the action would only tend to prove to the credulous people, that God was made after their own image, as changeable as themselves.

It is only in the case of Tarquin and a few others (whose overthrow has been followed by a more popular form of government) that it can be said that the principle of the divine right has been disregarded, laid aside and forgotten for any length of time.

The English are perhaps the first and only people that ever overturned this doctrine of the divinity of kings, without changing their form of government. This was brought on by circumstances, and took effect in the expulsion of James II. Books were then written to prove that the divine right of kings did not exist; at least, not in the sense in which it had been understood. And these writings completely silenced the old doctrine in England. This indeed was gaining an immense advantage in favor of liberty; tho the effort of reason, to arrive at it, seems to be so small.

But while the English were discarding the old principle they set up a new one; which indeed is not so pernicious because it cannot become so extensive, but which is scarcely more reasonable: it is the right of kings by compact; that is, a compact, whether written or understood, by which the representatives of a nation are supposed to bind their constituents and their descendants to be the subjects of a certain prince and of his descendants to perpetuity. This singular doctrine is developed with perspicuity, but ill supported by argument, in Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution.

The principle of the American government denies the right of any representatives to make such a compact, and the right of any prince to carry it into execution if it were made. Whatever varieties or mixtures there may be in the forms of government, there are but two distinct principles on which government is founded. One supposes the source of power to be out of the people, and that the governor is not accountable to them for the manner of using it; the other supposes the source of power to be in the people, and that the governor is accountable to them for the manner of using it. The latter is our principle. In this sense no right divine nor compact can form a king; that is, a person, exercising underived and unreverting power.

No. 43.

But while dread Elliott shakes the Midland wave, They strive in vain the Calpian rock to brave.

Book VII. Line 89.

The English general Elliott commanded the post of Gibraltar, against which the combined forces of France and Spain made a vigorous but fruitless attack in the year 1781. This attack furnished the subjects for two celebrated pictures alluded to in the eighth book: The burning of the Floating Batteries painted by Copley; and The Sortie, painted by Trumbull.

No. 44.

To guide the sailor in his wandering way, See Godfrey's glass reverse the beams of day.

Book VIII. Line 681.

It is less from national vanity than from a regard to truth and a desire of rendering personal justice, that the author wishes to rectify the history of science in the circumstance here alluded to. The instrument known by the name of Hartley's Quadrant, now universally in use and generally attributed to Dr. Hartley, was invented by Thomas Godfrey of Philadelphia. See Jefferson's Notes on Virginia; likewise Miller's Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century, in which the original documents relative to Godfrey's invention are fully detailed.

No. 45.

West with his own great soul the canvass warms, Creates, inspires, impassions human forms.

Book VIII. Line 587.

Benjamin West, president of the Royal Academy in London, was born and educated in Pennsylvania. At the age of twenty-three he went to Italy to perfect his taste in the art to which his genius irresistibly impelled him; in which he was destined to cast a splendor upon the age in which he lives, and probably to excel all his cotemporaries, so far at least as we can judge from the present state of their works. After passing two years in that country of models, where canvass and marble seem to contribute their full proportion of the population, he went to London.

Here he soon rendered himself conspicuous for the boldness of his designs, in daring to shake off the trammels of the art so far as to paint modern history in modern dress. He had already staggered the connoisseurs in Italy while he was there, by his picture of The Savage Chief taking leave of his family on going to war. This extraordinary effort of the American pencil on an American subject excited great admiration at Venice. The picture was engraved in that city by Bartolozzi, before either he or West went to England. The artists were surprised to find that the expression of the passions of men did not depend on the robes they wore. And his early works in London, The Death of Wolfe, The Battles of the Boyne, Lahogue, &c., engraved by Woollett and others, not only established his reputation, but produced a revolution in the Art. So that modern dress has now become as familiar in fictitious as in real life; it being justly considered essential in painting modern history.

The engraving from his Wolfe has been often copied in France, Italy and Germany; and it may be said that in this picture the revolution in painting really originated. It would now be reckoned as preposterous in an artist to dress modern personages in Grecian or Roman habits, as it was before to give them the garb of the age and country to which they belonged.

The merit of Mr. West was early noticed and encouraged by the king; who took him into pay with a convenient salary, and the title of historical painter to his majesty. In this situation he has decorated the king's palaces, chapels and churches with most of those great pictures from the English history and from the Old and New Testament, which compose so considerable a portion of his works.

The following catalogue of his pictures was furnished me by Mr. West himself in the year 1802. It comprises only his principal productions in historical painting, and only his finished pictures; without mentioning his numerous portraits, or his more numerous sketches and drawings.

The pictures marked thus * have been engraved. The ciphers express the size of the pictures. When the same subject is mentioned more than once, there is more than one picture on that subject.


* Regulus departing from Rome. * Hannibal sworn when a child. * Death of Wolfe. Damsel accusing Peter. * Death of Epaminondas. Apotheosis of the two young princes. * Death of chevalier Bayard. Germanicus, with Segestus and his daughter prisoners. * Cyrus, with a king and family captives.


Edward III crossing the Somme. Battle of Cressy, Edward embracing his son. Edward III crowning Ribemond at Calais. St. George destroying the Dragon. The Six Burgesses of Calais before Edward. Battle of Poietiers, king of France prisoner to the Black Prince. Institution of the Order of the Garter. Battle of Nevilcross. Christ's Crucifixion. The same on glass for the west window of the church at Windsor, 36 feet by 28. Peter, John and women at the Sepulchre. The same on glass for the east window of the same church, 36 feet by 28. The Angels appearing to the Shepherds. Nativity of Christ. Kings presenting gifts to Christ.


Hymen dancing with the Hours before Peace and Plenty. Boys with the insignia of the Fine Arts. Boys with the insignia of Riches.


A complete history of Revealed Religion, divided into four dispensations, and comprised in thirty-eight pictures.


Adam and Eve created. 9 feet by 6. Adam and Eve driven from Paradise. do. The Deluge. do. Noah sacrificing. do. Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac. do. Birth of Jacob and Esau. do. Death of Jacob, surrounded by his sons. do. Bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. do.


Moses called. do. Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, their rods turned to serpents. 15 feet by 10. Pharaoh's Army lost in the sea. Moses receiving the Law. 18 feet by 12. Hoses consecrating Aaron and his sons to the Priesthood. 15 feet by 10. Moses shows the Brazen Serpent. 15 feet by 10. Moses on Mount Pisgah sees the Promised Land and dies. 9 feet by 6. Joshua passing the Jordan, do. The twelve Tribes drawing their lots. do. David called and anointed, do.


John Baptist called and named. do. Christ born. do. Christ offered gifts by the Wise Men. do. Christ among the Doctors, do. Christ baptized, and the Holy Spirit descending on him. 15 feet by 10. Christ healing the Sick. do. Christ's last Supper. do. Christ's Crucifixion. 36 feet by 28. Christ's Resurrection, Peter, John and the women at the Sepulchre. do. * Christ's Ascension. 18 feet by 12. Peter's first Sermon, Descent of the Holy Spirit. 15 feet by 10. The Apostles preaching and working miracles. do. Paul and Barnabas turning from the Jews to the Gentiles. do.


John seeing the Son of Man, and called to write. 9 feet by 6. The Throne surrounded by the Four Beasts, and Saints laying down their crowns. 9 feet by 6. Death on the Pale Horse, and the Opening of the Seals. do. The White Horse and his legions, and the Man destroying the Old Beast. do. General Resurrection, the end of Death. do. Christ's Second Coming. do. The New Jerusalem. do.


Michael and his angels casting out the Red Dragon and his angels. The Woman clothed with the Sun. John called to write the Apocalypse. The Beast rising out of the sea. The mighty Angel, one foot on sea the other on land. St. Anthony of Padua. The Madre Dolorosa. Simeon with the Child in his arms. Landscape, with a Hunt in the back ground. Abraham and Isaac going to sacrifice. Thomas a Becket. Angel in the Sun. Order of the Garter, differing in composition from that at Windsor.


The Shunamite's son raised to life by Elisha. Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph. * Death of Wolfe. * Battle of Lahogue. * Battle of the Boyne. * Restoration of Charles II. * Cromwell dissolving the Parliament. The Golden Age. General Wolfe when a boy.


* Telemachus and Calypso. * Angelica and Madora. The Damsel and Orlando. Cicero at the tomb of Archimedes. St. Paul's Conversion. St. Paul persecuting the Christians. His restoration to sight by Ananias. Mr. Hope's family; nine figures, size of life.


The Queen soliciting king Henry to pardon her son John.


Paul shaking the Viper from his finger. Paul preaching at Athens. Elymas the Sorcerer struck blind. Cornelius and the Angel. Peter delivered from prison. Conversion of St. Paul. Paul before Felix. Return of the Prodigal Son.


Faith, Hope, Charity, Innocence, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Matthias, Thomas, Simon, James major, James minor, Philip, Peter, Malachi, Micah, Zachariah, Daniel, Jude, John, Andrew, Bartholomew.


Michael chaining the Dragon. Angels announcing the birth of Christ. St. Stephen stoned to death. Raising of Lazarus. Paul shaking off the Viper. The last Supper. Resurrection of Christ. Peter denying Christ. Moses showing the Brazen Serpent. John seeing the Lamb of God. A Mother leading her children to the Temple of Virtue.


Lord Clive taking the dunny from the Mogul. The same. Christ receiving the Sick. Pensyl. hospital. * Leonidas exiling Cleombrotus and family. The two Marys at the Sepulchre. Alexander and his Physician. Cesar reading the Life of Alexander. Death of Adonis. Continence of Scipio. * Savage Warrior taking leave of his family. Venus and Cupid. Alfred dividing his loaf with the Beggar. Helen presented to Paris. Cupid stung by a bee. Simeon and the Child. * William Penn treating with the Savages. Destruction of the Spanish Armada. Philippa soliciting of Edward the pardon of the citizens of Calais. Europa on the Bull. Death of Hyacinthus. Death of Cesar. Venus presenting her cestus to Juno. Rinaldo and Armida. Pharaoh's Daughter with the child Moses. The stolen Kiss. Angelica and Madora. Woman of Samaria at the well with Christ. Agrippina leaning on the urn of Germanicus. Death of Wolfe. The same; smaller size. Romeo and Juliet. King Lear and his Daughters. Belisarius and the Boy. Sir Francis Baring and family. * Mr. West and family. A Mother and Child. Jupiter and Semele. Petus and Arria. Venus and Cupid smiling at Europa when Jupiter had left her. Rebecca coming to Jacob. Rebecca receiving the bracelets at the well. Agrippina landing at Brundusium with the ashes of Germanieus, The same. The same. Endymion and Diana.


Ophelia distracted, before the king and queen *King Lear in the storm,


Hector taking leave of his Wife and Child. Elisha raising the Shunamite's Son. The raising of Lazarus. Macbeth and the Witches. The return of Tobias. Return of the Prodigal Son. Ariadne on the sea shore. Death of Adonis. King of France brought to the Black Prince. * Death of Wolfe. Venus and Adonis. Battle of Lahogue. Edward III crossing the Somme. Philippa at the Battle of Nevilcross. Angels announcing the birth of Christ. Kings bringing presents to Christ. View on the river Thames. View on the Susquehanna. Picture of Tankers Mill at Eton. Chryseis restored to her Father. Antiochus and Stratoftice. King Lear and his Daughters. Chryseus on the sea shore. Nathan and David. Thou art the man. Elijah raising the widow's Son. Choice of Hercules. Venus and Europa. Daniel interpreting the Writing on the Wall. Marius on the ruins of Carthage. * Cymon and Iphigenia. Cicero at the tomb of Archimedes. * Alexander, king of Scotland, rescued from the Stag. Battle of Cressy. * Mr. West and his family. * Anthony shows Cesar's Robe and Will. Egysthus viewing the body of Clytemnestra. Recovery of king George in 1789. A large landscape in Windsor Forest. Ophelia before the King and Queen. Leonidas taking leave of his family. Phaeton receiving from Apollo the chariot of the Sun. The Eagle giving the cup of water to Psyche. Moonlight and the Beckoning Ghost. Pope. Angel sitting on the stone at the Sepulchre. The same subject differently composed. * Angelica and Madora. The Damsel and Orlando. The Good Samaritan. Old Beast and False Prophet destroyed. Christ healing the sick in the temple. Death on the Pale Horse. Jason and the Dragon. Venus and Adonis seeing the Cupids bathe. Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. Passage boat on the Canal. Paul and Barnabas rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles. Diomed, his horses struck with lightning. Milk-woman in St. James's Park. Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Order of the Garter. Orion on the Dolphin's back. The Deluge. Queen Elizabeth's Procession to St. Paul's. Christ showing a child, emblem of heaven. Harvest Home. Washing Sheep. St. Paul shaking off the Viper. Sun setting at Twickenham on Thames. Driving sheep and cows to water. Cattle drinking, and Mr. West drawing, in Windsor Park. Pharaoh and his boat in the Red Sea. Telemachus and Calypso. Moses consecrating Aaron and his sons. A Mother inviting her little boy to come to her thro a brook. Brewer's porter and hod carrier. Venus attended by the Graces. Naming of Samuel. Birth of Jacob and Esau. Ascension of Christ. Samuel presented to Eli. Moses shown the Promised Land. Christ among the Doctors. Reaping scene. Adonis and his dog. Mothers with their children in water. Joshua crossing the Jordan with the Ark. Christ's Nativity. * Pyrrhus when a child before king Glaucus. The Man laying his bread on the bridle of the dead Ass. Sterne. The Captive. Ditto. Cupid letting loose two Doves. Cupid asleep. Children eating cherries. St. Anthony of Padua and the Child. Jacob and Laban with his two daughters. The Women looking into the Sepulchre and seeing two Angels where the Lord lay. The Angel unchaining Peter in prison. Death of sir Philip Sidney. Death of Epaminondas. Death of chevalier Bayard. Death of Cephalus. * Kosciusko on a couch. Abraham and Isaac. Here is the wood and fire, but where is the lamb to sacrifice? Eponina with her children giving bread to her husband when in concealment. King Henry pardoning his brother. John at the prayer of his mother. Death of lord Chatham. Presentation of the Crown to William the Conqueror. Europa crowning the Bull with flowers. West's garden, gallery and painting room. Cave of Despair. Spencer. Arethusa bathing. Cupid shows Venus his finger stung by a bee. Ubald brings his three daughters to Alfred for him to choose one for his wife. * Pylades and Orestes.

Besides the two hundred and ninety-nine large finished pictures here mentioned, Mr. West has done about one hundred portraits, and upwards of two hundred drawings with the pen; which last, for sublimity of conception, are among the finest of his works. So that the whole of his pieces amount to above six hundred. Some of them are larger in size than any in the national gallery of France; and he has not been assisted by any other painter.

Mr. West is now about sixty-eight years of age. He discovers no abatement in the activity of his genius, nor in the laborious exercise of his talents. He has painted several fine pictures since the above catalogue was made. Three of which I have particularly noticed in his painting room: Tobet and Tobias with the fish; Abraham sending away Hagar with her child; Achilles receiving from Thetis the new armor; and we hear that he has lately painted the Death of Nelson. He may yet produce many more original works; tho it is presumed he has already exceeded all other historical painters, except Rubens, in the number and variety of his productions. With regard to the merit of his pictures, I cannot pretend to form a judgment that would be of any use in directing that of others. He is doubtless the most classical painter, except Raphael, whose works are known to us.

The critics find fault with the coloring of Mr. West. But in his works, as in those of Raphael, we do not look for coloring. It is dignity of character, fine expression, delicate design, correct drawing and beautiful disposition of drapery which fix the suffrage of the real judge. All which qualities can only spring from an elevated mind.

No. 46.

Nile pours from heaven a tutelary flood, And gardens grow the vegetable god.

Book IX. Line 287.

O sanctas gentes, quibus haec nascuntur in hortis Numina.

Juv. Sat. 15.

No. 47.

Tis to correct their fatal faults of old, When, caught by tinsel, they forgot the gold.

Book IX. Line 499.

The state of the arts and sciences among the ancients, viewed with reference to the event of universal civilization, was faulty in two respects. First, In their comparative estimation: Second, In their flourishing only in one nation at a time. These circumstances might be favorable to the exertions of individual genius; and they may be assigned both as causes of the universal destruction of the arts and sciences by the Gothic conquest, and as reasons why we should not greatly lament that destruction.

From the political state of mankind in the days of their ancient splendor it was natural that those arts which depend on the imagination, such as Architecture, Statuary, Painting, Eloquence and Poetry, should claim the highest rank in the estimation of a people. In several, perhaps all of these, the ancients remain unrivalled. But these are not the arts which tend the most to the general improvement of society. A man in those days would have rendered more service to the world by ascertaining the true figure and movements of the earth, than by originating a heaven and filling it with all the gods of Homer; and had the expenses of the Egyptian pyramids been employed in furnishing ships of discovery and sending them out of the Mediterranean, the nations called civilized would not have been afterwards overrun by Barbarians.

But the sciences of Geography, Navigation and Commerce, with their consequent improvements in Natural Philosophy and Humanity, could not, from the nature of things at that time, become objects of great encouragement or enterprise. Talent was therefore confined to the cultivation of arts more striking to the senses. As these arts were adapted to gratify the vanity of princes, to help carry on the sacred frauds of priests, to fire the ambition of heroes, or to gain causes in popular assemblies, they were brought to a degree of perfection which prevented their being relished or understood by barbarous neighbors.

The improvements of the world therefore, whether in literature, sciences or arts, descended with the line of conquest from one nation to another, till the whole were concentred in the Roman empire. Their tendency there was to inspire a contempt for nations less civilized, and to teach the Romans to consider all mankind as the proper objects of their military despotism. These circumstances prepared, thro a course of ages, and finally opened a scene of wretchedness at which the human mind has been taught to shudder. But some such convulsion seemed necessary to reduce the nations to a position capable of commencing regular improvements. And, however novel the sentiment may appear, I will venture to say that, as to the prospect of universal civilization, mankind were in a better situation in the time of Charlemagne than they were in the days of Augustus.

The final destruction of the Roman empire left the nations of Europe in circumstances similar to each other; and their consequent rivalship prevented any disproportionate refinement from appearing in any particular region. The principles of government, firmly rooted in the Feudal System, unsocial and unphilosophical as they were, laid the foundation of that balance of power which discourages the Cesars and Alexanders of modern ages from attempting the conquest of the world.

It seems necessary that the arrangement of events in civilizing the world should be in the following order: first, all parts of it must be considerably peopled; second, the different nations must be known to each other; third, their wants must be increased, in order to inspire a passion for commerce. The first of these objects was not probably accomplished till a late period. The second for three centuries past has been greatly accelerated. The third is a necessary consequence of the two former. The spirit of commerce is happily calculated to open an amicable intercourse between all countries, to soften the horrors of war, to enlarge the field of science, and to assimilate the manners, feelings and languages of all nations. This leading principle, in its remoter consequences, will produce advantages in favor of free government, give patriotism the character of philanthropy, induce all men to regard each other as brethren and friends, and teach them the benefits of peace and harmony among the nations.

I conceive it no objection to this theory that the progress has hitherto been slow; when we consider the magnitude of the object, the obstructions that were to be removed, and the length of time taken to accomplish it. The future progress will probably be more rapid than the past. Since the invention of printing, the application of the properties of the magnet, and the knowledge of the structure of the solar system, it is difficult to conceive of a cause that can produce a new state of barbarism; unless it be some great convulsion in the physical world, so extensive as to change the face of the earth or a considerable part of it. This indeed may have been the case already more than once, since the earth was first peopled with men, and antecedent to our histories. But such events have nothing to do with the present argument.

No. 48.

Herschel ascends himself with venturous wain, And joins and flanks thy planetary train,

Book IX. Line 601.

The planet discovered by Herschel was called by him Georgium Sidus; but in all countries except England it is named Herschel, and probably will be so named there after his death and that of the patron to whom his gratitude led him to make this extraordinary dedication.

I would observe that, besides the impropriety of giving it another name than that of the discoverer, it is inconvenient to use a double name, or a name composed of two words. Let it be either George or Herschel.

The passage referred to in this note was written before the discovery of the three other planets which are now added to our catalogue. Could my voice have weight in deciding on the names to be given to these new children of the sun, I would call them by the names of their respective discoverers, Piazzi, Gibers and Harding, instead of the senseless and absurd appellations of Ceres, Pallas and Juno. The former method would at least assist us in preserving the history of science; the latter will only tend farther to confuse a very ancient mythology which is already extremely confused, and increase the difficulty of following the faint traces of real knowledge that seems couched under the mass of that mythology; traces which may one day lead to many useful truths in philosophy and morals.

No. 49.

To build on ruin'd realms the shrine of fame, And load his numbers with a tyrant's name.

Book X. Line 261.

A most useful book might be written on this subject. It should be a Review of Poets and Historians, as to the moral and political tendency of their works. It should likewise treat of the importance of the task assigned to these two classes of writers. It might attempt to point out the true object they ought to have in view; perhaps do this with such clearness and energy as to gain the attention of writers as well as readers, and thus serve in some measure as a guide to future historians and poets. At least it would prove a guide to readers; and by teaching them how to judge, and what to praise or blame in the accounts of human actions, whether real or fictitious, the public taste would be reformed by degrees. In this case the recorders of heroic actions, as well as the authors of them, would find it necessary to follow this reform, or they must necessarily fail of obtaining the celebrity to which they all aspire.

I think every person who will give himself the trouble to form an opinion on the manner in which actions, called heroic, have been recorded, must find it faulty; and must lament, as one of the misfortunes of society, that writers of these two classes almost universally, from Homer down to Gibbon, have led astray the moral sense of man. In this view we may say in general of poets and historians, as we do of their heroes, that they have injured the cause of humanity almost in proportion to the fame they have acquired.

I would not be understood by this observation to mean that such writers have done no good. Even the works of Homer, which have caused more mischief to mankind than those of any other, have likewise been a fruitful source of a certain species of benefits. They elevate the mind of every reader; they have called forth great exertions of genius in poets, artists, philosophers and heroes, thro a long succession of ages. But it remains to be considered what a fruitful source they have likewise been of those false notions of honor and erroneous systems of policy which have governed the actions of men from his day to ours.

If, instead of the Iliad, he had given us a work of equal splendor founded on an opposite principle; whose object should have been to celebrate the useful arts of agriculture and navigation; to build the immortal fame of his heroes, and occupy his whole hierarchy of gods, on actions that contribute to the real advancement of society, instead of striking away every foundation on which society ought to be established or can be greatly advanced; mankind, enriched with such a work at that early period, would have given a useful turn to their ambition thro all succeeding ages.

It is not easy to conceive how different the state of nations would have been at this day from what we now find it, had such a bent been given to the pursuits of genius, and such glory cast upon actions truly worthy of imitation. I have treated this subject more at large in the third chapter of Advise to the Privileged Orders.

But it will be asked how this kind of censure can attach to the writers of history, whose business is to invent nothing, to confine themselves to the simple narration of facts, and relate the actions of men, not as they should be, but as they are. This is indeed a part of the duty of the historian; but it is not his whole duty. His narrative should be clear and simple; but he should likewise develop the political and moral tendency of the transactions he details.

In reviewing actions or doctrines which favor despotism, injustice, false morals or political errors, he should not suffer them to pass without an open and well supported censure. He should show how the authors of such actions might have conducted themselves and succeeded in gaining the celebrity which they sought, by doing good instead of harm to the age and country where they acquired their fame.

The history of human actions, in a political view, has generally been the history of human errors. The writers who have given it to us do not appear to have been sensible of this. How then are young readers to be sensible of it? Their minds are still to be formed; and those who are destined for public life must in a great measure take their bias from the study of history. But history in general, to answer the purpose of sound instruction to the future guides of nations, must be rewritten. For example: among the hundred historians who have treated of what is called the Roman Republic I know not one who has told us this important fact, that Rome never had a republic. The same may be said of Athens, and of several other turbulent associations of men in former ages. And it is for want of this attention or this knowledge in the writers of their histories, that the republican principle of government is so generally associated, even at this day, with the idea of insurrection, anarchy and the desire of conquest. Whereas it is in fact the want of the republican principle, not the practice of it, which has occasioned all the insurrections, anarchy and desire of conquest, that have disturbed the order of society both in ancient and modern times.

Again: in relating the destruction of Carthage, a measure which the zealous patriots, both before and after, considered so essential to the glory of the Roman state, and which has immortalized so many heroes as the authors and projectors of that destruction, I believe no historian has told us that the disease, decay and downfall of Rome itself were occasioned by that measure, and must be dated from that epoch; and that the actions of Regulus and Scipio, the themes of universal applause, were really more injurious to their country than those of Marias and Sylla, the objects (and justly so) of universal detestation.

If these principles had been understood by Polybius and his successors in the brilliant heritage of history, and had been properly impressed on the minds of their readers, we should not have heard old Cato's vociferation delenda est Carthago applied to the American states by an orator of the British parliament, as we did during the war; because every member of that parliament must have understood that the prosperity of these states would be highly advantageous to Britain, from the extensive commercial intercourse that the relative situation of the two countries required. Neither should we see at this day the French English nations seeking to impoverish and extirpate each other; each of them entertaining the erroneous and absurd opinion that its own prosperity is to be increased by the adversity of its neighbor. We should have learned long ago from the plain dictates of reason, instead of having it beat into us some ages hence by costly experience, that the true dignity of a state is in the happiness of its members; and that their happiness is best promoted by the pursuit of industry at home and the free exchange of their productions abroad.

We should have perceived the real and constant interest that every nation has in the prosperity of its neighbors, instead of their destruction. France would have perceived that the wealth of the English would be beneficial to her, by enabling them to receive and pay for more of her produce. England would have seen the same thing with regard to the French; and such would have been the sentiments of other nations reciprocally and universally.

I know I must be called an extravagant theorist if I insinuate that all these good things would have resulted from having history well written and poetry well conceived. No man will doubt however that such would have been the tendency; nor can we deny that the contrary has resulted, at least in some degree, from the manner in which such writings have been composed. And why should we write at all, if not to benefit mankind? The public mind, as well as the individual mind, receives its propensities; it is equally the creature of habit. Nations are educated, like a single child. They only require a longer time and a greater number of teachers.

No. 50.

For that fine apologue, in mystic strain, Gave like the rest a golden age to man,

Book X. Line 393.

Absurdities in speculative opinion are commonly considered as innocent things; and we are told every day that they are not worth refuting. So far as opinions are sure to rest merely in speculation, and cannot in any degree become practical, this is doubtless the proper way of treating them. But there are few opinions of this dormant and indifferent kind, especially among those that become general and classical among the nations.

The activity of such, tho imperceptible, is extensive. They get wrought into our intellectual existence, and govern our modes of acting as well as thinking. The interest of society therefore requires that they should be scrutinized, and that such as are erroneous should be exposed, in order to be rejected; when their place may be supplied by truth and reason, which nourish the mind and accelerate the progress of improvement.

Among the absurd notions which early turned the heads of the teachers of mankind, and which are so ridiculous as generally to escape our censure, is that of a Golden Age; or the idea that men were more perfect, more moral and more happy in some early stage of their intercourse, before they cultivated the earth and formed great societies.

The author of Don Quixote has played his artillery upon this doctrine to very good effect; he has summoned against it all the force of our contempt by making it the text of one of the gravest discourses of his hero. But my sensibility is such on moral and political errors, as rarely to be satisfied with the weapon of ridicule; tho I know it to be one of the most mortal of intellectual weapons.

The notion that the social state of men cannot ameliorate, that they have formerly been better than they now are, and that they are continually growing worse, is pregnant with infinite mischief. I know no doctrine in the whole labyrinth of imposture that has a more immoral tendency. It discourages the efforts of all political virtue; it is a constant and practical apology for oppression, tyranny, despotism, in every shape, in every corner of society, as well as from the throne, the pulpit, the tribunal and the camp. It inculcates the belief that ignorance is better than knowledge; that war and violence are more natural than industry and peace; that deserts and tombs are more glorious than joyful cities and cultivated fields.

One of the most operative means of bringing forward our improvements and of making mankind wiser and better than they are, is to convince them that they are capable of becoming so. Without this conviction they may indeed improve slowly, unsteadily and almost imperceptibly, as they have done within the period in which our histories are able to trace them. But this conviction, impressed on the minds of the chiefs and teachers of nations, and inculcated in their schools, would greatly expedite our advancement in public happiness and virtue. Perhaps it would in a great measure insure the world against any future shocks and retrograde steps, such as heretofore it has often, experienced.


I am well aware that some readers will be dissatisfied in certain instances with my orthography. Their judgments are respectable; and as it is not a wanton deviation from ancient usage on my part, the subject may justify a moment's retrospect from this place. Since we have arrived at the end of a work that has given me more pleasure in the composition than it probably will in its reception by the public, they must pardon me if I thus linger awhile in taking leave. It is a favorite object of amusement as well as labor, which I cannot hope to replace.

Our language is constantly and rapidly improving. The unexampled progress of the sciences and arts for the last thirty years has enriched it with a great number of new words, which are now become as necessary to the writer as his ancient mother tongue. The same progress which leads to farther extensions of ideas will still extend the vocabulary; and our neology must and will keep pace with the advancement of our knowledge. Hence will follow a closer definition and more accurate use of words, with a stricter attention to their orthography.

Such innovations ought undoubtedly to be admitted with caution; and they will of course be severely scrutinized by men of letters. A language is public property, in the most extensive sense of the word; and readers as well as writers arc its guardians. But they ought to have no objection to improving the estate as it passes thro their hands, by making a liberal tho rigid estimate of what may be offered as ameliorations. Some respectable philologists have proposed a total and immediate reform of our orthography and even of our alphabet; but the great body of proprietors in this heritage are of opinion that the attempt would be less advantageous than the slow and certain improvements which are going forward, and which will necessarily continue to attend the active state of our literature.

We have long since laid aside the Latin diphthongs ae and oe in common English words, and in some proper names tho not in all. Uniformity in this respect is desirable and will prevail. Names of that description which occur in this work I have therefore written with the simple vowel, as Cesar, Phenicia, Etna, Medea.

Another class of our words are in a gradual state of reform. They are those Latin nouns ending in or, which having past thro France on their way from Rome, changed their o into eu. The Norman English writers restored the Latin o, but retained the French u; and tho the latter has been since rejected in most of these words, yet in others it is still retained by many writers. It is quite useless in pronunciation; and propriety as well as analogy requires that the reform should be carried thro. No writer at this day retains the u in actor, author, emperor and the far greater part, perhaps nine tenths, of this class of nouns; why then should it be continued in the few that remain, such as labor, honor? The most accurate authors reject it in all these, and I have followed the example.

I have also respectable authorities in prose as well as poetry for expunging the three last letters in though and through; they being totally disregarded in pronunciation and awkward in appearance. The long sound of o in many words, as go, fro, puts it out of doubt with respect to tho; and its sound of oo, which, frequently occurs, as in prove, move, is an equal justification of thro. All the British poets, from Pope downwards, and several eminent prose writers, including Shaftsbury and Staunton, have by their practice supported this orthography.

Some verbs in the past tense, where the usual ending in ed is harsh and uncouth, hare long ago changed it for t, as fixt, capt, meant, past, blest. Poetry has extended this innovation to many other verbs which are necessarily uttered with the sound of t, tho in prose they may still retain for a while their ancient ed. I consider this reform as a valuable improvement in the language, because it brings a numerous class of words to be written as they are spoken; and the proportion of the reformed ones is already so considerable that analogy, or regularity of conjugation, requires us to complete the list. I have not carried this reform much farther than other poets have done before me. Examples might perhaps be found for nearly all the instances in which I have indulged it, such as perisht, astonisht, tho I have not been solicitous to seek them. The correction might well be extended to several remaining verbs of the same class; but it is difficult in this particular case to fix the proper limit.

With regard to the apostrophe, as employed to mark the elision in the past tense of verbs, I have followed the example of the most accurate poets; who use it where the verb in the present tense does not end in e, as furl'd, because the ed would add a syllable and destroy the measure. But where the present tense ends in e, it is retained in the past with the d, as robed, because it does not add a syllable.

The letter k we borrowed from the Greek, and the c from the Latin. The power of each of these letters at the end of a word is precisely the same; and the power of one is the same as that of both. Yet our early writers placed them both at the end of certain words, with the c before the k, as musick, publick, why they did not put the k first, as being the most ancient character, does not appear. Modern authors have rejected the k sit the end of this class of words; and no correct writer will think of replacing such an inconvenient appendage.

The idea of putting a stop to innovation in a living language is absurd, unless we put a stop to thinking. When a language becomes fixt it becomes a dead language. Men must leave it for a living one, in which they can express their ideas with all their changes, extensions and corrections. The duty of the critic in this case is only to keep a steady watch over the innovations that are offered, and require a rigid conformity to the general principles of the idiom. Noah Webster, to whose philological labors our language will be much indebted for its purity and regularity, has pointed out the advantages of a steady course of improvement, and how it ought to be conducted. The Preface to his new Dictionary is an able performance. He might advantageously give it more development, with some correction, and publish it as a Prospectus to the great work he now has in hand.

The uniform tendency of our language is towards simplicity as well as regularity. With this view the final e, in words where it is quite silent and useless, is dropping off, and will soon disappear. Having long since resigned the place it held in the greater part of these words, as joye, ruine, and more recently in some others, it must finally quit the remainder where it is still found a superfluous letter, as active, decisive, determine.

We may even hazard a prediction that our whole class of adjectives ending in ous will be reformed and brought nearer to their pronunciation by rejecting the o. A similar change may be expected in words ending in ss. These words have already undergone one reform; they were formerly written with a final e, as wildernesse. They have lost the e because it was useless; and as the final s has now become equally useless, it might be dismissed with as little violence to the language. But these two projected innovations have not yet been ventured upon in any degree; and it is not desirable to be the first in so daring an enterprise, when it is not immediately important.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse