Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 7, No. 44, June, 1861

Part 3 out of 5

minutes at a time. And during those few minutes, it is talked of with an
interest very faint, when compared with that you feel for yourself. You
fancy it a terrible thing, when you yourself have to do something which
you would think nothing about, if done by anybody else. A lady grows
sick, and has to go out of church during the sermon. Well, you remark
it; possibly, indeed, you don't; and you say, "Mrs. Thomson went out of
church to-day; she must be ill"; and there the matter ends. But a day
or two later you see Mrs. Thomson, and find her quite in a fever at the
awful fact. It was a dreadful trial, walking out, and facing all the
congregation: they must have thought it so strange; she would not run
the risk of it again for any inducement. The fact is just this: Mrs.
Thomson thinks a great deal of the thing, because it happened to
herself. It did not happen to the other people, and so they hardly think
of it at all. But nine in every ten of them, in Mrs. Thomson's place,
would have Mrs. Thomson's feeling; for it is a thing which you, my
reader, slowly learn, that people think very little about you.

Yes, it is a thing slowly learnt,--by many not learnt at all. How many
persons you meet walking along the street who evidently think that
everybody is looking at them! How few persons can walk through an
exhibition of pictures at which are assembled the grand people of the
town and all their own grand acquaintances, in a fashion thoroughly free
from self-consciousness! I mean without thinking of themselves at all,
or of how they look; but in an unaffected manner, observing the objects
and beings around them. Men who have attained recently to a moderate
eminence are sometimes, if of small minds, much affected by this
disagreeable frailty. Small literary men, and preachers with no great
head or heart, have within my own observation suffered from it severely.
I have witnessed a poet, whose writing I have never read, walking along
a certain street. I call him a poet to avoid periphrasis. The whole
get-up of the man, his dress, his hair, his hat, the style in which he
walked, showed unmistakably that he fancied that everybody was looking
at him, and that he was the admired of all admirers. In fact, nobody was
looking at him at all. Some time since I beheld a portrait of a very,
very small literary man. It was easy to discern from it that the small
author lives in the belief, that, wherever he goes, he is the object of
universal observation. The intense self-consciousness and self-conceit
apparent in that portrait were, in the words of Mr. Squeers, "more
easier conceived than described." The face was a very commonplace and
rather good-looking one: the author, notwithstanding his most strenuous
exertions, evidently could make nothing of the features to distinguish
him from other men. But the length of his hair was very great: and, oh,
what genius he plainly fancied glowed in those eyes! I never in my life
witnessed such an extraordinary glare. I do not believe that any human
being ever lived whose eyes habitually wore that expression: only by a
violent effort could the expression be produced, and then for a very
short time, without serious injury to the optic nerves. The eyes were
made as large as possible; and the thing after which the poor fellow
had been struggling was that peculiar look which may be conceived to
penetrate through the beholder, and pierce his inmost thoughts. I never
beheld the living original, but, if I saw him, I should like in a kind
way to pat him on the head, and tell him that _that_ sort of expression
would produce a great effect on the gallery of a minor theatre. The
other day I was at a public meeting. A great crowd of people was
assembled in a large hall: the platform at one end of it remained
unoccupied till the moment when the business of the meeting was to
begin. It was an interesting sight for any philosophic observer seated
in the body of the hall to look at the men who by-and-by walked in
procession on to the platform, and to observe the different ways in
which they walked in. There were several very great and distinguished
men: every one of these walked on to the platform and took his seat in
the most simple and unaffected way, as if quite unconscious of the many
eyes that were looking at them with interest and curiosity. There were
many highly respectable and sensible men, whom nobody cared particularly
to see, and who took their places in a perfectly natural manner, as
though well aware of the fact. But there were one or two small men,
struggling for notoriety; and I declare it was pitiful to behold their
entrance. I remarked one, in particular, who evidently thought that
the eyes of the whole meeting were fixed upon himself, and that, as
he walked in, everybody was turning to his neighbor, and saying with
agitation, "See, that's Snooks!" His whole gait and deportment testified
that he felt that two or three thousand eyes were burning him up: you
saw it in the way he walked to his place, in the way he sat down, in the
way he then looked about him. If anyone had tried to get up three cheers
for Snooks, Snooks would not have known that he was being made a fool
of. He would have accepted the incense of fame as justly his due. There
once was a man who entered the Edinburgh theatre at the same instant
with Sir Walter Scott. The audience cheered lustily; and while Sir
Walter modestly took his seat, as though unaware that those cheers were
to welcome the Great Magician, the other man advanced with dignity
to the front of the box, and bowed in acknowledgment of the popular
applause. This of course was but a little outburst of the great tide of
vain self-estimation which the man had cherished within his breast for
years. Let it be said here, that an affected unconsciousness of the
presence of a multitude of people is as offensive an exhibition of
self-consciousness as any that is possible. Entire naturalness, and a
just sense of a man's personal insignificance, will produce the right
deportment. It is very irritating to see some clergymen walk into church
to begin the service. They come in, with eyes affectedly cast down, and
go to their place without ever looking up, and rise and begin without
one glance at the congregation. To stare about them, as some clergymen
do, in a free and easy manner, befits not the solemnity of the place
and the worship; but the other is the worse thing. In a few cases it
proceeds from modesty; in the majority from intolerable self-conceit.
The man who keeps his eyes downcast in that affected manner fancies that
everybody is looking at him; there is an insufferable self-consciousness
about him; and he is much more keenly aware of the presence of other
people than the man who does what is natural, and looks at the people
to whom he is speaking. It is not natural nor rational to speak to
one human being with your eyes fixed on the ground; and neither is
it natural or rational to speak to a thousand. And I think that the
preacher who feels in his heart that he is neither wiser nor better than
his fellow-sinners to whom he is to preach, and that the advices he
addresses to them are addressed quite as solemnly to himself, will
assume no conceited airs of elevation above them, but will unconsciously
wear the demeanor of any sincere worshipper, somewhat deepened in
solemnity by the remembrance of his heavy personal responsibility in
leading the congregation's worship; but assuredly and entirely free
from the vulgar conceit which may be fostered in a vulgar mind by the
reflection, "Now everybody is looking at me!" I have seen, I regret to
say, various distinguished preachers whose pulpit demeanor was made to
me inexpressibly offensive by this taint of self-consciousness. And I
have seen some, with half the talent, who made upon me an impression a
thousandfold deeper than ever was made by the most brilliant eloquence;
because the simple earnestness of their manner said to every heart, "Now
I am not thinking in the least about myself, or about what you may think
of me: my sole desire is to impress on your hearts these truths I
speak, which I believe will concern us all forever!" I have heard great
preachers, after hearing whom you could walk home quite at your ease,
praising warmly the eloquence and the logic of the sermon. I have heard
others, (infinitely greater in my poor judgment,) after hearing whom you
would have felt it profanation to criticize the literary merits of their
sermon, high as those were: but you walked home thinking of the lesson
and not of the teacher, solemnly revolving the truths you had heard, and
asking the best of all help to enable you to remember them and act upon

There are various ways in which self-consciousness disagreeably evinces
its existence; and there is not one, perhaps, more disagreeable than the
affected avoidance of what is generally regarded as egotism. Depend upon
it, my reader, that the straightforward and natural writer who frankly
uses the first person singular, and says, "I think thus and thus," "I
have seen so and so," is thinking of himself and his own personality
a mighty deal less than the man who is always employing awkward and
roundabout forms of expression to avoid the use of the obnoxious _I_.
Every such periphrasis testifies unmistakably that the man was thinking
of himself; but the simple, natural writer, warm with his subject, eager
to press his views upon his readers, uses the _I_ without a thought of
self, just because it is the shortest, most direct, and most natural way
of expressing himself. The recollection of his own personality probably
never once crossed his mind during the composition of the paragraph from
which an ill-set critic might pick out a score of _I_-s. To say, "It is
submitted" instead of "I think," "It has been observed" instead of "I
have seen," "The present writer" instead of "I," is much the more really
egotistical. Try to write an essay without using that vowel which
some men think the very shibboleth of egotism, and the remembrance of
yourself will be in the background of your mind all the time you are
writing. It will be always intruding and pushing in its face, and you
will be able to give only half your mind to your subject. But frankly
and naturally use the _I_, and the remembrance of yourself vanishes. You
are grappling with the subject; you are thinking of it, and of nothing
else. You use the readiest and most unaffected mode of speech to set out
your thoughts of it. You have written _I_ a dozen times, but you have
not thought of yourself once.

You may see the self-consciousness of some men strongly manifested
in their handwriting. The handwriting of some men is essentially
affected,--more especially their signature. It seems to be a very
searching test whether a man is a conceited person or an unaffected
person, to be required to furnish his autograph to be printed underneath
his published portrait. I have fancied I could form a theory of a man's
whole character from reading, in such a situation, merely the words,
"Very faithfully yours, Eusebius Snooks," You could see that Mr. Snooks
was acting, when he wrote that signature. He was thinking of the
impression it would produce on those who saw it. It was not the thing
which a man would produce who simply wished to write his name legibly in
as short a time and with as little needless trouble as possible. Let me
say with sorrow that I have known even venerable bishops who were not
superior to this irritating weakness. Some men aim at an aristocratic
hand; some deal in vulgar flourishes. These are the men who have reached
no farther than that stage at which they are proud of the dexterity with
which they handle their pen. Some strive after an affectedly simple and
student-like hand; some at a dashing and military style. But there may
be as much self-consciousness evinced by handwriting as by anything
else. Any clergyman who performs a good many marriages will be impressed
by the fact that very few among the humbler classes can sign their name
in an unaffected way. I am not thinking of the poor bride who shakily
traces her name, or of the simple bumpkin who slowly writes his, making
no secret of the difficulty with which he does it. These are natural
and pleasing. You would like to help and encourage them. But it is
irritating, when some forward fellow, after evincing his marked contempt
for the slow and cramped performances of his friends, jauntily takes up
the pen and dashes off his signature at a tremendous rate and with the
air of an exploit, evidently expecting the admiration of his rustic
friends, and laying a foundation for remarking to them on his way home
that the parson could not touch him at penmanship. I have observed with
a little malicious satisfaction that such persons, arising in their
pride from the place where they wrote, generally smear their signature
with their coat-sleeve, and reduce it to a state of comparative
illegibility. I like to see the smirking, impudent creature a little
taken down.

But it is endless to try to reckon up the fashions in which people show
that they have not learnt the lesson of their own unimportance. Did you
ever stop in the street and talk for a few minutes to some old bachelor?
If so, I dare say you have remarked a curious phenomenon. You have found
that all of a sudden the mind of the old gentleman, usually reasonable
enough, appeared stricken into a state approaching idiocy, and that
the sentence which he had begun in a rational and intelligible way was
ending in a maze of wandering words, signifying nothing in particular.
You had been looking in another direction, but in sudden alarm you look
straight at the old gentleman to see what on earth is the matter; and
you discern that his eyes are fixed on some passer-by, possibly a young
lady, perhaps no more than a magistrate or the like, who is by this
time a good many yards off, with the eyes still following, and slowly
revolving on their axes so as to follow without the head being turned
round. It is this spectacle which has drawn off your friend's attention;
and you notice his whole figure twisted into an ungainly form, intended
to be dignified or easy, and assumed because he fancied that the
passerby was looking at him. Oh the pettiness of human nature! Then you
will find people afraid that they have given offence by saying or doing
things which the party they suppose offended had really never observed
that they had said or done. There are people who fancy that in church
everybody is looking at them, when in truth no mortal is taking the
trouble to do so. It is an amusing, though irritating sight, to behold
a weak-minded lady walking into church and taking her seat under this
delusion. You remember the affected air, the downcast eyes, the demeanor
intended to imply a modest shrinking from notice, but through which
there shines the real desire, "Oh, for any sake, look at me!" There are
people whose voice is utterly inaudible in church six feet off, who will
tell you that a whole congregation of a thousand or fifteen hundred
people was listening to their singing. Such folk will tell you that they
went to a church where the singing was left too much to the choir, and
began to sing as usual, on which the entire congregation looked round
to see who it was that was singing, and ultimately proceeded to sing
lustily too. I do not remember a more disgusting exhibition of vulgar
self-conceit than I saw a few months ago at Westminster Abbey. It was a
weekday afternoon service, and the congregation was small. Immediately
before me there sat an insolent boor, who evidently did not belong to
the Church of England. He had walked in when the prayers were half over,
having with difficulty been made to take off his hat, and his manifest
wish was to testify his contempt for the whole place and service.
Accordingly he persisted in sitting, in a lounging attitude, when the
people stood, and in standing up and staring about with an air of
curiosity while they knelt. He was very anxious to convey that he was
not listening to the prayers; but rather inconsistently, he now and then
uttered an audible grunt of disapproval. No one can enjoy the choral
service more than I do, and the music that afternoon was very fine; but
I could not enjoy it or join in it as I wished, for the disgust I felt
at the animal before me, and for my burning desire to see him turned out
of the sacred place he was profaning. But the thing which chiefly struck
me about the individual was not his vulgar and impudent profanity; it
was his intolerable self-conceit. He plainly thought that every eye
under the noble old roof was watching all his movements. I could see
that he would go home and boast of what he had done, and tell his
friends that all the clergy, choristers, and congregation had been
awestricken by him, and that possibly word had by this time been
conveyed to Lambeth or Fulham of the weakened influence and approaching
downfall of the Church of England. I knew that the very thing he
wished was that some one should rebuke his conduct, otherwise I should
certainly have told him either to behave with decency or to be gone.

I have sometimes witnessed a curious manifestation of this vain sense of
self-importance. Did you ever, my reader, chance upon such a spectacle
as this: a very commonplace man, and even a very great blockhead,
standing in a drawing-room where a large party of people is assembled,
with a grin of self-complacent superiority upon his unmeaning face? I
am sure you understand the thing I mean. I mean a look which conveyed,
that, in virtue of some hidden store of genius or power, he could survey
with a calm, cynical loftiness the little conversation and interests of
ordinary mortals. You know the kind of interest with which a human being
would survey the distant approaches to reason of an intelligent dog or a
colony of ants. I have seen this expression on the face of one or two
of the greatest blockheads I ever knew. I have seen such a one wear it
while clever men were carrying on a conversation in which he could not
have joined to have saved his life. Yet you could see that (who can tell
how?) the poor creature had somehow persuaded himself that he occupied a
position from which he could look down upon his fellow-men in general.
Or was it rather that the poor creature knew he was a fool, and fancied
that thus he could disguise the fact? I dare say there was a mixture of
both feelings.

You may see many indications of vain self-importance in the fact that
various persons, old ladies for the most part, are so ready to give
opinions which are not wanted, on matters of which they are not
competent to judge. Clever young curates suffer much annoyance from
these people: they are always anxious to instruct the young curates how
to preach. I remember well, ten years ago, when I was a curate (which in
Scotland we call an _assistant_) myself, what advices I used to receive
(quite unsought by me) from well-meaning, but densely stupid old ladies.
I did not think the advices worth much, even then; and now, by longer
experience, I can discern that they were utterly idiotic. Yet they were
given with entire confidence. No thought ever entered the heads of
these well-meaning, but stupid individuals, that possibly they were not
competent to give advice on such subjects. And it is vexatious to think
that people so stupid may do serious harm to a young clergyman by
head-shakings and sly innuendoes as to his orthodoxy or his gravity of
deportment. In the long run they will do no harm, but at the first start
they may do a good deal of mischief. Not long since, such a person
complained to me that a talented young preacher had taught unsound
doctrine. She cited his words. I showed her that the words were
taken _verbatim_ from the "Confession of Faith," which is our Scotch
Thirty-Nine Articles. I think it not unlikely that she would go on
telling her tattling story just the same. I remember hearing a stupid
old lady say, as though her opinion were quite decisive of the question,
that no clergyman ought to have so much as a thousand a year; for, if he
had, he would be sure to neglect his duty. You remember what Dr. Johnson
said to a woman who expressed some opinion or other upon a matter she
did not understand. "Madam," said the moralist, "before expressing your
opinion, you should consider what your opinion is worth." But this shaft
would have glanced harmlessly from off the panoply of the stupid and
self-complacent old lady of whom I am thinking. It was a fundamental
axiom with her that her opinion was entirely infallible. Some people
would feel as though the very world were crumbling away under their
feet, if they realized the fact that they could go wrong.

Let it here be said, that this vain belief of their own importance,
which most people cherish, is not at all a source of unmixed happiness.
It will work either way. When my friend, Mr. Snarling, got his beautiful
poem printed in the county newspaper, it no doubt pleased him to think,
as he walked along the street, that every one was pointing him out as
the eminent literary man who was the pride of the district, and that the
whole town was ringing with that magnificent effusion. Mr. Tennyson, it
is certain, felt that his crown was being reft away. But, on the other
hand, there is no commoner form of morbid misery than that of the poor
nervous man or woman who fancies that he or she is the subject of
universal unkindly remark. You will find people, still sane for
practical purposes, who think that the whole neighborhood is conspiring
against them, when in fact nobody is thinking of them.

All these pages have been spent in discussing a single thing slowly
learnt: the remaining matters to be considered in this essay must be
treated briefly.

Another thing slowly learnt is that we have no reason or right to be
angry with people because they think poorly of us. This is a truth which
most people find it very hard to accept, and at which, probably, very
few arrive without pretty long thought and experience. Most people are
angry, when they are informed that some one has said that their ability
is small, or that their proficiency in any art is limited. Mrs. Malaprop
was very indignant, when she found that some of her friends had spoken
lightly of her parts of speech. Mr. Snarling was wroth, when he learned
that Mr. Jollikin thought him no great preacher. Miss Brown was so, on
hearing that Mr. Smith did not admire her singing; and Mr. Smith, on
learning that Miss Brown did not admire his horsemanship. Some authors
feel angry, on reading an unfavorable review of their book. The present
writer has been treated very, very kindly by the critics,--far more so
than he ever deserved; yet he remembers showing a notice of him, which
was intended to extinguish him for all coming time, to a warm-hearted
friend, who read it with gathering wrath, and, vehemently starting up at
its close, exclaimed, (we knew who wrote the notice,)--"Now I shall
go straight and kick that fellow!" Now all this is very natural; but
assuredly it is quite wrong. You understand, of course, that I am
thinking of unfavorable opinions of you, honestly held, and expressed
without malice. I do not mean to say that you would choose for your
special friend or companion one who thought meanly of your ability or
your sense; it would not be pleasant to have him always by you; and the
very fact of his presence would tend to keep you from doing justice to
yourself. For it is true, that, when with people who think you very
clever and wise, you really are a good deal cleverer and wiser than
usual; while with people who think you stupid and silly, you find
yourself under a malign influence which tends to make you actually so
for the time. If you want a man to gain any good quality, the way is to
give him credit for possessing it. If he has but little, give him credit
for all he has, at least; and you will find him daily get more. You know
how Arnold made boys truthful; it was by giving them credit for truth.
Oh that we all fitly understood that the same grand principle should
be extended to all good qualities, intellectual and moral! Diligently
instil into a boy that he is a stupid, idle, bad-hearted blockhead, and
you are very likely to make him all _that_. And so you can see that it
is not judicious to choose for a special friend and associate one who
thinks poorly of one's sense or one's parts. Indeed, if such a one
honestly thinks poorly of you, and has any moral earnestness, you could
not get him for a special friend, if you wished it. Let us choose for
our companions (if such can be found) those who think well and kindly of
us, even though we may know within ourselves that they think too kindly
and too well. For that favorable estimation will bring out and foster
all that is good in us. There is between this and the unfavorable
judgment all the difference between the warm, genial sunshine, that
draws forth the flowers and encourages them to open their leaves,
and the nipping frost or the blighting east-wind, that represses and
disheartens all vegetable life. But though thus you would not choose
for your special companion one who thinks poorly of you, and though you
might not even wish to see him very often, you have no reason to have
any angry feeling towards him. He cannot help his opinion. His opinion
is determined by his lights. His opinion, possibly, founds on those
aesthetic considerations as to which people will never think alike, with
which there is no reasoning, and for which there is no accounting. God
has made him so that he dislikes your book, or at least cannot heartily
appreciate it; and that is not his fault. And, holding his opinion, he
is quite entitled to express it. It may not be polite to express it to
yourself. By common consent it is understood that you are never,
except in cases of absolute necessity, to say to any man that which is
disagreeable to him. And if you go, and, without any call to do so,
express to a man himself that you think poorly of him, he may justly
complain, not of your unfavorable opinion of him, but of the malice
which is implied in your needlessly informing him of it. But if any one
expresses such an unfavorable opinion of you in your absence, and some
one comes and repeats it to you, be angry with the person who repeats
the opinion to you, not with the person who expressed it. For what you
do not know will cause you no pain. And all sensible folk, aware how
estimates of any mortal must differ, will, in the long run, attach
nearly the just weight to any opinion, favorable or unfavorable.

Yes, my friend, utterly put down the natural tendency in your heart to
be angry with the man who thinks poorly of you. For you have, in sober
reason, no right to be angry with him. It is more pleasant, and indeed
more profitable, to live among those who think highly of you--It makes
you better. You actually grow into what you get credit for. Oh, how much
better a clergyman preaches to his own congregation, who listen with
kindly and sympathetic attention to all he says, and always think too
well of him, than to a set of critical strangers, eager to find faults
and to pick holes! And how heartily and pleasantly the essayist covers
his pages which are to go into a magazine whose readers have come to
know him well, and to bear with all his ways! If every one thought him a
dull and stupid person, he could not write at all: indeed, he would bow
to the general belief, and accept the truth that he is dull and stupid.
But further, my reader, let us be reasonable, when it is pleasant; and
let us sometimes be irrational, when _that_ is pleasant too. It is
natural to have a very kindly feeling to those who think well of us.
Now, though, in severe truth, we have no more reason for wishing to
shake hands with the man who thinks well of us than for wishing to shake
the man who thinks ill of us, yet let us yield heartily to the former
pleasant impulse. It is not reasonable, but it is all right. You cannot
help liking people who estimate you favorably and say a good word of
you. No doubt we might slowly learn not to like them more than anybody
else; but we need not take the trouble to learn _that_ lesson. Let us
all, my readers, be glad if we can reach that cheerful position of mind
at which my eloquent friend SHIRLEY and I have long since arrived: that
we are extremely gratified when we find ourselves favorably reviewed,
and not in the least angry when we find ourselves reviewed unfavorably;
that we have a very kindly feeling towards such as think well of us, and
no unkind feeling whatever to those who think ill of us. Thus, at the
beginning of the month, we look with equal minds at the newspaper
notices of our articles; we are soothed and exhilarated when we find
ourselves described as sages, and we are amused and interested when we
find ourselves shown up as little better than geese.

Of course, it makes a difference in the feeling with which you ought to
regard any unfavorable opinion of you, whether spoken or written, if the
unfavorable opinion which is expressed be plainly not honestly held, and
be maliciously expressed. You may occasionally hear a judgment expressed
of a young girl's music or dancing, of a gentleman's horses, of a
preacher's sermons, of an author's books, which is manifestly dictated
by personal spite and jealousy, and which is expressed with the
intention of doing mischief and giving pain to the person of whom
the judgment is expressed. You will occasionally find such judgments
supported by wilful misrepresentation, and even by pure invention. In
such a case as this, the essential thing is not the unfavorable opinion;
it is the malice which leads to its entertainment and expression. And
the conduct of the offending party should be regarded with that feeling
which, on calm thought, you discern to be the right feeling with which
to regard malice accompanied by falsehood. Then, is it well to be
angry here? I think not. You may see that it is not safe to have any
communication with a person who will abuse and misrepresent you; it is
not safe, and it is not pleasant. But don't be angry. It is not worth
while. That old lady, indeed, told all her friends that you said, in
your book, something she knew quite well you did not say. Mr. Snarling
did the like. But the offences of such people are not worth powder and
shot; and besides this, my friend, if you saw the case from their point
of view, you might see that they have something to say for themselves.
You failed to call for the old lady so often as she wished you should.
You did not ask Mr. Snarling to dinner. These are bad reasons for
pitching into you; but still they are reasons; and Mr. Snarling and the
old lady, by long brooding over them, may have come to think that they
are very just and weighty reasons. And did you never, my friend, speak
rather unkindly of these two persons? Did you never give a ludicrous
account of their goings-on, or even an ill-set account, which some kind
friend was sure to repeat to them?

Ah, my reader, don't be too hard on Snarling; possibly you have yourself
done something very like what he is doing now. Forgive, as you need to
be forgiven! And try to attain that quite attainable temper in which you
will read or listen to the most malignant attack upon you with curiosity
and amusement, and with no angry feeling at all. I suppose great people
attain to this: I mean cabinet-ministers and the like, who are daily
flayed in print somewhere or other. They come to take it all quite
easily. And if they were pure angels, somebody would attack them. Most
people, even those who differ from him, know, that, if this world has
a humble, conscientious, pious man in it, that man is the present
Archbishop of Canterbury: yet last night I read in a certain powerful
journal, that the great characteristics of that good man are cowardice,
trickery, and simple rascality! Honest Mr. Bumpkin, kind-hearted Miss
Goodbody, do you fancy that _you_ can escape?

Then we ought to try to fix it in our mind, that, in all matters into
which taste enters at all, the most honest and the most able men may
hopelessly, diametrically, differ: original idiosyncrasy has so much to
say here; and training has also so much. One cultivated and honest
man has an enthusiastic and most real love and enjoyment of Gothic
architecture, and an absolute hatred for that of the classic revival;
another man, equally cultivated and honest, has tastes which are the
logical contradictory of these. No one can doubt the ability of Byron,
or of Sheridan; yet each of them thought very little of Shakspeare. The
question is, _What suits you_? You may have the strongest conviction
that you ought to like an author; you may be ashamed to confess that you
don't like him; and yet you may feel that you detest him. For myself, I
confess with shame, and I know the reason is in myself, I cannot for my
life see anything to admire in the writings of Mr. Carlyle. His style,
both of thought and language, is to me insufferably irritating. I tried
to read the "Sartor Resartus," and could not do it. So if all people who
have learned to read English were like me, Mr. Carlyle would have no
readers. Happily, the majority, in most cases, possesses the normal
taste. At least there is no further appeal than to the deliberate
judgment of the majority of educated men. I confess, further, that I
would rather read Mr. Helps than Milton: I do not say that I think Mr.
Helps the greater man, but that I feel he suits me better. I value the
"Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" more highly than all the writings of
Shelley put together. It is a curious thing to read various reviews of
the same book,--particularly if it be one of those books which, if you
like at all, you will like very much, and which, if you don't like,
you will absolutely hate. It is curious to find opinions flatly
contradictory of one another set forth in those reviews by very able,
cultivated, and unprejudiced men. There is no newspaper published in
Britain which contains abler writing than the "Edinburgh Scotsman." And
of course no one need say anything as to the literary merits of the
"Times." Well, one day within the last few months, the "Times" and the
"Scotsman" each published a somewhat elaborate review of a certain book.
The reviews were flatly opposed to one another; they had no common
ground at all; one said the book was extremely good, and the other that
it was extremely bad. You must just make up your mind that in matters of
taste there can be no unvarying standard of truth. In aesthetic matters,
truth is quite relative. What is bad to you is good to me, perhaps. And
indeed, if one might adduce the saddest of all possible proofs how even
the loftiest and most splendid genius fails to commend itself to every
cultivated mind, it may suffice to say, that that brilliant "Scotsman"
has on several occasions found fault with the works of A.K.H.B.!

If you, my reader, are a wise and kind-hearted person, (as I have no
doubt whatever but you are,) I think you would like very much to meet
and converse with any person who has formed a bad opinion of you. You
would take great pleasure in overcoming such a one's prejudice against
you; and if the person were an honest and worthy person, you would be
almost certain to do so. Very few folk are able to retain any bitter
feeling towards a man they have actually talked with, unless the bitter
feeling be one which is just. And a very great proportion of all the
unfavorable opinions which men entertain of their fellow-men found on
some misconception. You take up somehow an impression that such a one is
a conceited, stuck-up person: you come to know him, and you find he is
the frankest and most unaffected of men. You had a belief that such
another was a cynical, heartless being, till you met him one day coming
down a long black stair, in a poor part of the town, from a bare chamber
in which is a little sick child, with two large tears running down his
face; and when you enter the poor apartment, you learn certain facts as
to his quiet benevolence which compel you suddenly to construct a new
theory of that man's character. It is only people who are radically and
essentially bad whom you can really dislike after you come to know
them. And the human beings who are thus essentially bad are very few.
Something of the original Image lingers yet in almost every human soul:
and in many a homely, commonplace person, what with vestiges of the old,
and a blessed planting-in of something new, there is a vast deal of
it. And every human being, conscious of honest intention and of a kind
heart, may well wish that the man who dislikes and abuses him could just
know him.

But there are human beings whom, if you are wise, you would not wish to
know you too well: I mean the human beings (if such there should be) who
think very highly of you,--who imagine you very clever and very amiable.
Keep out of the way of such! Let them see as little of you as possible.
For, when they come to know you well, they are quite sure to be
disenchanted. The enthusiastic ideal which young people form of any
one they admire is smashed by the rude presence of facts. I have got
somewhat beyond the stage of feeling enthusiastic admiration, yet there
are two or three living men whom I should be sorry to see: I know I
should never admire them so much any more. I never saw Mr. Dickens: I
don't want to see him. Let us leave Yarrow unvisited: our sweet ideal is
fairer than the fairest fact. No hero is a hero to his valet: and it may
be questioned whether any clergyman is a saint to his beadle. Yet the
hero may be a true hero, and the clergyman a very excellent man: but no
human being can bear too close inspection. I remember hearing a clever
and enthusiastic young lady complain of what she had suffered, on
meeting a certain great bishop at dinner. No doubt he was dignified,
pleasant, clever; but the mysterious halo was no longer round his Lead.
Here is a sad circumstance in the lot of a very great man: I mean such
a man as Mr. Tennyson or Professor Longfellow. As an elephant walks
through a field, crushing the crop at every step, so do these men
advance through life, smashing, every time they dine out, the
enthusiastic fancies of several romantic young people.

This was to have been a short essay. But you see it is already long; and
I have treated only two of the four Things Slowly Learnt which I had
noted down. After much consideration I discern several courses which are
open to me:--

1. To ask the editor to allow me forty or fifty pages of the magazine
for my essay.

2. To stop at once, and allow it to remain forever a secret what the two
remaining things are.

3. To stop now, and continue my subject in a future number of the

4. To state briefly what the two things are, and get rid of the subject
at once.

The fundamental notion of Course No. 1 is manifestly vain. The editor is
doubtless well aware that about sixteen pages is the utmost length
of essay which his readers can stand. Nos. 2 and 3, for reasons too
numerous to state, cannot be adopted. And thus I am in a manner
compelled to adopt Course No. 4.

The first of the two things is a practical lesson. It is this: to allow
for human folly, laziness, carelessness, and the like, just as you allow
for the properties of matter, such as weight, friction, and the like,
without being surprised or angry at them. You know, that, if a man
is lifting a piece of lead, he does not think of getting into a rage
because it is heavy; or if a man is dragging a tree along the ground, he
does not get into a rage because it ploughs deeply into the earth as it
comes. He is not surprised at these things. They are nothing new. It is
just what he counted on. But you will find that the same man, if his
servants are lazy, careless, and forgetful, or if his friends are
petted, wrong-headed, and impracticable, will not only get quite angry,
but will get freshly angry at each new action which proves that his
friends or servants possess these characteristics. Would it not be
better to make up your mind that such things are characteristic of
humanity, and so that you must look for them in dealing with human
beings? And would it not be better, too, to regard each new proof of
laziness, not as a new thing to be angry with, but merely as a piece of
the one great fact that your servant is lazy, with which you get angry
once for all, and have done with it? If your servant makes twenty
blunders a day, do not regard them as twenty separate facts at which to
get angry twenty several times: regard them just as twenty proofs of the
one fact that your servant is a blunderer; and be angry just once, and
no more. Or if some one you know gives twenty indications in a day that
he or she (let us say she) is of a petted temper, regard these merely as
twenty proofs of one lamentable fact, and not as twenty different facts
to be separately lamented. You accept the fact that the person is petted
and ill-tempered: you regret it and blame it once for all. And after
this once you take as of course all new manifestations of pettedness and
ill-temper. And you are no more surprised at them, or angry with them,
than you are at lead for being heavy, or at down for being light. It is
their nature, and you calculate on it, and allow for it.

Then the second of the two remaining things is this,--that you have no
right to complain, if you are postponed to greater people, or if you are
treated with less consideration than you would be, if you were a greater
person. Uneducated people are very slow to learn this most obvious
lesson. I remember hearing of a proud old lady who was proprietor of a
small landed estate in Scotland. She had many relations,--some greater,
some less. The greater she much affected, the less she wholly ignored.
But they did not ignore _her_; and one morning an individual arrived at
her mansion-house, bearing a large box on his back. He was a travelling
peddler; and he sent up word to the old lady that he was her cousin, and
hoped she would buy something from him. The old lady indignantly refused
to see him, and sent orders that he should forthwith quit the house.
The peddler went; but, on reaching the courtyard, he turned to the
inhospitable dwelling, and in a loud voice exclaimed, in the ears of
every mortal in the house, "Ay, if I had come in my carriage-and-four,
ye wad have been proud to have ta'en me in!" The peddler fancied that he
was hurling at his relative a scathing sarcasm: he did not see that he
was simply stating a perfectly unquestionable fact. No doubt earthly, if
he had come in a carriage-and-four, he would have got a hearty welcome,
and he would have found his claim of kindred eagerly allowed. But he
thought he was saying a bitter and cutting thing, and (strange to say)
the old lady fancied she was listening to a bitter and cutting thing.
He was merely expressing a certain and innocuous truth. But though all
mortals know that in this world big people meet greater respect than
small, (and quite right too,) most mortals seem to find the principle a
very unpleasant one, when it comes home to themselves. And we learn but
slowly to acquiesce in seeing ourselves plainly subordinated to other
people. Poor Oliver Goldsmith was very angry, when at the club one night
he was stopped in the middle of a story by a Dutchman, who had noticed
that the Great Bear was rolling about in preparation for speaking, and
who exclaimed to Goldsmith, "Stop, stop! Toctor Shonson is going to
speak!" Once I arrived at a certain railway station. Two old ladies were
waiting to go by the same train. I knew them well, and they expressed
their delight that we were going the same way. "Let us go in the same
carriage," said the younger, in earnest tones; "and will you be so very
kind as to see about our luggage?" After a few minutes of the lively
talk of the period and district, the train came up. I feel the tremor
of the platform yet. I handed my friends into a carriage, and then saw
their baggage placed in the van. It was a station at which trains
stop for a few minutes for refreshments. So I went to the door of the
carriage into which I had put them, and waited a little before taking
my seat. I expected that my friends would proceed with the conversation
which had been interrupted; but to my astonishment I found that I had
become wholly invisible to them. They did not see me and speak to me at
all. In the carriage with them was a living peer, of wide estates and
great rank, whom they knew. And so thoroughly did he engross their eyes
and thoughts and words, that they had become unaware of my presence, or
even my existence. The stronger sensation rendered them unconscious of
the weaker. Do you think I felt angry? No, I did not. I felt very much
amused. I recognized a slight manifestation of a grand principle. It was
a straw showing how a current sets, but for which Britain would not be
the country it is. I took my seat in another carriage, and placidly read
my "Times." There was one lady in that carriage. I think she inferred,
from the smiles which occasionally for the first few miles overspread
my countenance without apparent cause, that my mind was slightly

These are the two things already mentioned. But you cannot understand,
friendly reader, what an effort it has cost me to treat them so briefly,
The experienced critic will discern at a glance that the author could
easily have made sixteen pages out of the material you have here in two.
The author takes his stand upon this,--that there are few people who can
beat out thought so thin, or say so little in such a great number of
words. But I remember how a very great prelate (who could compress all I
have said into a page and a half) once comforted me by telling me that
for the consumption of many minds it was desirable that thought should
be very greatly diluted; that quantity as well as quality is needful
in the dietetics both of the body and the mind. With this soothing
reflection I close the present essay.



In these palmy days of Commerce it is difficult to conceive the distress
which attended the Embargo. To form some idea of its effects at a period
when the nation engrossed most of the carrying trade of the world, let
us imagine a message from Washington announcing that Congress, after a
few midnight-sessions, has suddenly resolved to withdraw our ships from
the ocean, and to export nothing from New York, or any other seaport;
that it requires the merchant to dismantle his ships and leave them to
decay at the wharves; that it calls upon two hundred thousand masters
and mariners, who now plough the main, to seek their bread ashore; that
it forbids even the fisherman to launch his chebacco-boat or follow his
gigantic prey upon the deep; that it subjects the whole coastwise trade
to onerous bonds and the surveillance of custom-house officers; that it
interdicts all exports by land to Canada, New Brunswick, or Mexico.

Imagine for a moment five million tons of shipping detained, thousands
of seamen reduced to want, the trades of the ship-builder, joiner,
rigger, and sail-maker stopped, the masses of produce now seeking the
coast for shipment arrested on their way by the entire cessation of
demand, the banker and insurer idle, the commissioners of bankruptcy,
the sheriff, and the jailer busy. Imagine the whole country, in the
midst of a prosperous commerce, thus suddenly brought to a stand.
Imagine the navigation, the produce, and the merchandise of the nation
thus suddenly embargoed by one great seizure, upon the plea that they
might possibly be seized abroad, and some faint idea may be formed of
the alarm, distress, and indignant feeling which pervaded the entire
seaboard under the Embargo of 1807. At the period in question the
distressed seamen and ruined merchants had no railways, scarcely an
ordinary road to the West. Manufactures were almost unknown, the
mechanic arts were undeveloped, and consequently the exclusion from the
sea was felt with double force.

Why, urged the merchant and the mariner, should our property perish and
our children go supperless to bed, when we can insure our ships and
still make large profits? Would the planter reconcile himself to a law
which forbade him to harness his teams or use the hoe or the plough, and
bade him lie down and die of hunger beside fruitful fields? Does the
Constitution of the Union, which empowers Congress to regulate commerce,
authorize its destruction? And if it is the intent of Government merely
to protect our ships abroad, why are foreign vessels forbidden to
purchase or export our perishing fish and provisions? and why is our
property to be confiscated and heavy fines to be imposed, if we send it
across the Canada line, where there is no risk of seizure?--And when, in
the progress of events, it became apparent that France approved of our
Embargo, and that England, opening new marts for her trade and new
sources of supplies in Russia, Spain, India, and Spanish America, was
without a rival on the ocean, monopolizing the trade and becoming the
carrier of the world, it was impossible to reconcile the Eastern States
to this general interdict.

Many a rich man was ruined, many a prosperous town was utterly
prostrated by the shock. Property, real and personal, fell from thirty
to sixty per cent., affecting by its fall all classes of society.
A spirit of hostility to the party in power was engendered, which
outlasted the war with England, and continued to glow until Monroe had
adopted the great Federal measures of a navy, a military academy, and an
enlarged system of coast-defence.

Half a century has now elapsed since the signal failure of the Embargo.
The theorists who planned it, the cabinet that adopted it, the
politicians who blindly sustained it have passed from the stage. Angry
feelings have subsided. The measure itself has become a part of the
history of the country; but now that our commerce has again expanded,
now that our navigation, for at least a quarter of a century, has
continued to progress until it has outstripped that of Great Britain in
speed, despatch, and capacity to carry, now that it knows no superior
either in ancient or modern times, it is a fitting moment to investigate
the causes and effects of the measure which once arrested its progress.
Its history is replete with lessons; and if our late President has
failed in other particulars, he at least cautioned us, in his inaugural
address, "that our commerce and navigation are again exceeding the means
provided for their defence," and recommended "an increase of a navy now
inadequate to the protection of our vast tonnage afloat," greater than
that of any other nation, "as well as to the defence of our extended
sea-coast." To ascertain and appreciate the true causes of the Embargo,
we must ascend to the origin of our commerce and trace it downward.

The Pilgrims who sought freedom in New England were enterprising men.
The country in which they landed kindled a commercial spirit. Natural
ports and havens, vast forests of pine and oak suitable for spars and
timber, abundance of fish and whales, and the occasional failure of
their crops, all invited them to the deep. Under the rule of Governor
Winthrop, the shallop Blessing of the Bay was built at his Ten Hills
farm, and made a voyage to Virginia. Boats, soon followed by sloops,
engaged in the fisheries; brigs and ships were built for the trade with
England. Boston became noted for ship-building, and Portsmouth supplied
the royal navy with spars. The fleet which took Port Royal in 1710 was
composed principally of American ships. The New England volunteers who
in 1745 captured the fortress of Louisburg from the veteran troops of
France were conveyed by ten American ships of war.

As early as 1765, six hundred sail from Massachusetts were engaged in
the fisheries, and many American vessels pursued the trade to England,
Spain, and the West Indies. The towns of Salem, Marblehead, and
Gloucester were almost surrounded by fish-flakes. Fish, lumber, and
provisions were the great basis of trade. Ships were built and laden
with timber, and sold with their lading in English ports. Cargoes were
made up of fish, live stock, and boards, for the West India Islands.
The returns were shipped to Spain and Portugal, and there exchanged
for silk, iron, fruit, wines, and bills on England. Occasionally ships
joined the Jamaica fleet, or adventured on bolder voyages to the French
islands; but the admiralty courts at Tortola and New Providence, often
supposed to be in league with English admirals, repressed the spirit of
adventure, and annually condemned American ships on the most frivolous
pretences. The fame of American whalers had already reached England.
Burke, in his celebrated speech on America, alludes to their enterprise.
"We find them," he says, "in the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's
Bay, and again beneath the frozen serpent of the South.....What sea
is not vexed by their fisheries? what climate is not witness to their

No record is to be found of the shipping of the Colonies prior to the
Revolution, but there is reason to suppose that it must have exceeded
two hundred thousand tons. During the Revolution the merchantmen went
generally to decay or were captured. Some were equipped as privateers.
But after seven years a ship is in its dotage. New vessels were built
and armed. The models which figure in old pictures, with high sterns and
bows, proved too clumsy for war, and modern forms were adopted. At least
five hundred armed vessels were fitted out in the commercial States, and
among them one hundred and fifty-eight from the single port of Salem.
Some of these vessels mounted twenty guns; they captured large numbers
of English vessels, and performed feats on the ocean as brilliant as
any upon the land. At the close of the war, our shipping, although it
included many prizes, was undoubtedly reduced; but it had changed its
character. Our ships had improved in size and speed, and were manned by
officers and seamen who had measured their strength with Englishmen,
and acknowledged no superiors. From the Peace of 1783 to the Embargo
of 1807, a period of twenty-four years, is a remarkable epoch in the
history of American navigation.

At the close of the war, the country was exhausted by its long and
protracted struggle with the colossal power of England. The Eastern
States, which furnished most of the shipping, had made great sacrifices,
and had contributed more than their share in men, money, and ships to
the common defence. They were creditor States, and their means
were locked up in "final settlements." Their remaining capital was
insufficient to equip their vessels and give them full cargoes. The
country was impoverished, too, by the suits of foreign creditors, to
whom our merchants had become deeply indebted before the war. Under
these circumstances, commerce was slowly resumed. For several years
our exports did not exceed ten millions. But our merchants were not
disheartened; they gradually enlarged their trade and extended their
field of adventure; privateers were put into the India trade, and
entered into successful rivalry with the more cumbrous ships of the
East India Companies. The new Constitution was adopted, the public debt
funded, and duties imposed to meet the interest. The war-worn officer,
the patriotic merchant, and the humble capitalist, who had relied on the
honor and justice of the country, were paid in public stocks which found
favor abroad. Old capital was resuscitated and became the basis of

In 1793 our tonnage had risen to 488,000 tons; and in 1799 it had grown
to 939,488 tons, and was still increasing. The aggressions of France
in 1798 and 1799 were met with a bold spirit and proved of brief
continuance, a proper chastisement was inflicted on the corsairs of
Africa, the honor of the flag was maintained, our commerce moved onward
until the close of 1807, and by the official report of that year our
tonnage had increased to 1,208,735 tons, or at least five hundred per
cent. in the first twenty-four years after the close of the war. The
revenue had risen to fifteen millions, and the official report of the
Treasurer showed a balance in the Treasury of eighteen millions in bonds
and money; it stated, also, that twenty-six millions of the public debt
had been extinguished in the seven years preceding. Our ships, too,
had become the great carriers of the deep; our exports for 1807 were
$108,343,750, of which $59,622,558 were of foreign origin; our ports,
remote from the seat of war, had become the depots of goods; and our
commerce, whitening the surface of every ocean, had begun to tempt the
cupidity of contending nations. In 1807, the United States, in addition
to its domestic produce, which went principally to English ports,
exported of foreign goods, in round numbers, to

Holland, . . . . . . . . $14,000,000
French ports, . . . . . . 13,000,000
Spanish " . . . . . . 14,000,000
Italian " . . . . . . 5,500,000
Danish " . . . . . . 2,500,000
English and other ports,. 10,000,000

In those prosperous days of navigation, during the first period of
twenty-four years after the Peace of 1783, the merchants of our country
were accumulating riches; but a check was given to their prosperity by
the Embargo, closely followed by acts of non-intercourse, by war, and
by sixteen years of debility which ensued. In 1814, our tonnage was
diminished to 1,159,288 tons, a point actually below that of 1807; and
at the close of the second epoch of twenty-four years, in 1831, during
which our population had doubled, the tonnage remained at 1,267,846
tons, having virtually made no progress in the second epoch of
twenty-four years, commencing with the Embargo.

We now enter upon the third epoch of equal length, from 1831 to 1855,
which stands out in bold relief a striking contrast to the gloomy
period which it followed, and bears some resemblance to the epoch which
preceded the Embargo, showing the recuperative power of a commerce
destined to float after the most disastrous shipwreck.

Peace had continued down to 1831; the debt incurred during the war was
at length reduced; new breeds of sheep were imported, and manufactures,
aided by new inventions, were established on a permanent basis; our new
fabrics began to demand more raw material; the culture of cotton
was thus extended; railways were constructed; England, relaxing her
commercial code, opened her marts to our breadstuffs; the great
discovery of gold followed. Each of these causes gave an impulse to
navigation, and at the close of the third epoch of twenty-four years,
in 1855, our tonnage had outstripped that of England both in amount and
effective power, and had risen by the official report to 5,212,000 tons,
exhibiting a gain of more than three hundred per cent. The ratio of its
advance may be inferred from the following table:--

Tonnage of ships built in 1818 55,856
do. do. 1831 85,962
do. do. 1832 144,539
do. do. 1848 318,072
do. do. 1855 583,451

Let us contrast these three epochs we have named. During the first, our
navigation sprang from infancy to manhood, surmounting all obstacles and
bidding defiance to all foes. In the second, in the vigor of manhood, it
was withdrawn by a mysterious and pusillanimous policy from the ocean.
This very timidity invited aggression, seizures and war followed, and
the growth was checked for nearly the fourth of a century. In the third
epoch it resumed its onward march, stimulating improvement, and thereby
accelerating its own progress, until at length the offspring has
surpassed the parent and taken the lead in navigation. Mark the
contrast: the three epochs were of equal length: the first witnessed
a growth of five hundred per cent.; in the second there was an entire
paralysis; in the third, renewed progress of more than three hundred per

What were the causes that confined the young giant to a Procrustean bed
for a quarter of a century?

The subject has become history, and we can now calmly investigate it
by the light of the past and the present. May not this investigation
illumine the path of the future? Let us examine the maritime policy of
our nation during each period.

At the close of the Revolution there was no navy, and few ships to be
protected. Our private armed vessels were converted into merchantmen,
our solitary ship of the line was presented to France, and we had no
frigates worth preserving.

The first great effort of the country was to form a constitution; the
second, to provide for the creditors who had sustained the nation; the
third, to provide a revenue to meet expenses and interest. And these
were all successful. As commerce advanced, the Federal party under
Washington revived the idea of a navy, and on March 11th, 1794, against
the opposition of Madison, they carried a bill through Congress for
the construction of six frigates. Under this bill, the Constitution,
Constellation, and United States, all since identified with the fame
of our country, were commenced, but they were not launched until the
accession of John Adams in 1797.

Washington, in his Farewell Address, gave the sanction of his name to
a navy, as well as to the West Point Academy, and to a system of
harbor-defence. He thus marked out the great outlines; but the
founder of the navy was John Adams. Nurtured among the hardy sons of
Massachusetts, familiar with their exploits upon the ocean during the
war both in private and public service, he felt assured of their ability
to cope with the Mistress of the Seas. When France seized our ships and
undertook to involve us in European wars, Adams renounced her alliance
and called for the creation of a navy. In his annual message in 1797,
he spoke of "a navy as next to the militia the natural defence of the
United States." In 1798 the three frigates above-mentioned were
finished and sent to sea, and soon after the Constellation captured the
Insurgent. During the same year Congress voted to construct six
more frigates, twelve sloops-of-war, and six smaller vessels, and
appropriated a million for the frames of six ships of the line, two
millions for timber, and fifty thousand dollars for two dock-yards.
At the same time, in response to a vote of Congress authorizing the
acceptance of additional ships, $711,700 were subscribed, and the
frigates Essex, Connecticut, Merrimack, and other vessels, constructed
and turned over to the Government by the merchants of Salem,
Newburyport, Hartford, and other seaports.

To illustrate the spirit with which the merchants responded to the call
for a navy, we may cite the action of the Federal county of Essex, none
of whose towns at that period contained over ten thousand inhabitants.
This county had contributed more armed ships and men to the War of the
Revolution than any other county in the Union, and was conspicuous for
its enterprise and patriotism before the embargo, non-intercourse, and
war had crushed its commerce.

The merchants of Essex assembled and subscribed the funds for the
frigates Essex and Merrimack, the first of which was built at Salem and
the other at Newburyport, and both of New-England oak; and this effort
was the more remarkable, as they advanced the money while the Government
found it difficult to borrow at eight per cent., and these patriotic men
afterwards took their pay in depreciated six per cent. stock at par.

We have not the history of the Merrimack; but the Essex, a frigate of
thirty-two guns, begun in April, was launched in September, 1799, and
the best commentary upon the policy of the measure and upon the skill
and fidelity of her builders is the fact that she proved the fastest
ship in the navy, that she lasted thirty-eight years, namely, till 1837,
that she cost for hull, spars, sails, and rigging, when ready to receive
her armament and stores, but $75,473.59, and that under the gallant
Porter, in the War of 1812, she captured the British corvette Alert, of
twenty guns, a transport with one hundred and ninety-seven troops
for Canada, and twenty-three other prizes, valued at two millions of
dollars; she also broke up the British whale-fishing in the Pacific; and
when finally captured at Valparaiso by two ships of superior force, who
would not venture within reach of her carronades, she fought a battle
of three hours' duration, which does honor to the country. While this
frigate was building, so fast did the timber come in, that the spirited
contractor, Mr. Briggs, was obliged to insert the following notice in
the Salem paper to check the supply.


"Through the medium of the Gazette the subscriber pays his
acknowledgments to the good people of the County of Essex, for their
spirited exertions in bringing down the trees of the Forest for building
the Frigate.

"In the short space of four weeks the full complement of timber has been
furnished. Those who have contributed to their country's defence are
invited to come forward and receive the reward of their patriotism. They
are informed that with the permission of a kind Providence who hath
hitherto favored the undertaking, that

"Next September is the time
When we'll launch her from the strand,
And our cannon load and prime
With tribute due to Talleyrand."

The promise was fulfilled on September 30th, 1799. The hills in the
vicinity and the rocks upon the shores were covered with people
assembled to witness the launch, and the guns of the frigate were
planted on an eminence "to speak aloud the joy of the occasion."

A correspondent of the "Gazette" gave the following jubilant account of
the affair.

"And Adams said, Let there be a Navy, and there was a Navy. To build a
navy was the advice of our venerable sage. How far it has been adhered
to is demonstrated by almost every town' in the United States that is
capable of floating a Galley or Gunboat. Salem has not been backward in
this laudable design; impressed with a due sense of the importance of
a Navy, the patriotic citizens of this town put out a subscription and
thereby obtained an equivalent for building a vessel of force. Among
the foremost in this good work were Messrs. Derby & Gray, who set the
example by subscribing ten thousand dollars each,--but, alas, the former
is no more; we trust his good deeds follow him. Yesterday the stars and
stripes were unfurled on board the Frigate Essex, and at twelve o'clock
she made a majestic movement into her destined element, there to join
her sister-craft in repelling foreign invasion and maintaining the
rights and liberties of 'a great, free, peaceful, and independent

The early reports under Adams give the estimated cost of a ship of the
line as $400,000; and the first frigates actually cost as follows:--

Constellation $314,212
Constitution 302,718
United States 299,336
President 220,910
Chesapeake 220,679
Congress 197,246
Essex, with armament and stores 139,202

In 1799 the estimates for the navy were raised to four millions and
a half, and large appropriations were continued in 1800. Under these
appropriations several navy-yards were established, and frames of
live-oak and cedar were furnished for eight ships of the line. The
energy of the Administration produced corresponding effects, convoys
were provided for our merchantmen, insurance fell from twenty to ten per
cent., and France, impressed by our spirit and armament, retired from
the contest.

At the close of 1800 the navy had made great progress; and the Secretary
of the Navy, Hon. Benjamin Stoddard of Baltimore, proposed in 1801 an
annual appropriation of one million for its increase.

But in 1801 the spirited administration of Adams came to an end. He had
favored the payment of the national debt; he had dared to anticipate the
future, to impose taxes and provide ships; he had aided the formation
of a military academy and advocated a system of coast-defence, and had
boldly asserted our national rights against the French Republic; and yet
he loved peace so well, that, against the advice and wishes of his party
and his cabinet, he sent a minister to France, who made an honorable
treaty. Posterity sees little to censure in all these measures, for
they evince the courage and forecast of the great Statesman of the
Revolution; but they were assailed by his opponents, and aided in
effecting his defeat.

Jefferson came into power as the advocate of retrenchment and
reform,--captivating terms! Under his administration the military
academy was thrown into the shade, the coast-defences were forgotten,
most of the new frigates and sloops built by patriotic citizens were
sold, the navy reduced to ten frigates, half of which were suffered to
decay, the frames of the ships of the line were used for repairs, and
the appropriations for the increase of the navy were reduced to the
pitiful sum of a quarter of a million, which was applied principally to
gunboats. Of these Jefferson built no less than one hundred and seventy,
at a cost of $10,500 each,--incurring for the construction and
maintenance of this flotilla an expense of nearly three millions,
without a particle of benefit to the country.

We would not detract from the services of Jefferson. Posterity will
honor him as the Patriot of the Revolution, as the champion of the
rights of man; but will it not trace to his policy as a statesman, in
the cabinet of Washington, in the opposition to Adams, and in the
office of President, the grave errors from which sprang the embargo,
non-intercourse, and the second war with England? At the close of his
administration in 1809, he claimed credit for having left eighteen
millions in the Treasury after payment of twenty-six millions of the
debt of the Revolution in less than seven years, and his successor,
Madison, in 1812, had over eleven millions in funds and cash in the
Treasury after the extinguishment of forty-nine millions of the
Revolutionary debt,--the expenses of Government, in the mean time,
exclusive of the debt, having averaged from five to seven millions only.
But parsimony is not always economy.

The embargo cost the nation at least forty millions; non-intercourse
twenty more; the war in three years added one hundred and thirteen
millions to the debt, with at least an equal loss by the sacrifice of
commerce and heavy drafts by taxes: and if the embargo, non-intercourse,
and war can be traced to the loss of the navy, we find a saving of a
million per annum in ships dearly purchased by a loss of capital which,
at compound interest, would exceed to-day one-third the computed wealth
of the nation.

Had the policy of Adams been continued from 1800 to 1808, the annual
million, aided by the live-oak and cedar frames, the three millions paid
for gun-boats, and the frigates on hand when Jefferson came into power,
would have provided or placed upon the stocks ten ships of the line,
forty frigates, and ten sloops-of-war. If with the increase of revenue
this estimate had been doubled in 1808, the material collected and the
ships held back until the latter part of 1812, the country would have
been supplied with twenty sail of the line, fifty frigates, and thirty
sloops-of-war,--a force which would have employed at least threefold its
number of English ships, upon our coast, upon the passage, and in the
dock-yards. Impressment, orders in council, paper blockades, would have
gone down before such a force of American ships ere one-tenth of it had
left our harbors; for England, distressed for men and at war with the
Continent, could not have spared the ships required to meet such a navy.
The reports of Jefferson and Madison now make it apparent, that, without
omitting to pay one instalment of the debt, they could have carried out
the policy of Adams and provided a navy the very aspect of which would
have commanded the respect and deference of the only foe we had occasion
to dread.

This point is most forcibly illustrated by the speeches of Lowndes and
Cheves of South Carolina in Congress a few years later, cited by Henry
Clay in 1812, in which they very justly say,--"If England should
determine to station permanently on our coast a squadron of twelve ships
of the line, she would require for this service thirty-six ships of
the line, one-third in port repairing, one-third on the passage, and
one-third on the station; but that is a force which it has been shown
England, with her limited navy, could not spare for the American
service." For once, at least, two of the gifted sons of South Carolina
sustained the views of Massachusetts. The War of the Revolution and
the War of 1812 have both demonstrated that England can maintain no
permanent blockade through the winter on our waters, and the largest
fleet upon our Atlantic coast during the last war did not exceed twenty
sail of armed vessels of all sizes.

Jefferson, in his "Notes on Virginia," in 1785 had expressed his views
on our maritime policy in the following terms:--

"You ask me what I think of the expediency of encouraging our States
to become commercial. Were I to indulge my own theory, I wish them to
practise neither commerce or navigation, but to stand with respect to
Europe precisely on the footing of China."

We have seen the commercial policy of Adams illustrated by the
creation of a navy; we now see the anti-commercial theory of Jefferson
illustrated by its overthrow.

He was once tempted to concede that we might apply a year's revenue to
a navy, but that year he never designated. Perhaps, if he could have
foreseen the unceremonious way in which a few English frigates have
of late years dealt with China, or the facility with which they have
compelled her to pay millions for a drug alike pernicious to character
and health, or the report of the treaty and tribute dictated from
the walls of Pekin,--or could he have foreseen the progress of Lord
Cochrane's frigates up the Potomac, regardless of his gunboats,--could
he have foreshadowed the conflagration of the Capitol and the exit of
the Cabinet,--he would perhaps have attached more importance to a navy
and found less to admire in the policy of China, and doubtless his
immediate successor would not have aimed a side-blow at our army and
navy, as he did, in suggesting "that the fifteenth century was the
unhappy epoch of military establishments in the time of peace."

But our country, under Jefferson and Madison, for twelve years adopted
the blind policy of China. The navy was suffered to decay. In 1807 but
one frigate and five sloops-of-war were in commission. The Federal
party, however, although in a weak minority, did not tamely submit to
the unhappy policy of Southern statesmen; and individuals even of the
dominant party opposed it. Among these, the late Justice Story, who in
1807 represented the County of Essex in Congress, made an effort for
the revival of the navy. But it was objected, on the part of the
Administration, that such a force would be impotent against Great
Britain. Williams, subsequently Governor of South Carolina, insisted,
that, if we built ships, they would all fall into the hands of the
British; and the capture of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen was
instanced,--the fall of Genoa, Venice, and Carthage, notwithstanding
their navies, being also cited. Story, with almost a prescience of the
future, urged in its favor,--"I was born among the hardy sons of the
ocean, and I cannot doubt their courage or their skill; if Great Britain
ever gets possession of our present little navy, it will be at the
expense of the best blood of the country, and after a struggle which
will call for more of her strength than she has ever found necessary for
a European enemy." To which Williams replied,--"If our rights are only
so to be saved, I would abandon the ocean." And in December, 1807, the
ocean was abandoned.

No additions were made to the navy during the period of the embargo or
non-intercourse, nor was a new ship sent to sea until after the peace;
and at the commencement of the war, in June, 1812, the country had
neither navy, fortifications, nor disciplined troops. The relics of the
Federal navy then consisted of five frigates and seven sloops and brigs
in commission, and three frigates under repair,--a feeble force, indeed,
with which to meet the Mistress of the Seas, but which demonstrated by
its achievements what fifty or a hundred sail might have accomplished.

In 1812, Quincy, in the House, and Lloyd, in the Senate, both from
Massachusetts, advocated a navy, and Clay and Davies, of the West,
raised their voices in its support; but their efforts were unavailing.

James Lloyd, who combined the intelligent merchant with the statesman,
thus addressed the Senate:--"To make an impression on England, we must
have a navy. Give us thirty swift-sailing, well-appointed frigates. In
line-of-battle ships and fleet engagements, skill and experience would
decide the victory. We are not ripe for them; but bolt together a
British and American frigate side by side, and though we should lose
sometimes, we should win as often. Give us this little fleet. Place your
Navy Department under an able and spirited administration; cashier every
officer who strikes his flag; and you will soon have a good account of
your navy. This may be thought a hard tenure of service; but, hard or
easy, I will engage in five weeks, yes, in five days, to officer this
fleet from New England alone. Give us this little fleet, and in a
quarter of the time in which you would operate upon her in any other
way, we would bring Great Britain to terms. To terms, not to your feet.
No, Sir! Great Britain is at this moment the most colossal power the
world ever saw. It is true she has an enormous national debt. Her daily
expenditure would in six short weeks wipe off all we owe. But will these
millstones sink her? will they subject her to the power of France? No,
Sir! let the bubble burst to-morrow,--destroy the fragile basis on which
her public credit stands,--sponge out her national debt,--and, dreadful
as would be the process, she would rise with renewed vigor from the
fall, and present to her enemy a more imposing, irresistible front than
ever. No, Sir! Great Britain cannot be subjected by France. The genius
of her institutions, the genuine game-cock, bulldog spirit of her
people, will lift her head above the waves. From this belief I
acknowledge I derive a satisfaction. In New England our blood is
unmixed. We are the direct descendants of Englishmen. We are natives of
the soil. In the Legislature, now in session, of the once powerful and
still respectable State of Massachusetts, composed of more than seven
hundred members, to my knowledge not a single foreigner holds a seat. As
Great Britain wrongs us, I would fight her. Yet I should be worse than
a barbarian, did I not rejoice that the sepulchres of our forefathers,
which are in that country, shall remain unsacked, and their coffins rest
undisturbed, by the unhallowed rapacity of the Goths and Saracens of
modern Europe. Let us have these thirty frigates. Powerful as Great
Britain is, she could not blockade them; with our hazardous shores and
tempestuous northwest gales, from November to March, all the navies in
the world could not blockade them. Divide them into six squadrons; place
those squadrons in the Northern ports, ready for sea; and at favorable
moments we would pounce upon her West India Islands,--repeating the game
of De Grasse and D'Estaing in '79 and '80. By the time she was ready to
meet us there, we would be round Cape Horn, cutting up her whalemen.
Pursued thither, we could skim away to the Indian Seas, and would give
an account of her China and India ships very different from that of the
French cruisers. Now we would follow her Quebec, and now her Jamaica
convoys; sometimes make our appearance in the chops of the Channel, and
even sometimes wind north about into the Baltic. It would require a
hundred British frigates to watch the movements of these thirty. Such
are the means by which I would bring Great Britain to her senses. By
harassing her commerce with this fleet, we could make the people ask the
Government why they continued to violate our rights; whether it were for
her interest to sever the chief tie between her and us, by compelling
us to become a manufacturing people (and on this head we could make an
exhibition that would astonish both friends and foes); what she was to
gain by forcing us prematurely to become a naval power, destined one
day or other to dispute with her the sceptre of the ocean? We could, in
short, bring the people to ask the Government, For whose benefit is this
war? And the moment this is brought about on both sides of the water,
the business is finished; you would only have to agree on fair and equal
terms of peace."

And Daniel Webster, just entering upon public life, made one of his
earliest efforts in Congress for a navy. In his characteristic manner,
he urged, in 1814,--"If war must continue, go to the ocean; let it no
longer be said, not one ship of force built by your hands since the war
yet floats; if you are seriously contending for maritime rights, go to
the theatre where alone those rights can be defended. Thither every
indication of your future calls you. There the united wishes and
exertions of the nation will go with you."

But a Southern Cabinet still clung to the Chinese policy, and the war
for maritime rights was confided to a raw militia upon the land, while
Hull, Bainbridge, Stewart, Porter, and Barney were performing the very
feats which Lloyd had pictured to the Senate. A vote, it is true, was at
length passed, to build four ships of the line, six frigates, and six
sloops; but none were finished before the close of the war; and it
was not until after its conclusion that the Democratic party, so long
opposed to Federal measures, and triumphant from their very opposition,
after a loss of at least three hundred millions, caused by their
abandonment, gave the most conclusive proof of their value by funding
the debt, re-establishing the navy, reviving the Military Academy at
West Point, fortifying the coast, and making a tariff for revenue with
incidental protection. Well might party-strife cease under the veteran
Monroe; for Democracy had become Federalized.

The sketch thus given of the rise and progress of our navigation, and of
the origin and decline of our navy, affords us a commanding view of the
position of our nation when it adopted the Chinese policy and withdrew
from the ocean.

Let us now glance for a moment at the state of Europe at the close
of 1807. The great struggle of England and France was in progress.
Napoleon, by his brilliant exploits, had subdued Italy and Holland,
established the Empire, and by the battles of Marengo, Jena, Austerlitz,
and Friedland, humbled Austria, overwhelmed Prussia, and conquered a
peace with Russia. The Continent, from the Pyrenees to the Vistula, was
subject to his sway, and he had closed it against the manufactures
of England. This nation, alike victorious on the sea, had nearly
annihilated the navy of France, captured the fleet of Denmark, swept
the French and Dutch ships from the ocean, and was now seizing the
possessions of France and Holland in the Indies. Regardless of neutral
rights, she had declared every part of the Continent, from the Pyrenees
to the Elbe, in a state of blockade.

To escape impressment, or to obtain higher wages, many of her seamen
enlisted in our service. Anxious to reclaim them and to man all her
ships, she followed them into American vessels, and impressed American
seamen as Englishmen, without the least respect to the rights of a
neutral that did not assert by arms the dignity of its flag.

Neither of the parties in the excitement of the great conflict was
disposed to respect the rights of the United States, a neutral without
an army or a fleet, and too timid to arm its own merchantmen; and the
purpose of both seemed to be to compel these merchantmen to contribute
to the war. England, in addition to her blockade, required all neutrals
bound for the Continent to pay duties in her ports; and France
retaliated by declaring all neutral ships which had paid such tribute
denationalized and subject to confiscation, and without a frigate on the
ocean declared all the ports of England in a state of blockade. There
can be no question now that the acts of both parties were a violation of
the rights of every neutral.

England, in her sober moments, has tacitly relinquished her claim to
impress beneath the American flag; paper blockades and the right of
search are no longer recognized in the maritime code of either England
or France; and there can be no doubt that our country could, at a later
period, have made reclamation on England for seizures, as she has done
upon France, Naples, and Denmark; but the policy of our rulers had left
us destitute of means either of offence or defence, and of the power to
resent any indignity. Three courses were open to us. The first was to
devote the funds in the Treasury at once to the creation of a navy; to
commence ten or twelve ships of the line in our dock-yards, and twenty
frigates in the ship-yards of Boston, Salem, Portsmouth, New York, and
Philadelphia; to build them as the Constitution and Constellation were
built before; and to appeal to the merchants who built the Essex and
Connecticut to build more, and to take their pay in certificates of
stock. In one twelvemonth a navy might have been created; and the note
of preparation sounded by a nation enriched by the peaceful commerce of
a quarter of a century, and now refreshed for a new struggle, would have
been most influential with the conflicting powers.

Another course was open to us. More than two-thirds of our commerce was
with English ports, or ports remote from France; for England, Spain,
Sweden, Norway, Russia, the Indies were open to our commerce. The
premium of insurance against French capture was but five per cent, on
ships bound to those ports; for scarcely a French privateer dared show
itself on the ocean.

Our nation had cause of war with France, for France was at war with
commerce and had invaded her rights; and our little navy, small as it
was, and our merchantmen, if allowed to arm, might have bid defiance to
France. England, then, would have respected our rights as allies; or,
as our commerce was lucrative and paid profits that would cover an
occasional seizure, we might have put our merchants on their guard,
allowed them to arm their ships, and have temporized until the
conflicting powers of the Old World had exhausted their strength, and we
had grown strong enough to demand reparation.

We owned at this period from eight to ten thousand vessels, and built
annually nearly a thousand more. All the ships seized from 1800 to
1812 did not average one hundred and fifty yearly, of which more than
one-third were released, and indemnity finally paid for half the
residue: namely, there were 917 seized by England, more than half
released; 558 seized by France, one-fourth released; 70 seized by
Denmark; 47 seized by Naples, and more property was detained by France
than England. But the sympathies of our Cabinet were with Napoleon; a
moment had arrived when he had determined to reverse the laws of trade
and exclude the exports of England from the Continent; and our rulers,
regardless of our own commerce, determined to withhold all our produce,
to cut off the raw material from England at the moment she had lost
the sale of her exports, and by this combined process to bring her to
submission. They forgot, for the moment, how impossible it is to reverse
the great laws of trade; that we thus gratuitously resigned to her the
commerce of the globe; that China, the Indies, with their inexhaustible
supplies, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Russia, and Africa, were open to her
ships and might fill the vacuum. The hazardous experiment was made. Let
us trace the progress of events.

May 16, 1806, England passed her Orders in Council, declaring the ports
and rivers from Brest to the Elbe in a state of blockade. November 21,
1806, Napoleon issued his Berlin Decree, declaring the British ports
blockaded. January 6, 1807, England prohibited all coastwise trade with
France, and November 11, 1807, prohibited all neutrals from trading with
France or her allies, except on payment of duties to England. December
17, 1807, Napoleon issued his Milan Decree, confiscating all neutral
vessels that had been searched by English cruisers, or had paid duties
to England. December 16, 1807, the day preceding the date of the Milan
Decree, President Jefferson submitted to Congress the Embargo. The
Democratic party was then all-powerful, and the measure, after being
debated for a few days and nights in the House, and a few hours in the
Senate with closed doors, was adopted. This gratuitous surrender to
England of the commerce of the world, this measure whose objects were
veiled in mystery, conjectured, but not understood, became a law
December 22, 1807.

A leader of the Democratic party, in urging its passage, said,--"The
President has recommended the measure on his high responsibility. I
would not consider, I would not deliberate, I would act; doubtless the
President possesses such further information as would justify such a
measure." And the pliant majority acquiesced.

After the passage of the Embargo Act, other acts were speedily passed
to give it efficacy. By these, forfeitures of threefold the value of
merchandise were imposed on those who violated its provisions, vessels
were obliged to give heavy bonds to land their cargoes in the United
States, and all shipments to frontier posts were prohibited. Under these
acts the shipment of flour coastwise was forbidden, except upon permits
issued at the pleasure of the President, upon the requisition of
Governors of States, most of whom were members of the dominant party.
And last of all came the Enforcing Act, under the provisions of which
the collectors were armed with power to call out the militia at their
discretion and upon suspicion of an intent to violate the law, to
require vessels that had given bonds to discharge their cargoes, and
to detain every suspected vessel engaged in the coasting-trade. These
measures did not pass without opposition. Although the minority was weak
in numbers, it was not deficient in talent.

In the House, Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, at that period the great
commercial State, was the Federal leader; and he now, after the lapse
of half a century, still survives in a green old age to see his policy
vindicated by the verdict of history.

Quincy, in various speeches, urged upon Congress,--

"You undertake to protect better the property of the merchant than his
own sense of personal interest would induce him to protect it.

"Suppose the embargo passes; will France forego a policy designed to
crush Great Britain and secure her way to universal empire, or England a
policy essential to her national existence? It is all very well to talk
of the patriotism and quiet submission of the people of the interior;
they cannot help submitting, they will have no opportunity to break the
embargo. But they whose ships lie on the edge of the ocean laden with
produce, with the alternative before them of total ruin or a rich
market, are in a totally different condition."

Again said Quincy,--

"Never before did society witness a total prohibition of all intercourse
like this in a commercial nation. But it has been asked in debate, 'Will
not Massachusetts, the Cradle of Liberty, submit to such privations?' An
Embargo Liberty was never cradled in Massachusetts. Our Liberty was not
so much a mountain-nymph as a sea-nymph. She was free as air. She could
swim, or she could run. The ocean was her cradle. Our fathers met her as
she came, like the Goddess of Beauty, from the waves. They caught her as
she was sporting on the beach. They courted her while she was spreading
her nets upon the rocks. But an Embargo Liberty, a handcuffed Liberty,
Liberty in fetters, a Liberty traversing between the four sides of a
prison and beating her head against the walls, is none of our offspring.
We abjure the monster! Its parentage is all inland.

"Is embargo independence? Deceive not yourselves! it is palpable
submission! France and Great Britain require you to relinquish a part of
your commerce, and you relinquish it entirely! At every corner of this
great city we meet some gentlemen of the majority wringing their hands
and exclaiming, 'What shall we do? nothing but an embargo will save us;
remove it, and what shall we do?' Sir, it is not for me, an humble and
uninfluential individual, at an awful distance from the predominant
influences, to suggest plans for Government. But, to my eye, the path
of duty is as distinct as the Milky Way,--all studded with living
sapphires, glowing with light. It is the path of active preparation, of
dignified energy. It is the path of 1776. It consists not in abandoning
our rights, but in supporting them as they exist and where they
exist,--_on the ocean as well as on the land_."

Troup of Georgia, one of the champions of the Democratic party, replied
to the Opposition,--"Shall we sacrifice the honor and independence of
the nation for a little trade in codfish and potash? Permission to arm
is equivalent to a declaration of war; make the embargo effective, and
it will show what all the great commercial politicians have said
is true,--it will vitally affect the manufacturing and commercial
interests of England."

As one coercive measure after another was proposed, John Randolph of
Roanoke, who had at first favored an embargo, came out against the
measure, and "warned the Administration that they were fast following in
the fatal footsteps of Lord North."

But one of the most effective speeches against the Democratic policy was
made in February, 1809, by Gardinier, who represented New York, a city
the creation of commerce.

"The avowed object of this policy," he said, "was to save our vessels
and property from capture; the real one seemed to be to establish a
total non-intercourse with the whole world. We are engaged perpetually
in making additions and supplements to the embargo. Wherever we can spy
a hole, although it be no bigger than a wheat-straw, at which industry
and enterprise can find vent, all our powers are called in requisition
to stop it. The people of the country shall sell nothing but what they
can sell to each other. All our surplus produce shall rot on our hands.
God knows what all this means; I cannot understand it. I see effects,
but I can trace them to no cause. I fear there is an unknown hand
guiding us to the most dreadful destinies, unseen, because it cannot
endure the light. Darkness and mystery overshadow the House and the
whole nation. We know nothing, we are permitted to know nothing. We sit
here as mere automata."

This speech nearly cost Gardinier his life, for he was in consequence of
it challenged and dangerously wounded; but the embargo was permitted to

The produce of the country fell sixty to seventy per cent. in value, and
much of it passed at low prices into the hands of British agents. Armed
ships from England appeared on the coast of Georgia and loaded with
cotton from lighters in defiance of Government, and Northern ships in
the outports occasionally eluded the vigilance of collectors or escaped
by their collusion; but the measure pressed with a crushing weight upon
the honest merchants and ship-owners.

When news of the Enforcing Act reached Boston, it was received with such
indignation, that General Lincoln, the collector of the port, resigned,
and the flags of the dismantled ships were hoisted at half-mast,
processions of starving sailors and mechanics passed through the
streets, and the whole community was highly excited; an excitement
increased by an order from the Cabinet to the commandant of the fort to
allow no vessel whatever to proceed to sea.

But the end of Jefferson's administration was approaching. He had come
in as the advocate of popular rights; and now at the close of his term
was enforcing measures more arbitrary than those which preceded the
Revolution. Madison was nominated as his successor. All New England,
save the inland State of Vermont, was revolutionized and voted against
him, while Maryland and New York chose Federal Assemblies. The South,
however, gave him its votes, and he was elected; but the tide of public
opinion was rolling strongly against the Embargo.

The new legislature of Massachusetts was convened; Governor Gore,
who had displaced Gerry, drew their attention to the arbitrary and
oppressive measures of Government; and the General Court, in their
reply, after denouncing those measures as illegal and unconstitutional,
used the memorable words, that "_they would be true to the Union,
although they had fallen under the ban of the Empire_."

The merchants determined to test the legality of the Enforcing Act; but
John Quincy Adams and Joseph Story repaired to Washington, and urged the
necessity of a repeal. Their representations, and the signal defeat of
the Democracy at the North, proved irresistible; and the Embargo, after
a protracted struggle, fell before them.

From this glance at the history of the Embargo we can account for the
asperity of feeling towards the Democratic leaders, and the distrust of
their measures and men, which pervaded New England from the passage of
the Embargo Act until the close of the war.

New England, and more especially Massachusetts, commercial from its
infancy, did not come into the Union to surrender its commerce,
navigation, or seamen to any visionary theories of the South. For nearly
two centuries it had struggled for all its liberties with the parent
empire. It had learned in the cruel school of oppression that the price
of freedom is perpetual vigilance.

Fifteen months had now elapsed since the laying of the embargo, and it
had more than realized all the presages of its opponents. Our minister,
Armstrong, had written from France, that it had produced no effect in
France and was forgotten in England. Pinckney, in England, did all in
his power to save the Administration, by offering to end the embargo, if
England would relax her policy; but Canning replied, that England had no
complaints to make, that Spain and Russia had been opened to her, and
the measure would serve to convince her that she was not absolutely
dependent on the trade of America; with cutting irony, he added, he
would make but one concession to America: she had complained that
England drew a tribute from her merchandise, when shipped to the
Continent; he would, out of deference to American delicacy, substitute a
total prohibition. He had the tact, also, to draw from Pinckney a letter
offering to concede many of the points in dispute, and published it with
an insolent commentary.

Jefferson still clung to the embargo; but Madison and his friends,
deferring to the reasons of Story and Adams, and yielding to the adverse
current now setting strongly against Democracy, March 9, 1809, repealed
the obnoxious act. Such was the end and signal failure of a measure
alike disastrous at home and abroad, a measure which had falsified all
the predictions of its author. Its avowed object was to secure our
seamen from impressment, to protect our commerce, and preserve our
ships; its presumed object was to cooeperate with France, and starve
England into submission: but none, of these objects were effected.
Instead of rescuing our seamen, it imprisoned them all at home, and
deprived them of the food which they found even in the prisons of the
enemy. Instead of protecting our commerce, it tamely resigned it to
England, and either left our exports to perish or reduced their value
sixty per cent. It seized all our ships at home, and left most of them
to decay, without giving the sufferer the claim to ultimate redress
which consoled him in cases of foreign seizure. It aided France so
little, that this "deed of magnanimity" was in a few months forgotten.
Instead of impoverishing or humbling England, it poured into her lap the
riches of the world, and increased the insolence of her tone; while it
impoverished our own nation, broke the spirit of the commercial classes
and alienated them from Government, and gave the first of a series of
blows to the nation from which it did not recover for a quarter of a

But the pusillanimous policy which prompted the embargo survived its
repeal. The Chinese theory still showed itself, not in measures for
defence, but in impotent measures for restriction or prohibition, and
finally in a declaration of war against England on the very eve of her
triumph by the power of her navy and commerce over the greatest captain
of the age: a war declared by our rulers without an army, navy,
officers, coast-defence, or national credit, for the avowed purpose of
securing free trade and sailors' rights by measures which the mercantile
community rejected. In its progress, the want of discipline, forts,
ships, munitions of war, credit abroad, and frugality at home, was most
severely felt; and the principal honor derived from it arose from the
exploits of the few frigates left to us by improvidence and parsimony,
from the achievements of the Northern troops of Scott, Brown, and
Miller, disciplined during the war, and the courage and sagacity of the
veteran Jackson and his Western volunteers behind their cotton ramparts
at New Orleans.

If, during the seven years of trial and suffering, from 1808 to 1815, in
which nearly one-half of the wealth of New England was extinguished, her
citizens became indignant at the wanton sacrifice of their means and
of the best opportunity Fortune ever gave them to gain riches by
commerce,--if the public sentiment found expression alike through
the press, in town-meetings, in legislative halls, and even in the
pulpit,--if the capitalists lost confidence in a government which
trifled with its own resources,--if the merchant refused all countenance
to those who had wrought his ruin,--let the blame fall on the
originators of the evil. Lord North did but impose a few light taxes,
place a few restrictions upon commerce, and make a few other inroads on
freedom; but he set a nation in flames. The Cabinets of 1807 and 1812
warred against commerce itself, and placed an interdict on every harbor;
and which of the measures of the British statesman was more arbitrary
in its character, more repugnant to the spirit of freemen, or more
questionable as to its legality, than the Enforcing Act of 1808? And
if the men of New England, who had in their colonial weakness met both
France and England by sea and land without a fear, saw the fruits of
their industry sacrificed and the bread taken from their children's
mouths by the Chinese policy of a Southern cabinet, might they not well
chafe under measures so oppressive and so unnecessary that they were
ingloriously abandoned? Under a dynasty whose policy had closed their
ports, silenced their cannon, nearly ruined their commerce, and left
their country without a navy, army, coast-defences, or national credit,
could they be expected to rush with ardor into a war with the greatest
naval power of the age, elated with her triumph over Napoleon,--into a
war to be prosecuted on land by raw recruits against the veteran troops
of England, for the avowed purpose of protecting the commerce of those
who opposed it, and in which munitions of war were to be dragged at
their expense across pathless forests,--into a war whose burdens were
to fall either in present or prospective charges upon their surviving
trade? Must they not have deeply felt that they were still under
"the ban of the Empire"? and is it not proof of the extent of their
patriotism and intense love of country, that under such trials and
adverse policy they were still "true to the Union"?

If Canada were desired, how easily might it have been acquired by a
wiser policy! A small loan to the State of New York, from surplus funds,
might have opened the Erie and Champlain Canals twenty years in advance
of their completion. A little aid to men of genius might have placed
Fulton's steamers, then navigating the Hudson, on the Lakes.

A dozen frigates to cruise in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would have cut
off supplies from England. The attractions of a new outlet for commerce,
aided by a few disciplined regiments, the command of the Lakes,
facilities for moving munitions of war and for intercepting supplies,
would have settled the question in advance. And instead of a series of
measures which embittered parties, created a jealousy between North
and South, called into the field one hundred and twenty thousand raw
militia, and absorbed in wasteful expenses nearly half our resources, we
should have reaped a golden harvest in commerce, preserved our wealth,
and have either avoided war, or terminated it in the same style in which
the Constitution, Constellation, and United States terminated their
conflicts on the deep, or as France and England terminated their recent
war with Russia, arresting their foe in his march of conquest, closing
his ports, destroying his fleet, seamen, and chief military station, and
nearly exhausting his resources,--and drawing the means of war from
commerce, have at the same time expanded our commerce, cities, and
wealth to a degree unparalleled in our history.

The past, however, is gone, and the future is before us. England,
conscious of her naval power, of her vast steam-marine, and of our
deficiencies, has not acceded to our proposal to exempt merchantmen from
seizure in future wars. Is it not now our policy to provide in advance
for the contingencies of the future,--to obtain the live-oak and cedar
frames, the engines, boilers, Paixhan guns for at least one hundred
steam-frigates, with coats of mail for some of them,--so that, instead
of spending years in their construction, launching them when the war is
over, and then leaving them to decay, we may, as the crisis approaches,
be able in a few months to fit out a fleet which, if not irresistible,
shall at least command respect? Accomplished officers and men can be
drawn from the merchant-service at short notice; but we cannot create
steamers in a moment.

The appropriations by Congress of late years for steam--frigates and
sloops-of-war, and for the defence of New York, New Bedford, Portland,
Bath, and Bangor,--for Bath, in particular, which owns nearly two
hundred thousand tons of shipping, and which builds more ships annually
than any other port in the Union, Boston excepted,--are most judicious;
but are there not other points which deserve the attention of
Government? Should not a few thousand rifled cannon, a good supply of
rifles, and a proportionate amount of powder and ball be deposited near
San Francisco, to enable us, in case of war, to convert our clipper
ships and steamers in the Pacific into cruisers? Should not batteries of
Paixhan guns be erected at the outlet of Long Island Sound, upon Gull
and Fisher's Islands and the opposite points, to convert the whole
Sound above into a fortified harbor, and thus defend New York and the
important seaports upon the Sound, and by these fortresses and a few
coast-batteries between Stonington and Newport, like those on the coast
of France, keep open during war an inland navigation for coal and flour
between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Pennsylvania, New York,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts? Should not these and
similar questions of national defence, in these days of extended
commerce, command the attention of the nation?

* * * * *


On Saturday afternoon, May 25th, 1822, a slave named Devany, belonging
to Colonel Prioleau of Charleston, South Carolina, was sent to market by
his mistress.--the Colonel being absent in the country. After doing his
errands, he strolled down upon the wharves, in the enjoyment of
that magnificent wealth of leisure which usually characterizes the
"house-servant" of the South, when once beyond hail of the street-door.
He presently noticed a small vessel lying in the stream, with a peculiar
flag flying; and while looking at it, he was accosted by a slave named
William, belonging to Mr. John Paul, who remarked to him,--"I have often
seen a flag with the number 76, but never one with the number 96 upon
it before." After some further conversation on this trifling point, he
continued with earnestness,--"Do you know that something serious is
about to take place?" Devany disclaiming the knowledge of any graver
impending crisis than the family dinner, the other went on to inform him
that many of the slaves were "determined to right themselves." "We are
determined," he added, "to shake off our bondage, and for that purpose
we stand on a good foundation; many have joined, and if you will go with
me, I will show you the man who has the list of names, and who will take
yours down."

This startling disclosure was quite too much for Devany; he was made of
the wrong material for so daring a project; his genius was culinary, not
revolutionary. Giving some excuse for breaking off the conversation, he
went forthwith to consult a free colored man, named Pensil or Pencell,
who advised him to warn his master instantly. So he lost no time in
telling the secret to his mistress and her young son; and on the return
of Colonel Prioleau from the country, five days afterward, it was at
once revealed to him. Within an hour or two he stated the facts to Mr.
Hamilton, the Intendant, or, as we should say, Mayor; Mr. Hamilton at
once summoned the Corporation, and by five o'clock Devany and William
were under examination.

This was the first warning of a plot which ultimately filled Charleston
with terror. And yet so thorough and so secret was the organization of
the negroes, that a fortnight passed without yielding the slightest
information beyond the very little which was obtained from these two.
William Paul was, indeed, put in confinement and soon gave evidence
inculpating two slaves as his employers,--Mingo Harth and Peter Poyas.
But these men, when arrested, behaved with such perfect coolness and
treated the charge with such entire levity, their trunks and premises,
when searched, were so innocent of all alarming contents, that they were
soon discharged by the Wardens. William Paul at length became alarmed
for his own safety, and began to let out further facts piecemeal, and to
inculpate other men. But some of those very men came voluntarily to the
Intendant, on hearing that they were suspected, and indignantly offered
themselves for examination. Puzzled and bewildered, the municipal
government kept the thing as secret as possible, placed the city guard
in an efficient condition, provided sixteen hundred rounds of ball
cartridges, and ordered the sentinels and patrols to be armed with
loaded muskets. "Such had been our fancied security, that the guard had
previously gone on duty without muskets and with only sheathed bayonets
and bludgeons."

It has since been asserted, though perhaps on questionable authority,
that the Secretary of War was informed of the plot, even including
some details of the plan and the leader's name, before it was known in
Charleston. If so, he utterly disregarded it; and, indeed, so well
did the negroes play their part, that the whole report was eventually
disbelieved, while (as was afterwards proved) they went on to complete
their secret organization, and hastened by a fortnight the appointed day
of attack. Unfortunately for their plans, however, another betrayal
took place at the very last moment, from a different direction. A
class-leader in a Methodist church had been persuaded or bribed by his
master to procure further disclosures. He at length came and stated,
that, about three months before, a man named Rolla, slave of Governor
Bennett, had communicated to a friend of his the fact of an intended
insurrection, and had said that the time fixed for the outbreak was the
following Sunday night, June 16th. As this conversation took place on
Friday, it gave but a very short time for the city authorities to act,
especially as they wished neither to endanger the city nor to alarm it.

Yet so cautiously was the game played on both sides, that the whole
thing was still kept hushed up from the Charleston public; and some
members of the city government did not fully appreciate their danger
till they had passed it. "The whole was concealed," wrote the Governor
afterwards, "until the time came; but secret preparations were made.
Saturday night and Sunday morning passed without demonstrations; doubts
were excited, and counter orders issued for diminishing the guard." It
afterwards proved that these preparations showed to the slaves that
their plot was betrayed, and so saved the city without public alarm.
Newspaper correspondence soon was full of the story,--each informant of
course hinting plainly that he had been behind the scenes all along,
and had withheld it only to gratify the authorities in their policy of
silence. It was "now no longer a secret," they wrote,--adding, that for
five or six weeks but little attention had been paid by the community to
these rumors, the city council having kept it carefully to themselves,
until a number of suspicious slaves had been arrested. This refers to
ten prisoners who were seized on June 18th,--an arrest which killed
the plot, and left only the terrors of what might have been. The
investigation, thus publicly commenced, soon revealed a free colored man
named Denmark Vesey as the leader of the enterprise,--among his chief
coadjutors being that innocent Peter and that unsuspecting Mingo who had
been examined and discharged nearly three weeks before.

It is matter of demonstration, that, but for the military preparations
on the appointed Sunday night, the attempt would have been made. The
ringleaders had actually met for their final arrangements, when, by
comparing notes, they found themselves foiled; and within another week
they were prisoners on trial. Nevertheless, the plot which they had laid
was the most elaborate insurrectionary project ever formed by American
slaves, and came the nearest to a terrible success. In boldness of
conception and thoroughness of organization there has been nothing
to compare with it, and it is worth while to dwell somewhat upon its
details, first introducing the _Dramatis Personae_.

Denmark Vesey had come very near figuring as a revolutionist in Hayti,
instead of South Carolina. Captain Vesey, an old resident of Charleston,
commanded a ship that traded between St. Thomas and Cape Francais,
during our Revolutionary War, in the slave-transportation line. In the
year 1781 he took on board a cargo of three hundred and ninety slaves,
and sailed for the Cape. On the passage, he and his officers were much
attracted by the beauty and intelligence of a boy of fourteen, whom they
unanimously adopted into the cabin as a pet. They gave him new clothes
and a new name, Telemaque, which was afterwards gradually corrupted into
Telmak and Denmark. They amused themselves with him until their arrival
at Cape Francais, and then, "having no use for the boy," sold their pet
as if he had been a macaw or a monkey. Captain Vesey sailed for St.
Thomas, and presently making another trip to Cape Francais, was
surprised to hear from his consignee that Telemaque would be returned
on his hands as being "unsound,"--not in theology nor in morals, but in
body,--subject to epileptic fits, in fact. According to the custom of
that place, the boy was examined by the city physician, who required
Captain Vesey to take him back; and Denmark served him faithfully, with
no trouble from epilepsy, for twenty years, travelling all over the
world with him, and learning to speak various languages. In 1800, he
drew a prize of fifteen hundred dollars in the East Bay Street Lottery,
with which he bought his freedom from his master for six hundred
dollars,--much less than his market value. From that time, the official
report says, he worked as a carpenter in Charleston, distinguished for
physical strength and energy. "Among those of his color he was looked up
to with awe and respect. His temper was impetuous and domineering in the
extreme, qualifying him for the despotic rule of which he was ambitious.
All his passions were ungovernable and savage; and to his numerous wives
and children he displayed the haughty and capricious cruelty of an
Eastern bashaw."

"For several years before he disclosed his intentions to any one, he
appears to have been constantly and assiduously engaged in endeavoring
to embitter the minds of the colored population against the white.
He rendered himself perfectly familiar with all those parts of the
Scriptures which he thought he could pervert to his purpose; and would
readily quote them, to prove that slavery was contrary to the laws of
God,--that slaves were bound to attempt their emancipation, however
shocking and bloody might be the consequences,--and that such efforts
would not only be pleasing to the Almighty, but were absolutely enjoined
and their success predicted in the Scriptures. His favorite texts, when
he addressed those of his own color, were Zechariah, xiv. 1-3, and
Joshua, vi. 21; and in all his conversations he identified their
situation with that of the Israelites. The number of inflammatory
pamphlets on slavery brought into Charleston from some of our sister
States within the last four years, (and once from Sierra Leone,) and
distributed amongst the colored population of the city, for which, there
was a great facility, in consequence of the unrestricted intercourse
allowed to persons of color between the different States in the Union,
and the speeches in Congress of those opposed to the admission of
Missouri into the Union, perhaps garbled and misrepresented, furnished
him with ample means for inflaming the minds of the colored population
of this State; and by distorting certain parts of those speeches, or
selecting from them particular passages, he persuaded but too many that
Congress had actually declared them free, and that they were held in
bondage contrary to the laws of the land. Even whilst walking through
the streets in company with another, he was not idle; for if his
companion bowed to a white person, he would rebuke him, and observe that
all men were born equal, and that he was surprised that any one would
degrade himself by such conduct,--that he would never cringe to the
whites, nor ought any one who had the feelings of a man. When answered,
'We are slaves,' he would sarcastically and indignantly reply, 'You
deserve to remain slaves'; and if he were further asked, 'What can we
do?' he would remark, 'Go and buy a spelling-book and read the fable of
Hercules and the Wagoner,' which he would then repeat, and apply it
to their situation. He also sought every opportunity of entering into
conversation with white persons, when they could be overheard by negroes
near by, especially in grogshops,--during which conversation he would
artfully introduce some bold remark on slavery; and sometimes, when,
from the character he was conversing with, he found he might be still
bolder, he would go so far, that, had not his declarations in such
situations been clearly proved, they would scarcely have been credited.
He continued this course until some time after the commencement of the
last winter; by which time he had not only obtained incredible influence
amongst persons of color, but many feared him more than their owners,
and, one of them declared, even more than his God."

It was proved against him that his house had been the principal place of
meeting for the conspirators, that all the others habitually referred to
him as the leader, and that he had shown great address in dealing with
different temperaments and overcoming a variety of scruples. One
witness testified that Vesey had read to him from the Bible about the
deliverance of the Children of Israel; another, that he had read to him
a speech which had been delivered "in Congress by a Mr. King" on the
subject of slavery, and Vesey had said that "this Mr. King was the black
man's friend,--that he, Mr. King, had declared he would continue to
speak, write, and publish pamphlets against slavery the longest day he
lived, until the Southern States consented to emancipate their slaves,
for that slavery was a great disgrace to the country." But among all the
reports there are only two sentences which really reveal the secret soul
of Denmark Vesey, and show his impulses and motives. "He said he did not
go with Creighton to Africa, because he had not a will; _he wanted to
stay and see what he could do for his fellow-creatures_." The other
takes us still nearer home. Monday Gell stated in his confession, that
Vesey, on first broaching the plan to him, said "he was satisfied with
his own condition, being free, _but, as all his children were slaves, he
wished to see what could be done for them._"

It is strange to turn from this simple statement of a perhaps
intelligent preference, on the part of a parent, for seeing his
offspring in a condition of freedom, to the _naive_ astonishment of
his judges. "It is difficult to imagine," says the sentence finally
passed on Denmark Vesey, "what _infatuation_ could have prompted you
to attempt an enterprise so wild and visionary. You were a free man,
comparatively wealthy, and enjoyed every comfort compatible with your
situation. You had, therefore, much to risk and little to gain." Is
slavery, then, a thing so intrinsically detestable, that a man thus
favored will engage in a plan thus desperate merely to rescue his
children from it? "Vesey said the negroes were living such an abominable
life, they ought to rise. I said, I was living well; he said, though I
was, others were not, and that 't was such fools as I that were in the
way and would not help them, and that after all things were well he
would mark me." "His general conversation," said another witness, a
white boy, "was about religion, which he would apply to slavery; as, for
instance, he would speak of the creation of the world, in which he would
say all men had equal rights, blacks as well as whites, etc.; all his
religious remarks were mingled with slavery." And the firmness of this
purpose did not leave him, even after the betrayal of his cherished
plans. "After the plot was discovered," said Monday Gell, in his
confession, "Vesey said it was all over, unless an attempt were made to
rescue those who might be condemned, by rushing on the people and saving
the prisoners, or all dying together."

The only person to divide with Vesey the claim of leadership was
Peter Poyas. Vesey was the missionary of the cause, but Peter was the
organizing mind. He kept the register of "candidates," and decided who
should or should not be enrolled. "We can't live so," he often reminded
his confederates; "we must break the yoke." "God has a hand in it; we
have been meeting for four years and are not yet betrayed." Peter was a
ship-carpenter, and a slave of great value. He was to be the military
leader. His plans showed some natural generalship; he arranged the
night-attack; he planned the enrolment of a mounted troop to scour the
streets; and he had a list of all the shops where arms and ammunition
were kept for sale. He voluntarily undertook the management of the
most difficult part of the enterprise,--the capture of the main
guard-house,--and had pledged himself to advance alone and surprise
the sentinel. He was said to have a magnetism in his eye, of which his
confederates stood in great awe; if he once got his eye upon a man,
there was no resisting it. A white witness has since narrated, that,
after his arrest, he was chained to the floor in a cell, with another of
the conspirators. Men in authority came and sought by promises, threats,
and even tortures, to ascertain the names of other accomplices. His
companion, wearied out with pain and suffering, and stimulated by the
hope of saving his own life, at last began to yield. Peter raised
himself, leaned upon his elbow, looked at the poor fellow, saying
quietly, "Die like a man," and instantly lay down again. It was enough;
not another word was extorted.

One of the most notable individuals in the plot was a certain Jack
Purcell, commonly called Gullah Jack,--Gullah signifying Angola, the
place of his origin. A conjurer by profession and by lineal heritage in
his own country, he had resumed the practice of his vocation on this
side the Atlantic. For fifteen years he had wielded in secret an immense
influence among a sable constituency in Charleston; and as he had the
reputation of being invulnerable, and of teaching invulnerability as
an art, he was very good at beating up recruits for insurrection. Over
those of Angolese descent, especially, he was a perfect king, and made
them join in the revolt as one man. They met him monthly at a place
called Bulkley's Farm, selected because the black overseer on that
plantation was one of the initiated, and because the farm was accessible
by water, thus enabling them to elude the patrol. There they prepared
cartridges and pikes, and had primitive banquets, which assumed a
melodramatic character under the inspiriting guidance of Jack. If a fowl
was privately roasted, that mystic individual muttered incantations over


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