The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 3
Charles Dudley Warner

Part 7 out of 7

I esteem them, I have writ this more for the satisfaction of my
friends, and all generous and well-disposed readers: To speak only of
myself were intolerable ingratitude: because, having had many co-
partners with me, I cannot make a Monument for myself, and leave them
unburied in the fields, whose lives begot me the title of Soldier,
for as they were companions with me in my dangers, so shall they be
partakers with me in this Tombe." In the same dedication he spoke of
his "Sea Grammar" caused to be printed by his worthy friend Sir
Samuel Saltonstall.

This volume, like all others Smith published, is accompanied by a
great number of swollen panegyrics in verse, showing that the writers
had been favored with the perusal of the volume before it was
published. Valor, piety, virtue, learning, wit, are by them ascribed
to the "great Smith," who is easily the wonder and paragon of his.
age. All of them are stuffed with the affected conceits fashionable
at the time. One of the most pedantic of these was addressed to him
by Samuel Purchas when the "General Historie " was written.

The portrait of Smith which occupies a corner in the Map of Virginia
has in the oval the date, "AEta 37, A. 16l6," and round the rim the
inscription: " Portraictuer of Captaine John Smith, Admirall of New
England," and under it these lines engraved:

"These are the Lines that show thy face: but those
That show thy Grace and Glory brighter bee:
Thy Faire Discoveries and Fowle-Overthrowes
Of Salvages, much Civilized by thee
Best shew thy Spirit; and to it Glory Wyn;
So, thou art Brasse without, but Golde within,
If so, in Brasse (too soft smiths Acts to beare)
I fix thy Fame to make Brasse steele outweare.

Thine as thou art Virtues

In this engraving Smith is clad in armor, with a high starched
collar, and full beard and mustache formally cut. His right hand
rests on his hip, and his left grasps the handle of his sword. The
face is open and pleasing and full of decision.

This "true discourse" contains the wild romance with which this
volume opens, and is pieced out with recapitulations of his former
writings and exploits, compilations from others' relations, and
general comments. We have given from it the story of his early life,
because there is absolutely no other account of that part of his
career. We may assume that up to his going to Virginia he did lead a
life of reckless adventure and hardship, often in want of a decent
suit of clothes and of "regular meals." That he took some part in
the wars in Hungary is probable, notwithstanding his romancing
narrative, and he may have been captured by the Turks. But his
account of the wars there, and of the political complications, we
suspect are cribbed from the old chronicles, probably from the
Italian, while his vague descriptions of the lands and people in
Turkey and "Tartaria" are evidently taken from the narratives of
other travelers. It seems to me that the whole of his story of his
oriental captivity lacks the note of personal experience. If it were
not for the "patent" of Sigismund (which is only produced and
certified twenty years after it is dated), the whole Transylvania
legend would appear entirely apocryphal.

The "True Travels" close with a discourse upon the bad life,
qualities, and conditions of pirates. The most ancient of these was
one Collis, "who most refreshed himself upon the coast of Wales, and
Clinton and Pursser, his companions, who grew famous till Queen
Elizabeth of blessed memory hanged them at Wapping. The misery of a
Pirate (although many are as sufficient seamen as any) yet in regard
of his superfluity, you shall find it such, that any wise man would
rather live amongst wild beasts, than them; therefore let all
unadvised persons take heed how they entertain that quality; and I
could wish merchants, gentlemen, and all setters-forth of ships not
to be sparing of a competent pay, nor true payment; for neither
soldiers nor seamen can live without means; but necessity will force
them to steal, and when they are once entered into that trade they
are hardly reclaimed."

Smith complains that the play-writers had appropriated his
adventures, but does not say that his own character had been put upon
the stage. In Ben Jonson's "Staple of News," played in 1625, there
is a reference to Pocahontas in the dialogue that occurs between
Pick-lock and Pennyboy Canter:

Pick. --A tavern's unfit too for a princess.

P. Cant. --No, I have known a Princess and a great one, Come forth
of a tavern.

Pick. --Not go in Sir, though.

A Cant. --She must go in, if she came forth. The blessed Pocahontas,
as the historian calls her, And great King's daughter of Virginia,
Hath been in womb of tavern.

The last work of our author was published in 1631, the year of his
death. Its full title very well describes the contents:
"Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New England, or
anywhere. Or, the Pathway to Experience to erect a Plantation. With
the yearly proceedings of this country in fishing and planting since
the year 1614 to the year 1630, and their present estate. Also, how
to prevent the greatest inconvenience by their proceedings in
Virginia, and other plantations by approved examples. With the
countries armes, a description of the coast, harbours, habitations,
landmarks, latitude and longitude: with the map allowed by our Royall
King Charles."

Smith had become a trifle cynical in regard to the newsmongers of the
day, and quaintly remarks in his address to the reader: "Apelles by
the proportion of a foot could make the whole proportion of a man:
were he now living, he might go to school, for now thousands can by
opinion proportion kingdoms, cities and lordships that never durst
adventure to see them. Malignancy I expect from these, have lived 10
or 12 years in those actions, and return as wise as they went,
claiming time and experience for their tutor that can neither shift
Sun nor moon, nor say their compass, yet will tell you of more than
all the world betwixt the Exchange, Paul's and Westminster.... and
tell as well what all England is by seeing but Mitford Haven as what
Apelles was by the picture of his great toe."

This is one of Smith's most characteristic productions. Its material
is ill-arranged, and much of it is obscurely written; it runs
backward and forward along his life, refers constantly to his former
works and repeats them, complains of the want of appreciation of his
services, and makes himself the centre of all the colonizing exploits
of the age. Yet it is interspersed with strokes of humor and
observations full of good sense.

It opens with the airy remark: "The wars in Europe, Asia and Africa,
taught me how to subdue the wild savages in Virginia and New
England." He never did subdue the wild savages in New England, and
he never was in any war in Africa, nor in Asia, unless we call his
piratical cruising in the Mediterranean "wars in Asia."

As a Church of England man, Smith is not well pleased with the
occupation of New England by the Puritans, Brownists, and such
"factious humorists" as settled at New Plymouth, although he
acknowledges the wonderful patience with which, in their ignorance
and willfulness, they have endured losses and extremities; but he
hopes better things of the gentlemen who went in 1629 to supply
Endicott at Salem, and were followed the next year by Winthrop. All
these adventurers have, he says, made use of his "aged endeavors."
It seems presumptuous in them to try to get on with his maps and
descriptions and without him. They probably had never heard, except
in the title-pages of his works, that he was "Admiral of New

Even as late as this time many supposed New England to be an island,
but Smith again asserts, what he had always maintained--that it was a
part of the continent. The expedition of Winthrop was scattered by a
storm, and reached Salem with the loss of threescore dead and many
sick, to find as many of the colony dead, and all disconsolate. Of
the discouraged among them who returned to England Smith says: "Some
could not endure the name of a bishop, others not the sight of a
cross or surplice, others by no means the book of common prayer.
This absolute crew, only of the Elect, holding all (but such as
themselves) reprobates and castaways, now made more haste to return
to Babel, as they termed England, than stay to enjoy the land they
called Canaan." Somewhat they must say to excuse themselves.
Therefore, "some say they could see no timbers of ten foot diameter,
some the country is all wood; others they drained all the springs and
ponds dry, yet like to famish for want of fresh water; some of the
danger of the ratell-snake." To compel all the Indians to furnish
them corn without using them cruelly they say is impossible. Yet
this "impossible," Smith says, he accomplished in Virginia, and
offers to undertake in New England, with one hundred and fifty men,
to get corn, fortify the country, and "discover them more land than
they all yet know."

This homily ends--and it is the last published sentence of the "great
Smith"--with this good advice to the New England colonists:

"Lastly, remember as faction, pride, and security produces nothing
but confusion, misery and dissolution; so the contraries well
practised will in short time make you happy, and the most admired
people of all our plantations for your time in the world.

"John Smith writ this with his owne hand."

The extent to which Smith retouched his narrations, as they grew in
his imagination, in his many reproductions of them, has been referred
to, and illustrated by previous quotations. An amusing instance of
his care and ingenuity is furnished by the interpolation of
Pocahontas into his stories after 1623. In his "General Historie" of
1624 he adopts, for the account of his career in Virginia, the
narratives in the Oxford tract of 1612, which he had supervised. We
have seen how he interpolated the wonderful story of his rescue by
the Indian child. Some of his other insertions of her name, to bring
all the narrative up to that level, are curious. The following
passages from the "Oxford Tract" contain in italics the words
inserted when they were transferred to the "General Historie":

"So revived their dead spirits (especially the love of Pocahuntas) as
all anxious fears were abandoned."

"Part always they brought him as presents from their king, or

In the account of the "masques" of girls to entertain Smith at
Werowocomoco we read:

"But presently Pocahuntas came, wishing him to kill her if any hurt
were intended, and the beholders, which were women and children,
satisfied the Captain there was no such matter."

In the account of Wyffin's bringing the news of Scrivener's drowning,
when Wyffin was lodged a night with Powhatan, we read:.

"He did assure himself some mischief was intended. Pocahontas hid
him for a time, and sent them who pursued him the clean contrary way
to seek him; but by her means and extraordinary bribes and much
trouble in three days' travel, at length he found us in the middest
of these turmoyles."

The affecting story of the visit and warning from Pocahontas in the
night, when she appeared with "tears running down her cheeks," is not
in the first narration in the Oxford Tract, but is inserted in the
narrative in the "General Historie." Indeed, the first account would
by its terms exclude the later one. It is all contained in these few

"But our barge being left by the ebb, caused us to staie till the
midnight tide carried us safe aboord, having spent that half night
with such mirth as though we never had suspected or intended
anything, we left the Dutchmen to build, Brinton to kill foule for
Powhatan (as by his messengers he importunately desired), and left
directions with our men to give Powhatan all the content they could,
that we might enjoy his company on our return from Pamaunke."

It should be added, however, that there is an allusion to some
warning by Pocahontas in the last chapter of the "Oxford Tract." But
the full story of the night visit and the streaming tears as we have
given it seems without doubt to have been elaborated from very slight
materials. And the subsequent insertion of the name of Pocahontas--
of which we have given examples above--into old accounts that had no
allusion to her, adds new and strong presumptions to the belief that
Smith invented what is known as the Pocahontas legend."

As a mere literary criticism on Smith's writings, it would appear
that he had a habit of transferring to his own career notable
incidents and adventures of which he had read, and this is somewhat
damaging to an estimate of his originality. His wonderful system of
telegraphy by means of torches, which he says he put in practice at
the siege of Olympack, and which he describes as if it were his own
invention, he had doubtless read in Polybius, and it seemed a good
thing to introduce into his narrative.

He was (it must also be noted) the second white man whose life was
saved by an Indian princess in America, who subsequently warned her
favorite of a plot to kill him. In 1528 Pamphilo de Narvaes landed
at Tampa Bay, Florida, and made a disastrous expedition into the
interior. Among the Spaniards who were missing as a result of this
excursion was a soldier named Juan Ortiz. When De Soto marched into
the same country in 1539 he encountered this soldier, who had been
held in captivity by the Indians and had learned their language. The
story that Ortiz told was this: He was taken prisoner by the chief
Ucita, bound hand and foot, and stretched upon a scaffold to be
roasted, when, just as the flames were seizing him, a daughter of the
chief interposed in his behalf, and upon her prayers Ucita spared the
life of the prisoner. Three years afterward, when there was danger
that Ortiz would be sacrificed to appease the devil, the princess
came to him, warned him of his danger, and led him secretly and alone
in the night to the camp of a chieftain who protected him.

This narrative was in print before Smith wrote, and as he was fond of
such adventures he may have read it. The incidents are curiously
parallel. And all the comment needed upon it is that Smith seems to
have been peculiarly subject to such coincidences

Our author's selection of a coat of arms, the distinguishing feature
of which was "three Turks' heads," showed little more originality.
It was a common device before his day: on many coats of arms of the
Middle Ages and later appear "three Saracens' heads," or "three
Moors' heads"--probably most of them had their origin in the
Crusades. Smith's patent to use this charge, which he produced from
Sigismund, was dated 1603, but the certificate appended to it by the
Garter King at Arms, certifying that it was recorded in the register
and office of the heralds, is dated 1625. Whether Smith used it
before this latter date we are not told. We do not know why he had
not as good right to assume it as anybody.

[Burke's " Encyclopedia of Heraldry " gives it as granted to Capt.
John Smith, of the Smiths of Cruffley, Co. Lancaster, in 1629, and
describes it: " Vert, a chev. gu. betw. three Turks' heads couped
ppr. turbaned or. Crest-an Ostrich or, holding in the mouth a
horseshoe or."]



Hardship and disappointment made our hero prematurely old, but could
not conquer his indomitable spirit. The disastrous voyage of June,
1615, when he fell into the hands of the French, is spoken of by the
Council for New England in 1622 as "the ruin of that poor gentleman,
Captain Smith, who was detained prisoner by them, and forced to
suffer many extremities before he got free of his troubles;" but he
did not know that he was ruined, and did not for a moment relax his
efforts to promote colonization and obtain a command, nor relinquish
his superintendence of the Western Continent.

His last days were evidently passed in a struggle for existence,
which was not so bitter to him as it might have been to another man,
for he was sustained by ever-elating "great expectations." That he
was pinched for means of living, there is no doubt. In 1623 he
issued a prospectus of his "General Historie," in which he said:
"These observations are all I have for the expenses of a thousand
pounds and the loss of eighteen years' time, besides all the travels,
dangers, miseries and incumbrances for my countries good, I have
endured gratis: ....this is composed in less than eighty sheets,
besides the three maps, which will stand me near in a hundred pounds,
which sum I cannot disburse: nor shall the stationers have the copy
for nothing. I therefore, humbly entreat your Honour, either to
adventure, or give me what you please towards the impression, and I
will be both accountable and thankful."

He had come before he was fifty to regard himself as an old man, and
to speak of his "aged endeavors." Where and how he lived in his
later years, and with what surroundings and under what circumstances
he died, there is no record. That he had no settled home, and was in
mean lodgings at the last, may be reasonably inferred. There is a
manuscript note on the fly-leaf of one of the original editions of
"The Map of Virginia...." (Oxford, 1612), in ancient chirography,
but which from its reference to Fuller could not have been written
until more than thirty years after Smith's death. It says: "When he
was old he lived in London poor but kept up his spirits with the
commemoration of his former actions and bravery. He was buried in
St. Sepulcher's Church, as Fuller tells us, who has given us a line
of his Ranting Epitaph."

That seems to have been the tradition of the man, buoyantly
supporting himself in the commemoration of his own achievements. To
the end his industrious and hopeful spirit sustained him, and in the
last year of his life he was toiling on another compilation, and
promised his readers a variety of actions and memorable observations
which they shall "find with admiration in my History of the Sea, if
God be pleased I live to finish it."

He died on the 21 St of June, 1631, and the same day made his last
will, to which he appended his mark, as he seems to have been too
feeble to write his name. In this he describes himself as "Captain
John Smith of the parish of St. Sepulcher's London Esquior." He
commends his soul "into the hands of Almighty God, my maker, hoping
through the merits of Christ Jesus my Redeemer to receive full
remission of all my sins and to inherit a place in the everlasting
kingdom"; his body he commits to the earth whence it came; and "of
such worldly goods whereof it hath pleased God in his mercy to make
me an unworthy receiver," he bequeathes: first, to Thomas Packer,
Esq., one of his Majesty's clerks of the Privy Seal, It all my
houses, lands, tenantements and hereditaments whatsoever, situate
lying and being in the parishes of Louthe and Great Carleton, in the
county of Lincoln together with my coat of armes"; and charges him to
pay certain legacies not exceeding the sum of eighty pounds, out of
which he reserves to himself twenty pounds to be disposed of as he
chooses in his lifetime. The sum of twenty pounds is to be disbursed
about the funeral. To his most worthy friend, Sir Samuel Saltonstall
Knight, he gives five pounds; to Morris Treadway, five pounds; to his
sister Smith, the widow of his brother, ten pounds; to his cousin
Steven Smith, and his sister, six pounds thirteen shillings and
fourpence between them; to Thomas Packer, Joane, his wife, and
Eleanor, his daughter, ten pounds among them; to "Mr. Reynolds, the
lay Mr of the Goldsmiths Hall, the sum of forty shillings"; to
Thomas, the son of said Thomas Packer, "my trunk standing in my
chamber at Sir Samuel Saltonstall's house in St. Sepulcher's parish,
together with my best suit of apparel of a tawny color viz. hose,
doublet jirkin and cloak," "also, my trunk bound with iron bars
standing in the house of Richard Hinde in Lambeth, together--with
half the books therein"; the other half of the books to Mr. John
Tredeskin and Richard Hinde. His much honored friend, Sir Samuel
Saltonstall, and Thomas Packer, were joint executors, and the will
was acknowledged in the presence "of Willmu Keble Snr civitas,
London, William Packer, Elizabeth Sewster, Marmaduke Walker, his
mark, witness."

We have no idea that Thomas Packer got rich out of the houses, lands
and tenements in the county of Lincoln. The will is that of a poor
man, and reference to his trunks standing about in the houses of his
friends, and to his chamber in the house of Sir Samuel Saltonstall,
may be taken as proof that he had no independent and permanent

It is supposed that he was buried in St. Sepulcher's Church. The
negative evidence of this is his residence in the parish at the time
of his death, and the more positive, a record in Stow's "Survey of
London," 1633, which we copy in full:

This Table is on the south side of the Quire in Saint Sepulchers,
with this Inscription:

To the living Memory of his deceased Friend, Captaine John Smith, who
departed this mortall life on the 21 day of June, 1631, with his
Armes, and this Motto,

Accordamus, vincere est vivere.

Here lies one conquer'd that hath conquer'd Kings,
Subdu'd large Territories, and done things
Which to the World impossible would seeme,
But that the truth is held in more esteeme,
Shall I report His former service done
In honour of his God and Christendome:
How that he did divide from Pagans three,
Their heads and Lives, types of his chivalry:
For which great service in that Climate done,
Brave Sigismundus (King of Hungarion)
Did give him as a Coat of Armes to weare,
Those conquer'd heads got by his Sword and Speare?
Or shall I tell of his adventures since,
Done in Firginia, that large Continence:
I-low that he subdu'd Kings unto his yoke,
And made those heathen flie, as wind doth smoke:
And made their Land, being of so large a Station,
A hab;tation for our Christian Nation:
Where God is glorifi'd, their wants suppli'd,
Which else for necessaries might have di'd?
But what avails his Conquest now he lyes
Inter'd in earth a prey for Wormes & Flies?

O may his soule in sweet Mizium sleepe,
Untill the Keeper that all soules doth keepe,
Returne to judgement and that after thence,
With Angels he may have his recompence.
Captaine John Smith, sometime Governour of Firginia, and
Admirall of New England.

This remarkable epitaph is such an autobiographical record as Smith
might have written himself. That it was engraved upon a tablet and
set up in this church rests entirely upon the authority of Stow. The
present pilgrim to the old church will find no memorial that Smith
was buried there, and will encounter besides incredulity of the
tradition that he ever rested there.

The old church of St. Sepulcher's, formerly at the confluence of Snow
Hill and the Old Bailey, now lifts its head far above the pompous
viaduct which spans the valley along which the Fleet Ditch once
flowed. All the registers of burial in the church were destroyed by
the great fire of 1666, which burnt down the edifice from floor to
roof, leaving only the walls and tower standing. Mr. Charles Deane,
whose lively interest in Smith led him recently to pay a visit to St.
Sepulcher's, speaks of it as the church "under the pavement of which
the remains of our hero were buried; but he was not able to see the
stone placed over those remains, as the floor of the church at that
time was covered with a carpet.... The epitaph to his memory,
however, it is understood, cannot now be deciphered upon the
tablet,"--which he supposes to be the one in Stow.

The existing tablet is a slab of bluish-black marble, which formerly
was in the chancel. That it in no way relates to Captain Smith a
near examination of it shows. This slab has an escutcheon which
indicates three heads, which a lively imagination may conceive to be
those of Moors, on a line in the upper left corner on the husband's
side of a shield, which is divided by a perpendicular line. As Smith
had no wife, this could not have been his cognizance. Nor are these
his arms, which were three Turks' heads borne over and beneath a
chevron. The cognizance of "Moors' heads," as we have said, was not
singular in the Middle Ages, and there existed recently in this very
church another tomb which bore a Moor's head as a family badge. The
inscription itself is in a style of lettering unlike that used in the
time of James I., and the letters are believed not to belong to an
earlier period than that of the Georges. This bluish-black stone has
been recently gazed at by many pilgrims from this side of the ocean,
with something of the feeling with which the Moslems regard the Kaaba
at Mecca. This veneration is misplaced, for upon the stone are
distinctly visible these words:

"Departed this life September....
....sixty-six ....years....
....months ...."

As John Smith died in June, 1631, in his fifty-second year, this
stone is clearly not in his honor: and if his dust rests in this
church, the fire of 1666 made it probably a labor of wasted love to
look hereabouts for any monument of him.

A few years ago some American antiquarians desired to place some
monument to the "Admiral of New England" in this church, and a
memorial window, commemorating the "Baptism of Pocahontas," was
suggested. We have been told, however, that a custom of St.
Sepulcher's requires a handsome bonus to the rector for any memorial
set up in the church) which the kindly incumbent had no power to set
aside (in his own case) for a foreign gift and act of international
courtesy of this sort; and the project was abandoned.

Nearly every trace of this insatiable explorer of the earth has
disappeared from it except in his own writings. The only monument to
his memory existing is a shabby little marble shaft erected on the
southerly summit of Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals. By a
kind of irony of fortune, which Smith would have grimly appreciated,
the only stone to perpetuate his fame stands upon a little heap of
rocks in the sea; upon which it is only an inference that he ever set
foot, and we can almost hear him say again, looking round upon this
roomy earth, so much of which he possessed in his mind, "No lot for
me but Smith's Isles, which are an array of barren rocks, the most
overgrowne with shrubs and sharpe whins you can hardly passe them:
without either grasse or wood but three or foure short shrubby old

Nearly all of Smith's biographers and the historians of Virginia
have, with great respect, woven his romances about his career into
their narratives, imparting to their paraphrases of his story such an
elevation as his own opinion of himself seemed to demand. Of
contemporary estimate of him there is little to quote except the
panegyrics in verse he has preserved for us, and the inference from
his own writings that he was the object of calumny and detraction.
Enemies he had in plenty, but there are no records left of their
opinion of his character. The nearest biographical notice of him in
point of time is found in the "History of the Worthies of England,"
by Thomas Fuller, D.D., London, 1662.

Old Fuller's schoolmaster was Master Arthur Smith, a kinsman of John,
who told him that John was born in Lincolnshire, and it is probable
that Fuller received from his teacher some impression about the

Of his "strange performances" in Hungary, Fuller says: "The scene
whereof is laid at such a distance that they are cheaper credited
than confuted."

"From the Turks in Europe he passed to the pagans in America, where
towards the latter end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth [it was in the
reign of James] such his perils, preservations, dangers,
deliverances, they seem to most men above belief, to some beyond
truth. Yet have we two witnesses to attest them, the prose and the
pictures, both in his own book; and it soundeth much to the
diminution of his deeds that he alone is the herald to publish and
proclaim them."

"Surely such reports from strangers carry the greater reputation.
However, moderate men must allow Captain Smith to have been very
instrumental in settling the plantation in Virginia, whereof he was
governor, as also Admiral of New England."

"He led his old age in London, where his having a prince's mind
imprisoned in a poor man's purse, rendered him to the contempt of
such as were not ingenuous. Yet he efforted his spirits with the
remembrance and relation of what formerly he had been, and what he
had done."

Of the "ranting epitaph," quoted above, Fuller says: "The
orthography, poetry, history and divinity in this epitaph are much

Without taking Captain John Smith at his own estimate of himself, he
was a peculiar character even for the times in which he lived. He
shared with his contemporaries the restless spirit of roving and
adventure which resulted from the invention of the mariner's compass
and the discovery of the New World; but he was neither so sordid nor
so rapacious as many of them, for his boyhood reading of romances had
evidently fired him with the conceits of the past chivalric period.
This imported into his conduct something inflated and something
elevated. And, besides, with all his enormous conceit, he had a
stratum of practical good sense, a shrewd wit, and the salt of humor.

If Shakespeare had known him, as he might have done, he would have
had a character ready to his hand that would have added one of the
most amusing and interesting portraits to his gallery. He faintly
suggests a moral Falstaff, if we can imagine a Falstaff without
vices. As a narrator he has the swagger of a Captain Dalghetty, but
his actions are marked by honesty and sincerity. He appears to have
had none of the small vices of the gallants of his time. His
chivalric attitude toward certain ladies who appear in his
adventures, must have been sufficiently amusing to his associates.
There is about his virtue a certain antique flavor which must have
seemed strange to the adventurers and court hangers-on in London.
Not improbably his assumptions were offensive to the ungodly, and his
ingenuous boastings made him the object of amusement to the skeptics.
Their ridicule would naturally appear to him to arise from envy. We
read between the lines of his own eulogies of himself, that there was
a widespread skepticism about his greatness and his achievements,
which he attributed to jealousy. Perhaps his obtrusive virtues made
him enemies, and his rectitude was a standing offense to his

It is certain he got on well with scarcely anybody with whom he was
thrown in his enterprises. He was of common origin, and always
carried with him the need of assertion in an insecure position. He
appears to us always self-conscious and ill at ease with gentlemen
born. The captains of his own station resented his assumptions of
superiority, and while he did not try to win them by an affectation
of comradeship, he probably repelled those of better breeding by a
swaggering manner. No doubt his want of advancement was partly due
to want of influence, which better birth would have given him; but
the plain truth is that he had a talent for making himself
disagreeable to his associates. Unfortunately he never engaged in
any enterprise with any one on earth who was so capable of conducting
it as himself, and this fact he always made plain to his comrades.
Skill he had in managing savages, but with his equals among whites he
lacked tact, and knew not the secret of having his own way without
seeming to have it. He was insubordinate, impatient of any authority
over him, and unwilling to submit to discipline he did not himself

Yet it must be said that he was less self-seeking than those who were
with him in Virginia, making glory his aim rather than gain always;
that he had a superior conception of what a colony should be, and how
it should establish itself, and that his judgment of what was best
was nearly always vindicated by the event. He was not the founder of
the Virginia colony, its final success was not due to him, but it was
owing almost entirely to his pluck and energy that it held on and
maintained an existence during the two years and a half that he was
with it at Jamestown. And to effect this mere holding on, with the
vagabond crew that composed most of the colony, and with the
extravagant and unintelligent expectations of the London Company, was
a feat showing decided ability. He had the qualities fitting him to
be an explorer and the leader of an expedition. He does not appear
to have had the character necessary to impress his authority on a
community. He was quarrelsome, irascible, and quick to fancy that
his full value was not admitted. He shines most upon such small
expeditions as the exploration of the Chesapeake; then his energy,
self-confidence, shrewdness, inventiveness, had free play, and his
pluck and perseverance are recognized as of the true heroic

Smith, as we have seen, estimated at their full insignificance such
flummeries as the coronation of Powhatan, and the foolishness of
taxing the energies of the colony to explore the country for gold and
chase the phantom of the South Sea. In his discernment and in his
conceptions of what is now called "political economy" he was in
advance of his age. He was an advocate of "free trade" before the
term was invented. In his advice given to the New England plantation
in his "Advertisements" he says:

"Now as his Majesty has made you custome-free for seven yeares, have
a care that all your countrymen shall come to trade with you, be not
troubled with pilotage, boyage, ancorage, wharfage, custome, or any
such tricks as hath been lately used in most of our plantations,
where they would be Kings before their folly; to the discouragement
of many, and a scorne to them of understanding, for Dutch, French,
Biskin, or any will as yet use freely the Coast without controule,
and why not English as well as they? Therefore use all commers with
that respect, courtesie, and liberty is fitting, which will in a
short time much increase your trade and shipping to fetch it from
you, for as yet it were not good to adventure any more abroad with
factors till you bee better provided; now there is nothing more
enricheth a Common-wealth than much trade, nor no meanes better to
increase than small custome, as Holland, Genua, Ligorne, as divers
other places can well tell you, and doth most beggar those places
where they take most custome, as Turkie, the Archipelegan Iles,
Cicilia, the Spanish ports, but that their officers will connive to
enrich themselves, though undo the state."

It may perhaps be admitted that he knew better than the London or the
Plymouth company what ought to be done in the New World, but it is
absurd to suppose that his success or his ability forfeited him the
confidence of both companies, and shut him out of employment. The
simple truth seems to be that his arrogance and conceit and
importunity made him unpopular, and that his proverbial ill luck was
set off against his ability.

Although he was fully charged with the piety of his age, and kept in
mind his humble dependence on divine grace when he was plundering
Venetian argosies or lying to the Indians, or fighting anywhere
simply for excitement or booty, and was always as devout as a modern
Sicilian or Greek robber; he had a humorous appreciation of the value
of the religions current in his day. He saw through the hypocrisy of
the London Company, "making religion their color, when all their aim
was nothing but present profit." There was great talk about
Christianizing the Indians; but the colonists in Virginia taught them
chiefly the corruptions of civilized life, and those who were
despatched to England soon became debauched by London vices. "Much
they blamed us [he writes] for not converting the Salvages, when
those they sent us were little better, if not worse, nor did they all
convert any of those we sent them to England for that purpose."

Captain John Smith died unmarried, nor is there any record that he
ever had wife or children. This disposes of the claim of subsequent
John Smiths to be descended from him. He was the last of that race;
the others are imitations. He was wedded to glory. That he was not
insensible to the charms of female beauty, and to the heavenly pity
in their hearts, which is their chief grace, his writings abundantly
evince; but to taste the pleasures of dangerous adventure, to learn
war and to pick up his living with his sword, and to fight wherever
piety showed recompense would follow, was the passion of his youth,
while his manhood was given to the arduous ambition of enlarging the
domains of England and enrolling his name among those heroes who make
an ineffaceable impression upon their age. There was no time in his
life when he had leisure to marry, or when it would have been
consistent with his schemes to have tied himself to a home.

As a writer he was wholly untrained, but with all his introversions
and obscurities he is the most readable chronicler of his time, the
most amusing and as untrustworthy as any. He is influenced by his
prejudices, though not so much by them as by his imagination and
vanity. He had a habit of accurate observation, as his maps show,
and this trait gives to his statements and descriptions, when his own
reputation is not concerned, a value beyond that of those of most
contemporary travelers. And there is another thing to be said about
his writings. They are uncommonly clean for his day. Only here and
there is coarseness encountered. In an age when nastiness was
written as well as spoken, and when most travelers felt called upon
to satisfy a curiosity for prurient observations, Smith preserved a
tone quite remarkable for general purity.

Captain Smith is in some respects a very good type of the restless
adventurers of his age; but he had a little more pseudo-chivalry at
one end of his life, and a little more piety at the other, than the
rest. There is a decidedly heroic element in his courage, hardihood,
and enthusiasm, softened to the modern observer's comprehension by
the humorous contrast between his achievements and his estimate of
them. Between his actual deeds as he relates them, and his noble
sentiments, there is also sometimes a contrast pleasing to the
worldly mind. He is just one of those characters who would be more
agreeable on the stage than in private life. His extraordinary
conceit would be entertaining if one did not see too much of him.
Although he was such a romancer that we can accept few of his
unsupported statements about himself, there was, nevertheless, a
certain verity in his character which showed something more than
loyalty to his own fortune; he could be faithful to an ambition for
the public good. Those who knew him best must have found in him very
likable qualities, and acknowledged the generosities of his nature,
while they were amused at his humorous spleen and his serious
contemplation of his own greatness. There is a kind of simplicity in
his self-appreciation that wins one, and it is impossible for the
candid student of his career not to feel kindly towards the "sometime
Governor of Virginia and Admiral of New England."


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