Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

this project, as well as of the success of the mission he was accustomed to arrogate to himself: but, as Mr. C. has very clearly shown the falsity of one part of this boast, (that it was by the supply thus procured by his instrumentality, that general Washington was enabled to proceed in the operations of his last campaign) we may reasonably infer, that, to say the least, he very grossly exaggerated his share in this transaction. Upon his return, he resumed the pen, and continued to employ it on various political subjects till the peace of 1783. His mind had now become so much habituated to the bustle of politics and the tumult of revolution that it could not easily adapt itself to this weak and piping time of peace. After having obtained from congress and several of the state legislatures liberal grants of money and confiscated lands, he returned to Europe ostensibly with the view of procuring the assistance of the opulent or enterprising in carrying into effect a very ingenious mechanical improvement in the structure of bridges; but probably, secretly and more powerfully influenced by some distant hope of exciting a revolutionary spirit in Great Britain, which, if once raised, his vanity doubtless led him to believe, he could easily divert to his own purposes of policy or ambition. But France, and not England was destined to "have the honour of leading up the death-dance of Jacobinic reform."*

Paine gladly seized the opportunity to snatch a brand from the conflagration which desolated the continent, and rushed with furious joy to fire his native land. In 1791 he published the first part of his Rights of Man, in answer, as he thought fit to style it, to Mr. Burke's Reflections. This production " was from similarity of cause as popular in England as his Common Sense had been in America." It was followed in February 1792, by the second part, in which " he openly and fearlessly called upon the people to revolt, and unequivocally advocated a subversion of the government." This at length awakened the indignation of the administration, and the attorney-general was instructed to commence a prosecution against the author. Fortunately just before his trial a French deputation announced to him that he had been elected a member of the national convention, a compliment which had been also paid to Dr. Priestley, and several others of the most active enemies of establishment in different parts of the world,—he immediately embraced the opportunity of retiring without disgrace from his native country, and fled to France to ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm of anarchy. Here we find him for some time buffeting the billows of faction—menus civilibua undis—till the end of 1793, when he was thrown into prison by the Robespcrian committee of safety. As soon as he was liberated he made his appearance in a new character, as the assailant of Christianity, by the publication of his Age of Reason, which had been written a short time previous to his imprisonment. There was little of novelty in the argument of this work, which consists chiefly of such hackneyed and often answered objections as he might very easily have gleaned up at second hand from Voltaire, Diderot, or Bolingbroke, from the conversation (for he assures us that he never read) of the literateura and philosophists of Paris. But the manner is his own, and that manner added to the popularity of his name, could not fail of giving it currency. This was succeeded by a number of unimportant tracts, and in April 1796, by a virulent attack upon general Washington, on the ground of his not having exerted his official influence with the French government to obtain his liberation from prison. He remained in Paris, continuing to propagate his doctrines by every means in his power, for six years longer, "associating during that period with the lowest company, and indulging his thirst for liquor to the greatest excess. He became so filthy in his person, so mean in his dress, and so notorious a sot that all men of decency in Paris avoided him." The tumultuous uproar of revolution having now settled down into the awful stillness of despotism, he found his occupation at an end, and in 1802 finally returned to America, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. From this period until his death in 1809. Mr. Cheetham's narrative is minute and particular, gathered partly from personal knowledge and partly from information obtained from persons who had lived during that time in habits of frequent intercourse with Paine. Its particularity and anecdote would be amusing did not the subject of his biography present such a gross and nauseous compound of petulance and malignity, of garulous vanity and grovelling avarice, of disgusting filth and beastly intemperance, as cannot be contemplated without disgust and horror. The exhibition of this vulgar vice and coarse debauchery is rendered more unpleasant by their being evidently neither caused nor accompanied by any decay of the intellectual powers. The narrative is like a portrait of the Dutch school, every wart and excressence, every blotch and sore of the original is accurately transferred to the canvass. Yet we cannot blame Mr. Cheetham. Paine never omitted any opportunity of giving weight to his opinions by referring to his former services to the state, and the long established reputation of his character—let his character then be perfectly known, and let it have its full effect.

Mr. C.'s style, bating some few inaccuracies, is in general chaste and energetic, and occasionally forcible and elegant to no common degree. He deals too much in general terms of disapprobation and invective, and talks too often of the " vulgarity," the " filthiness," and the impiety of Paine, when the simple narration of the facts would have produced all the intended effect on the mind of the reader, and would have given to the biography an air of dignified impartiality which this sort of vague declamation and censure is calculated to lessen. Neither does he appear willing to allow Paine all the praise of ability in the dissemination of his doctrines to which we think him entitled: this is particularly observable in his remarks on Paine's style. He has been diligent in the collection of facts, and is, we believe, usually accurate, but we could have wished more pains had been taken to collect and preserve some portion of that immense fund of anecdote and secret history with which the memory of Paine was stored. Yet perhaps he did not deserve a Boswell, and he may be considered upon the whole as fortunate in having obtained a more able biographer than most of the great men of his day.

The political opinions of Mr. C. as they appear in his book, are moderate and temperate, and therefore for the most part just—untainted by extravagance of democracy, yet free from any affected disregard of the rights of the people. We do not wholly agree with him in some of his speculations on British politics, nor in his desponding views of the future destinies of the liberty of our own country. These are subjects however upon which difference of opinion may be very harmlessly indulged.

The following passage is no unfavourable specimen either of Mr. C.'s style or his opinions.

The usurpation of the national assembly, necessary in the process of confounding valuable, essential, and unalterable distinctions; necessary in the process of tumult and carnage; necessary in the throes which a great nation must suffer in going down from some oppression to all anarchy, and from all anarchy to what we now see and feel, all possible despotism; that act of assumption worked up all England, a few men of cool reflection, deep penetration, great experience, and greater solidity excepted, to a pitch of enthusiasm little short of madness. There was indeed something perhaps awfully grand, certainly horror-exciting, in the ruins of an ancient and splendid government; in the transfer of all power from those who had excluded the people from any participation of it to the people themselves, who knew not what to do with it; who could give it no form, no direction, and who, in a tumult of joy, excited by being masters, without knowing how to master themselves, could not but commit in a few months, probably in so many days, acts of tyranny and cruelty for which an age of well regulated freedom could not adequately compensate. Englishmen, whose hearts were sound, whose intentions were good, who loved their country, who idolized its solid and venerable freedom, but whose notions, as events have proved, were visionary, were in raptures at the disenthralment of a neighbouring nation, from long continued bondage. If excess of gratulation, and, to England, the danger of exVOL. III. F f

cess, could have been avoided, there would have been in all this a humanity of character, a generosity of feeling, a nobleness of spirit, which future ages would have admired and applauded. But men of property, men of sense, men of letters, men who therefore should not have suffered reflection to be overpowered by gorgeous novelties, by real mockeries, by changes which are productive of nothing but mischief, forgot that they were free, forgot that they were Englishmen, and, bounding in exulting thought over the precincts of their isle, became Frenchmen; not of the notables, nor of the statesgeneral, nor of the national assembly, nor of its famous declaration of rights, for they had more liberty than the national assembly could comprehend, or France enjoy, but in the moments of frenzy, for frenzy it surely was, deposing Frenchmen; Frenchmen of the national razor stamp. The viorld was to become a republic of licentiousness in fact; a fraternity of incongruous and repelling atoms; a brotherhood of absurd principles and irreducible rules. This was the philosophy; this the charm; as if all nature, at the command of presumptuous and impious Frenchmen, would at once give way; as if, to use the language of Fielding's Square, the eternal fitness of things could be unfitted, recreated, and now modelled. Parisian jacobin clubs were imitated in London. Fraternal hugs were interchanged by jacobin plenipotentiaries. Revolution dinners were had all over England, and revolutionary toasts drank. Even Dr. Price gave for his toast at one of these jubilees of preparatory commotion, " the parliament of England ; may it become a National Assembly.'" Could his meaning be mistaken! The National Assembly of France had declared for a limited monarchy, which England had. It had established, or rather it had prescribed upon paper, trial by jury. Was England without this palladium of safety! All the paper immunities which the National Assembly had allowed in its declaration of rights, which were never reduced to practice, fell vastly short of the excellence of British enjoyment. But France was only in the adolescence of her work. From limited monarchy she was verging to unlimited devastation. She was to be a spick-and-span new nation. All old things were to be done away. England too was to be new-born. The world a republic or a desert was one of the humane dogmas. Hunted, pillaged, and blood-sucked, a desert it might be, but a republic, and least of all, a republic like that to which France was hastening, it could not be.

To the biography is prefixed a dedication to the venerable vice president of the United States. It is perhaps overloaded with allusion to the factious politics of the day, but much of the eulogy is just and elegant. We cannot refrain from extracting a single paragraph of well-turned and well-merited panegyric.

The peace, which gave you a nation and crowned you with immortality, did not efface from the minds of your fellow citizens the just impressions which your meritorious services had stamped upon them. For twenty-one years you administered the government of ihe sUte! There is no culogium of language that can equal the culogium of the fact. He who in a republic like ours, where a revolution had let loose the passions—where the press is licentious beyond all example—where suffrage, with few exceptions, is in every man's hands—where the popular will is almost without restraint—where demagogues, greedy of money, avaricious of popular honour, are numerous, and ambitious, and like all other demagogues, hypocritical, perfidious, remorseless; in such a republic, under such circumstances, his merit must be great, who, without flattering the vanity of the multitude, without courting their capricious favours, dignifiedly retains a station so elevated for a period so long. I like, said Lord Mansfield, that popularity which follows, not that which is run after. That great man liked, I fear, what he never enjoyed. You, sir, more happy, enjoyed, in plenitude, that which he liked.

SCIENCE FOR THE PORT FOLIO.

Bonchetto, near Richmond, Dec. 17, 1809.

Mr. Oldschool,

I observe, with pleasure, that The Port Folio realizes an ingenious allegory of antiquity, which represented the Muses as sister deities, walking hand in hand. Your pages are so happily diversified that every one of your readers, whatever his taste may be, finds in them a luxurious banquet. It is true that you particularly delight to explore the flowery field of elegant literature, as a sovereign his favourite dominion; yet you do not refuse to wander, with the votary of the exact sciences, into the fertile though unadorned regions of abstruse research. Possessed of versatile powers, the genius that presides over your mteteresting miscellany excels in the art " delectandi pariter pariterque docendi."

This well-known character of The Port Folio induces me to invite your attention, and that of your readers, to the contents of a small work, just published in Richmond, and which professes no less an object than to account, upon a principle entirely new, for several important phenomena in the physical world, and, especially, for those exhibited by the tides, the trade-winds, and the singular compound substances, which have frequently been observed to descend from the upper regions of the atmosphere on the surface of the earth, and are generally known under the name of falling stone*.

« AnteriorContinuar »