« AnteriorContinuar »
THE PORT FOLIO,
NEW SERIES, BY OLIVER OLDSCHOOL, ESQ.
Varioui;—that the mind
Vol. IIL FEBRUARY, 1810.
FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
SKETCH OF THE CHARACTER OF THE LATE GENERAL SCHUYLER.
IN the decease of major general Schuyler both America and the state, which had the honour of giving him birth, have sustained a great and an irreparable loss. So high and so broad a place has he filled in community, so blended with all the great concerns and interests of the nation have been his life and his distinguished name; such an impression of his agency and character has been left on our affairs, and so extensively has the social system, for a long course of years, felt the influence of his genius and his labours, that it may not be too much to say, that in his removal that system has experienced a profound sensation of vacuity never to be supplied.
Although in the gradual decay which marked the last period of the general's life, bodily infirmity, disease, and pain restrained activity and repressed exertion; although the state of parties, for a time, was calculated to render useless the suggestions of his fertile mind, and his rich experience; yet a quick retrospect of past times and past events Vol. Hi. i
cannot fail to awaken all our regrets, heighten the impression of our loss, and communicate a shock to every patriotic bosom.
The history of our country, of its institutions, its policy, its jurisprudence, is full of monuments of this great man's usefulness and fame. They are extant or latent in the whole of our system; and excursive Memory, from the wide and various field of civil, political, and military affairs, returns loaded with these memorials. Of the rare public spirit, indefatigable activity, persevering resolution, profound penetration, and commanding talents of this eminent citizen, the last half century has been a steady witness. Few are the transactions, events, and places, in the several departments of public life and public business; for the last forty years, in which he has not borne some part, or contributed some aid or influence.
In his early military career, his activity, zeal, and skill gave facility to every operation. In the more important and interesting scenes of our revolution, in times which required great resources and great energies, he was among the first in the confidence of his country; the man on whose spirit and abilities the most serious reliance was placed for providing those resources, and for repelling public dangers. And while others shared with him the toil of war, he, whether in or out of active and immediate service, was justly considered as a main-spring of every patriotic movement, and the soul of the northern department.
During that short period which followed the termination of the war, and which, though our independence was conquered and secured, might properly be termed the gloomy night of the confederation, general Schuyler found less occasion for the exertion of talents, but enough for the exercise of a vigilance and firmness then so necessary. Not discouraged by the existing state of things, and looking forward with assurance to the glorious morning of the constitution, when public spirit and public virtue were to awake from their slumbers, he continued to devote himself to the public service in the state legislature, the only theatre where he could act efficiently. With views always liberal and extensive he contemplated, with a steady aim, the consolidation of our union as the first of political blessings, and laboured in the very front of the enlightened men of that day in appeasing local jealousies and state pride, then the greatest obstacles to political reform.
The commencement of our new era opened wide the field for the exercise of those abilities, which long experience and much study had brought to full maturity. A better system of state politics, which followed the reformation of the national system, presented fair objects and full scope for the execution of useful plans. To legislation in all its views, to public improvement in its various branches, he brought those stores of useful and practical science, those original powers and that chastened judgment produced or perfected by the research and labour of forty years. From that period to the resignation of his employments, his public life was one uninterrupted scene of interesting engagement and active pursuit. A prime agent in all important affairs, a natural leader in public business, he never disdained or declined the task of personal labour, or minute detail, in arranging or executing the plans originating in his own conceptions. The journals and the history of the public bodies, in which he so sedulously and conspicuously acted, afford a mere outline of the services he performed and the character he sustained. They reremain faint memorials of his inventive genius, his intense labours, and his matchless facility. His parts and his powers were equally vigorous and versatile. Accustomed to military scenes, he was equally familiar with the civil code, with the policy of states, with the financial and economical systems, and with the useful arts. Without the benefits of an early education strictly classical, he was yet as extensively acquainted with books as with men, and without professional habits or practice, a legislator, without the study of the law, our statute book, in every part, bears the impression of his hand.
To draw a full and complete portrait of this eminent man would be an arduous task, and far above the feeble pen now employed in sketching a few of its lineaments. Considered in various points of view, his image assumes various forms, each equally interesting and striking. Connected with all, he stood distinct from all. Original as was his character, and nervous as were his individual faculties, both are best to be seen, read, and appreciated in their effects and their diffusible influence. History can alone with truth portray the entire man; since history collects from remote sources, decends into the detail of things, and combines out of the scattered materials of particular acts and exploits those general, and, withal, those luminous views which alone are adapted to the portraiture of eminent characters. Even in history something will be lost or defective, because genius often acts by foreign instruments, moves by an imperceptible line, pervades a system unseen, gives to a train its first spark, and communicates an influence which cannot be traced.
General Schuyler united in himself a rare assemblage of striking qualities. In him, to great quickness and strength of intellect was added an uncommon, perhaps an unequalled, spirit of industry and command of detail. It was his general habit to narrow the interval between the conception and performance of things, by descending, from the highest mental research to the most patient actual labour. By this he attained exactness, and secured fidelity of execution. Though so much accustomed, and so well qualified, to manage affairs of state and of civil policy, he never abstracted himself from the concerns of agriculture and the useful arts. Familiar with the science of cultivation, and deep in the knowledge of nature, he was the projector, promoter, and patron of improvements, both general and local, in every branch of rural and domestic economy. But in improvements projected on a larger scale, and for general accommodation, his views and efforts were more particularly keen and conspicuous. Here his zeal arose to a patriotic fervor and public spirit, that spirit which is now, alas! almost extinct with him, presided over his plans, animated his steps, and gave to his most comprehensive and systematic views the warmth and energy of a single exertion. He was attentive to the most remote interests, while the vitals of our system felt his reforming influence; and, while with one hand he healed the disorders in the treasury, with the other he opened the field, and conducted the progress of internal commerce.
In contemplating the character of this veteran and worthy, the mind is forcibly struck with that happy union of intuitive powers combined with the most sedate and correct judgment. To a careless observer, indeed, viewing him•an opposite lights, a fervid imagination, at one time, seems to preside over his character. At another common sense appears to hold the sway. In the texture of this character, however, as in that of the changeable silk, the colours that cast so various a shade were intimately blended. The general was a practical man in his whole life; and though he pursued the execution of well digested plans with the enthusiasm of a projector, he never suffered soaring Fancy to disturb the balance of sober Reason. A similar remark may be applied to his private life. His temper was ardent; but his general estimate of merit was just and liberal; and, if ever urged too far by the heat of the moment, his kindness was sure to return, and with it Generosity resumed its habitual sway. To fraud and imposture of every species, public or private, he never relaxed his frown; and even impertinence, absurdity, and folly sometimes moved his impatience. Thus in the movement of his passions was exhibited the standard of his principles and taste. In his opinions, atattached to an energetic administration, a friend to strict political discipline, as the best preservative of liberty, too proudly honest to be indiscriminately popular, and holding in utter abhorrence the intrigues of Democracy and the spirit of a mob government, he found many among the interested, the envious, the ambitious, and factious, who ventured to question his patriotism: but a long life devoted to the