« AnteriorContinuar »
occasional publications, which issued from a club of wits and young politicians* in that city and its vicinity.
In particular he is said to have borne a considerable share in the composition of the Anarchiad. This was a mock critical account of a pretended ancient epic poem, interspersed with a number of extracts from the supposed work, the whole conducted upon the plan of the Rolliad, but with higher political objects and less per: sonal asperity. By a fable contrived with some ingenuity, this poem is represented as having been known to the ancients, and read and imitated by some of the most popular modern poets. By this supposition the utmost license of parody and imitation is obtained, and by the usual poetical machinery of episodes, visions, and prophecies, the scene is shifted at pleasure, hackwards and forzards, from one country to another, from earth to heaven, and from ancient to modern times. This plan is filled up with great Spirit; the humorous is, indeed, better than the serious part; but both have merit, and some of the parodies are extremely happy. The political design of the authors was to support those plans which were then forming for the adoption of an efficient federal constitution, and to chastise and expose certain demagogues who, in some of the states, and especially in Rhode Island, had been active in several measures equally hostile to good faith, and to sound public policy. The Anarchiad, like the Rolliad, was published by piecemeal from time to time, as matter of satire happened to occur. It had a wide circulation through the union, and as at that time the public taste was unaccustomed to those strong stimulants to which it has since been habituated, this novelty of sarcasm and satire had a very considerable influence upon the political opinions of a large portion of the community.
On July 4, 1787, Barlow delivered an oration before the Connecticut Cincinnati. This composition is a piece of sober prose, with little parade of language, or attempt at eloquence. After go
* The most conspicuous among them were Mr. (now Judge) Trumbull, the author of M'Fingal, Rev. Mr. (now Dr.) Strong, Oliver Wolcott, Esq., Col. Humphreys, and the late Dr. Hopkins, the original projector of the Anarchiarl, a man of powerful mind, and eccentric habits, of bold imagination, and an undisciplined taste. The Hypocrite's Hope, and two other humorous pieces of an original and whimsical character, by Dr. Hopkins, may be found in the collection of American poems above referred to,
ing over the commonplace topics of the history of our indeperidence, the orator insists strongly upon the necessity of an efficient general government, and evidently labours to prepare the popular sentiment for a favourable reception of the new constitution then under consideration of the convention, in session in Philadelphia.
These various publications continued to increase and extend his reputation as a man of general talents; but in the meanwhile his success at the bar was by no means flattering. His mind, long habituated to indulge itself in all the elegant luxuries of learning, or to exercise its reasoning powers only upon general truth and philosophical investigation, could not descend with facility to the minute details, and mechanical drudgery, of the subordinate branches of his profession. He was unfortunate in an embarrassed elocution, his habits of life were grave and retired, and his manners and address were not of that familiar and conciliating cast which so often supplies or conceals the want of professional merit. These, or similar impediments, have for a season depressed the talents of some of the brightest ornaments of the bar; but have finally given way to the power of resolute application, or the invincible energies of genius.
Barlow, however, was in no situation to wait for wealth and hoRour, which might come too late, if they came at all. The small fund which he had accumulated from his literary speculations was rapidly decreasing, and the emoluments of his business were inconsiderable. He had, indeed, no children to render poverty more bitter by participating with him of its evils; and the active virtues and cultivated understanding of his wife, enabled him to bear up with fortitude against the privations and difficulties which threatened him.
Under these circumstances he was easily induced to abandon the profession, and engage in an employment which promised to enable him to obtain, in Europe, that competence for which he seemed destined to toil in vain in his native land. Of the nature of this new occupation the writer of a sketch of the earlier part of Mr. Barlow's life, published several years ago,* gives the follow
* In the London Monthly Magazine, for 1798. This and several other sketches of American characters, are understood to have been written by the late Dr. W. P. Smith, of New-York. VOL. IV. New Series
ing account. “ Some members of a land company, called the Ohio Company, in connexion with a few other persons, then supposed to be men of property, by a manœuvre, not then understood, but which has since been detected, appropriated to their own use a very considerable part of the funds of that company; and, under the title of the Scioto Company, offered vast tracts of land for sale in Europe, to few of which they had any pretensions.” As the agent of this company, but with perfect ignorance of their real plan, Barlow embarked for England, in 1788, and soon after crossed from thence to France, where he disposed of some of these lands, under the title of the Scioto Company. The French have never been remarkable for their success in colonization, and their first settlements on the Ohio failed completely. This was occasioned partly by the doubtful and disputed title under which they held, and partly also, it is to be presumed, by their want of enterprise and resource, and their inexpertness in those arts and habits of life which enable our own countrymen to subdue the forest, and to make the wilderness recede on every side from before the presence of civilized man; although their countryman Volney assigns a much more whimsical reason for the general failure of all their attempts of this nature. He ascribes it chiefly to their insatiable love of talking, which crowds them together in villages, puts a stop to all solitary labour, and engrosses the greater part of that time which the American settler devotes to active exertion.
After spending some years in misery and want, these colonists removed to more favourable situations, and the remains of their attempts at improvement, shortly after they left them, are described by intelligent travellers as exhibiting a strange scene of ludicrous wretchedness, more resembling the vestiges of a colony of beavers than those of a settlement of enterprising farmers.
The result of this agency was almost as unfortunate to Barlow, as to these speculators, and after affording him a temporary maintenance, left him with little other resource than his own talents and reputation, to force his way on this new stage of action.
During this period the progress of the revolution in France had kindled to a strong flame all that enthusiasm which he had long cherished for the cause of republicanism. In common with many great and wise men, he thought that he saw in the first struggles of that eventful epoch, the rudiments of the most profound political wisdom, and of a higher perfection of social order than Europe bad ever beheld. He became intimately acquainted with many of the leaders of the republican party, and particularly with those of that section afterwards denominated the Girondists, or moderates, entered warmly into all their plans, and was soon distinguished as one of their most zealous partisans.
He however returned to England, in 1791, with the intention of going from thence to America after having resided for a year or two longer in London. About the end of the year 1791 he published, in London, the first part of his “ Advice to the Privileged Orders.” This he afterwards completed by the addition of a second part, and the whole has been several times reprinted in the United States.
In this work he takes an extensive view of the abuses and evils of the feudal system, and the institutions which have been formed upon it; of those of all national church establishments; of the military system ; of the administration of justice; and of the system of revenue and finance, as they severally exist in the royal and aristocratical governments of Europe. Guided, as we now are, by the lights of recent experience, it is easy to perceive that the political opinions expressed in this work contain no inconsiderable mixture of important truth with radical error. To trace them with any degree of minuteness throughout his arguments and inferences, would require a commentary as large as the volume itself. It may be sufficient to observe, that, like all violent reformers of that and of every other age, he attributes by far too much influence and efficacy to the external forms of civil policy. This is the general character of his speculative political opinions, and it may be traced throughout all their particular applications. He seems to think that the system of social order derives its claim to the obedience of the citizen, and takes it's whole character from its particular form of civil government, with scarce any relation to the state of public morals, or the degree of national refinement. Some of the evils which he ascribes to the positive institutions of Europe, are such as uniformly spring from the most deeply-rooted propensities of human nature; others, again, are the necessary attendants on wealth and the rights of private property, and must exist in some degree in every society where some are rich and others poor.
In conformity with those principles, he holds that law is always complicated, and often obscure ; not because the affairs of civilized men are complicated also, because many points on which natural justice is silent must be settled by positive institution, and because there are others in which the right or wrong of a particular case may clash with the public utility of a general rule; but merely because it suits the schemes of statesmen and princes, that the people should be kept ignorant of the laws wbich are to govern them.
He asserts that the principles of military glory, of personal honour, and the admiration of courage, have no foundation in human nature, but owe their origin solely to the craft of kings and rulers; and he stoutly maintains, that republican governments can bever need a regular army, or find any advantage in possessing a good national credit. The effervescence of the times may serve to excuse a good deal of this extravagance. The whole book is evidently the production of a mind bold and acute, but deficient in that comprehension by which distant consequences and intricate relations are perceived, and difficulties and objections foreseen and examined. He is throughout animated by a manly love of liberty, a generous detestation of all trick and imposture, and a contempt of prejudice so strong as often to hurry him into an extreme almost equally dangerous.
This publication was, in February, 1792, followed by the “Conspiracy of Kings,” a poem of about four hundred lines. The subject was the first coalition of the continental sovereigns against France. It has little of poetical ornament, and the poet too often descends into the commonplace topics of the party politics of the day, but he is strongly interested in his subject, many of his lines are vigorous and animated, and cannot scarcely fail to communicate to the reader some portion of their author's enthusiasm. In the autumn of the same year he published a letter to the national convention of France on the defects of their first constitution, and the amendments which ought to be applied, in which he urges them to complete what he considers as their imperfect reform by abo