Imatges de pÓgina
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carbuncled nose, the snuffy waistcoat, the unorthodox sneer. We should wipe out his later years, cut his life short at 1796, and take Paine when he wrote "Common Sense," Paine when he lounged at the White Bear in Piccadilly, talking over with Horne Tooke the answer to Mr. Burke's "Reflections," and Paine, when, as "foreign benefactor of the species," he took his seat in the famous French Convention.

It would repay some capable author to dig him up, wash him, and show him to the world as he was. A biography of him would embrace the history of the struggle which established the new theory of politics in government. He is the representative man of Democracy in both hemispheres,-a good subject in the hands of a competent artist; and the time has arrived, we think, when justice may be done him. As a general rule, it is yet too soon to write the History of the United States since 1784. Half a century has not been sufficient to wear out the bitter feeling excited by the long struggle of Democrats and Federalists. Respectable gentlemen, who, more pious than Æneas, have undertaken to carry their grandfathers' remains from the ruins of the past into the present era, seem to be possessed with the same demon of discord that agitated the deceased ancestors. The quarrels of the first twenty years of the Constitution have become chronic ink-feuds in certain families. A literary vendetta is carried on to this day, and a stab with the steel pen, or a shot from behind the safe cover of a periodical, is certain to be received by any one of them who offers to his enemy the glorious opportunity of a book. Where so

much temper exists, impartial history is out of the question.

Our authors, too, as a general rule, have inherited the political jargon of the last century, and abound in "destiny of humanity," "inalienable rights," "virtue of the sovereign people," "base and bloody despots," and all that sort of phrase, earnest and real enough once, but little better than cant and twaddle now. They seem to take it for granted that the question is settled, the rights of man accurately defined, the true and only theory of government found,—and that he who doubts is blinded by aristocratic prejudice or is a fool. We must say, nevertheless, that Father Time has not yet had years enough to answer the great question of governing which was proposed to him in 1789. Some of the developments of our day may well make us doubt whether the last and perfect form, or even theory, is the one we have chosen. "Les monarchies absolues avaient deshonoré le despotisme: prenons garde que les républiques démocratiques ne le réhabilitent." But Paine's part in the history of this country after 1783 is of so small importance, that in a life of him all such considerations may be safely waived. The democratic movement of the last eighty years, be it a “finality," or only a phase of progress towards a more perfect state, is the grand historical fact of modern times, and Paine's name is intimately connected with it. One is always ready to look with lenity on the partiality of a biographer,-wheth er he urge the claims of his hero to a niche in the Valhalla of great men, or act as the Advocatus Diaboli to degrade his memory.

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OF BOOKS AND THE READING THEREOF.

BEING A THIRD LETTER FROM PAUL
POTTER, OF NEW YORK, IN THE CITY

AND COUNTY OF NEW YORK, ESQ.,
TO THE DON ROBERTO WAGONERO,
OF WASHINGTON, olim, BUT nunc OF

NOWHEREINPARTICULAR.

my misfortunes,) at a moment when I had the prospect of her sharing my better days."

But if I am getting old, although perhaps prematurely, I must be. casting about for the subsidia senectuti. Swift wrote to Gay, that these were “two or three servants about you and a convenient house"; justly observing, that, "when a man grows hard to please, few people care whether he be pleased or no”; and adding, sadly enough, “I should hardly prevail to find one visitor, if I were not able to hire him with a bottle of wine"; and so the sorrowful epistle concludes with the sharpest grief of all: "My female friends, who could bear with me very well a dozen years ago, have now forsaken me." It is odd that Montaigne should have hit upon the wine also as among the subsidia senectuti; although the sage Michael complains, as you will remember, that old men do not relish their wine, or at least the first glass, because "the palate is furred with phlegms." But I care little either for the liquor or the lackeys, and not much, I fear, at present, for "the female friends." I have, then, nothing left for it but to take vio

If any person, O my Bobus, had foretold that all these months would go by before I should again address you, he would have exhibited prescient talent great enough to establish twenty "mediums" in a flourishing cabalistic business. Alas! they have been to me months of fathomless distress, immensurate and immeasurable sorrow, and blank, blind, idiotic indifference, even to books and friends, which, next to the nearest and dearest, are the world's most priceless possession. But now that I have a little thrown off the stupor, now that kindly Time has a little balmed my cruel wounds, I come back to my books and to you,to the animi remissionem of Cicero, to these gentle sympathizers and faithful solacements,-to old studies and ancient pursuits. There is a Latin line, I know not whose, but Swift was fond of quoting it,"Vertiginosus, inops, surdus, male gratus lently to books; for I doubt not I shall

amicis,"

which I have whispered to myself, with prophetic lips, in the long, long watches of my lonesome nights. Do you remember-but who that has read it does not?

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that affecting letter, written upon the death of his wife, by Sir James Mackintosh to Dr. Parr? Such was she whom I have lost; and I have lost her when her excellent natural sense was rapidly improving, after eight years of struggle and distress had bound us fast together and moulded our tempers to each other, when a knowledge of her worth had refined my youthful love into friendship, before age had deprived it of much of its original ardor. I lost her, alas! (the choice of my youth, and the partner of

find almost any house convenient, and I am sure of one at last which I can claim by a title not to be disturbed by all the precedents of Cruise, and in which no mortal shall have a contingent remainder.

To books, then, I betake myself,- to books, "the immortal children" of "the understanding, courage, and abilities" of the wise and good,-ay! and to inane, drivelling, doting books, the bastard progeny of vanity and ignorance,-books over which one dawdles in an amusing dream and pleasant spasm of amazement, and which teach us wisdom as tipsy Helots taught the Spartan boys sobriety. Montaigne "never travelled without books, either in peace or war"; and as I found

them pleasant in happier days, so I find them pleasant now. Of course, much of this omnivorous reading is from habit, and, invitâ Minervâ, cannot be dignified by the name of study,— that stiff, steady, persistent, uncompromising application of the mind, by virtue of which alone the Pons Asinorum can be crossed, and the Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclidwhich I entirely disbelieve-mastered.

I own to a prodigious respect, entertained since my Sophomore year at the University, for those collegiate youth whose terribly hard study of Bourdon and Legendre seems to have such a mollifying effect upon their heads,—but, as the tradesmen say, that thing is "not in my line.” I would rather have a bundle of bad verses which have been consigned to the pastry-cook. I suppose-for I have been told so upon good authority -that, if "equals be taken from equals, the remainders are equal." I do not see why they should not be, and, as a citizen of the United States of America, the axiom seems to me to be entitled to respect. When a youthful person, with a piece of chalk in his hand, before commencing his artistic and scientific achievements upon the black-board, says: "Let it be granted that a straight line may be drawn from any one point to any other point," I invariably answer, "Of course, by all manner of means,”—although you know, dear Don, that, if I should put him upon mathematical proof of the postulate, I might bother him hugely. But when we come to the Fourteenth Proposition of Euclid's Data, when I am required to admit, that, "if a magnitude together with a given magnitude has a given ratio to another magnitude, the excess of this other magnitude above a given magnitude has a given ratio to the first magnitude; and if the excess of a magnitude above a given magnitude has a given ratio to another magnitude, this other magnitude together with a given ratio to the first magnitude,”-I own to a slight confusion of my intellectual faculties, and a perfect contempt for John Buteo and Ptolemy. Then, there is Butler's " Anal

ogy"; an excellent work it is, I have been told,—a charming work to master,

quite a bulwark of our faith; but as, in my growing days, it was explained to me, or rather was not explained, before breakfast, by a truculent Doctor of Divinity, whom I knew to be ugly and felt to be great, of course, the good Bishop and I are not upon the best of terms. I suppose that for drilling, training, and pipe-claying the human mind all these things are necessary. I suppose, that, in our callow days, it is proper that we should be birched and wear fetters upon our little, bandy, sausage-like legs. But let me, now that I have come to man's estate, flout my old pedagogues, and, playing truant at my will, dawdle or labor, walk, skip, or run, go to my middle in quagmires, or climb to the hill-tops, take liberties with the venerable, snub the respectable, and keep the company of the disreputable,- dismiss the Archbishop without reading his homily,- pass by a folio in twenty grenadier volumes to greet a little black-coated, yellow-faced duodecimo,- speak to the forlorn and forsaken, who have been doing dusty penance upon cloistered shelves in silent alcoves for a century, with none so poor to do them reverence,- read here one little catch which came from lips long ago as silent as the clod which they are kissing, and there some forgotten fragment of history, too insignificant to make its way into the world's magnificent chronologies, snapping up unconsidered trifles of anecdote, -tasting some long-interred bon-mot and relishing some disentombed scandal,-pausing over the symphonic prose of Milton, only to run, the next moment, to the Silenian ribaldry of Tom Brown the younger,―and so keeping up a Saturnalia, in which goat-footed sylvans mix with the maidens of Diana, and the party-colored jester shakes his truncheon in the face of Plato. Only in this wild and promiscuous license can we taste the genuine joys of true perusal.

I suppose, my dear friend, that, when you were younger and foolisher than you now are, you were wont, after the reading

of some dismal work upon diet and health, to take long, constitutional walks. You "toddled"-pardon the vulgar word!so many miles out and so many miles in, at just such a pace, in just the prescribed time, during hours fixed as the Fates; and you wondered, when you came home to your Graham bread and cold water, that you did not bring an appetite with you. You had performed incredible pedestrian achievements, and were not hungry, but simply weary. It is of small use to try to be good with malice prepense. Nature is nothing, if not natural. If I am to read to any purpose, I must read with a relish, and browse at will with the bridle off. Sometimes I go into a library, the slow accretion of a couple of centuries, or perhaps the mushroom growth from a rich man's grave, a great collection magically convoked by the talisman of gold. At the threshold, as I ardently enter, the flaming sword of regulation is waving. Between me and the inviting shelves are fences of woven iron; the bibliographic Cerberus is at his sentryship; when I want a full draught, I must be content with driblets; and the impatient messengers are sworn to bring me only a single volume at a time. To read in such a hampered and limited way is not to read at all; and I go back, after the first fret and worry are over, to the little collection upon my garret-shelf, to greet again the old familiar pages. I leave the main army behind," the lordly band of mighty folios," "the well-ordered ranks of the quartos," ," "the light octavos," and "humbler duodecimos," for

"The last new play, and frittered magazine,"

for the sutlers and camp-followers, "pioneers and all," of the grand army,-for the prizes, dirty, but curious, rescued from the street-stall, or unearthed in a Nassau-Street cellar,- for the books which I thumbed and dogs-eared in my youth.

I have, in my collection, a little Divinity, consisting mostly of quaint Quaker books bequeathed to me by my grandmother,- -a little Philosophy, a little Physic, a little Law, a little History, a little

Fiction, and a deal of Nondescript stuff. Once, when the res angusta domi had become angustissima, a child of Israel was, in my sore estate, summoned to inspect the dear, shabby colony, and to make his sordid aureat or argent bid therefor. Well do I remember how his nose, which he could not, if his worthless life had depended upon it, render retroussé, grew sublimely curvilinear in its contempt, as his hawk-eyes estimated my pitiful family. I will not name the sum which he offered, the ghoul, the vampire, the anthropophagous jackal, the sneaking would-be incendiary of my little Alexandrian, the circumcised Goth! He left me, like Churchill's Scotch lassie, "pleased, but hungry "; and I found, as Valentine did in Congreve's "Love for Love," "a page doubled down in Epictetus which was a feast for an emperor."

I own, my excellent Robert, that a bad book is, to my taste, sometimes vastly more refreshing than a good one. I do not wonder that Crabbe, after he had so sadly failed in his medical studies, should have anathematized the medical writers in this fine passage:

"Ye frigid tribe, on whom I waited long The tedious hours, and ne'er indulged in song!

Ye first seducers of my easy heart, Who promised knowledge ye could not impart!

Ye dull deluders, Truth's destructive foes! Ye Sons of Fiction, clad in stupid prose! Ye treacherous leaders, who, yourselves in doubt,

Light up false fires, and send us far about!Still may yon spider round your pages spin, Subtle and slow, her emblematic gin! Buried in dust and lost in silence dwell! Most potent, grave, and reverend friends,farewell!"

I acknowledge the vigor of these lines, which nobody could have written who had not been compelled, in the sunny summer-days, to bray drugs in a mortar. Yet who does not like to read a medical book?-to pore over its jargon, to muddle himself into a hypo, and to imagine himself afflicted with the dreadful disease with the long Latin name, the mean

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ing of which he does not by any means comprehend? And did not the poems of our friend Bavius Blunderbore, Esq., which were of "a low and moderate sort," cause you to giggle yourself wellnigh into an asphyxy,-calf and coxcomb as he was? Is not — -'s last novel a better antidote against melancholy, stupendously absurd as it is, than foalfoot or plantain, featherfew or savin, agrimony or saxifrage, or any other herb in old Robert Burton's pharmacopoeia ? I am afraid that we are a little wanting in gratitude, when we shake our sides at the flaying of Marsyas by some Quarterly of Apollo,-to the dis-cuticled, I mean. If he had not piped so stridently, we should not have had half so much sport; yet small largess does the miserable minstrel get for tooting tunelessly. Let us honor the brave who fall in the battle of print. "Twas a noble ambition, after all, which caused our asinine friend to cloak himself in that cast leonine skin. Who would be always reciting from a hornbook to Mistress Minerva? What, I pray you, would become of the corn, if there were no scarecrows? All honor to you, then, my looped and windowed sentinel, standing upon the slope of Parnassus,— standing so patiently there, with your straw bowels, doing yeoman-service, spite of the flouts and gibes and cocked thumbs of Zoilus and his sneering, snarling, verjuicy, captious crew,-standing there, as stood the saline helpmate of Lot, to fright our young men and virgins from the primrose-pitfalls of Poesy,-standing there to warn them against the seductions of Phobus, and to teach them that it is better to hoe than to hum!

The truth is, that the good and clever and polyphloisboic writers have too long. monopolized the attention of the world, so that the little, well-intentioned, humble, and stupid plebeians of the guild have been snubbed out of sight. Somebody the name is not given, but I shrewdly suspect Canon Smith-wrote to Sir James Mackintosh, "Why do you not write three volumes quarto? You only want this to be called the

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greatest man of your time. People are all disposed to admit anything we say of you, but I think it unsafe and indecent to put you so high without something in quarto." This was, of course, half fun and half truth. As there is, however, little need of setting the world on fire to demonstrate some chemical theory, so it is possible that the flame of culture may be cherished without kindling a conflagration, and truth transmitted from sire to son without the construction of edificial monsters too big for the knees, too abstruse for the brains, and too great for the lifetime of humanity. I am not a very constant reader of Mr. Robert Browning, but I own to many a pleasant grin over his Sibrandus Schafnabrugensis dropped into the crevice of the plumtree, and afterward pitifully reclaimed, and carried to its snug niche with the promise,—

"A.'s book shall prop you up, B.'s shall cover you,

Here's C. to be grave with, or D. to be

gay;

And with E. on each side, and F. right over

you,

Dry-rot at ease till the Judgment Day!" How often, when one is roving through a library in search of adventures, is he encountered by some inflated champion of huge proportions, who turns out to be no better than a barber, after all! Gazing upon

"That weight of wood, with leathern coat o'erlaid,

Those ample clasps, of solid metal made, The close-pressed leaves, unloosed for many an age,

The dull red edging of the well-filled page, On the broad back the stubborn ridges rolled,

Where yet the title stands, in burnished gold,"

what wisdom, what wit, what profundity, what vastness of knowledge, what a grand gossip concerning all things, and more beside, did we anticipate, only to find the promise broken, and a big impostor with no more muscle than the black drone who fills the pipes and sentries the seraglio of the Sophi or the Sultan! The

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