Book 4

Chapter 1

Hiatus valde deflendus, multa desiderantur.

Here is a great gap. Not a word said about the travels of the Captain, from the packing up of Teague, and sending him off to France, until after the termination of the French revolution, and the armistice or convention of Amiens. Though the fact is, that he had been, all this time, travelling, and Teague had rejoined him, in the capacity of pediseque, or foot-boy, as before. As to Duncan the Scotch waiter, he had, long since, left the service, and taken a job of weaving in the neighbourhood, and was doing well. The Captain had endeavoured to persuade him to take to preaching as many do in this country who are less qualified, but he refused, alleging, that though it was good work that pleased the customer, yet he had some scruples of conscience in undertaking the charge, not having been regularly called by ordination to the office.

Teague had been landed at Nantz, and being a real sans culotte, was liberated, as we have said, and caressed by the multitude. With considerable éclat, he made his way to Paris. We hear of him at a very early period as made use of, by Anacharsis Cloots, the orator of the human race; this was in a procession, in which representatives of all nations were introduced in their respective garbs, addressing the convention. Teague was in the character of an Esquimaux Indian, and passed his aboriginal Irish, for the native dialect of that people. An Irish officer was present discovered the imposition, but the guillotine forbad him to speak, and he was silent.

This ultramarine person, Teague, was a good deal distinguished during the reign of Robespierre, and was employed on many occasions, and discharged a variety of functions, so that though his morals were not much amended, nor his address much improved, yet he had contracted French phrases, and could interlard his dialect with a que voulez vous; and je demand pardon. At length he found himself in the conciergerie, a destination from which no talents, virtues, or even vices could exempt. And it was only on the fall of that monster of whom we have just made mention, that he was vomited with others from the caverns in which he had been secluded. How he ever got to America again it is difficult to say. We shall leave that to those who may take it from his own mouth the memoirs of his travels. It is sufficient for our purpose, that he did get back, and that he is once more in the train of the Captain. The fact is, that he had joined him in a most unexpected manner, in a short time after Duncan the Scotch servant had begged to be dismissed, and to apply himself to a profession more congenial with his education.

We shall go no farther back up the steps of the Captain, with the bog-trotter at his heels, than where we find them, within a mile, or less of the village where his home was, and where he had resided some years, before he had set out on his peregrinations. Passing through a wood just as he approached the town, he saw at some distance before him the semblance of men suspended on the limbs of trees, or at least the exuviae of men, coats, waist-coats, breeches, and hats. What can this be, said the Captain? It is probable that hearing of your return, Teague, the wags of the village have been making what are called Paddies, and have set them up on these trees, knowing that this way we should come? By St. Patrick, said Teague, but I will PaDdy dem wid dis shelalah. I will tache dem to make paddies, and hang dem up for sign posts in de wood here. Dis is not St. Patrick’s day in de morning neider: bad luck to dem, it may be some poor fellow dat dey have hanged up in reality, for shape-stealing as dey do in Ireland.

I see nothing, said the Captain, but the emptyings of ward-robes, jibbeted through the grove: stretched on trees, or suspended from them, a phenomenon which I am unable to comprehend, or explain; for I see no corn growing underneath, from which, a priapus or scarecrow might affright the birds; nor can they be the vestments of people at work, near hand, or stripped to bathe, as I see no water pond or river, but a dry grove.

The fact is, these habiliments were of the people of the town, who had hung them up to take the dew, in order to take off the musk of a pole-cat which had affected them from the perfusions of one of these animals. For not long before this, a typographist had set up a paper in the village and in the capacity of the editor had chosen to assume the symbol, or hieroglyphic of the porcupine, and in allusion to his quills called himself Peter Porcupine. Ahappy nature had fitted him for a satyrist, and felicity of education was not wanting to qualify him for the office. He had not the pleasantry of Horace, nor the pungency of Juvenal, but an original stricture of his own that supplied the place of them. The truth is he had been bred in the barracks, and had at his finger ends, the familiar phrases of the common soldiery, with that peculiar species of wit, which is common with that occupation of men, and in that grade. Doubtless we see something like it in the plebeians of all classes and denominations: The women that sell fish at a certain stand in London, have a species of it, known by the name of Billingsgate, either because there is a gate of that name near the place, or formerly was one. The miners and coal heavers have a good deal of it. The scavengers and chimney sweepers are adepts, though without the least scholastic education, or knowledge of letters. I have known even in our own country, where we are remote from the seats of the muses, a good deal of it possessed, by way travellers, or boat men on our rivers; a kind of unshackled dialect; fettered by no rule of delicacy, or feeling of humanity. I have been turning in my mind what word in our English language, best expresses it, and I have found it to be that which has been given it by Thomas Paine, black-guardism. The editor of the Porcupine had scored the village not a little. I do not say rubbed. For that is the translation of the phrase of Horace: urbem defricuit; and conveys the idea of tickling, and causing a sensation pleasant, yet hurting a little. That was not the case here. For what man without indignation and bitter resentment, can bear the touch of the slanderer, more especially if that slander is of a private, and domestic nature and alludes to what cannot be explained or defended. Not that it is true, but a man in the just pride of standing in society, would scorn to appeal to the public or bring it before a court!

There was in the village a man of understanding, and sensibility, who had been the subject of caricature and not chusing for reasons that weighed with himself, to take it in good part, thought of retaliation. But what could he do? The same language was unbecoming a gentleman. The like strictures of foibles or of faults on the part of an adversary, could only become the character of a subordinate. Nor was it so much his object to repress the licentiousness of this buffoon as to correct the taste and judgment of the public who did not all at once distinguish the impropriety of countenancing such ribaldry.

With a view to this, having taken a pole-cat on the mountains, he had put it in a cage and hiring an office contiguous to that of Porcupine, he kept it there, suffering the boys of the village to provoke it, and the dogs to bark at it through the bars, It was in vain to complain; the owner called himself Paul Pole-cat, and when Porcupine expostulated and justified his gall on the freedom of the press, Paul fortified himself on the liberty of the express.

But it was not Porcupine alone, nor his unoffending wife and family that had reason to complain of this nuisance. The children running home to their parents, and the dogs with them brought the perfume to the houses of the village. The wearing apparel of almost every one was affected with the musk: the women buried their dresses, the men in some instances did the like, and in others, hung them up to the action of the air, and the dews of the adjoining wood.

The vestiges of these were the phenomena, which the Captain saw in his approach to the town.

He had now got within sight of the main square, when a tumultuous assembly struck his eye; some with fists raised; others with sticks, and all in a menacing attitude. He could also hear tongues of people altercating with one another and using opprobrious epithets.

The fact was that the village had become divided. Those who had been the subjects of the obloquy of Porcupine, justified the emission of the cats, and were of opinion that the one had as good a right to be borne as the other. Counsel had been taken and learned opinions given. But this making the matter no better, the dissention had increased, and the people had come together in a rage.

Teague at a distance seeing this, stopped short; said he, what means all dis paple in de street? It is as bad as St. Anthony in Paris, or de place de greve where dey have de gillotine. De devil burn me if I go farther, ‘till your honor goes on and sees what is de matter.

The Captain advancing to the populace was recognized by them, and his appearance contributed not a little to a longer suspension of hostilities.

Countrymen and fellow-citizens, said he, is this the satisfaction that I have, in returning amongst you after an absence of several years, to see man armed against man, and war waged not only in the very bosom of the republic, but in the village which I have instructed by many precepts? What can be the madness that possesses you? are not the evils of life sufficient? but you must increase them by the positive acts of your own violence! You cannot wholly preserve yourselves at all times free from the maladies of the body, or the distresses of the mind. But it is in your power greatly to assuage these, by the virtues of temperance and moderation. What fury can prompt you, to this degree of apparent resentment, and approaching tumult? Is it local or general politics? Is it any disagreement with regard to your corporate interests, or is religion the cause? Has any flagrant instance of moral turpitude, or exceeding knavery in an individual, roused you to this excess of violence, and exclamation?

Captain, said a middle aged man stepping forward, companion of his years, and who had long lived with him in the village, It is not only pleasing to see you return in apparent good health, but more especially, at this particular moment when your interference cannot but be of the greatest use, to the citizens; not only on account of that confidence which they have in your judgment and discretion, of which they have a lively recollection; but as they must naturally think that your travelling must have given you knowledge, and brought you home full fraught with learning and information. Your humanity is also, well remembered by them; that man, woman or child was never injured by you, in life, estate, or reputation; that on the contrary, it was always your study to do good, and compose differences. Now a misfortune has happened to the village; if I can call it a misfortune, which was at first thought a good; a printer came to this place and set up a paper, or gazette, by taking subscriptions from those that were willing to give them. His device was the Porcupine; scarcely a month had gone over his head before he began to lampoon; searching into the secrets of families, and publishing matters of individuals, with which, whether true or false, the public had nothing to do; and this in so low and disorderly a manner, that the more intelligent have disapproved of it; but the bulk read, and it seems to increase rather than curtail his subscribers. A young man on the other hand that has had an academic education, meaning to burlesque his manner of writing, having gone to the mountain with a dog, or a trap, and having taken a pole cat, he puts the beast in a cage; hires that frame building that you see, one story high, and but a room on a floor, and calls it his office. Here he places the pole-cat with a man to attend it. What a running of boys; what a barking of dogs we have had! and when the children run home, and the dogs after them; what a putting of the hand upon the nose, by the servant girls and the mistresses, at the smell that accompanies! The young man justifies himself under the pretence that it is but retaliation of the odor that proceeds from the press of Porcupine; for, as this affects the organ of smelling, that disgusts the judgment of the mind. The people are divided, as will always be the case, if for no other cause, yet for the sake of division; because the pride of one man forbids him to think just as another does. The adversaries of the opposum, or what else it is, insist that it shall be put down as a nuisance, and have met with clubs, staves and knives, to carry the threat into execution. The advocates of the animal on the other hand have convened to oppose them.

But said the Captain, did I not leave you a regular corporation? Have you not power to make bye laws? and is not this done upon notice given by the chief or assistant burgesses? Why such hurry scurry as this? Moreover it is a weighty question that agitates the public mind; question of right: and where the rights of the citizen come in question, I hold it a most delicate thing to decide; in a free government, more especially, where the essence of liberty is the preservation of right; and is the right of conscience, the right of property, and the right of reputation. This is a right of property; for if this animal which is ferae naturae, has been reclaimed by the owner, he has a right, to put it to such use as suits his trade, or accords with his whim, provided that it does not affect the rights of others. The limit, boundary, or demarcation of this use, is a question of wise discussion and examination; and not in a tumultuous assembly, heated not with wine, but with the ardency of their own spirits. I advise therefore, and so far as my weak judgment deserves to be regarded, would recommend, that each man lay down his shelelah, baton, or walking stick, and retire for the evening; and convene to-morrow in a regular town meeting, where the adversaries and advocates on both sides may have an opportunity of being heard. To-morrow when ye meet with the chief burgess in the chair, to keep order, and preserve decorum, assign the proper times of speaking, and call to order on a deviation from the subject, as is usual in deliberative assemblies, the business can be taken up and conducted as is proper in town meetings. I am now just from my journey; somewhat fatigued; but more moved by the consideration that I am on horse-back, and it is not becoming that I take a part in your debates as if my horse were to speak also; for though it is true that some of you may speak with perhaps as little sense as he could, were he to open his mouth and attempt utterance; yet the decency of the thing forbids, and even the exercise of the right might be questioned; for the faculty might exist, yet he could not be considered as legitimately franchised to this privilege, at least not having a right to vote in town meetings. For though in the Congress of the United States, the representatives of the territories, not yet organized into independent states, and made regular members of the Union, have a right to speak, but not to vote, this is not to be drawn into precedent in subordinate corporations; for that is a special provision of the constitution. And it is even indecorous for myself to sit here and speak, mounted, as occupying a more elevated station; and should I descend from my cavalry, my servant you see yonder, is kept at bay, by an apprehension of your swords, and refuses to come up, so that I am without an attendant to hold the beast; all things considered therefore, I move a chairman not being appointed, who might put the question, that you adjourn, and dissolve until to-morrow about this time, when the matter may be taken up as we now have it, and the affair canvassed as becomes members of the same community, and inhabitants of the same village.

It cannot be difficult to conceive that these words had a favourable effect upon the audience; as oils compose a storm. For as the waves of the ocean rise and fall suddenly, so the passions of men; and in no instance more than where they are just coming to blows. For approaching anger disposes to peace, every one having felt half a blow already on his head; and the difficulty only is to get an excuse, for returning, or sheathing the weapon.

It was moved that in the mean time, the keeper, or as he called himself, the editor of the pole-cat, should keep his charge within the claustrum, or bars of his cage, and covered with a matting, so that access might not be had to him, by man or beast, or egress on his part, of that offensive odour, which had been the cause of the disturbance. This, the partizans of the skunk were willing to admit and sanction with their acquiescence, on condition, nevertheless, that the Porcupine in the mean time, should also restrain his quills; in other words, suspend the effusions of his press, and cease to distribute papers for a day or two during the pndency of the debate. This was thought reasonable, and carried by the multitude holding up their hands.