Chapter 3

The day after the town meeting, the Captain began to reflect, that he could not avoid being implicated in the character of the paper about to be established. O’Regan was known to be his servant; at least to be under his influence, and he would be considered the real editor; Teague the ostensible, and though the fact was known at home, that he had nothing to do with it, yet abroad, it would bear a different construction, and refutation would be difficult. Having supported the character of a gentleman, and being still willing to support that character, how could he endure to have the volumes of scurrility, that would appear, imputed to him; or supposed to be admitted with his approbation? Uneasy with this upon his mind, he could see no way to get out of the labyrinth in which he had involved himself, by inadvertently proposing Teague. He thought it however his duty, and that he was bound in honour to disclose to the bog-trotter, the office to which he was destined. Maintaining good faith, he was unwilling to make use of his influence to dissuade from the undertaking; or to deter by representing the danger that existed, and the consequences that might ensue. This he could easily have done, by suggesting the guillotine, or even a cudgelling, the more common mode of punishment, in this republic. But good faith forbade.

But what was the amazement of every one, when news was brought, that Porcupine, had decamped in the mean time! Whether it was that the talents of Teague had been magnified, and he did not choose to engage in competition with one so much his superior, lest he should lose by comparison, the reputation he had acquired; or what is more likely, the constables were after him for debt, his press and types having been seized the day before, and sold for rent, and new demands, of a smaller nature coming against him, fines and penalties also hanging over him for libels; and damages recoverable in actions of defamation; but so it was, that he had disappeared.

The Captain was relieved from embarrassment to his great joy; which he endeavoured to conceal, because he now saw a way open to set aside the idea of a press, which he had reason to apprehend his bog-trotter would not be competent to conduct with reputation.

Towns men, and fellow citizens, said he, seizing the first opportunity to speak, the reason has ceased, upon which we had proposed to act; the setting up of the bog-trotter in the capacity of an editor as a match for Porcupine, for he has disappeared; and what need we buff at the bear when there is no bear to buff at? Unless indeed we could set him up, expecting from him a chaste and pure paper containing solid information, and strictures useful to the republic. But that from his education and manners, we have no reason to expect. It is true, if he had sense to collect the ideas, and give them expression, he has had opportunities to observe what if known and digested, might essentially serve to preserve from exremes in a free government.. He has seen the folly of the people of France, if those occasionally thrown into the representative assemblies, could be called the people. He has seen the folly of these in reducing all things to the first elements instead of accommodating to existing establishments; of deracinating from the foundation church and state, and bandying the term liberty until ignorance and usurpation terminated in despotism. For though at the commencement of a revolution, active and uninformed spirits, are useful, or perhaps absolutely necessary, like the subterranean fire throwing up continents; yet as in this case, the fostering dews, and the breath of the atmosphere, are necessary, to give soil and impregnate with vegetation; so after the stirrings of men’s minds, with a political convulsion, deliberate reason, and prudent temperament are necessary, to preserve what is gained, and turn it to advantage. But fellow-citizens, this sans culotte, for so he was called in France; and well he might; for he was without femorals when he went away, and when he came back; this sans culotte, is not a Mirabeau. He has kept no journal: he has made no observations except of mens' heads chopped off by the guillotine. He has brought back little with him, but ce que dit; que ce vous la; donnez moi, and such like. I think we are well off with him and let him go to his vocation.

Observations

The preceding chapters were written some years ago, while an editor of the name of Cobbet, published a paper under the title of “Porcupine.” But the breaking up of that paper in a manner similar to that just stated, prevented the going on with the allegory, or the handing to the public by the way of the press, in some shape, the pamphlet begun. Some time since, the appearance of a certain Callender, in a paper under the title of the Recorder, had induced me to look at what I had intended for Porcupine, and to think of continuing it to some point and winding up of the story; but the man drowning himself, or being drowned by accident, stopped me in my intention, as it would be like throwing water on a dead, or as the proverb is, a drowned rat, to say any thing that had a relation to him.

But having leisure on my hands, and in warm weather, liking light work, I amused myself with saying some things that were on my mind on other subjects, and I thought I would make this which I had already written, the introduction. For the fact is, that I mean this tale of a Captain travelling, but as a vehicle to my way of thinking on some subjects; just as the ancients introduced speakers in a dialogue, occasionally at banquets; or as the philosophers in their walks and conversations, moralized in parables, and feigned cases, a way of reasoning, and address less offending the self-love of men than what has the appearance of immediate and direct instruction. Nor, will the publication of the foregoing hints on the illiberality of the press, be thought, even now, altogether useless; for though, since the death, or departure, of the two monsters just named, there has been an ebb of this flood of scurrility, yet, dropping the figure, the American press, has not been wholly free from the stains of the like paragraphs. The application therefore may not be wholly without an object, and, in the painting there may be seen some existing resemblances. For though, as the almanac-makers say, “It is calculated for a particular meridian, yet it may without sensible variation, serve other latitudes.” No man can have a higher opinion of the dignity of station occupied by the editor of a paper under a free government, than I have. I think it one of the most honourable, as well as the most useful in society. I am unwilling therefore that it be degraded, and I am happy to observe that the example of the two monsters mentioned, has had the effect to disgust the public.

I take the pulpit, the courts of judicature, and the press, to be the three great means of sustaining and enlightening a republic. The Scripture is replete with the finest sayings of morality. With a scholar of the Latin and Greek school, it is delightful to quote in conversation, or writing, the classical sentences of antiquity, aptly applying them to the occasion; enriching the discourse with apposite thoughts; pleasing the hearer, or the reader, and doing credit to the person himself; drawing out from his treasury, such things new and old. But these writings of an oriental cast, contain pithy observations upon life and manners, than which there can be nothing more delightful to remember and quote, and more profitable to carry into practice. Reading the Scriptures by young people; hearing them explained and introduced by quotation, sermon and lectures from the pulpit, raises the affections to virtue, and helps the judgment in the conduct of life.

The courts of judicature, are a school of justice, and honor. A great ground of the law, are the principles of universal justice. The discussion of council; the verdicts of juries; the decision of the courts, have respect to the great principles of moral honesty. But the sphere is confined, compared with that of the press, which has an extensive range; and for this reason ought to preserve the greater delicacy in language and sentiment. Even the war of the sword has its laws.-- It is not allowable to poison springs, or the means of life. In a paper war nothing is justifiable that does not tend to establish a position, or determine a controversy; that which outrages humanity, is the cruelty of a savage who puts to death with torture, or disfigures, to gratify revenge.

To know what may be said in a paper, or in what manner it may be said, the editor whom the public alone knows, need only consider what would become a gentleman to say, in promiscuous society. Whether conversing in the manner he writes, or in which, what is inserted, is written, he would be heard with respect, and treated with civility. Good breeding is as necessary in print as in conversation. The want of it equally entitles to the appellation of an ill-bred-man. The press can have no more licence than the tongue. At the tribunal of common sense, it has less, because an expression might escape a man, which might receive pardon, or excuse, as the offspring of inadvertance; but writing is deliberate, and you man turn back and strike out the allusion, or correct the term.

National character is interested in the delicacy of the press. It is a disgrace to a people to have amongst them volumes of scurrility circulated through their post-offices, with a peculiar privilege of centage, placed upon the benches in our public houses or sent home to our private dwellings.

Is this occupation to which it ought to be an honour to belong; to which a father would wish to put a son, having educated him with the best advantages, and giving him, as he had thought, a duty as sacred as the priesthood, and with a more exclusive sphere of action than the barrister; having it in high commission by the constitution of his country, “to canvass the conduct of men in public offices,” and inform the public, “where the matter is proper for public information.”

It does not follow, that because a man takes a paper, that he approves of all that is in it. It is certainly censurable to continue our subscription to a paper, the prevailing tenor of which is defamatory of individuals; but were we to reject a paper because it is occasionally so, there are few papers that we should take at all. The American press, has been abominably gross, and defamatory, and there are few publications of this nature, that have been at all times unexceptionable. A man will be astonished sometimes to hear of himself, or of others, what has not the slightest foundation, but in the invention of the paragraphist. There may be some prototype, filmy origin to the unsubstantial fabric; perhaps not even a vapour, but in the breath of the defamer. Is the assassin odious, and not the author of anonymous abuse? Yet such is the error of opinion with some, that they think it not dishonourable to attack anonymously. It is cowardice in a free country, where the law is equal; where no Caesar exists to make it necessary to conceal the author of the pasquinade. A brave man will scorn subterfuge and shade. An honest man will avow himself and his opinions.