Chapter 5

The Captain had now been more than a month at home, making enquiry into the history of the village; what changes in the domestic affairs of his neighbors; what good or bad fortune had happened to individuals, at the same time walking through the town, and observing the improvements or dilapidations in the buildings or streets. It was obvious that little attention had been paid, for some time, to public works; the pavements were neglected, and the ways and water-courses suffered to fill up. An aqueduct begun, to bring a spring from the hill, was left unfinished.

What can be the reason of all this, said he to the citizens? It was answered, that the chief and assistant burgesses some time ago had been extravagant; that the works, which, by the charter of incorporation they had a power to project, were extensive, and the consequent taxes which they had a right to impose, and which became necessary, were thought oppressive. The people had left out these officers at the annual election, and chosen new. That these wishing to preserve popularity, had let all matters rest, and had neither made improvements, nor raised taxes.

And will this please always?

They have turned out one set for doing too much; and they will turn out the other next for doing nothing.

But why not hit a medium? said the Captain. A difficulty occurs, continued the speaker. In the works projected, the people insist that no man shall be consulted in his own occupation. The mason shall make out the bills of scantling; and the carpenter determine the arches of a stone bridge.

That is, said the Captain,just as bad, as in a city that I passed through in my travels. The physicians claimed a right to judge of laws, and the lawyers of physic. Reversing the maxim, that every man is to be trusted in his own profession.

This is republicanism run mad. The sovereign people would do well to imitate other sovereigns, at least in this; that they trust even foreigners in the arts, and not by an unreasonable jealousy, lose the advantage of judgment, which is not in the nature of things, that they themselves can possess.

Political divisions will always exist. It is inseparable from the nature of a community. And it is not in the nature of things that the power can be long on one side. The duration depends upon the judgment of using it. The people will revolt from themselves when they find they have done wrong, and that side which was now the weakest will become the strongest.


 

Accounts were received, and Teague himself occasionally announced that he had succeeded in taking up subscriptions for his commentaries. But it had never occurred to any one that the bog-trotter could neither read nor write. But the difficulty now presenting itself, a school-master offered his services to be his amanuensis.

But amongst the advertisements on the tavern and shop doors, the Captain observing one day a notice of the want of a suitable person in the academy to instruct in the French language, he was led to reflect, that after dictating his publication, Teague would be out of employment, and that a vacancy of this kind might tally with his faculties having been in France, the very country where the language was vernacularly spoken; that his attainments must be much superior to those who had acquired the tongue only from dead books, the ear not accustomed to the sounds of familiar conversation.

Losing no time he waited on the principal of the academy, and gave him a minute account of the pedeseque, and of his pretensions.

The principal was astonished; but concealed his surprise. He could easily comprehend the incompetency of this man to teach the language in a school of learning, where it is expected to be taught grammatically; and the absurdity of taking his lingo, for French, if he had the brogue in that pronunciation as he had in English. But it might not be so easy a matter to convince the Captain of this, who appeared to have an undue opinion of his acquirements. Nevertheless he endeavoured to make himself intelligible on this subject, by observing that there was a wide difference between a public professor in a college, and a private tutor who attends pupils occasionally: that in a seminary of learning the rudiments of a language were usually taught by rules; and it was an object to understand the parts of speech into which the tongue was divided; the use of the articles if there were any; the inflexions of the cases, the variations of the genders, the conjugations of the verbs; the concords of syntax; and after all this the idiom, or peculiar phrase, and structure of the sentence: that from what the Captain had informed him, and what he himself had gleaned from others, of the characteristics of this subordinate, the academy was not his province, but the village. He might employ his talents to advantage, instructing young gentlemen and ladies in the French tongue at their houses; with a bare grammar, and without a dictionary; or without a grammar; and with the voice and diction only. For in fact it was of little consequence how they were taught; for they would learn nothing: and barbers, and tumblers that had come in and undertaken to instruct; had done as well as wiser masters; for they had amused their pupils; and amusement was all that pupils would be willing to receive. Enough if they can get a word or two that sounds like French, to throw out to a lady at a dance, as parlez vous, madame; or sil vous plais.

It may be a digression, said the Captain; but it is a profitable lesson. Do you conceive that the American youth are too hastily manufactured, and come forward too soon into life?

Unquestionably, said the principal. Education here is unnaturally hastened. Our minority is too short to make a great man. “We overstep the modesty of nature,” and suffer our young men to come forward into councils that require the heads of age. Hence our juvenile speeches in debates. Hence the wild fire in our councils. The young gentlemen of the village were above learning as soon as they had got on a pair of pantaloons, and half-boots. They are out of their education, and men before their time. We had an election the other day, for a chief burgess. It was a matter of astonishment to those of the old school, to see a youth come forward, born after his competitor had been ranked with the sages of the village, and claim the suffrages of the citizens. It had an unfavorable effect upon the very dumb creation. It was not enough that the lads are under age, began to raise their voices and vociferate; but it seemed that the young of animals had gained upon their growth, and were old before they had attained maturity. The young dogs barked more; whether it was from an impression of the atmosphere; or an imitation of the sounds of men.