Chapter 7

A great uproar had, in the mean time taken place in the village. The doctrine of abating nuisances had been much in conversation, since the town-meeting in the matter of the pole-cat. It came so far, that an incendiary proposed to abate, or burn down the college: Because, said he, all learning is a nuisance.

A town-meeting had been called on the occasion; and whether from a wish to see a bon-fire; or from the hatred of the ignorant, to all that places the informed above them; the proposition however unreasonable and illegal had its advocates. It had been actually carried, and a person was now on his way with a brand lighted to set fire to the building.

The alarm was given; and the more considerate rushed out to prevent conflagration.

Force was in vain; and reason avails little with a mob. The only way to oppose their resolution is indirectly by turning the current of their thoughts aside and to the attaining the same thing in another way. The principal and professors had harangued in vain. It was threatened that if they did not stand out of the way, they would burn them with the college.

The captain had come up; and venturing to speak; gentlemen, said he, it is not for the college that I am about to speak; it is for yourselves; your object is to put down learning; and do you not know that it is put down already. Why will you do a useless thing? It is calling in question your understanding, to do a needless mischief.

Is not learning put down already? the methodists are the best preachers. Take a horse jockey and in two weeks from the jump, he is in the pulpit. No need of Latin, Greek, Hebrew; a polyglot bible; systems of divinity; a commentary, a treatise, an essay or a dissertation. All is plain sailing now.

All this tends to put learning down, so that you have all the advantages of this, without the trouble. Why burn the college?

The building will serve useful purposes, when the professors are driven out of it. all is plain sailing now.

Politicians say; that though they have no learning, they feel no want of it. Is it to be supposed that a workman does not know whether he wants tools? All this ends when learning and law are put down. Trial by battle must regulate society. We shall then want barracks and hospitals. This building will accommodate invalids.

I do not know, said a sedate man among the crowd, whether after all, a little learning may not be in some cases, useful. It is a great help to weak people. I have seen a book, entitled, Huke’s and e’en to had up crippled Christian’s breeks: that is, hooks and eyes to hold up breeches. alluding, by the bye, to hooks and eyes which were in use before buttons. What are called gallowses, have succeeded to the assistance of buttons, but have not altogether superseded them. Not that I mean to insinuate that the disuse of hooks and eyes, lead to the gallows in the proper sense of the word, any more than that learning does. Though many a man that wears buttons has been hung. Perhaps more without buttons than with them. But I mean to say that a young man, before he comes to the years of discretion, may as well be employed in learning to make marks upon paper, as playing at nine-mens-morice, and it does him no more harm to try to read Greek, than to trace partridge tracks. The mind must be employed in something to keep it out of harm’s way, and reclusion in a seminary is useful, if for nothing else at least to keep young people within doors, which the academician could not easily do, unless, the device of books was used to beguile the hours of study. And though a great part of their learning, is but the knowledge of hooks and crooks, yet the exercise of the mind renders them more expert in thinking, and though Latin is of no more use to raise the devil than English, now a days; yet it is a gentle exercise to learn it, and makes the boys grow faster. It keeps them from their mothers who are apt to spoil their offspring by too much indulgence. The idea of getting a task accustoms the mind to obedience. Now there are some branches of science that are really useful, such as speaking and writing intelligibly, and casting up accounts. Nor is the time altogether thrown away in learning mathematics, especially the theory of the mechanical powers. Some are of the opinion that this study has been of great use in navigation, and water works. The ancients found their account in it, in the construction of the Catapult. But, at least, what harm, in letting pedants chop logic, and boys laugh, in the seminaries? A herring pickle, or a merry Andrew, is allowed to amuse people, and we do not pull down their stalls. A ventriloquist is suffered to take his dollar from us, and we make no remonstrance. Lectures, on moral philosophy are at least as innocent as this. I do not know any better recreation for a lad of mettle than to listen to a dissertation on eloquence, or a discourse on chronology, and history. It sharpens his wit to talk over affairs with his equals. But there is one reason that serves for a hundred. It is not every one that is born a genius, and can do without the help of education. I am therefore for continuing these crudities a little longer. When we can afford it better, we can pull down the college.

This speech had a good effect, and the mob retired.

But before they were aware, the flame had broken out in another direction. The mob retiring, had entered into altercation amongst themselves, and began to blame one another. Some, for not going on to burn the college, and others, for having thought of it at all. In opposition to the last, the first grew outrageous, and began to exclaim, and to curse and to swear, and said, damn them, but if they had not burned a college, they would burn or pull down, a church. They had actually prepared faggots, and were on their way a second time, to execute a new mischief.

The alarm was given, the chief burgess, and assistants, and respectable inhabitants assembled. Great reliance was had upon the Captain, from his success in the former instance; and when the two forces, that of the mob, and that of the community stood face to face, and were in opposition, ready to fall on, the one to commit waste, and the other to defend, he was called upon to come forward and harangue.

He obeyed instantly, but was well aware that a stratagem in war cannot succeed a second time, and therefore instead of attempting to decoy and turn aside their passions, thought proper to attack them directly by the opposite, fear. Madmen, said he, what do you mean? Is it to rob, plunder and murder that you have assembled? Come on; but in coming you must meet with this weapon, brandishing his hanger; I am alone; but a legion is behind me and will be with me speedily.

But as I am at all times averse from the use of force until it becomes necessary; I am willing in the mean time to hear reason. Why is it that you would pull down a church, and abolish the christian worship in the village?

It is not our intention to abolish christianity, said a grave man amongst them, but to put down the preacher at this place; who is not an American republican, but quotes the English commentators in his sermons, Henry’s annotations on the Bible; Burket on the New Testament; Pool’s Synopsis, Tillotson and Baxter, and many others. We wish to abolish these, and have nothing but our own commentaries. Are we to be drawing our proofs from under a monarchy, and referring to tracts and essays published in Great Britain? Have we no sense of our own to explain texts of Scripture, and apply doctrines? It is time to emancipate ourselves from these shackles, and every man be his own expounder, or at least confine our clergy to the Bible and the Psalm book, or such of our divines, as have written amongst ourselves, and are of our own manufacture in a republican government.

Religion, said the Captain, is of no government. Wines are the better for being brought over seas, and our best brandies are from monarchies. Where was the cloth of that coat made? Will you reject a good piece of stuff because it came through the hands of an aristocratic weaver? These are false ideas of what is right, and useful to mankind. The common law is not the worse for having been the common law of England, and our property and birth right which our ancestors brought with them; nor is our Bible the worse for having been translated under James the first of England, which translation we still use, and, from which we repeat all sentences of Scripture. Nor are systems of theology, or harmonies of the evangelists the worse for having been written in another country. Why do we use the English language? Is it not because we cannot easily substitute another; or have no better substitute. The Shawanese, or Delaware, or Piankisha, may be softer, but not so copious or of equal energy or strength. But even if in all respects superior, can we by an act of volition, transfer it into common use and make it all at once, our vernacular tongue?

The grave man made no answer; but the more violent were still disposed to pull down the church.