It being some time since the preceding part of this memoir has been published, and an opportunity given of hearing the strictures and criticisms, that have been made, or passed upon it; it has not escaped the knowledge of the author, that some have thought the particulars, in some instances, extravagant, and bordering on the incredible; which is contrary to the maxim of sticking at leas to the appearance of truth. But how can any one undertake to say what is extravagant, or what is incredible? Who is there, at this day, that will call in question the truth of the rise and progress of the Corsican adventurer--and yet this borders on the marvellous? At a future day, when the lights of history have been obscured, who knows but his adventures, when written, may be laid on the same shelf with those of Amadis of Gaul, Don Bellianis of Greece; or a small book entitled the Seven Champions of Christendom? It is in the cards, to use a phrase taken from the gamblers, and not at all improbable, that his fall may be as rapid, and not less extraordinary than his ascent.*
It is perhaps somewhat owing to a defect in the narration, that an air of improbability is thrown upon a history, by not entering sufficiently into a detail of the transactions. There is a remarkable instance of this in the history of the American war by Ramsey, in which he notices the capture of three vessels, and 1500 men of the British by a stratagem. Perhaps not 1500, for I have not the book before me; but certainly some hundreds. All this by four of a georgia regiment and an old negro, a waiter. It was in all the Gazettes of the time; but the details were not given. It is also mentioned by General Lee, in his memoirs; who, though he gives some particulars, yet is not minute in his statement of the circumstance. There is no doubt of the fact, however; nor would it appear doubtful to any one, provided the circumstances were minutely stated, which led to the success. But it is not consistent with the object of this work, to introduce this narrative by way of episode. I mention it only as an instance, that the improbable is not always false. The study of brevity, is a cause of the omission of incidents; an unwillingness to detain the reader. And yet the great charm of ancient historians, is the minuteness of painting. But I will say for myself and at the same time it may be an apology for other historians, that the extreme study of brevity arises frequently from too much sensibility to public opinion; too great a fear of wearying the reader. We are not sure that what we relate is of sufficient importance to engage attention; and we endeavor to crowd the more into a narrow space. This is an attempt to make up by condensing, what the material itself wants in quality.
But the want of probability has not been an observation in the mouths of all the readers of this work. On the contrary it has been thought by some, tha the incidents have been all common and natural, that there is nothing improbable in them; and that the triteness of occurrence, rather than the unusual, and extravagant, ought to be the objection. What extraordinary can there be, say some, in such a creature as Teague O'Regan receiving appointments to office, or being thought qualified for the discharge of the highest trusts? Do we not see instances every day of the like? Is it possible to say how low the grade of human intellect that may be thought capable of transacting public business? It will be seen in the subsequent part of this narrative, that the joke has been carried farther thant the lowest possible capacity of what is found amongst men; not just a block of wood, for that would be assigning intellectual functions to an inanimate substance. And yet, even this has not been without parallel in the history of the human mind, as to what has been one subject of the belief of nations. Did not some even make gods of stocks and stones, assigning them celestial natures, and placing them aove a mortal existence? Under this impression, some have been forward enough to tell me, that, so far from my bog-trotter being a burlesque upon human credulity and pretension to office, that the bulk of men in office are below even his qualifications; and that if I were to go into any deliberative body, and pull out the first man that occurred to me, nine times out of ten, I would find that I had a Teague O'Regan by the shoulders. I have no idea that things are just brought to this pass, notwithstanding there may be colour for the allegation. For undoubtedly there is nothing in which men are less disposed to question their fitness, than in what regards the endowments of the mind. A horse not a hunter, will not leap a five-bar gate, nor attempt a ditch of the same number of feet in width, unless he is greatly pushed by the rider. For the animal will have the sagacity to look and compare the distance with what he has been accustomed to sumount. But such is the sanguine temperament of the human mind, that who is there that does not think himself equal to any undertaking? This is the moral of this book, and the object of setting the example of the bog-trotter before the people; not as what is universal in every instance of a candidate for office; but as an instance of what is too common, and which ought to be avoided rather than imitated. For be assured that, as far as my observation goes, it is not the way to happiness, to court an advancement by a rise that is unnatural, or to think of being respectable by the mere possession of office, or delegation. The point of honour in such case, is rather that of a private station. But it is experience only, that, with an individual, or with the public, can sufficiently extablish a conviction of this truth.
It will be said, why has the narrative been so long suspended? For it is now some years since the history had been brought down to the Captain, with his pedeseque to the settlement; and the sequel of the history begins at this point. The fact is, it was not suspended as to the waiting; but only as to the publication. For it will be seen that the incidents had not only occurred in the year 1803-6, but that they had been committed to paper, with the observations accompanying them, nearly at that time. For it was in those years that the convulsion of public opinion took place, with regard to the formation of a new constitution; and that we had that great struggle in this state to preserve ours; with analogy to which, the disquietude of the public mind, in the new government, has been depicted. For the passions of men being always the same, under like circumstances, they will show the like ebullitions. It must be admitted that, under this new government, the reverses, as they may very properly be stiled, were much more extravagant . And if it is considered as having a relation to what has happened, elsewhere, or has actually happened any where, it must appear outre, as the French style it, and beyond the life. And therefore in the application, I give notice that it is to be taken cum grano salis, or with a reasonable drawback. Nullum simile est idem: nor does every picture run upon all fours. There is a likeness and a better lkeness; a resemblance and an exact picture. But a caricature is not to come under the rules of painting from the life, or to the life; butr, on the contrary, of giving you to know what is intended; but at the same time showing you something different from the ting itself; in other words, suppressing the beauties, and giving the faults. For, where the graces and deformities are mixed in the object, you are apt to fall in love with the deformities, for the sake of the graces. Did any one ever see an imitator who did not copy the defects, even though he did not mean to do it? I say noithing of Alexander's courtiers having their necks awry; for that is a common place illustration. But I myself once know an orator, an man of great powers, who had a kind of grin when he spoke; this, accompanied by some very noble flights of fancy, was redered pleasing by what followed; but, when catched by the imitator, was displeasing. So that what took place in this state being followed, and carried to excess in the new government, would seem scarcely the same, though it might be evident that it was the same, not in degree, but in kind. But it is with a view to serve future times, that these things are handed down. For the cupidity of man still continuing the same, the like convulsions at no distant day will occur, and unless well managed, will terminate in the overthrow of liberty. For it is only by the permanence of establishments that are constituted on the basis of freedom that liberty can be preserved. And if constitutions once come to be played with, like battle-doors, there is an end of stability. Every new man must have a new constitution; for he will wish one to suit himself; and he will have no doubt but that he can make one, that will at least have in it what he wants.
Will there be any end to the projects of innovators, in matters of law and government; especially where the most uniformed are equally entitled to an opinion with those of the greatest experience, or the deepest thought? And to exclude any from the right of having an opinion in public affairs is impracticable, consistent with the enjoyment of liberty. The principle of the right must be acknowledged; what is more, it must be preserved and cultivated. It is only by reason or by ridicule, that what is excessive in the exercise of the rightr, and erroneous in the deductions of the mistaken, can be corrected.
In the propagation of a new religion, or in a new tenet of a particular faith, what is moderate will be likely to prevail in the opinions of men. The absurd is always the most popular, and this upon the principle that artificial tastes are stronger than the natural; and what produces the greatest excitement, is most pleasing to the mind. Hence it is that mere morality, and the dictates of nature and truth in the conduct of men, are undervalued, in comparison of the dogmata of fanatical faiths. Unintelligible reveries are better relished in the pulpit than just reasoning, on the principles of right and wrong in the actions of men; and incomprehensible theological disquisitions are put into the hands of young people, as more substantial food for the mind than precepts of moral truth, which every step in life will bring into practice and explain.
* This was written some years ago. In fact, the greater part of this volume is printed from scraps furnished by the author, from his port folio, in consequence of our signifying an inclination to publish a new edition of his work.
Note to the former edition.
END OF BOOK III.