Chapter 12

The visionary philosopher, notwithstanding the want of success which attended his speculations, had still great weight amongst the people. I mean, his opinions had great weight; for though a tall man, he was not of great corpulency. It had been suggested that it behooved to impose taxes for the support of government. What? said the philosopher, have you not got a constitution; and cannot a constitution work without taxes? At all events, what is called an impost may suffice.

An impost; what is that? said a man amongst the crowd. Why, an imposition, said another, what else could it be? Impost, has nothing to do with imposition, said the philosopher. It is to knock down a man when he comes into the settlement, and take his money from him. The English have what they call a poll-tax, or a tax upon scalps. It cannot but raise a good sum from red people, who take so many from the whites. In some governments, they tax boots.

Would it not be better to lay a tax upon legs, as being more easy to be collected, and less liable to evasion? said an honest man. Of all taxes, said one in answer; I think this would be the most easily evaded; because a man could run away with his legs.


Robbing people that come into the settlement, will not do, said one; at least for a permanent revenue; because it will keep people from coming. I am against all constraint upon ourselves, or any one else. I propose voluntary and occasional contributions.


You propose a fiddle, said his opponent. Voluntary, and occasional! Do you conceive a man could spare a pound of flesh, or an ounce of blood, occasionally, for any great length of time? He might bear the first slash that he got; but he would wince at the second.


Loans, loans, said a financier; you have nothing more to do than to borrow a million now and then, when you are out of money.


Why, if robbing pedlars will not do, said the Visionary Philosopher, I think loans must be the next resort.


A pretty noise we have made about a constitution, said a smart looking man in a pair of leather breeches; if there must be force constantly applied to the wheels; and money expended to keep it going.


How can a machine go unless it be wrought, said a man with a sloutched hat-- without some to work it; and how can it be wrought without hands? I mean persons hired for the purpose; and if hired, they must be paid.


I do not know, unless you apply steam, said an ingenious mechanic.

Would you make the government a steam boat? said one in a bear-skin coat. But supposing it the case; you must have coals to boil the water, and produce steam.


At this point of the game, a simpleton came forward, and spoke as follows:--Gentlemen said he, I am but a fool fellow, a mere ass, a sheep, and what not; but I do not see how we can borrow, unless we expect to pay; and if what is borrowed is to be paid, why not pay in the first instance?


That will not do, said an artful member; we will be turned out, if we lay a tax; the people must be cheated by our borrowing in the mean time, and leaving it to those that come after us to lay a tax, and pay.


What use in having a general financier, said the multitude, if he cannot make money out of chips and whet-stones? If nothing more is to be done, than to count the money, or cast up the tax when it is paid into him, any cod-head may do that.


A financier may do a great deal more than that, said an intelligent person. He may determine and report upon what a tax may be best laid, and to what amount. But if we hesitate to tax at all, I grant you any body may be a financier; for it is an easy matter to borrow, if you can get any to be fools to lend without funds to sustain it, and at least, pay the interest. But why borrow when a man has money in his chest? I would call for this; every man his proportion according to his property, just as we subscribe to an undertaking; and the only difference is, that, in this case, we subscribe what we think we can afford; in that, we contribute what the community shall think we ought to advance; the community, through some organization of officers, and these being the judges. "Put yourselves in an attitude and armour for war." What is this but to raise money, which is the means of war? It did not mean to clothe yourselves in sheet iron, or in bull's hides; but to go to the bottom of the matter, and to lay a tax to support a war. No difficulty in procuring soldiers for a campaign, if you have money; no necessity to call upon militia; you will have enough to offer their services. It is money makes the mare go. Give me money and I will show you men; and when I have the men to show, there will be no war.


Aye, said Teague O'Regan, give me de boys, and a shilelah, and I will clear de fair. If you will give me de money, I will get de whiskey; and if I have de whiskey, I will have de boys, and let me see who will like to come to blows wid Teague O'Regan.


This speech pleased the people much; and they insisted upon the Governor to place Teague at the head of the finances.


It is more than probable he might have been advanced to the head of this department, the Governor yielding to the solicitation of the people, had not the popular voice propelled him in a different direction. For about this time it was reported that he had taught a cat to speak. It is true, that as he had seen done in Ireland, by taking the lower jaw between his finger and thumb of the left hand, and pinching her upper jaw with the finger and thumb of the other hand, moving the lower jaw, in the mean time, as she mewed, he would make her pronounce something that resembled the saying Erin go bra, which was Irish; and by another kind of movement, and braking of the voice, it would seem to be, bacon, fat bacon, which was English. From this specimen, it was thought that if put at the head of an academy to teach beasts to articulate, he might succeed better than any had yet done. He was called principal, and being made a Doctor of laws, was put at the head of the institution. But it took more time to teach the principal, I mean the bog-trotter, to make him mark and write something like L.L.D. at the end of his name, than it had done him to teach the cat; and if you had not known that it was L.L.D. that the letters ought to be, you would have been at a loss to know what they were. It is necessary that a man in a station which bespeaks learning, be a Doctor of laws; but it does not always follow that he be learned in the laws; at least I have known some that are not the most profound scholars, on whom this degree has been conferred. To make the bog-trotter a Doctor of laws was some advance; but, it would be more to confer that degree on one of his pupils, a bear, or a young elk; at least it would occasion more surprise.


The Visionary Philosopher had made out a system of rules and regulations for the government of the academy; in other words the discipline of the institution; such as conditions of admission, price of tuition, grade of classes, freshman, sophomore, &c. books to be read, hours of study, and vacation; meals, kind of food, with matters, that regarded the decency of manners, such as that squirrels should not crack nuts, nor pigs eat apples in the school rooms; nor racoons chew tobacco or smoke segars. It was particularly inculcated on all, that they should rise early, wash their snouts, comb their hair, and pare their nails as becomes a student.


All things were arranged for this menagerie; and a proper number of the more tractable of animals got together to begin with, such as young cubs, whelps, &c. when it was put into the head of the Principal, by some of the more high minded of his countrymen, that it was a degradation to have it said, that an Irishman was teaching beasts; to be called a horse professor, and the like. Whether it was that the pride of the bog-trotter took alarm at this, or that he saw the ridicule himself; he threw up the trust and would have no more to do with it. The people were dissatisfied, and his popularity fell as rapidly as it had risen.


Transit gloria mundi; There is nothing so fleeting as sublunary joys; and of all these, popularity is the most evanescent. It was but a short time ago, which was the occasion of the bog-trotter teaching the cat, and having succeeded, that he was caressed by the multitude, followed, chaired, &c. but it so happened that the chairing took place in a small cabin; and when he was raised suddenly, those hoisting, not having due regard to the height of the story, he struck his head against the ceiling, or rather rafters; for there was no ceiling; at which the Latin schoolmaster exclaimed,


"Sublimi feriam sidera vertice."


But what gave him more consolation, was the having a dinner given him, the Chief Justice presiding, and toasts drank. For it is not in our time as it was at the Olympic games, or a Roman triumph, or ovation, that an oak leaf, or a sprig of laurel, or a bunch of ivy, a branch of olive, or some other unsubstantial vegetable was the gift. In modern and more improved times, we have solid food of flesh, and sauces, to gratify the palate. Certain it is, the bog-trotter had been feasted abundantly during his popularity; but not on the ebb of this, he had declined so far in reputation, that he could not have been made a constable. So fortuitous and unstable is the popular voice. Whereas heretofore during the current of his favour, things were imagined to his advantage that he had never done, and words framed that he had never spoken; so now the reverse took place; speeches were framed it is true, but they were all to his disadvantage; as for instance, that he had said the moon was made of green cheese; that a snake was a vegetable; that the only conversion with the fanatics was the turning the heels where the head should be; that he had reflected on the general government, saying that gun boats were only fit to make Virginia hog-toughs; that an embargo was like yoking pigs where there was no fence; that borrowing money only became a young spendthrift, who was afraid to apply to his father of his guardians; that there were faults on both sides, weakness on the part of administration, and wickedness on the part of the opposition.

These allegations might be all true enough; but he had not the sense to make them; but being down, every thing must be heaped upon him. An editor of a paper, who had boasted he could write down any man in six weeks, opened his battery; charged him with tumbling and bog-trotting, and shaving himself with a bad razor; some things frivolous, and some things false; but it went to compose a paragraph. There was no standing this. The bog-trotter was at a loss what to do; whether to withdraw from society, and take a hut to himself in some corner of the settlement; or to quit the country and to live amongst the savages, and wild beasts, when a mere accident gave him some countenance in the community. It was reported that he had found a stone; and doubtless he had, for it was an easy matter to find a stone on a piece of ground which had been once the bed of the river; and these stones also round and lubricous; but it was suggested to be what is called the philosopher's stone. This hint, some wag had communicated to the Visionary Philosopher, who went immediately in quest of Teague. The truth is, the stone had something singular in its configuration, and was perhaps a petrifaction. The Philosopher, though somewhat irritated at the Irishman's desertion of the trust in educating beasts, yet as it is natural with visionary men, was struck with this new idea, as what might be turned to account in making gold and silver in the present scarcity of specie, the banks having refused to issue any for their notes; and adopting a conciliatory address, he bespoke the bog-trotter. Teague, said he, I am not come to take you up, not being an officer of justice; nor having any thing to do with the matter of your teaching beasts; for it has occurred to myself, that if taught to speak, and sent to congress, they might gabble like magpies, and the remedy would be worse than the disease; so that I came, not displeased with you, on account of your relinquishing the tuition; more especially as you have found out the means of replenishing the national treasury, by this stone that has fallen in your way. It is a desideratum in chemistry that has been long sought after; and if Redheiffer had turned his attention to that, instead of the perpetual motion, it would have been better for the public. For though an editor made a demonstration of it as plain as a problem in Euclid, yet some still doubt the fact of a perpetual motion being discovered, except in the tongue of a member of congress.


Have you made any silver out of this stone yet? I should like to see a little of it.


I have made a pewter spoon, said the bog-trotter, and dat is de next ting to silver, and a lead bullet, and a piece of copper; but de spalpeens have robbed me o' dese, and took dem out o' my pocket whilst I was aslape, and no body de wiser for it; bad luck to dem, de shape-stalers, and tiefs.


Come back with me to the settlement, said the Philosopher, and I will make a man of you.


Dat I will, said the bog-trotter; and see de Governor, and show him de stone.


The stone was shown to the Governor, who was glad to see the bog-trotter again; but had no faith in the discovery.
The stone, said the Governor, is a very pretty stone, made by the rolling and tumbling of the water, in one part, and breaking off in another; or it has been originally a piece of wood, cut by a joiner, and is petrified; but I would just as soon take a stick to make gold, as I would a stone. A stick to hold in one's hand, and compel a robbery, would be as efficatious as a stone; and this is the only way that I know of making money, suddenly, which cannot be done, unless you have some one to rob that has money.


The Philosopher with Teague, appealed to the people, and reported that the Governor was averse to the having money made. --The only remedy in this case was, the threatening that they would turn him out and put Teague in, or the Visionary Philosopher for Governor. With a view to this, and to refresh his popularity, a dinner was once more given to the bog-trotter. The toasts were, Down with paper money; gold and silver the genuine circulating medium, &c. &c. &c.


When the bog-trotter retired, a volunteer was given: "Our noble bog-trotter."