Chapter 17

How shall we account for this eternal babbling in our public bodies, which delays and confuses business? Can it be French influence? No. I have no idea that Bonaparte ever expended a single sous for the purpose of inculcating this tediousness, or loquacity. The French themselves are far from being a taciturn people; nevertheless I do not find reason to believe that it is from an imitation of the French orators, that this prolixity occurs. There was no great length of time taken up by the member of the constituent, or national assembly, when he ascended the tribune.


Some have thought that it was a proof of the hypothesis of Darwin, that men have been once magpies, and parrots. I am of opinion that it resolves itself into one of two natural causes, want of self-denial, or want of sense. I know there are babbling schools at the present time, as there were at a former period; debating societies among the manufacturers in towns and villages, as there is in Great Britain. In some of the New-England seminaries, I am told, debating and discussing questions is made a part of the academic exercises. Of this I do not approve, if the students are to take, one, one side, and another a contrary, to whet their wits; and to say what ingenuity prompts, without a reference to the truth, and a just decision of the question. It would vary the exercise, at least that, of the class each should propound a question in his turn on the science which makes the subject of his studies, and the one who explains best and forms the soundest judgment on the question, and with the greatest brevity expressed, should take the prize. I would commend brevity and truth, not the diffuse harangue, with sophism and errors. This would lay a foundation of eloquence for a legislature. Something ought to be done to correct this logomachy, or war of words, and nothing else. The vox, et preterea nihil is at all times abominable. If those of this class will speak, let them pronounce the word whippor-will a reasonable length of time, and that may suffice. Whippor-will; whippor-will; whippor-will; imitating the sound of that bird, for a quarter of an hour, might pass for a speech. --Oh, how I have wished for a gag or a muzzle, when I have seen four or five columns of a newspaper taken up with verbosity. The fact is, an amendment of the constitution would be the reducing the ratio of the representation; fewer to speak, there would be less said. Many hands make light work; but this applies to bodily labour only, where a certain object is to be accomplished; such as the removing a fence, or cutting down a wood. Fewer members would do more in a short time; and perhaps would do it better; for though in a multitude of counsellors there is safety; yet if all speak there is delay. --Could we not give a power to the chairman, or president of a deliberative body, to knock down a member, when he had seemed to trespass on the patience of the house? At any rate he might be permitted to give him a wink, or a nod, which it should be understood as a hint to have done. But there is great difficulty in breaking bad habits; and there are some whose tongues, according to the expression of the poet, speaking of a stream,


"Which runs, and runs, and ever will run on."


Things have come to such a pass, that I generally take it for granted, that the man who gives his vote, and says nothing, is the man of sense. Adonizabee, in the scripture, "had three score and ten kings, having their thumbs cut off." Why did he cut off their thumbs? It must have been to keep them from writing out their speeches. At least I have been led to think that it would be a gain to our republic if Adonizabee had our members of Congress in hands a while.




A KEY TO THE PRECEDING

This will be found in the history of the times; and especially of that of the state of Pennsylvania. And indeed, I flatter myself, that it is not a little owing to this book, published in portions, from time to time, that a very different state of things now exists. I do not believe, there has been a single bog-trotter, as I may designate them, admitted by the American Philosophical Society, for many years past; at least I have not heard of any since Oric M'Sugan, the house carpenter, who did the inside work of a stable for one of the members, and was therefore admitted.


In the winter of 1787, being then of the legislature of Pennsylvania, it was signified to me that I might be put in nomination, with several others, that were about to be balloted for, if I thought proper to skin a cat-fish, or do something that would save appearances, and justify the society in considering me a man of philosophic search, and resources. Enquiring who these might be, that had been nominated, and put upon the list, and not chusing to be of the batch, I thought proper to decline the compliment. It was this which gave rise to my idea of such a candidate as Teague O'Regan for that honour. Some time after this, when delegates were about to be chosen from the county where I resided, to frame a constitution for the United States, after the adoption of the federal government, I offered myself for this, as considering it a special occasion; but to my astonishment, and before I was aware, one of Shakspear's characters, Snout, the bellows mender, was elected. This led me to introduce Teague as a politician.


An excise law, under the federal government, having been carried into effect; and, it being obnoxious in the western country, and excise officers tarred and feathered, as you would a sheep, or an Indian arrow, it was with no view, but to burlesque the matter, that I made Teague a gauger, or exciseman; and being a sans-culotte; which signifies,--I thought, a pair of breeches, might not be amiss of any sort.


Being in a public station from the year 1800, I had to pay the usual tax of obloquy to men in office, from Paddy from Cork, &c.; and, paying more than I thought my proportion, it was natural for me, to think of my bog-trotter, as one who would make just such an editor as some of these were. It was for this purpose, therefore, that it came into my mind, to give him a journal to edit.


It was a retrospection to a past period when a batchelor, and recollecting the competition of those whom I thought undeserving persons, that I was led to caricature their pretensions with the success of my bog-trotter. The fact is, I thought it might be of service to the young women in the choice of a husband, and save them from swindlers, who differed little from the quadruped, but in the horn and the hoof, which they had not about them.


I have had individuals in my eye, in all these matters, no doubt; but I do not name them; because they are not worth naming; nor would the subject admit it. General strictures of human nature, is all that can be expected, in these matters.
From the talents of some new editors of papers, who had never yet fleshed their maiden swords in a republic, but were from Ireland, Scotland, or England, and some that were from neither, but turf-born, in this country, the press came to daggers-drawing with the law. The types disposed themselves; 1, against the judges; 2, against the law; and finally against the constitution. They got help from partisans on all sides; and these establishments were likely to be blown up. Learning was decryed; and it was no uncommon thing to hear members of the legislature thanking God "that they had never been within a college." There is now a considerable reform of the public way of thinking; candidates for state trusts begin to value themselves for having been at school and find their account in being thought able to read. If it is not as it used to be, the enquiry altogether, whether a man be a plain unlettered person; or has had a tincture of the law to poison his faculties. There is now actually a lawyer a speaker of the senate. Heretofore you might have seen caucus-holding men at their wits end for some extraordinary kind of dunce to send to the house; upon the same principle, that the philosophers dig into the earth for a mineral, a science which is called Oryctognosy; or that they look for a shell on the sea-shore, or a beetle in the woods, to send to a museum.


The enquiry now is by these caucus people in every country, not only who is honest, but, who is capable? There are said to be sixty-two new members in the present session; I cannot say whether in the two houses, or in one, the old having been left out; and this on the principle, that they had missed a figure in calculation, and read four for three dollars.


In the courts of judicature, in this state, there had always been much delay: and this, in a great degree, owing to the length of Speeches; and note-taking. What else but this book has put that down. Does any body now hear of much excess in harangues? On the contrary, there is the utmost precision of thought, and brevity of expression.


Nor has it been in forensic eloquence that there has been a curtailing, but in that of deliberative bodies. It is not from Pennsylvania, that those interminable speeches come, which we hear of on the floor of congress. Is it not to be hoped that, when my book gets a circulation beyond the state, and into other parts of the Union, a retrenchment will be perceptible in the verbosity of members from other places, and that quality will begin to be consulted, and the quantity reduced? I could wish a tax were laid upon the time taken up in a debate. Why is it that congress do not buy up an edition of my book, and distribute among the members? It would be of more use to them than the library of Monticello. If it lay with the President, I am confident he would not hesitate, had there not been so much said about the $50,000 to John Henry.


The people of Pennsylvania are so sensible of the use that it has been in this state, that there is scarcely a parlour window without a MODERN CHIVALRY. Five booksellers have made a fortune by it: for I have never asked a cent from any of them for the privilege of printing an edition, save in this last instance, where a few copies have been stipulated for the amanuensis to whom I have dictated what has been added to the work, and this for the purpose of distributing to his uncles, aunts, and first cousins, as the members of congress do the copies that are ordered to be printed, of President's messages, reports of ambassadors, &c.
I have said that I do not know that I shall write more, though I have some transactions in my mind, that I could wish to Chronicle; and characters that might be drawn.