Chapter 15

The rumour had prevailed, that the judges had been broke.

Is it upon the wheel? said a learned man; for he did not think it could be with the bow-string that they had been punished; for that is the mode towards public officers, in the dominions of the Grand Seignior; nor did he think it could have been with the knout or bastinado; as that is usual only in Russia, and makes a part of the penal code, at the discretion of the Czar.

Not upon the wheel, said a by-stander; they are not broke in that sense of the word. It is but a removal from office, that is intended by the word, broke; and not the breaking of the back, or the limbs, or any part of the body.

Why break them? said the learned man, even in that sense of the word? That is remove;

Because they gave a wrong judgment, said the by-stander.

There could na be a better reason, said a Scotch gentleman; it is contrary to the very end o’ their creation.

Why not reverse their judgment? said the scholar.

Because it is better to reverse themselves, said the Scotch gentleman; and let them and their judgment a' go together.

At saying this, a person came in who gave intelligence, that the 4th of July being about to be celebrated, the people had made choice of Teague O’Regan, the Captain's man, to deliver an oration, on this, the anniversary of our independence, and to draw up the toasts.

Will absurdities never cease? said the Captain, in a free government? My bog-trotter chosen to deliver an harangue, in commemoration of the men, and measures, of our great national contest! It is for the celebration of the festival. Astonishing!

Teague, said he, I could have put up with the great variety of functions to which you have been proposed; or have proposed yourself; even that of a judge of the courts of law; as being matters of a mere secular nature, and forensic; but to be the organ of the celebration of a festival, which has become in a manner sacred, by the cause to which it is consecrated, is beyond all endurance; and as to the drawing up toasts, or sentiments for the day, you are incompetent. You may be equal to the fabrication of a common-place allusion to the prevailing cry, and make it the voice of the occasion, as for instance, to give a slap at the judges, but as to hitting off thoughts on the principles of government; or practical application in the measures of the administration, you are unequal to the task.

With regard to Teague himself, he had as little thought of delivering an oration, or drawing up toasts as any one else could have. The apothecary who meant to sell medicines on that day, on a stage, had employed him to act in the capacity of tumbler; not that he could tumble; but that he could not tumble; and so, by preposterous attempts at agility would answer the purpose of moving laughter, and drawing the attention of the multitude, who being collected for that purpose, might be drawn into another, the purchase of worm powders, lozenges, and the usual drugs.

The celebration of our national anniversary, will no doubt, be continued while the union of these states exists. It may be continued by the parts probably after a dis-union; an event certain, and inevitable; but which, the wise and the good delight to contemplate as remote; and not likely to happen for innumberable ages. The orations delivered on this day, may greatly contribute to postpone the event of a dis-union, by patriotic, and conciliatory sentiments. For this reason, the best abilities, and the most virtuous hearts ought to be chosen to be the orators of the occasion.

But the toasts, or sentiments given on the convivial libations; not in honour of imaginary deities, as amongst the Greeks and Romans; but in honour of deceased heroes, who have passed from a scene where they were mixed with us, to a scene, where we shall be mixed with them; these expressions of the public mind, ought to be the peculiar care of the aged and the wise. They ought to be the lectures of wisdom. Taking up the matter in this point of view, what delicacy ought to be attached to the expression of sentiment! Let it be considered that on a single thought may depend the essence of liberty: health or poison may be communicated by a word. For the toasts of this day are considered as indications of the public will, and yet without a due sense of the solemn obligations of honour and honesty, toasts are brought forward, perhaps by an individual, in accommodation to a local prejudice, and merely to accomplish the purpose of an election to a public body. For the fact is, that toasts are not always real expressions of the sentiments of even a majority of those who suffer them to pass; they are introduced by the mistake of those, who substitute the sentiments of the uninformed for that of the whole community. But all that is illiberal, on these occasions, ought to be avoided. all inhumanity, and injustice; all anticipation of judgment, on cases depending; all expressions calculated to inflame the decision. For a popular clamour once raised is difficult to be resisted.

Democracy has its strength in strict integrity; in perfect delicacy; in elevation and dignity of mind. It is an unjust imputation, that it is rude in manners, and coarse in expression. This is the characteristic of slaves, in a despotism; not of democrats in a republic. Democracy embraces the idea of standing on virtue alone; unaided by wealth or the power of family. This makes “the noble of nature” of whom Thomas Paine speaks. Shall this noble not know his nobility, and be behind the noble of aristocracy who piques himself upon his honour, and feels a stain upon his delicacy as he would a bodily wound? The democrat is the true chevalier, who, though he wears no crosses, or the emblazoned arms of heraldry, yet is ready to do right and justice to every one. All others are impostors, and do not belong to the order of democracy. Many of these there are, no doubt, false brethren; but shall the democrat complain of usurpation; of undue influence; or oppression and tyranny from ambitious persons; and not be jealous, at the same time, of democratic tyranny in himself, which is the more pernicious, as it brings a slur upon the purest principles?

It has been asked, why, in writing this memoir; have I taken my clown, from the Irish nation? The character of the English clown, I did not well understand; nor could I imitate the manner of speaking. That of the Scotch I have tried, as may be seen, in the character of Duncan. But I found it, in my hands, rather insipid. The character of the Irish clown, to use the language of Rousseau, “has more stuff in it.” He will attempt any thing.

The American has in fact, yet, no character; neither the clown, nor the gentleman; so that I could not take one from our own country; which I would much rather have done, as the scene lay here. But the midland states of America, and the western parts in general, being half Ireland, the character of the Irish clown, will not be wholly misunderstood. It is true the clown is taken from the aboriginal Irish; a character not so well known in the North of that country; nevertheless, it is still so much known, even there, and amongst the emigrants here, or their descendants, that it will not be wholly thrown away.

On the Irish stages, it is a standing character; and on the theatre in Britain, it is also introduced. I have not been able to do it justice, being but half an Irishman, myself, and not so well acquainted with the reversions, and idiom, of the genuine Thady, as I could wish. However, the imitation at a distance from the original, will better pass than if it had been written, and read, nearer home. Foreigners will not so readily distinguish the incongruities; or, as it is the best we can produce for the present, will more indulgently consider them.

I think it the duty of every man who possesses a faculty, and perhaps a facility of drawing such images, as will amuse his neighbour, to lend a hand, and do something. Have those authors done nothing for the world, whose works would seem to have had no other object but to amuse? In low health; after the fatigue of great mental exertion on solid disquisition; in pain of mind, from disappointed passions; or broken with the sensibilities of sympathy, and affection; it is a relief to try not to think; and this is attainable, in some degree; by light reading. Under sensations of this kind, I have had recourse more than once to Don Quixotte; which doubtless contains a great deal of excellent moral sentiment. But, at the same time, has much, that can serve only to amuse. Even in health, and with a flow of spirits, from prosperous affairs, it diversifies enjoyments, and adds to the happiness of which the mind is capable. I trust, therefore, that the gravest persons, will not be of opinion that I ought to be put out of the church for any appearance of levity, which this work may seem to carry with it.

I know there have been instances, amongst the puritans of clergymen, degraded for singing a Scotch pastoral. But music is a carnal thing compared with putting thoughts on paper. It requires an opening of the mouth, and a rolling of the tongue, whereas thought is wholly spiritual, and depends, not on any modification of the corporeal organs. Music, however, even by the strictest sects, is admissable in sacred harmony, which is an acknowledgment, that even sound, has its uses to soothe the mind or to fit it for contemplation.

I would ask, which is the most entertaining work, Smolet’s History of England; or his Humphrey Clinker? For, as to the utility, so far as that depends upon truth, they are both alike. History has been well said to be the Romance of the mind; and Romance the history of the heart. When the son of Robert Walpole asked his father, whether he should read to him out of a book of history; he said; “he was not fond of Romance.” This minister had been long engaged in affairs; and from what he had seen of accounts of things within his own knowledge he had little confidence in the relation of things which he had not seen. Except memoirs of person’s own times; biographical sketches by cotemporary writers: Voyages, and Travels, that have geographical exactness, there is little of the historical kind, in point of truth, before Roderick Random; or Gil Blas.

The Eastern nations in their tales, pretend to nothing but fiction. Nor is the story with them the less amusing because it is not true. Nor is the moral of it less impressive, because the actors never had existence.