Chapter 11

The Governor had been indisposed the whole day of the election, but being now recovered and the legislature about to meet shortly, it behooved him to think of an address to the representative body. He was at a loss, whether in the mode of the kings of England, reading the speech himself, or having it read for him in his presence; or that introduced in these states since the revolution; or rather in this, a later period of the republican history, by sending a message, that is, a written document to be communicated by the secretary.

The message has the advantage in this, that it is a departure from the English precedent, which of itself carries reason. But there is more in it when we consider that it is more convenient. Because, when a man makes a speech orally, it is not all of it that can be heard in the crowd that usually assembles on the occasion of an inauguration. And when it is heard, it is not all of it that can be recollected. Many things escape the memory. Whereas when it is by way of written document, it can be heard to his satisfaction; not that it would be decent to encore it on the floor of the house; but members can recur to it from time to time, and read it themselves. In that case they are not kept so long standing on their feet, as when it is heard slowly and with much ceremony of bringing it forward in the first instance. For the awaiting the arrival of the governor that is to deliver the speech, and the arrangements that must be made for the places of the other officers of government, and the body of the representatives, is tedious; and it ought to be a principle in public, as it is in private life, to consult ease where it answers no good purpose to take trouble. Almost all unnecessary ceremony is displeasing to a man of sense. The finest expression that I have met with on this head, is in the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney: “There was ceremony without being ceremonious.”

I have some impression in my mind of having quoted this very expression somewhere else, in this or some other book, but I cannot recollect with certainty, nor have I tame to turn back and examine. It is very possible that I repeat the same ideas in many places, but what of that, if a good thing is twice said? This beautiful remain of the genius of that time is addressed, if I remember right, to his sister the Marchioness of Pembroke. It is of her that the Epitaph is written.

Underneath this marble hearse,
Lies the subject of all verse;
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother--
Death, ere thou hast kill’d another,
Wise, and good, and fair as she;
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

You will say this is a digression. There is no doubt but it is. But can it be said that I indulge myself much in this way? On the contrary, are there many writers that stick closer to their subject than I have in general done? Besides I would not write a syllable of what I am now writing, were it not that it is thought necessary, that I should not leave my book at a short angle: but round it off, by giving it something like a natural conclusion. And the truth is, as my ideas are in a great measure exhausted, I mean those that are near the surface; I have not time to fish for such as swim in deep water; or to wait, having taken all that were of a larger size, until the small fry grow bigger. So that whenever a thought leads me into a quotation, I do not make a scruple of conscience to run after it; especially if I have any reason to think, upon the small reflection I can give it, that the quotation will be better than the original idea that might have taken place of it. So far as respects my own taste, I read with great pleasure oftentimes a book, which has not a single idea in it from beginning to end, except in the quotations. The only question that is made, will be, is the quotation from a good author; or does it amuse or instruct? Nor in reading good moral observations, or anecdotes of great men, do I care whether they are in a connected series, or strung together like Swift’s “Critical Dissertation of the faculties of the human mind.” The Apothegms of Plutarch are somewhat in the same way. The Chapters of Athenaeus, and the Noctes Atticae of Aulius Gellius, are of the same rambling composition. Montaigne’s Essays, also, and some of the introductory chapters of Henry Fielding. The fact is, that as a regularly bred cook will show his skill in the culinary art, by making a savoury dish out of a bit of soal leather; or a whole entertainment out of ordinary materials; so, it may depend upon the manner more than the matter of what is said, whether it be acceptable. Unquestionably there are but few that have the rare talent of saying things agreeably; and I am not sure that I have shown that art in any degree in this book. But what hinders aiming at it, by those who feel a benevolence of heart, and wish to please? If any man is amused by any of these images that I am endeavouring to paint, he will be under obligation to me, though he may refuse to acknowledge it. It is allowable towards the end of a book to digress; and in the manner of old age deal in narrative. Though I will acknowledge that I have seldom met with old men who were not apt to digress too much in their narrations. That old men are more talkative than those of earlier years, is characteristic.-“Garrulous old age.”-But that they are apt to digress is not so generally noted; though it would seem to me to be the case, and were it put upon me to account for it, looking into nature at my own age, I would resolve it into the multiplicity of ideas as one cause. They are numerous, and press for utterance; and when a certain set have had an outlet in part, the speaker suspends awhile the prosecuting of them, and goes back to fetch others. It would be like Charon in his boat upon the river Styx, were there an island in it, ferrying a number of the shades half way; leaving them on the island, and going back to bring others that distance, who are crowding on the shore, and anxious to cross. Or like a mechanic, that has a great number of customers, and cannot satisfy, but by beginning the work of several, and carrying it on by pieces; having it in his power to say to all that their work is on hands.

But I return to say something on the subject of ceremony, the point from whence we digressed. For the forms of taking place, or seats, or at least the coming into the government house, partakes something of the nature of ceremony in polite assemblies, on other occasions. All attention to which, and the trouble of it, is avoided by the transmitting what is to be said, in the shape of what is called a message, which may be carried by the secretary and laid on the table.

Having adopted the mode of address by message, it was prepared, and transmitted to the legislature now convened. We have been furnished with an extract of some part of it, which we shall now introduce.

It will not be understood, that I am to give the whole message at full length; which would be unnecessary, as I think it is full time, that in the addresses, or messages of governors, in most instances, the common place parts might be omitted; such as what respects improvements of roads, encouragement of domestic manufactures, and the making a new militia law, felicitating on abundant harvests; or complimenting the administration of the general government, which comes also under this head. There are many like common place subjects, which it were tedious to enumerate, but which may, in this instance, be considered as disposed of. We hasten to the main matter which the governor touched upon, the particular situation and affairs of the new government. I cannot do better than just to make an extract in his own words. It is the concluding part, and the plainest in point of expression. For there is a certain stateliness and dignity in the stile of such compositions, that is excusable in the initiatory, or perambulatory part, that need not be observed so punctiliously in what relates to real business. Tropes need not rise so rapidly, nor need these be taken so much from lofty objects in nature; such as billows of the ocean, or tempests on the land. All may be simple, like that of information, or opinion given in common cases.

The extract which we give relates to a matter which may be supposed to have occupied the mind of his excellency, the innovations projected, by the visionary philosopher, and which had got some footing in the minds of the people, respecting a change in the extent of suffrage at elections, and the right of being elected, consequent upon it. For if any, but those under the denomination of rational persons, could elect, other than rational persons might be elected. For, similia a similibus gignuntur. But that he might not give offence, by attacking a prejudice abruptly, he approached the subject circuitously by talking of the promotion of knowledge, and the establishment of schools. But I continue to talk of the message, rather than to give it. Here it is, that part of it that we have spoken of.

“I would not be understood as meaning to insinuate, even in the most distant manner, a deficiency of natural understanding, or any extraordinary want of information in the members of your honourable body. I am the more careful to suggest this, because of the known prejudices which the inhabitants of the sea-coasts entertain, in favour of themselves. Because, from the greater opportunities they have of ships arriving, they may have information of the affairs of Europe, sooner than we have, they may be disposed to attribute this, to a greater facility of apprehension; and because, they have schools and colleges of an older foundation, and more accessible from the propinquity of situation. Hence they are led to think that their possessing more scientific knowledge is owing to themselves, and not to this advantage. The truth is that in point of talent, so far as this includes the capacity of acquiring learning, or judging solidly. I take it the ultramontane people are before those of the cities or of the towns, and settlements on the seacoast: not that in this case I resolve it into a superior strength of the brain, so much, as into the circumstance of better air on the mountains than in the cities; unless indeed I except those just on the sea-board, and where they have the benefit of the salt breeze. It may not be that they possess stronger, but only clearer brain. For if the marshes, and the low grounds, overflowed in some part, with the rivers, infect the atmosphere with damps, and vapours, that affect the body, how can the brain, which is a part of the body, escape, being muddied with what naturalists call the effluviae, and physicians, the miasmata, which are the cause of this? Are the draught cattle of these places, of the activity of those of the hills? Our horses are a smaller breed, but they are more alert on a journey. Our wild beasts in general, are more agile in their movements, and seem to have more resources of cunning, and foresight than the tame; but even domesticated quadrupeds with us seem to be like the human species, in the same regions; that is, of a superior cast to the denizens of the low country. No wonder, for the barometer will show the difference that exists in the gravity of the atmosphere. And running and jumping itself, is more favourable to clearness of head, than standing behind a counter and casting up figures. If I were to take one of those so employed in order to enlighten him, the first thing I would do, would be to apprehend him by the locks, and to set him on the top of a hill to look about him for a while. I would shake him well before I would set him down to his lesson. A man’s ideas in a shop, are in proportion to the size of the room; he thinks narrowly if not meanly, who has not more than a few yards of prospect for the greater part of the twenty-four hours in the day.-We acquire the magnitude of surrounding objects, and our conceptions enlarge by the space that presents itself.

Why is it that all great generals, look for the rising and upper ground in engagements? It is because it improves the courage. The mere circumstance of striking to more advantage, from the higher part of the inclining plain, is not all. There is a great deal in the bare imagination. The paradox of the schools, crede quod habes, et habes, is not true; but thinking that you can conquer, goes a great way to give the victory. And the soldier that has his head higher than his adversary, is led naturally by a kind of incalculable impulse, to think that he can subdue him. I do not wonder, therefore, if upon these reflections, and ascribing too much to such secret operations of the mind; derived from the elevation of a range of hills, some who have come amongst us, may have been encouraged to think that even our beasts might be capable of an extraordinary cultivation. At the same time, whatever may be my prepossessions in favor of a reform, I have not been able to entertain sentiments equally sanguine them, on this particular. I consider it rather the offspring of a disturbed mind of some sea-coast politician, that has broached this doctrine, or would induce a community to adopt the hypothesis; and this, not so much out of respect to the powers of mind with us, as complimentary to their own vanity, who have been able to excogitate the imagination. If it is not rather meditated as an insult, being as much as to say, the difference is so small between you and your cattle, that there can be no conclusive reason, or cogent argument, why you might not be put upon the same footing. For as the parallax of remote stars seems small, and we consider them to the naked eye as together; so it is in the light of an imputation of inferiority in the human species here, that I have taken up the suggestion. For why did they not begin with their own beasts in the lower country, to ameliorate their condition, and extend their rights? They have been visionary enough, in all conscience, with their abolition of the common law, and other innovations; but they have not come so far as to talk of naturalizing cattle, strictly speaking; though some of their naturalizations have been of very uncouth persons. It is not sufficient that the heat and moisture of the climate may produce yellow fever in their towns, but that political pestilences spread from thence. However able you may be as a body, yet if a few bullocks, hide and tallow, were actually mixed among you, by means of the intrigues of these people, you might become the subject of ridicule, instead of admiration;--no--if pards and bears are to be admitted to appear, or officiate in any department of representative capacity, it ought to be at the bar, where noise may be better tolerated, and growling may pass for ability. The late disorderly elections in the districts, was owing to this very proposition of giving beasts votes; whereas in the opinion of most persons, if any were sober, on that day, there were beasts enough on the ground, if I may be allowed to call them so, in a comparative way of speaking, who, on these occasions, can reconcile it to themselves, to cheat and to wrangle in support of the frauds they have committed. It is in this sense of the word that the Apostle Paul speaks, when he says, he “fought with beasts at Ephesus;” not as some take it, that he was exposed to wild beasts in the amphitheatre, according to the barbarous custom of the Romans. If all the election laws that can be framed are ineffectual to restrain breaches of the peace even now, while men only are allowed the privilege of voting, how would it be, if the elective franchise was enlarged to creatures that have claws, or horns, or hoofs? The biting, and the gouging would be increased; and there would be so many tame animals, at least, beaten, and bruised, that they would be unfit for the services of agriculture, which will leave the husband-men without the means of tilling their ground, or getting in their crops. On all these considerations, the scheme, or project, as it may be better called, appears to me fraught with inconveniences; and to be a reform, at this time, not practicable.

“The abuses of the late election, whether any in the way of improper votes admitted, it would not become me to insinuate, nor do I insinuate as to what may have taken place, but what has been advocated as a possible reform. You are yourselves judges of the legality of your own elections; and seeing neither tails among you, nor manes on any of your shoulders, I take it for granted you are all men, and have been elected by such. For though an hundred or two horse votes may have been counted; or a kid or a merino ram here, or there, may have got his nose in the dish, it does not follow that it has made the difference of a representative in any one case. The purity of the elective franchise, is the first gem of liberty; it is the bud at which it breaks forth. If the frost of fraud blights, no fruit springs from the tree. The prevention of fraud is the object of the laws; but the distinguishing the objects of trust is equally important. That must remain with the citizens at large.”

The message of his excellency couched in these wary words, was, nevertheless, unfavourably received by members present, and those of the country attending. The contortions in the visages of them, expressed disapprobation. The words aristocracy were muttered. The physiognomy of some had the appearance of one whom an inexpert barber was shaving with a bad razor; there was screwing, and twisting of the features, and a wry countenance at the greater part of the words read.