Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

All books, like the languages in which they are written, may be divided into two classes : the living and the dead; into those which, at their birth, became 'living souls' by the inspiration of their creators, and those — the far greater number - that have nothing but a 'name to live,' without a solitary spark of inherent vitality, and incapable even of galvanic life; mere mummy-forms, appearing above ground only to burden the earth with their presence, when they ought rather to be quietly sleeping in their proper place below it. Truth compels us unwillingly to say, that too large a proportion of our books of history belong to this latter class. Hitherto, Dr. Dryasdust has been suffered to stand as the representative of the great body of historical writers and antiquaries, and it is high time for him to yield his place to a more genial successor. We can discover no valid reason for the common dryness and dusty deadness of historical literature. It is not evident to us that even a genealogical tree, for example, should so uniformly stand a sapless congeries of naked branches, with neither leaf, nor flower, nor fruit

, save always a super-sufficient quantity of dates, very hard and very dry, and not easily digestible by the most eupeptic intellectual stomach. The historian, assuming as he does the office of Recording Angel, should go farther

[ocr errors]

* HARTFORD IN THE OLDEN TIME: Its First Thirty Years. By SCÆVA. Edited by W. M. B. HARTLEY. With Illustrations. Hartford : F. A. BROWN. 1853.

still, and borrow some little power, at least, from the Angel of Resurrection; so that when he blows his trumpet, the dead millions of the past shall be made to rise again and march visibly before us ; not bloodless and bodiless phantoms; not sheeted ghosts, nor bandaged mummies ; but real, personal, living, breathing, acting men, conquered from the grave's oblivion, and born again into historic life, years, centuries, and perhaps millenniums after their toughest bones have mouldered.

Whatever else may be said of the book before us, of which we have undertaken to give some account - this History of Hartford's First Thirty Years - no one can hesitate to acknowledge that it is 'vital in every part;' full, even to overflowing, of rich intellectual life. Were it not for the manly force of thought and utterance which stamps itself on every page, its exuberant vitality would vividly remind us of the romping, frolicking, rioting gambols of a child; such a child as we sometimes see, perfectly healthy and vigorous, and constantly expressing its vital power in all possible forms of strength and gracefulness. But we shall by and by speak more particularly of the interior life of this volume. For the present, let us give the history of its origin, together with a just word or two regarding its external aspect.

The several chapters which compose the book appeared originally as articles in the Hartford Daily Courant, with the signature of SC ÆVA;' the significance of which name will be apparent to those who remember the Epistle of Horace, 'Ad Scævam. We betray no confidence, for the fact is generally known, when we add that Scæva' is the nominal representative of the Hon.J. W. Stuart, a gentleman who has devoted much of his abundant leisure to historic researches ; incited thereunto, perhaps, by the circumstance that upon his grounds and beneath his windows stands the famous • Charter Oak,' that noble tree which, nearly two hundred years ago, held fruit within its old gnarled body far richer than that which the 'Royal Oak' of England once hid among its branches.

These articles, as they appeared from time to time, were received with interest and admiration by all intelligent readers; and as the series drew near its close, a general prayer was uttered (the muse of Mrs. Sigourney adding her poetic petition) that the author would gather them up and reproduce them in the permanent form of a book. Mr. Stuart did not hold himself at liberty to refuse a request so just and so earnestly urged; and taking to himself an editor, W.M. B. Hartley, Esq., the book in due time made its appearance. Editor Hartley, we must say in passing, has performed his part of the task well. He has contributed a graceful and appropriate preface, a few notes in the body of the work, and we are also informed that its graphic illustrations were all engraved from original sketches by his practised pencil.

It is always pleasant to find a beautiful spirit beautifully embodied; and if the internal matter is worthy to be so clothed upon, we experience a certain esthetic delight whenever the vision of fine, white paper, clear type, and tasteful decorations generally, greets our eyes in the shape of a book. For the credit of our friends and towns-men, F. A. Brown, the publisher, and Case, Tiffany and Company, the printers, we are happy to say that few books have ever appeared from the press in this country, conceived in better taste, and executed with more perfect success, than

a

Stuart's History of Hartford. This is high praise indeed, but no competent critic will pronounce it at all extravagant.

Returning to the matter of the volume, it is possible that some will object to the peculiar style in which it is written, as below the dignity of history; or if not below, then at least on one side of it. But in adopting this somewhat fantastic dress, this Joseph's coat of many colors, wherein to clothe his thoughts, the author did not act out of mere eccentricity or caprice. The first necessity, as well as the highest merit of all writers, is to be read ; and Mr. Stuart was well aware that to secure this result, something more was needed in the present case, than the stately, solemn, respectable march of the historic pen. Respectability, we are sorry

to
say,

is

very apt to be dull in literature as elsewhere. Hence the free and fearless caracoling of Scava; sometimes extravagant, perhaps, but never ungraceful; and the more readily pardonable, inasmuch as he is careful, in all his prancings and curvetings, not to leave the firm foundation of fact. Articles written, as these were, for a daily paper, must have something in them to seize and fix the roving eyes of newspaper-readers, a class of persons not greatly distinguished for patient study of the more profound productions of literature. For ourselves, we are grateful for the book as it is, and have no desire to indulge in critical comment. We must be allowed, however, to express some slight dissatisfaction with its super-abundance of classical quotation and allusion. This doubtless shows the extensive reading and tenacious memory of the writer ; but a mind so rich in original wealth as his, had no need to adorn its works so lavishly with poetic garlands, woven by the hands of others.

Mr. Stuart's volume is substantially much more than it claims to be. He calls it the history of a town; but it is in fact the bistory of a State, during the period which he embraces ; since at that time Hartford was Connecticut in more perfect sense than Paris is France.

We have long needed a new history of Connecticut, for the tedious Trumbull is not readable by the present generation, and in the volume before us we have a most valuable contribution toward such a work. Might we whisper a word of counsel in Mr. Stuart's ear, we would say, "Friend, go up higher; let your pen take a wider sweep; let your “Thirty Years' become two hundred and thirty, and give us what we so much want, a complete history of our native State.

The great merit of this book, in our eyes, is its life-like presentation, not only of the acts of the founders of Connecticut, but of the men themselves. Noble men they were, the flower of the New-England colonists, uniting with the rigid Puritan virtues, broader and more liberal views of public policy than characterized the majority of their brethren. In Connecticut, church-membership was never made the sine qua non of citizenship; Connecticut was wholly free from the great stain of religious persecution ; we wish we could also say, as Trumbull does, that Connecticut murdered no witches ; but the accurate Kingsley has discovered two cases of the kind, and the journal of Goffe, the regicide, as quoted by

, Hutchinson, alludes to another. Such men as these deserve not simply an annalist, but a true historian, and in our author they have found the very man. Mr. Stuart is a painter. He belongs to that highest class of artists who need no brush nor canvas for their pictures. His book has

a

[ocr errors]

constantly recalled to us that only epic poem of our age, or rather that grand historical painting, by Carlyle, which he calls the History of the French Revolution. Under the magic touch of his pen — a mightier wand than witch or wizard ever yet wielded — the graves of two centuries give up their dead, and the men that lay therein repeat for us the beroic parts they acted long ago. Let us now venture a rapid outline-sketch of Scæva's historic pictures.

First of all, he shows us a company of men, women, and children, numbering about one hundred souls, on the march from their old homes in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Promised Land by the river Connecticut. The chief fathers of the expedition, Hooker, Haynes, Stone and others, are pictured with a glowing yet discriminating hand; and we seem to see, in bodily presence before us, the whole company, as they slowly advance, step by step, through the wilderness, over the same ground where now the 'iron horse' madly rushes with his thundering train, achieving in a single hour what to them was a four days' journey. Their toilsome progress, with all its detail of peril and difficulty, is vividly painted, till they reach at last that beautiful river on whose banks they are henceforth to live, and, when their work on earth is done, to die.

Next comes a picture of the Connecticut valley, as it lay in its wild, native beauty, before the charmed eyes of the colonizing band. It is June, the most magnificent month of all the year. At the bottom of the valley, the calm waters of the river wind their silver way. Beneath its waves, the sturgeon, the salmon, and an infinite variety of smaller fish are playing ; the wild-goose, the wild-duck, and numerous other fowl that love the water are sporting on its surface, intermixed with such aquatic animals as the otter, the beaver, the mink, and the musk-rat. The fires of the Indian have swept the trees from its banks, leaving long reaches of open nieadow.land, rich with the alluvial deposit of centuries ; but back upon all the hills, the primeval forest still frowns in its deep, grand gloom. Natural fruits burden the trees, and nuts of all kinds proper for the soil and climate are abundant. Roots and herbs, for esculent and medicinal use, are scattered all around. Wild game; the bear, the moose, the deer, the turkey, the partridge, the quail, and pigeons in clouds that hide the sun, assure the pioneers that if their chosen land flows not with milk and honey, they nevertheless need fear no want of more substantial food. And, master still of what is so soon to pass away from him for ever,

the Red Man wanders through the forest and paddles his light canoe upon the stream; absorbed, like a child, in the present, and happily ignorant of the dark future before him.

Of the purchase of the land, the disposition of it, and the general plan of the new town, we need not speak, except to state the gratifying fact that the land was purchased of the aboriginal owners; though the

consideration' which they received does not appear. But at this point of the history, a note is interposed relating to Black Governors of Connecticut,' which demands a passing remark.

From a period anterior to the Revolution down to 1820 or thereabout, it was the custom of the colored people of Connecticut annually to elect one of their number as the occupant of a supposititious gubernatorial chair. In the mode of election, in the subsequent public parade,

6

6

and in other imitable matters, the example of the whites was closely followed. The authority of the black governor was of course exclusively of the moral kind, derived from the lex non scripta ; but this circumstance seems not to have weakened its force, or interfered with its exercise. He settled all grave disputes in the last resort ; questioned conduct, and imposed penalties and punishments sometimes for vice or misconduct. It is added that he was obeyed almost implicitly.'

We are next presented with an accurate map of the town of Hartford, as it appeared in 1640, wherein are given the house and lot of each individual settler, together with the various streets and thoroughfares ; and then follows a full and particular account of the civil, religious, and military organization of the colony. This organization was purely democratic, both in church and state. It is a noticeable fact that the constitution of Connecticut, adopted in 1639, quietly assumed the complete sovereignty of the people by whom it was framed. There is no allusion whatever to the parent-country. There is no bint to indicate that they were aware of the existence of any government beyond their own, to which they might possibly be expected to render the obedience of subjects. In thus planting themselves upon independent ground, the colonists doubtless felt themselves secure by their distance from the central seat of English power, and by their own obscurity.

A glimpse at the first burying-ground' is followed by an antiquarian research after the origin of the

name, Hartford, and the invention of a coat-of-arms for the city. Mr. Stuart shows himself familiar with the science of heraldry, and he seems to take pride, not without cause, at the success of his effort in this direction. On a heart-shaped shield he has pictured a beautiful river with its fertile banks, which a noble hart is fording. At the base is a grape-vine bearing fruit; the crest is an American eagle with its wings displayed, and the motto reads : Post nubila Phoebus.' The citizens of Hartford have shown their apprecia

. tive sense of the invention, by adopting the device for the City Seal. In illustration of the author's style, we must quote a page or two, at this point of progress :

"The motto, ' Post nubila Phoebus'- we can speak of it freely, as we did not originate, but only newly applied it - is it not rich, poetical, sublime in meaning? How

a

rtford in the past, historically! How applicable in all time! The Old World darkly oppressed our settlers ere they left their home across the seas; the New World set them free! After the clouds, the sun! Cold and famine frustrated their first attempts at settlement; their next succeeded. After the clouds, the sun! The startled, vindictive savages of our coast threatened them early with destruction, but they were scattered like chaff before the wind : and down in the stream of time, the tomahawk and the scalping-knife were again and often brandished for the destruction of our town, but the glimmer of these savage weapons faded in the superior flash of the pistol and the gleam of the pike. After the clouds, the sun! The soil our early towns-men tilled, forgot, at times, to yield its increase; cold and rain stifled their seeds and fruits; but the friendly Indians around them, and far at the sources of the Connecticut, husbanded their stock, and made the pale man's face of famine to smile. After the clouds, the sun! The Dutch vexed them from the Point; intruded on their lands; attempted at times to seize the fort which guarded the mouth of the river that floated their commerce ; but sequestration made the Point peaceful, and bold hearts and a little ordnance preserved the fort. After the clouds, the sun! A tyrant attempted to seize and destroy a charter that protected their township: the instrument was hid triumphantly in an oak. After the clouds, the sun! A minion of the Duke of York attempted in our own Main-street to usurp the command of our train-band, but fled ingloriously away, dumbed' and deafened by the drums and menaces of its brave commander. After the clouds, the sun! French power severely annoyed our towns-men in common

true as to

« PreviousContinue »