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and to stab him with the other. M‘Lellan sprang back just far enough to avoid the blow, and, raising his rifle, shot the ruffian through the heart.
“In the mean time, Reed-who, with the want of forethought of an Irishman, had neglected to remove the leathern cover from the lock of bis rifle—was fumbling at the fastenings, when he received a blow on the head with a war club that laid him senseless on the ground. In a twinkling he was stripped of his rifle and pistols, and the tin box, the cause of all this onslaught, was borne off in triumph.” Vol. II. pp. 96--98.
ART. V.-Memoirs of Aaron Burr, with Miscellaneous Selec
tions from his Correspondence. By MATTHEW L. Davis. In two volumes. Vol. I. New York: 1836. pp. 436.
This volume has, no doubt, in one respect been a very successful literary enterprise. It has sold well. The subject was one of adventure and peculiar interest, and public curiosity, stimulated as well by the ominous seclusion to which the hero of the narrative had for a long period condemned himself, as by a thousand and one hints of new disclosures and unsuspected revelations, was directed with singular intensity to this biography. Besides the interest of the theme itself, resort had very fairly been had to the artifices which the book-making and book-selling community so well understand, to make the world believe that something more than ordinary was coming. The author, too, Mr. Matthew L. Davis, is, if we mistake not, an accredited contributor to the daily press, having thus great facilities to herald the coming biography, and was regarded as an individual who not only had the advantage of intimate personal association with the hero of his story, but who, from his habits of life, was supposed eminently to possess the talent of close and minute observation, and to deserve all confidence for accuracy and impartiality. The result, as to mere dollars and cents, has been just what might be anticipated. The volume has been very cheap to its proprietor and very dear to the public, and we believe we do not misrepresent public opinion, (we are sure we describe sound critical judgment,) when we say that in precise proportion to the avidity with which the book was sought on its first appearance has been the disappointment its perusal has occasioned. Mr. Davis tells us on his title page, that he comes “to bury Cæsar, not to praise him," and literally does he, in one sense, comply with his promise, for if ever the ashes of the dead were hurried ingloriously to their resting place, they have been in the case of Mr. Davis's illustrious friend. The dim lamp which the careless chronicler holds over the grave scarcely gives light enough to guide the curious to the spot, and the recorded obsequies of one who, with all his faults, was a man of high promise and eminent talent, would far better suit the veriest beggar in reputation that ever occupied a paragraph in history. Had Aaron Burr been a much worse man than he was, his memory deserved a better fate than to be slurred over in this way. Had he been a moral leper without a single good trait to redeem him, which he certainly was not, his talents, his military daring, his intellectual energy, and the high political station from which he fell, entitled him to exemption from careless neglect. Better would it be to have dragged the body of the fallen tribune through the streets of Rome, and in the face of the multitude thrown it into the Tiber, than to have smuggled it to the grave with the consummate carelessness with which Mr. Matthew L. Davis has treated his “ Cæsar.”
We pronounce this harsh judgment with sincere regret, but from an imperative sense of justice. The biography of our country, in its revolutionary era at least, is a sacred theme which we cannot bear to see trifled with. It is consecrated by the purity and sublimity of the cause which was at stake and hallowed by the atmosphere of virtue and high individual morality which encompassed it. Not that all the great men of the revolution were beyond reproach, either in their public or their private characters. The book before us shows us one exception, and others may no doubt be suggested. Still the instances are inappreciably rare, and the vast amount of public and private virtue which distinguishes our early history must be admitted to form its most beautiful characteristic. Like the snowy summits of the Cordilleras breaking through a dark curtain of cloud, (a sight we once remember to have seen, and who that has seen will ever forget it,) and glowing in the rich sunset of the tropics, are, to the mental vision, the accumulated virtue and wisdom of the revolution in comparison with the misty elevations to which the achievements of our day aspire. The contrast is as painful as it is distinct. We are not croakers by temperament, nor habitual mourners over the degeneracy of the times. But what we hint at is too palpable to be mistaken. The chivalry of public virtue at least is gone; the romantic purity of patriotism is blurred over; personal integrity and morality have found a counterfeit in what are called “party claims;" and the reward of an approving conscience--the precious recompense of a sense of duty performed, beyond which our revolutionary ancestors rarely looked, has its substitute in the attainment of "office and the spoils of political victory.” With what dispenser of public honours and emoluments would private moral worth
now otweigh political influence? Let the history of the times answer.
“ Such were not they of old, whose temper'd blades
Dispersed the shackles of usurped control,
Shone brighter still when called to public view." We have always thought, that to the private worth and personal merits of our revolutionary ancestors justice has not been done. Every biographer makes his narrative purely the record of public service and neglects the details of personal incidents and private virtues, which should shine so conspicuously in the history of the times. Few who have bestowed any attention on the subject in this aspect, can fail to be deeply impressed with the new claims on gratitude and veneration which thence originate. Our ancestors drew their swords for opinions' sake, for, in fact, they were not harshly governed ; and having drawn it, thought no sacrifice too great for the contest. In private life, the majority of them were men of stern morality and high integrity, whose patriotism and domestic virtues had the same firm basis. They had, too, the reward of social and familiar virtue, in the devoted affection of their families and friends, and in those domestic comforts which that affection so bountifully supplies. Yet all this, the fruits of this familiar love, the delights of this domestic circle, they sacrificed without hesitation at the call of their indignant country—and sacrificed them, too, though not without regret, at least without a murmur. We have, in our mind's eye, at this moment, more than one instance of this patient endurance and personal sacrifice ;-of men who,
· The literary reader will pardon the extract, in a note, of Milton's eloquent vituperation of his own disjointed times :- “ This is the masterpiece of a modern politician, how to qualify the sufferance of the people to the length of that foot which is to tread on their necks; how rapine may serve itself with the fair and honourable pretences of public good; bow the puny law may be brought under the wardship and control of will: in which attempi, if they fall short, then must a superficial colour of reputation by all 'means, direct or indirect, be gotten to wash over the unsightly bruise of honour. To make men governable in this manner, their precepts mainly tend to break a national spirit and courage, till haviog thus disfigured and made men beneath men, as Juno in the fable of lo, they deliver up the poor transformed heifer of the commonwealth, to be stung and vexed with the brize and goad of oppression, under the custody of some Argus, with a hundred eyes of jealousy. To be plainer, sir, how to solder, how to stop a leak, how to keep the floating carcass of a crazy and diseased monarchy or state betwixt wind and water, swimming still upon her own dead lees, that, now, is the deep design of a modern politician.”Prose Works, vol. i. p. 14.
at the beginning of the war, abandoned their cherished homes and families, their wives and children, for the distant camp and council, endured separation for nearly the whole revolution, with short intervals of reunion; and when the war was over, returned to their firesides with shattered health and broken spirits, only to breathe their last amid the tears of those they loved so dearly. We hope to see the history of this personal endurance, and these sacrifices, some day written far better that it ever has been. It will be a brilliant and an useful memorial. It will point the moral of our revolutionary story, and will teach us how strictly just the final judgment of history is on private virtues or vices, as tinging the public character of the aspirant for fame. The late Mr. Canning, himself an example of the association of private morality and political eminence, in a critical essay published in the early part of his life, enforced the necessity of private biography as illustrative of public character, with a vigour of thought and elegance of diction which will be our apology for inserting it here. We quote it as the testimony of the statesman, as well as of the man:-"By the union of political history with views of private life and manners, a new and independent spring of pleasure is opened to us in the contemplation of that sympathy and resemblance which generally subsists between the public and private characters of men. It is impossible' (said an illustrious master of eloquence) 'that the unnatural father, the hater of his own blood, should be an able and faithful leader of his country; that the mind which is insensible to the intimate and touching influence of domestic affection, should be alive to the remoter impulse of patriotic feeling; that private depravity should consist with public virtue.' The sentiment is here expressed with all the vehemence of a political chief, conscious of the amiableness of his own domestic life, and inveighing against a rival too strong in most points to be spared when he was found weak. It has, however, a foundation of truth, and may suggest the advantages resulting from the blended species of biography of which we have spoken. Even in the anomalous cases where no correspondence, or no close correspondence, can be traced between the more retired and the more conspicuous features of a character, a comparative exhibition of the two has its use, and will furnish the philosopher with many interesting themes of reflection. The chief use, however, of such an exhibition resides in the rule and not in the exceptions, and belongs not to the speculative few, but to the active many. By associating, in the view of mankind, whatever is amiable, and, as it were, feminine in the human character, with whatever in it is commanding and Herculean, it takes advantage of our veneration for the latter to betray us
into a respect for the former. It gives dignity to the humbler virtues and domestic charities in the eyes both of public and private men, both of those who aspire to become great, and of those who are content to remain little ; and thus secures the vital interests of society.” If our public men, we repeat, cherishing this philosophic truth, could be ternpted to the retrospect of the illuminated record of our early history, and be made to believe that it affords an attainable standard of public virtue, and genuine though exalted patriotism: if our children could be taught that on these pages they will find models of heroic virtue, private and public, as worthy of imitation as any on the scroll of ancient story, might we not yet hope for the dawning of a brighter day on our beloved country, when charlatans and
frontier Catilines” shall be driven from the abused confidence of the people to the appropriate abodes of political piracy and crime.
But even the personal history of those who either stained our annals by public delinquency like Arnold, or who, with claims on gratitude for eminent public services like Burr, bore the merited stigma of private immorality, should be written, and written honestly and fairly, if with no other object than to make the contrast of patriotism and virtue more distinct. We have a right to expect just as much from the biographer of crime as from the biographer of virtue, especially if
, as in the case of Mr. Davis, he makes pretensions to impartiality, and promises to do strict justice, even in condemnation of his friend. We shall have occasion, presently, to show in this instance how illusory the pretension is, and what gross injustice the feeble condemnation of admitted vices and follies does. But first, a word or two more of general remark.
Whenever an American Plutarch shall arise, before whose vision no clouds of popular delusion shall float, and who can discover and will dare tell the truth, we may hope to see the parallel drawn between two of our public men, who, with fates widely different, had many points of resemblance and contrast. We mean, with deference to popular prejudice be it spoken, a parallel between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the one the luckiest, as the other was confessedly the most unfortunate, of our American public men. We believe the time is passing and will
pass full soon, when admiration of Mr. Jefferson's services and virtues will be predominant in the public mind. Truth and historical justice have had a hard struggle with prejudice and popular delusion, and perhaps would have been worsted in the contest, but for the aid which Mr. Jefferson himself gave them in his historical testament. Like Bolingbroke's bequest to Mallet, he left a charged weapon in the hand of his executors, to be fired off after his death. Luckily