[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]


“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 122-129.



A Literary Curiosity.*

M ACAULAY in the Exordium to his History, proposed to bring his narrative down “to a period within the memory of men still living.” The phrase was doubtless chosen for its ambiguity; so as to include or to exclude some notice of our Revolution. If the following extracts be genuine (and for their authenticity I do not vouch), they favor the former hypothesis. They purport to be sketches for a future volume: stone, rough hewn, for an edifice which, alas! the master did not live to complete.



“The post of Commander-in-Chief of the insurgent armies was of vital importance. Yet, the man who, of all men, was fitted to fill such a post adequately was at hand. The Congress knew it; and with a unanimity that rarely marked their proceedings, selected George Washington — a delegate from Virginia. The reader will naturally pause at the mention of a name which is regarded with fond idolatry by a federation of great commonwealths; which History has admitted into the company of founders of empire with Romulus and Gustavus, 123 and into the roll of great captains with Hannibal and Frederic: and which is pronounced with equal veneration on the banks of the Thames and on the banks of the Ganges. Both the circumstances of his birth and the circumstances of his education had fitted him for the part he was called on to play. In his blood, of English origin, there was blended something of the fiery valor of the cavaliers of Rupert, with something of the resolute energy of the soldiers of Oliver. His form, in its matchless union of vigor and grace, had foiled the pencil of Stuart and the chisel of Chantry. He had known the salutary discipline of early toil. With his stipend of a guinea a day as a surveyor, he had acquired, in youth, the art of controlling himself. In manhood, by the exercise of patriarchal dominion over thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves, he had acquired the art of controlling others. Equally fortunate had been his public career. He had served in the armies of the Crown, and against the natives of the wilderness. He had thus learned something, both of desultory and of disciplined warfare. At a later day, and on a wider theatre, his knowledge of the one enabled him to surprise the Hessians at Trenton; and his knowledge of the other to entangle Cornwallis in the toils of Yorktown.

“His courage was of the truest temper. Stoic savages told with wonder how he alone was calm when the soldiers of Braddock were slaughtered like sheep; and Continental veterans loved to narrate how his face shone with 124 heroic fire as he rallied the broken battalions at Monmouth. His intellect was solid and comprehensive. The natural ardor of his temperament was subdued by a judgment of singular accuracy and prudence. His unaffected piety showed itself alike on public and on private occasions: when he drew his sword at Cambridge: when he sheathed it at Annapolis: when he knelt alone in the snowy solitudes of Valley Forge.

“And, indeed, all the strength of his intellect, and all the resources of his character, were needed for the task he had undertaken. For he had undertaken to confront the finest infantry of Europe with an army of tradesmen and farmers — half clad, half fed, and wholly undisciplined. In the ranks, the spirit of patriotic ardor was but too often allied with the spirit of turbulent freedom. At the council board, there were officers to whom the precedence of a colleague was more galling than the tyranny of the common oppressor. He had to deal with deliberative bodies that acted when they should have debated, and with executive bodies that debated when they should have acted; with an army that murmured at his activity, and with a government that blamed his inaction; and he was forced to exhibit, to both government and army, at one time the reckless courage of Charles XII, and at another time the serene patience of Marlborough.

“Nor must his claims to civic wisdom be passed unnoticed. His style, founded, it is true, on the turgid masterpieces of that period, was accurate and comprehensive. 125 His talent for abstract speculation was not contemptible. He presided with commanding wisdom over that assemblage of wise and ingenious statesmen, who framed a system of government in imitation of a great system, in which the centrifugal force of the separate Commonwealths and the centripetal force of the Federal authority were balanced with consummate skill. Nor did he exhibit less wisdom when called on to put in motion that machine which he had helped to frame. He resisted the unjust rule of many men, as he had resisted the unjust rule of one man; and saw with prophetic eye the issues of that insane freedom that ended in the ‘carmagnole’ and the ‘guillotine.’ Nor was the calm splendor of his setting unworthy of the long day of glory. He beat his spear into a pruning hook; and planted choice trees, and reared rare breeds of animals with the same conscientious energy, with which he had ruled armies and governed cabinets.

“And yet, the truth is that characters of such perfection excite neither the just sympathy nor the just admiration of the great mass of mankind. The very foibles of irregular greatness are a bond of sympathy and a source of interest. Most readers will turn away from a ruler who was never unjust, and from a general who never swore, to follow the amiable amours of Henry IV, or the picturesque passion of Hildebrand. So, also, do the defects of imperfect natures serve to render, by the forces of contrast, their merits more striking. The eloquence 126 of Tully stands out in flaming characters against the dark background of that timorous nature; and the glance of Bacon, the philosopher, seems more comprehensive when we compare it with the glance of Bacon, the venal judge, lowered obliquely on a bribe. The mental eye is misled, as the physical eye is misled by the ruins of Palmyra or the Cathedral of Cologne. The imagination outstrips the reality, and bestows an unmerited grandeur on the restored temple and the completed church. But the harmonious adjustment of the mental and moral faculties of Washington, prevent us, at the first glance, from duly estimating the extent of those faculties. We are like the traveller who stands for the first time in that splendid structure which the genius of Michael Angelo has reared for the Catholic hierarchy. He cannot at once justly estimate the length of that endless nave, or the expanse of that awful dome. And not until he discovers, by repeated observation, that the baldaquin which covers the altar is as lofty as a palace, and that the cupids that flit about the door are as big as giants, will he feel assured that he treads the floor of the largest building on the earth.”


“The new ambassador was Benjamin Franklin, one of the foremost citizens of the young Republic, and one of the foremost citizens of the older republic of science. He was of humble origin. Both in Boston, the place of his 127 birth, and in Philadelphia, the place of his adoption, he had wrought at that art, ‘preservative of all arts,’ of which the followers, like ships that bear spices and odors from the East, retain something of the precious cargoes they are employed to distribute. The clearness of his intellect was equaled by the clearness of his perceptions. Under the name of Poor Richard, and through the humble medium of an ‘Almanac,’ he put forth a system of homely ethics, in which the virtues of temperance, probity, and industry were explained and commended in aphorisms of ingenious terseness. Nor did he fail to practice what he preached. He was speedily honored with offices of trust, both from the Colonies and the Crown. And when differences, that sprang partly from criminal interference and partly from criminal neglect, arose between the two countries, he exerted himself strenuously, first to prevent, and then to remove those differences. The hour for reconciliation passed away: and he now stood up for war with the same placid courage with which he had stood out for peace. He was one of the Committee that drafted the great Declaration. He was now sent to represent the good cause at the Court of France, and at the bar of European opinion. An extraordinary reception awaited him. He was widely and justly known as an eminent man of science — as the Columbus of electrical discovery. The French nation is, beyond all other nations, fond of striking effect and picturesque contrast. And nothing could be more striking 128 or picturesque than the spectacle now presented. A Quaker diplomatist was about to appear in the most artificial of courts: a new Archimedes was to come from the land of the Natchez and the Mohawk: the legate of the latest republic was to recall the images of antique wisdom and of antique virtue — of the Grecian Solon and the Roman Regulus. Haughty courtiers bent in emotion before him: brilliant beauties struggled for a kiss; sculptors and painters pursued him with merciless assiduity; the Academy rang with applause when Turgot’s adulatory Latin described the sage as one ’who had wrested the thunder from heaven and the sceptre from tyrants:’ and upon a ship of war, that was sent on its mission of death and destruction under the desperate Paul Jones, was bestowed, with pardonable inconsistency, the name of ‘Poor Richard.’

The chief glory of Franklin lies in this — that he was the greatest of the pupils of Bacon. And, indeed, he was such a pupil as Bacon would have delighted to honor. To both pupil and master, Philosophy was not the mystic goddess of Plato, or the impracticable vixen of the schoolmen. She was an angel of beneficence and a minister of mercy; an Elizabeth Fry or Florence Nightingale. Her mission was to relieve human suffering and to advance man’s estate. And, in truth, Franklin’s long and successful career was a triumphant application of these principles. No sooner had the electric spark glided down the kite-string than the lightning-rod was invented for its 129 innocuous descent. The maxims of Poor Richard were devised not only for the household of the Quaker mechanic and the dealings of the Quaker tradesman, but for the government of States and the intercourse of nations. Even the barren tactics of chess were made to furnish lessons for the higher warfare of life. Nor did his philosophy fail to bear her fruits to the philosopher himself. The virtues of self-respect and self-reliance that walked by his side, when he entered Philadelphia with a loaf of bread under his arm, did not desert him when he listened, amid the frowns of hostile statesmen, to the pitiless sarcasm of Wedderburne; nor when he stood, the centre of universal homage, in the brilliant court of Louis.

“Zealous theologians have attacked the orthodoxy of his creed; casuists have cavilled at the imperfection of his ethics. But he was doubtless a good man; he was surely a great man. And he richly deserves the title of ‘the most useful of the children of men’ — a title which Franklin himself would have prized beyond all the gifts of fortune and all the laurels of fame.”


*  See Preface.

Elf.Ed — Although this footnote is in the text of Sayings, Wise and Otherwise, it has no preface and was clearly taken from The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men. In that Preface, Cozzens states, on p. 6, this article was published in his magazine The Wine Press and that ‘Col. Peter A. Porter, who lost his life at the battle of Cold Harbor, in leading a charge at the head of his gallant regiment (the 8th New York Artillery), contributed the excellent imitation of Macauley's History of England. Those who knew him best will appreciate how much the Empire State has lost in losing him.’


[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

Valid CSS!