Зображення сторінки

A Senator, -"He is here."

Mr. Webster. — “I am very happy to hear that he is ; may he long be here, and in the enjoyment of health to serve his country !”

And this:

Mr. Webster. — “The honorable member did not disguise his conduct or his motives.”

Mr. Calhoun. — “Never, never."
Mr. Webster. — “ What he means he is very apt to say.”
Mr. Calhoun. Always, always."
Mr. Webster. “And I honor him for it."
And this : —

Mr. Webster. — “I see an honorable member of this body [Mason of Virginia] paying me the honor of listening to my remarks ; he brings to my mind, Sir, freshly and vividly, what I learned of his great ancestor, so much distinguished in his day and generation, so worthy to be succeeded by so worthy a grandson.”

And this:

Mr. Webster. -" An honorable member from Louisiana addressed us the other day on this subject. I suppose there is not a more amiable and worthy gentleman in this chamber, nor a gentleman who would be more slow to give offence to anybody, and he did not mean in his remarks to give offence. But what did he say? Why, Sir, he took pains to run a contrast between the slaves of the South and the laboring people of the North, giving the preference in all points of condition and comfort and happiness to the slaves.”

In the course of this speech there is one most palpable contradiction. In the beginning of it, the orator mentioned the change of feeling and opinion that had occurred as to the institution of slavery, -“ the North growing much more warm and strong against slavery, and the South growing much more warm and strong in its support.” “Once,” he said, “the most eminent men, and nearly all the conspicuous politicians of the South, held the same sentiments, — that slavery was an evil, a blight, a scourge, and a curse”; but now it is “a cherished institution in that quarter; no evil, no scourge, but a great religious, social, and moral blessing." He then asked how this change of opinion had been brought about, and thus answered the question :

“ I suppose. sir, this is owing to the rapid growth and sudden extension of the COTTON plantations in the South.” And to make the statement more emphatic, he caused the word cotton to be printed in capitals in the authorized edition of his works. But later in the speech, when he came to add his ponderous condemnation to the odium in which the handful of Abolitionists were held, — the élite of the nation from Franklin's day to this, — then he attributed this remarkable change to their zealous efforts to awaken the nobler conscience of the country. After giving his own version of their proceedings, he said: “Well, what was the result ? The bonds of the slaves were bound more firmly than before, their rivets were more strongly fastened. Public opinion, which in Virginia had begun to be exhibited against slavery, and was opening out for the discussion of the question, drew back and shut itself up in its castle.”

But all would not do. He bent the knee in vain. Vain too were his personal efforts, his Southern tour, his Astor House wooings,—the politicians would have none of him; and he had the cutting mortification of seeing himself set aside for a Winfield Scott.

Let us not, however, forget that on this occasion, though Daniel Webster appeared for the first time in his life as a leader, he was in reality still only a follower, - a follower, not of the public opinion of the North, but of the wishes of its capitalists. And probably many thousands of well-meaning men, not versed in the mysteries of politics, were secretly pleased to find themselves provided with an excuse for yielding once more to a faction, who had over us the immense advantage of having made up their minds to carry their point or fight. If his was the shame of this speech, ours was the guilt. He faithfully represented the portion of his constituents whose wine he drank, who helped him out with his notes, and who kept his atmosphere hazy with incense and he faithfully represented, also, that larger number who wait till the wolf is at their door before arming against him, instead of meeting him afar off in the outskirts of the wood. Let us own it the North yearned for peace in 1850,– peace at almost any price.

One of the most intimate of Mr. Webster's friends said, in a public address : “It is true that he desired the highest politica.

[ocr errors]

position in the country, — that he thought he had fairly earned a claim to that position. And I solemnly believe that because that claim was denied his days were shortened.” No enemy of the great orator ever uttered anything so severe against him as this, and we are inclined to think it an error. It was probably the strength of his desire for the Presidency that shortened his life, not the mere disappointment. When President Fillmore offered him the post of Secretary of State, in 1850, it appears to have been his preference, much as he loved office, to decline it. He longed for his beautiful Marshfield, on the shore of the ocean, his herds of noble cattle, his broad, productive fields, his yachts, his fishing, his rambles in the forests planted by his own hand, his homely chats with neighbors and beloved dependents. “Oh!” said he, “if I could have my own will, never, never would I leave Marshfield again !” But his “friends,” interested and disinterested, told him it was a shorter step from the office of Secretary of State to that of President than from the Senate-chamber. He yielded, as he always did, and spent a long, hot summer in Washington, to the sore detriment of his health. And again, in 1852, after he had failed to receive the nomination for the Presidency, he was offered the place of Minister to England. His “ friends again advised against his acceptance. His letter to the President, declining the offer, presents him in a sorry light indeed. “I have made up my mind to think no more about the English mission. My principal reason is, that I think it would be regarded as a descent. I have been accustomed to give instructions to ministers abroad, and not to receive them.” Accustomed ! Yes : for two years ! It is probable enough that his acceptance of office, and his adherence to it, hastened his death. Four months after the words were written which we have just quoted, he was

no more.

His last days were such as nis best friends could have wished them to be, - calm, dignified, affectionate, worthy of his lineage. His burial, too, was singularly becoming, impressive, and touching We have been exceedingly struck with the account of it given by Mr. George S. Hillard, in his truly elegant and eloquent eulogy upon Mr. Webster, delivered in Faneuil Hall, In his last will, executed a few days before his death, Mr. Webster requested that he might be buried“ without the least show or os. centation, but in a manner respectful to my neighbors, whose kindness has contributed so much to the happiness of me and mine.” His wishes were obeyed; and he was buried more as the son of plain, brave Captain Ebenezer Webster, than as Secretary of State. “No coffin,” said Mr. Hillard, “concealed that majestic frame. In the open air, clad as when alive, he iay extended in seeming sleep, with no touch of disfeature v pon his brow, - as noble an image of reposing strength as ever was seen upon earth. Around him was the landscape that he had loved, and above him was nothing but the dome of the covering heav

The sunshine fell upon the dead man's face, and the breeze blew over it. A lover of Nature, he seemed to be gathered into her maternal arms, and to lie like a child upon a mother's lap. We felt, as we looked upon him, that death had never stricken down, at one blow, a greater sum of life. And whose heart did not swell when, from the honored and distinguished men there gathered together, six plain Marshfield farmers were called forth to carry the head of their neighbor to the grave. Slowly and sadly the vast multitude followed, in mourning silence, and he was laid down to rest among dear and kindred dust.”

In surveying the life and works of this eminent and gifted man, we are continually struck with the evidences of his magnitude. He was, as we have said, a very large person.

His brain was within a little of being one third larger than the average, and it was one of the largest three on record. His bodily frame, in all its parts, was on a majestic scale, and his presence was immense. He liked large things, mountains, elms, great oaks, mighty bulls and oxen, wide fields, the ocean, the Union, and all things of magnitude. He liked great Rome far better than retined Greece, and revelled in the immense things of literature, such as Paradise Lost, and the Book of Job, Burke, Dr. Johnson, and the Sixth Book of the Æneid. Homer he never cared much for, por, indeed, anything Greek. He hated, he loathed, the act of writing Billiards, ten-pins, chess, draughts, whist, he never relished, though fond to excess of out-docr pleasures, like humi

[ocr errors]

ing, fishing, yachting. He liked to be alone with great Nature, - alone in the giant woods or on the shores of the resounding Bea, — alone all day with his gun, his dog, and his thoughts, alone in the morning, before any one was astir but himself, looking out upon the sea and the glorious sunrise. What a delicious picture of this large, healthy Son of Earth Mr. Lanman gives us, where he describes him coming into his bedroom, at sunrise, and startling him out of a deep sleep by shouting, “ Awake, sluggard ! and look upon this glorious scene, for the sky and the ocean are enveloped in flames ! ” He was akin to all large, slow things in nature. A herd of fine cattle gave him a keen, an inexhaustible enjoyment; but he never “ tasted” a horse: he had no horse enthusiasm. In England he chiefly enjoyed these five things, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Smithfield Cattle Market, English farming, and Sir Robert Peel. Sir Robert Peel he thought was “head and shoulders above any other man” he had ever met. He greatly excelled, too, in describing immense things. In speaking of the Pyramids, once, he asked, “ Who can inform us by what now unknown machines mass was thus aggregated to mass, and quarry piled on quarry, till solid granite seemed to cover the earth and reach the skies.” His peculiar love of the Union of these States was partly due, perhaps, to this habit of his mind of dwelling with complacency on vastness. He felt that he wanted and required a continent to live in : his mind would have gasped for breath in New Hampshire.

But this enormous creature was not an exception to the law which renders giants harmless by seaming them with weakness, but for which the giants would possess the earth. If he had been completed throughout on the plan on which he was sketched, if he had been as able to originate as he was powerful to state, if he had possessed will proportioned to his strength, moral power equal to his moral feeling, intellect on a par with his genius, and principle worthy of his intellect, he would have Bubjugated mankind, and raised his country to a point from which it would have dropped when the tyrannizing influence was withdrawn. Every sphere of life has its peculiar temptations, which there is only one thing that can enable a man to resist,

« НазадПродовжити »