Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the other foreign ministers to make a speech, he made a short address to the king, concluding with the expression of the hope of “ being instrumental in restoring an entire esteem, confidence, and affection, or, in better words, the old good-nature and the old good-bumour, between people who, though separated by an ocean, and under differ-ent governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood.”

This was well said—worthy of the representative of the young nation-manly thoughts and feelings, well meant and well worded. Mr. Adams, in his letter, goes on to say: "The King listened to every word I said with dignity, but with an apparent emotion. Whether it was the nature of the interview, or whether it was my visible agitation, for I felt more than I did or could express, that touched him, I cannot say; but he was much affected, and answered me with more tremor than I had spoken with, and said,

“Sir, the circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper, and the feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. I wish you, sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do by the duty which I owed to my people. I will be very

frank with

you. I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as

a

an independent power. Mr. Adams adds, “He (the king) was much affected, and I was not less so;" and certainly the occasion, as thus pictured in a letter was one fitted to awaken no small emotion, a conflict of many emotions, for how at that moment, must the memories of twenty years of civil strife, with all its varying fortunes and hopes, have risen up to the minds of those two men as they were thus confronted! If there had been obstinacy and wrong in the royal policy which had assented to the first restrictive measure on American trade in 1764, to the Stamp Act, to the Boston Port Bill, to the conduct of the war, at once cruel and imbecile, to that greatest and most tyrannic error, fatal of itself to reconciliation, the hiring of the Hessians—there was on the other hand good feeling and a manly frankness in the expression, at the close of twenty years from the beginning of the colonial diffiulties, of a solicitude that it might be understood in America that in all, he had done nothing but what he thought himself in duty bound to do.

Not the least interesting portion of such a letter is that which describes what passed after the formalities of the interview were over. “ The King," writes Mr. Adams, “then asked me whether I came last from France, and upon my answering in the affirmative, he put on an air of familiarity, and smiling, or rather laughing, said, There is an opinion among some people that you are not the most attached of all your countrymen to the manners of France. I was surprised at this, because I thought it an indiscretion and a departure from dignity. I was a little embarrassed, but determined not to deny the truth, on the one hand, nor leave him to infer from it any attachment to England, on the other. I threw off as

a

a

much of gravity as I could, and assumed an air of gayety and a tone of decision as far as was decent, and said, That opinion, sir, was not mistaken. I must avow to your majesty I have no attachment but to my own country. The king replied, as quick as lightning, An honest (man) will never have

any

other.” I have quoted these passages to show how a letter may place a familiar piece of history in a more vivid light of truth and reality than mere historic narration gives to it; illustrating Horace Walpole's remark that “nothing gives so just an idea of an age as genuine letters; nay, history waits for its last seal from them.”

It is in another letter from John Adams to John Jay that there occurs a character of George the Third, as just, probably, as has been written.

“The King, I really think,” says Mr. Adams, “is the most accomplished courtier in his dominions; with all the affability of Charles the Second, he has all the domestic virtues and regularity of conduct of Charles the First. He is the greatest talker in the world, and a tenacious memory stored with resources of small talk, concerning all the little things of life, which are inexhaustible. But so much of his time is and has been consumed in this, that he is, in all the great affairs of society and government, as weak, as far as I can judge, as we ever understood him to be in America. He is also as obstinate. The unbounded popularity acquired by his temperance and facetiousness, added to the splendour of his dignity, gives him such a continual feast of flattery, that he thinks all he does is right, and he pursues his own ideas with a firmness which would become the best system of action.

He has a pleasure in his own will and way, without which he would be miserable, which seems

[ocr errors]

to be the true principle upon which he has always chosen and rejected ministers."'*

It is a happy thing for the student of history, and indeed for the American citizen, that the letters of Washington have been preserved in remarkable completeness a result in no small degree owing to those exact habits of business which a controlling sense of duty carried through his whole career. The manifold lessons which those letters inculcate are as legible as that admirable handwriting, which, without pretensions to elegance, or that delicacy which often belongs to the

pen

of men of letters, (such as Gray's, and Cowper's, and Southey's,) is eminently characteristic in its uniformity, regularity, and firmness. The historical value of the letters may readily be conceived, when it is remembered that they extend over the whole era of early American nationality, connecting it by actual presence and participation. I speak of that era in an extended completeness, beginning with the old French war, which is properly to be regarded as part of the preparation for the War of Independence, continued onward through the Revolution, its immediate sequel, the feeble period of the Confederation, and the triumphant completion of the political change in the establishment

* The recently-published diary of Mr. Adams contains, under date of 30th March, 1786, the following very characteristic entry :

“ Went at nine o'clock to the French ambassador's ball, where were two or three hundred people, chiefly ladies. Here I met the Marquis of Lansdowne and the Earl of Harcourt. These two noblemen ventured to enter into conversation with me; so did Sir George Young. But there is an awkward timidity in general. This people cannot look me in the face ; there is conscious guilt and shame in their countenances when they look at me. They feel they have behaved ill, ano that I am sensible of it." Works of John Adams, vol. iii. p. 393.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

of the Constitution, and Washington's administration; nay, beyond that, to the tranquil evening of that life so matchless in its harmony, in its freedom from contradictions, the quiet glory of its close in the rural seclusion of Mount Vernon. Now the history of that whole era may be read as it is reflected in the clear mirror of that mind, undimmed by any unworthy passion, and capacious enough to hold within it the image of his country's annals for near half a century. Nowhere can so well be seen first the dutiful and not degrading loyalty of a colonial subject, giving to his king and country a soldier's service; the no less dutiful, but far more difficult, transition from loyal obedience to resistance; the progress from peaceful to armed resistance; the magnanimous self-control and heroism alike in the prosperity and adversity of military command; the perpetual sense of subordination to law; and the willing, happy laying down of power when the purposes of that power were achieved in the public good. It needs no comment to show how the Washington letters illustrate all the eventful years of his life, but there are other portions of it less attractive and less known, on which the letters alone throw light. In a course of historical lectures I had occasion lately to treat of that uneventful, that uninviting but instructive period between the peace of 1783 and the adoption of the present Constitution—those latter years of the Confederation, when the nation seemed to be sinking from the height of its new independence down into anarchy and the world's contempt; and nothing seemed to my mind to express with so deep and sad an eloquence the gloom which was gathering over the land, as the simple words of disappointment and depression which Washington was sending

« ZurückWeiter »