網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Would that I could visit you! But when, or how ?—not when or where? It is very certain if this world was not made for Cæsar, neither was it made for me; for I have no more liberty of locomotion in it, than if I were chained to the oar of a Spanish galley.

Mrs. Wirt and our children join in love to you and yours, and wish you all the pastime of the season. Yours ever,

WM. WIRT.

CHAPTER VI.

1820.

QUIET PROFESSIONAL LIFE. THE MISSOURI QUESTION.-LETTER TO CARR.— PARTICULARS RELATING TO DECATUR.-LETTER TO HIS DAUGHTER.— VISIT TO SHANONDALE.-ENGAGED IN THE BANK PROSECUTIONS IN MARYLAND.-BEL AIR.-A VISIT TO WEST POINT.

In the smooth, deep current of successful professional life, upon which the Attorney General was now borne, I find, as in some previous epochs, a natural dearth of incident to furnish topics for my narrative. The strength which was working out his fame and placing him in the rank of master intellects, which was bringing affluence to his enjoyment, and refinement to his fireside, wrought its achievements in the quiet career of study and official occupation, showing the traces of its progress rather in the ends it attained than in the incidents of its advance.

In a letter to his old friend Judge Tucker, from whom he had now been separated for more than two years, he writes,—“ My duties are laborious and engross me almost entirely. Yet you will do me great injustice if you do not believe that I think of you always with affection,-tenderly, warmly and deeply. The frequent and happy occasions in which we have practised on Horace's maxim-dulce est desipere in loco-rise in my recollection with feelings which it would not be very manly to confess in full. You can easily imagine them. Adverse, as every circumstance now seems to be to such a calculation, and gloomy and forbidding as the times are to to all that is joyous and even cheerful, I cannot give up the hope that we may yet again renew those scenes of innocent festivity."

The date of this letter,-January 1820,-will remind the reader that the allusion, in the concluding lines of this extract, is to the unhappy state of affairs produced by the pendency of that great question which agitated the country, upon the application of Missouri to be admitted into the Union. It was then under dis

disturbed with the The settlement of

cussion in Congress. The public mind was most anxious apprehension as to the result. this question, then deemed so portentous to the Union, hung in a doubtful scale, and its influence was every where visible in imparting a sombre tone to the reflections which it excited. Happily, the genius of compromise and forbearance came to the aid of the national councils on that occasion, disarmed the controversy of its threatened mischiefs, and established a peace which, we had hoped, was never to be broken. Events of more recent date, which have revived some of the exasperations of the topic of that day, furnish a new motive to the statesmen of the present time to study this passage in the history of the country, that they may walk in the light of the experience it teaches to guide the State safely through the same perils. It was a common opinion of 1820, that the fate of the Federal Government was involved in the issue then pending. Some alarmists fancy that, in the later revivals of the same question, they see the same disaster. We do not pretend to undervalue the real danger of that frenzy which political partizanship may raise in the mind of the nation upon such a topic; but we have never believed that, either in the year to which we refer, or at any subsequent period, has that subject—allowing to it all the importance which any one has ever claimed for it-had such overmastering control of the judgment and good sense of the country, as to place itself beyond the limit of the same beneficent spirit of compromise which rendered it impotent to disturb the Union in 1820. It is a weapon of offence only in the hands of political prize-fighters. The direct interest in the integrity of the Union, which renders its preservation a question of personal welfare to every citizen, and of safety to every state-to say nothing of that higher glory, the love of country, which rises above all sectional attachments,-will always be found sufficiently potent, in the hour of need, to subdue the factious rage of disorganizers and to compel the surrender of those extreme points of difference which, on either side, may threaten the peace or disturb the harmony of the country.

The following letter refers to another incident which, though of a personal character, scarcely less attracted the public notice, for a brief space, than the last.

TO JUDGE CARR.

WASHINGTON, April 2, 1820.

I thank you, my dear friend, for your short letter, which I would have sooner answered but for causes beyond my control. Instead of attempting to give you an account of the quarrel between our lamented Decatur and Barron, I propose to send you, in this, a copy of their correspondence, which we are promised from the Intelligencer press to-morrow. Decatur shewed me this correspondence, in confidence, late last fall, so far as it had then gone; and I used every effort to prevent the fight, which he was very far from wishing to bring on, but which he considered as forced upon him in such a way, that there was no avoiding it but by disavowing what he had really said and thought of Barron; and of this I need not say he was incapable. He did not approve of duelling.

He then passed to his own case. Fighting, he said, was his profession, and it would be impossible for him to keep his station and preserve his respectability without showing himself ready, at all times, to answer the call of any one who bore the name of a gentleman.

After my return from Baltimore, I heard nothing more of it 'till he was brought home mortally wounded; and then I saw him no more 'till he was a corpse. As I stood near him, alone, and looked at his dead face, marked, as it still was, with the last traces of his departed spirit, I could not help saying "What is life, and what all the glory that this world can give?" The soliloquy is not a very novel one, indeed. I have made it, in common with others, a thousand times before, but I never felt its force till then; for never, 'till then, had I seen the corpse of such a man. You knew him, I believe, only as a hero. I ought to have made it my business to bring you to know each other individually. Could I have foreseen such an event as this, I would have done so. But what good would it have done? It would have made you feel his loss the more sensibly, for you would have mourned, instead of merely lamenting the loss of a hero. They both fell at the shot, which was so simultaneous that the report of VOL. 2-10

two pistols could not be heard by those who stood out of sight, though close within ear-shot. This I heard from Commodore Porter, who was standing thus with Rogers. He exclaimed immediately," one of them is killed, for there is only one shot." Very different was the scene when he got to the ground. Decatur was apparently shot dead: he revived after a while, and he and Barron held a parley as they lay on the ground. Doctor Washington, who got up just then, says that it reminded him of the closing scene of a tragedy-Hamlet and Laertes. Barron proposed that they should make friends before they met in Heaven, (for he supposed they would both die immediately.) Decatur said he had never been his enemy, that he freely forgave him his death-though he could not forgive those who had stimulated him to seek his life. One report says that Barron exclaimed "Would to God you had said thus much yesterday!" It is certain that the parley was a friendly one, and that they parted in peace. Decatur knew he was to die, and his only sorrow was that he had not died in the service of his country. It is believed that Barron will recover-though this is far from certain. The papers will have told you every thing as to Decatur's funeral procession, &c.

Give our love to your fireside, for I suppose this snow has reached at least to Winchester. And may Heaven bless you all, and keep you warm and comfortable.

Your friend,

WM. WIRT.

We have now a playful and instructive letter to his daughter, who had gone to the country to attend the wedding of a friend.

TO LAURA H. WIRT.

WASHINGTON, Tuesday, May 23, 1820. Such a splash as we had at Mr. Law's yesterday! Near a hundred gentlemen: all the farmers of Prince George's county for many miles around, and all the gentry from Washington. And no more ceremony, and quite as much festivity and playfulness, as among a flock of children just broke loose from school. Anthro

« 上一頁繼續 »