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Joseph G. Baldwin
Ovid Bolus, Esq.
Attorney at Law and Solicitor in Chancery
AND what history of that halcyon period, ranging from the year of Grace, 1835, to 1837; that golden era, when shinplasters were the sole currency; when bank-bills were "as thick as Autumn leaves in Vallombrosa," and credit was a franchise what history of those times would be complete that left out the name of Ovid Bolus? As well write the biography of Prince Hal, and forbear all mention of Falstaff. In law phrase, the thing would be a "deed without a name," and void; a most unpardonable casus omissus.
I cannot trace, for reasons the sequel suggests, the early history, much less the birthplace, pedigree, and juvenile associations of this worthy. Whence he or his forbears got his name or how, I don't know: but for the fact that it is to be inferred he got it in infancy, I should have thought he borrowed it: he borrowed everything else he ever had, such things as he got under the credit system only excepted: in deference, however, to the axiom that there is some exception to all general rules, I am willing to believe that he got this much honestly, by bona fide gift or inheritance, and without false pretense.
I have had a hard time of it in endeavoring to assign to Bolus his leading vice: I have given up the task in despair;
but I have essayed to designate that one which gave him, in the end, most celebrity. I am aware that it is invidious to make comparisons, and to give preeminence to one over other rival qualities and gifts, where all have high claims to distinction: but, then, the stern justice of criticism in this case requires a discrimination which, to be intelligible and definite, must be relative and comparative. I therefore take the responsibility of saying, after due reflection, that in my opinion Bolus's reputation stood higher for lying than for anything else: and in thus assigning preeminence to this poetic property, I do it without any desire to derogate from other brilliant characteristics belonging to the same general category which have drawn the wondering notice of the world.
Some men are liars from interest; not because they have no regard for truth, but because they have less regard for it than for gain: some are liars from vanity, because they would rather be well thought of by others than have reason for thinking well of themselves: some are liars from a sort of necessity which overbears, by the weight of temptation, the sense of virtue: some are enticed away by the allurements of pleasure, or seduced by evil example and education. Bolus was none of these: he belonged to a higher department of the fine arts, and to a higher class of professors of this sort of Belles-lettres. Bolus was a natural liar, just as some horses are natural pacers, and some dogs natural setters. What he did in that walk was from the irresistible promptings of instinct, and a disinterested love of art. His genius and his performances were free from the vulgar alloy of interest or temptation. Accordingly, he did not labor a lie: he lied with a relish: he lied with a coming appetite, growing with what it fed on: he lied from the delight of invention and the
charm of fictitious narrative. It is true he applied his art to the practical purposes of life; but in so far did he glory the more in it; just as an ingenious machinist rejoices that his invention, while it has honored science, has also supplied a common want.
Bolus's genius for lying was encyclopedical; it was what German criticism calls many-sided. It embraced all subjects without distinction or partiality. It was equally good upon all, "from grave to gay, from lively to severe."
Bolus's lying came from his greatness of soul and his com prehensiveness of mind. The truth was too small for him. Fact was too dry and commonplace for the fervor of his genius. Besides, great as was his memory-for he even remembered the outlines of his chief lies-his invention was still larger. He had a great contempt for history and historians. He thought them tame and timid cobblers; mere tinkers on other people's wares-simple parrots and magpies of other men's sayings or doings; borrowers of and acknowledged debtors for others' chattels, got without skill; they had no separate estate in their ideas: they were bailees of goods which they did not pretend to hold by adverse title; buriers of talents in napkins making no usury; barren and unprofitable non-producers in the intellectual vineyard-nati consumere fruges.
He adopted a fact occasionally to start with, but, like a Sheffield razor and the crude ore, the workmanship, polish, and value were all his own: a Tibet shawl could as well be credited to the insensate goat that grew the wool, as the author of a fact Bolus honored with his artistical skill could claim to be the inventor of the story.
His experiments upon credulity, like charity, began at home. He had long torn down the partition wall between his imagination and his memory. He had long ceased to dis
tinguish between the impressions made upon his mind by what came from it, and what came to it: all ideas were facts to him.
Bolus's was not a common man's life. His world was not the hard, work-day world the groundlings live in: he moved in a sphere of poetry: he lived amidst the ideal and romantic. Not that he was not practical enough, when he chose to be: by no means. He bought goods and chattels, lands and tenements, like other men; but he got them under a state of poetic illusion, and paid for them in an imaginary way. Even the titles he gave were not of the earthy sort―they were sometimes clouded. He gave notes, too-how well I know it!-like other men; he paid them like himself.
How well he asserted the Spiritual over the Material! How he delighted to turn an abstract idea into concrete cash-to make a few blots of ink, representing a little thought, turn out a labor-saving machine, and bring into his pocket money which many days of hard, exhausting labor would not procure! What pious joy it gave him to see the days of the good Samaritan return, and the hard hand of avarice relax its grasp on land and negroes, pork and clothes, beneath the soft speeches and kind promises of future rewards-blending in the act the three cardinal virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity; while, in the result, the chief of these three was Charity!
There was something sublime in the idea-this elevating the spirit of man to its true and primeval dominion over things of sense and grosser matter.
It is true that, in these practical romances, Bolus was charged with a defective taste in repeating himself. The justice of the charge must be, at least, partially acknowledged: this I know from a client to whom Ovid sold a tract of land after having sold it twice before: I cannot say, though, that his forgetting
to mention this circumstance made any difference, for Bolus originally had no title.
There was nothing narrow, sectarian, or sectional in Bolus's lying. It was on the contrary broad and catholic. It had no respect to times or places. It was as wide, illimitable, as elastic and variable as the air he spent in giving it expression. It was a generous, gentlemanly, whole-souled faculty. It was often employed on occasions of thrift, but no more; and no more zealously on these than on others of no profit to himself. He was an Egotist, but a magnificent one; he was not a liar because an egotist, but an egotist because a liar. He usually made himself the hero of the romantic exploits and adventures he narrated; but this was not so much to exalt himself as because it was more convenient to his art. He had nothing malignant or invidious in his nature. If he exalted himself it was seldom or over to the disparagement of others, unless, indeed, those others were merely imaginary persons, or too far off to be hurt. He would as soon lie for you as for himself. It was all the same, so there was something doing in his line of business, except in those cases in which his necessities required to be fed at your expense.
He did not confine himself to mere lingual lying: one tongue was not enough for all the business he had on hand. He acted lies as well. Indeed, sometimes his very silence was a lie. He made nonentity fib for him, and performed wondrous feats by a "masterly inactivity."
The personnel of this distinguished Votary of the Muse was happily fitted to his art. He was strikingly handsome. There was something in his air and bearing almost princely, certainly quite distinguished. His manners were winning, his address frank, cordial, and flowing. He was built after the model and structure of Bolingbroke in his youth, Americanized and