Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 3, March 1836, 2:???-???


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Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, &c. in the First Half Century of the Republic. By a Native Georgian. Augusta, Georgia.

This book has reached us anonymously — not to say anomalously — yet it is most heartily welcome. The author, whoever he is, is a clever fellow, imbued with a spirit of the truest humor, and endowed, moreover, with an exquisitely discriminative and penetrating understanding of character in general, and of Southern character in particular. And we do not mean to speak of human character exclusively. To be sure, our Georgian is au fait here too — he is learned in all things appertaining to the biped without feathers. In regard, especially, to that class of southwestern mammalia who come under the generic appellation of “savagerous wild cats,” he is a very Theophrastus in duodecimo. But he is not the less at home in other matters. Of geese and ganders he is the La Bruyere, and of good-for-nothing horses the Rochefoucault.

Seriously — if this book were printed in England it would make the fortune of its author. We positively mean what we say — and are quite sure of being sustained in our opinion by all proper judges who may be so fortunate as to obtain a copy of the “Georgia Scenes,” and who will be at the trouble of sifting their peculiar merits from amid the gaucheries of a Southern publication. Seldom — perhaps never in our lives have we laughed as immoderately over any book as over the one now before us. If these scenes have produced such effects upon our cachinnatory nerves — upon us who are not “of the merry mood,” and, moreover, have not been unused to the perusal of somewhat similar things — we are at no loss to imagine what a hubbub they would occasion in the uninitiated regions of Cockaigne. And what would Christopher North say to them? — ah, what would Christopher North say? that is the question. Certainly not a word. But we can fancy the pursing up of his lips, and the long, loud, and jovial resonnation of his wicked, and uproarious ha! ha’s!

From the Preface to the Sketches before us we learn that although they are, generally, nothing more than fanciful combinations of real incidents and characters, still, in some instances, the narratives are literally true. We are told also that the publication of these pieces was commenced, rather more than a year ago, in one of the Gazettes of the State, and that they were favorably received. “For the last six months,” says the author, “I have been importuned by persons from all quarters of the State to give them to the public in the present form.” This speaks well for the Georgian taste. But that the publication will succeed, in the bookselling sense of the word, is problematical. Thanks to the long indulged literary supineness of the South, her presses are not as apt in putting forth a saleable book as her sons are in concocting a wise one.

From a desire of concealing the author’s name, two different signatures, Baldwin and Hall, were used in the original Sketches, and, to save trouble, are preserved in the present volume. With the exception, however, of one scene, “The Company Drill,” all the book is the production of the same pen. The first article in the list is “Georgia Theatrics.” Our friend Hall, in this piece, represents himself as ascending, about eleven o’clock in the forenoon of a June day, “a long and gentle slope in what was called the Dark Corner of Lincoln County, Georgia.” Suddenly his ears are assailed by loud, profane, and boisterous voices, proceeding, apparently, from a large company of raggamuffins, concealed in a thick covert of undergrowth about a hundred yards from the road.

“You kin, kin you?

“Yes I kin, and am able to do it! Boo-oo-oo-oo! Oh wake snakes and walk your chalks! Brimstone and fire! Dont hold me Nick Stoval! The fight’s made up, and lets go at it — my soul if I dont jump down his throat, and gallop every chitterling out of him before you can say ‘quit!’

“Now Nick, dont hold him! Jist let the wild cat come, and I’ll tame him. Ned ‘ll see me a fair fight — wont you Ned?

“Oh yes; I’ll see you a fair fight, my old shoes if I dont.

“That’s sufficient, as Tom Haynes said when he saw the Elephant. Now let him come!” &c. &c. &c.

And now the sounds assume all the discordant intonations inseparable from a Georgia “rough and tumble” fight. Our traveller listens in dismay to the indications of a quick, violent, and deadly struggle. With the intention of acting as pacificator, he dismounts in haste, and hurries to the scene of action. Presently, through a gap in the thicket, he obtains a glimpse of one, at least, of the combatants. This one appears to have his antagonist beneath him on the ground, and to be dealing on the prostrate wretch the most unmerciful blows. Having overcome about half the space which separated him from the combatants, our friend Hall is horror-stricken at seeing “the uppermost make a heavy plunge with both his thumbs, and hearing, at the same instant, a cry in the accent of keenest torture, ‘Enough! My eye’s out!’ “

Rushing to the rescue of the mutilated wretch the traveller is surprised at finding that all the accomplices in the hellish deed have fled at his approach — at least so he supposes, for none of them are to be seen.

“At this moment,” says the narrator, “the victor saw me for the first time. He looked excessively embarrassed, and was moving off, when I called to him in a tone emboldened by the sacredness of my office, and the iniquity of his crime, ‘come back, you brute! and assist me in relieving your fellow mortal, whom you have ruined forever!’ My rudeness subdued his embarrassment in an instant; and with a taunting curl of the nose, he replied; you need’nt kick before you’re spurred. There ‘ant nobody there, nor ha’nt been nother. I was jist seein how I could ‘a’ fout! So saying, he bounded to his plow, which stood in the corner of the fence about fifty yards beyond the battle ground.”

All that had been seen or heard was nothing more nor less than a Lincoln rehearsal; in which all the parts of all the characters, of a Georgian Court-House fight had been sustained by the youth of the plough solus. The whole anecdote is told with a raciness and vigor which would do honor to the pages of Blackwood.

The second Article is “The Dance, a Personal Adventure of the Author” in which the oddities of a back-wood reel are depicted with inimitable force, fidelity and picturesque effect. “The Horse-swap” is a vivid narration of an encounter between the wits of two Georgian horse-jockies. This is most excellent in every respect — but especially so in its delineations of Southern bravado, and the keen sense of the ludicrous evinced in the portraiture of the steeds. We think the following free and easy sketch of a hoss superior, in joint humor and verisimilitude, to any thing of the kind we have ever seen.

“During this harangue, little Bullet looked as if he understood it all, believed it, and was ready at any moment to verify it. He was a horse of goodly countenance, rather expressive of vigilance than fire; though an unnatural appearance of fierceness was thrown into it, by the loss of his ears, which had been cropped pretty close to his head. Nature had done but little for Bullet’s head and neck, but he managed in a great measure to hide their defects by bowing perpetually. He had obviously suffered severely for corn; but if his ribs and hip bones had not disclosed the fact he never would have done it; for he was in all respects as cheerful and happy as if he commanded all the corn cribs and fodder stacks in Georgia. His height was about twelve hands; but as his shape partook somewhat of that of the giraffe his haunches stood much lower. They were short, straight, peaked, and concave. Bullet’s tail, however, made amends for all his defects. All that the artist could do to beautify it had been done; and all that horse could do to compliment the artist, Bullet did. His tail was nicked in superior style, and exhibited the line of beauty in so many directions, that it could not fail to hit the most fastidious taste in some of them. From the root it dropped into a graceful festoon; then rose in a handsome curve; then resumed its first direction; and then mounted suddenly upwards like a cypress knee to a perpendicular of about two and a half inches. The whole had a careless and bewitching inclination to the right. Bullet obviously knew where his beauty lay, and took all occasions to display it to the best advantage. If a stick cracked, or if any one moved suddenly about him or coughed, or hawked, or spoke a little louder than common, up went Bullet’s tail like lightning; and if the going up did not please, the coming down must of necessity, for it was as different from the other movement as was its direction. The first was a bold and rapid flight upwards usually to an angle of forty five degrees. In this position he kept his interesting appendage until he satisfied himself that nothing in particular was to be done; when he commenced dropping it by half inches, in second beats — then in triple time — then faster and shorter, and faster and shorter still, until it finally died away imperceptibly into its natural position. If I might compare sights to sounds, I should say its settling was more like the note of a locust than any thing else in nature.”

“The character of a Native Georgian” is amusing, but not so good as the scenes which precede and succeed it. Moreover the character described (a practical humorist) is neither very original, nor appertaining exclusively to Georgia.

“The Fight” although involving some horrible and disgusting details of southern barbarity is a sketch unsurpassed in dramatic vigor, and in the vivid truth to nature of one or two of the personages introduced. Uncle Tommy Loggins, in particular, an oracle in “rough and tumbles,” and Ransy Sniffle, a misshapen urchin “who in his earlier days had fed copiously upon red clay and blackberries,” and all the pleasures of whose life concentre in a love of fisticuffs — are both forcible, accurate and original generic delineations of real existences to be found sparsely in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana, and very plentifully in our more remote settlements and territories. This article would positively make the fortune of any British periodical.

“The Song” is a burlesque somewhat overdone, but upon the whole a good caricature of Italian bravura singing. The following account of Miss Aurelia Emma Theodosia Augusta Crump’s execution on the piano is inimitable.

“Miss Crump was educated at Philadelphia; she had been taught to sing by Madam Piggisqueaki, who was a pupil of Ma’m’selle Crokifroggietta, who had sung with Madam Catalani; and she had taken lessons on the piano, from Signor Buzzifuzzi, who had played with Paganini.

“She seated herself at the piano, rocked to the right, then to the left, — leaned forward, then backward, and began. She placed her right hand about midway the keys, and her left about two octaves below it. She now put off the right in a brisk canter up the treble notes, and the left after it. The left then led the way back, and the right pursued it in like manner. The right turned, and repeated its first movement; but the left outrun it this time, hopt over it, and flung it entirely off the track. It came in again, however, behind the left on its return, and passed it in the same style. They now became highly incensed at each other, and met furiously on the middle ground. Here a most awful conflict ensued, for about the space of ten seconds, when the right whipped off, all of a sudden, as I thought, fairly vanquished. But I was in the error, against which Jack Randolph cautions us — ‘It had only fallen back to a stronger position.’ It mounted upon two black keys, and commenced the note of a rattle-snake. This had a wonderful effect upon the left, and placed the doctrine of snake charming beyond dispute. The left rushed furiously towards it repeatedly, but seemed invariably panic struck, when it came within six keys of it, and as invariably retired with a tremendous roaring down the bass keys. It continued its assaults, sometimes by the way of the naturals, sometimes by the way of the sharps, and sometimes by a zigzag, through both; but all its attempts to dislodge the right from its strong hold proving ineffectual, it came close up to its adversary and expired.”

The “Turn Out “ is excellent — a second edition of Miss Edgeworth’s “Barring Out,” and full of fine touches of the truest humor. The scene is laid in Georgia, and in the good old days of fescues, abbiselfas, and anpersants — terms in very common use, but whose derivation we have always been at a loss to understand. Our author thus learnedly explains the riddle.

“The fescue was a sharpened wire, or other instrument, used by the preceptor, to point out the letters to the children. Abbiselfa is a contraction of the words ‘a, by itself, a.’ It was usual, when either of the vowels constituted a syllable of a word, to pronounce it, and denote its independent character, by the words just mentioned, thus: ‘a by itself a, c-o-r-n corn, acorn’ — e by itself e, v-i-l vil, evil. The character which stands for the word ‘and’ (&) was probably pronounced with the same accompaniment, but in terms borrowed from the Latin language, thus: ‘& per se (by itself) &.’ ‘Hence anpersant.’ “

This whole story forms an admirable picture of school-boy democracy in the woods. The master refuses his pupils an Easter holiday; and upon repairing, at the usual hour of the fatal day, to his school house, “a log pen about twenty feet square,” finds every avenue to his ingress fortified and barricadoed. He advances, and is assailed by a whole wilderness of sticks from the cracks. Growing desperate, he seizes a fence rail, and finally succeeds in effecting an entrance by demolishing the door. He is soundly flogged however for his pains, and the triumphant urchins suffer him to escape with his life, solely upon condition of their being allowed to do what they please as long as they shall think proper.

The Charming Creature as a Wife,” is a very striking narrative of the evils attendant upon an ill-arranged marriage — but as it has nothing about it peculiarly Georgian, we pass it over without further comment.

The Gander Pulling “ is a gem worthy, in every respect, of the writer of “The Fight,” and “The Horse Swap.” What a “Gander Pulling “ is, however, may probably not be known by a great majority of our readers. We will therefore tell them. It is a piece of unprincipled barbarity not unfrequently practised in the South and West. A circular horse path is formed of about forty or fifty yards in diameter. Over this path, and between two posts about ten feet apart, is extended a rope which, swinging loosely, vibrates in an arc of five or six feet. From the middle of this rope, lying directly over the middle of the path, a gander, whose neck and head are well greased, is suspended by the feet. The distance of the fowl from the ground is generally about ten feet — and its neck is consequently just within reach of a man on horseback. Matters being thus arranged, and the mob of vagabonds assembled, who are desirous of entering the chivalrous lists of the “Gander Pulling,” a hat is handed round, into which a quarter or half dollar, as the case may be, is thrown by each competitor. The money thus collected is the prize of the victor in the game — and the game is thus conducted. The ragamuffins mounted on horseback, gallop round the circle in Indian file. At a word of command, given by the proprietor of the gander, the pulling, properly so called, commences. Each villain as he passes under the rope makes a grab at the throat of the devoted bird — the end and object of the tourney being to pull off his head. This of course is an end not easily accomplished. The fowl is obstinately bent upon retaining his caput if possible — in which determination he finds a powerful adjunct in the grease. The rope, moreover, by the efforts of the human devils, is kept in a troublesome and tantalizing state of vibration, while two assistants of the proprietor, one at each pole, are provided with a tough cowhide, for the purpose of preventing any horse from making too long a sojourn beneath the gander. Many hours, therefore, not unfrequently elapse before the contest is decided.

The Ball “ — a Georgia ball — is done to the life. Some passages, in a certain species of sly humor, wherein intense observation of character is disguised by simplicity of relation, put us forcibly in mind of the Spectator. For example.

“When De Bathle and I reached the ball room, a large number of gentlemen had already assembled. They all seemed cheerful and happy. Some walked in couples up and down the ball room, and talked with great volubility; but none of them understood a word that himself or his companion said.

“Ah, sir, how do you know that?

“Because the speakers showed plainly by their looks and actions, that their thoughts were running upon their own personal appearance, and upon the figure they would cut before the ladies, when they should arrive; and not upon the subject of the discourse. And furthermore, their conversation was like that of one talking in his sleep — without order, sense, or connexion. The hearer always made the speaker repeat in sentences and half sentences; often interrupting him with ‘what?’ before he had proceeded three words in a remark; and then laughed affectedly, as though he saw in the senseless unfinished sentence, a most excellent joke. Then would come his reply, which could not be forced into connexion with a word that he had heard; and in the course of which he was treated with precisely the civility which he had received. And yet they kept up the conversation with lively interest as long as I listened to them.”

The Mother and her Child,” we have seen before — but read it a second time with zest. It is a laughable burlesque of thebaby ‘gibberish’ so frequently made use of by mothers in speaking to their children. This sketch evinces, like all the rest of the Georgia scenes — a fine dramatic talent.

The Debating Society “ is the best thing in the book — and indeed one among the best things of the kind we have ever read. It has all the force and freedom of some similar articles in the Diary of a Physician — without the evident straining for effect which so disfigures that otherwise admirable series. We will need no apology for copying The Debating Society entire.

About three and twenty years ago, at the celebrated school in W — — n, was formed a Debating Society, composed of young gentlemen between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two. Of the number were two, who, rather from an uncommon volubility, than from any superior gifts or acquirements, which they possessed over their associates, were by common consent, placed at the head of the fraternity. — At least this was true of one of them: the other certainly had higher claims to his distinction. He was a man of the highest order of intellect, who, though he has since been known throughout the Union, as one of the ablest speakers in the country, seems to me to have added but little to his powers in debate, since he passed his twenty-second year. The name of the first, was Longworth; and McDermot was the name of the last. They were congenial spirits, warm friends, and classmates, at the time of which I am speaking.

It was a rule of the Society, that every member should speak upon the subjects chosen for discussion, or pay a fine; and as all the members valued the little stock of change, with which they were furnished, more than they did their reputation for oratory, not a fine had been imposed for a breach of this rule, from the organization of the society to this time. The subjects for discussion were proposed by the members, and selected by the President, whose prerogative it was also to arrange the speakers on either side, at his pleasure; though in selecting the subjects, he was influenced not a little by the members who gave their opinions freely of those which were offered.

It was just as the time was approaching, when most of the members were to leave the society, some for college, and some for the busy scenes of life, that McDermot went to share his classmate’s bed for a night. In the course of the evening’s conversation, the society came upon the tapis. “Mac,” said Longworth, “would’nt we have rare sport, if we could impose a subject upon the society, which has no sense in it, and hear the members speak upon it?”

“Zounds,” said McDermot, “it would be the finest fun in the world. Let’s try it at all events — we can lose nothing by the experiment.”

A sheet of foolscap was immediately divided between them, and they industriously commenced the difficult task of framing sentences, which should possess the form of a debateable question, without a particle of the substance. — After an hour’s toil, they at length exhibited the fruits of their labor, and after some reflection, and much laughing, they selected, from about thirty subjects proposed, the following, as most likely to be received by the society:

Whether at public elections, should the votes of faction predominate by internal suggestions or the bias of jurisprudence?

Longworth was to propose it to the society, and McDermot was to advocate its adoption. — As they had every reason to suppose, from the practice of the past, that they would be placed at the head of the list of disputants, and on opposite sides, it was agreed between them, in case the experiment should succeed, that they would write off, and interchange their speeches, in order that each might quote literally from the other, and thus seem at least, to understand each other.

The day at length came for the triumph or defeat of the project; and several accidental circumstances conspired to crown it with success. The society had entirely exhausted their subjects; the discussion of the day had been protracted to an unusual length, and the horns of the several boarding-houses began to sound, just as it ended. It was at this auspicious moment, that Longworth rose, and proposed his subject. It was caught at with rapture by McDermot, as being decidedly the best that had ever been submitted; and he wondered that none of the members had ever thought of it before.

It was no sooner proposed, than several members exclaimed, that they did not understand it; and demanded an explanation from the mover. Longworth replied, that there was no time then for explanations, but that either himself or Mr. McDermot would explain it, at any other time.

Upon the credit of the maker and endorser, the subject was accepted; and under pretence of economising time, (but really to avoid a repetition of the question,) Longworth kindly offered to record it, for the Secretary. This labor ended, he announced that he was prepared for the arrangement of the disputants.

“Put yourself,” said the President, “on the affirmative, and Mr. McDermot on the negative.”

“The subject,” said Longworth, “cannot well be resolved into an affirmative and negative. It consists more properly, of two conflicting affirmatives: I have therefore drawn out the heads, under which the speakers are to be arranged thus: Internal Suggestions. Bias of Jurisprudence.

Then put yourself Internal Suggestions — Mr. McDermot the other side, Mr. Craig on your side — Mr. Pentigall the other side,” and so on.

McDermot and Longworth now determined that they would not be seen by any other member of the society during the succeeding week, except at times when explanations could not be asked, or when they were too busy to give them. Consequently, the week passed away, without any explanations; and the members were summoned to dispose of the important subject, with no other lights upon it than those which they could collect from its terms. When they assembled, there was manifest alarm on the countenances of all but two of them.

The Society was opened in due form, and Mr. Longworth was called on to open the debate. He rose and proceeded as follows:

Mr. President — The subject selected for this day’s discussion, is one of vast importance, pervading the profound depths of psychology, and embracing within its comprehensive range, all that is interesting in morals, government, law and politics. But, sir, I shall not follow it through all its interesting and diversified ramifications; but endeavor to deduce from it those great and fundamental principles, which have direct bearing, upon the antagonist positions of the disputants; confining myself more immediately to its psychological influence when exerted, especially upon the votes of faction: for here is the point upon which the question mainly turns. In the next place, I shall consider the effects of those’suggestions’ emphatically termed ‘internal’ when applied to the same subject. And in the third place, I shall compare these effects, with ‘the bias of jurisprudence,’ considered as the only resort in times of popular excitement — for these are supposed to exist by the very terms of the question.

“The first head of this arrangement, and indeed the whole subject of dispute, has already been disposed of by this society. We have discussed the question, ‘are there any innate maxims?’ and with that subject and this, there is such an intimate affinity, that it is impossible to disunite them, without prostrating the vital energies of both, and introducing the wildest disorder and confusion, where, by the very nature of things, there exist the most harmonious coincidences, and the most happy and euphonic congenialities. Here then might I rest, Mr. President, upon the decision of this society, with perfect confidence. But, sir, I am not forced to rely upon the inseparable affinities of the two questions, for success in this dispute, obvious as they must be to every reflecting mind. All history, ancient and modern, furnish examples corroborative of the views which I have taken of this deeply interesting subject. By what means did the renowned poets, philosophers, orators and statesmen of antiquity, gain their immortality? Whence did Milton, Shakspeare, Newton, Locke, Watts, Paley, Burke, Chatham, Pitt, Fox, and a host of others whom I might name, pluck their never-fading laurels? I answer boldly, and without the fear of contradiction, that, though they all reached the temple of fame by different routes, they all passed through the broad vista of ‘internal suggestions.’ The same may be said of Jefferson, Madison, and many other distinguished personages of our own country.

“I challenge the gentlemen on the other side to produce examples like these in support of their cause.”

Mr. Longworth pressed these profound and logical views to a length to which our limits will not permit us to follow him, and which the reader’s patience would hardly bear, if they would. Perhaps, however, he will bear with us, while we give the conclusion of Mr. Longworth’s remarks: as it was here, that he put forth all his strength:

Mr. President, — Let the bias of jurisprudence predominate, and how is it possible, (considering it merely as extending to those impulses which may with propriety be termed a bias,) how is it possible, for a government to exist, whose object is the public good? The marble hearted marauder might seize the throne of civil authority, and hurl into thraldom the votaries of rational liberty. Virtue, justice and all the nobler principles of human nature, would wither away under the pestilential breath of political faction, and an unnerved constitution be left to the sport of demagogue and parasite. Crash after crash would be heard in quick succession, as the strong pillars of the republic give way, and Despotism would shout in hellish triumph amidst the crumbling ruins — Anarchy would wave her bloody sceptre over the devoted land, and the blood-hounds of civil war, would lap the crimson gore of our most worthy citizens. The shrieks of women, and the screams of children, would be drowned amidst the clash of swords, and the cannon’s peal: and Liberty, mantling her face from the horrid scene, would spread her golden-tinted pinions, and wing her flight to some far distant land, neveragain to re-visit our peaceful shores. In vain should we then sigh for the beatific reign of those’suggestions’ which I am proud to acknowledge as peculiarly and exclusively ‘internal.’ “

Mr. McDermot rose promptly at the call of the President, and proceeded as follows:

Mr. President, — If I listened unmoved to the very labored appeal to the passions, which has just been made, it was not because I am insensible to the powers of eloquence; but because I happen to be blessed with the small measure of sense, which is necessary to distinguish true eloquence from the wild ravings of an unbridled imagination. Grave and solemn appeals, when ill-timed and misplaced, are apt to excite ridicule; hence it was, that I detected myself more than once, in open laughter, during the most pathetic parts of Mr. Longworth’s argument, if so it can be called.* In the midst of ‘crashing pillars,’ ‘crumbling ruins,’’shouting despotism,’’screaming women,’ and ‘flying Liberty,’ the question was perpetually recurring to me, ‘what has all this to do with the subject of dispute?’ I will not follow the example of that gentleman — It shall be my endeavor to clear away the mist which he has thrown around the subject, and to place it before the society, in a clear, intelligible point of view: for I must say, that though his speech’ bears strong marks of the pen,’ (sarcastically,) it has but few marks of sober reflection. Some of it, I confess, is very intelligible and very plausible; but most of it, I boldly assert, no man living can comprehend. I mention this, for the edification of that gentleman, (who is usually clear and forcible,) to teach him, that he is most successful when he labors least.

“Mr. President: The gentleman, in opening the debate, stated that the question was one of vast importance; pervading the profound depths of psychology, and embracing, within its ample range, the whole circle of arts and sciences. And really, sir, he has verified his statement; for he has extended it over the whole moral and physical world. But, Mr. President, I take leave to differ from the gentleman, at the very threshhold of his remarks. The subject is one which is confined within very narrow limits. It extends no further than to the elective franchise, and is not even commensurate with this important privilege; for it stops short at the vote of faction. In this point of light, the subject comes within the grasp of the most common intellect; it is plain, simple, natural and intelligible. Thus viewing it, Mr. President, where does the gentleman find in it, or in all nature besides, the original of the dismal picture which he has presented to the society? It loses all its interest, and becomes supremely ridiculous. Having thus, Mr. President, divested the subject of all obscurity — having reduced it to those few elements, with which we are all familiar; I proceed to make a few deductions from the premises, which seem to me inevitable, and decisive of the question. Play it down as a self-evident proposition, that faction in all its forms, is hideous; and I maintain, with equal confidence, that it never has been, nor ever will be, restrained by those suggestions, which the gentleman’ emphatically terms internal.’ No, sir, nothing short of the bias, and the very strong bias too, of jurisprudence or the potent energies of the sword, can restrain it. But, sir, I shall here, perhaps, be asked, whether there is not a very wide difference between a turbulent, lawless faction, and the vote of faction? Most unquestionably there is; and to this distinction I shall presently advert and demonstrably prove that it is a distinction, which makes altogether in our favor.”

Thus did Mr. McDermot continue to dissect and expose his adversary’s argument, in the most clear, conclusive and masterly manner, at considerable length. But we cannot deal more favorably by him, than we have dealt by Mr. Longworth. We must, therefore, dismiss him, after we shall have given the reader his concluding remarks. They were as follows:

“Let us now suppose Mr. Longworth’s principles brought to the test of experiment. Let us suppose his language addressed to all mankind — We close the temples of justice as useless; we burn our codes of laws as worthless; and we substitute in their places, the more valuable restraints of internal suggestions. Thieves, invade not your neighbor’s property: if you do, you will be arraigned before the august tribunal of conscience. Robbers, stay your lawless hand; or you will be visited with the tremendous penalties of psychology. Murderers, spare the blood of your fellow creatures; you will be exposed to the excruciating tortures of innate maxims — when it shall be discovered that there are any. Mr. President, could there be a broader license to crime than this? Could a better plan be devised for dissolving the bands of civil society? It requires not the gift of prophecy, to foresee the consequences of these novel and monstrous principles. The strong would tyrannize over the weak; the poor would plunder the rich; the servant would rise above the master; the drones of society would fatten upon the hard earnings of the industrious. Indeed, sir, industry would soon desert the land; for it would have neither reward nor encouragement. Commerce would cease; the arts and sciences would languish; all the sacred relations would be dissolved, and scenes of havoc, dissolution and death ensue, such as never before visited the world, and such as never will visit it, until mankind learn to repose their destinies upon ‘those suggestions, emphatically termed internal.’ From all these evils there is a secure retreat behind the brazen wall of the ‘bias of jurisprudence.’ ”

The gentleman who was next called on to engage in the debate, was John Craig; a gentleman of good hard sense, but who was utterly incompetent to say a word upon a subject which he did not understand. He proceeded thus:

Mr. President, — When this subject was proposed, I candidly confessed I did not understand it, and I was informed by Mr. Longworth and Mr. McDermot, that either of them would explain it, at any leisure moment. But, sir, they seem to have taken very good care, from that time to this, to have no leisure moment. I have inquired of both of them, repeatedly for an explanation; but they were always too busy to talk about it. Well, sir, as it was proposed by Mr. Longworth, I thought he would certainly explain it in his speech; but I understood no more of his speech than I did of the subject. Well, sir, I thought I should certainly learn something from Mr. McDermot; especially as he promised at the commencement of his speech to clear away the mist that Mr. Longworth had thrown about the subject, and to place it in a clear, intelligible point of light. But, sir, the only difference between his speech and Mr. Longworth’s is, that it was not quite as flighty as Mr. Longworth’s. I couldn’t understand head nor tail of it. At one time they seemed to argue the question, as if it were this: ‘Is it better to have law or no law?’ At another, as though it was,’should factions be governed by law, or be left to their own consciences?’ But most of the time they argued it, as if it were just what it seems to be — a sentence without sense or meaning. But, sir, I suppose its obscurity is owing to my dullness of apprehension, for they appeared to argue it with great earnestness and feeling, as if they understood it.

“I shall put my interpretation upon it, Mr. President, and argue it accordingly.

Whether at public elections’ — that is, for members of Congress, members of the Legislature, &c.’ should the votes of faction’ — I don’t know what ‘faction’ has got to do with it; and therefore I shall throw it out.’ Should the votes predominate, by internal suggestions or the bias,’ I don’t know what the article is put in here for. It seems to me, it ought to be, be biased by ‘jurisprudence’ or law. In short, Mr. President, I understand the question to be, should a man vote as he pleases, or should the law say how he should vote?”

Here Mr. Longworth rose and observed, that though Mr. Craig was on his side, he felt it due to their adversaries, to state, that this was not a true exposition of the subject. This exposition settled the question at once on his side; for nobody would, for a moment contend, that the law should declare how men should vote. Unless it be confined to the vote of faction and the bias of jurisprudence, it was no subject at all. To all this Mr. McDermot signified his unqualified approbation; and seemed pleased with the candor of his opponent.

“Well,” said Mr. Craig, “I thought it was impossible that any one should propose such a question as that to the society; but will Mr. Longworth tell us, if it does not mean that, what does it mean? for I don’t see what great change is made in it by his explanation.”

Mr. Longworth replied, that if the remarks which he had just made, and his argument, had not fully explained the subject to Mr. Craig, he feared it would be out of his power to explain it.

“Then,” said Mr. Craig, “I’ll pay my fine, for I don’t understand a word of it.”

The next one summoned to the debate was Mr. Pentigall. Mr. Pentigall was one of those who would never acknowledge his ignorance of any thing, which any person else understood; and that Longworth and McDermot were both masters of the subject, was clear, both from their fluency and seriousness. He therefore determined to understand it, at all hazards. Consequently he rose at the President’s command, with considerable self-confidence. I regret, however, that it is impossible to commit Mr. Pentigall’s manner to paper, without which, his remarks lose nearly all their interest. He was a tall, handsome man; a little theatric in his manner, rapid in his delivery, and singular in his pronunciation. He gave to the e and i, of our language, the sound of u — at least his peculiar intonations of voice, seemed to give them that sound; and his rapidity of utterance seemed to change the termination, “tion “ into “ah.” With all his peculiarities, however, he was a fine fellow. If he was ambitious, he was not invidious, and he possessed an amicable disposition. He proceeded as follows:

Mr. President, — This internal suggestion which has been so eloquently discussed by Mr. Longworth, and the bias of jurisprudence which has been so ably advocated by Mr. McDermot — hem! Mr. President, in order to fix the line of demarkation between — ah — the internal suggestion and the bias of jurisprudence — Mr. President, I think, sir, that — ah — the subject must be confined to the vote of faction, and the bias of jurisprudence” — —

Here Mr. Pentigall clapt his right hand to his forehead, as though he had that moment heard some overpowering news; and after maintaining this position for about the space of ten seconds, he slowly withdrew his hand, gave his head a slight inclination to the right, raised his eyes to the President as if just awakening from a trance, and with a voice of the most hopeless despair, concluded with “I don’t understand the subject, Muster Prusidunt.”

The rest of the members on both sides submitted to be fined rather than attempt the knotty subject; but by common consent, the penal rule was dispensed with. Nothing now remained to close the exercises, but the decision of the Chair.

The President, John Nuble, was a young man, not unlike Craig in his turn of mind; though he possessed an intellect a little more sprightly than Craig’s. His decision was short.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “I do not understand the subject. This,” continued he, (pulling out his knife, and pointing to the silvered or cross side of it,) “is ‘Internal Suggestions.’ And this” (pointing to the other, or pile side,) “is ‘Bias of Jurisprudence:’ “ so saying, he threw up his knife, and upon its fall, determined that “Internal Suggestions” had got it; and ordered the decision to be registered accordingly.

It is worthy of note, that in their zeal to accomplish their purpose, Longworth and McDermot forgot to destroy the lists of subjects, from which they had selected the one so often mentioned; and one of these lists containing the subject discussed, with a number more like it, was picked up by Mr. Craig, who made a public exhibition of it, threatening to arraign the conspirators before the society, for a contempt. But, as the parting hour was at hand, he overlooked it with the rest

The Militia Company Drill,” is not by the author of the other pieces but has a strong family resemblance, and is very well executed. Among the innumerable descriptions of Militia musters which are so rife in the land, we have met with nothing at all equal to this in the matter of broad farce.

The Turf “ is also capital, and bears with it a kind of dry and sarcastic morality which will recommend it to many readers.

An Interesting Interview “ is another specimen of exquisite dramatic talent. It consists of nothing more than a fac-simile of the speech, actions, and thoughts of two drunken old men — but its air of truth is perfectly inimitable.

The Fox-Hunt,” “The Wax Works,” and “A Sage Conversation,” are all good — but neither as good as many other articles in the book.

The Shooting Match,” which concludes the volume, may rank with the best of the Tales which precede it. As a portraiture of the manners of our South-Western peasantry, in especial, it is perhaps better than any.

Altogether this very humorous, and very clever book forms an æra in our reading. It has reached us per mail, and without a cover. We will have it bound forthwith, and give it a niche in our library as a sure omen of better days for the literature of the South.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page ???:]

* This was extemporaneous, and well conceived; for Mr. McDermot had not played his part with becoming gravity.

 


Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (March 1836)