Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Editorial,” Southern Literary Messenger, vol. II, no. 5, April 1836, 2:317-318


[page 317:]




In our last number, while reviewing the Ecclesiastical History of Dr. Hawks, we had occasion to speak of those portions of Mr. George Bancroft’s United States, which have reference to the loyalty of Virginia immediately before and during the Protectorate of Cromwell. Since the publication of our remarks, a personal interview with Mr. Bancroft, and an examination, especially, of one or two passages in his History, have been sufficient to convince us that injustice (of course unintentional) has been done that gentleman, not only by ourselves, but by Dr. Hawks and others.

In our own review alluded to above, we concluded, in the following words, a list of arguments adduced, or supposed to be adduced, in proof of Virginia’s disloyalty.

“6. Virginia was infected with republicanism. She wished to set up for herself. Thus intent, she demands of Berkeley a distinct acknowledgment of her Assembly’s supremacy. His reply was ‘I am but the servant of the Assembly.’ Berkeley, therefore, was republican, and his tumultuous election proves nothing but the republicanism of Virginia.” To which our reply was thus. “6. The reasoning here is reasoning in a circle. Virginia is first declared republican. From this assumed fact, deductions are made which prove Berkeley so — and Berkeley’s republicanism, thus proved, is made to establish that of Virginia. But Berkeley’s answer (from which Mr. Bancroft has extracted the words, ‘I am but the servant of the Assembly,’) runs thus. ‘You desire me to do that concerning your titles and claims to land in this northern part of America, which I am in no capacity to do: for I am but the servant of the Assembly: neither do they arrogate to themselves any power farther than the miserable distractions in England force them to. For when God shall be pleased to take away and dissipate the unnatural divisions of their native country, they will immediately return to their professed obedience.’ — Smith’s New York. It will be seen that Mr. Bancroft has been disingenuous in quoting only a portion of this sentence. The whole proves incontestibly that neither Berkeley nor the Assembly arrogated to themselves any power beyond what they were forced to assume by circumstances — in a word it proves their loyalty.”

We are now, however, fully persuaded that Mr. Bancroft had not only no intention of representing Virginia as disloyal-but that his work, closely examined, will not admit of such interpretation. As an offset to our argument just quoted, we copy the following (the passage to which our remarks had reference) from page 245 of Mr. B.’s only published volume.

“On the death of Matthews, the Virginians were without a chief magistrate, just at the time when the resignation of Richard had left England without a government. The burgesses, who were immediately convened, resolving to become the arbiters of the fate of the colony, enacted ‘that the supreme power of the government of this country shall be resident in the assembly, and all writs shall issue in its name, until there shall arrive from England a commission which the [column 2:] assembly itself shall adjudge to be lawful.’ This being done, Sir William Berkeley was elected governor, and acknowledging the validity of the acts of the burgesses, whom it was expressly agreed he could in no event dissolve, he accepted the office to which he had been chosen, and recognized, without a scruple, the authority to which he owed his elevation.’ I am,’ said he, ‘but a servant of the assembly.’ Virginia did not lay claim to absolute independence; but anxiously awaited the settlement of affairs in England.”

It will here be seen, that the words italicized beginning “Virginia did not lay claim,” &c. are very nearly, if not altogether equivalent to what we assume as proved by the whole of Berkeley’s reply, viz. that neither Berkeley nor the assembly arrogated to themselves any power beyond what they were forced to assume by circumstances. Our charge, therefore, of disingenuousness on the part of Mr. Bancroft in quoting only a portion of the answer, is evidently unsustained, and we can have no hesitation in recalling it.

At page 226 of the History of the United States, we note the following passage.

“At Christmas, 1648, there were trading in Virginia, ten ships from London, two from Bristol, twelve Hollanders, and seven from New England. The number of the colonists was already twenty thousand; and they, who had sustained no griefs, were not tempted to engage in the feuds by which the mother country was divided. They were attached to the cause of Charles, not because they loved monarchy, but because they cherished the liberties of which he had left them in undisturbed possession; and after his execution, though there were not wanting some who favored republicanism, the government recognized his son without dispute. The loyalty of the Virginians did not escape the attention of the royal exile. From his retreat in Breda he transmitted to Berkeley a new commission, and Charles the Second, a fugitive from England, was still the sovereign of Virginia.”

This passage alone will render it evident that Mr. Bancroft’s readers have been wrong in supposing him to maintain the disloyalty of the State. It cannot be denied, however, (and if we understand Mr. B. he does not himself deny it,) that there is, about some portions of his volume, an ambiguity, ‘or perhaps a laxity of expression, which it would be as well to avoid hereafter. The note of Dr. Hawks we consider exceptionable, inasmuch as it is not sufficiently explanatory. The passages in Mr. B.’s History which we have noted above, and other passages equally decisive, were pointed out to Dr. Hawks. He should have therefore not only stated that Mr. B. disclaimed the intention of representing Virginia as republican, but also that his work, if accurately examined, would not admit of such interpretation. The question of Virginia’s loyalty may now be considered as fully determined.



It is with great pleasure, at the opportunity thus afforded us of correcting an error, that we give place to the following letter.

Philadelphia, March 25, 1836.

SIR, — A mistake, evidently unintentional, having appeared in the February number of your journal for [page 318:] this year, we feel convinced you will, upon proper representation, take pleasure in correcting it, as an impression so erroneous might have a prejudicial tendency. Under the notice of the Eulogies on the Life and Character of the late Chief Justice Marshall, it is there stated that “for several years past Judge Marshall had suffered under a most excruciating malady. A surgical operation by Dr. Physick of Philadelphia at length procured him relief; but a hurt received in travelling last Spring seems to have caused a return of the former complaint with circumstances of aggravated pain and danger. Having revisited Philadelphia in the hope of again finding a cure, his disease there overpowered him, and he died on the 6th of July, 1835, in the 80th year of his age.”

Now, sir, the above quotation is incorrect in the following respect: Judge Marshall never had a return of the complaint for which he was operated upon by Dr. Physick. After the demise of Chief Justice Marshall, it became our melancholy duty to make a post mortem examination, which we did in the most careful manner, and ascertained that his bladder did not contain one particle of calculous matter; its mucous coat was in a perfectly natural state, and exhibited not the slightest traces of irritation.

The cause of his death was a very diseased condition of the liver, which was enormously enlarged, and contained several tuberculous abscesses of great size; its pressure upon the stomach had the effect of dislodging this organ from its natural situation, and compressing it in such a manner, that for some time previous to his death it would not retain the smallest quantity of nutriment. By publishing this statement, you will oblige

Yours, very respectfully,


To T. W. White, Esq.





This article is attributed to Poe by Burton Pollin and J. V. Ridgely.


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