« EelmineJätka »
or force on his part, it shed a constant stream of the purest light over the whole of his discourse. Whether in the company of commons or nobles, he was always the same plain man; always most perfectly at his ease, his faculties. in full play, and the full orbit of his genius forever clear and unclouded. And then the stores of his mind were inexhaustible. He had commenced life with an attention so vigilant that nothing had escaped his observation, and a judgment so solid that every incident was turned to advantage. His youth had not been wasted in idleness, nor overcast by intemperance. He had been all his life a close and deep reader, as well as thinker; and, by the force of his own powers, had wrought up the raw materials, which he had gathered from books, with such exquisite skill and felicity, that he had added a hundredfold to their original value, and justly made them his own.
6. Brave, benevolent, wonderful old man! Well did our Congress declare of him, in the resolutions adopted on his death, on motion of James Madison, that "his native genius was not more an ornament to human nature, than his various exertions of it have been precious to science, to freedom, and to his country." Well, too, was it said by that matchless French orator, Mirabeau, in announcing the event to the National Assembly of France, which went into mourning on the occasion, that "antiquity would have raised altars to this mighty genius, who, to the advantage of mankind, compassing in his mind the heavens and the earth, was able to restrain alike thunderbolts and tyrants." - Selected.
"Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow—
XIV. CHARACTER OF ALFRED THE GREAT
. I. King Alfred of England is one of the most perfect characters in history. He is a singular instance of a prince who has become a hero of romance, and who, as such, has had countless imaginary exploits attributed to him, but to whose character romance has done no more than justice, and who appears in exactly the same light in history and in fable. No other man on record has ever more thoroughly united all the virtues both of the ruler and of the private citizen. A saint without superstition, a scholar without ostentation, a warrior all whose wars were fought in the defense of his country, a conqueror whose laurels were never stained by cruelty, a prince never cast down by adversity, never lifted up to insolence in the day of triumph
there is no other name in history to compare with his. 2. Saint Louis comes nearest to him in the union of a more than monastic piety with the highest civil, military, and domestic virtues, but even in Saint Louis we see a disposition to forsake an immediate sphere of duty for the sake of distant and unprofitable, however pious and glorious, undertakings. The true duties of the king of the French clearly lay in France, and not in Egypt or Tunis. No such charge lies at the door of the great king of the West Saxons.
3. With an inquiring spirit which took in the whole world, for purpose alike of scientific inquiry and of Christian benevolence, Alfred never forgot that his first duty was to his own people. He forestalled our own age in sending expeditions to explore the Northern Ocean, and in sending alms to the distant churches of India, but he neither forsook his crown, like some of his predecessors, nor neglected his duties, like some of his successors.
4. The virtue of Alfred, like the virtue of Washington, consisted in no marvelous displays of superhuman genius, but in the simple, straightforward discharge of the duty of the moment. But Washington, soldier, statesman, and patriot, like Alfred, has no claim to Alfred's further characters of saint and scholar. William the Silent, too, has nothing to set against Alfred's literary merits, and in his career, glorious as it is, there is an element of intrigue and chicanery utterly alien to the noble simplicity of both Alfred and Washington.
5. The same union of zeal for religion and learning with the highest gifts of the warrior and the statesman is found, on a wider field of action, in Charles the Great. But even Charlemagne cannot aspire to the pure glory of Alfred. Amid all the splendor of conquest and legislation we cannot be blind to an alloy of personal ambition, of personal vice, to occasional unjust aggressions and occasional acts of cruelty. Among the later princes of England the great Edward alone can bear for a moment the comparison with his glorious ancestor.
6. And, when tried by such a standard, even the great Edward fails. Even in him we do not see the same wonderful union of gifts and virtues which so seldom meet together; we cannot acquit Edward of occasional acts of violence, of occasional recklessness as to means; we cannot attribute to him the pure, simple, almost childlike disinterestedness which marks the character of Alfred.
7. As great and good in peace as he was great and good in war, King Alfred never rested from his labors to improve his people. All this time he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease, which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life, like a brave, good man,
until he was fifty-three years old, and then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year nine hundred and one, but long ago as that is, his fame and the love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him are freshly remembered to the present hour.
XV. THE YOUTH OF WASHINGTON
1. Just as Washington was passing from boyhood to youth, the enterprise and capital of Virginia were seeking a new field for exercise and investment, in the unoccupied public domain beyond the mountains. The business of a surveyor immediately became one of great importance and trust, for no surveys were executed by the government. To this occupation the youthful Washington, not yet sixteen years of age, and well furnished with the requisite mathematical knowledge, zealously devoted himself. Some of his family connections possessed titles to large portions of public land, which he was employed with them in surveying.
2. Thus, at a period of life when, in a more advanced stage of society, the intelligent youth is occupied in the elementary studies of the schools and colleges, Washington was carrying the surveyor's chain through the fertile valleys of the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains; passing days and weeks in the wilderness, beneath the shadow of eternal forests; listening to the voice of the waterfalls, which man's art had not yet set to the healthful music of the sawmill or the trip-hammer; reposing from the labors of the day on a bearskin, with his feet to the blazing logs of a camp fire; and sometimes startled from the deep slumbers
of careless, hard-working youth, by the alarm of the Indian war whoop.
3. This was the gymnastic school in which Washington was brought up; in which his quick glance was formed, destined to range hereafter across the battle field, through clouds of smoke and bristling rows of bayonets; the school in which his senses, weaned from the taste for those detestable indulgences, miscalled pleasures, in which the flower of adolescence so often languishes and pines away, were early braced up to the sinewy manhood which becomes the
"Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye."
4. There is preserved among the papers of Washington a letter, written to a friend while he was engaged on his first surveying tour, and when he was, consequently, but sixteen years of age. I quote a sentence from it, in spite
of the homeliness of the details, for which I like it the better, and because I wish to set before you, not an ideal hero, wrapped in cloudy generalities and a mist of vague panegyric, but the real, identical man, with all the peculiarities of his life and occupation.
5. "Your letter," says he, "gave me the more pleasure, as I received it among barbarians and an uncouth set of people. Since you received my letter of October last, I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed; but, after walking a good deal all the day, I have lain down before the fire, upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or a bearskin whichever was to be had with man, wife, and children,
like dogs and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. Nothing would make it pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain, every day that the weather will permit my going out, and sometimes six pistoles."