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My haunt the hollow cliff, whose pine
10 “For me, no more the path invites Ambition loves to tread; No more I climb those toilsome heights, By guileful hope mislead; Leaps my fond, fluttering heart, no more, To mirth's enlivening strain; For present pleasure, soon, is o’er, And all the past is vain.
RETROSPECTIVE HISTORY OF AMERICA.
that we are entering upon the narrative of that contest of
blood, which terminated in the emancipation of America from the British yoke, it will be necessary to make a few observations on the mode of writing history, so as to make it conducive to the improvement of the mind and the amendment of the heart. Nor will the introduction of these remarks appear impertinent to those who reflect on the general tendency of historic writings to encourage a wild spirit of military adventure, which is directly repugnant to all the best interests, and entirely subversive of the prosperity and the happiness of nations.
Without the accumulation of facts there can be no basis, on which to build the super-structure of reason; and it is of the most material importance that the human inind should acquire correct notions of the actual state of men in the different periods of society, and, also, in different countries, at the same period of time, that it might be able to appreciate the wonderful blessings of civilization, and to learn the sacred, the indispensable duty of obedience to properly ordained laws, and wisely regulated institutions.
It were, however, a consummation devoutly to be wished, that history could be somewhat diverted from her present course into her right channel, namely, the consideration of the manners, and condition of the great mass of the people, at different periods of time, marking out the causes which have increased or diminished the aggregate of human happiness in any given nation, and dwelling more slightly upon the horrible iniquity of those, who wade to sovereign rule through seas of blood, who ravage kingdoms, and lay waste empires, and in a cruel wantonness of power, thin states of half their people, and deliver the rest over as a prey to want and famine. These enormities should be passed over rapidly, and reprobated as a foul rebellion against the sovereignty of virtue and of humanity ; while our chief attention should be directed by the historian to those means by which the knowledge, the happiness, the physical force, and the moral purity of mankind have been augmented and advanced.
But is this the line of conduct, which historians pursue?-No. -They are continually endeavouring to instil into our minds an
admiration and envy of the honour and glory of warlike nations ; that is, in other words, the butchery and the murder of mighty empires. Read the histories of Greece, of Rome, of France, of England, and
you will read little else but one continued tissue of bloodshed and of murder. And these are celebrated by their historians, as splendid, brilliant, powerful nations; but where does the phrase happy nation occur in all the records of those sages of literature ? Happiness dwelleth only in the tents of virtue and of peace; she is frightened from those spots, where the sounding of the clarion to battle, and the trampling of armed hoofs is heard, where the bloodred banner of military desolation is seen to float upon the wings of the wind, and to over-shadow the earth with the sail-broad van of death.
Where are all the historians, who have been influenced by this kallowed, this sacred truth ? Have they not nearly all been wholly intent on describing battles, and victories, and armies, and triEmphs; the spoils of carnage, and the pomp of courts; and on chaunting the drowsy song of heraldry, shewing how the blood of tyrants hath rolled its polluted, its execrable tide to a thousand thrones ; rather seeking to affix the names of great and of glorious, than of just and good, to kingdoms and to empires? Have they not bequeathed to posterity a mass of gorgeous misery, and industriously varnished over the evils and the horrors of sanguinary and despotic princes? Have they not hidden the deformity of vice from our eyes, by throwing over it the splendid veil of genius?
Are not the glorious fields of slaughter, where men destroy and devour each other with rage more fell than that of tygers and of wolves, celebrated in the strains of eloquence, and in the song
of the bard ? Are we not taught to dwell with rapture on the carnage of thousands and tens of thousands of human beings, by the sublimest efforts of commendation, which history, oratory, and poetry, can make in the mightiness of their power? Can it be doubted that the following lines, and, indeed, nearly all of Homer's Iliad, a book, which we are all instructed to admire, but never directed how to admire, and what to detest, have done much injury to mankind by instilling into the young mind an early and an insatiable desire after military glory?
« Ως υπ’ Αχιλληος μεγαθυμα μωνυχες ιπποι
Αιτ' απ' επισσωτρων, ο δε ιετο κυδος αρεσθαι
6 So the fierce coursers, as the chariot rolls,
But who that is apt to think, (and alas, there are not many such!) and not to be led away by names, and sounds, is not thoroughly shocked and disgusted by the images of blood, and of horror, and of human misery, which these lines call up? How infinitely preferable are the following inimitable verses, which he, who can read without having his mind exalted and his heart amended, must be more or less than man?
«Ως δ' οτ' εν ουρανω αστρα φαεινην αμφι σηληγην
“ As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,
In the first of these quotations the mind is presented with every image, that can deform and debase its nature; excite evil and un
hallowed passions; and transform man, the similitude of his Creator, into the likeness of a brute. In the second citation, those images only are called up, which have a direct tendency to elevate the understanding and to purify the soul; to raise ecstatic bliss, and to rouse it to virtue; to lead it through the noblest works of nature up to Nature's God.
But, to return from this digression; if to present one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry, both ancient and modern, can be a digression from any subject—Is it not common in dedications to great men to praise them for famous victories and glorious conquests ; evils and crimes, whose deformities should either be buried in oblivion, or dragged forth to the detestation of mankind ? Does not the antiquarian devote his days and his nights to pore among the darkness of antiquity, in order to discover the precise day on which the battle of Cannæ was fought, or the straits of Thermopylæ defended; and if that he fancies he can make plausible his ground of conjecture, does he not exult in his discovery? And what has he discovered, even allowing that he has found, what it is more than probable he has missed ?—Why even this—he has cleared up the chronology of human iniquity, and has conveyed to posterity the records of violence and of crime.
How comes it to pass that the historian confines himself to the relation of instances of splendid villainy, and forgets to narrate examples of virtue, of mercy, and of benevolence ; of the means, by which a kingdom or a province was made to flourish in prosperity and in peace, and its inhabitants to dwell in the bosom of their families, rejoicing, each man, in the wife of his youth, and in the children of his love.
When Pericles, the Athenian, lay on his death-bed, with his eyes closed, his friends and relations, who stood round, thinking that he had actually breathed his last, began to bewail their loss, and to enumerate his virtues and his excellencies, his many splendid victories, his powers of eloquence, his wit, and a thousand other things, which their fondness for his memory recalled to their recollection.-Pericles, who had been listening to all that they said, answered—But, my friends, you forget the greatest of all my commendations, in comparison of which my triumphs, and battles, and eloquence, and wit, and power, are as nothing, remember, that no citizen of Athens has ever been obliged to wear mourning on my account.
Where exists the monarch upon the earth, that can go out of the world with this speech of Pericles in his mouth? Can any one