« PreviousContinue »
Their bare arms stretched in prayer for the snows.
THE VIRGINIAN GENTLEMAN.—John P. KENNEDY.
FRANK MERIWETHER is now in the meridian of life; somewhere close upon forty-five. Good cheer and a good temper both tell well upon him. The first has given him a comfortable full figure, and the latter certain easy, contemplative habits, that incline him to be lazy and philosophical. He has the substantial planter look that belongs to a gentleman who lives on his estate, and is not much vexed with the crosses of life.
I think he prides himself on his personal appearance, for he has a handsome face, with a dark blue eye, and a high forehead that is scantily embellished with some silver-tipped locks that, I observe, he cherishes for their rarity ; besides, he is growing manifestly attentive to his dress, and carries himself erect, with some secret consciousness that his person is not bad. It is pleasant to see him when he has ordered his horse for a ride into the neighborhood, or across to the court-house. On such occasions, he is apt to make his appearance in a coat of blue broadcloth, astonishingly new and glossy, and with a redundant supply of plaited ruffle strutting through the folds of a Marseilles waistcoat; a worshipful finish is given to this costume by a large straw hat, lined with green silk. There is a magisterial fulness in his garments that betokens condition in the world, and a heavy bunch of seals, suspended by a chain of gold, jingles as he moves, pronouncing him a man of superfluities.
It is considered rather extraordinary that he has never set up for Congress; but the truth is, he is an unambitious man, and has a great dislike to currying favor—as he calls it. And, besides, he is thoroughly convinced that there will always be men enough in Virginia, willing to serve the people, and therefore does not see why he should trouble his head about it. Some years ago, however, there was really an impression that he meant to come out. By some sudden whim, he took it into his head to visit Washington during the session of Congress, and returned, after a fortnight, very seriously distempered with politics. He told curious anecdotes of certain secret intrigues which had been discovered in the affairs of the capital, gave a : pretty clear insight into the views of some deep-laid combinations, and became, all at once, painfully florid in his discourse, and dogmatical to a degree that made his wife stare. Fortunately, this orgasm soon subsided, and Frank relapsed into an
indolent gentleman of the opposition; but it had the effect to give a much more decided cast to his studies, for he forthwith discarded the Whig and took to the Enquirer, like a man who was not to be disturbed by doubts; and as it was morally impossible to believe what was written on both sides, to prevent his mind from being abused, he, from this time forward, gave an implicit assent to all the facts that set against Mr. Adams. The consequence of this straightforward and confiding deportment was an unsolicited and complimentary notice of him by the executive of the state. He was put into the commission of the peace, and, having thus become a public man against his will, his opinions were observed to undergo some essential changes. He now thinks that a good citizen ought neither to solicit nor decline office; that the magistracy of Virginia is the sturdiest pillar that supports the fabric of the constitution; and that the people, “ though in their opinions they may be mistaken, in their sentiments they are never wrong”—with some other such dogmas, that, a few years ago, he did not hold in very good repute. In this temper, he has, of late, embarked upon the mill-pond of county affairs, and, notwithstanding his amiable and respectful republicanism, I am told he keeps the peace as if he commanded a garrison, and administers justice like a cadi.
He has some claim to supremacy in this last department; for, during three years of his life, he smoked cigars in a lawyer's office at Richmond; sometimes looked into Blackstone and the Revised Code; was a member of a debating society that ate oysters once a week during the winter; and wore six cravats and a pair of yellow-topped boots as a blood of the metropolis. Having in this way qualified himself for the pursuits of agriculture, he came to his estate a very model of landed gentlemen. Since that time, his avocations have had a certain literary tincture; for, having settled himself down as a married man, and got rid of his superfluous foppery, he rambled with wonderful assiduity through a wilderness of romances, poems, and dissertations, which are now collected in his library, and, with their battered blue
со present a lively type of an army of continentals at the close of the war, or an hospital of veteran invalids. These have all, at last, given way to the newspapers-a miscellaneous study very enticing to gentlemen in the country—that have rendered Meriwether a most discomfiting antagonist in the way of dates and names.
He has great suavity of manners, and a genuine benevolence of disposition that makes him fond of having his friends about him; and it is particularly gratifying to him to pick up any genteel stranger within the purlieus of Swallow Barn and put him to the proof of a week's hospitality, if it be only for the pleasure of exercising his rhetoric upon him. He is a kind master, and considerate toward his dependants, for which reason, although he owns many slaves, they hold him in profound reverence, and are very happy under his dominion. All these circumstances make Swallow Barn a very agreeable place, and it is, accordingly, frequented by an extensive range of his acquaintances.
There is one quality in Frank that stands above the rest. He is a thoroughbred Virginian, and, consequently, does not travel much from home, except to make an excursion to Richmond, which he considers emphatically as the center of civilization. Now and then he has gone beyond the mountain, but the upper country is not much to his taste, and, in his estimation, only to be resorted to when the fever makes it imprudent to remain upon the tide. He thinks lightly of the mercantile interest, and, in fact, undervalues the manners of the cities generally; he believes that their inhabitants are all hollowhearted and insincere, and altogether wanting in that substantial intelligence and honesty that he affirms to be characteristic of the country. He is a great admirer of the genius of Virginia, and is frequent in his commendation of a toast in which the state is compared to the mother of the Gracchi; indeed, it is a familiar thing with him to speak of the aristocracy of talent as only inferior to that of the landed interest—the idea of a freeholder inferring to his mind a certain constitutional preeminence in all the virtues of citizenship, as a matter of course.
The solitary elevation of a country gentleman, well to do in the world, begets some magnificent notions. He becomes as infallible as the Pope; gradually acquires a habit of making long speeches; is apt to be impatient of contradiction, and is always very touchy on the point of honor. There is nothing more conclusive than a rich man's logic anywhere, but in the country, amongst his dependants, it flows with the smooth and unresisted course of a gentle stream, irrigating a verdant meadow, and depositing its mud in fertilizing luxuriance. Meriwether's sayings, about Swallow Barn, import absolute verity ---but I have discovered that they are not so current out of his jurisdiction. Indeed, every now and then, we have some obstinate discussions when any of the neighboring potentates, who stand in the same sphere with Frank, come to the house; for these worthies have opinions of their own, and nothing can be more dogged than the conflict between them. They sometimes fire away at each other with a most amiable and unconvincible hardihood for a whole evening, bandying interjections, and making bows, and saying shrewd things with all the courtesy imaginable; but for unextinguishable pertinacity in argument, and utter impregnability of belief, there is no disputant like your country gentleman who reads the newspapers. When one of these discussions fairly gets under weigh, it never comes to an anchor again of its own accord—it is either blown out so far to sea as to be given up for lost, or puts into port in distress for want of documents—or is upset by a call for the boot-jack and slippers—which is something like the previous question in Congress.
If my worthy cousin be somewhat over-argumentative as a politician, he restores the equilibrium of his character by a considerate coolness in religious matters. He piques himself upon being a high-churchman, but he is only a rare frequenter of places of Worship, and very seldom permits himself to get into a dispute upon points of faith. If Mr. Chub, the Presbyterian tutor in the family, ever succeeds in drawing him into this field, as he occasionally has the address to do, Meriwether is sure to fly the course. He gets puzzled with Scripture names, and makes some odd mistakes between Peter and Paul, and then, generally, turns the parson over to his wife, who, he says, has an astonishing memory.
THE DYING CHILD.--HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.
Mother, I'm tired, and I would fain be sleeping;
Let me repose upon thy bosom seek:
Because thy tears fall hot upon my cheek.
But in my dreams all is so wondrous bright;
When from my weary eyes I sliut out light.
Dost thou not hear the music's sweet accord ?
Surely, those wings were given him by our Lord !