image pending 120

Art. IX.

An Oration on the Death of
General Washington. By
Governeur Morris. Delivered at
the Request of the Corporation of the
City of New-York, Dec
. 31, 1799,
and published by their Request.
Furman. 1800. pp. 24.

IT may be said, without deroga-
tion to the numerous rhetorici-
ans who have devoted their genius
to the same theme, that popular es-
teem was more ardent and unani-
mous with respect to this orator,
than to any of his compeers. His
personal acquaintance with that
great scene in which the late Presi-
dent performed so memorable a

part; the maturity of his age; the
ample limits of his observation, and
the long exercise of his intelligence
on political topics, were justly
imagined to place him far above all
other competitors for this office, and
carried to a very lofty pitch the ex-
pectations of the public. This eu-
logy, stripped of all the fascinations
of looks and gesture, and all the
magic of tones, is now submitted
to our sober and dispassionate in-
spection, and the delicate and ardu-
ous function is assigned to us of
weighing its topics, and scrutiniz-
ing its style.

As to the strain of reasoning and
description contained in this oration,
two or three examples will afford a
more accurate conception of it,
than any general criticism. A cer-
tain domestic privation allotted to
Washington, would not readily oc-
cur to ordinary eulogists, and cer-
tainly would not suggest to men of
ordinary genius, reflections like the

“Bound by the sacred ties of
wedded love, his high example
strengthened the tone of public
manners. Beloved, almost adored
by the amiable partner of his toils
and dangers, who shared with him
the anxieties of public life, and
sweetened the shade of retirement,
no fruit was granted to their union.
No child to catch with pious tender-
ness the falling tear, and soothe the
anguish of connubial affliction.
No living image remains to her of
his virtues, and she must seek them
sorrowing in the grave. Who
shall arraign, oh God! thy high
decree? Was it in displeasure,
that to the father of his country
thou hadst denied a son? Was it in
mercy, lest the paternal virtues
should have triumphed (during
some frail moment) in the patriot
bosom? Americans! he had no
child—but you—and he was all your

It cannot be expected that the

 image pending 121

eyes of the poet or orator should
look at objects in the same point of
view with physiologists or meta-
physicians. It is the business of
the latter to trace the greatest events
to the smallest causes, whereas it
is the orator's province to take care
that the cause shall not fall short of
the effect in dignity and grandeur.
Short-sighted observers; reflecting
on the merits of their chief, would
be naturally disposed to wonder
why the blessing of posterity was
denied to him. The ways of Provi-
dence, however, may always be
justified. In this case, Heaven had
surely done enough in making him
the Father of a nation. Having be-
stowed so splendid a gift, it could
not reasonably be censured for
withholding a son.

The fears and discontents mani-
fested by the army at the close of
the war, are generally known.
The cause of those discontents, and
the motives of the leader are plac-
ed by Mr. M. in a new light. Not
small would be the value of this
performance, were it merely on ac-
count of this discovery. Thus he

“Connected by the endearing
ties of soldierly brotherhood; these
gallant sons of freedom anticipated
with horror the moment when they
might be called on to unsheathe
their swords against each other; and
pour, in impious libation, the pu-
rest of their blood upon the altars
of civil war. Some of the more
ardent spirits, smarting from the
past, and fearing for the future, had
formed a wish, that the army might
be kept together, and (by its ap-
pearance) accelerate the adoption of
an efficient government.
The senti-
ment was patriotic
—the plan of
doubtful complexion—the success
uncertain—but the prospect was
fair if the chief could be engaged.

“He knew their wrongs! He knew
their worth! He felt their apprehen-
—They had strong claims

upon him, and those claims were
strongly urged. Supreme power;
with meretricious charms, courted
his embrace; and was clothed, to
seduce him; in the robes of justice.
If, therefore, ambition had pos-
sessed a single corner of his heart;
he might have deliberated. But he
was ever loyal. He bid a last adieu
to the companions of his glory,
and laid all his laurels at the feet of
his country!”

If these passages be classed with
rhetoric rather than with history,
their value will rather be enhanced
than diminished. A sublime fancy
delights in ennobling the origin of
kings; and states; and constitutions;
by tracing their existence to an
earlier date; and an higher parent-
age. The prince of poets wrote
for no other end than to illustrate
the pedigree of Caesar; and place
farther back the origin of enmity
between Carthage and Rome. It
was, perhaps, with this laudable
spirit, that the orator has assigned
motives to the discontented officers,
widely different from the mercena-
ry and selfish ends, vulgarly imput-
ed to them. Instead of retaining
their arms in order to ensure the
payment of their wages, they are;
with great felicity; described as
foreseeing all the evils and distrac-
tions of disunited government, and
designing to procure a more com-
pact and efficient confederacy.

It would not be proper to in-
quire how their continuing armed
was to be made subservient to this
end. Their motive was good;
“their sentiment was patriotic;”
but the non-concurrence of the
leader totally defeated it.

After enlarging on the majesty
of port, the self-command, and the
unrivalled and unblemished ex-
cellence of Washington, the author
proceeds to recapitulate his glorious
deeds in war and peace. The
sketch is rapid and succinct, and
is endeavoured to be made more

 image pending 122

vivid by tearseness of style, brilli-
ant epithets, and glowing figures.
The language indeed, in some cases,
verges upon numbers. Slight va-
riations would reduce it to verse,
sometimes to the loose iambic of
tragedy and ode, and sometimes to
the looser dactylic of McPherson.
The phrasealogy has a cast no less

In proof of the metrical as well
as poetical structure of this per-
formance, the following sentences
are offered. To make the measures
more conspicuous, we shall place
some of them in blank verse, and
lyric order.

“His spirit soared beyond ambition's
He saw a crown (high) above all human
He sought, he gained, and wore that

The quick bolts fly, wing'd with death,
And pierce his garments;
But, obedient to the Sovereign will,
They dare not shed his blood.

He accompanies, to western wilds,
Braddock! who, bred in camps
Of European war, despised the savage;
But soon entrapped in the close ambush,
Military skill becomes of no avail. The
Selected by unerring aim, first fall.
The troops lie thick in slaughtered heaps,

And sun-shine friends,
Turning their halcyon beaks to fairer
Sought shelter from the storm.

In vain the raging Delaware,
Vexed with the wintry blast, forbids
    their march!
In vain he rolls along his rocky bed,
A frozen torrent, whose ponderous mass
Threatens to sweep the soldier from his
    uncertain footstep,
And bear him down the flood.
In vain the beating snow
Adds to the dangerous ford a darkening
    horror! &c.

Already from his brazen throat
The cannon gives loud summons to the
From this black night of gloomy appre-
Broke forth the sun of golden, glorious

And see! fresh in renewed vigour,
He decks his hoary head with nodding
Of war, and mounts the barbed steed
With countenance erect and firm,
His eagle-eye measures the lengthen'd
    file,” &c.

They are nice partitions that di-
vide rhetoric from poetry. In these
quotations, the bounds seem to be
overstepped, and perhaps the rea-
der will regret that the whole had
not been thrown into Miltonic, or
Pindaric measures; we shall be hap-
py to see this accomplished by
some skilful hand. These pages
are full of the “membra disjecta”
and “miracula speciosa” of the
poet, and it were pity that they
should not be collected into lumi-
nous order, and modeled into musi-
cal proportions. From a tribute
of mere eloquence, it might thus
be changed into homage of poetry,
and might convince the sceptical
world, that, as America produces
heroes that engross all possible vir-
tue and all conceivable wisdom,
she likewise nourishes poets that
possess all the treasures of the muse.