RIP VAN WINKLE
A POSTHUMOUS WRITING OF DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER
FROM “THE SKETCH BOOK,” BY WASHINGTON IRVING
By Woden, God of Saxons,
From whence comes Wensday, that is Wodensday.
Truth is a thing that ever I will keep
Unto thylke day in which I creep into
The following tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics; whereas he found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that legendary lore so invaluable to true history. Whenever, therefore, he happened upon a genuine Dutch family, snugly shut up in its low-roofed farmhouse under a spreading sycamore, he looked upon it as a little clasped volume of black-letter, and studied it with the zeal of a book worm. The result of all these researches was a history of the province during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some years since. There have been various opinions as to the literary character of his work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be. Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little questioned on its first appearance, but has since been completely established; and it is now admitted into all historical collections, as a book of unquestionable authority.
The old gentleman died shortly after the publication of his work, and now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much harm to is memory to say that his time might have been much better employed in weightier labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby his own way; and though it did now and then kick up the dust a little in the eyes of his neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some friends, for whom he felt the truest deference and affection; yet his errors and follies are remembered “more in sorrow than in anger,” and it begins to be suspected that he never intended to injure or offend. But however his memory may be appreciated by critics, it is still held dear by many folk, whose good opinion is worth having; particularly by certain biscuit-bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes; and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne’s Farthing.
Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes when the rest of the landscape is cloudless they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists in the early time of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant (may he rest in peace!), and there were some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weathercocks.
In that same village, and in one of these very houses (which, to tell the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and weather-beaten), there lived many years since, while the country was yet a province of Great Britain, a simple, good-natured fellow, of the name of Rip Van Winkle. He was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina. He inherited, however, but little of the martial character of his ancestors. I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects be considered a tolerable blessing, and if so, rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Certain it is, that he was a great favorite among all the good wives of the village, who, as usual with the amiable sex, took his part in all family squabbles; and never failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle. The children of the village, too, would shout with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their sports, made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches, and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the village, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing a thousand tricks on him with impunity; and not a dog would bark at him throughout the neighborhood.
The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. It could not be from the want of assiduity or perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and heavy as a Tartar’s lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even though he should not be encouraged by a single nibble. He would carry a fowling-piece on his shoulder for hours together, trudging through woods and swamps, and up hill and down dale, to shoot a few squirrels or wild pigeons. He would never refuse to assist a neighbor, even in the roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics for husking Indian corn, or building stone-fences; the women of the village, too, used to employ him to run their errands, and to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them. In a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.
In fact, he declared it was of no use to work on his farm; it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country; everything about it went wrong, and would go wrong, in spite of him. His fences were continually falling to pieces; his cow would either go astray or get among the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields than anywhere else; the rain always made a point of setting in just as he had some out-door work to do; so that though his patrimonial estate had dwindled away under his management, acre by acre, until there was little more left than a mere patch of Indian corn and potatoes, yet it was the worst-conditioned farm in the neighborhood.
His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in his own likeness, promised to inherit the habits, with the old clothes of his father. He was generally seen trooping like a colt at his mother’s heels, equipped in a pair of father’s cast-off galligaskins, which he had much ado to hold up with, one hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad weather.
Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family. Morning, noon, and night her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence. Rip had but one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by frequent use, had grown into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh volley from his wife; so that he was fain to draw off his forces, and take to the outside of the house–the only side which, in truth, belongs to a henpecked husband.
Rip’s sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was as much henpecked as his master; for Dame Van Winkle regarded them as companions in idleness, and even looked upon Wolf with an evil eye, as the cause of his master’s going so often astray. True it is, in all points of spirit befitting an honorable dog, he was as courageous an animal as ever scoured the woods–but what courage can withstand the ever-during and all-besetting terrors of a woman’s tongue? The moment Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail drooped to the ground, or curled between his legs, he sneaked about with a gallows air, casting many a sidelong glance at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least flourish of a broomstick or ladle he would fly to the door with yelping precipitation.
Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony rolled on; a tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. For a long while he used to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the village; which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the Third. Here they used to sit in the shade through a long lazy summer’s day, talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy stories about nothing. But it would have been worth any statesman’s money to have heard the profound discussions that sometimes took place, when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing traveler. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled out by Derrick Van Bummel, the school-master, a dapper learned little man, who was not to be daunted by the most gigantic word in the dictionary; and how sagely they would deliberate upon public events some months after they had taken place.
The opinions of this junto were completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn, at the door of which he took his seat from morning till night, just moving sufficiently to avoid the sun and keep in the shade of a large tree; so that the neighbors could tell the hour by his movements as accurately as by a sun-dial. It is true he was rarely heard to speak, but smoked his pipe incessantly. His adherents, however (for every great man has his adherents), perfectly understood him, and knew how to gather his opinions. When anything that was read or related displeased him, he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to send forth short, frequent and angry puffs; but when pleased, he would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly, and emit it in light and placid clouds; and sometimes, taking the pipe from his mouth, and letting the fragrant vapor curl about his nose, would gravely nod his head in token of perfect approbation.
From even this stronghold the unlucky Rip was at length routed by his termagant wife, who would suddenly break in upon the tranquillity of the assemblage and call the members all to naught; nor was that august personage, Nicholas Vedder himself, sacred from the daring tongue of this terrible virago, who charged him outright with encouraging her husband in habits of idleness.
Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods. Here he would sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents of his wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathized, as a fellow-sufferer in persecution. “Poor Wolf,” he would say, “thy mistress leads thee a dog’s life of it; but never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend to stand by thee!” Wolf would wag his tail, look wistfully in his master’s face, and if dogs can feel pity I verily believe he reciprocated the sentiment with all his heart.
In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day, Rip had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill Mountains. He was after his favorite sport of squirrel shooting, and the still solitudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun. Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.
On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild, lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the impending cliffs, and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun. For some time Rip lay musing on this scene; evening was gradually advancing; the mountains began to throw their long blue shadows over the valleys; he saw that it would be dark long before he could reach the village, and he heaved a heavy sigh when he thought of encountering the terrors of Dame Van Winkle.
As he was about to descend, he heard a voice from a distance, hallooing, “Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!” He looked round, but could see nothing but a crow winging its solitary flight across the mountain. He thought his fancy must have deceived him, and turned again to descend, when he heard the same cry ring through the still evening air: “Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!”–at the same time Wolf bristled up his back, and giving a low growl, skulked to his master’s side, looking fearfully down into the glen. Rip now felt a vague apprehension stealing ver him; he looked anxiously in the same direction, and perceived a strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks, and bending under the weight of something he carried on his back. He was surprised to see any human being in this lonely and unfrequented place; but supposing it to be some one of the neighborhood in need of assistance, he hastened down to yield it.
On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the singularity of the stranger’s appearance. He was a short, square-built old fellow, with thick bushy hair, and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion: a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist, several pair of breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons down the sides, and bunches at the knees. He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load. Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity; and mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a narrow gully, apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent. As they ascended, Rip every now and then heard long rolling peals like distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks, toward which their rugged path conducted. He paused for a moment, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, he proceeded. Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over the brinks of which impending trees shot their branches, so that you only caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud. During the whole time Rip and his companion had labored on in silence; for though the former marveled greatly what could be the object of carrying a keg of liquor up this wild mountain, yet there was something strange and incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspired awe and checked familiarity.
On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder presented themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a company of odd-looking personages playing at ninepins. They were dressed in a quaint outlandish fashion; some wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in their belts, and most of them had enormous breeches of similar style with that of the guide’s. Their visages, too, were peculiar; one had a large beard, broad face, and small piggish eyes; the face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose, and was surmounted by a white sugar-loaf hat, set off with a little red cock’s tail. They all had beards, of various shapes and colors. There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten countenance; he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high-crowned hat and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them. The whole group reminded Rip of the figures in an old Flemish painting in the parlor of Dominie Van Shaick, the village parson, which had been brought over from Holland at the time of the settlement.
What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of the scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder.
As Rip and his companion approached them, they suddenly desisted from their play, and stared at him with such fixed, statue-like gaze, and such strange, uncouth, lack-lustre countenances, that his heart turned within him, and his knees smote together. His companion now emptied the contents of the keg into large flagons, and made signs to him to wait upon the company. He obeyed with fear and trembling; they quaffed the liquor in profound silence, and then returned to their game.
By degrees Rip’s awe and apprehension subsided. He even ventured, when no eye was fixed upon him, to taste the beverage, which he found had much of the flavor of excellent Hollands. He was naturally a thirsty soul, and was soon tempted to repeat the draught. One taste provoked another; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon so often that at length his senses were overpowered, his eyes swam in his head, his head gradually declined, and he fell into a deep sleep.
On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes–it was a bright, sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze. “Surely,” thought Rip, “I have not slept here all night.” He recalled the occurrences before he fell asleep. The strange man with a keg of liquor–the mountain ravine–the wild retreat among the rocks–the woe-begone party at ninepins–the flagon–“Oh! that flagon! that wicked flagon!” thought Rip–“what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle?”
He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean, well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel incrusted
with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten. He now suspected that the grave roisterers of the mountain had put a trick upon him, and, having dosed him with liquor, had robbed him of his gun. Wolf, too, had disappeared, but he might have strayed away after a squirrel or partridge. He whistled after him, and shouted his name, but all in vain; the echoes repeated his whistle and shout, but no dog was to be seen.
He determined to revisit the scene of the last evening’s gambol, and if he met with any of the party, to demand his dog and gun. As he rose to walk, he found himself stiff in the joints, and wanting in his usual activity. “These mountain beds do not agree with me,” thought Rip, “and if this frolic should lay me up with a fit of the rheumatism, I shall have a blessed time with Dame Van Winkle.” With some difficulty he got down into the glen; he found the gully up which he and his companion had ascended the preceding evening; but to his astonishment a mountain stream was now foaming down it, leaping from rock to rock, and filling the glen with babbling murmurs. He, however, made shift to scramble up its sides, working his toilsome way through thickets of birch, sassafras, and witchhazel, and sometimes tripped up or entangled by the wild grapevines that twisted their coils or tendrils from tree to tree, and spread a kind of network in his path.
At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening remained. The rocks presented a high, impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad, deep basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest. Here, then, poor Rip was brought to a stand. He again called and whistled after his dog; he was only answered by the cawing of a flock of idle crows, sporting high in air about a dry tree that overhung a sunny precipice; and who, secure in their elevation, seemed to look down and scoff at the poor man’s perplexities. What was to be done? the morning was passing away, and Rip felt famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved to give up his dog and gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it would not do to starve among the mountains. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty fire-lock, and, with a heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps homeward.
As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none whom he knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with every one in the country round. Their dress, too, was of a different fashion from that to which he was accustomed. They all stared at him with equal marks of surprise, and whenever they cast their eyes upon him, invariably stroked their chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture induced Rip, involuntarily, to do the same, when, to his astonishment, he found his beard had grown a foot long!
He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop of strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and pointing at his gray beard. The dogs, too, not one of which he recognized for an old acquaintance, barked at him as he passed. The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors–strange faces at the windows,–everything was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village, which he had left but the day before. There stood the Kaatskill Mountains–there ran the silver Hudson at a distance–there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always been–Rip was sorely perplexed–“That flagon last night,” thought he, “has addled my poor head sadly!”
It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own house, which he approached with silent awe, expecting every moment to hear the shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle. He found the house gone to decay–the roof fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off the hinges. A half-starved dog that looked like Wolf was skulking about it. Rip called him by name, but the cur snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on. This was an unkind cut indeed–“My very dog,” sighed poor Rip, “has forgotten me!”
He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame Van Winkle had always kept in neat order. It was empty, forlorn, and apparently abandoned. This desolateness overcame all his connubial fears–he called loudly for his wife and children–the lonely chambers rang for a moment with his voice, and then again all was silence.
He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the village inn–but it, too, was gone. A large, rickety wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle.” Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes–all this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.
There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity. He looked in vain for the sage Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place of these, a lean bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of hand bills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens–elections–members of congress–liberty–Bunker’s Hill–heroes of seventy-six–and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.
The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled heard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at his
heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern-politicians. They crowded round him, eying him from head to foot with great curiosity. The orator bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired “on which side he voted?” Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and, rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, “Whether he was Federal or Democrat?” Rip was equally at a loss to comprehend the question; when a knowing, self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd, putting them to the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo, the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating, as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone, “what brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder and a mob at his heels, and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?”–“Alas! gentlemen,” cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!”
Here a general shout burst from the bystanders–“A tory! a tory! a spy! a refugee! hustle him! away with him!” It was with great difficulty that the self-important man in the cocked hat restored order; and, having assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded again of the unknown culprit what he came there for, and whom he was seeking? The poor man humbly assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there in search of some of his neighbors, who used to keep about the tavern.
“Well–who are they?–name them.”
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, “Where’s Nicholas Vedder?”
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man replied, in a thin, piping voice: “Nicholas Vedder! why, he is dead and gone these eighteen years! There was a wooden tombstone in the churchyard that used to tell all about him, but that’s rotten and gone too.”
“Where’s Brom Dutcher?”
“Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of the war; some say he was killed at the storming of Stony Point–others say he was drowned in a squall at the foot of Antony’s Nose. I don’t know–he never came back again.”
“Where’s Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?”
“He went off to the wars too, was a great militia general, and is now in Congress.”
Rip’s heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters which he could not understand: war–Congress–Stony Point; he had no courage to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair, “Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?”
“Oh, Rip Van Winkle!” exclaimed two or three, “Oh, to be sure! that’s Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree.”
Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up the mountain: apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged. The poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man. In the midst of his bewilderment, the man in the cocked hat demanded who he was, and what was his name?
“God knows,” exclaimed he, at his wit’s end; “I’m not myself–I’m somebody else–that’s me yonder–no–that’s somebody else got into my shoes–I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and everything’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!”
The bystanders began now to look at each other, nod, wink significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads. There was a whisper, also, about securing the gun, and keeping the old fellow from doing mischief, at the very suggestion of which the self-important man in the cocked hat retired with some precipitation. At this critical moment a fresh, comely woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to cry. “Hush, Rip,” cried she, “hush, you little fool; the old man won’t hurt you.” The name of the child, the air of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of recollections in his mind. “What is your name, my good woman?” asked he.
“And your father’s name?”
“Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but it’s twenty years since he went away from home with his gun, and never has been heard of since,–his dog came home without him; but whether he shot himself, or was carried away by the Indians, nobody can tell. I was then but a little girl.”
Rip had but one question more to ask; and he put it with a faltering voice:–
“Where’s your mother?”
“Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a blood-vessel in a fit of passion at a New England peddler.”
There was a drop of comfort at least, in this intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer. He caught his daughter and her child in his arms. “I am your father!” cried he–“Young Rip Van Winkle once–old Rip Van Winkle now! Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle?”
All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a moment, exclaimed, “Sure enough, it is Rip Van Winkle–it is himself! Welcome home again, old neighbor–Why, where have you been these twenty long years?”
Rip’s story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to him but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it; some were seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in their cheeks; and the self-important man in the cocked hat, who, when the alarm was over, had returned to the field, screwed down the corners of his mouth and shook his head–upon which there was a general shaking of the head throughout the assemblage.
It was determined, however, to take the opinion of old Peter Vanderdonk, who was seen slowly advancing up the road. He was a descendant of the historian of that name, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the province. Peter was the most ancient inhabitant of the village, and well versed in all the wonderful events and traditions of the neighborhood. He recollected Rip at once, and corroborated his story in the most
satisfactory manner. He assured the company that it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the historian, that the Kaatskill Mountains had always been haunted by strange beings. That it was affirmed that the great Hendrick Hudson, the first discoverer of the river and country, kept a kind of vigil there every twenty years, with his crew of the Half-moon; being permitted in this way to revisit the scenes of his enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river and the great city called by his name. That his father had once seen them in their old Dutch dresses playing at ninepins in a hollow of the mountain; and that he himself had heard, one summer afternoon, the sound of their balls like distant peals of thunder.
To make a long story short, the company broke up, and returned to the more important concerns of the election. Rip’s daughter took him home to live with her; she had a snug well-furnished house, and a stout cheery farmer for a husband, whom Rip recollected for one of the urchins that used to climb upon his back. As to Rip’s son and heir, who was the ditto of himself, seen leaning against the tree, he was employed to work on the farm; but evinced an hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favor. Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times “before the war.” It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How that there had been a revolutionary war–that the country had thrown off the yoke of old England–and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States. Rip, in fact, was no politician; the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him; but there was one species of despotism under which he had long groaned, and that was–petticoat government. Happily that was at an end; he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle. Whenever her name was mentioned, however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes, which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance.
He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr. Doolittle’s hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some points every time he told it, which was, doubtless, owing to his having so recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related, and not a man, woman, or child in the neighborhood but knew it by heart. Some always pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of his head, and that this was one point on which he always remained flighty. The old Dutch inhabitants, however, almost universally gave it full credit. Even to this day they never hear a thunder-storm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins; and it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.
go to top
“He cried out, in a fit of frenzy, ‘Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!'”
The Man Without A Country
Edward E. Hale
Love of country is a sentiment so universal that it is only on such rare occasions as called this book into being that there is any need of discussing it or justifying it. There is a perfectly absurd statement by Charles Kingsley, in the preface to one of his books, written fifty years ago, in which he says that, while there can be loyalty to a king or a queen, there cannot be loyalty to one’s country.
This story of Philip Nolan was written in the darkest period of the Civil War, to show what love of country is. There were persons then who thought that if their advice had been taken there need have been no Civil War. There were persons whose every-day pursuits were greatly deranged by the Civil War. It proved that the lesson was a lesson gladly received. I have had letters from seamen who read it as they were lying in our blockade squadrons off the mouths of Southern harbors. I have had letters from men who read it soon after the Vicksburg campaign. And in other ways I have had many illustrations of its having been of use in what I have a right to call the darkest period of the Republic.
To-day we are not in the darkest period of the Republic.
This nation never wishes to make war. Our whole policy is a policy of peace, and peace is the protection of the Christian civilization to which we are pledged. It is always desirable to teach young men and young women, and old men and old women, and all sorts of people, to understand what the country is. It is a Being. The LORD, God of nations, has called it into existence, and has placed it here with certain duties in defence of the civilization of the world.
It was the intention of this parable, which describes the life of one man who tried to separate himself from his country, to show how terrible was his mistake.
It does not need now that a man should curse the United States, as Philip Nolan did, or that he should say he hopes he may never hear her name again, to make it desirable for him to consider the lessons which are involved in the parable of his life. Any man is “without a country who, by his sneers, or by looking backward, or by revealing his country’s secrets to her enemy, checks for one hour the movements which lead to peace among the nations of the world, or weakens the arm of the nation in her determination to secure justice between man and man, and in general to secure the larger life of her people.” He has not damned the United States in a spoken oath.
All the same he is a dastard child.
There is a definite, visible Progress in the affairs of this world. Jesus Christ at the end of his life prayed to God that all men might become One, “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
The history of the world for eighteen hundred and seventy years since he spoke has shown the steady fulfilment of the hope expressed in this prayer.
Men are nearer unity—they are nearer to being one—than they were then.
Thus, at that moment each tribe in unknown America was at war with each other tribe. At this moment there is not one hostile weapon used by one American against another, from Cape Bathurst at the north to the southern point of Patagonia.
At that moment Asia, Africa, and Europe were scenes of similar discord. Europe herself knows so little of herself that no man Would pretend to say which Longbeards were cutting the throats of other Longbeards, or which Scots were lying in ambush for which Britons, in any year of the first century of our era.
Call it the “Philosophy of History,” or call it the “Providence of God,” it is certain that the unity of the race of man has asserted itself as the Saviour of mankind said it should.
In this growing unity of mankind it has come about that the Sultan of Turkey cannot permit the massacre of Armenian Christians without answering for such permission before the world.
It has come about that no viceroy, serving a woman, who is the guardian of a boy, can be permitted to starve at his pleasure two hundred thousand of God’s children. The world is so closely united—that is to say, unity is so real—that when such a viceroy does undertake to commit such an iniquity, somebody shall hold his hands.
The story of Philip Nolan was published in such a crisis that it met the public eye and interest. It met the taste of the patriotic public at the moment. It was copied everywhere without the slightest deference to copyright. It was, by the way, printed much more extensively in England than it was in America. Immediately there began to appear a series of speculations based on what you would have said was an unimportant error of mine. My hero is a purely imaginary character. The critics are right in saying that not only there never was such a man, but there never could have been such a man. But he had to have a name. And the choice of a name in a novel is a matter of essential importance, as it proved to be here.
Now I had a hero who was a young man in 1807. He knew nothing at that time but the valley of the Mississippi River. “He had been educated on a plantation where the finest company was a Spanish officer, or a French merchant from Orleans.” He must therefore have a name familiar to Western people at that time. Well, I remembered that in the preposterous memoirs of General James Wilkinson’s, whenever he had a worse scrape than usual to explain, he would say that the papers were lost when Mr. Nolan was imprisoned or was killed in Texas. This Mr. Nolan, as Wilkinson generally calls him, had been engaged with Wilkinson in some speculations mostly relating to horses. Remembering this, I took the name Nolan for my hero. I made my man the real man’s brother. “He had spent half his youth with an older brother, hunting horses in Texas.” And again:—“he was catching wild horses in Texas with his adventurous cousin.” [Note: Young authors may observe that he is called a brother in one place and a cousin in another, because such slips would take place in a real narrative. Proofreaders do not like them, but they give a plausibility to the story.] I had the impression that Wilkinson’s partner was named Stephen, and as Philip and Stephen were both evangelists in the Bible, I named my man Philip Nolan, on the supposition that the mother who named one son Stephen would name another Philip. It was not for a year after, that, in looking at Wilkinson’s “Memoirs” again, I found to my amazement, not to say my dismay, that Wilkinson’s partner was named Philip Nolan. We had, therefore, two Philip Nolans, one a real historical character, who was murdered by the Spaniards on the 21st of March, 1801, at Waco in Texas; the other a purely imaginary character invented by myself, who appears for the first time on the 23d of September, 1807, at a court-martial at Fort Adams.
I supposed nobody but myself in New England had ever heard of Philip Nolan. But in the Southwest, in Texas and Louisiana, it was but sixty-two years since the Spaniards murdered him. In truth, it was the death of Nolan, the real Philip Nolan, killed by one Spanish governor while he held the safe-conduct of another, which roused that wave of indignation in the Southwest which ended in the independence of Texas. I think the State of Texas would do well, to-day, if it placed the statue of the real Phil Nolan in the Capitol at Washington by the side of that of Sam Houston.
In the midst of the war the story was published in the “Atlantic Monthly,” of December, 1863. In the Southwest the “Atlantic” at once found its way into regions where the real Phil Nolan was known. A writer in the “New Orleans Picayune,” in a careful historical paper, explained at length that I had been mistaken all the way through, that Philip Nolan never went to sea, but to Texas. I received a letter from a lady in Baltimore who told me that two widowed sisters of his lived in that neighborhood. Unfortunately for me, this letter, written in perfectly good faith, was signed E. F. M. Fachtz. I was receiving many letters on the subject daily. I supposed that my correspondent was concealing her name, and was really “Eager for More Facts.” When in reality I had the pleasure of meeting her a year or two afterwards, the two widowed sisters of the real Phil Nolan were both dead.
But in 1876 I was fortunate enough, on the kind invitation of Mr. Miner, to visit his family in their beautiful plantation at Terre Bonne. There I saw an old negro who was a boy when Master Phil Nolan left the old plantation on the Mississippi River for the last time. Master Phil Nolan had then married Miss Fanny Lintot, who was, I think, the aunt of my host. He permitted me to copy the miniature of the young adventurer.
I have since done my best to repair the error by which I gave Philip Nolan’s name to another person, by telling the story of his fate in a book called “Philip Nolan’s Friends.” For the purpose of that book, I studied the history of Miranda’s attempt against Spain, and of John Adams’s preparations for a descent of the Mississippi River. The professional historians of the United States are very reticent in their treatment of these themes. At the time when John Adams had a little army at Cincinnati, ready to go down and take New Orleans, there were no Western correspondents to the Eastern Press.
Within a year after the publication of the “Man without a Country” in the “Atlantic” more than half a million copies of the story had been printed in America and in England. I had curious accounts from the army and navy, of the interest with which it was read by gentlemen on duty. One of our officers in the State of Mississippi lent the “Atlantic” to a lady in the Miner family. She ran into the parlor, crying out, “Here is a man who knows all about uncle Phil Nolan.” An Ohio officer, who entered the city of Jackson, in Mississippi, with Grant, told me that he went at once to the State House. Matters were in a good deal of confusion there, and he picked up from the floor a paper containing the examination of Philip Nolan, at Walnut Springs, the old name of Vicksburg. This was before the real Philip’s last expedition. The United States authorities, in the execution of the neutrality laws, had called him to account, and had made him show the evidence that he had the permission of the Governor of New Orleans for his expedition.
In 1876 I visited Louisiana and Texas, to obtain material for “Philip Nolan’s Friends.” I obtained there several autographs of the real Phil Nolan,—and the original Spanish record of one of the trials of the survivors of his party,—a trial which resulted in the cruel execution of Ephraim Blackburn, seven years after he was arrested. That whole transaction, wholly ignored by all historians of the United States known to me, is a sad blot on the American administration of the Spanish kings. Their excuse is the confusion of everything in Madrid between 1801 and 1807. The hatred of the Mexican authorities among our frontiersmen of the Southwest is largely due to the dishonor and cruelty of those transactions.
EDWARD E. HALE.
THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
“NOLAN. Died, on board U. S. Corvette ‘Levant,’ [Note 3] Lat. 2° 11′ S., Long. 131° W., on the 11th of May, PHILIP NOLAN.”
I happened to observe it, because I was stranded at the old Mission House in Mackinaw, waiting for a Lake Superior steamer which did not choose to come, and I was devouring to the very stubble all the current literature I could get hold of, even down to the deaths and marriages in the “Herald.” My memory for names and people is good, and the reader will see, as he goes on, that I had reason enough to remember Philip Nolan. There are hundreds of readers who would have paused at that announcement, if the officer of the “Levant” who reported it had chosen to make it thus: “Died, May 11, THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY.” For it was as “The Man without a Country” that poor Philip Nolan had generally been known by the officers who had him in charge during some fifty years, as, indeed, by all the men who sailed under them. I dare say there is many a man who has taken wine with him once a fortnight, in a three years’ cruise, who never knew that his name was “Nolan,” or whether the poor wretch had any name at all.
There can now be no possible harm in telling this poor creature’s story. Reason enough there has been till now, ever since Madison’s [Note 4] administration went out in 1817, for very strict secrecy, the secrecy of honor itself, among the gentlemen of the navy who have had Nolan in successive charge. And certainly it speaks well for the esprit de corps of the profession, and the personal honor of its members, that to the press this man’s story has been wholly unknown,–and, I think, to the country at large also. I have reason to think, from some investigations I made in the Naval Archives when I was attached to the Bureau of Construction, that every official report relating to him was burned when Ross burned the public buildings at Washington. One of the Tuckers, or possibly one of the Watsons, had Nolan in charge at the end of the war; and when, on returning from his cruise, he reported at Washington to one of the Crowninshields,–who was in the Navy Department when he came home,–he found that the Department ignored the whole business. Whether they really knew nothing about it, or whether it was a “Non mi ricordo,” determined on as a piece of policy, I do not know. But this I do know, that since 1817, and possibly before, no naval officer has mentioned Nolan in his report of a cruise.
But, as I say, there is no need for secrecy any longer. And now the poor creature is dead, it seems to me worth while to tell a little of his
story, by way of showing young Americans of to-day what it is to be A
MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY.
PHILIP NOLAN was as fine a young officer as there was in the “Legion of the West,” as the Western division of our army was then called. When Aaron Burr [Note 5] made his first dashing expedition down to New Orleans in 1805, at Fort Massac, or somewhere above on the river, he met, as the Devil would have it, this gay, dashing, bright young fellow; at some dinner-party, I think. Burr marked him, talked to him, walked with him, took him a day or two’s voyage in his flat-boat, and, in short, fascinated him. For the next year, barrack-life was very tame to poor Nolan. He occasionally availed himself of the permission the great man had given him to write to him. Long, high-worded, stilted letters the poor boy wrote and rewrote and copied. But never a line did he have in reply from the gay deceiver. The other boys in the garrison sneered at him, because he lost the fun which they found in shooting or rowing while he was working away on these grand letters to his grand friend. They could not understand why Nolan kept by himself while they were playing high-low jack. Poker was not yet invented. But before long the young fellow had his revenge. For this time His Excellency, Honorable Aaron Burr, appeared again under a very different aspect. There were rumors that he had an army behind him and everybody supposed that he had an empire before him. At that time the youngsters all envied him. Burr had not been talking twenty minutes with the commander before he asked him to send for Lieutenant Nolan. Then after a little talk he asked Nolan if he could show him something of the great river and the plans for the new post. He asked Nolan to take him out in his skiff to show him a canebrake or a cotton-wood tree, as he said,–really to seduce him; and by the time the sail was over, Nolan was enlisted body and soul. From that time, though he did not yet know it, he lived as A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY.
What Burr meant to do I know no more than you, dear reader. It is none of our business just now. Only, when the grand catastrophe came, and Jefferson and the House of Virginia of that day undertook to break on the wheel all the possible Clarences of the then House of York, by the great treason trial at Richmond, some of the lesser fry in that distant Mississippi Valley, which was farther from us than Puget’s Sound is to-day, introduced the like novelty on their provincial stage; and, to while away the monotony of the summer at Fort Adams, got up, for spectacles, a string of court-martials on the officers there. One and another of the colonels and majors were tried, and, to fill out the
list, little Nolan, against whom, Heaven knows, there was evidence enough,–that he was sick of the service, had been willing to be false
to it, and would have obeyed any order to march any-whither with any one who would follow him had the order been signed, “By command of His Exc. A. Burr.” The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped, —rightly for all
I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would
never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the
court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,–
“Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States
I suppose he did not know how the words shocked old Colonel Morgan,
[Note 6] who was holding the court. Half the officers who sat in it had
served through the Revolution, and their lives, not to say their necks,
had been risked for the very idea which he so cavalierly cursed in his
madness. He, on his part, had grown up in the West of those days, in the midst of “Spanish plot,” “Orleans plot,” and all the rest. He had been educated on a plantation where the finest company was a Spanish officer or a French merchant from Orleans. His education, such as it was, had been perfected in commercial expeditions to Vera Cruz, and I think he told me his father once hired an Englishman to be a private tutor for a winter on the plantation. He had spent half his youth with an older brother, hunting horses in Texas; and, in a word, to him “United States” was scarcely a reality. Yet he had been fed by “United States” for all the years since he had been in the army. He had sworn on his faith as a Christian to be true to “United States.” It was “United States” which gave him the uniform he wore, and the sword by his side. Nay, my poor Nolan, it was only because “United States” had picked you out first as one of her own confidential men of honor that “A. Burr” cared for you a straw more than for the flat boat men who sailed his ark for him. I do not excuse Nolan; I only explain to the reader why he damned his country, and wished he might never hear her name again.
He never did hear her name but once again. From that moment, Sept. 23, 1807, till the day he died, May 11, 1863, he never heard her name again. For that half-century and more he was a man without a country.
Old Morgan, as I said, was terribly shocked. If Nolan had compared
George Washington to Benedict Arnold, or had cried, “God save King
George,” Morgan would not have felt worse. He called the court into his
private room, and returned in fifteen minutes, with a face like a sheet,
“Prisoner, hear the sentence of the Court! The Court decides, subject to the approval of the President, that you never hear the name of the United States again.”
Nolan laughed. But nobody else laughed. Old Morgan was too solemn, and the whole room was hushed dead as night for a minute. Even Nolan lost his swagger in a moment. Then Morgan added,–
“Mr. Marshal, take the prisoner to Orleans in an armed boat, and deliver
him to the naval commander there.”
The marshal gave his orders and the prisoner was taken out of court.
“Mr. Marshal,” continued old Morgan, “see that no one mentions the
United States to the prisoner. Mr. Marshal, make my respects to
Lieutenant Mitchell at Orleans, and request him to order that no one
shall mention the United States to the prisoner while he is on board
ship. You will receive your written orders from the officer on duty here
this evening. The Court is adjourned without day.”
I have always supposed that Colonel Morgan himself took the proceedings of the court to Washington city, and explained them to Mr. Jefferson. Certain it is that the President approved them,–certain, that is, if I may believe the men who say they have seen his signature. Before the “Nautilus” got round from New Orleans to the Northern Atlantic coast with the prisoner on board, the sentence had been approved, and he was a man without a country.
The plan then adopted was substantially the same which was necessarily followed ever after. Perhaps it was suggested by the necessity of sending him by water from Fort Adams and Orleans. The Secretary of the Navy–it must have been the first Crowninshield, though he is a man I do not remember–was requested to put Nolan on board a government vessel bound on a long cruise, and to direct that he should be only so far confined there as to make it certain that he never saw or heard of the country. We had few long cruises then, and the navy was very much out of favor; and as almost all of this story is traditional, as I have explained, I do not know certainly what his first cruise was. But the commander to whom he was intrusted,–perhaps it was Tingey or Shaw, though I think it was one of the younger men,–we are all old enough now,—regulated the etiquette and the precautions of the affair, and according to his scheme they were carried out, I suppose, till Nolan died.
When I was second officer of the “Intrepid,” some thirty years after, I
saw the original paper of instructions. I have been sorry ever since
that I did not copy the whole of it. It ran, however, much in this way:–
“WASHINGTON (with a date, which must have been late in 1807).
“Sir,–You will receive from Lieutenant Neale the person of Philip
Nolan, late a lieutenant in the United States army.
“This person on his trial by court-martial expressed, with an oath, the
wish that he might ‘never hear of the United States again.’
“The Court sentenced him to have his wish fulfilled.
“For the present, the execution of the order is intrusted by the
President to this Department.
“You will take the prisoner on board your ship, and keep him there with
such precautions as shall prevent his escape.
“You will provide him with such quarters, rations, and clothing as would
be proper for an officer of his late rank, if he were a passenger on
your vessel on the business of his Government.
“The gentlemen on board will make any arrangements agreeable to
themselves regarding his society. He is to be exposed to no indignity of
any kind, nor is he ever unnecessarily to be reminded that he is a
“But under no circumstances is he ever to hear of his country or to see
any information regarding it; and you will especially caution all the
officers under your command to take care, that, in the various
indulgences which may be granted, this rule, in which his punishment is
involved, shall not be broken.
“It is the intention of the Government that he shall never again see the
country which he has disowned. Before the end of your cruise you will
receive orders which will give effect to this intention.
“W. SOUTHARD, for the
“Secretary of the Navy”
If I had only preserved the whole of this paper, there would be no break in the beginning of my sketch of this story. For Captain Shaw, if it were he, handed it to his successor in the charge, and he to his, and I suppose the commander of the “Levant” has it to-day as his authority for keeping this man in this mild custody.
The rule adopted on board the ships on which I have met “the man without a country” was, I think, transmitted from the beginning. No mess liked to have him permanently, because his presence cut off all talk of home or of the prospect of return, of politics or letters, of peace or of war,–cut off more than half the talk men liked to have at sea. But it was always thought too hard that he should never meet the rest of us, except to touch hats, and we finally sank into one system. He was not permitted to talk with the men, unless an officer was by. With officers he had unrestrained intercourse, as far as they and he chose. But he grew shy, though he had favorites: I was one. Then the captain always asked him to dinner on Monday. Every mess in succession took up the invitation in its turn. According to the size of the ship, you had him at your mess more or less often at dinner. His breakfast he ate in his own state-room,–he always had a state-room–which was where a sentinel or somebody on the watch could see the door. And whatever else he ate or drank, he ate or drank alone. Sometimes, when the marines or sailors had any special jollification, they were permitted to invite “Plain-Buttons,” as they called him. Then Nolan was sent with some officer, and the men were forbidden to speak of home while he was there.
I believe the theory was that the sight of his punishment did them good. They called him “Plain-Buttons,” because, while he always chose to wear a regulation army-uniform, he was not permitted to wear the army-button, for the reason that it bore either the initials or the insignia of the country he had disowned.
I remember, soon after I joined the navy, I was on shore with some of
the older officers from our ship and from the “Brandywine,” which we had met at Alexandria. We had leave to make a party and go up to Cairo and the Pyramids. As we jogged along (you went on donkeys then), some of the gentlemen (we boys called them “Dons,” but the phrase was long since changed) fell to talking about Nolan, and some one told the system which was adopted from the first about his books and other reading. As he was almost never permitted to go on shore, even though the vessel lay in port for months, his time at the best hung heavy; and everybody was permitted to lend him books, if they were not published in America and made no allusion to it. These were common enough in the old days, when people in the other hemisphere talked of the United States as little as we do of Paraguay. He had almost all the foreign papers that came into the ship, sooner or later; only somebody must go over them first, and cut out any advertisement or stray paragraph that alluded to America.
This was a little cruel sometimes, when the back of what was cut out
might be as innocent as Hesiod. Right in the midst of one of Napoleon’s
battles, or one of Canning’s speeches, poor Nolan would find a great
hole, because on the back of the page of that paper there had been an
advertisement of a packet for New York, or a scrap from the President’s
message. I say this was the first time I ever heard of this plan, which
afterwards I had enough and more than enough to do with. I remember it, because poor Phillips, who was of the party, as soon as the allusion to reading was made, told a story of something which happened at the Cape of Good Hope on Nolan’s first voyage; and it is the only thing I ever knew of that voyage. They had touched at the Cape, and had done the civil thing with the English Admiral and the fleet, and then, leaving for a long cruise up the Indian Ocean, Phillips had borrowed a lot of English books from an officer, which, in those days, as indeed in these, was quite a windfall. Among them, as the Devil would order, was the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” [Note 7] which they had all of them heard of, but which most of them had never seen. I think it could not have been published long. Well, nobody thought there could be any risk of anything national in that, though Phillips swore old Shaw had cut out the “Tempest” from Shakespeare before he let Nolan have it, because he said “the Bermudas ought to be ours, and, by Jove, should be one day.” So Nolan was permitted to join the circle one afternoon when a lot of them sat on deck smoking and reading aloud. People do not do such things so often now; but when I was young we got rid of a great deal of time so.
Well, so it happened that in his turn Nolan took the book and read to
the others; and he read very well, as I know. Nobody in the circle knew a line of the poem, only it was all magic and Border chivalry, and was ten thousand years ago. Poor Nolan read steadily through the fifth canto, stopped a minute and drank something, and then began, without a thought of what was coming,–
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,”–
It seems impossible to us that anybody ever heard this for the first
time; but all these fellows did then, and poor Nolan himself went on,
still unconsciously or mechanically,–
“This is my own, my native land!”
Then they all saw that something was to pay; but he expected to get
through, I suppose, turned a little pale, but plunged on,–
“Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?–
If such there breathe, go, mark him well,”–
By this time the men were all beside themselves, wishing there was any
way to make him turn over two pages; but he had not quite presence of mind for that; he gagged a little, colored crimson, and staggered on,–
“For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
Despite these titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,”–
and here the poor fellow choked, could not go on, but started up, swung the book into the sea, vanished into his state-room, “And by Jove,” said Phillips, “we did not see him for two months again. And I had to make up some beggarly story to that English surgeon why I did not return his Walter Scott to him.”
That story shows about the time when Nolan’s braggadocio must have broken down. At first, they said, he took a very high tone, considered
his imprisonment a mere farce, affected to enjoy the voyage, and all that; but Phillips said that after he came out of his state-room he
never was the same man again. He never read aloud again, unless it was the Bible or Shakespeare, or something else he was sure of. But it was not that merely. He never entered in with the other young men exactly as a companion again. He was always shy afterwards, when I knew him,–very seldom spoke, unless he was spoken to, except to a very few friends. He lighted up occasionally,–I remember late in his life hearing him fairly eloquent on something which had been suggested to him by one of Fléchier’s sermons,–but generally he had the nervous, tired look of a heart-wounded man.
When Captain Shaw was coming home,–if, as I say, it was Shaw,–rather to the surprise of everybody they made one of the Windward Islands, and lay off and on for nearly a week. The boys said the officers were sick of salt-junk, and meant to have turtle-soup before they came home. But after several days the “Warren” came to the same rendezvous; they exchanged signals; she sent to Phillips and these homeward-bound men letters and papers, and told them she was outward-bound, perhaps to the Mediterranean, and took poor Nolan and his traps on the boat back to try his second cruise. He looked very blank when he was told to get ready to join her. He had known enough of the signs of the sky to know that till that moment he was going “home.” But this was a distinct evidence of something he had not thought of, perhaps,–that there was no going home for him, even to a prison. And this was the first of some twenty such transfers, which brought him sooner or later into half our best vessels,
but which kept him all his life at least some hundred miles from the
country he had hoped he might never hear of again.
It may have been on that second cruise,–it was once when he was up the Mediterranean,–that Mrs. Graff, the celebrated Southern beauty of those days, danced with him. They had been lying a long time in the Bay of Naples, and the officers were very intimate in the English fleet, and there had been great festivities, and our men thought they must give a great ball on board the ship. How they ever did it on board the “Warren” I am sure I do not know. Perhaps it was not the “Warren,” or perhaps ladies did not take up so much room as they do now. They wanted to use Nolan’s state-room for something, and they hated to do it without asking him to the ball; so the captain said they might ask him, if they would be responsible that he did not talk with the wrong people, “who would give him intelligence.” So the dance went on, the finest party that had ever been known, I dare say; for I never heard of a man-of-war ball that was not. For ladies, they had the family of the American consul, one or two travellers who had adventured so far, and a nice bevy of English girls and matrons, perhaps Lady Hamilton herself.
Well, different officers relieved each other in standing and talking with Nolan in a friendly way, so as to be sure that nobody else spoke to him. The dancing went on with spirit, and after a while even the fellows who took this honorary guard of Nolan ceased to fear any contretemps.
Only when some English lady–Lady Hamilton, as I said, perhaps–called for a set of “American dances,” an odd thing happened. Everybody then danced contra-dances. The black band, nothing loath, conferred as to what “American dances” were, and started off with “Virginia Reel,” which they followed with “Money-Musk,” which, in its turn in those days, should have been followed by “The Old Thirteen.” But just as Dick, the leader, tapped for his fiddles to begin, and bent forward, about to say, in true negro state, “‘The Old Thirteen,’ gentlemen and ladies!” as he had said “‘Virginny Reel,’ if you please!” and “‘Money-Musk,’ if you please!” the captain’s boy tapped him on the shoulder, whispered to him, and he did not announce the name of the dance; he merely bowed, began on the air, and they all fell to,–the officers teaching the English girls the figure, but not telling them why it had no name.
But that is not the story I started to tell. As the dancing went on,
Nolan and our fellows all got at ease, as I said,–so much so, that it
seemed quite natural for him to bow to that splendid Mrs. Graff, and
“I hope you have not forgotten me, Miss Rutledge. Shall I have the honor of dancing?”
He did it so quickly, that Fellows, who was with him, could not hinder
him. She laughed and said,–
“I am not Miss Rutledge any longer, Mr. Nolan; but I will dance all the
same,” just nodded to Fellows, as if to say he must leave Mr. Nolan to
her, and led him off to the place where the dance was forming.
Nolan thought he had got his chance. He had known her at Philadelphia, and at other places had met her, and this was a Godsend. You could not talk in contra-dances, as you do in cotillions, or even in the pauses of waltzing; but there were chances for tongues and sounds, as well as for eyes and blushes. He began with her travels, and Europe, and Vesuvius, and the French; and then, when they had worked down, and had that long talking time at the bottom of the set, he said boldly,–a little pale, she said, as she told me the story years after,–
“And what do you hear from home, Mrs. Graff?”
And that splendid creature looked through him. Jove! how she must have looked through him!
“Home!! Mr. Nolan!!! I thought you were the man who never wanted to hear of home again!”–and she walked directly up the deck to her husband, and left poor Nolan alone, as he always was.–He did not dance again. I cannot give any history of him in order; nobody can now; and, indeed, I am not trying to.
These are the traditions, which I sort out, as I believe them, from the
myths which have been told about this man for forty years. The lies that have been told about him are legion. The fellows used to say he was the “Iron Mask;” and poor George Pons went to his grave in the belief that this was the author of “Junius,” who was being punished for his celebrated libel on Thomas Jefferson. Pons was not very strong in the historical line.
A happier story than either of these I have told is of the war. That came along soon after. I have heard this affair told in three or four
ways,–and, indeed, it may have happened more than once. But which ship it was on I cannot tell. However, in one, at least, of the great
frigate-duels with the English, in which the navy was really baptized, [Note 8] it happened that a round-shot from the enemy entered one of our ports square, and took right down the officer of the gun himself, and almost every man of the gun’s crew. Now you may say what you choose about courage, but that is not a nice thing to see. But, as the men who were not killed picked themselves up, and as they and the surgeon’s people were carrying off the bodies, there appeared Nolan, in his shirt-sleeves, with the rammer in his hand, and, just as if he had been the officer, told them off with authority,–who should go to the
cock-pit with the wounded men, who should stay with him,–perfectly
cheery, and with that way which makes men feel sure all is right and is
going to be right. And he finished loading the gun with his own hands,
aimed it, and bade the men fire. And there he stayed, captain of that
gun, keeping those fellows in spirits, till the enemy struck,–sitting
on the carriage while the gun was cooling, though he was exposed all the time,–showing them easier ways to handle heavy shot,–making the raw hands laugh at their own blunders,–and when the gun cooled again, getting it loaded and fired twice as often as any other gun on the ship.
The captain walked forward by way of encouraging the men, and Nolan
touched his hat and said,–
“I am showing them how we do this in the artillery, sir.”
And this is the part of the story where all the legends agree; the
“I see you do, and I thank you, sir; and I shall never forget this day,
sir, and you never shall, sir.”
And after the whole thing was over, and he had the Englishman’s sword, in the midst of the state and ceremony of the quarter-deck, he said,–
“Where is Mr. Nolan? Ask Mr. Nolan to come here.”
And when Nolan came, he said,–
“Mr. Nolan, we are all very grateful to you to-day; you are one of us
to-day; you will be named in the despatches.”
And then the old man took off his own sword of ceremony, and gave it to Nolan, and made him put it on. The man told me this who saw it. Nolan cried like a baby, and well he might. He had not worn a sword since that infernal day at Fort Adams. But always afterwards on occasions of ceremony, he wore that quaint old French sword of the commodore’s.
The captain did mention him in the despatches. It was always said he asked that he might be pardoned. He wrote a special letter to the Secretary of War. But nothing ever came of it. As I said, that was about the time when they began to ignore the whole transaction at Washington, and when Nolan’s imprisonment began to carry itself on because there was nobody to stop it without any new orders from home.
I have heard it said that he was with Porter when he took possession of the Nukahiwa Islands. Not this Porter, you know, but old Porter, his
father, Essex Porter,–that is, the old Essex Porter, not this Essex.
[Note 9] As an artillery officer, who had seen service in the West, Nolan knew more about fortifications, embrasures, ravelins, stockades, and all that, than any of them did; and he worked with a right good-will in fixing that battery all right. I have always thought it was a pity Porter did not leave him in command there with Gamble. That would have settled all the question about his punishment. We should have kept the islands, and at this moment we should have one station in the Pacific Ocean. Our French friends, too, when they wanted this little watering-place, would have found it was preoccupied. But Madison and the Virginians, of course, flung all that away.
All that was near fifty years ago. If Nolan was thirty then, he must
have been near eighty when he died. He looked sixty when he was forty. But he never seemed to me to change a hair afterwards. As I imagine his life, from what I have seen and heard of it, he must have been in every sea, and yet almost never on land. He must have known, in a formal way, more officers in our service than any man living knows. He told me once, with a grave smile, that no man in the world lived so methodical a life as he. “You know the boys say I am the Iron Mask, and you know how busy he was.” He said it did not do for any one to try to read all the time, more than to do anything else all the time; and that he used to read just five hours a day. “Then,” he said, “I keep up my notebooks, writing in them at such and such hours from what I have been reading; and I include in these my scrap-books.” These were very curious indeed. He had six or eight, of different subjects. There was one of History, one of Natural Science, one which he called “Odds and Ends.” But they were not merely books of extracts from newspapers. They had bits of plants and ribbons, shells tied on, and carved scraps of bone and wood, which he had taught the men to cut for him, and they were beautifully illustrated.
He drew admirably. He had some of the funniest drawings there, and some of the most pathetic, that I have ever seen in my life. I wonder who will have Nolan’s scrapbooks.
Well, he said his reading and his notes were his profession, and that
they took five hours and two hours respectively of each day. “Then,”
said he, “every man should have a diversion as well as a profession. My Natural History is my diversion.” That took two hours a day more. The men used to bring him birds and fish, but on a long cruise he had to satisfy himself with centipedes and cockroaches and such small game. He was the only naturalist I ever met who knew anything about the habits of the house-fly and the mosquito. All those people can tell you whether they are Lepidoptera or Steptopotera; but as for telling how you can get rid of them, or how they get away from you when you strike them, –why Linnaeus knew as little of that as John Foy the idiot did. These nine hours made Nolan’s regular daily “occupation.” The rest of the time he talked or walked. Till he grew very old, he went aloft a great deal.
He always kept up his exercise; and I never heard that he was ill. If any other man was ill, he was the kindest nurse in the world; and he
knew more than half the surgeons do. Then if anybody was sick or died, or if the captain wanted him to, on any other occasion, he was always ready to read prayers. I have said that he read beautifully.
My own acquaintance with Philip Nolan began six or eight years after the English war, on my first voyage after I was appointed a midshipman. It was in the first days after our Slave-Trade treaty, while the Reigning House, which was still the House of Virginia, had still a sort of sentimentalism about the suppression of the horrors of the Middle Passage, and something was sometimes done that way. We were in the South Atlantic on that business. From the time I joined, I believe I thought Nolan was a sort of lay chaplain,–a chaplain with a blue coat. I never asked about him. Everything in the ship was strange to me. I knew it was green to ask questions, and I suppose I thought there was a “Plain-Buttons” on every ship. We had him to dine in our mess once a week, and the caution was given that on that day nothing was to be said about home. But if they had told us not to say anything about the planet Mars or the Book of Deuteronomy, I should not have asked why; there were a great many things which seemed to me to have as little reason. I first came to understand anything about “the man without a country” one day when we overhauled a dirty little schooner which had slaves on board. An officer was sent to take charge of her, and, after a few minutes, he sent back his boat to ask that some one might be sent him who could speak Portuguese. We were all looking over the rail when the message came, and we all wished we could interpret, when the captain asked who spoke Portuguese. But none of the officers did; and just as the captain was sending forward to ask if any of the people could, Nolan stepped out and said he should be glad to interpret, if the captain wished, as he
understood the language. The captain thanked him, fitted out another
boat with him, and in this boat it was my luck to go.
When we got there, it was such a scene as you seldom see, and never want to. Nastiness beyond account, and chaos run loose in the midst of the nastiness. There were not a great many of the negroes; but by way of making what there were understand that they were free, Vaughan had had their handcuffs and ankle-cuffs knocked off, and, for convenience’ sake, was putting them upon the rascals of the schooner’s crew. The negroes were, most of them, out of the hold, and swarming all round the dirty deck, with a central throng surrounding Vaughan and addressing him in every dialect, and patois of a dialect, from the Zulu click up to the Parisian of Beledeljereed. [Note 10]
As we came on deck, Vaughan looked down from a hogshead, on which he had mounted in desperation, and said:–
“For God’s love, is there anybody who can make these wretches understand something? The men gave them rum, and that did not quiet them. I knocked that big fellow down twice, and that did not soothe him. And then I talked Choctaw to all of them together; and I’ll be hanged if they understood that as well as they understood the English.”
Nolan said he could speak Portuguese, and one or two fine-looking
Kroomen were dragged out, who, as it had been found already, had worked for the Portuguese on the coast at Fernando Po.
“Tell them they are free,” said Vaughan; “and tell them that these
rascals are to be hanged as soon as we can get rope enough.”
Nolan “put that into Spanish,”–that is, he explained it in such Portuguese as the Kroomen could understand, and they in turn to such of the negroes as could understand them. Then there was such a yell of delight, clinching of fists, leaping and dancing, kissing of Nolan’s feet, and a general rush made to the hogshead by way of spontaneous worship of Vaughan, as the deus ex machina of the occasion.
“Tell them,” said Vaughan, well pleased, “that I will take them all to
This did not answer so well. Cape Palmas was practically as far from the homes of most of them as New Orleans or Rio Janeiro was; that is, they would be eternally separated from home there. And their interpreters, as we could understand, instantly said, “Ah, non Palmas,” and began to propose infinite other expedients in most voluble language. Vaughan was rather disappointed at this result of his liberality, and asked Nolan eagerly what they said. The drops stood on poor Nolan’s white forehead, as he hushed the men down, and said:—
“He says, ‘Not Palmas.’ He says, ‘Take us home, take us to our own
country, take us to our own house, take us to our own pickaninnies and our own women.’ He says he has an old father and mother who will die if they do not see him. And this one says he left his people all sick, and paddled down to Fernando to beg the white doctor to come and help them, and that these devils caught him in the bay just in sight of home, and that he has never seen anybody from home since then. And this one says,” choked out Nolan, “that he has not heard a word from his home in six months, while he has been locked up in an infernal barracoon.”
Vaughan always said he grew gray himself while Nolan struggled through this interpretation: I, who did not understand anything of the passion involved in it, saw that the very elements were melting with fervent heat, and that something was to pay somewhere. Even the negroes themselves stopped howling, as they saw Nolan’s agony, and Vaughan’s almost equal agony of sympathy. As quick as he could get words, he said:–
“Tell them yes, yes, yes; tell them they shall go to the Mountains of
the Moon, if they will. If I sail the schooner through the Great White
Desert, they shall go home!”
And after some fashion Nolan said so. And then they all fell to kissing
him again, and wanted to rub his nose with theirs.
But he could not stand it long; and getting Vaughan to say he might go back, he beckoned me down into our boat. As we lay back in the stern-sheets and the men gave way, he said to me: “Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word, or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in His mercy to take you that instant home to His own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “–and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag.
Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind
officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”
I was frightened to death by his calm, hard passion; but I blundered out that I would, by all that was holy, and that I had never thought of
doing anything else. He hardly seemed to hear me; but he did, almost in
a whisper, say: “O, if anybody had said so to me when I was of your
I think it was this half-confidence of his, which I never abused, for I never told this story till now, which afterward made us great friends. He was very kind to me. Often he sat up, or even got up, at night, to walk the deck with me, when it was my watch. He explained to me a great deal of my mathematics, and I owe to him my taste for mathematics. He lent me books, and helped me about my reading. He never alluded so directly to his story again; but from one and another officer I have learned, in thirty years, what I am telling. When we parted from him in St. Thomas harbor, at the end of our cruise, I was more sorry than I can tell. I was very glad to meet him again in 1830; and later in life, when I thought I had some influence in Washington, I moved heaven and earth to have him discharged. But it was like getting a ghost out of prison. They pretended there was no such man, and never was such a man. They will say so at the Department now! Perhaps they do not know. It will not be the first thing in the service of which the Department appears to know nothing!
There is a story that Nolan met Burr once on one of our vessels, when a party of Americans came on board in the Mediterranean. But this I
believe to be a lie; or, rather, it is a myth, ben trovato, involving a tremendous blowing-up with which he sunk Burr,–asking him how he liked to be “without a country.” But it is clear from Burr’s life, that nothing of the sort could have happened; and I mention this only as an illustration of the stories which get a-going where there is the least mystery at bottom.
Philip Nolan, poor fellow, repented of his folly, and then, like a man, submitted to the fate he had asked for. He never intentionally added to the difficulty or delicacy of the charge of those who had him in hold. Accidents would happen; but never from his fault. Lieutenant Truxton told me that, when Texas was annexed, there was a careful discussion among the officers, whether they should get hold of Nolan’s handsome set of maps and cut Texas out of it,–from the map of the world and the map of Mexico. The United States had been cut out when the atlas was bought for him. But it was voted, rightly enough, that to do this would be virtually to reveal to him what had happened, or, as Harry Cole said, to make him think Old Burr had succeeded. So it was from no fault of Nolan’s that a great botch happened at my own table, when, for a short time, I was in command of the George Washington corvette, on the South American station. We were lying in the La Plata, and some of the officers, who had been on shore and had just joined again, were entertaining us with accounts of their misadventures in riding the half-wild horses of Buenos Ayres. Nolan was at table, and was in an unusually bright and talkative mood. Some story of a tumble reminded him of an adventure of his own when he was catching wild horses in Texas with his adventurous cousin, at a time when he mast have been quite a boy. He told the story with a good deal of spirit,–so much so, that the silence which often follows a good story hung over the table for an instant, to be broken by Nolan himself. For he asked perfectly unconsciously.—
“Pray, what has become of Texas? After the Mexicans got their independence, I thought that province of Texas would come forward very fast. It is really one of the finest regions on earth; it is the Italy of this continent. But I have not seen or heard a word of Texas for near twenty years.”
There were two Texan officers at the table. The reason he had never heard of Texas was that Texas and her affairs had been painfully cut out of his newspapers since Austin began his settlements; so that, while he read of Honduras and Tamaulipas, and, till quite lately, of California,—this virgin province, in which his brother had travelled so far, and, I believe, had died, had ceased to be to him. Waters and Williams, the two Texas men, looked grimly at each other and tried not to laugh. Edward Morris had his attention attracted by the third link in the chain of the captain’s chandelier. Watrous was seized with a convulsion of sneezing. Nolan himself saw that something was to pay, he did not know what. And I, as master of the feast, had to say,—
“Texas is out of the map, Mr. Nolan. Have you seen Captain Back’s curious account of Sir Thomas Roe’s Welcome?”
After that cruise I never saw Nolan again. I wrote to him at least twice a year, for in that voyage we became even confidentially intimate; but he never wrote to me. The other men tell me that in those fifteen years he aged very fast, as well he might indeed, but that he was still the same gentle, uncomplaining, silent sufferer that he ever was, bearing as best he could his self-appointed punishment,–rather less social, perhaps, with new men whom he did not know, but more anxious, apparently, than ever to serve and befriend and teach the boys, some of whom fairly seemed to worship him. And now it seems the dear old fellow is dead. He has found a home at last, and a country.
Since writing this, and while considering whether or no I would print it, as a warning to the young Nolans and Vallandighams and Tatnalls of to-day of what it is to throw away a country, I have received from Danforth, who is on board the “Levant,” a letter which gives an account of Nolan’s last hours. It removes all my doubts about telling this story. The reader will understand Danforth’s letter, or the beginning of it, if he will remember that after ten years of Nolan’s exile every one who had him in charge was in a very delicate position. The government had failed to renew the order of 1807 regarding him. What was a man to do? Should he let him go? What, then, if he were called to account by the Department for violating the order of 1807? Should he keep him? What, then, if Nolan should be liberated some day, and should bring an action for false imprisonment or kidnapping against every man who had had him in charge? I urged and pressed this upon Southard, and I have reason to think that other officers did the same thing. But the Secretary always said, as they so often do at Washington, that there were no special orders to give, and that we must act on our own judgment. That means, “If you succeed, you will be sustained; if you fail, you will be disavowed.” Well, as Danforth says, all that is over now, though I do not know but I expose myself to a criminal prosecution on the evidence of the very revelation I am making.
Here is the letter:–
LEVANT, 2° 2′ S. @ 131° W.
“DEAR FRED:–I try to find heart and life to tell you that it is all over with dear old Nolan. I have been with him on this voyage more than I ever was, and I can understand wholly now the way in which you used
to speak of the dear old fellow. I could see that he was not strong, but I had no idea the end was so near. The doctor has been watching him very carefully, and yesterday morning came to me and told me that Nolan was not so well, and had not left his state-room,–a thing I never remember before. He had let the doctor come and see him as he lay there,–the first time the doctor had been in the state-room,–and he said he should like to see me. Oh, dear! do you remember the mysteries we boys used to invent about his room in the old ‘Intrepid’ days? Well, I went in, and there, to be sure, the poor fellow lay in his berth, smiling pleasantly as he gave me his hand, but looking very frail. I could not help a glance round, which showed me what a little shrine he had made of the box he was lying in. The stars and stripes were triced up above and around a picture of Washington, and he had painted a majestic eagle, with lightnings blazing from his beak and his foot just clasping the whole globe, which his wings overshadowed. The dear old boy saw my glance, and said, with a sad smile, ‘Here, you see, I have a country!’ And then he pointed to the foot of his bed, where I had not seen before a great map of the United States, as he had drawn it from memory, and which he had there to look upon as he lay. Quaint, queer old names were on it, in large letters: ‘Indiana Territory,’ ‘Mississippi Territory,’ and ‘Louisiana Territory,’ as I suppose our fathers learned such things: but the old fellow had patched in Texas, too; he had carried his western boundary all the way to the Pacific, but on that shore he had defined nothing.
“‘O Captain,’ he said, ‘I know I am dying. I cannot get home. Surely you will tell me something now?–Stop! stop! Do not speak till I say what I am sure you know, that there is not in this ship, that there is not in America,–God bless her!–a more loyal man than I. There cannot be a man who loves the old flag as I do, or prays for it as I do, or hopes for it as I do. There are thirty-four stars in it now, Danforth. I thank God for that, though I do not know what their names are. There has never been one taken away: I thank God for that. I know by that that there has never been any successful Burr, O Danforth, Danforth,’ he sighed out, ‘how like a wretched night’s dream a boy’s idea of personal fame or of separate sovereignty seems, when one looks back on it after such a life as mine! But tell me,–tell me something,–tell me everything, Danforth, before I die!’
“Ingham, I swear to you that I felt like a monster that I had not told him everything before. Danger or no danger, delicacy or no delicacy, who was I, that I should have been acting the tyrant all this time over this dear, sainted old man, who had years ago expiated, in his whole manhood’s life, the madness of a boys treason? ‘Mr. Nolan,’ said I, ‘I will tell you everything you ask about. Only, where shall I begin?’
“Oh, the blessed smile that crept over his white face! and he pressed my hand and said, ‘God bless you! ‘Tell me their names,’ he said, and he pointed to the stars on the flag. ‘The last I know is Ohio. My father
lived in Kentucky. But I have guessed Michigan and Indiana and Mississippi,–that was where Fort Adams is,–they make twenty. But where are your other fourteen? You have not cut up any of the old ones, I hope?’
“Well, that was not a bad text, and I told him the names in as good order as I could, and he bade me take down his beautiful map and draw
them in as I best could with my pencil. He was wild with delight about
Texas, told me how his cousin died there; he had marked a gold cross
near where he supposed his grave was; and he had guessed at Texas. Then he was delighted as he saw California and Oregon;–that, he said, he had suspected partly, because he had never been permitted to land on that shore, though the ships were there so much. ‘And the men,’ said he, laughing, ‘brought off a good deal besides furs.’ Then he went back–heavens, how far!–to ask about the Chesapeake, and what was done to Barron for surrendering her to the Leopard, [Note 11] and whether Burr ever tried again,–and he ground his teeth with the only passion he showed. But in a moment that was over, and he said, ‘God forgive me, for I am sure I forgive him.’ Then he asked about the old war,–told me the true story of his serving the gun the day we took the Java,–asked about dear old David Porter, as he called him. Then he settled down more quietly, and very happily, to hear me tell in an hour the history of fifty years.
“How I wished it had been somebody who knew something! But I did as well as I could. I told him of the English war. I told him about Fulton and the steamboat beginning. I told him about old Scott, and Jackson; told him all I could think of about the Mississippi, and New Orleans, and
Texas, and his own old Kentucky. And do you think, he asked who was in command of the ‘Legion of the West.’ I told him it was a very gallant officer named Grant and that, by our last news, he was about to establish his head-quarters at Vicksburg. Then, ‘Where was Vicksburg?’ I worked that out on the map; it was about a hundred miles, more or less, above his old Fort Adams; and I thought Fort Adams must be a ruin now. ‘It must be at old Vick’s plantation, at Walnut Hills,’ said he: ‘well, that is a change!’
“I tell you, Ingham, it was a hard thing to condense the history of half
a century into that talk with a sick man. And I do not now know what I
told him,–of emigration, and the means of it,–of steamboats, and
railroads, and telegraphs,–of inventions, and books, and literature,
–of the colleges, and West Point, and the Naval School,–but with the
queerest interruptions that ever you heard. You see it was Robinson
Crusoe asking all the accumulated questions of fifty-six years!
“I remember he asked, all of a sudden, who was President now; and when I told him, he asked if Old Abe was General Benjamin Lincoln’s son. He said he met old General Lincoln, when he was quite a boy himself, at some Indian treaty. I said no, that Old Abe was a Kentuckian like himself, but I could not tell him of what family; he had worked up from the ranks. ‘Good for him!’ cried Nolan; ‘I am glad of that. As I have brooded and wondered, I have thought our danger was in keeping up those regular successions in the first families.’ Then I got talking about my visit to Washington. I told him of meeting the Oregon Congressman, Harding; I told him about the Smithsonian, and the Exploring Expedition; I told him about the Capitol, and the statues for the pediment, and Crawford’s Liberty, and Greenough’s Washington: Ingham, I told him everything I could think of that would show the grandeur of his country and its prosperity; but I could not make up my mouth to tell him a word about this infernal rebellion!
“And he drank it in and enjoyed it as I cannot tell you. He grew more and more silent, yet I never thought he was tired or faint. I gave him a
glass of water, but he just wet his lips, and told me not to go away.
Then he asked me to bring the Presbyterian ‘Book of Public Prayer’ which lay there, and said, with a smile, that it would open at the right
place,–and so it did. There was his double red mark down the page; and I knelt down and read, and he repeated with me, ‘For ourselves and our country, O gracious God, we thank These, that, notwithstanding our manifold transgressions of Thy holy laws, Thou hast continued to us Thy marvellous kindness,’–and so to the end of that thanksgiving. Then he turned to the end of the same book, and I read the words more familiar to me: ‘Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favor to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,’–and the rest of the Episcopal collect. ‘Danforth,’ said he, ‘I have repeated those prayers night and morning, it is now fifty-five years.’ And then he said he would go to sleep. He bent me down over him and kissed me; and he said, ‘Look in my Bible, Captain, when I am gone.’ And I went away.
“But I had no thought it was the end: I thought he was tired and would
sleep. I knew he was happy, and I wanted him to be alone.
“But in an hour, when the doctor went in gently, he found Nolan had
breathed his life away with a smile. He had something pressed close to
his lips. It was his father’s badge of the Order of the Cincinnati.
“We looked in his Bible, and there was a slip of paper at the place
where he had marked the text.–
“‘They desire a country, even a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.’
“On this slip of paper he had written:
“‘Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will not
some one set up a stone for my memory [Note 12] at Fort Adams or at
Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear? Say on it:
“‘In Memory of
“‘Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.
“‘He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.'”
[Note 1:] – Frederic Ingham, the “I” of the narrative, is supposed to be a retired officer of the United States Navy.
[Note 2:] – “Few readers . . . observed.” In truth, no one observed it, because there was no such announcement there. The author has, however, met more than one person who assured him that they had seen this notice. So fallible is the human memory!
[Note 3:] – The Levant.” The “Levant” was a corvette in the American navy, which sailed on her last voyage, with despatches for an American officer in Central America, from the port of Honolulu in 1860. She has never been heard of since, but one of her spars drifted ashore on one of the Hawaiian islands. I took her name intentionally, knowing that she was lost. As it happened, when this story was published, only two American editors recollected that the “Levant” no longer existed. We learn from the last despatch of Captain Hunt that he intended to take a northern course heading eastward toward the coast of California rather than southward toward the Equator. At the instance of Mr. James D. Hague, who was on board the “Levant” to bid Captain Hunt good bye on the day when she sailed from Hilo, a search has been made in the summer of 1904 for any reef or islands in that undiscovered region upon which she may have been wrecked. But no satisfactory results have been obtained.
[Note 4:] – Madison. James Madison was President from March 4, 1809, to March 4, 1817. Personally he did not wish to make war with England, but the leaders of the younger men of the Democratic party–Mr. Clay, Mr. Calhoun, and others–pressed him against his will to declare war in 1812. The war was ended by the Treaty of Peace at Ghent in the year 1814. It is generally called “The Short War.” There were many reasons for the war. The most exasperating was the impressment of American seamen to serve in the English navy. In the American State Department there were records of 6,257 such men, whose friends had protested to the
American government. It is believed that more than twenty thousand
Americans were held, at one time or another, in such service. For those
who need to study this subject, I recommend Spears’s “History of our
Navy,” in four volumes. It is dedicated “to those who would seek Peace
and Pursue it.”
[Note 5:] – Aaron Burr had been an officer in the American Revolution. He was Vice-President from 1801 to 1805, in the first term of Jefferson’s administration. In July, 1804, in a duel, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton, a celebrated leader of the Federal party. From this duel may be dated the indignation which followed him through the next years of his life. In 1805, after his Vice-Presidency, he made a voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, to study the new acquisition of Louisiana. That name was then given to all the country west of the Mississippi as far as the Rocky Mountains. The next year he organized a military expedition, probably with the plan, vaguely conceived, of taking Texas from Spain. He was, however, betrayed and arrested by General Wilkinson,–then in command of the United States army,–with whom Burr had had intimate relations. He was tried for treason at Richmond but acquitted.