Lives of William Pinkney, William Ellery and Cotton Mather

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Lives of William Pinkney, William Ellery and Cotton Mather

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THE

LIBRARY OF

AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY CONDUCTED

JARED sparks.

By

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LIVES

WILLIAM PINKNEA WILLIAM KLLEHY AND

COTTON MATHER.

N

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Y

()

U

IIAIM'KU & iSUOTllKUS, FIl-,:*.'/ rJis and journals, used in this rasmoir, escape'!

WILLIAM KLLEKY.

CHAPTER

129

111.

— Hts

PiihUc

ff'iiJidraws

Himself from Life. — His Opinions on various Topics. — Habits Years. — His — Remarks ondeclining Character. fVritings.

in

his

Deai'h.

?>Ir.

his

Ellery

left

for ever, at the close

others,

Congress of 1785.

he had suffered

losses

and In

public

hie

common

with

the

war.

during

His dwelling-house had been bt-.nt by the enemy, and his family driven into the interior. The re sources of a profitable profession had been cut off, and the current of trade and wealth turned from

toun. And at the age of nearly sixty, he had yet to provide for his children, and, under circumstances almost disheartening, to begin life again as a man of business. his native

In April, 1786, he was elected by Congress Commissioner of the Continental Loan-Office for the State of

Rhode

Island

;

and, upon the adoption

Federal Constitution, 1790, he was apCollector of the Customs for the District pointed of Newport. This office he held till his death.

of the

During the period of embarrassment and

agi-

from a depreciated currency, from to the new Constitution, and symjtathy opposition tation,

arising

with revolutionary France, he contributed largely vor.. VI.

9

AMERICAN BIOGUAPHY

130

his name, in journals of the day, without behalf of order, public faith, and an efficient government. His writings attracted much attention,

to the

and, as might be expected, involved him in th.e He could not well party hostilities of the time.

avoid giving offence, but he never allowed himself to be disturbed by the assaults he provoked, and to

some extent he had the satisfaction of seeing For many years before

his object accomplished.

death he abstained wholly from the press, and from taking any active part in politics not even And though he was attending town meetings.

his

;

his influence to put down an " and gave administration, that k-ept him in office

charged with abusing

his bread," or, as it was sometimes said, by " whose favor " he had become rich yet, in a all this and "To he memorandum, says; private many more lies printed in that paper. Job answer-

him

;

ed not a word." It It

remains to speak of hmi in his closing years.

may be

"

supposed, that

we

ai'e

entering upon a

which, though he may be still recognised, he must yet be materially changed that Ill's course must be henceforth downward distinct

era,

in

;

the general feeling of tenderness and veneration for the old, we have now only to

and

that, with

observe the decay of what we may have admired Such an anticipation, with respect in its strength. to tlie aged, ural.

is

so

But, after

common, all

as to

that has

be tliought nat\\Titten of ol(3

been

WILLIAM ELLERY. age,

is its

131

true value, and the character

it

may

and

ought to possess, enough considered ? Some speak of a man in years as an ohject of condescending admiration, that he should have lived so long he, in turn,

and even

may be

;

and

pleased with this distinction,

live the longer for

it,

as if to protract

and

augment the honor. Its

Sometimes, we make old age picturesque, with The wintry snows and reposing apathy.

is ended, the earth is sealed there is to be no more growth. Or it is a noble pile, timehonored, time-worn, and falling into slow decay.

harvest

There

;

is

to

no more of

be no more splendor or cheerfulness, life as it has been, within those walls.

It is Or, again, we make old age sentimental. and cheerful tendance passively gratefully receiving

from the young

;

it is

patiently recounting

its

ex-

perience, and distilling its long-treasured wisdom and the children are gathered round the bed of

;

And are these tht the patriarch for his blessing. best lights and positions in which we may look on those, ries

who

of time

There

is

are approaching the appointed bounda?

yet another view of age,

appears as a highly moral

and

in

which

it

intellectual state of

man. It may be granted that the senses liave lost much of their quickness but the imagination, now freed from distracting excit'^^-m

AMERICAN BIOGKAPHy.

15C

most variety never felt, that

his

in

familiar

conversation,

in its transitions, its mirth, its

one grav-

the tone of his mind was undergoing great ity, changes, and that he was putting off one character to assume another. The elements were mingled

and the same

spirit

prevailed.

In the midst of

important reflections and occupations, he could amuse himself with a certain perception of the ludicrous, or descend

to

what passes

for levity

;

and yet the feeling of reverence or seriousness was not lessened in himself or others. Without confounding things, he made no false rule of separating those, which he could not find to be hostile

As moral

motives and restraints increase

we may

intel-

these in part his activity of mind to the last day of his long life, as well as the constant employment which he lectual power,

ascribe

to

He held himas a duty. the right application of his for the acquisition of wisdom

imposed upon himself self

responsible

for

powers and means taking the word in call

;

its

widest sense.

He

did not

one mental exercise an amusement, and another

a study, to indicate that one only was useful and involved obligation ; but, in the lighter and severer

occupations of his in

mind, that

life,

he was

he sought equally to keep do or obtain some good.

to

In the pursuit of truth, he seemed more anxious for the certainty, than the amount or variety of results.

It

was no evidence, however,

that he

WILLIAM ELLERV. ihovight he liad attained

to

151

because he

certainty,,

gave over farther study ot" a subject. For, though reluctant to leave a point unsettled and own that power, yet he could believe, himself at least, the bounds of knowl

was beyond

it

that, as to

his

edge were set, and thus' it became a duty to acHe was not fond of quiesce even in ignorance. the conjectures, that he might fill ^oid where he had in vain looked for satisfying

indulging in

nor was he unhappy because of the unceran impertainties, which cannot be cleared up in fect state of being. truth

;

His method of investigating subjects was to fol into their minutest particulars and rela

low them tions

not

;

amuse

at

all

to

gratified his curiosity

amination results,

was

ingenuity or

his

;

necessary

convictions

whole ground.

;

or, at

for

any

to

him

arrive

to

command by

at in-

rate, the strength of

depended upon

He

it

and, moreover, patient ex-

which some appear

stant inspection his

exercise

a speculative turn of mind, but because

his

seeing

the

could refine and discriminate

without being visionary, or undecided, or taking of particuonly partial views and, if he was fond ;

lars,

he did not stop

at

them.

There

v.as

some-

thing almost cliaractenstic in his good judgment, his reasonable way of looking at any subject, and asr;ir>tlng

and do

others to find out what they should think in

any doubtful case.

No

one

after

con-

iMdKlUAN BIOGRAPHY.

io'i

suiting hlni vvt>uld say, ions,

How

original are his

bow shrewd, unexpected,

opin-

or oracular.

It

appeared rather as if both parties had been deliberately passing over some familiar ground and recalling their experience, than carefully judging of

something wholly new so calm and well-weighed were his thoughts, and so connected and complete the consideration he gave to the matter. ;

His or

feelings,

and wishes, and every extraneous circumstance, were as

accidental

if

they did

not exist, in his sober-minded search of truth.

Or

most apt to very to him to be the alarm but sound did mislead, of and his discerning was power single-hearted influences, that are

rather, the

;

only made the keener, if he had the least apprehension that his examination might be crossed

by any thing foreign to the subject before him. Thus, as an adviser, he not only inspired confidence and threw

light upon the present question, but indirectly he taught one the true mode of inHe had quiry whenever he should be in doubt.

the plainest

judgment

in

common sense, and the most prudent common affairs and not so much ;

from having lived long in the world, as from right temper of mind and his habit of going

his far

into the reason of things.

.

Still there was often something in his method of pursuing truth, or defending a position, or treating the opinions of another, which, to one not

WILLIAM ELLERF

153

well acquainted with him, might argue unfauness or un