The Works of Edward Payson
Volume 1 Memoirs and Selected Thoughts
Comprising a period of three years from the time of his leaving college.
Mr. Payson was graduated at Harvard University, at the commencement in 1503. Soon after leaving college, he was on recommendation, particularly of Professors Tappan and Pearson, engaged to take charge of the academy then recently established in Portland. He continued in this office for three years, at the close of which he was, by the terms of his contract, at liberty to resign it. Of this liberty his new views of duty, at the time, disposed him to avail himself.
An employment, which requires the daily repetition of nearly the same routine of duties, cannot be very prolific in incident, or very favorable to the development of those qualities, which attract the public eye. Nor is it an employment in which real worth is likely to be appreciated, except by a very few; though the subject of this Memoir is not thought to have had any special cause of complaint, as to the estimation in which his services were held. He acquired and sustained a good reputation as an instructor; but from a man possessing his characteristics, something more would naturally be expected. He was certainly endued with a rare faculty for communicating knowledge, and with a power to awaken, and call into action, the mental energies of either youth or manhood. In the existing methods of education, however, there was much to obstruct the exercise of this power. The instructor, who should do much more than follow the order and manner of the textbooks then in use, would probably have been regarded as an empiric; besides, the habits of society were then opposed, more than they have been since, to everything which bore the appearance of innovation. His native diffidence, also, would have operated as a powerful restraint against venturing on any bold experiments in a sphere of action and duty, in which, judging from the character and attainments of many who had filled it, little improvement was to be expected.
At this period, he was but a youth; and it is not to be supposed, that he engaged in the business of instruction, and prosecuted it with that all-absorbing interest and determination of purpose, which distinguished his ministerial career. It is, to say the least, extremely doubtful, whether he had felt the influence on human exertion of that principle, which is indispensable to man’s highest achievements—doing all to the glory of God. As it was, he is remembered by surviving pupils with gratitude, respect, and even veneration. He has left; as will be seen, sufficient evidence of his deep solicitude for their moral and religious welfare, from the time at which he was comfortably assured of his own "acceptance in the Beloved."
It would seem, from some allusions in his sermons, as well as from hints derived from other sources, that, during the early part of his residence in Portland, he indulged himself in such amusements as were fashionable, or were considered reputable, and that, too, with a gust as exquisite as their most hearty devotee—how frequently, or to what extent, the writer is ignorant. This practice, if it were more than occasional, would indicate a relish for social pleasures, in the usual sense of the expression, which did not long continue; for after his seriousness became habitual, he was averse to going into company, even to a fault. He dreaded an invitation to a social party, though he had reason to expect nothing there directly offensive to religious feelings. But there were companions, whose society he sought, and whose intercourse was so regulated as to subserve mutual improvement. They were select literary friends, some of them his classmates, whose fellowship was in a high degree intimate and endearing. With these he passed many pleasant and profitable hours, and cemented a friendship, which continued till death, and which has been faithfully reciprocated by the surviving members of the little band, and continues to exhibit itself in unfeigned respect for his precious memory. The exercises of these meetings were not subjected to any very rigid and formal regulations, such as would have cramped the energies of the mind, or restrained even its wilder sallies. Mutual confidence was the bond of union, which no severity of retort or piquancy of raillery could sunder. Each brought forward the results of his reading or invention, and exercised his powers at discussion or free conversation; and, by this "action of mind upon mind," the most brilliant flashes of wit were often struck from one so full charged, and so quick at combination, as Payson’s, to the no small entertainment of his companions. Of these intellectual banquets, his contributions were the most coveted and exquisite portion.
But no distance, employment, or friendships, could weaken his attachment to the paternal home, or diminish the strength of his filial love. Some extracts from his letters will now be given, which, while they exhibit the son and the brother in the most amiable light, will serve also to illustrate some of his intellectual qualities. They are addressed to his "ever dear and honored parents."
—Portland, May 20, 1804.
"It is not the least among the distressing circumstances attending the late afflicting dispensation of Providence, that I am unable in person to share in your grief, and alleviate, by filial sympathy and affection, the keenness of your sorrow. I would fain attempt to afford you some consolation; but the only sources, whence it can be derived, are already your own. I can only say for myself—it shall ever be my endeavor, that, so far as my exertions can avail, you shall not feel his loss; and that we, who remain, will strive to fill, by our increased duty, reverence, and affection, the cruel void thus made in your happiness."
—January 14, 1805.
"I congratulate you both on the welcome news, which my sister gave me, of your amended health and spirits. Mille, I feel, flow with double rapidity, since I received her letter. I witness, in fancy, the happiness of home, and long to participate and increase it; but for the present must be content with rejoicing alone. I cannot possibly plead guilty to the charge of ‘not thinking of home, so often as home does of me.’ On the contrary, I believe home has very little due on that score, if we consider the frequency and not the value of the thoughts. But, my dear parents, if a few of those thoughts could be embodied on paper, and sent me, how much more good they would do, and how much more pleasure they would communicate, than if they were to remain in their native place!
"I am still without an assistant, and, as the number of students has been increased, my task is very laborious. However, I shall soon be supplied. Just now I was interrupted. It was my assistant. He is young and raw; but so much the better. He will not render me small by comparison.
"I had a pleasant vacation. All of my classmates, who are in the district, five in number, met at the house of one of them. The recollection of past scenes was, as Ossian says, ‘pleasant and mournful to the soul.’ There is, however, very little satisfaction in recalling past pleasures to mind; that is, what is generally called pleasure."
—September 8, 1805.
"The distress I felt at parting with you was soon banished by the garrulity of my companion, whose chattering tongue for once afforded me pleasure, and, besides, freed me from the necessity of talking, for which I felt not very well qualified. I once thought it was impossible for my filial affection to be increased; but the kindness which first gave birth to it increases every visit I make, and that must increase it. Were others blessed with friends like mine, how much greater would be the sum of virtue and happiness on earth, than we have reason to fear it is at present. Why cannot other parents learn your art of mixing the friend with the parent? of joining friendship to filial affection, and of conciliating love, without losing respect? —an art of more importance to society and more difficult to learn, —at least, if we may judge by the rareness with which it is found, —than any other; and an art, which you, my dear parents, certainly have in perfection.
"We had a tolerably pleasant journey, and were received with kindness by Mrs. ——, and with politeness, at least, by the rest of the family. After the others were retired, Col. —— kept me up till past eleven, explaining; as well as I could, the difference between the various sects of religion, especially between Arminians and Calvinists.
"We had a long passage, but met with no accident, except that I carried away my hat—to use a sea-phrase—that is, the wind carried it away, and, there being no one on board that would fit me, I was two days on the water exposed to a burning sun, without shelter; in consequence, my face was scorched pretty severely."
—September 20, 1805.
"I sadly suspect that this plan of numbering my epistles will prove your deficiency, and my attention, in a manner very honorable to myself, and not very much so to my good friends at home. This is my fourth, and not one have I received, nor do I expect one this long time. However, I say not this by way of complaint. Your kindness, when I was at home, proved your affection beyond a doubt; and if I should not receive one letter this year, I should have no right to complain. Yet, though not of right, I may of favor entreat for a few occasional tokens of remembrance. I have as yet scarcely recovered from the inflation and pride your goodness occasioned. The attention I received led me to suppose myself a person of no small consequence; however, a month’s dieting on cold civility and formal politeness will, I hope, reduce me to my former size. In the mean time, I am convinced that my situation here is not so much worse than any other as I imagined."
The following letter describes a scene in a stagecoach. Those who have witnessed the writer’s unequalled command of language, and power to accumulate facts and imagery to give it effect, twill most readily conceive of the overwhelming torrent of satire, which he must have poured forth on the occasion described. Travelers have often brought themselves into a highly mortifying dilemma by allowing free license to their tongues among strangers. It was happy for the hero in this adventure, that he expended his forces upon a legitimate subject of raillery.
— Portland, October 8, 1805.
"My Dearest Father: —In hopes of rescuing you one moment from the crowd of cares and occupations which surround you, I will give you an anecdote of my journey—and if you condescend to smile over it, why, so much the better. When seated in a company of strange faces, I immediately set myself to decipher them, and assign a character and occupation to the owner of each. But in the stage which conveyed us to B——, there was one which completely puzzled me. I could think of no employment that would fit it, except that of a representative, unless it was that of a ——, whose pride, being confined in B——, by the pressure of wealth and talents, had now room to expand itself. A certain kind of consequential gravity and pompous solemnity, together with his dress, might perhaps have impressed us with respect, had not a pair of rough, callous hands, with crooked, dirty nails, lessened their effect. During a pause in the conversation, he presented me with a paper, which, on examination, I found to be one of those quack advertisements, which Mr.—— has honored with his signature. Not suspecting, in the least, that the good gentleman had any concern in the business, and feeling a fine flow of words at hand, I began to entertain my fellow travelers with its numerous beauties of expression, spelling, and grammar. Finding them very attentive, and encouraged by their applause, I next proceeded to utter a most violent philippic against quacks of all denominations, especially those who go about poisoning the ignorant with patent medicines. I could not help observing, however, that my eloquence, while it had a powerful effect on the muscles of the rest of my companions, seemed to be thrown away on this gentleman aforesaid. But concluding that his gravity proceeded from a wish to keep up his dignity, I resolved to conquer it; and commenced a fresh attack, in which, addressing myself entirely to him, I poured forth all the ridicule and abuse which my own imagination could suggest, or memory could supply. But all in vain. The more animated and witty I was, the more doleful he looked, till, having talked myself out of breath, and finding the longitude of his face increase every moment, I desisted, very much mortified that my efforts were so unsuccessful. But, in the midst of my chagrin, the coach stopped, the gentleman alighted, and was welcomed by a little squab wife into a shop decorated with the letters, "Medical Cordial Store." I afterwards learnt he is the greatest quack-medicine seller in B——. Excuse me, my dear father, for this long, dull story. I thought it would be shorter. I feel rather out of tune for embellishing today.
"We a have lately been in a hubbub here about a theatre. After a great deal of dispute, the town voted, to the astonishment of all, that they would not, if they could help it, suffer the establishment of a theatre. One man said, and said publicly, that he considered it as much a duty to carry his children to a play-house, as he did to carry them to meeting, and that they got more good by it. Among the arguments in favor, it was asserted, that, though bad plays were sometimes acted, bad sermons were likewise preached, and that the pulpit ought to be pulled down as much as the theatre. —Adieu, my dear father, and believe me your most affectionate son,
——October 29, 1805.
"I must, my dear mother, give you some account of my comforts. In the first place, I have a very handsome chamber, which commands a delightful view of the harbor, and the town, with the adjacent country. This chamber is sacred; for even the master of the house does not enter it without express invitation. At sunrise, a servant comes and lights up a fire, which soon induces me to rise, and I have nothing to do, but sit down to study. When I come from school at night, I find afire built, jack and slippers ready, a lamp as soon as it is dark, and feel sufficient for the evening. An agreement with a neighboring bookseller furnishes me with books in plenty and variety. The objection to our meals is, they are too good, and consist of too great a variety. And what gives a zest to all, without which it would be insipid, is, that I can look round me, and view all these comforts as the effects of infinite, unmerited goodness; of goodness, the operations of which I can trace through all my past life; of goodness, which I humbly hope and trust will continue to bless me, through all my future existence."
——November 18, 1805
"My Dear Mother, —I last night witnessed a scene, to which I had before been a stranger; it was a deathbed scene. A young gentleman of my acquaintance, and nearly of my own age, had been confined thirty-two days, and I was requested to watch with him; and a more exquisitely distressing task I hope never to undertake. When I went, there was little, if any, hope of his life. His mother—whose favorite he deservedly was—though she is, I believe, a sincere Christian, seemed unable to support the ides of a separation. Fatigue and loss of sleep made her lightheaded; and, at times, she raved almost as badly as the patient. His sister, a gay, thoughtless girl, was in a paroxysm of loud and turbulent grief; while a young lady, whom he was expecting to marry, heightened the distress by marks of anguish too strong to be concealed, and which seemed to flow from tenderness equal to anything I have met with in romance. As I had seen nothing of the kind before, its effects on my feelings were irresistible. The perpetual groans and ravings of the dying—whose head I was for hours obliged to support with one hand, while I wiped off the sweat of death with the other; the inarticulate expressions of anguish, mingled with prayers, of the mother; the loud and bitter lamentations of the sister; the stifled agonies of the young lady, and the cries of the younger branches of the family, (the father was asleep!) formed a combination of sounds which I could scarcely support. Add to this the frightful contortions and apparent agonies of the poor sufferer, with all the symptoms of approaching death. About two o’clock, he died. I then had the no less difficult and painful task of endeavoring to quiet the family. The mother, when convinced he was certainly dead, became composed, and, with much persuasion and some force, was prevailed upon to take her bed, as were the rest of the family, except the young lady.
"I had then to go half a mile for a person to assist in laying out the corpse, in as bitter a storm as ever blew; and, after this was done, watched with it the remainder of the night. You will not wonder if I feel, today, exhausted in body and mind. Surely there is no torture like seeing distress without the ability of removing it. All day have I heard the dying groans sounding in my ears. I could not have believed it possible, that any thing could take such astonishing hold of the mind; and, unless you can remember the first death you ever witnessed, you can never conceive how it affected me. But, distressing as it was, I would not for anything have been absent. I hope it will be of service to me. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth. Grief has a strong tendency to soften the heart, and dispose it to gratitude and other affections. An instance of this I saw in this family. They are so grateful to me for—I don’t know what—that they seem unable to thank me enough."
—— January 25, 1806.
"I had a letter from —— last evening. He is in the West Indies, and has just recovered from a fever. His letter is more friendly than any I have received, but it is not so serious as I wish. You prophesied, when I was at home, that our friendship would not last long; but since it has survived a visit to the Cataract of Niagara, to Saratoga Springs, and a voyage to the West Indies, it is something of a proof that many waters cannot quench, neither floods drown it.
"A classmate, who has commenced preaching, called last week to see me. Speaking of an old tutor of ours, a very pious man, who has lately lost a much loved wife, he mentioned a letter written by him while the bell was tolling for her funeral, in which he says, ‘The bell is now tolling for my wife’s funeral; yet I am happy, happy beyond expression.’ This my classmate considered as a sure proof of a very weak or very insensible mind. It is needless to add, that he is an Arminian. I daily see more occasion to be convinced, that the Calvinistic scheme is, must be right, but I cannot wonder so few embrace it. So long as the reasonings of the head continue to be influenced by the feelings of the heart, the majority will reject it."
——February 9, 1806.
"You need be under no apprehension, my dear mother, that my present mode of living will render the manner of living in the most rustic parish disagreeable. On the contrary, I shall be glad of the exchange, as it respects diet; for I find it no easy matter to sit down to a table profusely spread with dainties, and eat no more than nature requires and temperance allows. And I should take infinitely more satisfaction in the conversation of a plain, unlettered Christian, than in the unmeaning tattle of the drawing room, or the flippant vivacity of professed wits. What gives me most uneasiness, and what I fear will always be a thorn in my path, is, too great a thirst for applause. When I sit down to write, I perpetually catch myself considering, not what will be most useful, but what will be most likely to gain praise from an audience. If I should be unpopular, it would, I fear, give me more uneasiness than it ought; and if—though I think there is little reason to fear it—I should in any degree be acceptable, what a terrible blaze it would make in my bosom!
What a temptation this disposition will be to suppress, or lightly touch upon, those doctrines which are most important, because they are disagreeable to most persons! I should at once give up in despair, had I nothing but my own philosophy to depend on; but I hope and trust I shall be enabled to conquer it.
"If you knew the many things which rendered it unlikely that I should continue here half so long as I have, you would join with me in thinking an overruling Providence very visible in the whole affair. With respect to continuing longer, I do not mean to form a single plan on the subject. If I know anything of my own heart, I can appeal to God as a witness of my earnest desire to be in the situation where he sees best to place me, without any regard to its being agreeable or disagreeable; and he can, and, I doubt not, will, order matters so as to shorten or prolong my stay here as he pleases."
—— January 15, 1806.
"If you, my dear Mother, can pick out the meaning in the last page, I shall be glad; for in truth it is but poorly expressed. You must have observed, that my letters are very obscure; that the transitions from one subject to another are rapid and capricious. The reason of this confusion is, —when I sit down to write, forty ideas jump at once, all equally eager to get out, and jostle and incommode each other at such a rate, that not the most proper, but the strongest, escapes first. My mind would fain pour itself all out, at once, on the paper; but, the pen being rather too small a passage, * * * * * * * * *, So much by way of apology, by which, as is usually the case with apologies, I have only made bad worse."
—April 2, 1806.
"My Dear Mother, —I have just received your last paquet, and am so rejoiced I can hardly sit still enough to write. They were not half long enough to satiate me, and I am more hungry than before. Yesterday, in order to appease my hunger, I read over all the letters I have received this year past, to my great satisfaction. You must not expect method nor legible writing. These qualifications are necessary in a billet of compliments, but in a letter to friends, I despise them. However, if my good friends are fond of them, and prefer them to the rapid effusions of affection that will hardly wait the pen’s motion, I will soon write a letter that shall be as cold and as splendid as an ice-palace. You may usually observe my handwriting is much better at the beginning than at the end of my letters; and this happens because I gather warmth as I write. A letter to a friend, written with exact care, is like—‘Madam, I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you in very good health,’ —addressed to a mother, on meeting her after a year’s absence.
"I did not recollect, that I made use of a billet to enclose my letters. However, I suppose it did just as well. Pray give my love to Phillips, (with the rest of the dear clan,) and tell him, that, instead of being a sign of poverty, it is the surest way to be rich, to save even the cover of a letter; besides, I have papa’s authority for using billets in that way."
These extracts show how he appreciated the relations of son and brother, and how just he was to all the claims which these relations involve. His filial affection is among the loveliest traits in his character, and it never suffered any abatement, so long as he had a parent to love. He continued to appropriate, unasked, and of choice, the excess of his earnings above his expenditures, to the use of his parents, till the whole amount expended for his education had been reimbursed. By word and deed, in the thousand ways which affection suggests, he sought their comfort and happiness.
It was not till the third year of his residence in Portland, that he made his first appearance before a popular assembly. On the 4th of July, 1806, at the request of the municipal authorities of the town, he pronounced the anniversary oration, a performance which secured him unbounded applause, and which he was solicited, with great earnestness, to allow to be published; but no persuasion could induce him to give a copy This production is eminently rich in imagery, and generally in sound political views. He shared, with many wise and good men, serious apprehensions for the result of the experiment making in our own country, whether a free government can be perpetuated. Those who recollect the circumstances of our country at that time, well know that there were many reasons for doubt; and that, in the view of all, an important crisis was approaching, which will account for, if not justify the coloring in the following picture: —
"The vessel of our republic, driven by the gales of faction, and hurried still faster by the secret current of luxury and vice, is following the same course, and fast approaching the same rocks, which have proved fatal to so many before us. Already may we hear the roaring of the surge; already do we begin to circle round the vortex which is soon to engulf us. Yet we see no danger. In vain does experience offer us the wisdom of past ages for our direction: in vain does the genius of history spread her chart, and point out the ruin towards which we are advancing: in vain do the ghosts of departed governments, lingering round the rocks on which they perished, warn us of our approaching fate, and eagerly strive to terrify us from our course. It seems to be an immutable law of our nature, that nations, as well as individuals, shall learn wisdom by no experience but their own. That blind, that accursed infatuation, which ever appears to govern mankind when their most important interests are concerned, leads us, in defiance of reason, experience, and common sense, to flatter ourselves, that the same causes which have proved fatal to all other governments, will lose their pernicious tendency when exerted on our own."
Alluding to the reigning policy of our government in relation to commerce, and to a navy as a means of national defense, and classing among its effects the blockade of our ports, the detention of our vessels, and the plundering of our property by every petty freebooter, he thus states the argument by which it had been defended: —
"As some consolation under these accumulated evils, we, have lately been told, that the United States are a land animal—an elephant, who is resistless on land, but has nothing to do with the dominion or navigation of the sea. Grant that they are so: yet if this elephant can neither cool his burning heat, nor quench his thirst, without losing his proboscis by the jaws of the shark or the tusks of the alligator, what does it avail him, that he is allowed to graze his native plains in safety?"
Some of his paragraphs are as significant as they are glowing: —
"That virtue, both in those who command and those who obey, is absolutely essential to the existence of republics, is a maxim, and a most important one, in political science. Whether we retain a sufficient share of this virtue to promise ourselves a long duration, you, my friends, must decide. But, should the period ever arrive, when luxury and intemperance shall corrupt our towns, while ignorance and vice pervade the country; when the press shall become the common sewer of falsehood and slander; when talents and integrity shall be no recommendation, and open dereliction of all principle no obstacle to preferment; when we shall entrust our liberties to men with whom we should not dare to trust our property; when the chief seats of honor and responsibility in our government shall be filled by characters of whom the most malicious ingenuity can invent nothing worse than the truth; when we shall see the members of our national councils, in defiance of the laws of God and their country, throwing away their lives in defense of reputations, which, if they ever existed, had long been lost; when the slanderers of Washington and the blasphemers of our God shall be thought useful laborers in our political vineyard; when, in fine, we shall see our legislators sacrificing their senses, their reason, their oaths, and their consciences at the altar of party; then we may say, that virtue has departed, and that the end of our liberty draweth nigh."
After drawing a most striking and vivid contrast between the circumstances and prospects of the country as they existed at the time, and as they had been at a former period, he proceeds: —
"The imperfect sketch of our situation, which has just been given, is not drawn for the sake of indulging in idle complaints or querulous declamation; and still less is it intended to lead to a conclusion, that our case is desperate. But it is intended, if there be yet remaining one spark of that spirit, one drop of that blood, which animated and warmed the breasts of our fathers, to rouse it to vigorous and energetic exertions. It is to the want of such exertions, that we must ascribe the rapid and alarming spread of disorganizing and demoralizing principles among us; and we can, in fact, blame none but ourselves for the evils we suffer. Had we paid half that attention to the interests of our country and the preservation of liberty, that we have to the calls of indulgence, of pleasure, of avarice, never should we have seen the sun of American glory thus shorn of his beams, and apparently about to set forever. It is true, indeed, that, when aroused by some particularly interesting object, we have started from our slumbers, and seen the fiendlike form of faction sink beneath our efforts. But no sooner was the object of our exertions accomplished, than we returned to our couches, and while we were exulting in our strength, and rejoicing in our victory, suffered our indefatigable foe to regain all she had lost. It is not sudden and transient efforts, however vigorous and well-directed, that can preserve any state from destruction. There is, in all popular governments, a national tendency to degenerate, as there is in matter to fall; and nothing can counteract this tendency, and the continual endeavor of unprincipled men to increase it, but the most energetic and persevering exertions. On no easier terms can the blessings of freedom be enjoyed; and if we think this price too great, it evinces that we are neither worthy nor capable of enjoying them.
"This inexcusable neglect, so fatal to our liberties, and so disgraceful to ourselves, is occasioned, in some measure, by the indulgence of hopes not less dangerous than they are groundless and delusive. We are told, that the torrent of licentiousness, which is rushing in upon us, is not a just cause for alarm; that it will cease of itself, when it has run its career; and that the people, having learned wisdom by experience, will know how to prize the blessings of order, and return with alacrity to their former correct habits. True, it will cease when it has run its career; and so will the conflagration that destroys your dwelling; but will you, therefore, use no endeavors to extinguish it? Beware of indulging any hopes, but those which are founded on exertions. The torrent which approaches it is the overwhelming deluge of Vesuvius or Ætna, which calcines (to heat to a high temperature but below the melting point) or consumes what it cannot remove, leaves nothing behind it but a black sterility, and renders ages insufficient to repair the havoc of a day.
Away then, with those idle hopes and frivolous excuses, which defraud us of the only moments in which our safety can be secured. Away with that indolence, so unworthy, so inconsistent with the character of freemen. This is the very crisis of our fate. We stand on the extremist verge of safety; a single step may plunge us headlong, never to rise. The immense wheel of revolution may be put in motion by a fly; though it would require more than mortal power to arrest its progress. Those who attempt to check its career must fall the first victims to its ponderous weight; while those only who urge it forward, and rejoice in the horrid devastation it occasions, can be safe. But let us not, therefore, give way to despair. The same maxim, that bids us never presume, teaches us likewise never to despair. By neglecting the first of these precepts, we have begun our ruin; let us not complete it by neglecting the last. Let us endeavor to open those eyes whose sight is not totally extinguished by the virulence of the disease. The bright rays of truth and reason, condensed and reflected from a polished mind, may penetrate even the shades and mists of prejudice. Remember, that, when good is to be promoted, or evil opposed, it is the duty of every individual to conduct as if the whole success of the enterprise depended on himself. Remember, too, that there is no individual so insignificant, that he cannot afford some assistance in the struggle for liberty and order.
"But let us be careful, my friends, to engage in this struggle, in a manner, and with arms, worthy of the cause we profess to support. Why should we disgrace that and ourselves, by contending for the most important interests of our country in language fit only for a tenant of Bilingsgate, disputing about the property of a shrimp or an oyster? Why should we quit the high ground of reason and argument, on which we stand, to wrestle with our antagonists in the kennel of scurrility and abuse? Why should we exchange weapons, with which we are certain of victory, for those which our adversaries can wield with equal, and perhaps superior dexterity?
"It ought never to be forgotten, that, except in some few instances, where they are inseparable even in idea, it is not men, but principles, we are to attack. Experience has at length, in some measure, taught us, what we ought long since to have learned from reason, that, though ridicule can irritate, it cannot convince. On the contrary, it rouses to opposition some of the strongest passions in the human breast; and he must be something different from man, who can be scourged out of any opinion by the lash of personal satire.
"But all our exertions, however animated by zeal, nerved by energy, and guided by prudence, will be insufficient to restore us to the height from which we have fallen, unless we restore those moral and religious principles, which were formerly our glory, our ornament, and defense. Would you know, my friends, the real source of the calamities we suffer, and the dangers we fear? It is here; we have forsaken the God of our fathers, and therefore all this evil has come upon us. We once gloried in styling ourselves his American Israel; and a similarity of character and situation gives us a claim to the title. Like them, we have often been delivered by his uplifted hand and his outstretched arm; like them we have experienced his munificence in temporal and spiritual blessings; and, like them, we have repaid his goodness with ingratitude and rebellion. Like them, we have bowed down to the idols of luxury, of ambition, of pleasure and avarice; and as we have copied their idolatry, so, unless Heaven, in undeserved mercy, prevent, we shall soon resemble them in their destruction. It is an immutable truth, that sill is the ruin of any people; and woe to that nation who will not believe it without making the experiment. This experiment, fatal as it must prove, we seem resolved to make. Among us God’s laws are disobeyed, his institutions are despised, his Sabbaths are profaned, and his name is blasphemed. And shall he not visit for these things? Will he not be avenged on such a nation as this?"
"Will any reply, with a sneer, that these observations have been often repeated, and that they have now become trite and old? They are so; and though this were the ten thousandth repetition, still, if we have not yet reduced them to practice, it is necessary to hear them again and again. Remember, that it is in vain to boast of our patriotism, and make high pretensions to love for our country, while, by our private vices, we are adding to the national debt of iniquity under which she groans, and which must soon plunge her in the gulf of irretrievable ruin. Hear, and remember—that if, in defiance of reason, gratitude, and religion, we still madly persist to follow that path in which we have already made such rapid advances, and to imitate the vices of those nations who have gone before us, as certain as there is a God in heaven, so certainly we shall share their fate.
"If, then, you would display true love for your country, and lengthen out the span of her existence, endeavor by precept, but especially by example, to inculcate the principles of order, morality, and religion. Exert your influence to check the progress of luxury, that first, second, and third cause of the ruin of republics; that vampire, which soothes us into a fatal slumber, while it sucks the life-blood from our veins. Above all, be attentive to the morals of the rising generation, and do not, by neglect and indulgence, nourish the native seeds of vice and faction in their hearts. Let not these counsels be despised, because they are the words of youth and inexperience. When your habitation is in flames, a child may give the alarm, as well as a philosopher."
The extracts from this oration have been the more copious, as it is the only considerable production of Dr. Payson, that survives him, whose object was not professedly religious; and because this performance is thought to have had influence in fixing his ultimate destination. This was the commencement of his career, as a public speaker, and probably the only occasion on which he addressed a popular assembly, till he stood forth as the ambassador of Christ. In selecting the passages to be preserved, regard was had not so much to originality nor to brilliancy of imagery, as to the permanent value of the sentiments, and their suitableness to the design of this work.