« PreviousContinue »
WHOEVER expects to find much that is new in the following biographical notice of Captain Smith, will probably be disappointed. My aim has been to give a lucid and simple narrative of the events in the life of one of the most remarkable men, “that ever lived in the tide of times; with the use of materials contained in works, which are familiar to those who have studied the early history of this country. My task has been the humble one of arranging, selecting from, condensing, and transposing these ample though confused materials, so as to form such a narrative as would recommend itself to the popular taste.
Captain Smith's own writings, which have furnished me with nearly all my facts, are not easily accessible to the public at large, and would not be generally read if they were. Their obsolete diction and uncouth spelling would repel any but a professed antiquary. I have endeavored to translate them into a modern style, and to give them a modern garb, though I have permitted
Captain Smith to speak for himself on many
I have written a Life of Captain Smith, and not a History of the World, or of any considerable portion of it, while he lived in it. Such collateral and contemporaneous facts only have been mentioned, as are necessary to illustrate and elucidate portions of his own biography. It is true, I have given a succinct history of the colony of Virginia, during the two years in which Captain Smith was there; but the reason is, that, from his character and station, such a history is identical with his own life.
In addition to his writings, I have derived assistance from Grahame's "History of the United States," and Stith's accurate and faithful" History of Virginia." I have also been aided by Belknap's well-written Life of Smith, a work of great merit, like every thing which came from his pen, and which, had it been more ample, would have left no room for me or any succeeding writer. I have moreover enjoyed the advantage of an original document, which is of a nature to demand a somewhat extended notice. It is a manuscript Life of Smith, in Latin, the original of which is deposited in the Lambeth Library. By the kindness of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a copy has been obtained for the purpose of being used in compiling the present Memoir. It was writ
ten by Henry Wharton, an English clergyman of extraordinary talents and acquisitions, who belonged to the melancholy catalogue of lights too early quenched for their own fame and the interests of literature. He was born November 9th, 1664, at Worstead in Norfolk County, was graduated at the University of Cambridge, and admitted to the order of deacon in 1687. His literary industry was wonderful. He wrote, translated, and edited a variety of works, principally on ecclesiastical antiquities and religious controversies, many of them against the Popish religion. He was warmly patronized by Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, who appointed him one of his chaplains. Many of his works are still in manuscript in the Lambeth Library, having been purchased by Archbishop Tenison. He died at the age of thirty, a victim to immoderate application. Considering the age at which he died, the vast amount of his labors, and the extent of his acquisitions, Henry Wharton may be justly esteemed a prodigy.*
The Life of Smith from his pen is more valuable as a literary curiosity, than as a historical document. It was written in 1685, and is a
* For a full and interesting account of the life and labors of Wharton, see Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary.
compilation from the original sources, to which we now have access, and of course contains not many new or important facts. The greater part of it is devoted to Captain Smith's adventures before going to Virginia; afterwards it is meagre and cursory; and it extends no farther than to his return to England from Jamestown, Its style is not scrupulously classical. Words now and then appear, which would have made "Quinctilian stare and gasp;" but it is full of spirit and vivacity, and the numerous learned and happy allusions in it show the great extent and variety of the author's resources. The name of Smith he latinizes into "Fabricius"; Opechancanough he calls "Opecancanius"; Powhatan, "Poviatanus "; Pocahontas," Pocaunta "; the Chickahominies, "Cicaminæi." He professes the greatest admiration for his hero, whom he declares to be every way equal to the most renowned heroes of antiquity, and that he would obtain the same amount of fame, if he could meet with a Plutarch, who would record his exploits in a style worthy of them. From the character of its author, and the nature of its subject, this manuscript is a curious and valuable record, and it is fortunate that there is a copy of it on this side of the Atlantic.
GEORGE S. HILLARD.