« PreviousContinue »
This division of man reminds us of that of the Mississippi navigator who affirmed himself to be “all alligator but his head, which was of aqua-fortis."
The town of Windham is distinguished by the following singular occurreuce. The author's account of the evening concerts is exceedingly alarming. Aristophanes' chorus of frogs was nothing to them; neither do we ever remember to have seen or heard any thing that would bear a comparison, except in Hogarth's inimitable picture of the Enraged Musician, where, if the beholder's imagination is tolerably active, he may realize something of the kind.
“Strangers," says our author, “ are very much terrified at the hideous noise made on a summer evening by vast numbers of frogs in the brooks and ponds adjacent. There are about thirty different voices among them, some of which resemble the bellowing of a bull. The owls and whip-poor-wills complete the rough concert, which may be heard several miles off.” “One night in July, 1758, the frogs of an artificial pond about three miles square, and about five miles from Windham, finding the water dried up, left the place in a body and marched, or rather hopped, towards Mindomantic river. They were under the necessity of going through the town, which they entered about midnight. The bull frogs were the leaders, and the pipers followed without number. They filled a road forty yards wide for four miles in length, and were for several hours passing through the town unusually clamorous. The inhabitants were equally perplexed and frightened. Some expected to find an army of French and Indians, others feared an earthquake or dissolution of nature. male and female, fled hastily from their beds with worse shriekings than those of the frogs. The men, after a flight of half a mile, in which they met with many broken shins, finding no enemies in pursuit of them, made a halt, and summoned resolution enough to return back to their wives and children, when they distinctly heard from the enemy's camp these words, Wight, Helderkin, Dier, Tété. This last they thought meant treaty, and plucking up courage, they sent a triumvirate to capitulate with the supposed French and Indians. These three men approached and begged to speak with the general; but it being dark, and no answer given, they were sorely agitated for some time betwixt hope and fear,
Old and young, At length, however, it was found that the dread inimical army was only an army of thirsty frogs going to the river for a little water. Such an incursion," continues the historian, “was never heard of before or since; and yet the people of Windham have been ridiculed for their timidity on this occasion. I verily believe an army under the Duke of Marlborough, would, under the like circumstances, have acted no better than they did.”
We fully agree with the author, and think, moreover, that the people of Windham deserve great credit, particularly the intrepid three who went to conclude the treaty. If the conjecture were admissible, we should be inclined to suppose that these frogs, particularly those who bellowed like bulls, were of the breed of Seriphus, so celebrated by Ælian and others for making a prodigious noise whenever they went abroad.
This remarkable story of the frogs has often been brought forward as a proof of our author's singular credulity, or rather of his propensity to exaggerate. Yet it is not without a parallel. Justin relates that the inhabitants of Abdera were once driven out of their country by an incursion of this kind. The people, like those of Windham, were horribly frightened at first; but on discovering their assailants in the morning, they, one and all, fell into a fit of laughing which lasted several days, and, it is said, gradually extended to the extreme borders of Greece, where it spent its force against Mount Ossa in Thessaly. One of these Abderites was Democritus, who never' recovered his gravity, but continued laughing on to the end of his life, whereby he attained to great distinction, and was called the laughing philosopher.
A particular description is given in this work of the town of New Haven, which he considers, with great justice, one of the most beautiful places in the United States. “ It is also celebrated,” says he, "for having given the name of Pumpkin Heads to all the New-Englanders. It originated in the blue laws, which enjoin every male to have his hair cut round by a cap. When caps were not to be had, they substituted the hard shell of a pumpkin, which being put on the head every Saturday, the hair is cut by the shell all round the head. Whatever virtue may be supposed to be derived from this custom I know not; but there is much prudence in it. First, it prevents the hair from snarling; secondly, it saves the use of combs, bags, and ribands; thirdly, the hair cannot in
commode the eyes by falling over them; and, fourthly, such persons as have lost their eyes for heresy, and other wickednesses, cannot conceal their misfortune and disgrace.”
We intended to have extracted a very curious account of a Panwaw held near Litchfield, wherein Mr. Visey, a learned man from New-York, distinguished bimself by disconfiting a vast number of the Indian devils; a victory particularly honourable to NewYork, because some of the ablest exorcisers of the eastern states had failed in the same attempt. It was also our intention to treat our readers to the story of the ship seen in the air at NewHaven, and several other curious particulars. But our limits will now only permit us to make a few general observations with respect to the degree of credit which ought to be given to the work under consideration.
That the History of Connecticut contains many things that may startle the timid bashfulness of modern skeptics, we are perfectly aware, but we at the same time aver, that not one of these equals the thousand marvellous stories of Herodotus, Livy, Pliny, and an infinite number, we may say all, the ancient historians of any sort of reputation with the moderns. People who believe the stories which Herodotus fathers upon the Egyptian priests ; the account of the Nasamonians which he gives with such gravity; the match at dice between Rhampsinitus and Ceres in the shades; the exploit of Arion of Methymna; or the notable experiment by which the Egyptian king ascertained which was the most ancient nation in the world—all related by the father of history-we had almost said the father of lies-need not affect to doubt the modest relations of our author. When the Roman historians tell us of the ox that cried out in the market of Rome, “Rome take care of thyself;" of the dog that spoke when Tarquin was driven from the throne-of the rook that on seeing the assassination of Domitian exclaimed “well done;" and of the infinite number of miracles and prodigies achieved by the gods in favour of Rome, we believe them because they happened at such a distance, and so long ago, that there is nothing to contradict them
xcept their impossibility. The better sort of readers, indeed, incline to doubt this part of their history, but make atonement by believing all the rest, and we only claim for our author the like VOL. IV. Nen Series.
favour. Credulity is not so bad as unbelief, and the historian who relates only what he believes to be true, is much to be preferred to one who fetters the imagination with perpetual doubts, and leaves the reader adrift on the ocean of uncertainty, or, as they politely express it, “ to draw his own conclusions.”
Thus the early historians of every country are always most valuable, because they are a class of people who seldom doubt any thing, and are never deterred from setting down any exploit to the credit of their countrymen, on the score of its impossibility. It is of little consequence how much they deal in the marvellous; so long as their stories. tell to the credit of their native couptry, they will always find a good number of believers. But wo to him who relates any thing to its disadvantage without disguising a good part of the truth. His history will be called the lying history to a certainty. It is not a little remarkable that almost all the ancient histories now extant are full of the marvellous, and were probably preserved by the monks on account of their great resemblance to the romances which were so fashionable in the darker ages of literature, rather than from any intrinsic superiority over cotemporary works. Probability soon dies, but the wonderful and the incomprehensible, like the mighty turtle of eastern mythology, survives even the dissolution of nature, and triumphs over the wreck of worlds.
All the early historians of other countries abound in these immortal incongruities; and if they are believed, it would be a singular exception to refuse the same indulgence to our author. It is very true that distance of time, like distance of space, allows the imagination full room to expatiate in boundless luxuriancy, and gives free scope tothe airy and fantastic gambols of credulity. Things related to have happened but yesterday, and within a short distance, are subject to the test of inquiry, and may be proved or disproved; but of events beyond the sphere of examination, we can only judge by what we conceive to be the limits of possibility. How many things are thought to have been possible in the early ages of the world that are not so now, either because the limits of human power, or the bounds of human credulity have been circumscribed ? Convinced of this, the later historians are content to record only such events as come within the limits of our present capacity of
belief, and are one and all lamentably deficient in the marvellous, relating only such things as might have happened anywhere, and every day, without making any great figure in the almanac or parish register. This is it that makes many of them so dull that very few people, except those who want to be put to sleep in an easy way, will read them. This, too, is the case with our historians, with the exception of the author of the History of Connecticut, who has laudably endeavoured to give our early annals an air of romance which will render them peculiarly attractive. While other nations number among their progenitors heroes, monsters, demi-gods, and most illustrious robbers; and pretend to exploits that could only have been performed by the assistance of Beelzebub; we, when we grow old, and want to boast of our ancestors, will have nothing to show but a band of pious pilgrims who sought the interminable forests of the new world, not in the glorious hope of plunder or of conquest-not in search of a more mellow clime or fertile soil—not for the purpose of ransacking the maternal bosoin of the earth for hidden gold--but for the liberty of worshipping their maker in the manner they thought best.
When, in after times, we are called upon to vie with the nations of the old world in splendour of descent, or in traditional renown, how will we shrink from the contrast between the peaceful pilgrim whose shield was his trust in Providence, whose sword the word of truth-and the prowling robber, or marauding pirate, who, smitten with the smiling aspect of some devoted land, poured in his hungry followers sword in hand, exterminated the ancient possessors, founded a new nation, and when he died, from a monster became a god! How will we then repine that we did not stimulate the inventive genius of our author to the production of some great work that might have vied in wonders and monstrous exploits with the most renowned of the early historians! As it is, our history is likely to become a mere hum-drum, true history, not like that of Lucian, abounding with strange people living on the scent of frogs roasted on the coals—who, we suppose, were the ancestors of the French-or with others having each a goodly cabbage growing out behind, who were doubtless the forefathers of the valiant sour-krout eaters of Germany-but a mere matter of fact chronicle, abounding in no other romance but that of real