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nel, but these again bear striking evidence of an Oriental origin. The mythology of Greece, is unquestionably Oriental; and the Romans derived theirs from the Greeks. Hence many of our superstitions, nursery tales, &c. may have descended to us by various streams-originally, along with our Celtic or Gothic ancestry, and subsequently by the route of more modern conquestmost, however, unequivocally exhibiting the like Oriental parentage.
Lastly, the wide extent of superstition amongst us--superstition too, in many cases, of the most idolatrous character, affords a humiliating subject of reflection; and it is a striking proof of the tyrannical influence of custom on the mind, that many, who have no faith in these observances, could not feel comfortable, were they to neglect them. We recollect a Naval officer, high in rank, smiling at the superstitions of the profession, and especially at the almost universal belief, that whistling on deck is capable of raising the wind, yet declaring, in the same breath, that he should not feel at ease, were any one on deck to whistle in tempestuous weather--a better instance we could not give of the power of superstition :
“ Tis a history
ART. VII. - The Life of Elbridge Gerry, with contemporary
Letters, to the Close of the American Revolution. By JAMES
In reviewing the “Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence," in our second number, we intended to specify the principal merits of each of those fortunate patriots; but, from some casualty, the name of Elbridge Gerry was alone omitted, in the execution of our purpose. As every American who has examined the revolutionary annals of his country, must entertain a deep respect and gratitude for the part which Gerry took in promoting the cause of independence, we were anxious, after the omission was reinarked, to repair it at the first opportunity; and we therefore awaited with particular interest, the Life which has at length been issued by one of his near relatives. In opening the volume, however, we sufiered a disappointment that will be common to all who expected a complete biographical sketch. It is labelled The Life of Gerry, and carries the same promise in the title-page ; but the inquirer at once discovers, from the table of contents and the preface, that his career is traced only down to the end of the Revolution.
Mr. Austin states the considerations, by which he was induced to stop short, or pause, at the middle of his enterprise. They do not strike us, we must confess, as sufficient. The present generation of Americans are more familiar with the annals of the Revolution, than with the public history of the interval between that era, and the death of Mr. Gerry ;-and it is the authentic development of his conduct and character, in connexion with the party-disputes, which would be almost universally deemed most important and curious, and have specially recommended the whole subject of his life to the attention or study of the present age. Just in proportion as he was held a party-leader, and defamed and misunderstood in that respect, was it material,—if his proceedings and dispositions could be vindicated, or set in a favourable light—to exhibit his entire course at once, leaving no scope for the suspicion, that some fear or mysterious reluctance was felt about showing more than the revolutionary man. As the biography now rests, an inveterate federalist of the old school, might suggest the image of Horace's mermaid, and hint that it was well not to uncover the lower extremities. For ourselves, we shall candidly say, that, in the number of leaders or prominent personages in the momentous party contests of the interval mentioned above, Mr. Gerry is almost the only one, of whose merits or demerits we have not been able to form a positive opinion: and we lament still more the continuance of this difficulty, since we have read this narrative of the anterior portion of his existence; for it certainly has inspired us with a high idea of his revolutionary spirit and services, and does prove, as his biographer suggests, “the validity of his title to those large honours which his country bestowed upon him.” However, a hope is left, that the residue of the life will be given from the same sources, as, in the Preface, it is said to be in progress, though no positive promise of its publication be made.
ELBRIDGE GERRY was born at Marblehead, in the state of Massachusetts, on the 17th of July 1744. His father was a reputable merchant, who gave the son a liberal education in the common schools and at Harvard College; and at first destined him to the profession of medicine, but finally engaged him in his own pursuits of trade. Elbridge was in every respect successful as a merchant; while his superior education, his active talents, and his unexceptionable conduct, rendered him important and popular with the honest, acute, and intrepid fishermen of Marblehead. In the controversy between Great Britain and the colonies, they took an early, patriotic interest; and elected him, in 1772, their representative in the general court, or legislature,
of Massachusetts. From this period, he continued to be a public and a leading man, almost without intermission. His spirit resembled and sustained that of his townsmen; and it was nourished by close communion with the Adamses, the Hancocks, and the Warrens. When together, at Boston, these master-patriots concerted with him, in their private meetings, resistance to the tyrannical projects of the mother country, and pursued it jointly in the exercise of their public duty; and, when separated, even at a short distance, they constantly wrote to each other, with the same temper and object. A part of this
correspondence, of the year 1772, is quoted by Mr. Austin. Gerry appears to much advantage in it, as a resolute, long-sighted, indefatigable adviser. In 1773, he was re-elected a member of the General Court, where, though one of the youngest of the assembly, he was placed on the most important committees of correspondence, and distinguished himself in the principal debates. Several of his letters of the year 1774, are introduced into the Life, which denote equal determination and sagacity. He said in one, what, we trust, will be fully verified—“The special resentment of an arbitrary ministry, will prove for the metropolis a diadem of honour, and render the name of Boston respected and revered to the latest posterity.” He could not fail to be a member of the famous Convention at Concord, a provincial congress of Massachusetts, which at once virtually destroyed the royal authority in that province, and set, to all the others, an unequivocal example of revolt. Mr. Austin argues, that the earlier organization of the first Continental Congress, which met on the fourth of the preceding month, cannot be considered as having anticipated the designs or credit of the Concord convention. Gerry was a substantive member of the Committees of Appeal and Safety : when the British commander threatened Marblehead, he entered into the militia; and, on the night immediately preceding the Battle of Lexington, he narrowly escaped capture, as one of a “rebel” committee of the Provincial Congress. After the sword was drawn, he was placed at the head of a committee charged with the endeavour to obtain necessary supplies for waging the contest. His biographer states, that, “ besides his own personal exertions, which were unremitting and indefatigable, he did not hesitate, in many cases, to advance his own funds, where immediate payment was required, and to incur responsibilities on his own credit, which the province was then unable to redeem, and which, in fact, occasioned him, in the end, heavy pecuniary loss."
The letters which passed between Gerry and the Massachusetts members of the Continental Congress, in the year 1775, form, chiefly, the seventh chapter of this book, and possess peculiar interest. In one of June 4th, he observed to them "I should VOL. III.--NO. 6.
“he lets in Yule.” The door being opened, it is customary with some to place a table or chair in the door way, covering it with a clean cloth ; and, according to their own language, to “set on it bread and cheese to Yule." Early in the morning, as soon as any one of the family gets out of bed, a new besom is set behind the outer door—the design being “to let in Yule,”-superstitions which are clearly of heathen origin-Yule being not only personified but treated as a Deity, and receiving an offering. It is also common to have a table covered in the house from morning until evening, with bread and drink upon it, that every one who calls may take a portion, and it is deemed especially ominous, if any one comes into a house and leaves it without participation. Whatever number of persons may call on this day, all must partake of the good cheer. A similar superstition prevails on this subject in the north of England; but on New Year's day,—it is that of the first foot—the name applied to the person who first enters a house in the New Year; this is regarded by the superstitious and credulous as influencing the fate of the family, especially of the fair portion of it, for the remainder of the year. “To exclude all suspected or unlucky persons, it is customary for one of the damisels to engage beforehand some favoured youth, who, elated with so signal a mark of female distinction, gladly comes early in the morning, and never empty handed.” (Brockett
, p. 72.) The following ridiculous rite, similar to one we have referred to, under the first of January, also holds in Scotland. Any servant who is supposed to have a due regard to the interests of the family, and is not at the same time emancipated from the yoke of superstition, is careful to go early to the well, on Christmas morning, to draw water, pull corn out of the stack, and also to bring kale from the kitchen garden. This is meant to insure prosperity to the family,
On this day too, as well as on New Year's day, Handsel Monday, (the first Monday of the New Year, when it is customary, especially in the north of England, to make children and ser. vants a present as a Handsel) and Rood day, superstitious people in Scotland, will not allow a coal to be carried out of their own houses to that of a neighbour, lest it should be employed for the purposes of witchcraft; and the ancient Romans had a similar superstition.
The custom of saluting the apple trees at Christmas, with a view to their produce another year, yet exists in the west of England. In some places, the parishioners walk in procession, visiting the principal orchards in the parish. In each orchard one tree is selected as the representative of the rest ; this is saluted with a certain form of words, having in them the air of incantation. They then either sprinkle the tree with cyder, or dash a bowl of cyder against it, to ensure its bearing plentifully the en
One of the most remarkable of the events at Christmas, is its feasting. “ The plum puddings, minced pies, and a thousand made dishes of exquisite sorts, such as people in common have but once a year, used to be, and still are, in some places, brought on the jovial board of hospitality. The Christmas dinner usually took place after mass and before vespers; and afterwards in the evening the wassail bowl. * Christmas Carols and merry songs, with various pastimes, jokes, Christmas games, and drolleries, made up the evening's entertainment, which was heightened by the merry ringing of the bells, and the mixture of music played both in the streets and the houses.” (Forster, p. 732.)
We have already remarked that Yule was celebrated as a feast by the ancient Goths. It was also customary, especially in Sweden, for different families to meet together in one village, and to bring meat and drink with them, for the celebration of the feast; the same custom was observed when there was a general concourse to the place where one of their temples stood;
and this was probably the origin of the custom, still maintained among us, of relations and friends feasting at each other's houses at this time. The festivities of Christmas have, however, passed their zenith; year after year witnesseth their decadency, and the being of the present day can form but an imperfect idea of the substantial entertainments of his ancestors, when, amongst other things,
“ They served up salmon, venison and wild boars
By hundreds, and by dozens and by scores :
For porter, punch and negus were not known.” The Gifts now generally conferred at the New Year, seem originally to have belonged to Christmas. In London, and in many other parts of England and of Europe, the custom of giving Christmas Boxes or Presents, although on the decline, is still a serious tax on large families and establishments. In some places,
* Our custom of drinking healths, and the Wassail bowl, appear to have originated, immediately, in the Introduction of the British Monarch Vortigern to Rowena-the beautiful blue-eyed daughter, or, according to other writers, Niece of the Saxon Hengist. She kneeled down, and, presenting to the king a cup of spiced wine, said, “Lord King, waes heil, health to you : to which Vortigern, instructed by his interpreter, replied, drinc heil, I drink your health, and then, as Robert of Gloucester says,
“ Kuste hire and sitte hire adoune and glad dronk hire heil,
And that was tho’ in this land the verst was-hail.” Was hail afterwards, not unnaturally, became the name of the drinking cups of the Anglo-Saxons. VOL. III.-NO. 6.