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His defects are the common faults of biographers. He ascribes too much to the character and services of his hero, and too little to other men; he is a partisan ; he assigns to Adams's prolific pen some important documents on insufficient evidence; and he is inclined to dwell too long on trivial details. But, with the abatement implied in these remarks, his volumes merit high praise, and will doubtless hold a permanent place in our historical literature.
The story of Adams's life, so far as it is necessary for our present purpose, may be told in few words. He was born in Boston on the 16th of September, 1722, old style; was educated for the ministry at Harvard College, and graduated at the age of eighteen; studied law for a short time; entered the counting-room of his father, who was a brewer; afterward carried on business unsuccessfully on his own account; became a zealous politician, a leader in the town-meetings, and a frequent writer for the newspapers ; at the age of forty-three, was chosen a member of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts ; served at the same time as clerk of that body and as a member of many of its most important committees, beside taking a prominent part in the debates; wrote a large part of the State Papers of that period; in 1774, was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress; at the age of fifty-nine, resigned his seat, and withdrew from public life; in 1788, was a member of the Massachusetts Convention called to ratify the Federal Constitution; at the age of seventy-two, was chosen Governor of the Commonwealth, which office he held for three years; died, in Boston, on the 2d of October, 1803; and, after some political wrangling over his lifeless form, was buried with military honors in the Granary Burying-ground, where his remains still rest.
With the exception of Franklin, no one of the popular leaders in the struggle for American independence has been so harshly judged by English writers as Adams. Relying on the authority of Hutchinson, whose personal ill-will gave increased venom to his political animosity, they have not hesitated to describe him as a defaulter and as a demagogue, -the American counterpart of John Wilkes. Such is the portrait drawn by so candid and judicious a writer as Lord Stanhope; and a like unfavorable judgment of his character is expressed by a later and even more liberal historian, Mr. Massey. That Adams had little or no business capacity, and that he was careless or remiss in the office of collector of the town taxes, does not admit of doubt; but there is not a particle of evidence that he derived any pecuniary advantage from his neglect or his inability to enforce payment, and the presumption is entirely in the other direction. That he was something of a demagogue is, we are inclined to think, true. No man ever swayed a Boston town-meeting as he did, and no man ever exerted such an autocratic influence over the common people of the town. While he appealed to their reason, and showed the justice of the cause which he advocated, he took care also to address their prejudices, and went to the extreme point in his opinions and in the measures which he advocated. Before the Colonies were educated up to the demand for an independent national existence, it was necessary, perhaps, for Adams to keep far in advance of his contemporaries, and to draw them after him; but, when independence was achieved, and the question was of the formation of a strong national government under the Federal Constitution, his views were of dangerous tendency, and his lukewarm support of that great charter of our liberties was perilous to his usefulness and his popularity.
He has been called “ the Father of the American Revolution," and the justness of his claim to this pre.eminent distinction must be unhesitatingly conceded. With the exception of James Bowdoin, he was the oldest of the popular leaders in Massachusetts. He was twentyone years older than the younger Quincy, - clarum et venerabile nomen ; nineteen years older than Warren; fifteen years older than Hancock; fourteen years older than the patriot mechanic, Paul Revere; thirteen years older than his illustrious kinsman, John Adams; and three
years older than Otis, Thomas Cushing, and Samuel Cooper: and these and many others were content to sit at his feet to learn the lessons of popular rights. It is in Mr. Frothingham's excellent“ Life of Joseph Warren," and in other works, as well as in the pages of Mr. Wells, that we learn in how large a degree Samuel Adams was our foremost man in the eventful years which preceded the Declaration of American Independence. Through the press with untiring activity, in the town-meeting with persuasive words and the enthusiasm which comes only from thorough and settled conviction, in the social circle and the caucus, and by his unyielding firmness in the House of Representatives, he labored at all times and under all circumstances to keep the great body of the people up to the continued assertion of their just rights, to the formation of a more perfect union of all the Colonies, and at length to the assertion and the maintenance of their freedom from foreign control. To him, on the explicit testimony of the most eloquent advocate of independence, John Adams, and on a careful survey of all the known facts in the case, we must ascribe that education of the popular mind and the popular will which after a long and uncertain conflict brought about the separation of the Colonies from the mother country. It would be idle to deny that Faneuil Hall was the cradle of American liberty: it would be equally idle to deny that in Faneuil Hall Samuel Adams was the master spirit, or that in the first two or three years of his Congressional career, before his immense local influence and popularity had begun to wane, he exerted a marked control over the acts and opinions of many of his associates.
With the Declaration of American Independence his work was substantially ended ; and, when he left Congress, in 1781, his retirement from public life was not sensibly felt. His genius was essentially aggressive and destructive; and he had none of that magnificent organizing and administrative capacity which so largely helped to make Hamilton one of the two greatest men in all American history. Added to this, he was supposed — whether rightly or wrongly is perhaps uncertain — to have taken part in the cabals against Washington, and to have opposed some needed reforms in the management of our military affairs. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say, that it would have been better for Adams's reputation, if he had died when he had affixed his clear and firm signature to the Declaration; for in that act his political life culminated. After that act was accomplished, he grew in neither fame, popularity, nor influence; and, even if we admit that he did nothing to diminish his just claim to our veneration, he certainly added nothing to it in the last quarter of a century of his life. If he had died at the age of fifty-four, historians and biographers might have speculated about what Adams would have written, said, or done, if he had lived; but which living he did not even attempt. As a candidate for office, he was frequently beaten by Hancock, Fisher Ames, and others, who were more in sympathy with the new order of things ; and he lost much of that local popularity which he had so long and so largely enjoyed.
As a public speaker, Adams had, we suppose, few of the graces of oratory, though he was the most effective speaker that ever addressed a popular assembly in Boston. His voice and hand were both tremulous from organic disease; but his figure was tall and commanding, and the earnestness of his tone and his evident sincerity, as well as the simplicity and directness of his address, gave great weight to what he said. As a political writer, he must hold the foremost place among his contemporaries. Other men wrote much better, but no one wrote so much; and even Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, was not more effective. He had a special adaptation for addressing the common people, and for carrying on sharp controversy. It is hard work now to read many things which Mr. Wells says he wrote; but our fathers did not find it so: with their pulses beating at fever heat, they admired what we coolly criticise, and did not wince at mixed metaphors and swollen sentences. He was straightforward, earnest, and impassioned; clear and sound in his general views, if not always accurate and polished in his statement of them. In the immense mass of his published writings and his private correspondence, there is much which is admirable. His State Papers are better than his strictly personal productions: they merit the praise bestowed on them at the time by Lord Chatham, and which later generations have accepted.
It has been justly said, that Adams was the last of the Puritans. Educated, as we have remarked, for the Congregational ministry, and marrying into the family of one of the ministers of his native town, there was much in his early and his later associations to confirm his natural bent, and to give to his life and speech a somewhat ascetic character, while his narrow means prevented his mingling in general society. But his resemblance to his Puritan ancestors was not merely superficial or accidental: it was inwoven in the very texture of his mind and character, and was shown alike in the tenacity with which he adhered to his convictions, in the purity of his private life, in the incorruptible integrity of his character, in his respect for all the ordinances of religion, and his firm belief in the great truths which it teaches.
Such, as we read his life and writings, was Samuel Adams; and such, on an impartial survey of them, is the position which must be assigned to him in American history. We have not touched on disputed points, nor sought to present an exhaustive analysis of his character. We have preferred to confine ourselves to those obvious statements which will command general assent. To sum up all in a single sentence, we may say, that, down to the actual outbreak of hostilities, no man in America occupied so conspicuous a position, or exerted so large an influence; and that to him more than to any one else may be traced the early impetus given to the cause of American liberty. It is scarcely necessary to add, that the life of such a man ought to be written with the amplitude of detail and the careful research by which the memoir before us is characterized; and that his writings are a priceless legacy to the student of history. It is, perhaps, a little remarkable, that the first full and, in the main, satisfactory life of Adams should have been published more than sixty years after his death; but, at an earlier period, such a life could scarcely have been written. The fires of controversy had not yet died out, the ashes were too thinly spread over the quarrel between Hancock and Adams, and the recollection of other grievances was too recent, to enable a biographer to preserve that impartiality which he ought to maintain.
C. C. S.
Since Mr. Ruskin's abdication, there had been nothing noticeable published in Great Britain relating to art, until the appearance of Mr. Hamerton's book,* which was so far noticeable that it had the power to raise its author at once from the position of an obscure young painter, to that of a popular writer who had something to say, and who knew how to say it well. We do not know whether it had also the effect of making his name more prominent in the catalogues of the exhibitions : but it is certain, that, since its publication, Mr. Hamerton has been pretty prominently before the reading public, and has supplemented his two volumes with a considerable number of papers on subjects connected with art; notably, an extended examination of the works of Gustave Doré, in the “ Fine Arts Quarterly,” in two elaborate articles; to which he has more recently added a third in the “ Fortnightly Review,” containing a pretty severe criticism of that artist's illustrations of the Bible.
Mr. Hamerton is evidently an altogether noticeable person. In coming before the public, he has the advantage, unfortunately rare among professional artists, of being an educated gentleman, and capable of expressing his thoughts in clear and correct English, nearly free from technicalities and the cant of the studios, instead of the confused and blundering rhetoric in which his brothers have for the most part seen fit to convey their ideas to their readers.
In the next place, he has character and an aim. His aim is to acquire such a knowledge of the scenery of the Highlands of Scotland, and of the way in which it is affected by the varying conditions of season and weather, as to be able to produce pictures of it which are authoritative in regard to the facts which they assert. And, to accomplish this aim, he had character and devotion enough to live for five years alone on an island in one of the most wild and desolate of the Scottish lakes, painting nature as he saw her, in summer and winter, in sun and rain and snow.
* A Painter's Camp in the Highlands, and Thoughts about Art. By Philip Gilbert HAMERTox. 2 vols. London, 1862.