« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
-by St. Nicholas, but I'll have every mother's bastard of ye flea'd alive, and your hides stretched for drum-heads, that ye may thenceforth make a noise to some purpose!"
This threat, and the tremendous voice in which it was uttered, caused the whole multitude to quake with fear. The hair of the orator rose on his head like his own swine's bristles, and not a knight of the thimble present but his heart died within him and he felt as though he could have verily escaped through the eye of a needle.
But though this measure produced the desired effect in reducing the community to order, yet it tended to injure the popularity of the great Peter among the enlightened vulgar. Many accused him of entertaining highly aristocratic sentiments, and of leaning too much in favour of the patricians. Indeed there appeared to be some grounds for such an accusation, as he always carried himself with a very lofty soldier-like port, and was somewhat particular in his dress; dressing himself, when not in uniform, in simple but rich apparel; and was especially noted for having his sound leg (which was a very comely one) always arrayed in a red stocking and highheeled shoe. Though a man of great simplicity of manners, yet there was a something about him that repelled rude familiarity, while it encouraged frank, and even social intercourse.
He likewise observed some appearance of court ceremony and etiquette. He received the common class of visiters on the stoop,* before his door, according to the custom of our Dutch ancestors. But when visiters were formally received in his parlour, it was expected they would appear in clean linen; by no means to be barefooted, and always to take their hats off. On public occasions he appeared with great pomp of equipage, (for, in truth, his station required a little show and dignity,) and always
• Properly spelled stoeb; the porch commonly built in front of Dutch houses, with benches on each side.
rode to church in a yellow wagon with flaming red wheels.
These symptoms of state and ceremony occasioned considerable discontent among the vulgar. They had been accustomed to find easy access to their former governors, and in particular had lived on terms of extreme familiarity with William the Testy. They therefore were very impatient of these dignified precautions, which discouraged intrusion. But Peter Stuyvesant had his own way of thinking in these matters, and was a stanch upholder of the dignity of office.
He always maintained that government to be the least popular, which is most open to popular access and control; and that the very brawlers against court ceremony, and the reserve of men in power, would soon despise rulers among whom they found even themselves to be of consequence. Such, at least, had been the case with the administration of William the Testy; who, bent on making himself popular, had listened to every man's advice, suffered every person to have admittance to his person at all hours; and, in a word, treated every one as his thorough equal. By this means every scrub politician and public busybody was enabled to measure wits with him, and to find out the true dimensions, not only of his person, but his mind. And what great man can stand such scrutiny?
It is the mystery that envelops great men, that gives them half their greatness. We are always inclined to think highly of those who hold themselves aloof from our examination. There is likewise a kind of superstitious reverence for office, which leads us to exaggerate the merits and abilities of men of power, and to suppose that they must be constituted differently from other men. And, indeed, faith is as necessary in politics as in religion. It certainly is of the first importance, that a country should be governed by wise men; but then it is almost equally important, that the people should believe them to be
wise; for this belief alone can produce willing subordination.
To keep up, therefore, this desirable confidence in rulers, the people should be allowed to see as little of them as possible. He who gains access to cabinets, soon finds out by what foolishness the world is governed. He discovers that there is a quackery in legislation, as well as in every thing else; that many a measure, which is supposed by the million to be the result of great wisdom and deep deliberation, is the effect of mere chance, or perhaps of hair-brained experiment. That rulers have their whims and errors as well as other men, and after all are not so wonderfully superior to their fellow creatures as he at first imagined; since he finds that even his own opinions have had some weight with them. Thus awe subsides into confidence, confidence inspires familiarity, and familiarity produces contempt. Peter Stuyvesant, on the contrary, by conducting himself with dignity and loftiness, was looked up to with great reverence. As he never gave his reasons for any thing he did, the public always gave him credit for very profound ones. Every movement, however intrinsically unimportant, was a matter of speculation; and his very red stocking excited some respect, as being different from the stocking of other men.
To these times we may refer the rise of family pride and aristocratic distinctions;* and indeed I cannot but look back with reverence to the early planting of those mighty Dutch families, which have taken such vigorous root, and branched out so luxuriantly in our state. The blood which has flowed down uncontaminated through a succession of steady, virtuous generations, since the times of the
* In a work published many years after the time here treated of (in 1761, by C. W. A. M.) it is mentioned that Frederick Philipse was counted the richest Mynheer in New York, and was said to have whole hogsheads of Indian money or wampum; and had a son and daughter, who, according to the Dutch custom, should divide it equally.
patriarchs of Communipaw, must certainly be pure and worthy. And if so, then are the Van Rensellaers, the Van Zandts, the Van Hornes, the Rutgers, the Bensons, the Brinkerhoffs, the Skermerhorns, and all the true descendants of the ancient Pavonians, the only legitimate nobility and real lords of the soil.
I have been led to mention thus particularly the well authenticated claims of our genuine Dutch families, because I have noticed with great sorrow and vexation, that they have been somewhat elbowed aside in latter days, by foreign intruders. It is really astonishing to behold how many great families have sprung up of late years, who pride themselves excessively on the score of ancestry. Thus he who can look up to his father without humiliation assumes not a little importance-he who can safely talk of his grandfather is still more vainglorious-but he who can look back to his great grandfather without blushing, is absolutely intolerable in his pretensions to family. Bless us ! what a piece of work is here, between these mushrooms of an hour, and these mushooms of a day!
But from what I have recounted in the former part of this chapter, I would not have my reader imagine that the great Peter was a tyrannical governor, ruling his subjects with a rod of iron-on the contrary, where the dignity of authority was not implicated, he abounded with generosity and courteous condescension. In fact, he really believed, though I fear that my more enlightened republican readers will consider it a proof of his ignorance and illiberality, that in preventing the cup of social life from being dashed with the intoxicating ingredient of politics, he promoted the tranquillity and happiness of the people—and by detaching their minds from subjects which they could not understand, and which only tended to inflame their passions, he enabled them to attend more faithfully and industriously to
their proper callings; becoming more useful citizens and more attentive to their families and fortunes.
So far from having any unreasonable austerity, he delighted to see the poor and the labouring man rejoice, and for this purpose was a great promoter of holydays and public amusements. Under his reign was first introduced the custom of cracking eggs at Pass or Easter. New-year's Day was also observed with extravagant festivity-and ushered in by the ringing of bells and firing of guns. Every house was a temple to the jolly god. Oceans of cherry-brandy, true hollands, and mulled cider, were set afloat on the occasion: and not a poor man in town but made it a point to get drunk, out of a principle of pure economy-taking in liquor enough to serve him half a year afterward.
It would have done one's heart good also to have seen the valiant Peter, seated among the old burghers and their wives of a Saturday afternoon, under the great trees that spread their shade over the Battery, watching the young men and women as they danced on the green. Here he would smoke his pipe, crack his joke, and forget the rugged toils of war in the sweet oblivious festivities of peace. He would occasionally give a nod of approbation to those of the young men who shuffled and kicked most vigorously, and now and then gave a hearty smack, in all honesty of soul, to the buxom lass that held out longest, and tired down all her competitors, which she considered as infallible proofs of her being the best dancer. Once, it is true, the harmony of the meeting was rather interrupted. A young vrouw, of great figure in the gay world, and who, having lately come from Holland, of course led the fashions in the city, made her appearance in not more than half a dozen petticoats, and these too of most alarming shortness.A universal whisper ran through the assembly; the old ladies all felt shocked in the extreme, the young ladies blushed and felt excessively for the “poos thing," and even the governor himself was observed