By Robert Clarke & Co., of Pittsburg. Cincinnati :
Edited with Notes and a Biographical Sketch by his Son, Robert Clarke & Co.. Cincinnati:
NONE of the Ohio Valley Series, as we think, are more attractive than these volumes, the latest published of that admirable collection. The first is a reprint of one of those rare old books, like Bouquet’s Expedition, with which the publishers are enriching the series ; and the last is among the most interesting of the original works relative to early Western history. Dr. Drake was a man who while he lived was a large part of ail literary and scientific progress in the West, and who left behind him a repute for public usefulness and private worth which his own section may well cherish with pride, and which we may all gladly recognize. He was a very remarkable man in every way, — for what he was, and for what he did ; and the story of his boyhood in the backwoods of Kentucky, as told here, is one of the best witnesses to the fact that, whatever refinement may be, fineness is as directly the gift of Heaven as any positive ability. Civilization, you must own as you read, was born in this man ; by nature he hated whatever was rude and cruel and impure, and loved justice and beauty. He was not a man of genius, it would seem, but of sensibility and conscience and modesty; not smart, in the pitiable, bad way of many of our growths “ from the people,” but talented, tasteful, industrious, honest.
He came of stock partly Quaker; and when he was a child, his father removed with his family from his native State of New Jersey to the wilds of Kentucky, and after the fashion of that day hewed out a farm from the heart of the unbroken forest The family life in the log-cabin there is what Dr. Drake has portrayed in these letters to his children, with winning simplicity and familiarity of style, and in a clear, objective light, such as only the vast and striking changes of American history would enable one to throw upon his own past. The spirit of his letters is not the least delightful thing about them. He confesses to far more of an old man’s garrulity than he ever indulges, and he owns and pleasantly laughs down a predilection for magniloquence, which he traces to an early revolt from the vulgarity and coarseness of the ordinary backwoods speech. Yet this man, so admirably conscious, not only as to himself, but as to the real character and effect of the pioneer life which he fondly depicts, had little or no schooling, save such as he could give himself, up to the age when he quitted the drudgery of the farm for the severe study of his profession. He shows himself quick to the grand and beautiful aspects of the wilderness, yet he does not fail to acknowledge, even while regretting these, its terrible hardships, its heart-breaking loneliness, its almost inevitable barbarity. The passages in which he touches upon the character of his mother, her life of ceaseless care and labor, and her capacity for better things, are very affecting ; and we learn also to honor her and her husband, with their excellent morality, their religiousness, their sense of justice, and their abhorrence of slavery, which early made its hideousness known on the frontiers. It is women who suffer most in all the adventures and enterprises of men, and the greater burden of exile and solitude fell upon the mother in this case; but the full sense of this is so cumulative, and so little dependent on detachable passages, that the reader must go to the book itself for it.
The letters of Dr. Drake are not merely personal reminiscences, but faithful pictures of local manners and customs. We cannot advise any to turn to them for the realization of romantic ideas of the pioneers ; but they are very interesting reading, and very instructive ; they form part of our own history, which daily grows more venerable and precious ; and we most heartily commend the volume, not only to collectors of such material, but to the average reader, as something very apt for his entertainment and then for his use. The biographical sketch by Mr. Charles D. Drake is satisfactory, and the preface a singularly sensible piece of writing.
Dr. Drake’s boyhood was passed in that period just before backwoods life ceased to be a general condition. The Indian wars were ending in the West,—the West of that day, which is now pretty far eastward, — and the Americans were in full and undisturbed possession of territory so long and so bloodily disputed with the savages. The narrative of Colonel Smith refers to this pioneer existence during a space of time when its perils, privations, and atrocities seemed an established condition of things. He was captured by the Indians just before Braddock’s defeat in 1755, and remained with them five years; and thereafter, in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky, spent nearly all his days in conflict with them.
His narrative was first printed at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1799, and has been several times reprinted, but has of late years been in effect out of print. It is the story of a man of clear, strong mind, with a vein of humor which has now and then a very witty expression, —almost a modern expression ; and though the style has few solicited graces, it is plain that this old Indian hunter had some good literary instincts. He attracts, for example, the interest of the reader at once, by telling him in the beginning, after a reference to Braddock’s expedition : “Though I was at that time only eighteen years of age, I had fallen violently in love with a young lady, whom I apprehended was possessed of a large share of both beauty and virtue; but being born between Venus and Mars, I concluded I must also leave my dear fair one, and go out with this company of road-cutters, to see the event of this campaign ; but still expecting that some time in the course of this summer I should again return to the arms of my beloved.” And in chronicling his return to home and friends after his five years’ captivity, he remembers to confide the sad close of this passion : “ Upon inquiry, I found that my sweetheart was married a few days before I arrived. My feelings, on this occasion, I must leave for those of my readers to judge who have felt the pangs of disappointed love, as it is impossible now for me to describe the emotion of soul I felt at that time.”
Otherwise, the narrative of Colonel Smith is marked by few indulgences of sentiment, though always by good feeling, and a shrewd and sympathetic observation of nature as he saw it in the wilderness and the savages about him. He was taken prisoner near “ the Alleghany Mountain ” in Pennsylvania ; the greater part of his captivity was passed in the region of Northern Ohio ; he escaped, at last, from the Indians near Montreal, and was exchanged with other English prisoners by the French. Up to the beginning of the Revolution he was engaged in various expeditions, more or less irresponsible, against the Indians ; and during the Revolution he fought them as the leader of a properly authorized border force. He shows always a rough respect for them, though he was bent upon their destruction ; and he says that, after duly considering their “ want of information,” he could not blame them so much for the atrocities they committed. When he had once been adopted among them, they treated him with invariable justice and kindness; and he notes many noble and magnanimous traits in them. He regarded them as masters of the art of war in a wilderness country ; and he declares that, far from being “ undisciplined savages,” they were so well disciplined in their own way, and in that way had so often beaten vastly larger forces of whites, that until the Americans adopted the Indian style of fighting they could never cope with them. And a principal object of Colonel Smith in setting down his opinions and observations was to enforce the necessity of fighting the Indians in the Indian manner ; for it appeared to the doughty old pioneer, who had spent his life in such hostilities, that war with them was to remain indefinitely the condition of the border, — as in fact it has done in some sort.
There has probably never been any study of Indian life and character more sincere and practical than his ; and we know of none so interesting. On the whole, we believe the reader will think all the better of the savages for knowing them through him ; though as for their unfitness to be guests at a small tea-party, we suppose there can never be any doubt. We should like to repeat here some of the things Colonel Smith tells of them; but his context is precious, and we forbear, for the reader’s own sake. Still we must give some passages of ironical humor front his account of the ceremony of his adoption, because they are pleasant, and because they serve so well to confirm what we have been saying in praise of his manner. We do not think any literary man could have said these things more neatly, and we have many literary men in our eye who would have said them inexpressibly worse ; by which we mean to teach that for literary purposes it is not always well to be of the profession. Colonel Smith says : —
“ They put a large belt of wampom on my neck, and silver bands on my hands and right arm ; and so an old chief led me out in the street and gave the alarm halloo, coowigh, several times repeated quick, and on this all that were in the town came running and stood round the old chief, who held me by the hand in the midst. As I at that time knew nothing of their mode of adoption, and had seen them put to death all they had taken, and as I never could find that they saved a man alive at Braddock’s defeat, I made no doubt but they were about putting me to death in some cruel manner. The old chief holding me by the hand made a long speech very loud, and when he had done he handed me to three young squaws, who led me by the hand down the bank into the river until the water was up to our middle. The squaws then made signs to me to plunge myself into the water, but I did not understand them ; I thought that the result of the council was that I should be drowned, and that these young ladies were to be the executioners. They all three laid violent hold of me, and I for some time opposed them with all my might, which occasioned loud laughter by the multitude that were on the bank of the river. At length one of the squaws made out to speak a little English (for I believe they began to be afraid of me) and said, no hurt you ; on this I gave myself up to their ladyships, who were as good as their word; for though they plunged me under water, and washed and rubbed me severely, yet I could not say they hurt me much.”