American Colonial History

THE name of John Camden Hotten appeared as that of editor on the titlepage of a work, published in 1874, which professed to give the original lists of a large number of emigrants, exiles, adventurers, and felons who came to this country in the seventeenth century. The most important part of the material had already been given in a less sumptuous form by S. G. Drake and James Savage, the latter’s work being apparently unknown to Mr. Hotten; but the lists brought together in this form were conveniently arranged, and showed an attempt at exactness. It cannot be said, indeed, that either Mr. Hotten or his antiquarian assistants were always competent to decipher the cacography of her majesty’s public records, and the guesses in the foot-notes were not always those of a trained student; but our business just now is not with the first edition, but with the second, recently put out by Mr. Bouton.1 This publisher was the American publisher also of the first edition, and took out a copyright of it. His rights in the second edition are otherwise protected. No publisher, however speculatively inclined, would have any temptation to copy this new issue. We are not so exacting as to ask that a second edition should correct any deficiencies in the first; we are even willing that the publisher shall, when he binds a new lot, insert a new title-page and try for fresh buyers who may like to believe that they have a later book than the first buyers ; but we had the curiosity to compare the second edition with the first, to see what changes, if any, have been made. It was not long before we were rewarded in the search. The contents and introduction were the same in both cases, but the half title following disclosed something odd. The first edition had a black letter and apparently fac-simile title, which was modernized and abridged and altered in the second. Had the first edition been too hard to read? A comparison of names showed that the lists varied widely. We shall not trouble the reader with illustrations. The game is not worth the candle. But let any one who has the two editions compare the lists on page 46. In the second edition there is a hopeless snarl; in the first the difficulties all disappear, and a reference to Savage’s copy ‘2 shows that the first edition had been tolerably accurate and intelligible, the second confused like the work of an ignorant copyist. Passing rapidly through the volume, it was plain at a glance that in the first edition an effort had been made to be literally exact, even to the copying of obsolete characters and marks; in the second edition, all this care and accuracy had been abandoned. In one instance only was there an agreement. Pages 197-199 of the first edition and pages 196-198 of the second agreed, although the same type was not used. But all these discrepancies suddenly ceased at the bottom of page 400. From that point to the end of the volume the two editions were identical. The index, therefore, was the same in both editions, but the feat was not performed by which it was made to do service for the widely varying pages up to page 400. It answered only to the first edition.

By this examination it was established conclusively that the first edition was far more careful and complete than the second. We deduce the following history of the book, which may or may not be true. Mr. Hotten, at some one’s instigation, undertook the publication of these lists. When the printing had got as far as page 400, it was discovered that the compiler was an ignorant blunderer, and that the sheets were worthless. Mr. Hotten then had them revised or rewritten and again printed, carefully saving the canceled sheets. Mr. Hotten died. The first edition was exhausted. Mr. Bouton, or somebody imposing on Mr. Bouton, then discovered the canceled sheets, prefaced the available introduction and contents, pieced them out with sheets left over from the first edition, pasted in a new title-page with “second” on it, bound the book cheaply, and issued it at a lower price as a second edition of The Original Lists. It is very evident that all the classes named in the book did not come over in the seventeenth century.

It is a pity that Mr. Arnold, in his Life of Benedict Arnold,3 should have been haunted throughout the book by the thought of Arnold’s treachery, for he has succeeded in rendering the reader thoroughly uncomfortable by his incessant reference to that melancholy fact. He begins by admitting the full enormity of the crime, and assures the reader that he has no intention of palliating it, and he wrings his hands over it at every turn. He never mentions a gallant act or a piece of recklessness by Arnold — and Arnold’s early career was brilliant with points of daring — but he stops to lament, Oh, had Arnold but died now! Then he would have been embalmed in the memories of his countrymen, — or words to that effect. The book is spoiled as a biography by its constant effort to balance Arnold’s patriotism and treason. The author sets out with solemn protestations that nothing shall induce him to lessen the guilt of the traitor, and he is as good as his word; but instead of telling Arnold’s life in a straightforward way, and attempting to trace the halfhidden character which finally declared itself in the base act, he reads the incidents of his career only to discover the praiseworthy qualities of the man as a set-off against his crime. He grants that Arnold’s one piece of iniquity has justly covered his name with disgrace, but complains that it has also led people ever since to paint him as one unvarying shade of blackness. But Arnold’s audacity and impetuous courage, which are nearly all the striking virtues which remain to him, have never lacked recognition, and his brilliant exploits in the Canada expedition, at Valcour Island, and at Bemis Heights have again and again received the praise of historians. The book is more of an apology for Arnold than the writer seems to intend. In his wish to do him full justice he has sometimes been blind in one eye.

Thus, in recording the anecdotes of his boyhood and youth, indicative of his cruelty, Mr. Arnold hurries by them to remind us how bold and daring he was. “ One of his earliest amusements,” writes Sparks, whom Arnold in these anecdotes seems to follow, “ was the robbing of birds’-nests, and it was his custom to maim and mangle young birds in sight of the old ones, that he might be diverted by their cries.” Arnold gives it: “ It has been said . . . that one of his amusements was the robbing of birds’nests and torturing the young birds.” “ Certainly,” he adds, “if the mischievous robbing of birds’-nests is to be regarded as conclusive proof of total depravity, and if, among the critics of Arnold, only those who had in thoughtless boyhood been guiltless of this cruelty should throw the first stone, there would probably be fewer harsh judges of his boyish freaks than have appeared.” This is not a very important matter, but we cite it as illustrating two or three unfortunate defects in Mr. Arnold’s method as a historian. He generalizes where his predecessor has given specific facts ; he suppresses the real gravamen of the charge; he appears to make no critical inquiry iuto the actual facts; and he abuses the counsel on the other side.

Again, while giving with substantial accuracy the facts relating to Arnold’s exploits at Ticonderoga, he manages to throw such a coloring over them as to give the impression that Arnold was a much-abused man and a lofty patriot, ignoring the freebooting character of his movements, and above all silent upon the significant point, so illustrative of Arnold’s character, of his threatened withdrawal of his vessels and mutinous followers to St. John’s, for the purpose of delivering them over to the enemy, if he could not carry out his plans. Mr. Arnold dwells much upon the ingratitude and hostility constantly shown toward Arnold, and the effect which these had upon his loyalty to the country, but he fails to give due weight to the important charges of dishonesty and peculation which somehow seemed always to be springing up against him, and which stick to his character as pitilessly as similar charges have held on to the garments of a general in the late war. We wish, for example, he had followed the clew regarding Arnold’s course in Philadelphia which is offered in Judge Peters’s letter to Colonel Pickering, referred to in Recollections of Samuel Breck, page 214. In general, Mr. Arnold does not seem to us to have employed a true method of historical criticism. His book is too deliberately a special plea for Arnold. It does not add materially to our knowledge of the facts of Arnold’s life, although it gives details not to be found in Sparks or Hill; it does not offer any new insight into his character, and it is written in a heavy, bungling style. The best that can be said of it is that upon his own showing Arnold was quite as unlovable a man as history has generally represented him. The outcome of the book is substantially what has been accepted hitherto, that Arnold was a mean traitor ; nobody is going to believe now, any more than before, that his character from first to last underwent any essential change. His daring has always been conceded, but no one will accept it as a condonation or palliation of his treason. Mr. Arnold’s mistake is in supposing that physical courage and impetuous dash are very high or determining elements of character. There is yet room for a life of Arnold which shall so use historical material as to construct coolly and impartially a character and career which are capable of a more acute analysis than they have yet received. The work, however, is not a very enviable one. It is the meanness of Arnold’s nature which renders it essentially unattractive to men. The most interesting contribution which the book makes to American history is doubtless the appendix, which contains for the first time a copy of Thoughts on the American War, drawn up by General Arnold for the king, and furnished to the biographer by Arnold’s grandson, the Rev. Edward Gladwin Arnold. The book is neatly printed and bound, but not always carefully read in proof.

Mr. Winsor’s Handbook4 comes just too late to meet the demand of those who were touched by the Centennial fever, but in its present full form could not have been made earlier, siuce many of the authorities to which it refers the student have been made accessible under the diligence and enthusiasm of societies and scholars which the Centennial fever stimulated when it did not inspire. We do not mean that this interest in our history was ephemeral, but that it was associated with anniversaries and celebrations which gave profitable occasion for historic study and writing. The memoranda published in the Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, when Mr. Winsor was superintendent, are the basis of this volume, and the more complete, orderly, and detailed form here presented accords with the permanent use which the book will serve. The memoranda were notes for the use of readers who were eager to ransack history for material which should enable them to keep pace, at a hundred years' distance, with the march of events so significant as those attending the war for independence. Here, within the compass of a neat, compact volume, the student of history may find minutely noted, in chronological succession, the great body of books, articles, records, diaries, to which he must turn for authority. The Handbook, in the felicitous phrase of its compiler, “ is like a continuous foot-note to all histories of the American Revolution.”From the writs of assistance to the cessation of hostilities, the literature of every step in the struggle is indicated, fully, intelligibly, and accurately. All this is done, moreover, in so familiar and agreeable a manner that the book is almost readable, and certainly is far more likely to entice the student than a mere formal bibliography.

The book is valuable not only for what it is, but for the substantial argument which its form presents in favor of the study of history by individual investigation. It is beginning to be understood that the history which one makes his own by research is a much more positive part of education than that which one acquires through attentive reading of comprehensive works. The extent to which quite young students, even, may carry the principle of independent investigation is far greater than many imagine, and we have to thank the scientific revival of the day for teaching the teachers the value of methods by which a student is made to master and classify facts, not to accept merely the generalizations of others. This Handbook points the way to the right course of historical study, and it is a most useful book to put into the hands of young readers. It is a clew by which they may find their way through the labyrinth.

To quote again from the preface: “ I am no great advocate of courses of reading. It often matters little what the line of one’s reading is, provided it is pursued, as sciences are most satisfactorily pursued, in a comparative way. The reciprocal influences, the broadening effect, the quickened interest arising from a comparison of sources and authorities, I hold to be marked benefits from such a habit of reading.” We trust that the reception given to the book will justify the compiler in carrying out his project of a series, upon the same general plan, covering themes of history, biography, travel, philosophy, science, literature, and art.

  1. Our Early Emigrant Ancestors. The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants; Religious Exiles ; Political Rebels ; Serving Men sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700. With their ages, the localities where they formerly lived in the mother conn try, the names of the ships in which they embarked, and other interesting particulars. From MSS. preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England. Edited by JOHN CAMDEN HOTTEN. Second Edition. New York : J. W. Bouton. 1880.
  2. Mass. His. Soc. Coll., third series, vol. viii.
  3. The Life of Benedict Arnold: His Patriotism and his Treason, By ISAAC N. ARNOLD, author of Life of Abraham Lincoln. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co. 1880.
  4. The Reader’s Handbook of the American Revolution, 1761-1783. By JUSTIN WINSOR, Librarian of Harvard University. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1880.