The English Colonies in America
IT is unfortunate for a book to be misnamed. Mr. Lodge, when he delivered his course of lectures before the Lowell Institute in Boston, had an attractive and by no means a hackneyed subject. For our Western world, certainly, no more interesting and expressive conjunction of affairs appears than existed when the English colonies were growing to have a comprehension of a possible nation. There were more stupendous material results in the war which unshackled the slave, but the principles involved were not so farreaching, nor was the transformation of peoples so promising of effects. Three millions of British colonists drawing together more from principle than from a common oppression, and resolving themselves into a nation, is a phenomenon which has in respect to potentiality as great a significance as modern history shows. The condition of these colonists at the time when the spirit of independence was rapidly ripening is a study of the utmost importance in the history of liberty and as indicative of a principle of autonomy. Phases of it have of course been studied by local historians, and it has come within the scope of the general historians. The growth of it in a comprehensive way has hardly, however, been followed except in Mr. Frothingham’s Rise of the Republic, — a work of careful research, deserving more consideration than it has received or is likely to acquire, in view of its somewhat unengaging style. It lacks, moreover, in treatment just what Mr. Lodge’s opportunity opened to him, — a picture of the social condition of the diverse peoples whose communities, distinct and grouped, stretched along an
extended sea-board, coming near one another by sea communication, while a varied composition kept them foils or made them complements of one another. Nothing could be more picturesque than this contrast, which was not like that of the Northmen, for instance, in the Mediterranean, nor did it resemble the Latin and the Moor in Spain ; but it was a more suggestive one, because these colonists formed varieties in the same race. in them the Roundhead and Cavalier of midland England were transformed into the Yankee and Virginian, and were left free to develop — and this is important — without constant contact. It was this contrast and conglomeration which was Mr. Lodge’s proper theme. He had to show what were the conditions of society, the manners of life, the material environments, which made New England intensify herself in Sam Adams ; which drew no lines of social demarkation between rank and file when the gathering bands of men shut up Gage and Howe in Boston ; and which made most of the fine houses of her towns the homes of tories. He had to show a society which nurtured such extremes in New York as the youthful Hamilton and the Bourbonic Judge Jones, taking cognizance of that patroon society and the military understanding which made Philip Schuyler so different a character from Israel Putnam. He had to show how the English Quaker, the Protestant Swede, and the Moravian fused into the colonial Pennsylvanian ; how the roystering solitary dwellers in the Virginia river bottoms produced on the one hand a Lord Fairfax, and on the other a George Washington; how the Huguenot and the English planter fortified their family citadels against the poor white and the negro slave in South Carolina.
All these and many more symptomatic indications went to create a peculiar indigenous and almost tribal difference, marking off with the distinction of isothermal lines the latitudes of the coast. All along this verge the fate of these peoples had sometimes been accidental, always for a time uncertain. If Gorges’ plan had not miscarried, the descendants of the companions of Endicott and Winthrop and Bradford had not been roused by the fear of bishops so much as by the imposition of stamp duties. The opportune coming of Captain John Smith and the immigration which his reports had incited only saved Voshaven and Crane Bay from remaining permanently on our maps where the English planted Boston and Plymouth. The Gulf Stream and the turbulence of Nantucket shoals are responsible for the sturdy yeoman courage which had exchanged Yorkshire for Holland finding its way to the pine forests of Southeastern Massachusetts, instead of planting communities on the shores of Jersey or on the banks of Delaware. The flight of birds which induced Columbus to change his course to the southwest prevented Carolina and Virginia from becoming the seat of Spanish power.
These are but a few of the striking events, insignificant as they must have seemed at the moment, which luckily or lucklessly turned the currents as they did. In the waters of Delaware Bay, there would have been no occasion for that primal political compact signed in Provincetown harbor. The Yankee shipbuilder and shoe-maker might, in such an event, have tilled a peach orchard. It may be a curious, if not profitable, speculation to forecast the future of New England, had the Pophamists of the Maine coast been vital enough to emulate the colonists of James River.
The very chance that things might have been different from what they were had a certain influence in fashioning events ; and all the differential elements set off the contrasts bodily along the sea-board, with as little blending at the territorial conjunction as human nature would admit. Here was Mr. Lodge’s field, and the only valuable part of his book is found in the interjected chapters in which this comprehensive picture is wrought. In these portions he has worked with a full purpose, free from make-shift, or make-weight, and the result is a valuable contribution ; we do not know where to find a better in the same field. He says in his preface, “ When I had finished these chapters for which the work was undertaken, I felt that it was essential to my purpose to give an outline of the political history of each colony, in order to present a complete picture of the various communities ; ” and so he intercalated sundry chapters, tracing briefly, under the head of each colony, the events of its previous history, to lead up, as he seemed to think, to the moment (1765) when he desired to analyze the condition of them all. Then, to cover this perfunctory work, he named his book in a way which completely conceals its real significance.
That there was some “ leading up ” necessary may be admitted, but it was unfortunately done too obtrusively, though hardly so much so as the misnomer on the back of the book would indicate. In those better chapters which illustrate the points of support of the coming Revolution, which survey the vantage-ground of liberty in the training in manners, thought, and business of the colonies, united but not yet confederated, the author has preserved not a little of just this retrospection, essential to a perfect comprehension of his subject. It may be a question of judgment, though not by any means capable of but a single solution, how much of this “ leading up ” was necessary. There was still room, certainly, for larger grafts in the essential text, without forcing a new division on the book ; and that some such preparatory sketching was desirable is easily shown. The difference between New England and Virginia in 1765 is doubtless understood better when we contrast the early and eager solicitude of the one to reinforce the ministry by the college, with the rude maxim of the typical Virginian which enjoined him to grow tobacco and damn his soul. We may not admire the whine and cant of Northern conventicles ; nor may we esteem, on the other hand, the robust barbarism of the land of turpentine. We must, to be wholly intelligible in such a study, go back and trace to the prerogative party, as championed by Joseph Dudley in Massachusetts, the loyalist fervor which made Tory-Row in Cambridge: but we must equally track the small New England immigration which kept tough Yankee freedom safe in Georgia, and, when the time came, carried it over to the whigs. We must recede a century, surely, if we would comprehend the difference between toleration under Penn and license under Roger Williams, and see how each colony worked out its salvation accordingly. Persecution was no exclusive heritage, and it should be shown. There was the witch delusion in Massachusetts, the negro massacre in New York, Quaker and Baptist enormities in Virginia ; and though these several communities had outgrown such barbarisms, there were traces of the old spirit still, and it needed to be studied.
But the question for the author really was an artistic one. A good book is made as a picture is painted, and should have proportion, perspective, things conspicuous by absence, and things salient and telling. The truth is, Mr. Lodge’s book lacks a good deal of these artistic qualities of make-up, and fails by striving for too much. His insignificant but title-giving chapters blur the design. They do not comport with the plan. They show all the faults of the callow dramatist, who crams his plot with incident, instead of vigorously excluding everything which does not tend to advance the story. Not a crowding together of all events of the colonial progress (that is the work of the annalist), but the grouping of epoch-marking ideas and deeds, the selecting of everything tending to evolve the colonial unity, — this was what was wanted to make the retrospective part of the book fit to introduce the grand panorama of the Stamp Act period. As we said in the beginning, the title is a misnomer, and the book wants unity and proportion. It is unfortunate that so much honest work should not have been helped by the construction, and been made prominent by an indicative title.
- A Short History of the English Colonies in America. By HENRY CABOT LODGE. New York : Harper and Brothers. 1881.↩