CONSIDERING that women in general are not seafarers, and that their perils and disasters are rather of a domestic order, it is curious that two of the most notable, brilliant, and interesting figures among American women, Margaret Fuller and Theodosia Burr, should have been lost at sea.
But, indeed, Theodosia’s life was picturesque, sudden, and tumultuous in every way. Her distinguished, disreputable father said of himself: ‘It seems I must always move in a whirlwind.’ Theodosia wrote: ‘What a charming thing a bustle is. Oh, dear, delightful confusion. It gives a circulation to the blood, an activity to the mind, and a spring to the spirits.’
If bustle was what she liked, she got it. She was the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Edwards, and no doubt she received so much of his pious inheritance as her father had not frittered away. Born in 1793, before the new American nation had settled down, she lost her mother when she was ten years old, and her existence became involved in the eccentric orbit of her father’s fortunes. She watched him first in the hurly-burly of New York politics, then she saw him become Vice-President of the United States in 1800, then he was thrown into disgrace by the duel with Hamilton in 1804. Meantime, at seventeen, she had married a wealthy South Carolina planter, Joseph Alston, who later became Governor of the State, and she swung back and forth between her father in New York and her Southern home.
Then in 1806 Burr developed his wild dream of Spanish-American empire. Theodosia shared it, and visited the victimized Blennerhassets on their exquisite Ohio island. Her father was arrested and tried in Richmond for treason. She shared that episode also. Then he went abroad for four years, practically in exile, and she longed for him and labored for him with passionate ardor, though her affections were also absorbed by the husband and the one boy at home. Just as her father at last achieved his return, she lost the boy, and her life was wrecked forever. On the last day but one of 1812, when she was twenty-nine years old, she sailed from Charleston to meet her father in New York, and was never definitely heard of again. It does not require legendary pirates, who deliberately drowned her, to complete the tragedy. Surely by that time the poor child had had bustle enough, and would have relished the beautiful epitaph which Byron found in an Italian cemetery — Implora eterna pace.
Theodosia’s mother was a delightful person, and her influence on the child’s earlier years must not be overlooked. His wife’s devotion to him is one of the assets in Burr’s singular career, for it is evident from her letters that she was a woman of unusual nobility and charm.
In view of the wide later ambitions of her husband and her daughter, it is interesting to observe that Mrs. Burr was not without her frank confession of interest in the upward efforts of the world. In speaking of Catherine the Second she says, ‘What a glorious figure will she make on the historical page! Can you form an idea of a more happy mortal than she will be when seated on the throne of Constantinople? How her ambition will be gratified.’ To such an ardent spirit a mythical throne in Mexico might have had a certain appeal. Yet what is most striking about Mrs. Burr is her earnestness and loftiness of moral tone. Whatever her husband may have been, she was consistently noble and highminded, and her religion, though probably not narrow or dogmatical, was pervasive and sincere.
That this lady kept a close and careful watch on her daughter’s education we may take for granted, but there is less evidence of the mother’s control than of the father’s, because, owing to his frequent absence, his interest was expressed in letters that have come down to us. It may be said at once that few fathers manifest not only a more affectionate, but a more intelligent and judicious, concern for their children’s welfare, and spiritual and intellectual development. Burr was determined that his daughter at least should not be given over to the frivolities and drawing-room accomplishments which were then considered all that was necessary for her sex. She was to study serious subjects and to master them — mathematics, sciences, history, languages, literature; he advises her as to all of them, and sees that she keeps at it and makes progress.
When one thinks of what he himself was, and what his life had been and was about to be, one sometimes gasps at the quality of the advice which he pours out so freely; but taken in itself it is excellent, and might well produce the best results, even if the source was somewhat tainted. ‘Negligence of one’s duty produces a self-dissatisfaction which unfits the mind for everything, and ennui and peevishness are the never-failing consequences. You will readily discover the truth of these remarks by reflecting on your own conduct, and the different feelings which have flowed from a persevering attention to study, or a restless neglect of it.’
As a result of these paternal efforts, Theodosia used her intelligence faithfully and zealously all her brief life; and it was evidently clear, acute, and penetrating. The reading which her father prescribed for her was somewhat remarkable. She seems to have studied both Latin and Greek at an early age. When she was ten years old, her father writes, ‘I am sure you will be charmed with the Greek language above all others,’ and a few months later he remonstrates against the neglect of Greek verbs. He recommends the Odyssey, recommends Terence, and when she is married and a busy mother he hopes she reads ‘Quintilian in the original, and not in translation.’ And Theodosia’s own letters are not without allusions to the authors that she loves. Perhaps she may have had a little more leaning to the romantic and frivolous than her father approved; but, if so, he had succeeded bravely in eradicating it, and by the time she was twenty she had eschewed light fiction as unprofitable: ‘Novel-reading has, I find, not only the ill effect of rendering people romantic, which, thanks to my father on earth, I am long past, but they really furnish no occupation to the mind. A series of events follow so rapidly, and are interwoven with remarks so commonplace and so spun out, that there is nothing left to reflect upon.’
It must not be supposed, however, that the girl was a pedant or a bluestocking. She was thoroughly feminine in her tastes and instincts, enjoyed society, and was fitted to shine in it. She was lovely to look at, with a strangely simple, round, baby face, but clearly intelligent and sensitive. There is no sign that she was coquettish or overfanciful in her dress; but she liked pretty things, and liked to display them: ‘You must send me the shawl. I shall be down at the races, and want to have the gratification of displaying it.’
How charming is her appeal to her father about her appearance at a party: ‘I danced twice, but am unable to tell you whether I looked well or danced well; for you are the only person in the world who says anything to me about my appearance. Mari generally looks pleased, but rarely makes remarks.’
Indeed, as in intellectual, so in social education the father was the trusted adviser and guide. And, on the whole, it must be said that his counsel here too was excellent. She is to seek the society of her fellows and not to avoid it, she is to be careful not to bore anyone, she is to understand, to sympathize, to learn to bear the little rubs and vexations without annoyance. Above all, he begs her to cultivate the appearance of cheerfulness and kindliness, well understanding that the substance is bound to be developed by the manifestation; and I do not know what saner social advice could come from any source: ‘There is nothing more certain than that you may form what countenance you please. An open, serene, intelligent countenance, a little brightened by cheerfulness, not wrought into smiles or simpers, will presently become familiar and grow into habit. . . . Avoid, forever avoid, a smile or sneer of contempt; never even mimic them. A frown of sullenness or discontent is but one degree less hateful.’ It is easy to understand that the man who formed his conduct on such a principle was one of the most beloved, as well as hated, of his generation.
His daughter was beloved also. Such expressions as we have about her are quite ecstatic in their enthusiasm. Even Blennerhasset, who detested her father and her husband, says of himself and of that strange Luther Martin, who defended Burr in his trial, ‘I also find his idolatrous admiration of Mrs. Alston almost as excessive as my own.’ And Mrs. Blennerhasset goes further still: ‘I should not think my life even worth its present value, did not I hope once more to see and converse with that woman whom I think almost above human nature.’ Theodosia’s own expressions of friendship show that this popularity was founded on a singular tenderness and power of delicate apprehension and comprehension.
Unfortunately circumstances contributed too much to blight these gentler feelings. The disgrace which overtook her father reacted largely upon Theodosia’s own social prospects and surroundings, and she was forced to recognize the shallowness of much of the world’s affection and the bitter lining of its apparent kindliness and grace. When such blows come, it is hard to keep the cheerful countenance, harder still the cheerful heart. Burr himself was born so infallibly gay that nothing could shake him. Friends might fail, hopes might wither, strength and means might vanish —he could still smile on. But his daughter was made of more delicate stuff, and it is clear that at times her eyes filled and her heart died within her.
How much religion did she have to strengthen her? We do not know. Her father was pretty largely skeptical. One of her biographers insists that this skepticism was never allowed to affect her, that Burr kept it to himself. This I doubt. But, after all, his own skepticism was not violent and he regarded God with the same fine tolerance that he bestowed upon all animated beings. His is the truly admirable remark: ‘I think that God is a great deal better than people suppose.’ As for Theodosia herself, we have hardly more than the exquisite words in regard to her husband and child, written when she thought she was dying, but I do not know that we could ask for anything more convincing or more lovely: ‘Oh! my heavenly Father, bless them both. If it is permitted, I will hover round you, and guard you, and intercede for you. I hope for happiness in the next world, for I have not been bad in this.’
These words are from a letter addressed to Theodosia’s husband, and her husband played a conspicuous part in her life, though less so than he would have done if it had not been for her father. Joseph Alston was an important personage in South Carolina, belonged to a considerable family, and had considerable possessions and abilities. Theodosia seems to have chosen him from affection. But Alston’s Southern life, habits, and tastes were naturally strange in many ways to a girl who had grown up in New York, and his wife did not always find it easy to adapt herself to them.
It would appear that Alston was an excellent man and an indulgent and devoted husband. We have a number of his letters, which bring out many of his traits in an interesting fashion. For example, there is the long and most curious epistle, written to Theodosia in the days of love-making, to overcome her objection to early marriages. It seems the young lady — at seventeen — had cited the august authority of Aristotle to the effect that ‘a man should not marry before he is six-andthirty.’ The lover admits the weight of this learned opinion, but insists that even against Cicero, ‘who stands higher in my estimation than any other author,’ he cannot possibly accept her point of view. Early marriages are generally bad, no doubt; but his case is different. They are all always so touchingly different, are n’t they? He is not a child. They never are. ‘Introduced from my infancy into the society of men, while yet a boy I was accustomed to think and act like a man. On every occasion, however important, I was left to decide for myself; I do not recollect a single instance where I was controlled even by advice; for it was my father’s invariable maxim that the best way of strengthening the judgment was to suffer it to be constantly exercised.’ And, to be sure, at thirtyseven instead of seventeen one might have stopped to wonder whether such a character was too well adapted to marriage at all, early or late. But Theodosia was not thirty-seven, and she gave up Aristotle, and consented. Who can wonder?
It is very clear that her husband retained his affection and admiration for her to the end. No doubt she was amply worthy of both. Still, one can see that he might have found some drawbacks. There is that terrible, engrossing, meteoric father. It might easily be imagined that a husband would have found such a father difficult to put up with, might have been sometimes indignant with him and sometimes jealous of him. Perhaps Alston was both; probably he was. But nothing of it appears, even in the few of his own letters that we have or in the comments of either the father or the daughter. What he whites to Burr, after Theodosia’s death, certainly indicates the deepest and finest appreciation of all he had lost: ‘The man who has been deemed worthy of the heart of Theodosia Burr, and who has felt what it was to be blessed with such a woman’s, will never forget his elevation.’ And Alston gave the best testimony of his attachment by dying a few years after his wife and son, practically of a broken heart.
On Theodosia’s affection for her husband we have much more vivid light than upon his for her. In the early days of her marriage, when she was absent in New York, she frequently wrote to him, and the letters have a charming touch of tenderness and grace. ‘Every moment I feel that I have lost so much of your society which can never be regained. Ah, my husband, what can be pleasure to your Theo. unassisted by the charms of your presence and participation? Nothing. It is an idea which has no place in my mind unconnected with you.’ When he is ill, she writes: ‘You have been imprudent, and all my fears are fulfilled. Without anyone near you to feel for you, to attend to you, to watch every change and share every pain. Your wife only could do that. It is her whose soul clings to yours, and vibrates but in harmony with it; whose happiness, whose every emotion, more than entirely dependent on yours, are exchanged for them.’
The passage of years brought some rubs and flaws in the beauty of this tenderness. Alas, it must be always so. These husbands perhaps live in the wilds of South Carolina, far from the sparkle and gayety of New York society. Again, these husbands have families, and sometimes it is wearing. Theodosia takes a journey with two of her husband’s relatives, and the mischievous creature writes to her father: ‘We travel in company with the two Alstons. Pray teach me how to write two A’s without producing something like an Ass.’ Then there is always that father, and the strange complication that he makes of life, complication which is certainly enough to distract and terrify the best of husbands, so that there are times when it seems best to conceal one’s doings from marital observation altogether.
Yet there can be no doubt that Theodosia not only retained her husband’s love to the end, but returned it fully, and her influence over him must have been in proportion to the depth of their affection. The beautiful words of the farewell letter, from which I have already quoted, though written in 1805, would, I am sure, have been just as appropriate in 1812: ‘Death is not welcome to me. I confess it is ever dreaded. You have made me too fond of life. Adieu, then, thou kind, thou tender husband. Adieu, friend of my heart. May Heaven prosper you, and may we meet hereafter. . . . Least of all should I murmur, on whom so many blessings have been showered — whose days have been numbered by bounties — who have had such a husband, such a child, and such a father. . . . Adieu, once more, and for the last time, my beloved. Speak of me often to our son. Let him love the memory of his mother, and let him know how he was beloved by her.’
As a housekeeper and mother, Theodosia, young as she was, seems to have borne herself with dignity and success. Her health was never robust, and the entirely new conditions with which her Southern married life was surrounded were not wholly favorable. There are times when continued and prospective weakness depress and discourage her. But it is evident that she was not one of those who cherish imaginary symptoms, or count on an enfeebled condition to create sympathy: ‘I exert myself to the utmost, feeling none of that pride, so common to my sex, of being weak and ill.’
When effort was called for, she displayed it, and she clearly had the gift of getting things done. Her father is impressed with the rapidity with which her ‘house has been furnished and established.’ And the daughter quietly and simply states her view of the way in which life ought to be met and dealt with: ‘In running away from duties, there is something cowardly which I never could bear.’
There is one point on which I wish I had more light, and that is Theodosia’s management of money. Did she share her father’s incurable thriftlessness? Was she affected at all by what I call the reaction of alternate generations, through which we so often see a child instinctively avoiding the weaknesses and excesses of its parent, perhaps even falling into an opposite excess? Certainly the daughter in this case had no trace of narrowness or meanness, but I cannot help thinking that hard experience in childhood had taught her something more of prudence and forethought than her father ever learned. At any rate, she bewails his European poverty and makes desperate, if not. very successful, efforts to relieve it.
Whatever her economic abilities, she undoubtedly had occasion for them in running her establishment, which must have been at all times a large and difficult one. Alston had the slaves, the general equipment, and the elaborate as well as primitive living-arrangements of a great Southern planter, and Theodosia, at seventeen, had to go in and take charge of these. I have no question but that she did it, and did it well. She had always been accustomed to a similar elaborateness in her father’s house, however great may have been the uncertainty of paying for it. This well appears in Burr’s account of his preparation for one of her visits: ‘Of servants there are enough for family purposes. Eleonore, however, must attend you, for the sake of the heir apparent. You will want no others, as there are at my house Peggy, Nancy, and a small girl of about eleven. Mr. Alston may bring a footman. Anything further will be useless; he may, however, bring six or eight of them, if he like.’ While another brief passage, with its charming suggestion of ‘bustle,’ gives a vivid picture of the state in which Mrs. Alston traveled: ‘Heigh-ho! for Richmond Hill. What a pity you were not here, you do so love a bustle; and then you, and the brat, and the maid, and thirty trunks would add so charmingly to the confusion.’
In her attitude toward her little son Theodosia is as faithful as she is attractive. Her letters to her father are full of the child, though not more so than her father’s to her. Burr adored his grandson and namesake, and poured out incessant counsels and suggestions as to his education. Tutors? He must have the best tutors, must be taught languages, and mathematics, and literature. His mother must keep at him, and if she does not she must be scolded. ‘If you had one particle of invention or genius, you would have taught A. B. A. his a, b, c before this. God mend you. His fibbing is an inheritance, which pride, an inheritance, will cure. His mother went through that process.’ Burr wants him taught energy also, outdoor sports, and some contact with life, such as is essential to fit him for success in a democracy. When the child, at four years old, meets an infuriated goat and puts him to flight with a stick, the grandfather’s soldierheart is entirely delighted.
Theodosia listens quietly to all this paternal advice, and takes it in, and profits by it. But it is quite clear that she manages her child in her own way, and intends to do so. She superintends his lessons, superintends his morals, watches over his health, wants him to be a man and a brave one and a good one.
How pretty is her anxiety when, on some trifling occasion of alarm, the boy is terrified and runs to her and catches her skirts. ‘Do you think this trait ominous of a coward? You know my abhorrence and contempt of those animals. Really I have been uneasy ever since it happened.’
But through all the anxiety and all the care and all the discipline it is evident how much she loved him. And then he died — was snatched away from her just when she had enshrined all her hope in him, and all her pride, and all her life. The two letters written to her father shortly after the loss are tragic in their dry-eyed misery, their quiet revelation of a spiritual universe in ruins: ‘Alas! my dear father, I do live, but how does it happen? Of what am I formed that I live, and why? Of what service can I be in this world, either to you or anyone else, with a body reduced to premature old age, and a mind enfeebled and bewildered? . . . Whichever way I turn, the same anguish still assails me. You talk of consolation. Ah! You know not what you have lost. I think Omnipotence could not give me an equivalent for my boy; no, none — none.'
Again I turn back to that pathetic farewell letter, written years before, when she had no thought that the child’s death would precede hers; and it is touching to see the three strands of interwoven love, which made up all her life, so closely mingled together: ‘Let my father see my son sometimes. Do not be unkind towards him whom I have loved so much, I beseech you. . . . Adieu, my sweet boy. Love your father, be grateful and affectionate to him while he lives; be the pride of his meridian, the support of his departing days. Be all that he wishes; for he made your mother happy.'
But, interesting as Theodosia was in her relations to her husband and her son, it is unquestionably the relation to her father that is the predominant and most impressive thing in her life.
As to Burr’s worship of her there can be no doubt whatever, and it is the finest and most attractive element in his chequered character and career. I have already indicated his solicitude for her education in her youth and for her health at all times. But his attention and absorption appear everywhere in his letters and journals. ‘The happiness of my life depends on your exertions; for what else, for whom else do I live?’ If he has sudden hopes of fortune, if his wild speculations for once promise to turn out well, the instant thought is that he can do much for her. When the direst poverty oppresses him, the very last resort is to sell the precious keepsakes that were hers: ‘The money must be raised or the voyage given up. So, after turning it over, and looking at it, and opening it, and putting it to my ear like a baby, and kissing it, and begging you a thousand pardons out loud, your dear, little, beautiful watch was — was sold.’ The final disaster of her death did more to shatter his extraordinary equanimity than anything else that ever happened to him, and though he lived for many years, and loved and laughed and spent and trifled, the scar on his heart was never quite obliterated.
What is perhaps most singular about this paternal affection is the utter confidence of self-revelation in it. There seems to have been no fold of his subtle and complicated spirit that this man was not ready to open before the child whom he adored. There was no reluctance, there was no modesty, there was no shame. Few men would think of writing to their sons as he writes to this high-minded and exquisite daughter. All his earlier love-affairs and projects of remarriage are submitted to her criticism and comment. Above all, when he was in Europe, he kept a minute daily diary, which was confessedly intended to be perused by Theodosia, and to form notes for future talks with her. Again and again she expresses her delight at the thought of seeing it. Yet there are few more scandalous records of erotic adventure extant anywhere. Can you imagine Pepys keeping his diary expressly to be shown to his daughter? But that is apparently what Burr did. The only possible solution of the puzzle lies in the extraordinary temper of the man, his combination of an extreme subtlety and sophistication with a childlike naïveté, such as we see so often exemplified in the elder Dumas. But even so it is a singular spiritual phenomenon, both for him and for her.
At any rate, as a result of so much confidence and affection, he acquired a very great influence over her. It is touching and beautiful to see how she turns to him for advice and guidance in every crisis of her life. In one of the most curious passages of his journal he shows how great he felt this influence to be. ‘From any man save one, if I cannot vanquish, I can escape. In the hands of that one, I am just what Theodosia is in mine. This was perceived after the first two hours; and seeing no retreat, nor anything to be done, I surrendered, tame and unresisting, to be disarmed, stripped, hacked, hewed, dissected, skinned, turned inside out, at the will and mercy of the operator.’
Nevertheless I cannot help feeling that he somewhat overrated his power, at least that in reality the daughter’s was the stronger nature of the two; that when she was really convinced she went her way with true feminine persistency, and even that perhaps in the end she swayed him more than he did her. She advises him almost like an older sister in his matrimonial perplexities, and it is evident that he wants her advice, and takes it. With what a noble cry does she stimulate him to endeavor and to hope. ‘Tell me that you are engaged in some pursuit worthy of you. This is the subject which interests me most; for a long time it has been the object of my thoughts.’ And indeed in more than one passage he indicates his sense of how near and intimate her sympathy and influence were. ‘I wish to say more, but in this way and at this moment cannot; and, besides, as I have never a good idea which does not occur to you first, it is deemed unnecessary.’
Whatever her influence was, it is certain that she followed every step of his career with passionate anxiety and interest. His doings, his plans, his projects — she demanded to be kept cognizant of them all. ‘As soon as you have formed any determinations, I conjure you to inform me of them as soon as possible. I know that entreaty is not necessary. I am too proud of your confidence to affect a doubt of it; but my mind is anxious, impatiently anxious in regard to your future destiny. Where you are going, what will occupy you, how this will terminate, employ me continually; and when, forgetful of myself, my brain is dizzy with a multitude of projects, my poor little heart cries out — and when shall we meet?’
Naturally what interested and fired Theodosia most was her father’s plan of Mexican domination and sovereignty. After the Hamilton duel, in 1804, had ruined his political prospects in the United States and he had parted forever with that phase of ambition in his farewell speech to the Senate as Vice-President, Burr traveled through the great Western country and conceived his cloudy scheme of empire. Details are vague in the narrative of historians, as they were probably vague in Burr’s own mind. But that they included a dream sovereignty of some kind for himself and Theodosia and her boy, established on the ruins of Spanish-American dominion, is hardly to be questioned. Two brief but immensely significant passages alone are sufficient to prove this. There is the sentence in which Blennerhasset, writing to Alston, refers to ‘your sovereign in expectancy,’ and the still more remarkable phrase of Theodosia, written after it was all over and referring to a possible disturbance in Mexico: ‘Thank God, I am not near my subjects; all my care and real tenderness might be forgotten in the strife.’
The scheme, whatever it was, failed hopelessly, partly because it was in its nature too vast to be realized, still more no doubt because Burr was practically incapable of keeping up with the great sweep of his imagination.
What concerns us is Theodosia’s attitude toward the whole affair. First, how did she herself feel? Were her imagination and her ambition excited? There is no indication that in general she took much interest in politics. It was persons, not causes, that primarily appealed to her. Yet we must remember her mother’s admiring comment on the triumph of the great Catherine, and there is also in Theodosia’s own remark about her Mexican subjects something which suggests that the strange dream had taken a hold upon her fancy. Sensitive and sensible as she was, there are touches implying that she was not wholly indifferent to the distinctions of the great world: ‘I would to Heaven I could be with you,’ she writes to her father in Paris. ‘I long to visit a region where the Muses and Graces have some favorites . . . and circumstances have, for a long time, been inimical to my advancement in any respect.’
But, whatever her own personal aspirations, there can be no question about her passionate interest in her father’s success. She would have liked to see him emperor of the world, and devoutly believed that he deserved to be so. As to Mexico, her grief at the abandonment of the project is intense and lingering and shows in reference after reference in her later letters. And when the project was abandoned, when failure and disappointment came, her affection, her devotion, were unfailing and illimitable, as in all other phases of her father’s career. She loved him when she was a child, she loved him in her mature age; loved him for his gentleness, for his thoughtfulness, for what seemed to her his unselfishness and consideration, and because he liked to see people happy. When disgrace and ignominy overtook him and he was being tried in Richmond for his life, she stepped right out and stood beside him, as proud to be his daughter as when he was Vice-President of the United States.
Far more astonishing than the child’s devotion and loyalty is her inexhaustible belief. She was not only completely subjugated by her father’s charm, — ‘I find that your presence threw a lustre on everything around you. Everything is gayer, more elegant, more pleasant where you are,’ — she accepted him as perfect with an almost superhuman perfection: ‘Indeed, I witness your extraordinary fortitude with new wonder at every new misfortune. Often, after reflecting on this subject, you appear to me so superior, so elevated above all other men; I contemplate you with such a strange mixture of humility, admiration, reverence, love, and pride, that very little superstition would be necessary to make me worship you as a superior being; such enthusiasm does your character excite in me. ... I had rather not live than not be the daughter of such a man.’ And this was written after the conspiracy, after the trial, when Burr had certainly shown all the defects he had.
Perhaps, in spite of her enthusiasm, she was not quite oblivious of all of them. If you look very carefully, you can find an occasional touch of criticism. Errors? Oh yes, he makes errors, slight ones: ‘You know, I love to convict you of an error, as some philosophers seek for spots in the sun.’ And, for all his superhumanity, even she suspects him of delaying and dallying too idly with the sweet of life: ‘I tell you this, because I begin to think that Hannibal has got to Capua.’ Yet these are trifles; the sun of her existence remained for the most part unspotted.
And then one thinks of the man as history sees him. To Americans in general he is simply one branded with eternal ignominy and with the mark of Cain upon his forehead. In the most charitable view, one must admit that, while he may have liked to see people happy, he made thousands wretched. He ran a wild, disordered career, with little spiritual guide except his own whim and the passionate fancy of the moment, with little regard to whom or what he sacrificed. And, if sexual morals have any social significance whatever, he was certainly an abominable reprobate. Worse still, as it would have appeared to him, and possibly to Theodosia, he was not only a bad man — he was a small man. By a petty love of mystery and disguise, by a constitutional incapacity of living with great purposes, he managed to give to even vast designs a perpetual flavor of comic opera. The little things of life were just as important to him as the big, and such a disposition is surely fatal to greatness, if not to happiness. Yet this superb woman, with an intellect as keen as her character was lofty, made an idol of him!
Surely a peculiar and exquisite tragic pathos is infused into her love and loyalty by the very worthlessness of the object, as so often happens in this troubled and unequal world. She had the nobler, the finer, the more dignified nature, as well as the stronger, and all her nobility and dignity were lavished upon Aaron Burr.
Yet with it all there was a certain similarity between them in their eternal childlikeness. With one of his charming touches of insight he says: ‘Oh, yes! I knew how much of a child you were when I sent the pretty things. Just such another child is ton père.' The world, to both of them, was instinctively a matter of pretty things. Love, hate, empire, life, were toys to be trifled with and flung away, in view of the vast ocean of illusion, which tosses up men and gods and worlds and hopes in ceaseless admired disorder forever and ever.