[Frontispiece: A. Burr]
MEMOIRS OF AARON BURR, COMPLETE
WITH MISCELLANEOUS SELECTIONS
FROM HIS CORRESPONDENCE.
BY MATTHEW L. DAVIS.
"I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."
IN TWO VOLUMES.
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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1836, by
MATTHEW L. DAVIS,
in the Clerk's Office of the Southern District of New-York.
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During a period of forty years I was intimately acquainted with Colonel Burr, and have reason to suppose that I possessed his entire confidence. Some time after his return from Europe in 1812, on different occasions, he suggested casually a wish that I would make notes of his political life. When the Memoirs and Correspondence of Mr. Jefferson were published, he was much excited at the statements which were made in his Ana respecting the presidential contest in Congress in 1801.
He procured and sent me a copy of the work, with a request that I would peruse the parts designated by him. From this time forward he evinced an anxiety that I would prepare his Memoirs, offering me the use of all his private papers, and expressing a willingness to explain any doubtful points, and to dictate such parts of his early history as I might require. These propositions led to frequent and full conversations. I soon discovered that Colonel Burr was far more tenacious of his military, than of his professional, political, or moral character. His prejudices against General Washington were immoveable. They were formed in the summer of 1776, while he resided at headquarters; and they were confirmed unchangeably by the injustice which he said he had experienced at the hands of the commander-in-chief immediately after the battle of Long Island, and the retreat of the American army from the city of New-York. These grievances he wished to mingle with his own history; and he was particularly anxious to examine the military movements of General Washington on different occasions, but more especially at the battle of Monmouth, in which battle Colonel Burr commanded a brigade in Lord Stirling's division. I peremptorily refused entering upon any such discussion; and, for some time, all communication on the subject ceased.
Colonel Burr, however, renewed the conversation relative to his Memoirs, and agreed that any thing which might be written should be confined to himself. With this understanding I frequently visited him, and made notes under his dictation. I never asked him a question on any subject, or in relation to any man or measure, that he did not promptly and willingly answer. On his part there was no desire of concealment; nor did he ever express to me a wish to suppress an account of any act of his whole life. So far as I could judge, his only apprehensions were that "kind friends," as he sometimes termed them, by attempts at explanation, might unintentionally misrepresent acts which they did not understand.
I devoted the summer of 1835 to an examination of his letters and papers, of which there is an immense quantity. The whole of them were placed in my hands, to be used at my discretion. I was authorized to take from among them whatever I supposed would aid me in preparing the contemplated book.
I have undertaken the work, aware of the delicacy and responsibility of the task. But, if I know myself, it has been performed with the most scrupulous regard to my own reputation for correctness. I have aimed to state facts, and the fair deductions from them, without the slightest intermixture of personal feeling. I am very desirous that a knowledge of Mr. Burr's character and conduct should be derived from his miscellaneous correspondence, and not from what his biographer might write, unsupported by documentary testimony. With this view many of his private letters are selected for publication.
I entertain a hope that I shall escape the charge of egotism. I have endeavoured to avoid that ground of offence, whatever may have been my literary sins in other respects. It is proper for me, however, in this place, and for a single purpose, to depart from the course pursued in the body of the work. It is a matter of perfect notoriety, that among the papers left in my possession by the late Colonel Burr, there was a mass of letters and copies of letters written or received by him, from time to time, during a long life, indicating no very strict morality in some of his female correspondents. These letters contained matter that would have wounded the feelings of families more extensively than could be imagined. Their publication would have had a most injurious tendency, and created heartburnings that nothing but time could have cured.
As soon as they came under my control I mentioned the subject to Colonel Burr; but he prohibited the destruction of any part of them during his lifetime. I separated them, however, from other letters in my possession, and placed them in a situation that made their publication next to impossible, whatever might have been my own fate. As soon as Colonel Burr's decease was known, with my own hands I committed to the fire all such correspondence, and not a vestige of it now remains.
It is with unaffected reluctance that this statement of facts is made; and it never would have been made but for circumstances which have transpired since the decease of Colonel Burr. A mere allusion to these circumstances will, it is trusted, furnish ample justification. No sooner had the newspapers announced the fact that the Memoirs of Colonel Burr were to be written by me, than I received letters from various quarters of the country, inquiring into the nature of the revelations that the book would make, and deprecating the introduction of individual cases. These letters came to hand both anonymously and under known signatures, expressing intense solicitude for suppression.
Under such circumstances, am I not only warranted in these remarks, but imperiously called upon to make them? What other mode remained to set the public mind at ease? I have now stated what must for ever hereafter preclude all possibility for cavil on one part, or anxiety on the other. I alone have possessed the private and important papers of Colonel Burr; and I pledge my honour that every one of them, so far as I know and believe, that could have injured the feelings of a female or those of her friends, is destroyed. In order to leave no chance for distrust, I will add, that I never took, or permitted to be taken, a single copy of any of these letters; and, of course, it is quite impossible that any publication hereafter, if any should be made of such papers or letters, can have even the pretence of authenticity.
New-York, November 15th, 1836.
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CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
Ancestors of Burr; his father's birth; preparations for the ministry; the Rev. Aaron Burr visits Boston; his account of the celebrated preacher Whitefield; is married in 1752; Nassau Hall built in Princeton in 1757; the Rev. Aaron Burr its first president; letter from a lady to Colonel Burr; from his mother to her father; death of his parents; sent to Philadelphia, under the care of Dr. Shippen; runs away when only four years of age
Burr is removed to Stockbridge, and placed under the care of Timothy Edwards, his uncle and guardian; Edwards removes to Elizabethtown, New-Jersey; Judge Tappan Reeve is employed in the family as a private tutor to Burr; runs away to New-York at ten years of age; enters Princeton College in 1769, in the thirteenth year of his age; his habits there; an awakening in college in 1771-72; his conversation with Dr. Witherspoon on the subject; selections from his compositions while a student
Burr's college friends; letters of William Paterson to Burr; he graduates in 1772, when sixteen years of age; remains in college to review his studies; amusing anecdote relative to Professor S. S. Smith, in the Cliosophic Society, while Burr was acting as president; letter from Timothy Dwight; from Samuel Spring; correspondence with Matthias Ogden and others, in cipher; anecdote respecting visit to a billiard-table; enters the family of Joseph Bellamy, D. D. for the purpose of pursuing a course of reading on religious topics; in 1774 determines to study the law; letter from Timothy Edwards
Removes to the family of Judge Reeve; amusing letter from Matthias Ogden; to Ogden; from Jonathan Bellamy; from Ogden; from Lyman Hall to the Rev. James Caldwell
Battles of Lexington and Bunker's Hill; Burr visits Elizabethtown, and, in company with his friend Ogden, joins the army under Washington before Cambridge; great disappointment and mortification at witnessing the irregularities in the camp, and the want of a police; letter from Roger Sherman to General David Wooster; from James Duane to General Montgomery, announcing his appointment as a brigadier-general in the continental army; General Montgomery's answer; Burr sickens in camp; hears of General Arnold's intended expedition against Quebec; volunteers as a private; forms a mess, and marches from Cambridge to Newburyport with knapsack and musket; letters from Dr. James Cogswell, Peter Colt, &c. to dissuade him from proceeding with the expedition; efforts of his guardian to prevent him from marching; sufferings on the march through the wilderness; escape from drowning in passing the rapids; on arriving at the Chaudiere, is despatched by Arnold to Montgomery with information; places himself under the protection of a Catholic priest, who furnishes him with a guide; the guide becomes alarmed; Burr is secreted for some days in a convent; arrives in safety at Montgomery's headquarters; is appointed one of his aid-de-camps; the plan of attack upon Quebec changed; Judge Marshall's explanation of the reasons for the change; Burr's opinion on the same subject; the attack made on the night of the 31st of December, 1775; General Montgomery, Captains McPherson and Cheeseman, and all in front, except Burr and a French guide, killed; Colonel Campbell orders a retreat.
Resolve of Congress to erect a monument to the memory of General Montgomery; procured by, and executed under the superintendence of Dr. Franklin in Paris; erected in front of St. Paul's Church, in the city of New-York, in 1789; Arnold takes command; Burr acts as brigade major; Arnold resolves on demanding a surrender of Quebec, and that Burr shall be the bearer of a sealed message; refuses, without first reading its contents; after reading, considers it unbecoming an American officer, and declines delivering it; receives complimentary letters for his intrepidity in the attack; letter from Ogden; army moves to the mouth of the Sorel; Burr determines on leaving it, which Arnold forbids, but he persists; in Albany is notified that General Washington wishes him to come to New-York; reports himself to the commander-in-chief, who invites him to join his family; letter from Ogden informing him that General Washington wishes him to take up his residence at headquarters; joins Washington's family, but soon becomes discontented; on the suggestion of Governor Hancock, accepts the appointment of aid-de-camp to Major-general Putnam; letter to Ogden; reasons for quitting Washington's family; letter from Paterson to Burr; to Paterson
Some account of Mrs. Coghlan, daughter of Major Moncrieffe of the British army; her residence in General Putnam's family; her removal to the family of General Mifflin; her allusions, in her memoirs, to a young American officer (Colonel Burr) with whom she had become enamoured; letter of General Putnam to Miss Moncrieffe; Burr's character for intrigue; destruction of confidential papers, improper for public inspection; letter from Theodore Sedgwick to Burr; from Ogden; to T. Edwards; from Ogden; General Putnam ordered to take command on Long Island in the place of General Green; Burr reports to Putnam unfavourably of the state of the army, but proposes to beat up the enemy's quarters; is opposed to an action, considering it likely to prove disastrous; battle on the 27th of August, 1776; Burr presses upon Putnam and Mifflin the necessity of an immediate retreat; council of war, and retreat ordered; General McDOUGALL has charge of the embarcation of the troops from Brooklyn on the night of the 29th; Burr assists him; his conduct this night inspires General McDOUGALL with a confidence in him for vigilance and intrepidity which was never afterward diminished; the retreat effected in good order; Burr is in favour of an immediate evacuation of the city of New-York; on the 15th of September the British land on Manhattan Island; General Washington orders a retreat, which the enemy endeavour to intercept; in the confusion, General Silliman's brigade is left behind, and General Knox conducts it to a small fort (Bunker's Hill) in the suburbs of the city; Burr discovers the perilous situation of the brigade, and recommends Knox to retreat; Knox refuses, and denies the practicability; Burr induces the officers and men of the brigade to place themselves under his command, and, after some skirmishes, he conducts them with trifling loss to the main army; Samuel Rowland to Commodore Morris on this subject; certificate of the Rev. Hezekiah Ripley, chaplain of General Silliman's brigade, respecting their retreat under the command of Colonel Burr; also of Isaac Jennings and Andrew Wakeman, and a letter from Nathaniel Judson, in relation to the same affair
Letter from Colonel Burr to Mrs. Edwards; the British army move from Brunswick to Princeton; General Washington crosses the Delaware; letter to Ogden; Burr ordered by General Washington, through Putnam, to proceed to Norwalk, Fairfield, and other places on the Sound, to "settle a line of intelligence," &c.; on his return to camp, July 21st, 1777, is appointed by Washington a lieutenant-colonel in Malcolm's regiment; Burr to Washington; joins his regiment in the Clove, Orange county; the British come out from New-York, 2000 strong, on a marauding party; Burr marches his regiment thirty miles in the afternoon and evening to attack them; before morning captures their picket-guards by surprise; the enemy retreat, leaving their plunder behind them; statement of this affair by Judge George Gardner and Lieutenant Hunter, with other details respecting Burr; Putnam orders him to join Parsons's brigade with his regiment, for the purpose of re-enforcing Washington; on the second day of his march, is ordered by General Varnum to halt and defend the bridge at Pompton against the British; in November, is stationed with his regiment, in advance of the main army, at White Marsh, in Pennsylvania; goes into winter quarters at Valley Forge; by the advice of General McDOUGALL, he is ordered by Washington to take command of a strong body of militia, posted to defend the Gulf near Valley Forge, all his senior officers having been withdrawn for the purpose of giving him the command; an intended mutiny suppressed by his promptitude and intrepidity; is of the Lee and Gates party, opposed to Washington; misunderstanding with Lord Stirling; letter from Lord Stirling; letter to him
Letter from Malcolm to Burr; battle of Monmouth, June 28t; arrest and trial of General Lee; Burr dissatisfied with Washington's orders to him during the action, in which he commanded a brigade; Lieutenant-colonel Dummer, under his immediate command, killed; Burr's horse shot under him; his health greatly impaired by fatigue and exposure previous to and during the action; ordered by Washington, the day after the battle, to proceed to Elizabethtown to watch the movements of the enemy; several notes of Lord Stirling to him on the subject; joins his regiment; ordered by the Baron de Kalb to West Point; the legislature of New-York adopt rigid measures in regard to the tories; Governor Clinton applies to the commander-in-chief to appoint a confidential continental officer to take charge of them, &c.; General Washington designates Colonel Burr; letter from Robert Benson to Burr on the subject; proceedings of the Board of Commissioners for defeating Conspiracies, transmitted in their letter to Burr; letter from Theodore Sedgwick; from General Lee; Burr to Washington, asking a furlough on account of ill health, without pay; from Washington, granting the furlough, but ordering the pay; Burr declines accepting it on these conditions, and joins his regiment at West Point; letter from Mrs. Montgomery to Burr; ordered by General McDOUGALL to take command of a brigade at Haverstraw, his seniors having been withdrawn for the purpose; ordered by McDOUGALL to take command of the lines in Westchester; letter to McDOUGALL, detailing the arrangement of his pickets, outposts, &c.; to McDOUGALL; from Major Platt; from McDOUGALL
Letter from Burr to McDOUGALL; from Paterson; from Major Platt; to McDOUGALL; from McDOUGALL; from Platt; from McDOUGALL; from General Putnam; from McDOUGALL; from Samuel Young, Esq., of Westchester, to Commodore Morris, detailing Burr's military career on the lines
Letter from Burr to General Washington resigning his command; from Washington; from Mrs. General Montgomery; from Paterson; from McDOUGALL; at the request of General McDOUGALL, Burr consents, at great hazard, to be the bearer of a verbal confidential communication to General Washington; amusing incident at Townsend's iron-works, in Orange county, on this expedition; in July, 1779, the British under Tryon land at East Haven; Burr, although confined to a sick-bed, arises, sallies forth, takes command of the students in the college green, and checks for a time the advance of the enemy; Colonel Platt's account of Burr's military life
Description of Burr's person and manner; anecdote illustrative of his tact at correcting an ill-timed expression to a lady; his first acquaintance with Mrs. Prevost, subsequently his wife; letter from Mr. Monroe, late President of the United States, to Mrs. Prevost; General Washington to Mrs. Prevost; from Paterson; from Colonel Troup; the same; from Paterson; to Paterson; from Troup; from Major Alden; from Paterson; from Troup; to Troup; from Troup; the same; the same; from Peter Colt; the same; from Troup; the same
Letter from Paterson to Burr; the same; from Troup; Burr commences the study of the law with Paterson, on the Rariton; removes to Haverstraw to study with Thomas Smith; capture of Andre; Mrs. Arnold's confession to Mrs. Prevost of her own guilt; scene with Mrs. Arnold at the house of Colonel Morris in 1779-80; Burr leaves Haverstraw, and goes to Albany to prepare for admission to the bar; letter to Major Alden; from Thomas Smith; from Mrs. Prevost; the same; the same; from Major Alden; to Mrs. Prevost; to Chief Justice Morris; to Mrs. Prevost; Character of Philip Van Rensselear
Burr applies to the Supreme Court for admission; the bar objects to his examination; objections overruled; admitted as an attorney on the 19th January, 1782, and as counsellor on the 17th of April, 1782; commences the practice of law in Albany; letter from Major Popham; to Mrs. Prevost; Burr married to Mrs. Prevost, July, 1782; letter from Mrs. Burr; from Judge Hobart; from Mrs. Burr; the same; Burr removes to New-York; elected a member of the legislature; his opposition in that body to what was termed the Mechanics' Bill, produces great excitement; threatened riot on the subject, Series of letters between Mr. and Mrs. Burr
Series of letters between Mr. and Mrs. Burr continued from pages 275-285—Federal Constitution adopted; Burr nominated and defeated on the Assembly ticket of "the Sons of Liberty," in opposition to the Federal ticket; he supports Judge Yates in opposition to George Clinton for the office of governor; Clinton elected; soon after tenders Burr the office of attorney-general; he takes time to deliberate; his letter to Governor Clinton, agreeing to serve; is appointed attorney-general, September, 1789; commissioners appointed by the legislature to report on revolutionary claims against the state; Burr one of them; letters to and from Mrs. Burr; letter to his daughter Theodosia; from Dr. Benjamin Rush; to Theodosia
Report of the commissioners, in pursuance of the act entitled An act to receive and state accounts against the state, drawn by Burr; appointed senator of the United States, 1791; caution in correspondence; sales of the public lands by "the commissioners of the land office," of which board Burr was a member; great dissatisfaction as to those sales; subject brought before the Assembly with a view to the impeachment of the board; Burr exonerated from censure; assembly approve the conduct of the commissioners; anecdote of Melancton Smith and General Hamilton; Burr, during his first session in the United States Senate, with the sanction of the secretary of state (Mr. Jefferson), is employed in examining the records of the department; is prevented from proceeding, by order of President Washington; Mr. Jefferson to Burr on the subject; contested election between Clinton and Jay for governor; canvassers differ as to the legality of certain votes; apply to Rufus King and Burr for advice; King and Burr differ in opinion; Burr proposes to decline giving advice; Mr. King objects; in consequence, they give separate and conflicting opinions; Burr becomes zealous in support of that which he has given; seven of the canvassers decide on destroying the votes of Otsego, Clinton, and Tioga counties; four object; statement of the case; opinion of Mr. King; opinion of Mr. Burr; letter from Jonathan D. Sargeant; subject of the canvassers taken up by the legislature; protest of the minority; reasons assigned to the legislature by the majority in vindication of their conduct, drawn by Burr; Assembly approve the conduct of the majority; letter from Burr to Jacob De Lamater, explaining his own course in the contested election between Clinton and Jay
Burr appointed a judge of the Supreme Court; declines, but Governor Clinton does not report the fact until called upon by a resolution of the legislature; chairman of the Senate Committee to answer the president's speech, the first session of his membership; reports the answer next day, which is adopted without opposition; defeats a bill to increase the standing army by his single objection; letters to Mrs. Burr; series of letters to his daughter Theodosia; teaches his slaves to read and write; letters from one of them
Burr's manner of speaking; Albert Gallatin appointed a senator of the United States; objections to the legality of his appointment; Burr ardent in support of Gallatin; note of John Taylor, of Virginia, to Burr, on the subject of replying to Rufus King; Senate decide against Gallatin; Burr offers resolutions against sending an envoy extraordinary to England, in 1794, and against selecting a judge for the station; votes against John Jay; discontents of the Democratic party with General Washington for continuing Gouverneur Morris in France; certain members of Congress recommend Colonel Burr to fill the station; appoint Mr. Madison and Mr. Monroe to notify the president of their wishes; General Washington refuses to make the appointment, but agrees to nominate Mr. Monroe; Burr's opposition to Jay's treaty; proposes amendments, which are rejected; letter to Thomas Morris; detail of legislative proceedings in procuring the charter of the Manhattan Company; Burr's conduct on the occasion; his duel with John B. Church, Esq.; letter of Burr to ——-, giving a history of his transactions with the Holland Land Company; his daughter married; Miss Burr to Joseph Alston; letter from Alston to Miss Burr on early marriages; contested election in New-York in 1800; Burr a candidate for the office of Vice President; a tie vote with Mr. Jefferson
MEMOIRS OF AARON BURR.
The grandfather of Colonel Aaron Burr, the subject of these memoirs, was a German by birth, and of noble parentage. Shortly after his arrival in North America, he settled in Fairfield, Connecticut, where he purchased a large tract of land, and reared a numerous family. A part of this landed estate remained in the possession of his lineal descendants until long after the revolutionary war. During Colonel Burr's travels in Germany, in the year 1809, various communications were made to him, orally and in writing, by different branches of the Burr family, some of whom were then filling high and distinguished scientific and literary stations.
His father, the Rev. Aaron Burr, was born in Fairfield, on the 4th day of January, 1715, and was educated at Yale College. In a manuscript journal which he kept, and which has been preserved, he says, "In September, 1736, with many fears and doubts about my qualifications (being under clouds with respect to my spiritual state), I offered myself to trials, and was approved as a candidate for the ministry. My first sermon was preached at Greenfield, and immediately after I came into the Jerseys. I can hardly give any account why I came here. After I had preached for some time at Hanover, I had a call by the people of Newark; but there was scarce any probability that I should suit their circumstances, being young in standing and trials. I accepted of their invitation, with a reserve, that I did not come with any views of settling. My labours were universally acceptable among them, and they manifested such great regard and love for me, that I consented to accept of the charge of their souls.
"A.D. 1738-39, January the 25th, I was set apart to the work of the ministry, by fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands. God grant that I may ever keep fresh upon my mind the solemn charge that was then given me; and never indulge trifling thoughts of what then appeared to me of such awful importance. The ministers who joined in this solemn transaction were Mr. Dickinson, who gave the charge, and Mr. Pierson, who preached. Mr. Dickinson, who presided at this work, has been of great service to me by his advice and instruction, both before and since my ordination.
"In November, 1739, I made a visit to my friends in New-England, and again in March, 1740. In the following August gust I was in a declining state of health, and by the advice of my physicians visited Rhode Island. From thence I proceeded to Boston. On the 19th of September I heard Mr. Whitefield preach in Dr. Colman's church. I am more and more pleased with the man. On the 21st, heard him preach in the Commons to about ten thousand people. On Monday, visited him, and had some conversation to my great satisfaction. On the 23d, went to hear him preach in Mr. Webb's church, but the house was crowded before Mr. Whitefield came. The people, especially the women, were put into a fright, under a mistaken notion that the galleries were falling, which caused them to hurry out in such a violent manner, that many were seriously injured and five killed. The same day, Mr. Whitefield preached at Mr. Gee's church. In the evening he preached at Dr. Sewall's church. On Saturday I went to hear him in the Commons; there were about eight thousand hearers. He expounded the parable of the prodigal son in a very moving manner. Many melted into tears. On the 4th of October, being on my return to New-Jersey, I arrived at Fairfield, where I remained two days with my friends."
In the year 1748, Governor Belcher, of New-Jersey, by and with the approbation of his Majesty's Council, granted a charter to the college of New-Jersey, subsequently known as Nassau Hall. This college was opened in Newark, the students living in private families. The Rev. Aaron Burr was appointed the first president. In the year 1754 or 1755, the trustees commenced erecting the college in Princeton; and in 1757 it was so far completed that the students, about seventy in number, were removed to the building.
In, June, 1752, President Burr, being then in his 38th year, was married to Esther Edwards, the daughter of Jonathan Edwards, a distinguished metaphysician and divine. He was the second president of Princeton College, being called to that station on the decease of his son-in-law, President Burr. Thus, the father of Colonel Aaron Burr, and the grandfather on his mother's side, were, in succession, at the head of that seminary of learning.
President Burr was alike celebrated for his eloquence and piety; but, withal, he possessed no inconsiderable degree of eccentricity. His courtship and marriage partook of it. Miss Edwards, after the preliminaries were arranged, was brought to New-Jersey to be married. The occurrence created much conversation, and gave rise to some newspaper commentary. The following is extracted from the New-York Gazette of the 20th of July, 1752.
"A letter to a gentleman from his friend, dated
"July 7th, 1752
"As you are a known and peculiar votary to the state of celibacy, I judged it would do you no disservice to acquaint you of a late occurrence, which sufficiently evidences, that after the most mature consideration, some of our wisest and best men do prefer the endearment of the nuptial bed.
"About eight days since, the Rev. Aaron Burr, president of the College of New-Jersey, was married to a daughter of the renowned Mr. Jonathan Edwards, late of Northampton. She is a young lady of about twenty-one. Her person may be called agreeable; her natural genius seems to be sprightly, and, no doubt, is greatly improved by a very virtuous education. In short, she appears to be one every way qualified to make a man of sense and piety happy in the conjugal relation. As to the courtship or marriage, I shall not descend to particulars; but only observe, in general, that, for some centuries, I suppose there has not been one more in the patriarchal mode.
"I hope, sir, that this instance, both as to matter and form, will have its genuine influence upon you, and as well bear a part in convincing you that wedlock is incomparably preferable to the roving uneasiness of the single state, as to direct you, when you are choosing your mate, that, instead of acting the modern gallant, wisely to imitate this example, and endeavour to restore courtship and marriage to their original simplicity and design.
At different times Colonel Burr received friendly anonymous and other communications, recommending to him the practice of a religious life. It is a remarkable fact, that in almost every such instance he is referred to the letters of his mother. From a communication to him, written by a lady, the following is extracted. If it should meet her eye, as it probably will, it is hoped that she will pardon this freedom. Her name is suppressed, and will not be known, unless through her own instrumentality.
"My Dear Sir,
"I trust the purity of the motives by which I am actuated will find an apology in your bosom for the liberty I assume in addressing you on a subject which involves your eternal interest.
"Here, in the wilds of ——-, I have found an extract of a letter, written by your inestimable mother nearly sixty years ago, of which you are the principal subject; and a transcript of which I shall enclose for your perusal. Perhaps you will think me a weak, presumptuous being; but permit me, dear sir, to assure you, this does not proceed from a whim of the moment. It is not a mere transient gust of enthusiasm. The subject has long been heavy on my mind. I have more than once resolved to converse with you freely; to tell you how my own feelings were affected relative to your situation; but my faltering tongue refused to obey the impulse of my soul, and I have withdrawn abruptly, to conceal that which I had not confidence to communicate. But meeting (I believe providentially) with this precious relic has determined me. I will write, and transmit it to you. I am too well convinced of the liberality of your sentiments; but I still believe you retain an inherent respect for the religion of your forefathers.
"I have often reflected on your trials, and the fortitude with which you have sustained them, with astonishment. Yours has been no common lot. But you seem to have forgotten the right use of adversity. Afflictions from Heaven 'are angels sent on embassies of love.' We must improve, and not abuse them, to obtain the blessing. They are commissioned to stem the tide of impetuous passion; to check inordinate ambition; to show us the insignificance of earthly greatness; to wean our affections from transitory things, and elevate them to those realities which are ever blooming at the right hand of God. When affliction is thus sanctified, 'the heart at once it humbles and exalts.'
"Was it philosophy that supported you in your trials? There is an hour approaching when philosophy will fail, and all human science will desert you. What then will be your substitute? Tell me, Colonel Burr, or rather answer it to your own heart, when the pale messenger appears, how will you meet him—'undamped by doubts, undarkened by despair?'
"The enclosed is calculated to excite mingled sensations both of a melancholy and pleasing nature. The hand that penned it is now among 'the just made perfect.' Your mother had given you up by faith. Have you ever ratified the vows she made in your behalf? When she bade you a long farewell, she commended you to the protection of Him who had promised to be a father to the fatherless." The great Augustine, in his early years, was an infidel in his principles, and a libertine in his conduct, which his pious mother deplored with bitter weeping. But she was told by her friends that 'the child of so many prayers, and tears could not be lost;' and it was verified to her happy experience, for he afterward became one of the grand luminaries of the church of Christ. This remark has often been applied to you; and I trust you will yet have the happiness to find that 'the prayers of the righteous' have 'availed much.'
"One favour I would ask: when you have done with this, destroy it, that it may never meet the eye of any third person. In the presence of that God, before whom the inmost recesses of the heart are open, I have written. I consulted him, and him only, respecting the propriety of addressing it to you; and the answer he gave was, freedom in writing, with a feeling of the deepest interest impressed upon my heart.
"To Col. A. BURR."
EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM MRS. BURR TO HER FATHER, PRESIDENT EDWARDS.
"Princeton, Nov. 2, 1757.
"Your most affectionate, comforting letter, by my brother, was exceedingly refreshing to me, although I was somewhat damped that I should not see you until spring. But it is my comfort in this disappointment, as well as under all my afflictions, that God knows what is best for me and for his own glory. Perhaps I depended too much on the company and conversation of such a near, and dear, and affectionate father and guide. I cannot doubt but all is for the best, and I am satisfied that God should order the affair of your removal as shall be for his glory, whatever comes of me. Since I wrote my mother's letter, God has carried me through new trials, and given me new supports. My little son  has been sick with the slow fever ever since my brother left us, and has been brought to the brink of the grave. But I hope, in mercy, God is bringing him up again. I was enabled to resign the child (after a severe struggle with nature) with the greatest freedom. God showed me that the child was not my own, but his, and that he had a right to recall what he had lent whenever he thought fit; and I had no reason to complain, or say God dealt hard with me. This silenced me. But how good is God! He hath not only kept me from complaining, but comforted me, by enabling me to offer up the child by faith. I think, if ever I acted faith, I saw the fullness there was in Christ for little infants, and his willingness to accept of such as were offered to him. 'Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God,' were comforting words. God also showed me, in such a lively manner, the fullness that was in himself of all spiritual blessings, that I said, Although all streams were cut off, yet, so long as my God lives, I have enough. He enabled me to say—'Although thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee.' In this time of trial I was led to enter into a renewed and explicit covenant with God, in a more solemn manner than ever before, and with the greatest freedom and delight. After much self-examination and prayer, I did give up myself and children to God with my whole heart. Never, until now, had I a sense of the privilege we are allowed in covenanting with God! This act of my soul left my mind in a quiet and steady trust in God. A few days after this, one evening, in talking of the glorious state my dear departed must be in, my soul was carried out in such longing desires after this glorious state, that I was forced to retire from the family to conceal my joy. When alone, I was so transported, and my soul carried out in such eager desires after perfection, and the full enjoyment of God, and to serve him uninterruptedly, that I think my nature would not have borne much more. I think I had that night a foretaste of Heaven. This frame continued, in some good degree, the whole night. I slept but little; and when I did, my dreams were all of heavenly and divine things. Frequently since I have felt the same in kind, though not in degree. Thus a kind and gracious God has been with me in six troubles, and in seven. But, oh! Sir, what cause of deep humiliation and abasement of soul have I, on account of remaining corruption which I see working, especially pride! Oh, how many shapes does pride cloak itself in! Satan is also busy shooting his darts; but, blessed be God, those temptations of his that used to overthrow me, as yet, have not touched me. Oh to be delivered from the power of Satan as well as sin! I cannot help hoping the time is near. God is certainly fitting me for himself; and when I think it will be soon that I shall be called hence, the thought is transporting.
"Your dutiful and affectionate daughter,
Such were the parents of Colonel Aaron Burr. Of the natural guardianship and protection of both he was deprived before he had reached the third year of his age. He was born on the 6th of February, 1756, in Newark, State of New-Jersey. His father died in August, 1757, and his mother the year following, leaving two children, Aaron, and his sister Sarah. She subsequently became the wife of Judge Tappan Reeve, of Connecticut. On the decease of his father, Colonel Burr inherited a handsome estate.
In the year 1760 Aaron was sent to Philadelphia, under the care of an aunt and Dr. Shippen. For the family of the doctor he entertained a high degree of respect. He frequently spoke of them in the kindest terms, and recurred to this early period of his history with emotions of gratitude for their care and protection.
Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, remarks that, "In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular which can throw light on the progress of his mind, is interesting." Johnson himself, in the Life of Sydenham, says "There is no instance of any man, whose history has been minutely related, that did not, in every part of life, discover the same proportion of intellectual vigour."
These high authorities are now quoted in justification of some of the details which will be given in the progress of this work, and which, in themselves, may appear trifling and unimportant. When Aaron was about four years old, he had some misunderstanding with his preceptor, in consequence of which he ran away, and was not found until the third or fourth day after his departure from home; thus indicating, at a tender age, that fearlessness of mind, and determination to rely upon himself, which were characteristics stamped upon every subsequent act of his life.
1. Col. Burr, at that time about twenty months old.
In 1761 he was removed to Stockbridge, in Massachusetts, and placed in the family of Timothy Edwards, his mother's eldest brother. In 1762 his maternal uncle, Timothy, removed to Elizabethtown, New-Jersey. Aaron and his sister Sarah remained in the family until the former entered college, and the latter became the wife of Judge Reeve. A private tutor was employed for them in the house of Mr. Edwards. For a considerable portion of the time, Judge Reeve was engaged in that capacity.
When about ten years old, Aaron evinced a desire to make a voyage to sea; and, with this object in view, ran away from his uncle Edwards, and came to the city of New-York. He entered on board an outward-bound vessel as cabin-boy. He was, however, pursued by his guardian, and his place of retreat discovered. Young Burr, one day, while busily employed, perceived his uncle coming down the wharf, and immediately ran up the shrouds, and clambered to the topgallant-mast head. Here he remained, and peremptorily refused to come down, or be taken down, until all the preliminaries of a treaty of peace were agreed upon. To the doctrine of unconditional submission he never gave his assent.
In 1769 Burr entered Princeton College; where, owing to his extreme youth and smallness of stature, he was forced to commence with the sophomore, although, upon examination, he was found qualified to enter the junior class. This was a source of extreme mortification to him, and especially as he had been prepared, and was every way qualified, to enter the preceding year. From his infancy Burr was of a slender frame, and appeared to be delicately formed; but exhibited great muscular strength, and was able to endure excessive fatigue of body and mind.
Previous to entering college, young Burr had formed extraordinary notions of the acquirements of collegiates; and felt great apprehension lest he should be found inferior to his classmates. He was therefore, at first, indefatigable as well as systematic in his studies. He soon discovered that he could not pursue them after dinner with the same advantage that he could before. He suspected that this was owing to his eating too abundantly. He made the experiment, and the result convinced him that his apprehensions were well founded. He immediately adopted a system of regimen, to which, in some degree, he adhered through life. So abstemious was he during the greater part of the first year after his entrance into college, that it operated powerfully upon him, and he was supposed to be in bad health. He was in the habit of studying sixteen or eighteen hours of the twenty-four, until the period of examination arrived, when he discovered that the progress he had made was so much beyond his associates, that he formed an opinion as contemptuous as it had been exalted of his college friends. The effect of this was ultimately very injurious upon his habits.
During the last year that he remained in college, he passed a life of idleness, negligence, and, in some measure, of dissipation. He applied himself but little to his studies, and was in the constant pursuit of pleasure. He graduated, however, when only sixteen years of age, with a reputation for talents, and receiving the highest academic honours the faculty could bestow.
In the year 1771-72, there was in the college what was termed, in religious phraseology, "an awakening." A large portion of the collegians became converted. It was only a short time before Burr graduated, and in the midst of his hilarity and amusements. He was frequently appealed to by his associates, and threatened with the most terrific consequences if there was not an inward as well as an outward change. From his infancy Burr's education had been strictly moral; and strong impressions had been made upon his mind as to the existence of a Deity, and the accountability of man. Yet this awakening did not seem to him right in all its parts. He determined, therefore, to have a free and full conversation with Dr. Witherspoon, the then president of the college, on the subject. The result of that conversation in some measure tranquillized young Burr. The Rev. Dr. assured him that it was not true and rational religion, but fanaticism, that was operating upon his friends.
Among the papers preserved by Colonel Burr are the originals of a number of essays or orations, written and read by him, in conformity with the regulations of the college, while yet a student. They are without dates; but, as he graduated in 1772, they must have been composed when he was of an age between thirteen and sixteen. A few of them are here inserted, as exhibiting his manner of writing, and the maturity and tone of his mind. The opinions which he formed, while yet in college, as to public speaking and the selection of language, he appears never to have changed. The style which he then recommended seems ever after to have been his model.
* * * * *
Read in College, by Aaron Burr.—On Style.
"I have often observed, that it is very common for those who are ambitious of excelling in composition, to study swelling words, pompous epithets, and laboured periods. This is often practised, especially by young writers. It is, however, generally condemned as a fault, and sometimes too by those who practise it themselves. An elegant simplicity of language is what every one should strive to obtain. Besides the arguments which are usually offered on this head, there is one very important one, which is commonly not much attended to.
"It is the business of every writer to acquire command of language, in order that he may be able to write with ease and readiness, and, upon any occasion, to form extempore discourses. Unless he can do this, he will never shine as a speaker, nor will he ever make a figure in private conversation. But to do this, it is necessary to study simplicity of style. There never was a ready speaker, whose language was not, generally, plain and simple; for it is absolutely impossible to carry the laboured ornaments of language, the round period, or the studied epithet, into extempore discourses; and, were it possible, it would be ridiculous. We have learned, indeed, partly from reading poetry, and partly from reading vicious compositions, to endure, and too often to admire, such stiff and laboured discourses in writing; but if it were even possible for a man to speak in the same pompous diction in which Browne has written his vulgar errors, he would certainly be very disagreeable. This reason, among others, may be assigned for it; that however such false ornaments may please for a time, yet, when a long and steady attention is required, we are tired and disgusted with every thing which increases our labour, and diverts the attention from the subject before us. A laboured style is a labour even to the hearer. A simple style, like simple food, preserves the appetite. But a profusion of ornament, like a profusion of sweets, palls the appetite and becomes disgusting. A man might as soon think of filling his stomach with sweetmeats, as going through a long debate filled with pompous epithets and sounding language. If we have any doubt of its being ridiculous, let us only suppose a man arguing an abstruse subject in metaphysics, in the blank verse of Milton, or the exact rhymes of Pope. The absurdity is the same, only different in degree. I would not be understood to cut off an extempore speaker from sublime expressions; because I do not suppose these to be inconsistent with simplicity of style. I really doubt if there be any such thing as sublimity of style, strictly speaking. But, indeed, rather believe that the sublime depends upon the thoughts, which are the more sublime by being clearly and simply expressed, This, however, is not material at present. It is certainly impossible for a speaker to carry laboured periods into his extempore discourses: it is no less certain, that in general, a simple style is to be preferred, and that he would be ridiculous and disagreeable if he could do it; and as extempore speaking is a great object, which we ought to have in view in the formation of our style, this may be used as one argument why we should study a simple style."
"Amid the variety of literary pieces which have in all ages been ushered into the world, few, if any, afford greater satisfaction than those that treat of man. To persons of a speculative nature and elegant taste, whose bosoms glow with benevolence, such disquisitions are peculiarly delightful. The reason, indeed, is obvious; for what more necessary to be learned and accurately understood? what more near and interesting? and, therefore, what more proper to engage the attention? Well may I say, with our ethic poet,
"'The proper study of mankind is man.'
"If we take a view of the body only, which may be called the shell or external crust, we shall perceive it to be formed with amazing nicety and art. How are we lost in wonder when we behold all its component parts; when we behold them, although various and minute, and blended together almost beyond conception, discharging their peculiar functions without the least confusion. All harmoniously conspiring to one grand end.
"But when we take a survey of the more sublime parts of the human frame; when we behold man's internal make and structure; his mental faculties; his social propensions, and those active powers which set all in motion—the passions,—what an illustrious display of consummate wisdom is presented to our admiring view! What brighter mark—what stronger evidence need we of a God? The scanty limits of a few minutes, to which I am confined, would not permit me, were I equal to the task, to enter into a particular examination of all man's internal powers. I shall therefore throw out a few thoughts on the passions only.
"Man's mental powers, being in their nature sluggish and inactive, cannot put themselves in motion. The grand design then of the passions is, to rouse them to action. These lively and vigorous principles make us eager in the pursuit of those things that are approved by the judgment; keep the mind intent upon proper objects, and at once awake to action all the powers of the soul. The passions give vivacity to all our operations, and render the enjoyments of life pleasing and agreeable. Without them, the scenes of the world would affect us no more than the shadowy pictures of a morning dream.
"Who can view the works of nature, and the productions of art, without the most sublime and rapturous emotions? Who can view the miseries of others, without being dissolved into compassion? Who can read human nature, as represented in the histories of the world, without burning to chastise the perpetrators of tyranny, or glowing to imitate the assertors of freedom? But, were we of a sudden stripped of our passions, we should survey the works of nature and the productions of art with indifference and neglect. We should be unaffected with the calamities of others, deaf to the calls of pity, and dead to all the feelings of humanity. Without generosity, benevolence, or charity, man would be a groveling, despicable creature. Without the passions, man would hardly rank above the beasts.
"It is a trite truth, that the passions have too much influence over our sentiments and opinions. It is the remark of a late author, that the actions and sentiments of men do as naturally follow the lead of the passions, as the effect does the cause. Hence they are, by some, aptly enough, termed the principles of action. Vicious desires will produce vicious practices; and men, by permitting themselves to think of indulging irregular passions, corrupt the understanding, which is the source of all virtue and morality. The passions, then, if properly regulated, are the gentle gales which keep life from stagnating; but, if let loose, the tempests which tear every thing before them. Too fatal observation will evince the truth of this.
"Do we not frequently behold men of the most sprightly genius, by giving the reins to their passions, lost to society, and reduced to the lowest ebb of misery and despair? Do we not frequently behold persons of the most penetrating discernment and happy turn for polite literature, by mingling with the sons of sensuality and riot, blasted in the bloom of life? Such was the fate of the late celebrated Duke of Wharton, Wilmot, earl of Rochester, and Villers, duke of Buckingham, three noblemen, as eminently distinguished by their wit, taste, and knowledge, as for their extravagance, revelry, and lawless passions. In such cases, the most charming elocution, the finest fancy, the brightest blaze of genius, and the noblest burst of thoughts, call for louder vengeance, and damn them to lasting infamy and shame.
"A greater curse cannot, indeed, befall community, than for princes and men in eminent departments to be under the influence of ill-directed passions. Lo Alexander and Cesar, the fabled heroes of antiquity, to what lengths did passion hurry them? Ambition, with look sublime, bade them on, bade them grasp at universal dominion, and wade to empire through seas of blood! But why need I confine myself to these? Do not provinces, plundered and laid waste with fire and sword; do not nations, massacred and slaughtered by the bloody hand of war; do not all these dreadful and astonishing revolutions, recorded in the pages of history, show the fatal effects of lawless passions?
"If the happiness of others could not, yet surely our own happiness should induce us to keep our passions within the bounds of reason; for the passions, when unduly elevated, destroy the health, impair the mental faculties, sour the disposition, embitter life, and make us equally disagreeable to others and uneasy to ourselves. Is it not, then, of moment, that our passions be duly balanced, their sallies confined within proper limits, and in no case suffered to transgress the bounds of reason? Will any one deny the importance of regulating the passions, when he considers how powerful they are, and that his own happiness, and perhaps the happiness of thousands, depends upon it? The regulation of the passions is a matter of moment, and therefore we should be careful to fix them upon right objects, to confine them within proper bounds, and never permit them to exceed the limits assigned by nature. It is the part of reason to sooth the passions, and to keep the soul in a pleasing serenity and calm: if reason rules, all is quiet, composed, and benign: if reason rules, all the passions, like a musical concert, are in unison. In short, our passions, when moderate, are accompanied with a sense of fitness and rectitude; but, when excessive, inflame the mind, and hurry us on to action without due distinction of objects.
"Among uncivilized nations, the passions do, in general, exceed all rational bounds. Need we a proof of this? Let us cast our eyes on the different savage tribes in the world, and we shall be immediately convinced that the passions rule without control. Happy it is, that in polished society, the passions, by early discipline, are so moderated as to be made subservient to the most important services. In this respect, seminaries of learning are of the utmost advantage, and attended with the most happy effects. Moreover, the passions are attended with correspondent commotions in animal nature, and, therefore, the real temper will, of course, be discovered by the countenance, the gesture, and the voice. Here I might run into a pleasing enumeration of many instances of this; but, fearing that I have already trespassed upon your patience, shall desist. Permit me, however unusual, to close with a wish. May none of those unruly passions ever captivate any of my audience."
An Attempt to search the Origin of Idolatry.
"It is altogether impossible to fix exactly the period when idolatry took its rise. Adam, coming immediately from the hands of God, had experienced too many manifestations of his power and goodness to be unacquainted with him, and must have preserved the purest idea of him in his own family, which, most probably, continued in the branch of Seth till the deluge. The posterity of Cain, on the contrary (the pure idea of God gradually wearing away, and by loose men being connected with sense), fell into idolatry, and every other crime, which brought on the deluge; a period about which Moses has said but little, and from what he has said we can draw no just conclusion with respect to the idolatry of those times.
"A certain author, being persuaded that idolatry did not take its rise till after the deluge, gives a very singular account of its origin. According to him, atheism had spread itself over the world. This disposition of mind, says he, is the capital crime. Atheists are much more odious to the Divinity than idolaters. Besides, this principle is much more capable of leading men into that excessive corruption the world fell into before the deluge. The knowledge of a God, of whatever nature he is conceived, and the worship of a Deity, are apt, of themselves, to be a restraint upon men. So that idolatry was of some use to bear down the corruption of the world. It is therefore probable, that the horrid vices men were fallen into before the deluge, proceeded only from their not knowing nor serving a God. I am even of opinion (continues he) that the idolatry and polytheism after the deluge derived their origin from the atheism and impiety that reigned before it. Such is the temper of men, when they have been severely punished for any crime, they run into the opposite extreme. I conjecture (concludes the same author) this was the case with men after the deluge. As they reckoned that this terrible judgment, which carried such indications of Divine wrath, was sent for the punishment of atheism, they ran into the opposite extreme. They adored whatever seemed to deserve their worship.
"It is true, indeed, that idolatry is capable of furnishing a curb against irregularity of manners; but this author has conjectured, without foundation, that atheism reigned universally before the deluge. He ought, at least, to have excepted the posterity of Seth.
"However idolatry might have reigned before the deluge, it is certain that the knowledge and worship of the true God were again united in the family of Noah; and as long as the children and grandchildren of that patriarch made but one family, in all probability, the worship of the true God was little altered in its purity. Noah being at the head of the people, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth witnesses of God's vengeance on their contemporaries, is it probable that they, living in the midst of their families, would suffer them to depart from the truth? We read of nothing that can incline us to this belief. Various have been the conjectures concerning the authors of idolatry. Some believe it was Serug, the grandfather of Terah, who first introduced idolatry after the deluge. Others maintain it was Nimrod, and that he instituted the worship of fire among his subjects, which continues even to this day in some places in Persia. Others assert that Ham was the author of it, and then his son Canaan; and it is most probable that the unfortunate sons of an accursed father were the first who, following the propensity of their own heart, sought out sensible objects to which they might offer a superstitious worship. As the two sons of Ham, Canaan and Mizraim, settled, the one in Phoenicia, and the other in Egypt, it is probable that these were the first nurseries of idolatry; and the sun, being looked upon as the purest image of the Creator, was the first object of it. It is not probable that men would choose beings like themselves for the first objects of their adoration. Nothing could be more capable of seducing than the beauty and usefulness of the sun, dispensing light and fertility all around. But, to conclude, we must not imagine that all idolatry sprang from the same country. It came by slow degrees, and those who made the first advances towards this impiety, did by no means carry it to that extravagant height to which it afterwards arrived."
In college, young Burr formed intimacies which ripened into lasting friendship. The attachment between him and Colonel Matthias Ogden, of New-Jersey, was both ardent and mutual; and, it is believed, continued during the life of the latter. Colonel Knapp says, "Samuel Spring, D. D., late of Newburyport, was in college with Colonel Burr, and part of their college life was his chum. The doctor was a student of mature age, and had a provisitorial power over Burr in his daily duties. He has often spoken of his young friend with more than ordinary feeling. He, in fact, prophesied his future genius, from the early proofs he gave of intellectual power in the course of his college life."
At Princeton, Burr enjoyed the counsel and advice of the late William Paterson, subsequently one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States. To be thus early in life honoured with the respect and esteem of such a man as Judge Paterson, was highly flattering. Their correspondence commenced in 1772, and continued until the decease of the judge. Extracts from his letters to Colonel Burr will be given occasionally. He says, in a letter dated
"Princeton, January 17th, 1772.
"I am just ready to take horse, and therefore cannot have the pleasure of waiting on you in person. Be pleased to accept of the enclosed notes on dancing. If you pitch upon it as the subject of your next discourse, they may, perhaps, furnish you with a few hints, and enable you to compose with the greater facility and despatch. To do you any little services in my power will afford me great satisfaction, and I hope you will take the liberty (it is nothing more, my dear Burr, than the freedom of a friend) to call upon me whenever you think I can.
"When I shall be here again is uncertain—perhaps not before vacation. Forbear with me while I say that you cannot speak too slow. Your good judgment generally leads you to lay the emphasis on the most forcible word in the sentence; so far you act very right. But the misfortune is, that you lay too great stress upon the emphatical word. Every word should be distinctly pronounced; one should not be so highly sounded as to drown another. To see you shine as a speaker would give great pleasure to your friends in general, and to me in particular. I say nothing of your own honour. The desire of making others happy will, to a generous mind, be the strongest incentive. I am much mistaken if such a desire has not great influence over you. You are certainly capable of making a good speaker. Exert yourself. I am in haste.
"Dear Burr, adieu.
Another letter, dated
"Princeton, October 26th, 1772.
"Our mutual friend, Stewart, with whom I spent part of the evening, informed me you were still in Elizabethtown. You are much fonder of that place than I am, otherwise you would hardly be prevailed upon to make so long a stay. But, perhaps, the reason that I fear it, makes you like it. There is certainly something amorous in its very air. Nor is this a case any way extraordinary or beyond belief. I have read (and it was in point, too) that a flock of birds, being on the wing, and bending their flight towards a certain town in Connecticut, dropped down dead just as they were over it. The people were at first fairly at a loss to account for this phenomenon in any natural way. However, it was at length agreed on all hands that it was owing to the noisomeness of the atmosphere, the smallpox at that time being very rife in the place. I should never have given credit to the report, had it not come from so good a quarter as that of New-England. For my part, I always drive through Elizabethtown as quickly as possible, lest the soft infection should steal upon me, or I should take it in with the very air I breathe.
"Yesterday I went to hear Mr. Halsey, and there, too, I saw his young and blooming wife. The old gentleman seems very fond of his rib, and, in good sooth, leers very wistfully at her as she trips along by his side. Some allowance, however, must be made; he is in the vale of life; love is a new thing to him, and the honey-moon is not yet over. 'They are amorous, and fond, and billing, Like Philip and Mary on a shilling.' I have promised to pay him a visit; Stewart, or some of the tutors, I believe, will accompany me, and I hope you will too.
"Since commencement I have been at a Dutch wedding, and expect to be at one or two more very shortly. There was drinking, and singing, and fiddling, and dancing. I was pleased extremely. Every one seemed to be in good-humour with himself, and this naturally led them all to be in good-humour with one another.
"When the itch of scribbling seizes me, I hardly know when to stop. The fit, indeed, seldom comes upon me; but when it does, though I sit down with a design to be short, yet my letter insensibly slides into length, and swells perhaps into an enormous size. I know not how it happens, but on such occasions I have a knack of throwing myself out on paper that I cannot readily get the better of. It is a sign, however, that I more than barely esteem the person I write to, as I have constantly experienced that my hand but illy performs its office unless my heart concurs. I confess I cannot conceive how I got into so scribbling a vein at present. It is now past eleven o'clock at night, and besides being on horse the greater part of the day, I intend to start early to-morrow for Philadelphia. There I shall see the races, and the play, and, what is of more value far than all, there, too, I shall see Miss ——-, you know who.
"The enclosed letter to Spring I commit to your care. I should have sent it before, as I wrote it immediately after you left this place, but I really thought you were in New-England long ere now. I know not his address; perhaps he is at Newport, perhaps he is not. If, on inquiry, you find that the letter is wrongly directed, pray give it an envelope, and superscribe it anew. If he is still at Newport, it would, perhaps, more readily reach him from New-York than from any part of New-England that you maybe at. I have said that if I am mistaken in directing the within letter, you should cover it and give it the proper address. Do, dear Burr, get somebody who can write at least a passable hand to back it, for you give your letters such a sharp, slender, and lady-like cast, that almost every one, on seeing them, would conclude there was a correspondence kept up between my honest friend Spring and some of the female tribe, which might, perhaps, affect him extremely in point of reputation, as many people suppose that nothing of this kind can be carried on between unmarried persons of the two sexes without being tinged with love; and the rather so, since the notion of Platonic love is, at the present day, pretty generally, and I believe justly too, exploded. Platonic love is arrant nonsense, and rarely, if ever, takes place until the parties have at least passed their grand climacteric. Besides, the New-England people, I am told, are odd, inquisitive kind of beings, and, when pricked on by foolish curiosity, may perhaps open the letter, which I do not choose should be common to every eye.
"You gave me some hopes that you would see my good friend Reeve before you returned. If you do, make him my respectful compliments, and tell him that I fully designed to write him, but that business prevented, that laziness hindered, that—in short, tell him any thing, so it does not impeach my affection, or lead him to think I have entirely forgotten him. I am,
"Dear Burr yours sincerely,
In a letter to Dr. Spring, dated October 5, 1772, speaking of the commencement, Judge Paterson says:—"The young gentlemen went through their exercises in a manner passable enough. The speakers were all tolerable—none of them very bad nor very good. Our young friend Burr made a graceful appearance; he was excelled by none, except perhaps by Bradford. Linn, too, was pretty generally approved; but, for my part, I could not forbear thinking that he took rant, and rage, and madness for true spirit—a very common mistake."
For some months after Burr graduated (1772), he remained in college, reviewing his past studies, and devoting his time to general literature. Possessed of an ample income, having access to the college library, and continuing, from time to time, as his correspondence shows, to supply himself with scientific and literary productions, his mind was greatly improved during this period. It is true he continued to indulge in amusements and pleasures; but, sleeping little, seldom more than six hours, he found ample time for study.
In the college there was a literary club, consisting of the graduates and professors, and still known as The Clio-Sophic Society. Dr. Samuel S. Smith, subsequently president of the college, was then (1773) a professor. With him young Burr was no favourite, and their dislike was mutual. The attendance of the professors was expected to be regular. The members of the society in rotation presided over its deliberations. On a particular occasion it was the duty of young Burr to take the chair. At the hour of meeting he took his seat as president. Dr. Smith had not then arrived; but, shortly after the business commenced, he entered. Burr, leaning on one arm of the chair (for, although now sixteen years of age, he was too small to reach both arms at the same time), began lecturing Professor Smith for his non-attendance at an earlier hour, remarking that a different example to younger members was expected from him, and expressing a hope that it might not again be necessary to recur to the subject. Having finished his lecture, to the great amusement of the society, he requested the professor to resume his seat. The incident, as may well be imagined, long served as a college joke.
FROM TIMOTHY DWIGHT.
New-Haven, March, 1772.
By a poor candle, with poor eyes and a poorer brain, I sit down to introduce a long wished-for correspondence. You see how solicitous I am to preserve old connexions; or, rather, to begin new ones. Relationship, by the fashionable notions of those large towns, which usurp a right to lead and govern our opinions, is dwindled to a formal nothing—a mere shell of ceremony. Our ancestors, whose honesty and simplicity (though different from the wise refinements of modern politeness) were perhaps as deserving of imitation as the insincere coldness of the present generation, cousin'd it to the tenth degree of kindred. Though this was extending the matter to a pitch of extravagance, yet it was certainly founded upon a natural, rational principle. Who are so naturally our friends as those who are born such? I defy a New-Yorker, though callous'd over with city politeness, to be otherwise than pleased with a view of ancient hospitality to relations, when exercised by a person of good-breeding and a genteel education.
Now, say you, what has this to do with the introduction of a correspondence? You shall know directly, sir. The Edwardses have been always remarkable for this fondness for their relations. If you have the least inclination to prove yourself a true descendant of that respectable stock, you cannot fail of answering me very soon. This (were I disposed) I could demonstrate by algebra and syllogisms in a twinkling; but hope you will believe me without either. I never asked for many connexions in this way; and was never neglected but once, and that by a Jersey gentleman, to whom I wrote and received no answer. I hope the disease is not epidemical, and that you have not determined against any communication with the rest of the world. It was a mortification, I confess; for I am too proud to be denied a request, though unreasonable, as many of mine are—therefore, I insist upon an answer, at least, and as many more as you can find in your heart to give me; promising, in return, as many by tale, though without a large profit. I shall not warrant their quality.
Your sincere friend,
TIMOTHY DWIGHT, JUNR.
FROM SAMUEL SPRING.
Newport, May 15th, 1772.
It is a little strange to me that I have not heard any thing of you since your examination. I don't know but you are dissatisfied, since you are so backward to write; however, I will, if possible, keep such thoughts out of my mind till I hear from you in particular. If you are let down a peg lower, you may tell me of it. If you are permitted to live in college, you may tell me of it; and if you are turned out, you may tell me of it. If you passed examination, and have a syllogism to speak at commencement, if you are able to make it, I suppose you may tell me of that likewise; or, if you are first in the class, you may tell me, if you will only do it softly; indeed, you may tell me any thing, for I profess to be your friend. Therefore, since you can trust me so far, I expect you will now write, and let me know a little how matters are at present in college. In particular, let me know the state of the society (Cliosophic); and if I owe any thing to it, do you pay it, and charge it to your humble servant.
I hope you will write the first opportunity, as I trust you have got some very good news to tell me concerning the college in general, and yourself in particular. I have nothing particular to write. It is very pleasant to me where I am at present.
The study of divinity is agreeable;—far more so than any other study whatever would be to me. I hope to see the time when you will feel it to be your duty to go into the same study with a desire for the ministry. Remember, that was the prayer of your dear father and mother, and is the prayer of your friends to this time—that you should step forth into his place, and make it manifest that you are a friend to Heaven, and that you have a taste for its glory. But this, you are sensible, can never be the case if you remain in a state of nature. Therefore, improve the present and future moments to the best of purposes, as knowing the time will soon be upon you when you will wish that in living you had lived right, and acted rationally and like an immortal.
In 1806-7 great excitement was produced, in consequence of Colonel Burr writing in cipher to General Wilkinson, In this particular he seems to have had peculiar notions. However innocent his correspondence, he was, apparently, desirous at all times of casting around it a veil of mystery. The same trait was conspicuous in his political movements and intercourse. This has been one of the weak points in Colonel Burr's character. He was considered a mysterious man; and what was not understood by the vulgar, was pronounced selfish or ambitious intrigue. Even his best friends were, often dissatisfied with him on this account. Acting upon this principle of mystery at every period of his life, he has corresponded with one or more individuals in cipher. While yet a student in college, the letters between his sister and himself are frequently written in cipher. So, also, much of his correspondence with his most intimate friend, Matthias Ogden, and with others in 1774 and 1775, is in cipher. Many of these letters, thus written, are now in existence. To those, therefore, acquainted with the character and peculiarities of Colonel Burr, the fact of his writing a letter in cipher would not be considered as any thing extraordinary; because it was a habit which he had adopted and pursued for more than thirty years preceding the period when this excitement was thus produced.
Before Burr left Princeton, and while lie was indulging himself in pleasures and amusements, he accidentally visited a billiard-table. He engaged in play, and, although he had never before seen the game, he was successful, and won about half a Joe. On returning home with his gains, he reflected on the incident with great mortification, and determined never again to play; which determination he adhered to through life. Colonel Burr not only abstained from playing at billiards, but with equal pertinacity he refused to play at any game for the purpose of acquiring money.
Although he had been somewhat tranquillized by his conversation with Dr. Witherspoon on the subject of the awakening in college in 1772, yet he was not entirely at ease. In consequence of which he came to a resolution not to enter upon the concerns of life until this point was more satisfactorily settled in his own mind. He concluded, therefore, to visit and consult the Rev. Joseph Bellamy, a venerable and devoted friend of his late father, and to whom he was known by reputation.
Joseph Bellamy, D.D., was an eminent preacher and theological writer of Connecticut, and intimate friend of Colonel Burr's relative, the famous Jonathan Edwards, with whose particular opinion he fully agreed. He was celebrated in his days, before the establishment of theological seminaries, as an instructor of young men preparing for the ministry. The late Governor Wolcott used to speak of him with the highest respect for his talent and moderation. He died in 1790.
In the autumn of 1773, Burr visited him at Bethlehem, in Connecticut, and was received by his aged friend in a most kind and affectionate manner. His advice, and the use of his library, were promptly tendered. Burr commenced a course of reading on religious topics, and was thus occupied from sixteen to eighteen hours a day. His habits were those of great abstinence, and a recluse. His conversations with the reverend divine were encouraged and indulged in with freedom, and his inquiries answered. Here he remained until the spring of 1774, when, to use his own language, he "came to the conclusion that the road to Heaven was open to all alike." He, however, from that time forward, avoided most studiously all disputation on the subject of religion.
An impression has been created that Colonel Burr was placed by his guardian under Dr. Bellamy, for the purpose of studying divinity. This is an error. His visit to the Rev. Dr. was not the result of a conference or communication with any person whatever; but the volition of his own mind, and for the purpose already stated. In fact, after Burr entered college, his studies and his future pursuits in life appear to have been left entirely under his own control. Whether this arose from indolence on the part of his guardian, or from pertinacity in young Burr, is uncertain; perhaps a little of both, united with the great confidence which his uncle reposed in his judgment and talents.
In the spring of 1774, while he yet resided at Dr. Bellamy's, he contemplated studying law; but was undecided whether he should read with Pierpont Edwards, or with his brother-in-law, Tappan Reeve, and upon this subject he wrote his guardian, who replies, in a letter dated
"Stockbridge, February 11th, 1774.
"Whether you study law with Mr. Reeve or your uncle Pierpont is a matter of indifference with me. I would have you act your pleasure therein. I shall write to your uncle upon it, but yet treat it as a matter of doubt. Your board I shall settle with Dr. Bellamy myself. I will send you cash to pay for your horse very soon. You may expect it in the forepart of March. If I had known of this want of yours sooner, I would have paid it before this.
"Your affectionate uncle,
In May, 1774, he left the Rev. Mr. Bellamy's, and went to the house of his brother-in-law, Tappan Reeve, where his time was occupied in reading, principally history; but especially those portions of it which related to wars, and battles, and sieges, which tended to inflame his natural military ardour. The absorbing topics of taxation and the rights of the people were agitating the then British colonies from one extreme to the other. These subjects, therefore, could not pass unnoticed by a youth of the inquiring mind and ardent feelings of Burr. Constitutional law, and the relative rights of the crown and the colonists, were examined with all the acumen which he possessed, and he became a Whig from reflection and conviction, as well as from feeling.
At this period, Burr's most intimate and confidential correspondent was Matthias Ogden, of New-Jersey, subsequently Colonel Ogden, a gallant and distinguished revolutionary officer. He writes to Burr, dated
"Elizabethtown, August 9th, 1774.
"I received yours by Mr. Beach, dated Sunday. I am not a little pleased that you have the doctor (Bellamy) so completely under your thumb. Last Saturday I went a crabbing. Being in want of a thole-pin, I substituted a large jackknife in its stead, with the blade open and sticking up. It answered the purpose of rowing very well; but it seems that was not the only purpose it had to answer; for, after we had been some time on the flats, running on the mud, as the devil would have it, in getting into the boat I threw my leg directly across the edge of the knife, which left a decent mark of nearly four inches long, and more than one inch deep. It was then up anchor and away. Our first port was Dayton's ferry, where Dr. Bennet happened to be, but without his apparatus for sewing, to the no small disadvantage of me, who was to undergo the operation. Mrs. Dayton, however, furnished him with a large darning-needle, which, as soon as I felt going through my skin, I thought was more like a gimlet boring into me; but, with the help of a glass of wine, I grinned and bore it, until he took a few stitches in the wound. So much for crabbing.
"I was at New-York about a fortnight since, on my way to Jamaica, Long Island. The object of this journey you understand. I stayed at Mr. Willett's three days, and then went to Colonel Morris's, and spent two days there very agreeably. Nothing occurred worth relating, unless it be some transactions of the greatest fool I ever knew.
"Mr. Elliot, collector of New-York, Mr. and Mrs. Delancey and daughter, dined there on Sunday. Witherspoon  was led in with a large bag tied to his hair, that reached down to the waistband of his breeches, and a brass locket hanging from his neck below his stomach. He was turned round and round by each of the company: was asked where he got that very neat bag, and the valuable locket? He readily answered, they were a present from Lady Kitty, who was violently in love with him, and he expected to marry her in a short time. He is so credulous that any child might impose on him. I told him that I came from Lord Stirling's, and that he might write by me to Lady Kitty. Accordingly, he wrote a long letter and gave me, which I opened there, and, by desire of Colonel Morris, answered it, when I got to New-York, in Lady Kitty's name, informing him that he must tell Mr. Morris to provide himself with another tutor, as she intended marrying him without fail the first of September, which I suppose he will as sincerely believe as he does his existence.
TO MATTHIAS OGDEN.
Litchfield, August 17th, 1774.
Before I proceed any further, let me tell you that, a few days ago, a mob of several hundred persons gathered at Barrington, and tore down the house of a man who was suspected of being unfriendly to the liberties of the people; broke up the court, then sitting at that place, &c. As many of the rioters belonged to this colony, and the Superior Court was then sitting at this place, the sheriff was immediately despatched to apprehend the ringleaders. He returned yesterday with eight prisoners, who were taken without resistance. But this minute there is entering the town on horseback, with great regularity, about fifty men, armed each with a white club; and I observe others continually dropping in. I shall here leave a blank, to give you (perhaps in heroics) a few sketches of my unexampled valour, should they proceed to hostilities; and, should they not, I can then tell you what I would have done.
The abovementioned sneaks all gave bonds for their appearance, to stand a trial at the next court for committing a riot.
On the 11th of September, 1774, he again writes Ogden:—
I wrote you last Thursday, and enclosed one of the songs you desired, which was all I could then obtain. Miss ——-, the fountain of melody, furnished me with it. I knew that she, and no one else, had the notes of the enclosed song. I told her I should be glad to copy them for a most accomplished young gentleman in the Jerseys. She engaged to bring them the first time she came in town, for she lives about two miles from here. I this day received it, precisely as you have it. You may depend upon its being the work of her own hands. If this don't deserve an acrostic, I don't know—sense, beauty, modesty, and music. Matter plenty.
Pray tell me whether your prayers are heard, and a good old saint, though a little in your way, is yet in Heaven. But remember, Matt., you can never be without plague, and when one gets out of the way, a worse, very often, supplies its place; so, I tell you again, be content, and hope for better times.
I am determined never to have any dealings with your friend Cupid until I know certainly how matters will turn out with you: for should some lucky devil step in between my friend and——, which kind Heaven grant may never be; in such a case, I say, I would choose to be untied, and then, you know, the wide world is before us.
Burr again writes him, dated
Litchfield, February 2d, 1775.
I sent you a packet by N. Hazard, and from that time to this I have not had the most distant prospect of conveying a letter to you. However, I have written a number of scrawls, the substance of which you shall now have.
The times with me are pretty much as usual; not so full of action as I could wish; and I find this propensity to action is very apt to lead me into scrapes. T. B. has been here since I wrote you last; he came very unexpectedly. You will conclude we had some confab about Miss ——-. We had but little private chat, and the whole of that little was about her. He would now and then insinuate slyly what a clever circumstance it would be to have such a wife, with her fortune.
T. BURR,  by his kindness to me, has certainly laid me under obligations, which it would be the height of ingratitude in me ever to forget; but I cannot conceive it my duty to be in the least influenced by these in the present case. Were I to conform to his inclination, it could give him pleasure or pain only as the consequence was good or bad to me. The sequel might be such as would inevitably cause him the most bitter anguish; and, in all probability, would be such if I should consult his fancy instead of my judgment. And who can be a judge of these consequences but myself? But even supposing things could be so situated that, by gratifying him, I should certainly be the means of his enjoying some permanent satisfaction, and should subject myself to a bare probability of misery as permanent, would it not stagger the most generous soul to think of sacrificing a whole life's comfort to the caprice of a friend? But this is a case that can never happen, unless that friend has some mean and selfish motive, such as I know T. Burr has not. I can never believe that too great deference to the judgment of another, in these matters, can arise from any greatness of soul. It appears to me the genuine offspring of meanness. I suppose you are impatient for my reply to these importunities. I found my tongue and fancy too cramped to say much. However, I rallied my thoughts and set forth, as well as I was able, the inconveniences and uncertainty attending such an affair. I am determined to be very blunt the next time the matter is urged.