Noah Webster - American Men of Letters
by Horace E. Scudder
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American Men of Letters.



American Men of Letters.





Copyright, 1881, BY HORACE E. SCUDDER.

All rights reserved.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.


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Acknowledgment is due to Mr. Gordon L. Ford, of Brooklyn, N. Y., for the valuable assistance which he has rendered by permitting the author to make use of his admirable collection of printed and manuscript material relating to Noah Webster.


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The village of West Hartford lies about three miles from the centre of Hartford and is mainly grouped about two cross-roads, one leading from the city west to Farmington, the other, the village street, following the line of the Connecticut River and rambling from Bloomfield, the next village north, to Newington and New Britain on the south. The changes in the place for the last hundred and fifty years have not been great; the Farmington road, to be sure, as it leaves Hartford, keeps a city character and shows trim villas at intervals nearly all the way to the village, but the village has not moved to meet the city, and its houses and one or two churches and post-office have admitted new-comers so slowly that the general air of the place can scarcely be different from what it was in 1758, when Noah Webster was born there, October 16. The house in which he was born is still standing, about a mile from the corners, on the road leading south; it is upon a broad table-land, and the wide fields which lie below it, stretching away to Talcott Mountain, where the western view ends, are the fields which Webster's father planted.

The ancestral stock was substantial. Noah Webster remembered the funeral of his grandfather Daniel, and Daniel was five years old when his grandfather died, who was one of the first settlers in Hartford and Governor of Connecticut. The family had lived thus in this district for five generations, as farmers, long lived and good citizens. The place where Webster was born was sold by his father in 1790 to the family whose representatives now live there; it covered eighty acres then, but has been broken in upon from time to time. The senior Webster sold it because he was poor. He lived his life of ninety-one years in a Connecticut village, leaving it only when he led a company for one campaign in the Revolutionary War. His square, upright tombstone stands in the village graveyard, and commemorates the stocky virtues of integrity and piety. He was Deacon Webster and Squire Webster, and reached thus the highest offices in state and church which a little New England village could offer.

Upon the senior Webster's stone is the name of his wife Mercy, who is comprehensively disposed of as "his consort, equally respected for her piety and virtues." She was a descendant of William Bradford, the Plymouth governor, and thus the two lives which met in Noah Webster were Pilgrim and Puritan, without, it appears, any quartering from other sources. All the Websters were a sturdy race. Noah Webster, senior, died in his ninety-second year; Noah the son in his eighty-fifth; his two brothers lived for eighty years or more, and his two sisters for seventy. Out of the scanty memoranda of the family genealogy little more is to be gleaned, but it is enough for our purpose to know that the man, whose fortunes we are to follow, inherited the Puritan mind and the New England constitution.

He had, what every New England family wished to give a boy who had any quickness of intellect, the education that was at the door. He worked on his father's farm and went to the village school where rarely a book was used except a spelling-book, a psalter, a Testament or a Bible. When he was fourteen years old he had shown that he was of the college kind, and studying for two years with Dr. Perkins, the village minister, and in the Hopkins Grammar School at Hartford, he entered Yale College in 1774. There were about a hundred and fifty students in New Haven at that time, with a faculty consisting of a Professor of Divinity, who performed the duties of President, a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and three tutors. Joel Barlow was a classmate, and so were Oliver Wolcott, Zephaniah Smith, Ashur Miller, and others who occupied high judicial positions afterward in the young republic. In Dr. Stiles's Diary there is an entry June 14, 1778, Webster's senior year. "The students disputed forensically this day a twofold question; whether the destruction of the Alexandrian Library and the ignorance of the Middle Ages, caused by the inundation of the Goths and Vandals, were events unfortunate to literature. They disputed inimitably well, particularly Barlow, Swift, and Webster."

There is something peculiarly felicitous in this grave record. It was a rotund kind of learning which was cherished by Dr. Stiles and similar guardians of the old traditions of scholarship, and in the absence of much commerce with their intellectual peers beyond the limits of the colonies, each college made believe very hard that its students were scholars, and its scholastic life the counterpart of historic universities. But it is easy to believe that the fate of the Alexandrian Library and the performances of the notorious Goths and Vandals, those favorite and dimly understood barbarians, had no such power in determining the education of the young Yale student as had the events of the war then going on. Webster had entered college in the fall of 1774; in the spring of 1775, while he was still a Freshman, he had his little initiation into Revolutionary society. General Washington was on his way to Cambridge, to take command of the American army, and with him was General Charles Lee. They passed through New Haven, and Webster has left a little sketch of the scene.

"These gentlemen lodged in New Haven, at the house of the late Isaac Beers, and in the morning they were invited to see a military company of students of Yale College perform their manual exercises. They expressed their surprise and gratification at the precision with which the students performed the customary exercises then in use. This company then escorted the generals as far as Neck Bridge, and this was the first instance of that honor conferred on General Washington in New England. It fell to my humble lot to lead this company with music."

The last sentence is a faint hint at an amusing and pardonable little vanity of Webster's, who, as the reader will discover later, liked to think that he had a hand in pretty much every important measure in the political and literary history of the country in those early days, and remembered that when the great Washington appeared, Webster was ready with the prelusive fife. The three years which followed were years of excitement and distraction. In the summer of 1777 the college life at New Haven was broken up, and the classes were disposed in various towns, the Junior class, in which Webster belonged, being stationed at Glastonbury and placed under the charge of Tutor Buckminster. This was the time when all New England, especially the southern part, was thrown into a ferment by Burgoyne's movements, and men were hurried into the field to meet this army coming down from the north. Webster's father was captain in the alarm list, and Webster shouldered his musket as a private in his father's company. The episode was probably in the summer vacation, and put a stop to his work on the farm rather than to his studies in college. Burgoyne's defeat released the young volunteer, but an education which was divided between the camp and the cloister was pretty sure to be fruitful in something beside scholastic learning. A college, scattered as if by the enemy's bombs into country villages, was likely to think with all the eagerness of youth upon questions of political ethics, and of the broad grounds of human freedom. There are two words often used in the ephemeral literature of that day,—slave, free,—words used somewhat recklessly at times, but marking the general current of men's thoughts.

Webster, in one of his reminiscences, recalls the wretched condition of affairs when he was in college: "So impoverished was the country at one time," he writes, "that the steward of the college could not supply the necessary provisions of the table, and the students were compelled to return to spend several months at home. At one time goods were so scarce that the farmers cut corn-stalks and crushed them in cider-mills, and then boiled the juice down to a syrup as a substitute for sugar." The years which followed his graduation were, if anything, still more discouraging. When he went home, after Commencement, his father gave him an eight-dollar bill of the Continental currency, worth then about fifty cents on the dollar, and left him to his own resources. His plan was to study law, but his first business was to maintain himself, and he took up school-teaching, spending the winter of 1778 in Glastonbury, where he had gone with his class the year before. In the summer of 1779 he returned to Hartford and taught there, living in the family of Mr., afterward Chief Justice, Oliver Ellsworth, and picking up a little law. In the hard winter of 1780 he taught in his native village, and in the next summer he lived with and assisted Jedediah Strong, register of deeds in Litchfield, where he read law, and then was admitted to the bar in Hartford.

There was, however, no business. People were too poor to go to law, and the whole country was depressed by its condition. The struggle for independence had not been a short, sharp one, marked by an intense flame of enthusiasm; the end was reached less by heroic endeavor than by heroic patience and the wisdom of a few. The depths of ignominy into which Continental currency had sunk measured the hopelessness with which those who lived by wits rather than by manual labor surveyed the field. So, relinquishing the law, Webster resumed teaching, this time in Sharon. An advertisement gives notice of what he expected to do in his school:—

"On the first of May will be opened, at Sharon in Connecticut, a school, in which children may be instructed, not only in the common arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in any branch of academical literature. The little regard that is paid to the literary improvement of females, even among people of rank and fortune, and the general inattention to the grammatical purity and elegance of our native language, are faults in the education of youth that more gentlemen have taken pains to censure than correct. Any young gentlemen and ladies, who wish to acquaint themselves with the English language, geography, vocal music, &c., may be waited on at particular hours for that purpose. The price of board and tuition will be from six to nine shillings lawful money per week, according to the age and studies of the scholar; no pains will be spared to render the school useful. NOAH WEBSTER.

"SHARON, April 16, 1782.

"N. B. The subscriber has a large convenient store in Sharon fit for storing articles of any kind, where they may be secured at a moderate expense."

One would like to know if R—— P—— was one of the young ladies upon whom he waited at some particular hour, for tradition tells of the young teacher, with a commanding figure and erect carriage, very careful in dress and precise in speech, sparing no pains not only to render the school useful but himself agreeable to this young lady, who found, however, a stronger attraction in a soldier lover, soldiers having then, as later, a singular advantage in such rivalries. This precise-speaking young school-master was ready enough for a frolic, as may be guessed from two consecutive entries in his brief diary, a little later:—

"Feb. 18, 1784. At evening rode to Wethersfield [from Hartford, where he was then living] with the ladies, who reminded us of the mile-stones and bridges." [Does any one now need to be told why?]

"Feb. 19, P. M. Rode to East Windsor; had a clergyman with us, who sang an excellent song. Mile-stones and bridges almost totally neglected."

The demure mouth with which this last sentence is spoken must have had a curl at the corner occasionally. While living at Sharon he took the opportunity to study French with a M. Tetard, a French Protestant minister living in New Rochelle.

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From the scanty records which remain I have traced thus far Webster's early life and education, but it is fair to find in his subsequent career traces of the influence which New England surroundings cast about every New England boy. The simplicity of life which characterized a province so uniform in its character was especially evident in the Connecticut Valley. Here, longer than in the cities and on the sea-board, native English and Puritan stock retained the form and power which an unbroken succession in blood and a freedom from external pressure had made possible. The families known by Webster in his boyhood, among whom he lived, and whose lives passed into his character, were a part of the great migration which founded a new England between 1630 and 1640, and from a basis of English law and custom, modified by theocratic doctrines, and partially shaped by a struggle with the wilderness, built a state which was to be one of the great forces in American history. The agricultural life, which was more productive in the valley of the Connecticut than elsewhere, determined largely the social life of the colony, made Connecticut the most serenely democratic of the New England States, emphasized the individual worth, and allowed free play in self-government. The church held its own for a longer period than in Massachusetts; the inevitable surrender of the ecclesiastical power of the Congregationalists was deferred until a much later date; and to-day it is in Hartford that one will find most distinctly the lines of colonial Congregationalism.

The life of the household in a Connecticut village in the middle of the eighteenth century was very self-centred. Remote from towns,—for Hartford was only a village then,—the demands of farming life determined the round of days. Every one from childhood fell of necessity into his or her place as one of the workers, out doors and in, and the simplicity of the social organization made the farmer a mechanic as well. There was the blacksmith's shop, where a rudely trained skill supplied the more special needs; but the farmer himself not only used his tools, but mended and to some extent made them; he was carpenter also, and shoemaker, and, in general, necessity had taught his hands to shape and his fingers to be dexterous. The boy made his own traps and small tools and carts, and early learned that handiness and adaptability without which he would be likely to go through life in a destitute condition. There is to be found still, especially in the back country, a curious survival of this old economy in the hired man, who shines in literature in the person of Mr. Jacob Abbott's Jonas, the embodiment of practical wisdom, learned not so much from books as from the daily school of farm and shop life. The hired man of that time was the occasional unattached member of society, or one who was forced out of the family hive by the excess of hands and the deficiency of land. Commonly the family itself supplied the necessary laborers, and these all in their youth, no matter what intellectual promise they might give, were, as a matter of course, parts of the regular farm company.

The jack-of-all-trades character of the farmer and the absence of a force of artisans and special craftsmen easily compelled a state of mutual dependence. If a house or a barn were to be built, the neighborhood was called in at the critical moment to raise the frame; and the farmer who asked the help made his acknowledgment not only by serving when his neighbor needed him, but by acting as host to the company, and making the raising a time of good cheer and hilarity. Harvest also gave opportunity for mutual help and neighborly charity, so that much of the social life of the day grew naturally out of the common work and occupation of the community. In-doors it was the same, and quilting bees and huskings and spinning bees made work and play shade into each other. A community where every one worked and each might be needed by his neighbor would scarcely suffer very marked distinctions of rank; and in the lighter social life, which made no pretense of work, the sleighing parties and athletic sports, the suppers and dances which followed the bees, an equality of condition was assumed, very favorable to self-respect and independence of judgment. It is to be noticed that the substitution of alphabetical order in college classes for a rank based upon social distinction occurred earlier at Yale than at Harvard, and it is not unlikely that the more democratic life of Connecticut had something to do with it.

Distinctions, however, there were, but they were laid chiefly in reasons which all were willing to accept. The magistrate and the clergyman, though familiar associates of the plainer people, were conceded a deference which superior education, and not superior birth, compelled, and without question the road to eminence was held to lie through education. No one dreamed of securing the special honor of the community except by this means, and in every family a boy who showed intellectual promise was encouraged to hope for a college education. His college education was in most cases expected to result in an entrance to the clerical profession, but the law had by this time begun to have a more distinct claim upon attention, and the medical profession had always demanded those who could show a positive predilection for it.[1] The doctor, however, did not learn his science under any organized educational system, but by personal association and study with an older practitioner, a system which naturally lessened the likelihood of persons drifting into the profession upon slight grounds of preference. The self-contained life of the community, indeed, made people somewhat indifferent to a highly educated medical profession, and increased also the confidence with which any one might assume to observe and discuss facts connected with the art and science of healing. In every household there was traditional learning which served for ordinary purposes, and the housewife knew and used herbs with something of the practical wisdom which she applied to her cooking. In every community there was likely to be one woman or more to whom the rest turned in emergencies, and a rude practice was kept up which cannot be called quackery, for it was entirely unpretentious. Something also was due to the knowledge derived from the Indians, whose closeness to nature was supposed to give them excellent opportunities for wresting secrets from simples. This respect for the Indian school survives still, and affords a support to the queer practitioners who call themselves Indian Doctors. It was never strange, therefore, when a man who had received a liberal education turned his attention to questions which nowadays a layman would scarcely venture to discuss. He was not regarded as an amateur, but as occupying himself with a legitimate part of his business.

Even more surely was the educated man a lawyer. There was always a good deal of litigation going on in Connecticut, but the legal profession scarcely existed as a distinct body until Webster himself came upon the stage. Plaintiff and defendant addressed the court if they desired, and in the loose practice of the day there were no intricate and technical processes which debarred any intelligent man from taking part in a cause. Substantial justice was done, and every citizen took part in legal affairs with confidence that he only needed perseverance and a fair cause to achieve success. Above all, the constant and familiar participation in public concerns was a school for the citizen, in which he learned thoroughly the art of legislation, and acquired a readiness in government which stood him in good stead when the scope of governmental power was enlarged. The New England town was always the centre of political life, and each member of the town learned early his inalienable right to a participation in all the benefits which the community could confer. In town-meeting he learned to vote and to be voted for; a gradation of offices from fence-viewer or hog-reeve to selectman gave training in administration to all who had any capacity for organization or leadership; the discussion of town affairs sharpened the wits, and, better still, educated the towns-man in a distinct recognition of his political relations; he learned to think politically, and as the Revolution drew near, the petty interests of the local community widened into larger questions of state when the towns themselves found that they were parts of a larger body corporate. Then the principle of representation was constantly delocalizing the town, and bringing into the arena subjects which reminded men of their relationship to the state and the crown. Men who had grown up under the discussion of questions which involved great historic processes were not likely, when the occasion came, to hold back from writing or speaking on great national themes, merely because they were not publicists by profession.

The military system, which formed so important a part of the New Englander's education, added to the picturesqueness of his life and to the notion of solidarity. The experience with Indian and Frenchman, as has often been shown, had made the unostentatious farmer-soldiers of New England a formidable and resolute body when the day of the Revolution came. Before that day the train-bands of the towns were the color and music of the otherwise monotonous life. Four times a year came muster with its drill, its competitive shooting, its feasting, its sports, and its exercise of self-government in the election of officers. This visible expression of the power of the community generated a self-confidence and a spirit of generous comradery in the mind of the young soldier; the courage which it gave, the habit of standing upright in any presence, the belief that back of the voice lay the strong arm, were parts of the education of such men as Webster.

Of the more specific literary education I have already spoken. Webster's training as a scholar was that of other Americans of his day, neither better nor worse; and indeed there was not much to choose between the chances of town and country. So late as 1813 Mr. George Ticknor, in his reminiscences, relates his difficulties in undertaking the study of German in Boston: "At Jamaica Plains there was a Dr. Brosius, a native of Strasburg, who gave instruction in mathematics. He was willing to do what he could for me in German, but he warned me that his pronunciation was very bad, as was that of all Alsace, which had become a part of France. Nor was it possible to get books. I borrowed a Meidinger's grammar, French and German, from my friend Mr. Everett, and sent to New Hampshire, where I knew there was a German dictionary, and procured it. I also obtained a copy of Goethe's 'Werther' in German (through Mr. William S. Shaw's connivance) from amongst Mr. J. Q. Adams's books, deposited by him, on going to Europe, in the Athenaeum, under Mr. Shaw's care, but without giving him permission to lend them."[2] Mr. Hillard, in commenting on this, says well that "there are now, doubtless, more facilities in New England for the study of Arabic or Persian than there were then for the study of German." But it was not yet even 1813 in Hartford and its neighborhood, and in the middle of the eighteenth century the literary resources were meagre in the extreme. Learning was not concentrated in the towns, but the access to books there was easier. The country minister, who was the scholar, literary man, and school-master, fell back largely upon the Greek and Latin classics, and upon the few books of the day which he could get in his rare journeys to Boston. In Boston itself there were book-stores, and John Mein, afterward a royalist refugee, kept a circulating library in 1765 at what was known as the London bookstore. It numbered some twelve hundred volumes, and boasted a printed catalogue. It gives some indication of the condition of the book business in Boston that he advertised, about ten years before the out-break of the war, a stock of above ten thousand volumes. If Dr. Perkins, Noah Webster's school-master, went to New Haven to draw books from the college library, he found there in 1765 "a good library, consisting of about four thousand volumes, well furnished with ancient authors, such as the Fathers, Historians, and Classics; many modern valuable books of divinity, history, philosophy, and mathematics; but not many authors who have wrote within these thirty years."[3]

We are more concerned to know the kind of reading which was at Webster's command when a boy outside of his school hours. That the severer literature dominated seems evident from the recourse which he has to it in his writings when he wishes illustrations; for, like others of his day, the classic authors, especially of Rome, were quoted with a sense of their being final authority. The newspaper in Webster's youth had scarcely yet asserted itself very forcibly. The few centres of population had journals, which did not travel very far beyond the place of publication. The Connecticut "Courant," a weekly newspaper, was started in Hartford in 1764, and was of the better class, poorly printed, but serving as a medium for communications from its readers; the leading article was anticipated by the letter to the editor or printer, and with the exception of a scanty abstract of news the "Courant" may be said to have been edited by its subscribers,—a policy which made such papers very good reflections of the feeling of the community. Older and better established than the newspaper was the almanac, which throve in New England and performed a familiar service in every household. Mr. Ames or Mr. Lord, and their fellows, addressed readers in the jaunty, unconventional style which was regarded as appropriate to a class of literature which was neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, and after their preliminary talk and their monthly calendar, with its wonderful comments, gave the page or two that remained to anecdotes, poetry, and miscellaneous literature. The calendar was headed by verse, which was taken usually from English authors of the time, and sometimes was treated serially. Thus in one almanac the poem of "Porsenna in pursuit of the Kingdom of Felicity" trails along the head of the twelve months, and at the end is announced to be continued next year; next year it starts on its journey again, and overflows upon one of the extra pages, but still is unfinished; a third year it makes a desperate effort to come to an end, but the editor is obliged to announce, "Conclusion omitted this year for want of room;" and only when a fourth year has come is he able to get rid of this continued poem. Think of the impatience of readers who had to wait from year to year for four years before they could finish reading this work of art! As the years of the war drew near, the contents of these little books took on a more martial character, and the poetical feuilleton gave place to a military chronicle.

Jejune enough do these hints seem to make the life in which Webster grew up: but if it was poverty-stricken as compared with the abundant resources of our own day,—if the Hartford of 1765 is to be contrasted with that of 1881, to the manifest disadvantage of the former,—one would wish to remember that in the very sterility of that life there was a certain iron which entered into the constitution of the people who lived it. If there were not the leisure and culture of the present day, neither were there the mental indolence and dissipation. Ames's Almanac was a joyless sort of light literature, but at least it did not reduce intellectual recreation to a mere frivolous indulgence of the mental faculties. A fine picture could be drawn of Webster on the one side, extracting what juice he could from the chippy leaves of the almanac and "Courant," and of a youth of this year, entering a public library with his card, and having the range of a hundred thousand volumes; but the real comparison is to be made between the results in character and production. We are painfully familiar with the lists of books which constitute the reading of the average boy of to-day, and know perfectly well that they are very often narcotic and stimulant. The reading which was had with such difficulty in the middle of the eighteenth century may sometimes have acted as a sedative, but it was by reason of quality and scarcity more generally brave food; in the mind of the reader there was an immense respect for literature which induced a genuine hunger for books, and the individuality of one who had intellectual tastes was not impaired, as so often happens now, but fortified and enriched.

The farm, the social round, the school, the college, the out-door sports, the in-door books and papers, were all parts of the circumstance which affected the life of the youth, but no picture of the time would be complete which omitted the influence upon him of the church. He would grow up with the impression that the meeting-house was the principal building in town, the minister the principal person, and Sunday the principal day. A curious illustration of the strong hold which the religious observance of Sunday had upon the colonists then is in the construction of what were known as Sabbath-Day Houses, which I think were peculiar to Connecticut. At any rate, there is so good a description of them by a son-in-law of Webster's that I give it here:—

"These houses were from twenty to twenty-five feet in length, and from ten to twelve feet in breadth, and one story high, with a chimney in the middle, dividing the whole space into two rooms, with a partition between them, for the accommodation of two families, who united in building the house. The furniture consisted of a few chairs, a table, plates and dishes, some iron utensil, it may be, for warming food which had been cooked. Besides the Bible, there was sometimes a book on experimental religion, like Baxter's 'Saints' Rest,' or Allein's 'Alarm.' On the morning of the Sabbath the mother of the family, with provident care, put up her store of comforts for the dinner, substantial or slight fare as most convenient, a bottle of cider almost of course. The family then set off from their home in a large two-horse sleigh, or on saddles and pillions. They stopped at the Sabbath-day house, kindled a blazing fire, and then went forth to shiver in the cold during the morning services. At noon they hurried back to their warm room. After they had taken their meal, and by turns drunk from the pewter mug, thanks were returned. Then the sermon came under review, from the notes taken by the father of the family, or a chapter was read from the Bible, or a paragraph from some favorite author, the service concluding with prayer or singing. After again visiting the sanctuary, the family would return to the Sabbath-day house, if the cold was severe, before they sought their home. The fire was then extinguished, the door was locked, and the house remained undisturbed during the week. In time the custom of repairing to these houses changed; the houses themselves became dilapidated, or furnished a refuge for the poor. They were better suited to those times, when so much was thought of private family religion, than they would be to ours, when religion has become more of a public and social concern. The last Sabbath-day house which I remember stood on the land owned by the first minister. It was occupied by John King, a Hessian deserter from the British army. It was owned by one of the Nortons. The present writer can recollect as many as half a dozen of these houses."[4]

The legislation thrown about the Sabbath was in confirmation of the public opinion regarding its sanctity. The harsher aspects of this observance have been sufficiently dwelt upon in our histories; the effect upon character has been less considered, but the elevation of one day out of the tyranny of work, the resolute facing of eternal mysteries, and the withdrawal into a half-brooding, half-active state of mind must have had a powerful effect upon the imagination and conscience. The meeting-house was no holy building, but the Sabbath day was a holy day, and was the most comprehensive symbol of the Puritan faith. It was what the altar is in the Catholic Church, the holy of holies, about which the whole movement of religious worship gathered. Whatever disturbed the profound stillness of the day was seized upon by the law as sacrilegious; and never, perhaps, has there been a religion which succeeded so completely in investing time with the sacredness which elsewhere had been appropriated by place. Even the approach to the Sabbath was guarded, and the custom of the observance of Saturday evening appears to have been derived from the backward influence of the day, as the release upon Sunday evening appears to have been a concession to the flesh, which would otherwise have rebelled. Dr. Bushnell, in his "Age of Homespun," tells of his own experience in boyhood, when he was refused a load of apples, which he had gone to buy on Saturday afternoon, because the farmer, on consulting the sun, decided that he could not measure out the fruit before the strict Sabbath began.

The minister again represented to the young New Englander the highest expression of human attainment. He was righteous and he was learned. Learning he had in a severe and lofty form, and though there was little in his outward dress to mark him as a priest of God, he was isolated from the community by his authority and profession, so that he answered rather to one's conception of a prophet. Before him were brought offenders against Sabbath decorum, and the minister's study was to the boy the most awful room into which he could enter. This association of learning with piety served to heighten still further the respect with which learning was regarded, and to separate the young student almost by a special laying on of hands. The minister also usually had his glebe, and held a common interest with the farmers of the neighborhood,—a humanizing relation which had much to do in preserving the real respect in which he was held. The positive influence of religion upon life, by being identified with the highest intellectualism and the most eminent persons, had thus both its strength and weakness. There was wanting the large and comprehensive spirit of an historic church; there was the peril of a too abstract regard for religion; but on the other hand there was a very strong stimulus to individualism. No one with any force of character could grow up under these influences without being vigorously affected by them.


[1] An examination of the Yale catalogue shows that, with some fluctuations, the proportion of clerical alumni to the whole number of graduates fell off pretty surely during the middle of the century. In the decades marked by Webster's graduation, the proportion was roughly as follows: in 1748, nearly one half the class entered the ministry; in 1758, nearly one third; in 1768 one fourth; in 1778, one tenth.

[2] Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, i. 11, 12.

[3] President Clap's Annals, under date of 1765.

[4] History of Durham, Connecticut. By William Chauncey Fowler, LL. D., pp. 97, 98.



"In the year 1782, while the American army was lying on the bank of the Hudson, I kept a classical school in Goshen, Orange County, State of New York. I there compiled two small elementary books for teaching the English language. The country was then impoverished, intercourse with Great Britain was interrupted, school-books were scarce and hardly attainable, and there was no certain prospect of peace."

These words have doubtless a familiar sound to the reader. They form the phrases which Webster never wearied of repeating, and whenever he had occasion to refer to the beginning of his literary career he fell naturally into this paragraph. It became a formula for the expression of a fact which was embedded in his mind as a stone marking a point of departure. There is a consciousness in it of the beginning of a great enterprise, and certainly, when one considers the immense stream which has flowed from this little rill, he may seriously stand and gaze at the young school-master and his two small elementary books. The modesty of the statement agrees with the size of the books, but not with the expansiveness of the composite title. The work projected by Webster was "A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, comprising an Easy, Concise, and Systematic Method of Education, designed for the Use of English Schools in America." The "Institute" was to be in three parts, which were, in brief, a speller, a grammar, and a reader. The formal and dignified title of the work was the tribute which Webster paid to old-fashioned scholarship; and it is curious to see the evolution by which it finally became the well-known "Elementary." One or two ideas were working their way out in Webster's mind. In the first place he did not like the book generally in use, "Dilworth's New Guide to the English Tongue;" then he saw with more or less clearness that, in the separation from England that was fast taking place, the people in America must necessarily have their own school-books, and his mind ran forward even to a belief in a distinct and separate literature and a considerable difference in language. Yet at this time I am not sure that he appreciated the pregnant truth, so familiar to us now, of a vital connection between popular education and popular sovereignty. He began to see it, and was influenced by it; but his work was mightier than he then knew, for he had not been educated in a free republic.

How simple and slight a change in methods of text-books marks the introduction of Webster's spelling-book, from which millions of Americans have learned to spell the names on a ballot! Lay Dilworth and a first Webster side by side: the likeness and the difference of the two are apparent. It is clear that Dilworth served as a model, and that Webster's book started simply as an improvement upon the English original. Even in externals there is a similarity. The early editions of Webster had a dim, hacked-out engraving on wood of Noah Webster, Jr., Esq., to correspond with the scarcely more refined portrait of Tho. Dilworth which prefaces the "New Guide." Both books have long lists of words, proceeding from the simplest combination to words of five syllables, and even in Dilworth to proper names of six syllables, containing such retired words as Abelbethmaacah; but in Webster these lists proceed upon a regular gradation of pronunciation, while in Dilworth they follow such confusing and arbitrary order as is indicated by the heading, "Words of five, six, etc., letters, viz.: two vowels and the rest consonants; the latter vowel serving only to lengthen the sound of the former, except where it is otherwise marked," which is nearly as luminous as a direction in knitting. Each offers illustrated fables as reading lessons, and shorter sentences are provided for first lessons in reading. In Dilworth these are, without exception, taken from the Psalms, or made up to order to look like apocryphal psalms; in Webster there is a suggestive divergence, for while, as in Dilworth, the first sentence is, "No man may put off the law of God," it takes a very few pages for the child to reach the very practical passage, "As for those boys and girls that mind not their books, and love not church and school, but play with such as tell tales, tell lies, curse, swear, and steal, they will come to some bad end, and must be whipt till they mend their ways." The child brought up on Dilworth is practiced until nearly the last page of the work upon the lesson of the first sentence, with variations. Other differences would be suggested at once by the use of the two books. In Dilworth the child learns all manner of English proper names and abbreviations likely to be of use, such as Ldp., Bp., Rt. Wpful, Rt. Honble, Ast. P.G.C. and P.M.G.C., the last two standing, as the reader has of course already guessed, for Astronomy Professor of Gresham College, and Professor of Music at Gresham College, which we politely take to have been Tho. Dilworth's Alma Mater. In a note at the foot of the column, T. D. adds: "It argues a disrespect and slighting to use contractions to our betters." The character of this torture of the innocent was probably determined by the use for which it was intended in England, as indicated by Mr. Dilworth's dedication "To the Reverend and Worthy Promoters of the several Charity Schools in Great Britain and Ireland."

Webster's Institute, on the other hand, was plainly meant for the farmer boys and girls of his country. "The spelling-book," he says in one of his essays, "does more to form the language of a nation than all other books," and the man who first supplied our young nation with a spelling-book has undoubtedly affected its spelling habits more than any other single person. But Webster was a moralist and a philosopher as well as a speller. He was by no means restricted in his ambition to the teaching of correct spelling; he aimed to have a hand in the moulding of the national mind and the national manners. In his preface to "The American Spelling-Book," he says: "To diffuse an uniformity and purity of language in America, to destroy the provincial prejudices that originate in the trifling differences of dialect and produce reciprocal ridicule, to promote the interest of literature and the harmony of the United States, is the most earnest wish of the author, and it is his highest ambition to deserve the approbation and encouragement of his countrymen." His spelling-book, accordingly, in its early editions contained a number of sharp little warnings in the form of footnotes, which imply that he seized the young nation just in time to prevent the perpetuation of vulgar errors, since these, if they once became universal, would have compelled the hereditary Webster to make them the basis of orthoepic canons. Thus, ax is reprobated when ask is intended; Americans were to say wainscot, not winch-cott; resin, not rozum; chimney, not chimbly; confiscate, not confisticate. Since these warnings disappeared after a few years it may be presumed that he regarded the immediate danger as passed; but the more substantial matters of good morals came to have greater prominence, and in addition to the columns of classified words, which constitute almost the sole contents of the earliest edition, there came to be inserted those fables and moral and industrial injunctions, with sly reminders of the virtue of Washington, which have sunk into the soft minds of generations of Americans. There was a Federal catechism, and a good deal of geographical knowledge regarding counties and county towns, to be taken economically in the form of spelling lessons. The successive editions became way-marks of the progress of the nation, and so important did the book rapidly become that though its compiler was fast throwing off the bondage of Anglican spelling, he never dared to make the book conform to his own principles; venturing only to hint in his preface at the orthographic reform which he longed to make. "The spelling," he says, "of such words as publick, favour, neighbour, head, prove, phlegm, his, give, debt, rough, well, instead of the more natural and easy method: public, favor, nabor, hed, proov, flem, hiz, giv, det, ruf, wel, has the plea of antiquity in its favor; and yet I am convinced that common sense and convenience will sooner or later get the better of the present absurd practice."

The pictures which came to bring art as an adjunct in impressing the young mind were of the order already familiar in the New England Primer, ingenuous in their simple straightforwardness and of uncompromising faithfulness to nature. The fable of the Boy that stole Apples, which I have never been able to trace back of Webster, but through him has become a part of our mental furniture, is briskly set forth at one of its points in a queer wood-cut. The old man in his continental coat has only gone as far as words, and the boy is just reaching out his arm for the round apple near him. If another picture had been given, the old man's coat would have been off and that boy would have been seen slithering down the trunk of the tree; and in the third fable of the Fox and the Swallow there is a phalanx-like arrangement of the tormenting flies which appeals strongly to the imagination.

The second part of a Grammatical Institute was a grammar,—"a plain and comprehensive grammar founded on the true principles and idioms of the language." Webster had fallen upon Lowth's "Short Introduction to the English Grammar," and upon the basis of that book drew up his grammar for the use of American youth. But the principal result of his work seems to have been the introduction of his own mind to the study. Six years afterward he wrote: "The favorable reception of this prompted me to extend my original plan, which led to a further investigation of the principles of language. After all my reading and observation for the course of ten years I have been able to unlearn a considerable part of what I learnt in early life, and at thirty years of age can with confidence affirm that our modern grammars have done much more hurt than good. The authors have labored to prove what is obviously absurd, namely, that our language is not made right; and in pursuance of this idea have tried to make it over again, and persuade the English to speak by Latin rules, or by arbitrary rules of their own. Hence they have rejected many phrases of pure English, and substituted those which are neither English nor sense. Writers and grammarians have attempted for centuries to introduce a subjunctive mode into English, yet without effect; the language requires none distinct from the indicative; and therefore a subjunctive form stands in books only as a singularity, and people in practice pay no regard to it. The people are right, and a critical investigation of the subject warrants me in saying that common practice, even among the unlearned, is generally defensible on the principles of analogy and the structure of the language, and that very few of the alterations recommended by Lowth and his followers can be vindicated on any better principle than some Latin rule or his own private opinion."

Accordingly, besides publishing some dissertations on the subject, he issued a new grammar in 1807, based this time on Horne Tooke's Diversions of Purley, an author with whom Webster would naturally be in sympathy. This grammar never had a firm hold of the public, and was subsequently incorporated into the prefatory matter of his great dictionary, where he says: "My researches into the structure of language had convinced me that some of Lowth's principles are erroneous and that my own grammar wanted material corrections. In consequence of this conviction, believing it to be immoral to publish what appeared to be false rules and principles, I determined to suppress my grammar, and actually did so."

Here we have his frankness of character, his honesty, his force of will, and the impulsiveness with which he took up attractive theories. Perhaps the most comprehensive statement of his ruling principle is that he was governed by usage, but did not sufficiently discriminate between usage by educated and usage by uneducated people; he had, indeed, so violent a prejudice against grammarians in general, and so much respect for popular instinct, that it was a recommendation to him when a phrase was condemned by the grammarians, while in common use by the people. For example he says in a Letter to the Governors, Instructors, and Trustees of the Universities and other Seminaries of Learning in the United States, "According to the grammars, the pronoun you, being originally plural, must always be followed by a plural verb, though referring to a single person. This is not correct, for the moment the word is generally used to denote an individual, it is to be considered as a pronoun in the singular number, the following verb should be regulated by that circumstance and considered as in the singular.... Indeed, in the substantive verb, the word has taken the singular form of the verb, you was, which practice is getting the better of old rules and probably will be established." But old rules have considerable vitality, and the general opinion still is that if an individual permits himself to be represented by a plural pronoun he must accept all the grammatical consequences. "I will even venture to assert," he continues in the same letter, "that two thirds of all the corruptions in our language have been introduced by learned grammarians, who, from a species of pedantry acquired in schools, and from a real ignorance of the original principle of the English tongue, have been for ages attempting to correct what they have supposed vulgar errors, but which are in fact established analogies.... In this country it is desirable that inquiries should be free, and opinions unshackled. North America is destined to be the seat of a people more numerous probably than any nation now existing with the same vernacular language, unless one except some Asiatic nations. It would be little honorable to the founders of a great empire to be hurried prematurely into errors and corruptions by the mere force of authority."

This appeal to the pride of the young nation is a curious instance of the growing consciousness of Americanism which was more rampant in Webster than in any of his contemporaries. The passages which I have been quoting intimate the deference which Webster displayed toward the people. He was one of the first to carry a spirit of democracy into letters. Intense Federalist as he was, his Federalism agreed with a stout anti-aristocratic spirit; and throughout his work one may detect a confidence in the common sense of the people which was as firm as Franklin's, and was used, in his enthusiasm, to determine questions in language and literature never before brought to such a test. Unquestionably a main source of Webster's strength and success lay in this democratic instinct; it was not patriotism alone, it was the spirit which hailed the new democracy, and in its very contempt of precedent and historic authority disclosed its rude self-reliance.

This temper had a more favorable field for its exhibition in the third part of "A Grammatical Institute" which bore the sub-title: "An American Selection of Lessons in Reading and Speaking; calculated to improve the Minds and refine the Taste of Youth, and also to instruct them in the Geography, History, and Politics of the United States. To which are prefixed Rules in Elocution, and Directions for expressing the Principal Passions of the Mind." This laboriously emphatic title-page bears the motto from Mirabeau: "Begin with the infant in his cradle; let the first word he lisps be Washington." In strict accordance with this patriotic sentiment, the compiler gives a series of lessons which would not be inappropriate to any girl or boy who in infancy had performed the feat of lisping the easy-going name which Mirabeau himself probably had some difficulty in conquering. "In the choice of pieces," says Webster in his preface, "I have been attentive to the political interests of America. I consider it as a capital fault in all our schools that the books generally used contain subjects wholly uninteresting to our youth; while the writings that marked the Revolution, which are perhaps not inferior to the orations of Cicero and Demosthenes, and which are calculated to impress interesting truths upon young minds, lie neglected and forgotten. Several of those masterly addresses of Congress, written at the commencement of the late Revolution, contain such noble sentiments of liberty and patriotism that I cannot help wishing to transfuse them into the breasts of the rising generation." Accordingly, he makes abundant room in his book for orations by Hancock, Warren, Livingston, and Joel Barlow, and for poetry by Freneau, Dwight, Barlow, and Livingston again, all kept in countenance by Cicero, Publius Scipio, Shakespeare, and Pope, while a tribute is paid to "Mr. Andrus of Yale College, since deceased," by the insertion of "A Dialogue written in the year 1776." To plump from Joel Barlow at the North Church in Hartford, July 4, 1787, to a portion of Cicero's oration against Verres, probably produced no severe shock, since both orations were intended as exercises in speaking, and the former by its structure was removed to about the same chronological distance from the young speaker as the latter. It would be a curious inquiry how far writers of historical addresses in America have from the beginning been affected by the necessity which a regard for ancient models laid upon them of fitting the facts of our Revolutionary War to oratorical periods, and how far popular conceptions of the beginning of our national life have been formed by the "pieces" which young Americans have been called upon to speak. The Roman was the most distinguished predecessor by name of this new republic, and enthusiastic patriots went to it for literary furniture as freely as their ancestors in New England applied to the Jewish theocracy. In the contemporary ephemeral literature of the time there is a faint survival of the older forms, but a more energetic reproduction of Roman symbols, taken sometimes directly from Latin literature and history, sometimes indirectly from the chill Augustan renaissance of the English eighteenth-century literature. The interior manners of the two periods are well contrasted in two sets of letters, the earlier passing between John and Margaret Winthrop, the later between John and Abigail Adams. The Scriptural allusions which crowd the Winthrop letters have not wholly disappeared in the Adams letters, but they are more formally introduced as fragmentary bits of wisdom, and appear side by side with quotations from Pliny and Rollin's "Ancient History;" Mrs. Adams signs herself Portia; the vessels which carry the letters are the Apollo, the Juno, and the Minerva; and classical allusions constitute a good share of such playfulness as may be found.

The judgment with which Webster made his reading selections largely from American sources was not the result of a mere Anglo-phobia; it was the product of an ardent, hopeful patriotism trained within narrow provincial bounds. Webster was not old enough to have been much under the impression of the English rule in America, and his days had been spent in farming villages where the traditions were little affected by foreign life, or in a college which jumped over intermediate centuries to find models in Roman antiquity. His education, meaning by that the cultivation of his powers by what were literary or circumstantial influences, had made him quite exclusively an American and a republican; when he began to give expression, therefore, to his mind, he was unimpeded and unstimulated by anything outside of the horizon of his frugal life; he was not so much opposed to foreign culture as he was absolutely ignorant of it; and in his career we are called upon to observe the growth of a mind as nearly native as was possible. If I am not mistaken, that which was Webster's weakness as an individual man was his strength as the pioneer of education in a new country.



The second and third parts of "A Grammatical Institute" did not make Webster's fame or fortune. The first part had in it from the first the promise of success. It may fairly be called the first book published in the United States of America, and its publication, under all the conditions of business then, was a bold venture. Each State was still a law to itself, and no general act of Congress had yet been passed conferring copyright. Webster's first business before he had actually completed his spelling-book was to secure copyright laws in the several States, and he began a series of journeys to Philadelphia and the state capitals for this purpose. The history of his travels is the history of the origin of copyright laws in this country; and inasmuch as Webster has himself related in detail the steps which he took not only at this time, but later, I introduce here his statement, including in it a correspondence with Daniel Webster which has special interest at this time, when the same considerations have been urged in the renewed discussion of the subject.

"In the autumn of 1782 I rode to Philadelphia for the purpose of showing my manuscripts to gentlemen of influence, and obtaining a law for securing to authors the copyright of their publications. As the legislatures of New Jersey and Philadelphia were not then in session, the latter object could not then be accomplished. On my way I called on Governor Livingston, then in Trenton, and inquired whether it was probable that a copyright law could be obtained in New Jersey. The Governor replied that if I would wait till noon he would consult his council, then in session, and give me an answer. At the time appointed I called again, when the Governor told me the council gave him very little encouragement. In Princeton I waited on the Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith, then professor of theology in Nassau Hall, and afterward president of that institution, who examined my manuscripts, recommended the works, and expressed his opinion in favor of copyright laws....

"In October following I went to Hartford, with a view to petition the Legislature of Connecticut, then in session in that place, for a law to secure to me the copyright of my proposed book. The petition was presented, but too late in the session to obtain a hearing. I then returned to Goshen, and devoted the winter to a revision of my manuscripts, and the introduction of some improvements which had been suggested by gentlemen in Princeton and Philadelphia. In January, 1783, I prepared another memorial to be presented to the Legislature of Connecticut, for the purpose of procuring a copyright law, which memorial was committed to the care of John Canfield, Esq. But the necessity of it was superseded by the enactment of a general law upon the subject. This law was obtained by the petition of several literary gentlemen in that State.

"In the same winter I went to Kingston, in Ulster County, New York, where the legislature was in session, with a view to present a petition for the like purpose. The necessity of such petition was prevented by the prompt attention of General Schuyler to my request, through whose influence a bill was introduced into the Senate, which at the next session became a law. In the same winter the Legislature of Massachusetts enacted a copyright law, procured, probably, by the agency of the Rev. Timothy Dwight, then a member of the House of Representatives.

"As Congress, under the Confederation, had no power to protect literary property, several gentlemen, among whom was Joel Barlow, presented a memorial to that body, petitioning them to recommend to the several States the enactment of such a law. In May, 1783, on the report of Mr. Williamson, Mr. Izard, and Mr. Madison, Congress passed a resolution, recommending to the several States to secure to authors or publishers of new books, not before printed, the copyright of such books for a term not less than fourteen years. In December, 1783, Governor Livingston informed me by letter that the Legislature of New Jersey had passed a law agreeable to the recommendation of Congress.

"In May, 1785, I undertook a journey to the Middle and Southern States, one object of which was to procure copyright laws to be enacted. I proceeded to Charleston, but the legislature not being in session, I returned to Baltimore, where I spent the summer. In November I visited General Washington at his mansion; he gave me letters to Governor Harrison in Richmond, and to the speakers of both houses of the legislature. The law desired was passed for securing copyrights. In December I visited Annapolis, where the legislature was in session; and in February I visited Dover, in Delaware, for the same purpose. On petition, the Legislature of Delaware appointed a committee to prepare a bill for a copyright law, just at the close of the session, but the enactment was deferred to the next session. In the year 1790 Congress enacted their first copyright law, which superseded all the state laws on the subject.

"When I was in England in 1825 I learned that the British Parliament had, a few years before, enacted a new law on copyrights, by which the rights of authors were much extended. This led me to attempt to procure a new law in the United States, giving a like extension to the rights of authors. My first attempt appears in the following letter [to the Hon. Daniel Webster, dated September 30, 1826]:—

"'Since the celebrated decision, respecting copyright, by the highest British tribunal, it seems to have been generally admitted that an author has not a permanent and exclusive right to the publication of his original works at common law; and that he must depend wholly on statutes for his enjoyment of that right. As I firmly believe this decision to be contrary to all our best established principles of right and property, and as I have reason to think such a decision would not now be sanctioned by the authorities of this country, I sincerely desire that while you are a member of the House of Representatives in Congress your talents may be exerted in placing this species of property on the same footing as all property, as to exclusive right and permanence of possession.

"'Among all modes of acquiring property, or exclusive ownership, the act or operation of creating or making seems to have the first claim. If anything can justly give a man an exclusive right to the occupancy and enjoyment of a thing it must be the fact that he made it. The right of a farmer and mechanic to the exclusive enjoyment and right of disposal of what they make or produce is never questioned. What, then, can make a difference between the produce of muscular strength and the produce of the intellect? If it should be said that as the purchaser of a bushel of wheat has obtained not only the exclusive right to the use of it for food, but the right to sow it and increase and profit by it, let it be replied, this is true; but if he sows the wheat he must sow it on his own ground or soil. The case is different with respect to the copy of a book, which a purchaser has obtained, for the copyright is the author's soil, which the purchaser cannot legally occupy.

"'Upon what principles, let me ask, can any fellow-citizens declare that the production of the farmer and the artisan shall be protected by common law, or the principles of natural and social rights, without a special statute, and without paying a premium for the enjoyment of their property, while they declare that I have only a temporary right to the fruits of my labor, and even this cannot be enjoyed without giving a premium? Are such principles as these consistent with the established doctrines of property, and of moral right and wrong among an enlightened people? Are such principles consistent with the high and honorable notions of justice and equal privileges which our citizens claim to entertain and to cherish, as characteristic of modern improvements in civil society? How can the recent origin of a particular species of property vary the principles of ownership? I say nothing of the inexpedience of such a policy, as it regards the discouragement of literary exertions. Indeed, I can probably say nothing on this subject that you have not said or thought; at least I presume you have often contemplated this subject in all its bearings.

"'The British Parliament, about ten or twelve years ago, passed a new act on this subject, giving to authors and proprietors of new works an absolute right to the exclusive use of the copyright for twenty-eight years, with some other provisions which I do not recollect; but the act makes or continues the condition that the author or proprietor shall deposit eleven copies of the work in Stationers' Hall, for the benefit of certain public libraries. This premium will often amount to fifty pounds sterling, or more. An effort was made by publishers to obtain a repeal of this provision; but it was opposed by the institutions which were to receive the benefit, and the attempt failed.

"'I have a great interest in this question, and I think the interest of science and literature in this question are by no means inconsiderable. I sincerely wish our legislature would come at once to the line of right and justice on this subject, and pass a new act, the preamble to which shall admit the principle that an author has, by common law, or natural justice, the sole and permanent right to make profit by his own labor, and that his heirs and assigns shall enjoy the right unclogged with conditions. The act thus admitting the right would prescribe only the mode by which it shall be ascertained, secured, and enjoyed, and violations of the right punished; and perhaps make some provisions for the case of attempts to elude the statute by slight alterations of books by mutilations and transpositions.'

"To this letter Mr. Webster returned the following answer:—

"'BOSTON, October 14, 1826.

"'DEAR SIR,—I have received yours of the 30th of September, and shall, with your permission, lay it before the committee of the judiciary next session, as that committee has in contemplation some important changes in the law respecting copyright. Your opinion, in the abstract, is certainly right and uncontrovertible. Authorship is, in its nature, ground of property. Most people, I think, are as well satisfied (or better) with the reasoning of Mr. Justice Yates as with that of Lord Mansfield in the great case of Miller and Taylor. But after all, property, in the social state, must be the creature of law; and it is a question of expediency, high and general, not particular expediency, how and how far the rights of authorship should be protected. I confess frankly that I see, or think I see, objections to make it perpetual. At the same time I am willing to extend it further than at present, and am fully persuaded that it ought to be relieved from all charges, such as depositing copies, etc.

"'Yours, D. WEBSTER.'

* * * * *

"In the autumn of 1827 I applied to the Hon. Mr. Ingersoll, a representative from Connecticut, stating to him the facts of an extension of copyright in Great Britain, as also in France, and requesting him to use his influence to have a bill for a new law brought forward in Congress. Mr. Ingersoll very cheerfully complied. On the 17th December, on the motion of Mr. Ingersoll, the House of Representatives 'Resolved, that the committee on the judiciary inquire into the expediency of extending the time for which copyrights may be hereafter secured to authors, beyond the period now allowed by law; and also of affording further protection to authors against the publication of abridgments or summaries of works, after the copyrights thereof have been secured.' As the committee delayed several weeks to make a report, Mr. Ingersoll conversed fully on the subject with one of the members, and addressed a note to the committee, in which he stated the provision of the British Statute 34th Geo. III., enlarging the rights of authors, and the liberal provisions of the French laws on the subject. He stated some of the defects of the old law of the United States, and urged the expediency and justice of a more liberal law.

"A petition signed by many respectable literary men was, about this time, presented to Congress, praying for the same object. Some members of the committee were opposed to the measure; but at length, on the first of February, 1828, the committee reported a bill consisting of three sections only, extending the term of copyrights from fourteen to twenty-eight years, and securing the benefit of the act to authors who had previously obtained a copyright under the old law. On the 21st of February, Mr. Verplanck submitted to the House of Representatives an amendment to the bill reported by the committee, entitled an 'Amendment to a Bill to amend and consolidate the Acts respecting Copyrights.' This amendment was printed by order of the House. It was intended to embrace all the material provisions of the two former laws, and those of the bill reported by the judiciary committee; it contained also some additional improvements. Nothing further was done, and the bill and amendment died at the close of the session.

"At the next session (1829-1830) the Hon. Mr. Ellsworth, a member from Connecticut, was appointed one of the judiciary committee, of which the Hon. Mr. Buchanan was chairman. Before Mr. Ellsworth left home, I applied to him to make efforts to procure the enactment of a new copyright law, and sent a petition to Congress, praying for the renewal of the copyright of one of my books. This petition, being referred to the judiciary committee, brought the subject distinctly into consideration. After consultation, the committee authorized Mr. Ellsworth to prepare a bill for a general law on the subject. In order to present the subject in its true light to the committee and to Congress, Mr. Ellsworth wrote notes to the ministers of the principal European nations, requesting information from each of them respecting the state of copyrights in the nations they represented. From their answers, and an inspection of the laws of some of the governments, Mr. Ellsworth framed a report, stating the terms of time for which copyrights are secured to authors in Great Britain, France, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and certain states in Germany. He also framed a bill for a law intended to embrace all the material provisions of the old laws with those of the bill reported by the former judiciary committee.

"In this bill Mr. Ellsworth introduced some valuable provisions which had been omitted in the old laws, and in the bill and amendment offered at the former session. He also obtained from his friends some suggestions which enabled him to correct some errors and supply defects. This bill was approved by the judiciary committee, reported by Mr. Ellsworth, and printed by order of the House. But such was the pressure of business, and so little interest was felt in the bill, that no efforts of Mr. Ellsworth could bring it before the House at that session.

"Finding the efforts of the friends of the bill in Congress to be unavailing to obtain a hearing, I determined in the winter of 1830-1831 to visit Washington myself, and endeavor to accomplish the object. Accordingly I took lodgings at the seat of government, where I passed nine or ten weeks; and during this time read a lecture in the Hall of the Representatives, which was well attended, and, as my friends informed me, had no little effect in promoting the object of obtaining a law for securing copyrights.

"The difficulties which had prevented the bill from being brought forward now disappeared. The bill, at the second reading in the House of Representatives, met with some opposition; but it was ably supported by Mr. Ellsworth, Mr. Verplanck, and Mr. Huntington. It passed to a third reading by a large majority, and was ordered to be engrossed without opposition. When the bill came before the Senate, it was referred to the judiciary committee. Mr. Rowan, the chairman, being absent, the committee requested the Hon. Daniel Webster to take the bill, examine it, and report it if he thought proper; he did so, and under all circumstances deemed it expedient to report it without amendment. On the second reading Mr. Webster made a few explanatory remarks: no other person uttered a word on the subject; and it passed to a third reading by a unanimous vote. On the third reading, the Senate, on motion, dispensed with the reading, and it passed to be engrossed, without debate.

"In my journeys to effect this object, and in my long attendance in Washington, I expended nearly a year of time. Of my expenses in money I have no account, but it is a satisfaction to me that a liberal statute for securing to authors the fruit of their labor has been obtained."

* * * * *

In this summary the whole history of the copyright statutes appears, and it is interesting to note that the earliest action by the States and Congress received its impulse from Webster's spelling-book; the later and final form of the law was adopted in connection with Mr. Webster's indefatigable efforts, and the first book to take advantage of it was his "American Dictionary." His keen sense of the business relations of his literary work is seen in this early and late energy in securing satisfactory copyright laws. It is noticeable, too, that in his correspondence with Daniel Webster he took the position which has of late been held as the only solution of all copyright questions. Noah Webster may not have been a great man in his generation, but he had a singular faculty of being the first in time in many departments of literary industry, and constantly to have anticipated other people.

Wherever he went he showed the rough draft of his book; he assailed members of Congress and men of eminence generally. He had faith in it, and he lived at a time when the individual testimony of men was of greater weight than now. There were no organs of literary or educational opinion, no academies or bodies of men especially esteemed as juries in the case of any book on trial, and indorsements were looked for as essential to the success of any new venture. There was no great public to show its interest by buying, and there were no publishers of capital and organization to relieve the author of publishing labor. In the recently published correspondence of Jeremy Belknap and Ebenezer Hazard,[5] one may read the difficulties encountered by a scholarly man in getting his historical work published. The correspondence for two years between these gentlemen, with reference to the publication of Belknap's "History of New Hampshire," a volume of five hundred pages, shows that every detail of paper, print, and binding, and almost all arrangements for securing subscriptions, fell upon the author and his friend, acting for and with him. Subscribers were sought with painful endeavor, one at a time, and all the points at issue were discussed in letters which seemed sometimes to travel by chance.

Webster, without money, and almost without friends, but with the kind of faith which works miracles with other people's faith, succeeded at length in persuading Hudson & Goodwin, printers in Hartford, to issue an edition of five thousand copies of the spelling-book. John Trumbull and Joel Barlow were his chief supporters, the latter backing him with a little money. The printer was the publisher then; and an author, in making his arrangements, was accustomed to sell the right to print and publish to various printers in various parts of the country,—a custom which continued through the first quarter of the century. The isolation of the several settled communities rendered collision between the several dealers unlikely; and, in the absence of quick communication, no place had any advantage except as a depot for the neighboring district. Rights to print were granted for fourteen years. Such a contract was made in 1818 by Webster with Mr. Hudson, who was to pay $3,000 a year during the term. The reader will recall similar arrangements in Irving's ventures. The popularity of the speller rendered it liable to piracy, especially in the ruder parts of the country, and as late as 1835 Mr. Webster writes to his son, established as a bookseller in Louisville: "I would suggest whether it would not be advisable to publish in Kentucky, or at least in Tennessee, a short note like this: 'The Public are cautioned against buying "Webster's American Spelling-Book;" the editions now in the market are pirated, badly printed, and incorrect. The author expressly disclaims them.'"

The final success of the little book has been quite beyond definite computation, but a few figures will show something of the course it has run. In 1814, 1815, the sales averaged 286,000 copies a year; in 1828 the sales were estimated to be 350,000 copies. In 1847 the statement was made that about twenty-four million copies of the book had been published up to that time, and that the sale was then averaging a million of copies a year. It was also then said, that during the twenty years in which he was employed in compiling his "American Dictionary," the entire support of his family was derived from the profits of this work, at a premium for copyright of five mills a copy. The sales for eight years following the Civil War, namely, 1866-1873, aggregated 8,196,028; and the fact that the average yearly sale was scarcely greater than in 1847 may be referred in part to the great enterprise in the publication of school-books, which has marked the last twenty years, by which his speller has been one only of a great many, in part, also, to the impoverishment of the South where Webster's book had been more generally accepted than at the North.

The great demand that there was for elementary school-books, the real advance of Webster's over any then existing, the promptness with which he met the first call, all these causes combined to give a great impetus to the little book. At first sight there seems something amusing in the importance which not only Webster but other men of the time attached to the spelling-book. Timothy Pickering, in camp at Newburgh, waiting for the final word of disbanding, sat up into the night to read it! "By the eastern post yesterday," he writes to his wife, "I was lucky enough to receive the new spelling-book [Webster's] I mentioned in my last, and instead of sleeping (for I had a waking fit which prevented me), I read it through last night, except that I only examined a part of the different tables. I am much pleased with it. The author is ingenious, and writes from his own experience as a school-master, as well as the best authorities; and the time will come when no authority, as an English grammarian, will be superior to his own. It is the very thing I have so long wished for, being much dissatisfied with any spelling-book I had seen before. I now send you the book, and request you to let John take it to his master, with the enclosed letter; for I am determined to have him instructed upon this new, ingenious, and, at the same time, easy plan. There are, you will see by the Introduction, two more parts to come to complete the plan. I am a stranger to Mr. Webster, but I intend, when I can find leisure, to write him on the subject, using the liberty (which he requests) to suggest some little matters which may be altered and improved in his next edition, for I think the work will do honor to his country, and I wish it may be perfect. Many men of literature might think it too trifling a subject; but I am of a different opinion, and am happy that a gentleman of Mr. Webster's genius and learning has taken it up. All men are pleased with an elegant pronunciation, and this new Spelling-Book shows children how to acquire it with ease and certainty."[6]

Pickering's letter helps us to get behind "Webster's Spelling-Book" in 1783, instead of looking at it from this later vantage-ground of an accumulated American literature. There runs through the correspondence of that day a tone which we easily call provincial, but is nevertheless a distinct expression of the consciousness of the young nation. The instinct of literature is toward self-centring, and the sense of national being was very strong in men who had been giving their days and nights to the birth of a new nation. To understand the state of things in 1783 we should look at the literary ventures, inclusive of educational, within the boundaries of the Southern States during the War of 1861-1865. There the interruption of commerce with the North compelled a resort to home production in school-book literature, and intensity of feeling upon sectional questions found frequent expression in spelling-books and arithmetics. "Webster's Elementary" was reprinted at Macon, without illustrations and some of the diacritical marks, mutatis mutandis The reader finds the morals of the book and the earlier patriotism unchanged, but remembers its latitude when he reads: "The Senate of the Confederate States is sailed the Upper House of Congress: The President of the Confederate States is elective once every six years: The Confederate States have a large extent of sea-coast, and many parts of the Confederate States are noted for the fertility of the soil." But these are innocent adaptations; one must look to the arithmetics for sectional feeling.

In Webster's time, men whose lives had been spent in the struggle for independence and autonomy looked upon everything relating to their country with a concentration of interest which not only attested the sincerity of their convictions, but made them indifferent to the larger, more universal standards. They were seeing things with American, not European eyes. When Dr. Belknap and his friend Mr. Hazard were carefully arranging for the publication of the "History of New Hampshire," they made proposals to the Longmans, in London, to take an edition, without any apparent suspicion that such a book might lack readers in England. The publishers' polite reply intimates the "apprehension that the history of one particular province of New England would not be of sufficient importance to engage the attention of this country, and particularly as it is at present brought down no lower than the year 1714." Belknap's History is an admirable piece of work, the first scholarly work of its kind on this side of the water, and Dr. Belknap respected his book. To him, as to many of that generation, a book was a serious undertaking, and each new one that came was carefully weighed and its character measured; a history of New Hampshire was not a mere piece of local self-complacency, but a dignified adventure into a portion of American history hitherto unexplored. The work expended upon it was as careful and grave as if the subject had been the Peloponnesian War. Indeed, one of the substantial evidences of the historic justification of the war for independence is to be found in the alacrity with which the scholarly element in the country busied itself about themes which were close at hand and connected with the land of their life.

Literature in its finer forms had but slender encouragement. The absence of easy communication, the poverty of the people, the dispersion of the population, gave little chance for bookstores and circulating libraries and private accumulation. It must not be forgotten, either, that the era of cheap books had not yet come in England, and that the periodical form was still in embryo. To look back on one of the rather juiceless periodicals which sprang up so frequently at the beginning of our literature because they had no depth of earth, and withered away rootless and sunstruck, is to be over-taken half with scorn for their pretense, and half with pity for conductors and readers, who had to make believe very hard to find them quite nice. "They would bear a little more seasoning certainly," like the marchioness's orange-peel and water; yet how strong must have been the passion for literature when money was expended and pains taken with these hopeless ventures. The change in popular taste, moreover, must not mislead us into supposing that writings which are arid to us now were necessarily devoid of interest to contemporary readers. We take down from the shelf the solitary volume which contains the "American Magazine," and its reading-matter looks as faded to our eyes as the leather upon the covers, but it was once the latest publication of the day. We can with little difficulty imagine that the monthly report of Warren Hastings' trial, with its plan of the High Court at Westminster, would have an interest at the time quite as reasonable in its way as that which held readers of journals, not so long extinct, over the details of the Tichborne case. It is in the field of polite literature that our later taste refuses to discover anything in common with the readers of the "American Magazine." What impresses one most in such a periodical is the value which the conductors set upon American historical material. This was offered to the public with all the assurance which now attends the promise of a great serial story. The explanation may most reasonably be found in the fact, that the subscribers to any such magazine at the time must have been sought among the well educated, and this class had been used chiefly to a serious view of literature.

The "American Magazine" was Webster's venture, and in the Belknap and Hazard correspondence one may find some curious incidents in the struggle for existence which the magazine had. It should be premised that neither of these gentlemen—and they represented the most cultivated class of the day—had much confidence in Webster. They nicknamed him the "Monarch," possibly from some assumption and arrogance in his tone, and he is rarely mentioned by them except in a slighting manner. "I think the Monarch a literary puppy, from what little I have seen of him," writes Hazard to Belknap. "He certainly does not want understanding, and yet there is a mixture of self-sufficiency, all-sufficiency, and at the same time a degree of insufficiency about him, which is (to me) intolerable. I do not believe that he is fit for a superintendent; that the persons mentioned will be his coadjutors, or that either the demand or the profits will be any way near equal to his expectations. His specimens already published [three numbers of the 'American Magazine'] are below mediocrity, and even in them he is too much the hero of the tale. His plan of a Federal publication, if sensible, judicious men could be engaged to execute it, and an editor of the same stamp could be procured, I think would do well. Considering circumstances, I would not advise you to engage with, him, but I think you may avail yourself of his application with the Columbians; only take care to do it in such a way that you may not, between two stools, fall to the ground."

The "Columbian" was a magazine of a little older standing to which Dr. Belknap had been contributing (his "Foresters" appeared there), and the incident of the worldly-wise Hazard, gently encouraging the clergyman to play the rivals against each other, has at least an approach to modern literary history. Webster, with his restlessness, had no sooner launched the "American Magazine" than he began to form other projects, as intimated in Hazard's letter, and wished to secure not only Belknap's pen, but his more active partnership. Hazard writes again to his friend, after being asked for further advice: "I am really at a loss how to advise you, but think, upon the whole, I would let the Columbians know that 'my necessities also compelled the making a close bargain;' that I had been applied to in behalf of the New York magazine, but felt myself so much interested in their success (having been so long connected with them) that I did not like to leave them, provided they would stipulate to allow me, certainly, what I deemed a reasonable compensation for my assistance, which they acknowledge they do not now allow; and that, upon their doing this, I would continue to aid them. If you can contribute the stipulated assistance to them in case you accept N. W.'s proposal, I see no reason why you should not do the latter too; for, if you fulfill your engagements, you do them no injustice. You may, in this case, as well have two strings to your bow as not, and I think I would advise to it, especially as the 'Columbian's' continuance is uncertain.[7] I would inform N. W. that some consideration was necessary respecting his plan; but that I was, upon the whole, inclined to think I would join him, if he could get the other gentlemen he mentioned to me to be concerned. I think no cash is to be advanced by you, upon his plan. It will be some months before he can begin, and I would not exclude myself from a chance."

Dr. Belknap's letters to Webster unfortunately do not appear, but his friend, through whom he wrote, commends him for his prudence. "I find," he writes, "you have not a more exalted idea of the Monarch than I have. I should not be fond of a connection with him, unless I saw it clearly to my interest." He praises him also for his exertions in behalf of the feeble "Columbian," which owed its life to him, in his opinion. Oddly enough, after all of Hazard's cautions and advice to Belknap, he seems himself to have been involved in negotiations with Webster, and from this point the correspondence has more interest as throwing light upon the estimation in which literary material was held at the time. Mr. Hazard had for a long time been making a collection of papers bearing upon American colonial history, and had not seen his way clear to a profitable publication of them. Noah Webster suddenly appears as the agent for a new magazine in which he has a slight interest, and makes proposals to Mr. Hazard. It is amusing to see how shy Hazard is of any close connection with Webster, and yet how continually Webster appears in the foreground in the affair.

"What would you think," writes Hazard to Belknap, "of my collection of papers coming to light after lying in obscurity so long? It is likely to be the case. The 'American Magazine' is to appear in a new form,[8] and on an extensive plan, and to be the property of a society of gentlemen, among whom N. W. holds but one share; and I am told he is going to remove from hence [New York] to Connecticut, so that he will not be the editor. Their plan is to publish one hundred and four pages monthly, fifty-six of them are to be in the usual magazine style, twenty-four are to contain State Papers, and twenty-four either historical MSS., such as 'Winthrop's Journal,' or a republication of ancient, valuable, and scarce American histories, such as Smith's of Virginia, etc., etc. N. W. called, to know if I would dispose of my collection for this purpose, informing me that they intended to print in such a way that the State Papers and histories might be detached from the magazine and bound by themselves. After considering of the matter, I concluded to let them have the collection for L500, which they agreed to give. I don't altogether like this way of publishing the papers; but when I reflected on the great uncertainty of my being able to publish them at all, the risque I run by their remaining in statu quo, and the little probability that I should clear L500 by them if I should publish, I thought it best to say yes. The money is to be paid by installments. All this is inter nos."

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