Page images
PDF
EPUB

LI T E R A R Y NOTICES.

THE LIFE OF WILLIAM ALEXANDER, EARL OF STIRLING, a Major-General in the Army of the

United States during the Revolution. By his grandson, WILLIAM ALEXANDER DUER, LL. D.

Such is the title of a work recently published by the Historical Society of NewJersey, as the second volume of its Collections,' and which is now for sale in this city, by Messrs. WILEY AND PUTNAM. To say nothing of the literary execution of this book, we seldom see, in these days of cheap publications, one more attractive in its appearance. The typography is admirable, and it is embellished by a portrait of Lord STIRLING, and other well-executed engravings. Until we had read this volume, we must confess we had no adequate conception of the character and services of Lord STIRLING, important as we believed the latter to have been; and we fully agree with his biographer in considering it not less consonant to justice than duty that one of his descendants should attempt to compensate for the neglect of those historians of the American Revolution, and compilers of American biography, who have so imperfectly appreciated the character and commemorated the services

of an officer who was surpassed by few of his contemporaries in military experience and enterprise ; by one only in disinterested and zealous devotion to his country ; by none in the sacrifices he made for it.'

The subject of this memoir was born in the city of New-York, in 1726. His father, JAMES ALEXANDER, came from Scotland to this country in the year 1716; and from his mathematical acquirements, soon afterward obtained the appointment of Surveyor-General for the two provinces of New-York and New Jersey. In the latter he was succeeded by his son, who seems to have inherited his father's fondness for the mathematics. The father had served in the rebellion of 1715 as an officer of engineers; and from him the son may also have inherited his military tastes. Though bred a merchant, young ALEXANDER at an early age joined the British army under General SHIRLEY, and became his private secretary and aid-de-camp. When ShirLEY was recalled, he accompanied him to England ; and upon an inquiry into the conduct of the general during his command in America, the secretary and aid-decamp was examined as a witness on his behalf, at the bar of the House of Commons. It was not so much the general as the ministry that was attacked on this occasion; and as Mr. ALEXANDER's testimony tended materially to their exculpation, he subsequently received the most flattering attentions from the premier, the elder WILLIAM Pitt, afterward the great Lord Chatham, as well as from other leading members of the administration. Among them was the celebrated CHARLES TOWNSHEND, by whose encouragement and the persuasions of more intimate friends he was induced to lay claim to the vacant earldom of STIRLING, to which he was believed to be entitled, as the next heir-male of its last possessor. The proper legal proceedings were accordingly commenced and prosecuted, and they resulted in the establishment of his claim. He now contemplated establishing himself permanently in Great Britain ; took a house in London, and resided there some years, when the death of his mother rendered it necessary for him to return to America.

The difficulties which shortly afterward arose between Great Britain and her colonies on occasion of the stamp-act, and the part taken in that controversy by Lord STIRLING, in favor of his native country, led him to postpone his removal ; and the troubles which speedily followed from the renewal of another attempt to tax the colonists without their consent, and by the authority of the British Parliament, determined him to abandon the project.

He was, as his biographer expresses it, ' a whig, not merely from education and early political associations, but from the convictions of his matuter judgment.' He accordingly espoused the American cause with great ardor, and was among the first to take up arms against the oppressions of the mother country. The service he had seen under General SHIRLEY recommended him to military employment; and he was drawn from his retirement at Baskenridge by the unanimous voice of his immediate neighbors, who chose him to command a regiment of militia. From this he was soon transferred to the command of the first regiment raised in New Jersey for the continental service. He repaired at once to Elizabethtown, to recruit; and before he had completed his ranks, he planned and conducted the first military enterprise against the enemy in the middle states, and was rewarded for the success that attended it by one of the first votes of approbation passed by the Continental Congress. This led to his promotion as a Brigadier-General, and to his being ordered to the command at New-York; where it became his duty to prepare for the defence of that important place against the British force advancing to its attack. He lost no time in the execution of the orders of his superiors to that effect, and immediately get about constructing works in Manhattan, Long and Staten Islands, and on the opposite shore of New Jersey. When superseded in this command by the arrival of General WASHINGTON with the main body of the army from Boston, Lord STIRLING was ordered to take post on Long-Island ; and the conspicuous part he took in the battle fought there on the arrival of the British, confirmed his reputation for bravery and good conduct, though the issue was unfortunate. Overpowered by numbers, he was made prisoner, but speedily exchanged by WASHINGTON, who required his services in the field. He rejoined the army in its memorable retreat through New. Jersey, and before the opening of the succeeding campaigu he was promoted to the rank of Major-General. In that capacity he led his division at the battles of Brandy. wine and Germantown, in both of which he distinguished himself.

But it was at the battle of Monmouth that he gained his brightest laurels, in contributing to retrieve the fortunes of the day, when jeoparded by the retreat of General Lee. He was next detached to the northern frontier of New Jersey, upon the Hudson river, and advanced his posts to the neighborhood of Hackensack. While in this command he directed the gallant exploit of Colonel HENRY LEE against Porles-Hook, and covered his retreat; and for his conduct on the occasion received the thanks of Congress. He was then ordered to the command of a military district comprising the states of New-Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware ; and established his head-quarters at Philadelphia. The next year, upon the alarm of an invasion

from Canada, he was transferred to the command of the northern department, and renoved his head-quarters to Albany. A formidable British force under General St. LEGER was advancing from Canada with the design of drawing attention from Lord CORNWALLIS's operations, and eventually forming a junction with him, similar to that projected between Sir HENRY CLINTON and BURGOYNE. To meet this attempt, Lord STIRLING detached a strong force, under Colonel MARINUS WILLET, to the westward, and proceeded with the remainder of his troops to the support of the force under General Stark, at Saratoga. He called in the neighboring militia, and concentrated his force upon the Hudson, near the ferry at Fort Miller, where he had resolved to dispute the passage of the river. But the enemy, receiving intelligence of the surrender of CORNWALLIS, was fain to make good bis retreat, after advancing as far as the head of Lake George. Upon his return to Albany, Lord STIRLING proposed a winter expedition to Canada, and an attack upon New-York ; both of which were prevented by the signing of the preliminary treaty of peace. He still continued in the command at Albany, where, in consequence of the fatigue, anxiety and exposure he had lately undergone, he suffered a severe attack of gout, which terminated his life, in the fifty-seventh year of his age, and a few weeks before the proclamation of peace.

Although we coincide in the opinion of his biographer, that the man spoken of by WASHINGTON in the terms of his well-known letter of condolence to the widow of Lord STIRLING, upon being informed of his death, could scarcely need other encomium, yet we cannot resist the inclination to transfer to our pages a portion of the concluding summary of his life and character, as given by his descendant:

*To strong native powers of mind be added industry and perseverance, with early-acquired habits of method and attention. His natural abilities were more solid than brilliant; bis acquirements more useful than uncommon. His education was such only as the state of the country afforded, but he received from his father instruction in his favorite studies of mathematics and astronomy, which rendered him no ordinary proficient in those sciences. He was bred, us we bave seen, a merchant, and was successfully pursuing his business, when he was induced to join the army under General SHIXLEY, first as a commissary, and afterward as aid-de-cump and private secretary to the commander-in-chief. In these stations he served several campaigns in the war which commenced on this continent in 1747; and the result of his military experience was especially evinced in the battles of Long Island, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth, in all of which he sustained a conspicuous and efficient part. In an evil hour he accompanied General SHIRLEY to England, from motives more consistent with the generosity of his temper than with prudence and foretbought; and when there, he was persuaded by SHIRLEY and others of his friends to prefer a claim to what proved to be a barren title. The prosecution of this claim was attended with heavy pecuniary expenses, which, together with those incident to his prolonged residence in England, of which it was the cause, laid the foundation of subsequent embarrassments. Remarkable for the cheerfulness and hilarity of his disposition, he was there confirmed in those convivial babits that increased upon him in alter life; though never to such a degree as to interfere with the performance of his public duties, or deprive him of the esteem and confideuce of his official superiors or private friends. They contributed, nevertheless, to deepen the shade cast over his latter years by the perplexity of his affairs, and rendered more striking the contrast between the opening and close of his career. Almost from his first entrance upon the active duties of life, he was engaged in the service of his country. Although possessed of an easy fortune, he devoted a large portion of his time, with his peculiar talents and acquirements, to the public in that department of the colonial government in which they were calculated to be most useful. Early imbued with sound principles of constitutional Jiberty, we find him, when the rights of the colonists were assailed, among the first to take up arms in their defence; and notwithstanding his social and personal relations with Great Britaill, cultivated as they had re. cently been during his residence in the metropolis of the empire, and brightened by the attentions he had received from the most powerful and distinguished of her sous, he did not for a moment hesitate to protest against her usurpations, and declare in favor of his native land. From that moment

evoted his life and fortune to her cause, and literally lost them both.'

After this extract, it cannot be necessary for us to add any thing in commendation of the style or literary execution of the work. It is sufficient, both for the discharge of our duty and for the author's fame, to invite our readers to judge for themselves. Notwithstanding the interest of the narrative parts of the book, the most attractive portion to us is the correspondence contained in it. The letters of Lord STIRLING

himself serve to illustrate his character, as his acts exhibit his merits, both as a man and an officer ; while those of his correspondents bear witness to the high estimation in which they were held by some of the greatest of his contemporaries. The most interesting letters perhaps are those of the celebrated Charles TowNSHEND, and others of his friends in England, and of WASHINGTON, FRANKLIN, HANCOCK, SCHUYLER, and others of the foremost men of our country, in its most trying times. It is however deeply to be regretted that a number of the most important letters of the original collection are not now to be found. They were selected,' as our author informs us in his preface, ' from the mass, and laid aside for greater security ; bat, as not unfrequently happens in such cases, they were lost, perhaps, through the very means intended for their preservation. This accident is the more to be lamented, as the letters in question comprised the correspondence of Lord Stirling both during his residence in England, and after his return to this country with the Earls of Chat. HAM, Bute, and Shelburne, Mr. Charles TOWNSHEND, Mr. WeDDERBURX, afterward LOUGHBOROUGH, and other British statesmen, upon American affairs, during a period when most of those persons were cabinet ministers, and all of them members of parliament. The same packet contained also, what was still more valuable, the private correspondence of General WASHINGTON with Lord Stirling, during the revolutionary war. This circumstance will account for the very few letters of the former, to be found in this publication. We cordially and confidently commend the work we have been considering to that wide perusal which it is so well calculated to command and reward.

THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: being his Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and other Papers, Official and Private. New York : HARPER AND BROTHERS.

We should esteem no privilege of the extensive publishers to whom we are indebted for the admirable work before us, greater than that of placing our imprint upon such enterprises as their superb Pictorial Bible, the works of Irving and PRESCOTT, and now upon the writings of the great and good WASHINGTON. The contents of the superbly-printed book before us, as of those which are to follow this, to the number of twelve, are selected and published from the original manuscripts, which accumulated in the hands of Washington during the long period of his public life, were carefully preserved by him at Mount Vernon, and by his will left to his nephew, BUSHROD Washington, from whom Mr. Sparks, the accomplished editor of the work before us, received them some ten years ago. The original papers and letters amount to more than two hundred folio volumes, and have recently been purchased by Congress, and deposited in the archives of the government. From this immense mass of authentic matériel, Mr. Sparks has collated all the most valuable parts of Washington's writings, and has thus brought his work within the means of the general purchaser. The notes and appendixes are ample, and entirely authentic ; being derived from a great variety of unpublished manuscripts; while letters in foreign languages, and extracts from such letters, are translated for the convenience of every class of readers. Mr. Sparks, throughout the progress of the entire work, has followed closely the order of time, and adopted the plan of a personal narrative ; introducing collateral erents no farther than was necessary to give completeness to his design, but occasionally interweaving anecdotes and such incidents of a private and personal nature as were known to be entirely authentic. There will be no limit, nor should there be, to the sale of this preëminently interesting and valuable work. The library of no Amorican can be at all complete without it. We have spoken of the great beauty of the paper and printing, but we should not omit to allude to the excellence of the illustrations, including the most authentic portraits on steel, together with numerous fac-similes of drawings and plans, from the pen of WASHINGTON himself. Again do we most cordially commend Mr. Sparks' admirable work to a wide acceptance at the hands of American readers.

NORTH-AMERICAN REVIEW. for the April Quarter. Number CXXXV. Boston: Oris, BROADERS

AXD COMPANY. New York : C.S. FRANCIS AND COMPANY.

This strikes us, on a somewhat cursory perusal, as a very good number of our venerable contemporary. The articles are eleven in number, and are upon the following themes: “ The Intellectual Aspect of the Age,' a scorching review of GilFILLAN's preěminently stupid . Gallery of Literary Portraits ; ' SCHOOLCRAFT on the Iroquois Indians ;' • Alkin's Life of ADDISON ;' Greek Lexicography ;' a notice of DRIBLER's and PICKERING's Lexicons, in which of course the palm is assigned to PICKERING; ROBERT Hall's Character and Writings;' a review of Nine New Poets ;" *Duer’s Life of Lord STIRLING;' «The New Timon; Taylor's • Views Afoot in Europe ;' Amari's History of the Sicilian Vespers;' and four briefer • Critical Notices.' The review of the Life of Addison is rather retrospective, but it is well written, and possesses a good degree of interest. In the Nine New Poets' are included several who will hardly deem themselves flattered by the reviewer. The 'tuneful Nine' aro R. W. Emerson, William E. CHANNING, CHARLES T. BROOKS, WILLIAM W. Story, T. B. READ, JAMES COLMAN, ELIZABETH BROWN, Epes SARGENT, and Harriet Farley. Emerson is described as writing onigmas in prose and verse, sometimes with meaning in them, but more frequently without ;' his verse generally defying all laws of rhythm, metre, grammar and common sense.' Mr. CHANNING's poetry is pronounced a feeble and diluted copy of Mr. Emerson's; not so mystical and incoherent, but far more childish and insipid.' The credit is awarded to Mr. Brooks of being a faithful translator from the German bards, although the reviewer thinks he could have written better poems of his own. Mr. Story has narrowly escaped being a poet; but it is one of those cases in which a miss is as good as a mile.' He is reported an artist in the form of verse, but deficient in foeling and imagination; while his chief merit leads to a vague and rambling diffuseness, which obscures and weakens his best conceptions. “Mr. Read's verses show taste and feeling, with occasional gleams of fancy; but the critic declares them to be 'mere copies, reflections in water, of the more popular effusions of favorite contemporary poets.' He is entirely acquitted, however, of conscious plagiarism. “The only fault of Mr. Colman's poems' is declared to be, that they are oppressively wearisome and dull; quite ' tolerable, and not to be endured.' Miss Browne, an English woman, is cut short with an extract of four lines from her book, which, although but a mere brick from the lady's edifice, is certainly quite enough to establish her architectural reputation. Mr. Epes Sargent receives a fair consignment of praise, subject to a slight tariff. Miss FARLEY’s volume is pronounced a favorable specimen of what may be produced by a Lowell factory-girl, although the fair au. thor is taken to task for having chosen for her volume one of those coxcombical titles which the bad taste of Mr. WILLIS has brought into fashion.' The seventh VOL. XXIX.

60

« PreviousContinue »