“I mean now, I’m laid on the shelf,
To give you a sketch, aye, a sketch of myself.”
Kirke White. 
Nothing in nature is so feverish, as the body politic of our democratic country; and what makes the matter worse, it is all fever and no ague.
Constant startings, and throbbings, and restless turnings over, are the invariable attendants of such attacks, and if the poor body is momentarily quieted, by an anodyne, in the shape of some new national humbug, its morphine dreams are soon superseded by delirious ravings.
Everybody is apt to be infected by the disease, not only the lawyers whom M. De Tocqueville inaptly terms the conservative aristocrats of the land who, on the principle of old adage, “’tis an ill wind, that blows nobody good,” reap the fruits of such excitement in the election-day fights and difficulties, but even the once quiet planters, who, now that the days of horse-racing and barbecues are numbered with those that were, have no other “delight to pass away their time,” catch the spreading epidemic, and become as fretted and as frenzied, as any others of the “dear people.”
To this later class, it was an accident of my birth that I should belong; and with its pleasures, I was as well content, as ever Diogenes was with his tub and his sunshine, or the Roman General in cultivating his radishes.
To read the last novel, review, or number of the Sporting Magazine; to take a “dip” into the Georgicks, or, with my feet upon the fender, to while away my time, with the “Noctes Ambrosianae” of old Christopher, while my punch of the “mountain dew” was throwing off its rich steam from the old family pitcher, by the fire of ash and hickory that glowed upon the hearth, was to me the “summum bonum” of in-door life; and I doubt much, if the conqueror of Asia was a prouder or happier man, when he gave utterance to the splendid, but selfish and self-conceited reply, “Lucullus sups with Lucullus to-night;” while, to take my gun and pointer to hunt the partridge or the woodcock, or on my restive horse, to “wind the mellow-horn,” and bid Jove and Juno, and all the heathen gods and goddesses “hark forward” in the chase of squire reynard, filled the cup of my out-door happiness a good deal nearer the brim, I ween, than Robinson Crusoe’s was, when he was “Lord of all he surveyed.”
But, “Qui fit, Macænas, ut nemo contentus vivat?” &c. Alas! the expression is as true now, as it was eighteen hundred years ago. I caught the infection of politics: the attack was “parva metu primo;” to wit :from the metu of being laughed at, but, nevertheless, it did come slowly, but surely.
I laid aside Virgil, and took to Cicero, and poor Catallus was exchanged for Sallust; Blackwood, and the Sporting Magazine, and Harper’s “reading for the million,” were doomed to drag out their wretched existences in the incarceration of their own envelopes, and to become the unhappy victims of those literary insects, yclept moths; while papers and documents of every description, tables of the prices of every article of male or female consumption, from rouge to pig iron; every body’s opinion upon every subject of national policy; for it is the glory of every one of the “sovereigns” to say,
“All have opinions, wherefore may not I?
I’ll give a judgement, or at least I’ll try;”
and party pamphlets, teeming with self-glorification and the abuse of opponents, filled my apartments, like the frogs of Egypt.
I became very Christian-like in giving up all interest in the “haythens,” much, no doubt, to the joy of the musical crows’ flatterers, the foxes; attended Court Houses and public meetings, and took as much pleasure in launching my satires among a crowd of Court House politicians, as ever I experienced in firing into a covey of partridges. In fine, I talked extravagantly about “vox populi;” became fully impressed with the belief that the country was ruined; had troubled dreams “o’nights,” and woke up, muttering, “Illium fuit,” and “Rome, Rome, thou art no more as thou hast been.”
Protect me from my friends, said some great man, and I will protect myself from my enemies; there is nothing new under the sun, the oldest aphorism finds its latest application. I, too, had friends – yes, kind friends; true and genuine friends; but friendship, like love, should be painted blind.
My friends came to dine with me. I mean not to describe my dinner: it might have done credit to the genius of immortal Ade; but at least it partook not of the water-cress meagreness of the royal diet of Cyrus: its merits are nothing to the purpose, though the wine that followed may have been; I know not, but it was rich and generous as old Falernian, and why should not generous wine make people generous, as well as Boniface’s strong ale “him strong that drinks it?”
My health was proposed: it needed no second invitation to “fill the sparkling brimmers;” for my
friends liked me well, and my good wine better; and with my health, it was proposed that I should become the candidate of the party for the county representation.
That no unkind inference may be drawn from what I have said about my friends, I will do them the justice to say, that I had sometimes in my excitement nursed the flattering thought, that I might become the candidate; and, I confess, their tender of a nomination had been "a consummation devoutly hoped for;" yet, had they not offered it, I should never have exhibited my independence as an American “sovereign,” by coming out on my own responsibility.
A propos of my acceptance, what a striking analogy exists between the airs and arts of politicians and those of pretty women! What pretty woman ever looked into her mirror, who did not experience an almost feline gratification in torturing her lover, however ardent might be his devotion, and though much in love herself all the time, as Venus with Adonis, pretend that he had wooed in vain, for a time, and finally marry him because she was sure it would break his heart if she did not, and swear it was pure philanthropy, and not the “tender passion,” that lit the Hymeneal torches.
And what politician ever lived, who had a longing for any “fat office in the “dear people’s” gift, who did not, in his own cant, sacrifice, in obtaining it, all domestic pleasures on the altar of his patriotism, shrink with admirable modesty from it at first, beg to be excused from its burthens, but at last, a suicidal martyr, consent to ruin himself, that he might subserve the interests of his dear countrymen.
I did not go quite so far, – at least, I think not. A man cannot, however, be expected to criminate himself; suffice it to say, I made most becoming excuses and objections, which my friends did not find quite so much difficulty in removing, as Xerxes would have found in hurling Mount Athos into the sea.
What an oversight in Mr. Campbell, in his Pleasures of Hope, to bestow not a single page upon the politician’s hope! What hope is so ardent, what so elastic as his? Let him be rejected by thousands, yet he confidently hopes to overcome the people’s prejudice, and be the next elect; let his plans be thwarted and frustrated most signally, yet he hopes for change, and in change, for their accomplishment. Some people may call it perseverance, but perseverance would soon die, without the nourishment of hope.
Left to myself that night, or only with the sweet companionship of the “Virginia weed,” what “strange vagaries” did my imagination pursue, and to what height, on the summit where “fame’s proud temple shines afar,” did not my hope ascend! How splendid is the castle-building of a politician! From the unreturned candidacy of a county, my architectural imagination tempted me to construct, in all splendor and magnificence, a Presidential “white house.” I already had my name signed to my messages; saw almost breathless expresses hurrying them though the country; gave brilliant fetes to my cabinet and to foreign ministers, and did all that a “people’s president” should do.
But dreams and reveries, like all other things, have their end, and the next morning, I began to bestir myself in the matter-of-fact “prime initiis” of my new avocation, to wit: that delectable circuit-riding to make proselytes, yclept canvassing. Not bedizzened with finery, but clad in my most democratic-looking garb, (why will not people in a free country exhibit independence enough to dress well?) mounted not on my thorough-bred hunter, but astride my most plough-suggesting hack, accompanied by a friend, with a most capacious pair of saddlebags to carry documents, I started on my rounds among the independent voters of my county.
I had never mixed much with the people, and was, of course, unknown to most of them out of the limits of my immediate neighborhood, and I had always been considered rather aristocratic, though it was by no means true. I always had a much higher opinion of popular majesty, than some who pretend to it, but in truth, only regard the people as dirty tools, and think that dirty tools may do their work; and when they have done it, they can wash their hands clean of their pollution.
Ludicrous enough were the scenes of that day’s adventure: arriving at one habitation, whose external appearance bespoke almost too little comfort for a voter to possess, and that is little enough, we at first hesitated as to halting, but at last decided to try the strength of our logic upon its occupant, and since “every little is a help,” even to solicit, in political phrase, his influence and support.
We accordingly drew up before his fence and bars, (paling and gate he had none) and set up an hallo, which was instantly returned by the barking of a bull-dog, chained to a barrel, by way of kennel, who seemed to bid defiance to our further approach.
Aroused by the awful combination of noises, the “better half” of the proprietor of this inviting mansion, a scrawny old dame, emerged from the smoke, that not only encircled, but filled the house, and rubbing her eyes with the corner of her check apron, check to all appearance, through the grease and smoke stains,) and shading them from the sun with her hand, greeted us with the following elegant address:
“Well, drat you, what do you want. Poor folks can’t get no rest these days; continually aggrivating ‘em ‘bout taxes and intarnal improvements, and sich like. We aint got nothing, so you need’nt to 'light.”
“But, my dear Madam,” I began, assuming my
blandest smile, “my dear Madam, these are the very things we have come to see you about; we wish to ameliorate your condition.”
“I don know nothing ‘bout your book larning, nor none o’ your dictionary sayings, so you need’nt to use ‘em; times aint now as they was in old Gineral Washington’s time, no how, and you aint going to make ‘em no better, neither.
“Ah! my dear Madam, I see you begin to understand me; we wish to make times like General Washington’s, and if our party succeed in the election, we will do it too. Is your husband at home, and does he not own this piece of land and this house? I should like to see him.”
“No, he aint at home: he don’t own nothing: he’s poor as Job’s turkey, and he aint got chick nor child, thank the Lord! to leave after him, to be harassed to death by sheriff and saddlebags. Drat you, I knowed you from the first; drat a sheriff: here, Bull, sick him; sir, now you better slope – you don’t sarve none of your executions, nor levy none of your nasty taxes in these here parts today: poor folks dreadful imposed on, any how; but you sha’n’t lay your hands on nothing of ourn, rapid, I tell you.” So saying, she unfastened the dog, and bidding him seize us, marched into her house and slammed the door after her.
Entertaining no particular desire to cultivate a more intimate acquaintance with Bull, and mortified at being mistaken for the sheriff and his posse, we hurried off in double-quick time, and did not again essay to visit houses of the like appearance.
Reaching one of somewhat more external decency of appearance, we stopped a hundred yards off, and throwing the unfortunate saddlebags under a bush until we should return, approached it.
Here we were met by another female stranger, though differing most pleasantly from our former acquaintance. She was all smiles – begged us to “ ‘light and come in; and would’nt we take a drink, ‘twant in no ways inconvenient. Mr. Jenkins want at home, but he always left it out.”
“No, I thank you: I rarely take any thing.”
“Well, could’nt expect nothing else: rich people too good to drink after poor folks. ‘Twant none of the best, to be sure, but thought you might be cold; hows’ever, rich people don’t give poor folks much politeness.”
I had to appease her kindling wrath, by drinking her health in most execrable “cornjuice,” and swearing it was the best of the “barley bree” I had ever tasted in my life.
I then began to explain the object of my visit, and enquired for her husband, when she interrupted me with –
“Well, what name shall I tell Mr. Jenkins, Sir? You did’nt say; pr’aps he’d like to know.”
My unfortunate name, I have kept it from you, reader, all along, because I am ashamed of it, and I thought you might guess it easily enough if you wished. My name! well it has the merit of being plebeian enough, thought I, and at least can do me no harm by sounding aristocratic.
“My name? Brown, Madam, Brown.”
“Brown, well I declare, that used to be my name, too; some kin of Hezekiah Brown, I expect – Hezekiah Brown, the blacksmith; he’s kin o’ mine, and I reckon you are some kin, too."
I was about to profess my entire ignorance of Hezekiah Brown, Esq., and express my doubts as to any relationship that might exist between Mrs. Jenkins and myself, but I thought of the “drink,” and determined to keep in the good graces of my hostess, by all means.
I was guilty of an innocent untruth, a “white lie,” to be sure, in making my reply; but self-interest, particularly in politics, carries men oftentimes such a vast deal farther, that moralists may consider the matter already adjudicated, by popular opinion, to have been perfectly justifiable.
“Yes, Madam, I think it highly probable that there is some relationship between us. I think your sweet little boy there,” alluding to a grinning urchin, who was playing with corncobs in the corner, “has the same beautiful eyes that my mother had, and they are strikingly like yours, too.”
She did not have wit enough to perceive the blunder I had committed, in the fact, that my mother was no relation of any Brown family, and of course there could be no family likeness; but I had enough to perceive, that the bait had been swallowed, and Mrs. Jenkins had been won. Now was the proper time to “beat a retreat,” which, after having been forced to kiss the mouth, so strikingly like my mother’s, of the interesting hope, I managed to effect.
Verily, there is no engine with woman so potent as flattery; from the time of Queen Anne and the humpback Richard, to this day of log cabin canvassing, it has exercised full sway.
In the expression of such an opinion, however, I mean not to be ungallant or discourteous to the “gentler sex;” should they think so, and in their own phrase, be miffed at it, I mean to retrieve my character and obtain their good will, I trust, by avowing another belief, that potent as may be flattery with woman, still more potent is woman’s influence over man, and even to the unfeminine matters of politics, it is a great mistake, to suppose that man is never governed by the weaker vessel. At all events, my mother’s eyes and Mrs. Jenkins' influence, gained me one vote.
Many were the visits I made that day, and many the repulses which I received, all of which I magnanimously determined to forgive, that I might afterwards enjoy the sweet gratitude of those who made them, when their eyes should be opened, as I had no doubt they soon would be, to their own interests; and many were the promises that were made me, alas! like lovers' vows, too often to be
broken; and much was the eloquence and logic I expended on those, who after it was all over, would certainly have voted for me, but unfortunately they had no votes.
“Time and tide wait for no man,” and as my friends did not take the “Scytheman” by the forelock in my nomination, he seemed to have no disposition to “drag his slow length along,” but made much better use of his pinions, than most unmarried ladies and gentlemen of “no certain age" would have desired.
Though I may not have been one of those unfortunates of "no certain age," which, by Lord Byron's interpretation, means "certainly aged;" yet, in my then situation, I did not particularly desire an exhibition by time of electro magnetic velocity.
As it was, the momentous day of the election drew near, before I had prepared the set speech, with which it is deemed indispensable to treat the multitude on such occasions, which is generally made the subject of ridicule and detraction by your opponents, and is listened to by your friends, with the same anti-Job-like patience, as a Latin sermon by a Catholic congregation, who are heartily bored, but submit for the sake of their faith.
But listened to or not, laughed at or praised, to make a speech, and set forth my peculiar opinions, and to flatter and bootlick the “dear people,” since it was the custom, that common law, less flexible than the laws of the Medes and Persians, I had to do, and accordingly I went to the Court House, not prepared with a “neat and appropriate address,” to use the language of public meetings, but prepared to try to talk “extempore,” fail or not, as I might.
The scenes of that crisis of excitement, when the fevered country is somewhat quieted for the moment by literal bloodletting, I mean not to inflict upon the reader, for they are familiar to all who delight to study human nature in all its varieties; and greater variety, none need ever expect to behold, than at a country Court House on election day.
One custom, resembling that of employing applauders in the ancient theatre, which now, most fortunately for the country, has gone out of vogue, was then in “full blast.” It was that of electioneering by a display of generosity in treating to whiskey, by which the “hurrah boys,” a set more swayed by personal prejudice and individual benefit, than by any love of principles, were generally won to the side of the aspirant who treated most lavishly, and who, by their applause and ephemeral partizanship, carried along with them the wavering in principle, – those who went that they might belong to the winning side.
This system, pursued by my opponent, I determined, though contrary to the general practice of politicians, of “fighting the devil with fire,” and although myself not ordinarily averse to a frolic, to break it down if I could. Accordingly, in my speech, after some cajolery and flattery, to get “the crowd” in a good humor, preparatory to the broaching of such a novel idea, I began to excuse myself for my non-compliance with the old custom, and by degrees to inveigh against the deleterious effects of such a system, in the dissipation, and corruption, and underhand influence which it exerted upon the people of the commonwealth.
I had just reached the grand climacteric of my denunciation, and had begun to “lay the flattering unction to my soul,” that all was well, and that it had had its effect, from the applause that followed a happy hit at my opponent, in my calling him the cornjuice candidate, when one of the sovereigns, a well known electioneerer, stepped up to me on the speaker’s stand, and laying his hand upon my shoulder, and putting his mouth close to my ear, said in a pseudo whisper, intended to be heard all over the house, “Mr. Brown, the five dollars you gave me to buy whiskey is all out, and if you don’t fork out something extra, you can’t come over the boys out doors no how, though you may fool these old Methodists in here.”
Conceive, if you can, my astonishment at such ultraism of impudence; to describe it is impossible : for the moment I was dumb-foundered. I then turned to strike the offender down, but he had vanished. I turned back to the audience to explain and deny all knowledge and participation in what he had asserted, but such a scene as I witnessed, I hope never to see again.
Some were convulsed with laughter, till they held their sides again; some were kind enough to sympathise with me, and to look mortified; but in the countenances of most of them, was depicted a scorn and contempt for one who could act with such deep-laid duplicity; and such were the eyes turned upon me, that, innocent as I was, and despite the maxim, “truth is mighty and will prevail,” I sank down, unable to explain or defend myself.
In vain did my friends endeavor that it was all a trick of the opposite party, to counteract the effect of my speech, and to defeat my election. They could not be stopped, but hurried off to the polls to record their votes for the “cornjuice candidate.”
The triumph was complete. Notwithstanding my mother’s eyes and Mrs. Jenkin’s influence, I was, in jockey phrase, double-distanced.
If Father Matthew and the temperance reform had then existed, I should have been elected. However, I bear no malice, as it was; the people were soon made fully sensible of the artifice that had been practised upon me, and of the great injustice they had done me; and many were the deep regrets that were expressed, and loud were the calls made upon me, to run for the county at the next election, that they might repair the injury they had done me.
But I had had enough of politics and canvassing. I was sick of the ceaseless and nervous excitement which it engendered. I longed again for my former quiet, my books, my cigar, my chase. I actually began seriously to think of changing my bachelor mode of life; and I did, in no great time, find a sweet little fairy, who was willing, contrary to the advice of L. E. L., to marry a bachelor in preference to a widower with ten small children.
My opponent went to the Legislature, where he acquired such an over-weaning passion for political excitement, that when the ever-rolling wheel of fortune took its turn with him, he was unable to do without some stimulant, and died a sot.
Happy in my domestic pursuits, I have never listened to the fascinating whisper of political ambition; and though sometimes excited even now upon that all-exciting theme, it is soon abated by a wife’s smile and the joys of home, and on no occurrence of my life, do I look with so little regret, as my defeat as the County Candidate.
Gloucester County, Va.
Source: Southern Literary Messenger 11.11, (November 1845): 666-670.
Mark Bell and Erin Bartels, UR English department, prepared this typescript.
 [ Kirke White in original.
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