from A New Home–Who’ll Follow? or, Glimpses of Western Life (1839) — Chapter XLIII

from A New Home–Who’ll Follow? or, Glimpses of Western Life (1839)

by Caroline Kirkland (AKA Mary Clavers)


On ne doit pas juger du merite d’un homme par ses grandes qualités, mais par l’usage qu’il en sait faire. Rochefoucault.

Des mots longs d’une toise, De grands mots qui tiendroint d’ici jusqu’ à Pontoise. Racine— Les Plaideurs.

But what he chiefly valued himself on, was his knowledge of metaphysics, in which, having once upon a time ventured too deeply, he came well nigh being smothered in a slough of unintelligible learning. Irving—Knickerbocker.


Mr. Simeon Jenkins entered at an early stage of his career upon the arena of public life, having been employed by his honored mother to dispose of a basket full of hard boiled eggs, on election day, before he was eight years old. He often dwells with much unction upon this his deb#t; and declares that even at that dawning period he had cut his eye-teeth.

‘There wasn’t a feller there,’ Mr. Jenkins often says, ‘that could find out which side I was on, for all they tried hard enough. They thought I was soft, but I let’em know I was as much baked as any on’em. ‘Be you a dimocrat?’ says one. Buy some eggs and I’ll tell ye, says I; and by the time he’d bought his eggs, I could tell well enough which side he belonged to, and I’d hand him out a ticket according, for I had blue ones in one end o’ my basket, and white ones in the other, and when night come, and I got off the stump to go home, I had eighteen shillin and four-pence in my pocket.’

From this auspicious commencement may be date Mr. Jenkins’s glowing desire to serve the public. Each successive election-day saw him at his post. From eggs he advanced to pies, from pies to almanacs, whiskey, powder and shot, foot-balls, playing-cards, and at length, for ambition ever ‘did grow with what it fed on,’ he brought into the field a large turkey, which was tied to a post and stoned to death at twenty-five cents a throw. By this time the still youthful aspirant had become quite the man of the world; could smoke twenty-four segars per diem, if any body else would pay for them; play cards in old Hurler’s shop from noon till day-break, and rise winner; and all this with suitable trimmings of gin and hard words. But he never lost sight of the main-chance. He had made up his mind to serve his country, and he was all this time convincing his fellow-citizens of the disinterested purity of his sentiments.

‘Patriotism!’ he would say, ‘patriotism is the thing! any man that’s too proud to serve his country aint fit to live. Some thinks so much o’ themselves, that if they can’t have jist what they think they’re fit for, they won’t take nothin; but for my part, I call myself an American citizen; and any office that’s in the gift o’ the people will suit me. I’m up to any thing. And as there aint no other man about here,—no suitable man, I mean,—that’s got a horse, why I’d be willing to be constable, if the people’s a mind to, though it would be a dead loss to me in my business to be sure; but I could do any thing for my country. Hurra for patriotism! them ‘s my sentiments.’

It can scarcely be doubted that Mr. Jenkins became a very popular citizen, or that he usually played a conspicuous part at the polls. Offices began to fall to his share, and though they were generally such as brought more honor than profit, office is office, and Mr. Jenkins did not grumble. Things were going on admirably.

The spoils of office glitter in his eyes, He climbs, he pants, he grasps them— or though he was just going to grasp them, when, presto! he found himself in the minority; the wheel of fortune turned, and Mr. Jenkins and his party were left undermost. Here was a dilemma! His zeal in the public service was ardent as ever, but how could he get a chance to show it unless his party was in power? His resolution was soon taken. He called his friends together, mounted a stump which had fortunately been left standing not far from the door of his shop, and then there gave ‘reasons for my ratting’ in terms sublime for any meridian.

‘My friends and feller-citizens,’ said this self-sacrificing patriot, ‘I find myself conglomerated in such a way, that my feelins suffers severely. I’m sitivated in a peculiar sitivation. O’ one side, I see my dear friends, pussonal friends—friends, that’s stuck to me like wax, through thick and thin,—never shinnyin off and on, but up to the scratch, and no mistake. O’ t’ other side I behold my country, my bleedin country, the land that fetch’d me into this world o’ trouble. Now, since things be as they be, and can’t be no otherways as I see, I feel kind o’ screwed into an auger-hole to know what to do. If I hunt over the history of the universal world from the creation of man to the present day, I see that men has always had difficulties; and that some has took one way to get shut of ‘em, and some another. My candid and unrefragable opinion is, that rather than remain useless, buckled down to the shop, and indulging in selfishness, it is my solemn dooty to change my ticket. It is severe, my friends, but dooty is dooty. And now, if any man calls me a turn-coat,’ continued the orator, gently spitting in his hands, rubbing them together, and rolling his eyes round the assembly, ‘all I say is, let him say it so that I can hear him.’

The last argument was irresistible, if even the others might have brooked discussion, for Mr. Jenkins stands six feet two in his stockings, when he wears any, and gesticulates with a pair of arms as long and muscular as Rob Roy’s. So, though the audience did not cheer him, they contented themselves with dropping off one by one, without calling in question the patriotism of the rising statesman.

The very next election saw Mr. Jenkins justice of the peace, and it was in this honorable capacity that I have made most of my acquaintance with him, though we began with threatenings of a storm. He called to take the acknowledgment of a deed, and I, anxious for my country’s honor, for I too am something of a patriot in my own way, took the liberty of pointing out to his notice a trifling slip of the pen; videlicet, ‘Justas of Piece,’ which manner of writing those words I informed him had gone out of fashion.

He reddened, looked at me very sharp for a moment, and then said he thanked me: but subjoined,

‘Book-learning is a good thing enough where there aint too much of it. For my part, I’ve seen a good many that know’d books that did n’t know much else. The proper cultivation and edication of the human intellect has been the compehen sive study of the human understanding from the original creation of the universal world to the present day, and there has been a good many ways tried besides book-learning. Not but what that’s very well in its place.’

And the justice took his leave with somewhat of a swelling air. But we are excellent friends, notwithstanding this hard rub; and Mr. Jenkins favors me now and then with half an hour’s conversation, when he has had leisure to read up for the occasion in an odd volume of the Cyclopedia, which holds an honored place in a corner of his shop. He ought in fairness to give me previous notice, that I might study the dictionary a little, for the hard words with which he arms himself for these ‘keen encounters’ often push me to the very limits of my English.

I ought to add, that Mr. Jenkins has long since left off gambling, drinking, and all other vices of that class, except smoking; in this point he professes to be incorrigible. But as his wife, who is one of the nicest women in the world, and manages him admirably, pretends to like the smell of tobacco, and takes care never to look at him when he disfigures her well-scoured floor, I am not without hopes of his thorough reformation.


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