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CRITICISM.-Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet. By Roberts
Vaux. Philadelphia. 12mo. pp. 136. 1817. This is a laudable attempt to preserve the memory of an unobtrusive but useful man, who is still remembered by many of us. Anthony Benezet was born in France in the year 1713. His father, a man of wealth and consideration, was obliged to seek refuge in Holland, from the persecutions which the Huguenots endured under the reign of Louis XIV. From Rotterdam he removed to London, where young Benezet was qualified for mercantile pursuits, which, however, he abandoned from scruples of a religious nature; and engaged himself with a cooper. At the age of fourteen be attached himself to the society of friends. Four years afterwards he emigrated to this city with his father's family, and in 1736 he married. Even at this early period of his life, « at an age” says Mr. Vaux, “ when the generality of mankind are most concerned to determine in what manner they shall apply their time and talents, for their own aggrandisement, and are seen eagerly grasping for wealth, or panting for those honours and that fame which humanity can bestow, Anthony Benezet exhibits the rare example of a man, subjecting every selfish and ambitious passion to the superior obligations of religion, offering himself a candidate for any service which might contribute to promote his Creator's honour, and advance the happiness of his fellow beings."
In his twenty-sixth year he engaged in the business of teaching youth, first in Germantown, afterwards in a public school founded by William Penn, and lastly on his own account, in a seminary for females, in this city. The biographer praises his attention to one of his pupils, who was deaf and dumb, but who, under his instruction, was enabled to enjoy some intercourse with society. What was the plan pursued by the teacher is not explained, but the fact demonstrates the benevolence of his mind. His solicitude for the welfare of the charge committed to him was further evinced in the compilation of a Primmer and Spelling Book, on which subjects, he appears to have entertained very correct opinions. Notwithstanding his fondness for the scenes of domestic life, his feelings on the subject of the slave trade, brought
him from retirement; and about the middle of the last century he distinguished himself as a zealous friend to the blacks. We have before had occasion to observe that the infamy of this detestable traffic was first discovered in our wilderness, and we claim for the quakers of Pennsylvania and Clarkson, the praises which are so gratuitously lavished on the potentates of Europe. Instead of empty declamation the exertions of Benezet were practical and unremitted. He opened a night school where he taught blacks without compensation. He contributed liberally from his own narrow means to a public institution established for the same purpose, and became convinced, he says, that “the commonly received notion, respecting the capacity of the blacks, is a vulgar prejudice.” He published a variety of essays on this important subject, and brought it into notice by letters which he addressed to many persons of note, at home and abroad. A fervent and sensible epistle “to Charlotte, queen of Great Britain," accompanied by a collection of his tracts on slavery, was favourably received by the personage for whom they were intended, who remarked that “the writer was truly a good man, and that she kindly accepted the present.”
He was equally zealous in behalf of the aborigines, who have always been shamefully treated by the first settlers and their successors, down to our own times. Several of our public institutions, for which this city is so pre-eminently distinguished, were much indebted to Benezet, while in their infant state. The poor were often relieved by the charitable feelings which he excited in their behalf.
“ He ardently inculcated his belief, in the great responsibility attached to the possession of wealth, and from those who were blest with ability to do good, to the poor and friendless, he implored the most liberal dispensation of money for their relief. His appeals on this account were often availing. He frequently obtained large donations for charitable purposes from those, who were greatly indebted to his efforts for the enjoyment of the “ luxury of doing good.” So judicious was be in the distribution of pecuniary assistance, that without any suggestion by him, his friend the late John Reynel of Philadelphia, made him his almoner, and in that capacity Benezet had the satisfaction for many years to dis
pose of a large part of the income of that benevolent man, thus nobly devoted to the comfort of his afflicted fellow creatures. When he observed a covetous disposition, in those who were abounding in riches, he was more serere in the expression of disapprobation, than respecting almost any other error, in the circle of human frailty. He considered a penurious mind as scarcely rational, and aware of his liability to censure with severity those who indulged that degrading propensity, he often checked himself when about to give loose to his feelings in relation to it, having been frequently heard to say, that “the highest act of charity in the world was to bear with such unreasonableness of mankind.”
An acquaintance of his, relating to him in conversation that he had recently heard of a person in whose coffers after his death, many thousand dollars in specie were found, Benezet expressed great sorrow at being informed of the circumstancce, and begged of his friend to give as little currency as possible to the fact, adding, that he thought, “ it would have been quite as reasonable to have had as many thousand pairs of boots or shoes in the house, whilst the poor were suffering in bare feet for the want of them.”
He deeply lamented the consequences which he saw were produced by the love of money; tracing to that cause many of the unhappy turmoils which often laid waste the harmony of families, and which was not unfrequently the foundation of sanguinary conflicts between nations. When he has been made acquainted with the existence of disputes between individuals on account of pecuniary matters, he has been known to negociate with them, by persuading one to accept less than his demand and the other to allow more than he at first conceived right, and having thus brought them to the nearest point of reconciliation, he has paid the difference out of his own pocket, and restored the parties to peace and intercourse, without suffering either of them to know, it was purchased at the expense of purse.
Our readers will not be displeased with one or two more passages of a similar character.
“ His kindness and charity towards objects of distress were intuitive. One of his friends related having seen him take off his coat in the street and give it to an almost naked mendicant, and go home in his shirt sleeves for another garment.
Another instance, illustrative of this prompt benevolence may be cited; wbilst it affords an additional proof of the efficacy of his humane appeals to those in high worldly rank, even when the mode of his application was calculated by its singularity, to render bis efforts abortive.
During the American war, when the British army occupied Philadelphia, Benezet was assiduous in affording relief to many of the inhabitants, whom the state of things at that distressing period had reduced to great privation. Accidentally observing a female, whose countenance indicated calamity, he immediately inquired into her circumstances. She informed him that she was a washerwoman, and had a family of small children dependent on her exertions for subsistence; that she had formerly supported them by her industry, but then having six Hessians quartered at her house, it was impossible from the disturbance they made, to attend to her business, and she and her children must speedily be reduced to extreme poverty. Having listened to her simple and affecting relation, Benezet determined to meliorate her situation. He accordingly repaired to the general's quarters; intent on his final object, he omitted to obtain a pass, essential to an uninterrupted access to the officer, and entering the house without ceremony he was stopped by the sentinel, who after some conversation, sent word to the general “ that a queer looking fellow insisted upon seeing him.” He was soon ordered up. Benezet on going into the room, inquired which was the chief, and taking a chair, seated himself beside the general. Such a breach of etiquette surprised the company present, and induced a German officer to exclaim, in his vernacular tongue, “ what does the fellow mean?” Benezet however, proceeded, in French, to relate to the general the cause of his visit, and painted the situation of the poor woman in such vivid colours, as speedily to accomplish the purpose of his humane interference. After thanking the commander for the ready acquiescence to his request, he was about taking his departure, when the general expressed a desire to cultivate a further acquaintance, requesting him to call whenever it might be convenient, at the same time giving orders, that Benezet in future should be admitted without ceremony.
He died in 1784, and it is related that his interment produced “ the greatest concourse of people that had ever been witnessed on a similar occasion in Philadelphia:" there being “a collection of all ranks and professions among the inhabitants," to testify their respect for the memory of the deceased.
Mr. Vaux is entitled to the thanks of the community for preserving so valuable an example. In his style there is no parade of sentiment or glitter of ornament. It is a “ round unvarnished tale,” told in a neat manner, of an uncommonly good man.
CRITICISM.-Festoons of Fancy, consisting of compositions amatory, sen
timental and humorous, in verse and prose. By William Littell, Esq. LL, D.-From the Press of Wm. Farquar, Louisville, Ken. 1814. 12mo. Pp. 180.
This is a very amusing collection of essays, written by a vieux garçon, in the west, who scatters the arrows of ridicule in all directions. Although all unus'd to the melting mood, he speaks with some feeling on the silent eloquence of love;" but he very soon abandons the fairy bowers of poesy to mingle in mortal strifes. He has availed himself, with more wit than decorum of the style of the Bible to describe the proceedings of the Legislature of Kentucky in certain cases. At p. 70 we have the petition of one of those would-be Solons, whose existence is among the taxes which a free country must endure. It is addressed " to their majesties the sovereign people of Kentucky,” and states that the
“ petitioner hath grown gray and poor, and become an idler and a drunkard, in attempting to serve his country, in the capacity of a legislator. He has been six times a candidate for a seat in the assembly, and twice for one in the senate, but never had the good fortune to be elected. He would now willingly live a private life, if he had any thing to live on; but his fortune, which was at the first but small, has been entirely swallowed up in prosecuting ways and means to obtain your majesties' fa"our: and your petitioner moreover contracted a disrelish for all ordinary industry, and such a relish for strong drink, that it is utterly impracticable for him ever to retrieve his circumstances, or even to procure a livelihood for the remainder of his days.
“ Under these circumstances, he thinks he may, with profound submission to your majesties, request a reimbursement of all the expenses to which he has put himself, in order ol;tain your favour; and the more especially as your majesties did actually receive and consume his living, notwithstanding you withheld your favour. Your petitioner will further remark, that he makes no charge of loss of time, for one half of the first four years, and the whole of the last four, wbich he spent in riding about from house to house, in going to raisings and log-rollings, and in frequenting taverns and tippling-houses, gambling-tables, dram-shops, and every other hole and corner where your majesties were to be met with, in order to accommodate himself to your majesties' humour. He likewise lays out of his account the great danger damnation to which he has subjected himself, by the manifold falsehoods, and calumnies, and slanders, which he has invented and circulated, from time to time, to the disparage