Madison by Edward W. Johnston

Science has had, and perhaps will ever have, its fancies; and fancy has often aspired to become science; for between the two—wide apart as they are said to lie—stretches an uncertain domain, which they seem alternately to occupy by incursion, and of which, when thus seized upon, each appears, oddly enough, often to take possession in the rival name of the other. Thus Astronomy, growing visionary, has pretended to trace from the aspects of the heavenly bodies, not merely their laws and motions, but the vicissitudes of human fate; and chemistry has had its poetic visions of an elixir of  life and of the philosopher's stone; while, on the other hand, mere imagination has quite as often attempted to erect, out of the airiest things, a philosophic realm of her own, and to deduce into positive sciences the bumps upon the human skull, the freaks of Nature in the conformation of the features, and even the whimsical diversities of people's handwriting. From all these have been set up grave methods of arriving at a knowledge of men's faculties and characters.

It is surprising that, among these fantastic systems of physiognomy, that easy and natural one should never have been set on foot, which might connect the structural efforts of individuals with the cast of their minds and feelings. To do this would be especially easy in new countries, where nearly every one is compelled to build his own abode, and where, for the most part, there is so little of architectural solidity that habitations seldom last for above a generation, and even he who inherits a house inherits but a ruin. Thus the simplicity of Patrick Henry's habits and tastes might be inferred from the primitiveness of his dwelling. You might have guessed his unambitiousness from the absence about his home of any thing that betrayed a longing for grandeur. All was plain, substantial, good; nothing ostentatious or effeminate. The master's personal desires coveted nothing beyond rural abundance and comforts—such blessings as are quite enough to make private life happy and preserve it uncorrupt. In all this you might discern the public man who cherished, as a politician, no visions, no novelties; sought, of course, to build up for his fellow-citizens no other nor better happiness than such as crowned all his own wishes; believed little in pomp and greatness; loved our old hereditary laws, manners, liberties, victuals; and  dreaded French principles and dishes as alike contaminating and destructive.

Man, as we have already intimated, is a constructive animal. He alone is properly such. For the inferior creatures that build do so upon a single, instinctive, invariable method, always using the same material; he, rationally and inventively, as outward circumstances may require, or as, when these constrain him little, his individual fancy, desires, or judgment may prompt. In the nomadic state a tent of skins, a lodge of bark, are the sole structures for shelter that fit his wandering life; and the rudeness of these invites to no decoration, while convenience itself forbids all diversity of contrivance for him, who, paying no ground-rent, may decamp to-morrow; and, bound by no leasehold, may carry his tenement with him, like that travelling landlord, Master Snail, or abandon it like that lodger by the season, Dame Bird. In short, he comes not under the terms of zoological or botanical description, as having a habitat; under the line he lives, as did father Adam and mother Eve (whose housekeeping in Eden, Milton so well relates), in a bower of rose and myrtle; at the pole, he burrows beneath the snow or makes his masonry of ice; in Idumea, he dwells, like its lions, in a cavern; on the Maranon, he perches his house in a tree-top, and his young ones—plumeless bipeds though they be—nestle among the feathered denizens of the mid-air; in certain mining regions, he is born and dies hundreds of fathoms under ground, and perhaps never sees the light of day; in Naples, he lives, as do the dogs and cats of Constantinople, in the streets. Thus, whatever idea, whatever purpose, whatever need, whatever fancy, predominates in him when he builds, it takes shape, it finds expression, it embodies  itself, forthwith, in fitting material, fittingly contrived, and is, according to his habitative wish, his taste in a tabernacle, possibly a pig-sty, possibly a palace; for his range of invention stretches over every thing that lies between the two.

The founders of the great commonwealths of antiquity—the Grecian statesmen and warriors, the Roman consuls—lived at home, during the most glorious period of their several states, in an extreme simplicity; content with a truly noble penury, while they built up the grandeur of their country. The constructive propensity of the Athenian instead of a private direction towards his personal gratification, took the generous form of a passion for public monuments; that of the Roman turned itself, until the decline of the Republic began, upon the rearing of trophies and triumphal arches, rather than of lordly mansions; and dictators sometimes, consuls often, were called from the cot and the plough to the supreme trusts of war and peace. But this was all in the spirit of ages and institutions, when the citizen lived in the state and sought his private, in the public greatness and happiness. Modern times present few individual instances of the like. In those ancient politics, the state leaned on the citizen; in our modern, the citizen leans on the state. Then, public life was much, private life was little; now, it is reversed, the citizen wants not to help the state, but wants the state to help him. Now, over-civilization has so multiplied the conveniences of life, and habit has rendered its indulgences so necessary, that he who, being great, can live without and above them, has need to be of a rare elevation, an inherent grandeur of soul.

The statesman whose mansion and whose habits in retreat we are about to describe, without being altogether of that heroical cast of mind which graced the character of a Washington, a Henry, or a Clay, had yet much of that elevated simplicity which marks the highest strain of greatness. Mr. Madison, when he laid down what he had so worthily and wisely worn as to have disarmed all previous reproach and hostility—the supreme dignity of the Union—returned quietly to his hereditary abode, resumed the unaffected citizen, and seemed to be as glad to forget his past greatness as to escape from the anxieties and envy that attend power as shadows do the sun. He went back, after his stormy but successful presidency of eight years, to his father's seat, Montpelier, where, but for the accident—the same which befell a hero of Irish song, Denis Brulgruddery—of his mother's being on a visit to her mamma at the time, he would certainly have been born. There, like a sensible man, and a good fellow to boot (as he was), he sat down on a fine plantation, in a good old-fashioned house, with a fine old cellar of old-fashioned wines under it, and the best old Virginian servants in it, to spend the rest of his days upon that wise plan which King Pyrrhus proposed to himself, but, postponing too long, did not live to execute. He (that is, Mr. Madison, not Pyrrhus) sat down like an actor who has played out his part with applause, calmly to look at the rest of the piece, no further concerned in its business, but not affecting (as others have done) the uninterested spectator of the performance. He did not assume the philosophic sage; he did not bury himself in a monastic gloom like Charles V.; nor, like the same discrowned prince and Mr. Jefferson, betake himself to mending watches; nor, like Dioclesian, to cultivating cabbages; but in the bosom of that pleasant retreat, which had witnessed his youthful preparation for public toils, sought the  repose from them which he had fairly earned; and sweetening it with all that could give it zest, in the companionship of the amiable wife who had shared with him and adorned public honors, and in the society of the many personal friends that his virtues and talents drew about him, passed the evening of his days in gentlemanly and genial ease and hospitality.

Montpelier, the residence to which, as an only child, he had succeeded at his father's death, is a plain but ample, and rather handsome habitation of brick, around which spreads out, in such undulations of gently-waving swells and irregular plains as pleasantly diversify the view, a fertile domain of some two thousand six hundred acres; a part of it well cultivated, but a still larger part yet in all the wildness of nature. The region is one where she has shed, in great beauty, the softest picturesque of hill and dale, forest and glade. At hand, in the rear, rises, as if to adorn the prospect with bolder contrasts, the gracefully wavering chain of the southwest mountain, to fence on one side the vale of Orange and Albemarle, on whose southeastern edge of nodding woods and green fields Montpelier lies embosomed and embowered; while on the other side, in the airy distance beyond that vale, tower in fantastic line the blue peaks of the long Appalachian ridge, breaking the horizon, as if to form another and a more fanciful one. The wide scene, caught in glimpses through the mantling trees, or opening out in the larger vista of farm beyond farm, or shining in loftier prospect above the tree-tops and the low hills, offers to the ranging eye, many a charming view,—sweet spots of pastoral beauty; jutting capes and copses, or nodding old groves of woodlands; the rich and regular cultivation of spreading plantations, amidst which glisten now a stately  mansion, and now a snug farm-house, each decorated with its peculiar growth of trees for shade or fruit; and far away, mountain regions, whose heights, and whose rude and massy but undefined forms, suggest to the fancy the savage grandeur of that remoter landscape which the eye knows to be there, though it mocks the sight with what is so different. All these are, at frequent points, the aspects of that fine country from Orange court-house up to Charlottesville; they are nowhere seen in greater perfection or abundance than just around Montpelier. At almost every turn, one discovers a new pleasure of the landscape; at nearly every step, there is a surprise. It looks like a realm of pictures; you would almost think that not nature had placed it there, but that the happiest skill of the painter had collected and disposed the scenes.

The house, we have said, is plain and large. Its size and finish bespeak gentlemanly but unpretending ease and fortune. It has no air of assumed lordliness or upstart pretension. No foreign models seem to have been consulted in its design, no proportions of art studied; yet it wants not symmetry as well-planned convenience, comfort, and fitness lend, as if without intention. A tall, and rather handsome columned portico, in front, is the only thing decorative about it; but is not enough so to be at all out of keeping. It is of the whole height of the central building, of two stories, and covers about half its length of some forty-five feet. Broad steps, five in number, support and give access along its entire front. Its depth is about one-third its width. The main building itself is a parallelogram, near half as deep as it is long. At each flank, a little receding, is a single-storied wing of about twenty feet, its flat roof surmounted by a balustrade. The house stands on a  gently-rising eminence. A wide lawn, broken only here and there by clumps of trees, stretches before it. On either side are irregular masses of these, of different shapes and foliage, evergreen and deciduous, which thicken at places into a grove, and half screen those dependencies of a handsome establishment—stables, dairies and the like—which, left openly in sight, look very ill, and can be made to look no otherwise, even by the trying to make them look genteel: for they are disagreeable objects, that call up (attire them as you will) ideas not dainty. As, therefore, the eye should not miss them altogether—for their absence would imply great discomfort and inconvenience—the best way is to half-veil them, as is done at Montpelier.

In the rear of the house lies a large and well-tended garden. This was, of course, mainly the mistress's care; while the master's was, as far as his bodily feebleness permitted, directed towards his agricultural operations. In the Virginia economy of the household, where so much must be ordered with a view to entertaining guests all the while, the garden plays an important part. Without ample supplies from it, there would be no possibility of maintaining that exuberant good cheer with which the tables continually groan, in all those wealthier habitations where the old custom of a boundless hospitality is still reverently observed. In such—and there are yet many, although the Jeffersonian "Law of Descents," and the diffusion of the trading spirit are thinning them out every day, as rum and smallpox are dispeopling our Indian tribes—there is little pause of repletion. Every guest must be feasted: if a stranger, because strangers ought to be made to pass their time as agreeably as possible; if a friend, because nothing can be too good for one's friends.  Where such social maxims and such a domestic policy prevail, there will seldom, according to Adam Smith's principle of "Demand and Supply," be any very serious lack of guests. Indeed, the condition is one hard to avoid, and so pleasant, withal, that we have known persons of wit and breeding to adopt it as their sole profession, and benevolently pass their lives in guarding their friends, one after another, from the distresses of a guestless mansion. But, to return to the garden of Montpelier; there were few houses in Virginia that gave a larger welcome, or made it more agreeable, than that over which Queen Dolly—the most gracious and beloved of all our female sovereigns—reigned; and, wielding as skilfully the domestic, as she had done worthily and popularly the public, sceptre, every thing that came beneath her immediate personal sway—the care and the entertainment of visitors, the government of the menials, the whole policy of the interior—was admirably managed, with an equal grace and efficiency. Wherefore, as we have said, the important department of the garden was excellently well administered, both for profit and pleasure, and made to pour forth in profusion, from its wide and variously-tended extent, the esculents and the blooms, herb, fruit, flower, or root, of every season. Nor was the merely beautiful neglected for the useful only; her truly feminine tastes delighted in all the many tinted children of the parterre, native and exotic; and flowers sprang up beneath her hand, as well as their more substantial sisters, the vegetables. In a word, her garden was rich in all that makes one delightful; and so of all the other less sightly but needful departments of her large and well-ordered establishment.

We should, however, slight one of its most pleasing features, were we to omit mentioning the peculiar purpose to which was consecrated one of those low wings of the building which we have briefly described. There dwelt, under the most sacred guard of filial affection, yet served in her own little separate household by servants set apart to her use, the very aged and infirm mother of Mr. Madison; a most venerable lady, who, after the death of her husband, thus lived under the tender guardianship of her son and of her daughter-in-law, down to near her hundredth year, enjoying whatever of the sweets of life the most affectionate and ingenious solicitude can bestow upon extreme decrepitude. Here she possessed without the trouble of providing them, all the comforts and freedom of an independent establishment; and tended by her own gray-haired domestics, and surrounded at her will by such younger relatives as it gratified her to have about her, she passed her quiet but never lonely days, a reverent and a gentle image of the good and indeed elevated simplicity of elder times, manners, and tastes. All the appointments of her dwelling bespoke the olden day; dark and cumbrous old carved furniture, carpets of which the modern loom has forgotten the patterns; implements that looked as if Tubal Cain had designed them; upholstery quaintly, if not queerly venerable. In short, all the objects about her were in keeping with her person and attire. You would have said that they and she had sat to Sir Godfrey Kneller for a family picture; or that you yourself had been suddenly transported back to Addison's time, and were peeping by privilege into the most secluded part of Sir Roger de Coverley's mansion. Indeed, to confirm the illusion, you would probably find her reading the Spectator in the large imprint and rich binding of its own period, or thumbing—as  our degenerate misses do a novel of the Dickens or Sue school—the leaves of Pope, Swift, Steele, or some other of those whom criticism alone (for the common people and the crowd, of what is now styled literature, know them not) still recalls as "the wits of Queen Anne's day." These were the learning of our great-grandmothers; need we wonder if they were nobler dames than the frivolous things of the fancy boarding-school, half-taught in every thing they should not study, made at much pains and expense to know really nothing, and just proficient enough of foreign tongues to be ignorant of their own? The authors we have mentioned, their good contemporaries, and their yet greater predecessors, who gave to our language a literature, and are still all that holds it from sinking into fustian and slipslop, a tag-rag learning and a tatterdemalion English, were those that lay around this ancient lady, and beguiled her old age as they had formed and delighted the youth of her mind and heart. If you made her refer to them, as the favourite employment of her infirmity-compelled leisure, it was pleasant to hear her (as in that other instance which we have given of Patrick Henry's sisters) talk of them as if they had been dear and familiar personal friends. Perhaps, however, authors were then better loved and more respected by their readers than they are nowadays; and possibly this was because they deserved to be so; or indeed there may be a double decline, and readers as much worse than the writers. Not that either of these is the fact, or even a conjecture which we ourselves entertain. We merely mention it en passant, as a bare possibility. The opinion would be unpopular, and should not be admitted in a democracy; of which it is the very genius to have no opinions but such as are popular; and therefore to think no thoughts that might betray one into an opinion not that of the majority.

Such books then, and, when her old eyes grew weary, the almost equally antiquated occupation of knitting, habitually filled up the hours of this old-time lady; the hours, we mean, which pain or feebleness remitted her for occupation. As to those sadder moments of suffering, or of that sinking of the bodily powers which presses at times upon far-advanced age, she bore them with the cheerfullest patience, and even treated them as almost compensated by the constant delight of the affections which the pious care of her children gave her all the while. Nothing could exceed their watchfulness to serve her, soothe her, minister to her such enjoyments as may be made by lovingness to linger around even the last decline of a kindly and well-spent life. In all such offices, her son bore as much part as his own frail health and the lesser aptitude of men for tending the sick permitted; but no daughter ever exceeded in the tender and assiduous arts of alleviation, the attentions which Mrs. Madison gave to her husband's infirm parent. Reversing the order of nature, she became to her (as the venerable sufferer herself was accustomed fondly to say) the mother of her second childhood. Mistress as she was of all that makes greatness pleasing and sheds a shining grace upon power, Mrs. Madison never appeared in any light so worthy or so winning, as in this secret one of filial affection towards her adopted mother.

It was a part, however, of her system of happiness for the ancient lady, at once to shut out from her (what she could ill sustain) the bustle of that large establishment, and the gayeties of the more miscellaneous guests that often thronged it, and yet to bring to her, in special favor towards them, such visitors as could give her pleasure and break the monotony of her general seclusion. These were sometimes old and valued friends; sometimes their hopeful offspring; and occasionally personages of such note as made her curious to see them. All such she received, according to what they were, with that antique cordiality or amenity which belonged to the fine old days of good-breeding, of which she was a genuine specimen. To the old, her person, dress, manners, conversation, recalled, in their most pleasing forms, the usages, the spirit, the social tone of an order of things that had vanished; an elevated simplicity that had now given way to more affected courtesies, more artificial elegancies. To the young, she and her miniature household were a still more singular spectacle. They had looked upon their host and hostess as fine old samples of the past, and the outer, the exoteric Montpelier, with its cumbrous furniture and rich but little modish appointments, as a sort of museum of domestic antiquities; but here, hidden within its secret recesses, were a personage, ways, objects, fashions, that carried them back to the yet more superannuated elegance of days when what now struck them as obsolete must have been regarded as the frivolous innovations of an impertinent young generation.

We have already described the house, and glanced at its appointments, but may add that the former seemed designed for an opulent and an easy hospitality, and that the latter, while rich, was plainly and solidly so. No expedients, no tricks of show met the eye; but all was well set forth with a sort of nobleness, yet nothing of pomp. The apartments were of ample size; the furniture neither scanty nor (as now seems  the mode) huddled together, as if the master were a salesman. Nothing seemed wanting, nothing too much. A finished urbanity and yet a thorough cordiality reigned in every thing: all the ways, all the persons, all the objects of the place were agreeable and even interesting. You soon grew at your ease, if at arriving you had been otherwise: for here was, in its perfection, that happiest part and surest test of good-breeding—the power of at once putting every one at ease. The attentions were not over-assiduous, not slack; but kept, to great degree, out of sight, by making a body of thoroughly-trained and most mannerly servants their ministrants, so that the hosts performed in person little but the higher rites of hospitality, and thus seemed to have no trouble and much pleasure in entertaining you. Accordingly, there has seldom, even in the hilarious land of old Virginia, been a house kept—especially by elderly people—at which it was pleasanter to be a sojourner. They always made you glad to have come, and sorry that you must go.

Such was the main interior life of Montpelier. Its business seemed but the giving pleasure to its guests, of whom a perpetual succession came and went. Little was seen of the working machinery of the fine, and on the whole, well-managed estate, that poured forth its copious supplies to render possible all this lavish entertainment, this perennial flow of feasting. For here, be it observed, as elsewhere in the rural hospitalities of Virginia, it was not single visitors that were to be accommodated, but families and parties. Nor did these arrive unattended, for each brought with it a retinue of servants, a stud of horses, and all were to be provided for. Meantime, the master was seen little to direct in person the  husbandry of his domain; and indeed, he was known to be too feeble to do so. Nevertheless, the tillage of Montpelier was productive and its soil held in a state of progressive improvement. Indeed, capable of every thing he had engaged in, except arms (in which the Jeffersonian dynasty, except Monroe, must be confessed not to have excelled)—wise, attentive, and systematic, he had established his farming operations upon a method so good and regular, that they went on well, with only his occasional inspection, and the nightly reports of his head men of the blacks. The mildest and humanest of masters, he had brought about among his slaves, by a gentle exactness, and the care to keep them happy while well-governed, great devotion to him and their duties, and a far more than usual intelligence. Every night he received an account of the day's results, and consulted freely with his managers, on the morrow's business. All was examined and discussed as with persons who had and who deserved his confidence. Thus encouraged to think, the inert and unreflecting African learnt forecast, skill, self-respect, and zeal to do his duty towards the master and mistress who were so good to him. We do not say that the like could be done to the same extent every where. Montpelier was cultivated merely to support itself, and not for profit; which is necessarily the ruling end on the plantations generally, and perhaps compels more enforced methods; which, indeed, can scarcely be expected to cease, as long as fanatical interference from without, between the master and the slave, shall only serve to breed discontent on the one part and distrust on the other, and driving the threatened master to attend to the present security of his property, instead of occupying himself with its future amelioration. Men of any sense abroad should surely have perceived, by this time, that the method of driving the Southern States into Emancipation does not answer; but, on the contrary, is, so far as the temper of that region is concerned, only postponing it, and meanwhile aggravating the condition of both classes.

Thus gentle, genial, kindly, liberal, good and happy, passed the life of Montpelier. Public veneration shed all its honors; private friendship and communion all their delights upon it. Even those dignities which, in this country of party spirit, beget for the successful more of reproach than fame, had left the name of Madison without a serious stain. His Presidency past, the wise and blameless spirit of his official administration came speedily to be acknowledged on all sides, and envy and detraction, left without an aim, turned to eulogy. An ample fortune, the greatest domestic happiness, and a life prolonged, in spite of the original feebleness of his body, to the unusual age of eighty-five, gave him in their full measure, those singular blessings which the goodness of God deservedly dealt to him and the admirable partner of his existence. A philosophic, and yet not a visionary ruler, he should stand among ours as next to Washington, though separated from him by a great interval. The Jeffersons and the Jacksons come far after him, for

"He was more
Than a mere Alexander; and, unstained
With household blood and wine, serenely wore
His sovereign virtues: still we Trajan's name adore."