A BOOK OF THE MOMENT
[COPYRIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE
New I'M* Times.]
Life and Letters of Thomas Jefferson. By Francis W. Hirst. (Macmillan and Co. 25e. net.) Life and Letters of Thomas Jefferson. By Francis W. Hirst. (Macmillan and Co. 25e. net.) EVERY man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. Similarly it may be said that every American is born either a Lincolnite or a Jeffersonian. These two men of genius were, of course, unlike either Plato or Aristotle in many ways. They each had in them strains of both philosophers, as was shown in their ways of looking at the universe and human life. None the less, they are representative of the two main divisions in American thought. Jefferson was accomplished and highly educated—a man of the trained mind. Lincoln's greatest qualities were natural, not acquired. -In the strict sense his mind was untrained ; but the flame of life burned in him not the less clearly or strongly. Jefferion was a man guided by reason, and by elaborate processes of a ratiocination based upon what he believed to be undeniable premises. Lincoln, though endowed with a powerful reason- ing faculty, was never the slave of reason. Rather he was a man of just and wise instincts, a man who, like Wordsworth's Happy Warrior, bowed to inspiration rather than to the syllo- gism. Again, Jefferson had an eighteenth-century mind and character, imbued with all the splendid qualities of that tremendous epoch, but also with all its failings. Lincoln was essentially a modern man—a man who if he came alive to-day would comprehend, and also feel with, the best impulses of our best men. In the present age, Jefferson would feel blind and alone. Jefferson was bold in thought and action. Lincoln was cautious and, though he could strike as swiftly as any man if need were, he inclined to untying rather than to cutting knots. Jefferson was imaginative, but in the narrow sense. He was quick to see in what direction the movements of his age were tending and to anticipate them, by projecting himself into the future. Lincoln was an idealist and moved in an ideal world. Jefferson was a humane man, but from reason rather than from profound feeling. Lincoln's humanitarianism was based on a passionate desire to help his fellows. He, if any man, was bold with divine affections, In matters of religion Jefferson was a hard and fast latitudinarian. Lincoln was a religious mystic in a Quaker frame. Jefferson was a supreme advocate and was always ready with the best forensic argument for any case that he espoused. Lincoln, though he also had many of the best qualities of the advocate, was naturally a man who took the judge's attitude and sought to walk the narrow path of truth and mercy. . In a word, he was one of the noblest exponents, perhaps the noblest, of the things essential in modern politics and the conduct of the social life of our epoch. Although, had I been born an American, I should haye. enlisted under the Lincoln banner, I am none the less bound to say the more one studies Jefferson, the more one admires him as a statesman and as a man. He was cruelly slandered in his own age, and, indeed, until a few years ago. The charges made against him, based on falsehoods and mis- apprehension, are now happily dying away in the clear light- of historical research. Mr. Hirst's work is a good example of the new illumination. One feels proud that one of the people to make specially generous amends to Jefferson's injured shade should be an Englishman. I myself must make personal amends, for I was led astray by the satirists and the political adversaries of Jefferson. My conversion to a better mood began when I stood on Jefferson's own lawns at Monticello and looked at his monument, while the Piedmont Plateau spread beneath my feet and Jefferson's deeply loved Charlotteville and the University buildings which he planned, needed only a pace or two to make them
visible. I might with a glass have seen the students going to lectures, as he saw Tarleton's Dragoons swarm into the
town. Standing by his grave and reading the noble inscription written by its inhabitant, how could I doubt Jefferson's greatness and sincerity, or fail to feel how my half-informed• judgments had wronged him? Feelings that seemed to spring out of the very ground at Monticello have been more than confirmed by Mr. Ilirst's book. It is probably true that he has been a little carried away—and no wonder !—by the tremendous springtides of Jefferson's words and thoughts. Also he has perhaps reacted too strongly from the babble of the political auction room, with its accusa- tions of every conceivable human failing. Still, after all these allowances have been made, Mr. Hirst's book remains a brilliant piece of political portraiture. It must have been an arduous undertaking, for there is no great historical figure about whose individual opinions we know so much or who has provided us with so vast a store of biographical material as has Jefferson. He may, indeed, be said to have been his own -Boswell. He was always a great letter and memorandum writer, and, since he came into prominence very early in life and maintained that prominence into a ripe old age, and, further, since he was very careful in the preservation of papers, -we have mountains of personal material—Diaries, Notes and Letters. Add to these Jefferson's innumerable speeches in public, in Conventions and in Congress,his Presidential Messages, his private Presidential memoranda on important public issues and his instructions to his Cabinet. Such a record is unparal- leled, or, at any rate, finds a parallel only in the case of Mr.
Gladstone. , Jefferson, though he was not a conscious self-adver- tiser, was perpetually in the limelight. The passionate friendships and passionate hatreds which he inspired alone :would have caused this. No one could live through the fifty years of Jefferson's active political life without being a par- tisan either for or against him. Everything that could be 'known about him was eagerly sought and discussed. The mass of references to Jefferson by his contemporaries is enormous.
A curious proof of the amount of ground covered by Jefferson is to be found in the publication, some twenty years ago, of a Jeffersonian Encyclopaedia for use by the Democratic Party at Presidential and Congressional Elections. ; In this remark.: able book are to be found Jefferson's opinions upon almost -every conceivable form of human activity. Not only contem- porary figures, but all the great men of Classical, Mediaeval and Modern History pass under review. We get his opinions of George the Third, of the Regent, of Peel, of the Duke of Wellington, and of Byron, Walter Scott, and our literature generally. The whole field of knowledge was open to Jeffer- son's eager, inquiring mind. He was a ripe as well as an ardent scholars, a man of science, and also a man of law, who began life as a Chancery barrister. It is impossible to find a subject of vita/ interest upon which he did not at some time or other give an opinion. Let me choose from Mr. Hirst's volume some examples of Jefferson's comments. This is what he says of editors : " I think an editor should be independent, that is of personal influence, and not be moved from his opinions on the mere authority of any individual." But, though interested in the Press, he was not always laudatory. Speaking of newspaper proprietors, or; as he calls them, " printers," he declared that the cultivation of good feeling was not for their interests. " They, like the clergy, live by the zeal they can kindle and the schism they can create." These harsh things are, however, made amends for by thefollowing—a passage which might well serve as a sublimated apologia for the profession " No government ought to be without censors, and where the Press is free nono ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fait operation of attack and defence. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth."
The pasgages nbout the IsTegraproblem, which "Mr. Hirst quotes, shoW how sound in heart and head was Jefferson, in spite of the fact that he was brought up in a slave-owning community. " I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just ; that His justice cannot sleep forever." These are words worthy to stand by the words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural that payment would be required for the slave's unrequited toil and the blood drawn from him by the lash.