To a profound philosopher like myself, who am apt to see clear through _ubject, where the penetration of ordinary people extends but half way, ther_s no fact more simple and manifest than that the death of a great man is _atter of very little importance. Much as we may think of ourselves, and muc_s we may excite the empty plaudits of the million, it is certain that th_reatest among us do actually fill but an exceedingly small space in th_orld; and it is equally certain, that even that small space is quickl_upplied when we leave it vacant. "Of what consequence is it," said Pliny,
"that individuals appear, or make their exit? the world is a theater whos_cenes and actors are continually changing." Never did philosopher speak mor_orrectly, and I only wonder that so wise a remark could have existed so man_ges, and mankind not have laid it more to heart. Sage follows on in th_ootsteps of sage; one hero just steps out of his triumphal car, to make wa_or the hero who comes after him; and of the proudest monarch it is merel_aid that, "he slept with his fathers, and his successor reigned in hi_tead."
The world, to tell the private truth, cares but little for their loss, and, i_eft to itself, would soon forget to grieve; and though a nation has ofte_een figuratively drowned in tears on the death of a great man, yet it is te_o one if an individual tear has been shed on the occasion, excepting from th_orlorn pen of some hungry author. It is the historian, the biographer, an_he poet, who have the whole burden of grief to sustain; who, kind souls! lik_ndertakers in England, act the part of chief mourners; who inflate a natio_ith sighs it never heaved, and deluge it with tears it never dreamt o_hedding. Thus, while the patriotic author is weeping and howling in prose, i_lank verse, and in rhyme, and collecting the drops of public sorrow into hi_olume, as into a lachrymal vase, it is more than probable his fellow-citizen_re eating and drinking, fiddling and dancing, as utterly ignorant of th_itter lamentations made in their name as are those men of straw, John Doe an_ichard Roe, of the plaintiffs for whom they are generously pleased to becom_ureties.
The most glorious hero that ever desolated nations might have mouldered int_blivion among the rubbish of his own monument, did not some historian tak_im into favor, and benevolently transmit his name to posterity; and much a_he valiant William Kieft worried, and bustled, and turmoiled, while he ha_he destinies of a whole colony in his hand, I question seriously whether h_ill not be obliged to this authentic history for all his future celebrity.
His exit occasioned no convulsion in the city of New Amsterdam nor it_icinity; the earth trembled not, neither did any stars shoot from thei_pheres; the heavens were not shrouded in black, as poets would fain persuad_s they have been, on the death of a hero; the rocks (hard-hearted varlets!)
melted not into tears, nor did the trees hang their heads in silent sorrow;
and as to the sun, he lay abed the next night just as long, and showed a_olly a face when he rose, as he ever did, on the same day of the month in an_ear, either before or since. The good people of New Amsterdam, one and all,
declared that he had been a very busy, active, bustling little governor; tha_e was "the father of his country;" that he was "the noblest work of God;"
that "he was a man, take him for all in all, they ne'er should look upon hi_ike again;" together with sundry other civil and affectionate speeches,
regularly said on the death of all great men; after which they smoked thei_ipes, thought no more about him, and Peter Stuyvesant succeeded to hi_tation.
Peter Stuyvesant was the last, and, like the renowned Wouter Van Twiller, th_est of our ancient Dutch governors; Wouter having surpassed all who precede_im, and Pieter, or Piet, as he was sociably called by the old Dutch burghers,
who were ever prone to familiarize names, having never been equalled by an_uccessor. He was, in fact, the very man fitted by Nature to retrieve th_esperate fortunes of her beloved province, had not the Fates, those mos_otent and unrelenting of all ancient spinsters, destined them to inextricabl_onfusion.
To say merely that he was a hero would be doing him great injustice; he was,
in truth, a combination of heroes; for he was of a sturdy, raw-boned make,
like Ajax Telamon, with a pair of round shoulders that Hercules would hav_iven his hide for (meaning his lion's hide) when he undertook to ease ol_tlas of his load. He was, moreover, as Plutarch describes Coriolanus, no_nly terrible for the force of his arm, but likewise for his voice, whic_ounded as though it came out of a barrel; and, like the self-same warrior, h_ossessed a sovereign contempt for the sovereign people, and an iron aspect,
which was enough of itself to make the very bowels of his adversaries quak_ith terror and dismay. All this martial excellency of appearance wa_nexpressibly heightened by an accidental advantage, with which I am surprise_hat neither Homer nor Virgil have graced any of their heroes.
This was nothing less than a wooden leg, which was the only prize he ha_ained in bravely fighting the battles of his country, but of which he was s_roud, that he was often heard to declare he valued it more than all his othe_imbs put together; indeed, so highly did he esteem it, that he had i_allantly enchased and relieved with silver devices, which caused it to b_elated in divers histories and legends that he wore a silve_eg.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_39)
Like that choleric warrior Achilles, he was somewhat subject to extempor_ursts of passion, which were rather unpleasant to his favorites an_ttendants, whose perceptions he was apt to quicken after the manner of hi_llustrious imitator, Peter the Great, by anointing their shoulders with hi_alking staff.
Though I cannot find that he had read Plato, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, o_acon, or Algernon Sydney, or Tom Paine, yet did he sometimes manifest _hrewdness and sagacity in his measures that one would hardly expect from _an who did not know Greek and had never studied the ancients. True it is, an_ confess it with sorrow, that he had an unreasonable aversion to experiments,
and was fond of governing his province after the simplest manner; but then h_ontrived to keep it in better order than did the erudite Kieft, though he ha_ll the philosophers, ancient and modern, to assist and perplex him. I mus_ikewise own that he made but very few laws, but then again he took care tha_hose few were rigidly and impartially enforced; and I do not know bu_ustice, on the whole, was as well administered as if there had been volume_f sage acts and statutes yearly made, and daily neglected and forgotten.
He was, in fact, the very reverse of his predecessors, being neither tranqui_nd inert, like Walter the Doubter, nor restless and fidgeting, like Willia_he Testy; but a man, or rather a governor, of such uncommon activity an_ecision of mind, that he never sought nor accepted the advice of others,
depending bravely upon his single head, as would a hero of yore upon hi_ingle arm, to carry him through all difficulties and dangers. To tell th_imple truth, he wanted nothing more to complete him as a statesman than t_hink always right, for no one can say but that he always acted as he thought.
He was never a man to flinch when he found himself in a scrape, but to das_orward through thick and thin, trusting, by hook or by crook, to make al_hings straight in the end. In a word, he possessed in an eminent degree tha_reat quality in a statesman, called perseverance by the polite, but nickname_bstinacy by the vulgar. A wonderful salve for official blunders; since he wh_erseveres in error without flinching gets the credit of boldness an_onsistency, while he who wavers, in seeking to do what is right, get_tigmatised as a trimmer. This much is certain, and it is a maxim well worth_he attention of all legislators great and small, who stand shaking in th_ind, irresolute which way to steer, that a ruler who follows his own wil_leases himself, while he who seeks to satisfy the wishes and whims of other_uns great risk of pleasing nobody. There is nothing, too, like putting dow_ne's foot resolutely when in doubt, and letting things take their course. Th_lock that stands still points right twice in the four-and-twenty hours, whil_thers may keep going continually, and be continually going wrong.
Nor did this magnanimous quality escape the discernment of the good people o_ieuw Nederlandts; on the contrary, so much were they struck with th_ndependent will and vigorous resolution displayed on all occasions by thei_ew governor, that they universally called him Hard Koppig Piet, or Peter th_eadstrong, a great compliment to the strength of his understanding.
If, from all that I have said, thou dost not gather, worthy reader, that Pete_tuyvesant was a tough, sturdy, valiant, weather-beaten, mettlesome,
obstinate, leathern-sided, lion-hearted, generous-spirited old governor,
either I have written to but little purpose, or thou art very dull at drawin_onclusions.
This most excellent governor commenced his administration on the 29th of May,
1647; a remarkably stormy day, distinguished in all the almanacks of the tim_hich have come down to us by the name of "Windy Friday." As he was ver_ealous of his personal and official dignity, he was inaugurated into offic_ith great ceremony, the goodly oaken chair of the renowned Wouter Van Twille_eing carefully preserved for such occasions, in like manner as the chair an_tone were reverentially preserved at Scone, in Scotland, for the coronatio_f the Caledonian monarchs.
I must not omit to mention that the tempestuous state of the elements,
together with its being that unlucky day of the week termed "hanging day," di_ot fail to excite much grave speculation and divers very reasonabl_pprehensions among the more ancient and enlightened inhabitants; and severa_f the sager sex, who were reputed to be not a little skilled in the mysterie_f astrology and fortune-telling, did declare outright that they were omens o_ disastrous administration; an event that came to be lamentably verified, an_hich proves beyond dispute the wisdom of attending to those preternatura_ntimations furnished by dreams and visions, the flying of birds, falling o_tones, and cackling of geese, on which the sages and rulers of ancient time_laced such reliance; or to those shootings of stars, eclipses of the moon,
howlings of dogs, and flarings of candles, carefully noted and interpreted b_he oracular Sibyls of our day, who, in my humble opinion, are the legitimat_nheritors and preservers of the ancient science of divination. This much i_ertain, that Governor Stuyvesant succeeded to the chair of state at _urbulent period, when foes thronged and threatened from without, when anarch_nd stiff-necked opposition reigned rampant within; when the authority o_heir High Mightinesses the Lords States General, though supported by economy,
and defended by speeches, protests, and proclamations, yet tottered to it_ery center; and when the great city of New Amsterdam, though fortified b_lag-staffs, trumpeters, and windmills, seemed, like some fair lady of eas_irtue, to lie open to attack, and ready to yield to the first invader.