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Dr. Bullivant


His person was not eminent enough, either by nature or circumstance, to
deserve a public memorial simply for his own sake, after the lapse of a
century and a half from the era in which he flourished. His character,
in the view which we propose to take of it, may give a species of
distinctness and point to some remarks on the tone and composition of
New England society, modified as it became by new ingredients from the
eastern world, and by the attrition of sixty or seventy years over the
rugged peculiarities of the original settlers. We are perhaps
accustomed to employ too sombre a pencil in picturing the earlier times
among the Puritans, because at our cold distance, we form our ideas
almost wholly from their severest features. It is like gazing on some
scenes in the land which we inherit from them; we see the mountains,
rising sternly and with frozen summits tip to heaven, and the forests,
waving in massy depths where sunshine seems a profanation, and we see
the gray mist, like the duskiness of years, shedding a chill obscurity
over the whole; but the green and pleasant spots in the hollow of the
hills, the warm places in the heart of what looks desolate, are hidden
from our eyes. Still, however, a prevailing characteristic of the age
was gloom, or something which cannot be more accurately expressed than
by that term, and its long shadow, falling over all the intervening
years, is visible, though not too distinctly, upon ourselves. Without
material detriment to a deep and solid happiness, the frolic of the mind
was so habitually chastened, that persons have gained a nook in history
by the mere possession of animal spirits, too exuberant to be confined
within the established bounds. Every vain jest and unprofitable word
was deemed an item in the account of criminality, and whatever wit, or
semblance thereof, came into existence, its birthplace was generally the
pulpit, and its parent some sour old Genevan divine. The specimens of
humor and satire, preserved in the sermons and controversial tracts of
those days, are occasionally the apt expressions of pungent thoughts;
but oftener they are cruel torturings and twistings of trite ideas,
disgusting by the wearisome ingenuity which constitutes their only
merit. Among a people where so few possessed, or were allowed to
exercise, the art of extracting the mirth which lies hidden like latent
caloric in almost everything, a gay apothecary, such as Dr. Bullivant,
must have been a phenomenon.

We will suppose ourselves standing in Cornhill, on a pleasant morning of
the year 1670, about the hour when the shutters are unclosed, and the
dust swept from the doorsteps, and when Business rubs its eyes, and
begins to plod sleepily through the town. The street, instead of
running between lofty and continuous piles of brick, is but partially
lined with wooden buildings of various heights and architecture, in each
of which the mercantile department is connected with the domicile, like
the gingerbread and candy shops of an after-date. The signs have a
singular appearance to a stranger's eye. These are not a barren record
of names and occupations yellow letters on black boards, but images and
hieroglyphics, sometimes typifying the principal commodity offered for
sale, though generally intended to give an arbitrary designation to the
establishment. Overlooking the bearded Saracens, the Indian Queens, and
the wooden Bibles, let its direct our attention to the white post newly
erected at the corner of the street, and surmounted by a gilded
countenance which flashes in the early sunbeams like veritable gold.
It is a bust of AEsculapius, evidently of the latest London manufacture;
and from the door behind it steams forth a mingled smell of musk and
assafaetida and other drugs of potent perfume, as if an appropriate
sacrifice were just laid upon the altar of the medical deity. Five or
six idle people are already collected, peeping curiously in at the
glittering array of gallipots and phials, and deciphering the labels
which tell their contents in the mysterious and imposing nomenclature of
ancient physic. They are next attracted by the printed advertisement of
a Panacea, promising life but one day short of eternity, and youth and
health commensurate. An old man, his head as white as snow, totters in
with a hasty clattering of his staff, and becomes the earliest
purchaser, hoping that his wrinkles will disappear more swiftly than
they gathered. The Doctor (so styled by courtesy) shows the upper half
of his person behind the counter, and appears to be a slender and rather
tall man; his features are difficult to describe, possessing nothing
peculiar, except a flexibility to assume all characters it, turn, while
his eye, shrewd, quick, and saucy, remains the same throughout.
Whenever a customer enters the shop, if be desire a box of pills, he
receives with them an equal number of hard, round, dry jokes,--or if a
dose of salts, it is mingled with a portion of the salt of Attica,--or
if some hot, Oriental drug, it is accompanied by a racy word or two that
tingle on the mental palate,--all without the least additional cost.
Then there are twistings of mouths which never lost their gravity
before. As each purchaser retires, the spectators see a resemblance of
his visage pass over that of the apothecary, in which all the ludicrous
points are made most prominent, as if a magic looking-glass had caught
the reflection, and were making sport with it. Unwonted titterings
arise and strengthen into bashful laughter, but are suddenly hushed as
some minister, heavy-eyed from his last night's vigil, or magistrate,
armed with the terror of the whipping-post and pillory, or perhaps the
governor himself, goes by like a dark cloud intercepting the sunshine.

About this period, many causes began to produce an important change on
and beneath the surface of colonial society. The early settlers were
able to keep within the narrowest limits of their rigid principles,
because they had adopted them in mature life, and from their own deep
conviction, and were strengthened in them by that species of enthusiasm,
which is as sober and as enduring as reason itself. But if their
immediate successors followed the same line of conduct, they were
confined to it, in a great degree, by habits forced upon them, and by
the severe rule under which they were educated, and in short more by
restraint than by the free exercise of the imagination and
understanding. When therefore the old original stock, the men who
looked heavenward without a wandering glance to earth, had lost a part
of their domestic and public influence, yielding to infirmity or death,
a relaxation naturally ensued in their theory and practice of morals and
religion, and became more evident with the daily decay of its most
strenuous opponents. This gradual but sure operation was assisted by
the increasing commercial importance of the colonies, whither a new set
of emigrants followed unworthily in the track of the pure-hearted
Pilgrims. Gain being now the allurement, and almost the only one, since
dissenters no longer dreaded persecution at home, the people of New
England could not remain entirely uncontaminated by an extensive
intermixture with worldly men. The trade carried on by the colonists
(in the face of several inefficient acts of Parliament) with the whole
maritime world, must have had a similar tendency; nor are the desperate
and dissolute visitants of the country to be forgotten among the agents
of a moral revolution. Freebooters from the West Indies and the Spanish
Main,--state criminals, implicated in the numerous plots and
conspiracies of the period,--felons, loaded with private guilt,--numbers
of these took refuge in the provinces, where the authority of the
English king was obstructed by a zealous spirit of independence, and
where a boundless wilderness enabled them to defy pursuit. Thus the new
population, temporary and permanent, was exceedingly unlike the old, and
far more apt to disseminate their own principles than to imbibe those of
the Puritans. All circumstances unfavorable to virtue acquired double
strength by the licentious reign of Charles II.; though perhaps the
example of the monarch and nobility was less likely to recommend vice to
the people of New England than to those of any other part of the British
Empire.

The clergy and the elder magistrates manifested a quick sensibility to
the decline of godliness, their apprehensions being sharpened in this
particular no less by a holy zeal than because their credit and
influence were intimately connected with the primitive character of the
country. A Synod, convened in the year 1679, gave its opinion that the
iniquity of the times had drawn down judgments from Heaven, and proposed
methods to assuage the Divine wrath by a renewal of former sanctity.
But neither the increased numbers nor the altered spirit of the people,
nor the just sense of a freedom to do wrong, within certain limits,
would now have permitted the exercise of that inquisitorial strictness,
which had been wont to penetrate to men's firesides and watch their
domestic life, recognizing no distinction between private ill conduct
and crimes that endanger the community. Accordingly, the tide of
worldly principles encroached more and more upon the ancient landmarks,
hitherto esteemed the enter boundaries of virtue. Society arranged
itself into two classes, marked by strong shades of difference, though
separated by an uncertain line: in one were included the small and
feeble remnant of the first settlers, many of their immediate
descendants, the whole body of the clergy, and all whom a gloomy
temperament, or tenderness of conscience, or timidity of thought, kept
up to the strictness of their fathers; the other comprehended the new
emigrants, the gay and thoughtless natives, the favorers of Episcopacy,
and a various mixture of liberal and enlightened men with most of the
evil-doers and unprincipled adventurers in the country. A vivid and
rather a pleasant idea of New England manners, when this change had
become decided, is given in the journal of John Dunton, a cockney
bookseller, who visited Boston and other towns of Massachusetts with a
cargo of pious publications, suited to the Puritan market. Making due
allowance for the flippancy of the writer, which may have given a
livelier tone to his descriptions than truth precisely warrants, and
also for his character, which led him chiefly among the gayer
inhabitants, there still seems to have been many who loved the winecup
and the song, and all sorts of delightful naughtiness. But the
degeneracy of the times had made far less progress in the interior of
the country than in the seaports, and until the people lost the elective
privilege, they continued the government in the hands of those upright
old men who had so long possessed their confidence. Uncontrollable
events, alone, gave a temporary ascendency to persons of another stamp.
James II., during the four years of his despotic reign, revoked the
charters of the American colonies, arrogated the appointment of their
magistrates, and annulled all those legal and proscriptive rights which
had hitherto constituted them nearly independent states.

Among the foremost advocates of the royal usurpations was Dr. Bullivant.
Gifted with a smart and ready intellect, busy and bold, he acquired
great influence in the new government, and assisted Sir Edmund Andros,
Edward Randolph, and five or six others, to browbeat the council, and
misrule the Northern provinces according to their pleasure. The
strength of the popular hatred against this administration, the actual
tyranny that was exercised, and the innumerable fears and jealousies,
well grounded and fantastic, which harassed the country, may be best
learned from a work of Increase Mather, the "_Remarkable Providences of
the Earlier Days of American Colonization_." The good divine (though
writing when a lapse of nearly forty years should have tamed the
fierceness of party animosity) speaks with the most bitter and angry
scorn of "'Pothecary Bullivant," who probably indulged his satirical
propensities, from the seat of power, in a manner which rendered him an
especial object of public dislike. But the people were about to play
off a piece of practical full on the Doctor and the whole of his
coadjutors, and have the laugh all to themselves. By the first faint
rumor of the attempt of the Prince of Orange on the throne, the power of
James was annihilated in the colonies, and long before the abduction of
the latter became known, Sir Edmund Andros, Governor-General of New
England and New York, and fifty of the most obnoxious leaders of the
court party, were tenants of a prison. We will visit our old
acquaintance in his adversity.

The scene now represents a room of ten feet square, the floor of which
is sunk a yard or two below the level of the ground; the walls are
covered with a dirty and crumbling plaster, on which appear a crowd of
ill-favored and lugubrious faces done in charcoal, and the autographs
and poetical attempts of a long succession of debtors and petty
criminals. Other features of the apartment are a deep fireplace
(superfluous in the sultriness of the summer's day), a door of hard-
hearted oak, and a narrow window high in the wall,--where the glass has
long been broken, while the iron bars retain all their original
strength. Through this opening come the sound of passing footsteps in
the public street, and the voices of children at play. The furniture
consists of a bed, or rather an old sack of barley straw, thrown down in
the corner farthest from the door, and a chair and table, both aged and
infirm, and leaning against the side of the room, besides lending a
friendly support to each other. The atmosphere is stifled and of an ill
smell, as if it had been kept close prisoner for half a century, and had
lost all its pure and elastic nature by feeding the tainted breath of
the vicious and the sighs of the unfortunate. Such is the present abode
of the man of medicine and politics, and his own appearance forms no
contrast to the accompaniments. His wig is unpowdered, out of curl, and
put on awry; the dust of many weeks has worked its way into the web of
his coat and small-clothes, and his knees and elbows peep forth to ask
why they are so ill clad; his stockings are ungartered, his shoes down
at the heel, his waistcoat is without a button, and discloses a shirt as
dingy as the remnant of snow in a showery April day. His shoulders have
become rounder, and his whole person is more bent and drawn together,
since we last saw him, and his face has exchanged the glory of wit and
humor for a sheepish dulness. At intervals, the Doctor walks the room,
with an irregular and shuffling pace; anon, he throws himself flat on
the sack of barley straw, muttering very reprehensible expressions
between his teeth; then again he starts to his feet, and journeying from
corner to corner, finally sinks into the chair, forgetful of its three-
legged infirmity till it lets him down upon the floor. The grated
window, his only medium of intercourse with the world, serves but to
admit additional vexations. Every few moments the steps of the
passengers are heard to pause, and some well-known face appears in the
free sunshine behind the iron bars, brimful of mirth and drollery, the
owner whereof stands on tiptoe to tickle poor Dr. Bullivant with a
stinging sarcasm. Then laugh the little boys around the prison door,
and the wag goes chuckling away. The apothecary would fain retaliate,
but all his quips and repartees, and sharp and facetious fancies, once
so abundant, seem to have been transferred from himself to the sluggish
brains of his enemies. While endeavoring to condense his whole
intellect into one venomous point, in readiness for the next assailant,
he is interrupted by the entrance of the turnkey with the prison fare of
Indian bread and water. With these dainties we leave him.

When the turmoil of the Revolution had subsided, and the authority of
William and Mary was fixed on a quiet basis throughout the colonies, the
deposed governor and some of his partisans were sent home to the new
court, and the others released from imprisonment. The New Englanders,
as a people, are not apt to retain a revengeful sense of injury, and
nowhere, perhaps, could a politician, however odious in his power, live
more peacefully in his nakedness and disgrace. Dr. Builivant returned
to his former occupation, and spent rather a desirable old age. Through
he sometimes hit hard with a jest, yet few thought of taking offence;
for whenever a man habitually indulges his tongue at the expense of all
his associates, they provide against the common annoyance by tacitly
agreeing to consider his sarcasms as null and void. Thus for many
years, a gray old man with a stoop in his gait, he continued to sweep
out his shop at eight o'clock in summer mornings, and nine in the
winter, and to waste whole hours in idle talk and irreverent merriment,
making it his glory to raise the laughter of silly people, and his
delight to sneer at them in his sleeve. At length, one pleasant day,
the door and shutters of his establishment kept closed from sunrise till
sunset, and his cronies marvelled a moment, and passed on; a week after,
the rector of King's Chapel said the death-rite over Dr. Bullivant; and
within the month a new apothecary, and a new stock of drugs and
medicines, made their appearance at the gilded Head of Aesculapius.


Nathaniel Hawthorne


Non-Fiction
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