« PreviousContinue »
His disposition, and the present reward which he felt in his bosom, prompted him to this course of action.
His acquaintance with human nature, and the world, which has already been adverted 10, as being so serviceable in performing the business of the public, was equally valuable in the more retired walks of life. With his other excellent qualities, it gave him a desirable influence over men in more circumscribed spheres,—in the particular church to wbich he belonged,—in bis neighborhood, and in his family. The counsels of bis wisdom and experience, fell not unhecded upon those who were thus in bis immediate vicinity. His power of control and management in these humbler, though scarcely less important, departments of human agency, was not less real, than it was felicitious. Few societies, it is believed, were more quiet, regular and harmonious in former times, of general political agitation, than that in which judge Mitchell resided; a state of things which was owing essentially to bis instrumentality, in connection with a few excellent influential townsmen of his. The people were convinced, that he understood the course proper to be pursued in regard to their local interests, and that he had the honesty to pursue it, and accordingly yielded to himn their confidence. He was indeed an excellent adviser, and in individual cases, many felt the salutary effect of his suggestions. In occasional letters to his children, we have noticed the course which he gave them in regard to their studies, conduct and privciples, with much admiration of its seriousness and wisdom. He comprehended at once the character of the human heart in youth, as well as in adult years, and sought to avert evil, before it became firmly fixed in its favorite resorts.
This nature, sagacity, and ability to penetrate the springs of action, combined with his catholic feelings and companionable turn, made him an admirable reprover of faults which he saw in others. Nor would reproof as coming from bim, seem to excite resentment, however much it was felt. Instances are known, in which certainly, it was very happily performed. We venture to mention one or two cases, that we recollect to have heard. The former would tell well even in temperance times. Some one, we believe, who came to do a day's work for him, solicited a glass of bitters before breakfasting. Mr. Mitchell requested him to wait until he had answered some household calls, and then he would attend to his request. The poor man's trial of patience was somewhat severe, but he waited in hope that "the good creature," would be forth coming in due time. After a season of expectation sufficiently long to sharpen the appetite, Mr. Mitchell entered the room with an empty tumbler, and gave it to the disappointed man, remarking to him, that “this was the best bitter in the morning. Another case was the reproof of a townsman, who was known to have acquired property by occasional gambling. Seeing Mr. who lived at some distance from the centre of the village, he accosted him in his usual friendly manner, at the same time observing to him that he "seemed to prosper greatly, that his buildings, sences, and fields were in excellent order, and that every thing about his premises wore a neat appearance.” “But," said he farthermore, in an emphatic tone, "These things M-wont Jast. You can't flourish always; for they tell me you play the devil up-street." How much are such men, bold and faithful in reproof, wanted
" That live an atheist life," themselves impregnable on the ground of moral conduct !
The intellectual babits and character of judge Mitchell, deserve a more distinct notice, than we have bestowed upon them. His native powers of mind, were of a high order, and moreover disciplined by a good substantial education. The taste and polish, connected with the literary training of our times, were, in the early period of his life, unknown, or at least but little attended to, in this country. The general style of writing which prevailed among our literary men, was far from being correct or elegant. There were, however, many sound and ripe scholars, bearing probably a fair proportion to the number at present, of this description. In the branches which were studied, there was, in many cases, a most commendable proficiency. Indeed, there were instances of solid acquisitions, which have not often been rivaled since: while at the same time, it may be safely said, that the variety and extent of literary and scientific attainments, were not generally so great as characterize the present period of our intellectual history. It is not known, that judge Mitchell ever wrote much for the press-probably he did not. The character of his intellect was rather exhibited in conversation, and in the wisdom of his decisions and deeds, than in elaborate composition. The active scenes in which he mingled, were less favorable to regularity and closeness of study, than the condition in which many others are placed: and he has been known to regret, that he did not pursue a more thorough course of study, subsequently to bis initiatory acquisitions. He could not, however, have been very seriously remiss in improving his intellectual powers, at any time. His range of information was extensive. He particularly excelled in the knowledge of past events, and in traditionary lore. The incidents and events connected with the history of this country, gathered, whether from reading, oral, rehearsal, or observation, were more familiarly known to him, than to most of our educated men. His memory was so retentive. that nothing which he ever read or heard was forgotten; every important transaction in wbich he was engaged in his long and busy public life, could be recalled, in most of its particulars. He was minutely conversant with the scenes, the speeches, the deliberations, the opinions, and the projects connected with our congressional legislation, and we cannot but regret, that some pen had not recorded them as they fell from his lips in the free conversations of the fireside. Not a little knowledge of the past, of the traditionary kind, and pertaining to the more bidden and private transactions connected with our national history, we fear has perished with him. So lately as the publication of the Life of John Jay, when judge Mitchell we believe was about ninety years of age, and when the memory of the very few who live to such an age, fails entirely, while the work was read to him by a daughter, le inquired in several instances, whether certain transactions which he particularly designated, were not related in the book, as they were at length found to be, in the course of the reading. He retained bis relish for intellectual pleasures, in a remarkable degree, and continued to the last in the cultivation of bis mind, and in inquiries after knowledge. His intellect at ninety had not perceptibly abated its power.
Judge Mitchell was not undistinguished by his colloquial powers, and ready flow of wit. Repartee was natural to bim, but it was not of an offensive kind. He bad a quick command of his accumulated stores of information, and in intellectual converse with his friends, he was alike instructive and entertaining. We have seldom been acquainted with the individual to whom it was more interesting to listen in familiar conversation. His manner on such occasions was collected, but at the same time indicated much cordiality and warmth of feeling.
We have already referred incidentally to his moral and religious character. He was in principle and practice we are persuaded, as well as by profession, a disciple of the Son of God. His honesty of belief, and integrity of heart, will not be questioned among those by whom he was intimately known. There was a time in the early part of his life, as we have been informed, in which he entertained doubts in regard to the truth of christianity. But these were soon dispelled, upon serious inquiry upon the subject, and he became firmly settled in evangelical belief. In a letter to a son, in which he gives the latter religious advice, particularly urging him to make application to God for wisdom and direction, and pointing out the way in which the application should be made, as also assuring him of success, should his advice be followed, we find in a single remark, his own firm convictions on the subject. “I believe this," he says, “as much as I believe my own existence, and have by experience great reason to believe it.”
His place in the church and in the house of God, was regularly filled, till extreme age and its infirmities, denied bim the precious privilege. A stranger to the gospel, must surely have been favorably impressed with its power over the human mind, in witnessing one so venerable for years and wisdom, and whose hoary head was encircled with many an honor, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening with the docility of a child, to the words of grace.
His professional engagements and necessary devotion to civil and secular affairs, occupied time which, in some instances, might have been profitably consecrated to the direct duties of religion. The influence of the world he lamented; the incumbrances of public business he felt to be a serious obstacle to the spirituality of mind and the religious enjoyment which he desired. Doubtless too, he felt the necessity of habitually guarding against so insnaring an evil. As he approached towards the close of his days, it was evident to those who witnessed bis social devotions, that they became more and more spiritual and beavenly in their character. This was, no doubt, an indication of his increasing meetness for the worship of a purer world.
His firm support of the institutions of the gospel, and his esteem of the christian ministry; his attachment to evangelical order and love of peace in the professing body of Christ, were well known traits in his character. He felt it to be a happiness as well as du
to aid the cause of religion, both in his private and official station.
In his religious reading, he was fond of the substantial and rich authors of a former age. Baxter's Saint's Rest, in particular, was a favorite and often perused work. It occurs to our recollection, that in speaking of Edward's history of redemption, he passed an encomium upon it, wbich, as it was most deserved, also indicated the religious views and feelings of his own mind, to wit, that "it was to him the most interesting bistory which he ever read.” He noticed and remarked upon the sentiments and style of sermons which he heard, with much discrimination. In our hearing, he once observed, in the way of recommending to ministers to write their discourses, that he never knew but one preacher who could express and deliver bis thoughts extemporaneously as well as he could in writing. That individual was Dr. Bellamy, of Bethlem. His encouragement of ministers of the gospel, particularly such as were young, endeared bim much to those who were the objects of his kind attentions. From such a circumstance, it is doubiless 10 be inferred, that he felt the importance attached to the ministerial office, and relished highly the truth communicated by its instrumentality. Indeed he was known to bave the deepest convictions of the necessity and usefulness of faithful ministers of religion.
Judge Mitchell died as he lived, with a mind self-possessed,
clear, studious of the divine approbation, and realizing the solemnity of the change which he was about to undergo. He bad often felt the fear of death, and sometimes expressed doubts respecting his preparation to meet it. But its actual approach was unaccompanied by any such weakness of nature, or failure of faith. Indeed, he had once before had the trial of threatening sickness in regard to the strength of his religious hope. Fears and doubts diminished, in the near prospect of death, in that instance, and composure and confidence succeeded in their place. The last conflict was short. Extreme age, attended at the time with a degree of morbid action of the system, had exhausted the powers of nature, and he fell easily into the arms of death. Alier he considered bimself, and was considered by others in dying circumstances, he was able to communicate in a degree with bis friends, and he left this emphatic testimony to the reality of divine grace,—that grace which he had received, as he distinctly and feelingly announced it; “I place my reliance entirely on my Savior.” It was on the 30th day of September, 1835, that he was called from this sublunary state.
So lived and died this venerable man and eminent civilian. It is refreshing to his friends, as it is a precious instance of the truth of the gospel, that God raised him up to act bis part in a critical period of his country and its institutions; and that he acted it so well. Who does not sce in such an example of moral worth, and in the lofty hopes inspired by true religion, the superiority of christian principles and gospel times, to other systems and other ages. All that the wise and tender-bearted Plutarch, for instance, could say to the mother of his young daughter, upon the decease of the latter, by way of consolation, or of inducing acquiescence in the distressing event, was, that death bad deprived their child only of "small enjoyments. The things she knew were of little consequence, and she could be delighted only with trifles.” Alas! he could not point the mother to those bigher joys, (for he knew not that topic of support in bereavement,) which are found when such as pertain to this life are lost,-joys which are reserved in heaven for all the people of God, when they are called from time. The christian survivor of good men,-of men who have lived 10 answer valuable moral purposes, -has no need to recur to so melancholy a thought, as the smallness of enjoyments, that bave been lost on the part of the deceased, as a reason for acquiescence in a trying dispensation of providence. He can recur to the greatness of the selicity which has been gained.
In view of the present example, we intended to set forth what we conceived to be the importance of piety in civilians ; in the influence of their piety on our country, its national councils, administration of justice, and other precious interests; and the im