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The Life of Gouverneur Morris

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ing ideas and modes of thought, that would have graced a maturer intellect.

The exordium contains an apology for his subject, and is adroitly constructed.  'Long had I debated with myself,' he begins, 'on what subject to address so learned and polite an audience.  Pedantically to discuss some knotty point of the schools would be, if not disagreeable, at least dry, insipid, and uninteresting; it would be the retailing of other men's opinions, and endeavoring to explain what I am little acquainted with to those who are well informed.  For certainly at a time where law shines forth in its meridian glory, and divinity sprouts up promiscuously on all sides, no sophisms can darken the light of natural equity, nor will our moral duties be obscured or unpractised.  Endeavoring therefore to place them in a fairer light, would be to cast a veil over their perfections.  A lighter subject may indeed be acceptable to those, who, like myself, are in the early spring of life, but with those in whom sober autumn has repressed the understanding, blunted the passions, and refined the taste, it may not perhaps be so well received.  Yet when I consider that the lenity and candor of those, to whom I have the honor of addressing myself, are equal to their learning and judgment, I am the more easily incited to submit this performance to their mild consideration, and to descant upon wit and beauty.'

Having thus begun, he proceeds to the thread of his discourse, and first of all speaks of the characteristics, power, and advantages of wit.  This choice gift, is one of Heaven's best boons to social man; it makes the charm of an agreeable companion, it enlivens conversation, promotes innocent mirth, and banishes that sable fiend, melancholy, the restless haunter of our inmost thoughts.  It is the two-edged sword of the poet and moralist.  'It gilds the bitter pill of satire, it entices us to read, and compels us to reform.  Faults, which escape the grasp of justice, and hide behind the bulwarks of the law, which, like Proteus, change into a thousand shapes and baffle the researches of wisdom, these it strips of their borrowed

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From The Life of Gouverneur Morris: With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers; Detailing Events in the American Revolution, The French Revolution, and in the Political History of the United States, by Jared Sparks, Volume 1, Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1832, p 7. Some minor edits may have been made, but an attempt has been made to preserve the original spelling. Although some effort has been made to correct the limitations of OCR technology, if you find an error please report it to


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