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Wilson's Border Tales
Leaves from the Life of Alexander Hamilton
Chapter 1


Every reader has heard of the infamous speculation which is still known by the name of the South Sea Bubble. It produced a mania in the mercantile world, and brought ruin and misery to the hearths of thousands. Many who laid their head upon the pillow at night, believing themselves to be rich, awoke beggars in the morning. Now, at the time when the South Sea scheme was at its height, there resided in Newcastle a Mr. Hamilton, who had come from the neighbourhood of Peebles, when but a mere boy, as a clerk to a merchant; but he possessed much of the caution, the sobriety, and the prudence for which many of his countrymen are noted and he not only obtained the confidence of his employers, but rose to be an eminent merchant himself. For more than thirty years he carried on business prosperously; he was believed to be wealthy, and so he was. But he had always been a speculative man, one whose temperament was too ardent, and he entered on the South Sea project with his whole heart, embarking in it his entire capital. He was a widower, and had an only son, named Alexander, who, at the age of twenty-one he took into partnership with himself. The senior Mr. Hamilton was a man who well knew the painful labour attending self-teaching, for he had himself experienced it; and, though he had always intended his son to be a merchant, he had sent him to Cambridge for his education, saying, "A British merchant is a citizen of the world, and stands in greater need of more languages than even a divine does. Therefore my son shall be a scholar.

Alexander accordingly passed through his academical studies with credit to himself; and, as has been said, when he had attained the age of twenty-one, his father took him into partnership. But, before he was twenty-three, he married Isabella Anderson, the daughter of a gentleman who was then his father’s principal clerk, but who had himself been an extensive merchant, until misfortune reduced him to the situation which he then occupied. She was somewhat younger than Alexander; and although a lovely girl, yet her virtues, and the sweetness of her temper, far exceeded her personal attractions. The elder Mr. Hamilton, being aware of her many excellent qualities, though he knew her to be portionless, was not averse to her marriage with his son. But they had not been married twelve months, when the high blown bubble burst, and the old merchant found himself a beggar. He took it deeply to heart, and, in the language of the mercantile world, he never raised his head again; but he sat sighing and pining away, like a broken-hearted child, and within six weeks he sank into the grave a ruined man.

Alexander, finding that the firm was indeed bankrupt, and that there was but little prospect of his again succeeding in Newcastle, where his pride revolted from becoming the servant of others, left his young wife with her father, and proceeded to London, where he doubted not but that amongst those who had received from his parents many thousands of pounds, he should soon be enabled to obtain a situation which would enable him to support himself and his Isabella in comfort.

His purse was, in truth, light when he arrived in the metropolis; and having taken lodgings in a mean coffee-house in Ratcliffe Highway, he dispatched a note to a gentleman with whom they had dealt extensively, and without entering into particulars, requested the loan of twenty pounds. He wrote, because he was conscious that he had not the assurance to solicit the favour personally; and he did solicit it, knowing that, before he could obtain a situation in London,money to support him in the interim was necessary. From that gentleman he received an answer by the bearer of his own note, in which no notice was taken of his father’s misfortunes or death, but the writer penned his reply as though he were aware of neither, and expressed his regret that, during the day, a circumstance occurred which deprived him of the pleasure he should have felt in serving Mr. Hamilton, and that he was extremely sorry he could not then accommodate him with the trifle he requested. He added, in continuance, that he supposed, from the place from whence Mr. Hamilton’s letter was dated, that his embarrassment proceeded from some youthful frolic, and he considered that the best method of discharging the debts of such creditors, was to give their persons over to the power of the magistrates.

"Such, then," exclaimed Alexander, tearing the letter in pieces, "such is the friendship of this world!"

He was aware that the person to whom he had written was acquainted with the ruined fortunes of his house; and it was gall to his spirit to find that he not only wrote as if ignorant of them, but addressed him with the unfeeling familiarity of cold politeness, attributing to the folly of youth what he well knew to be the effect of misery and ruin.

He applied to another without obtaining any answer whatever; and the third to whom he applied, having read his note, sent a verbal message by the bearer, saying, "Tell Mr. Hamilton that Mr is not at home."

Indignant at the treatment of supposed friends, on the evening of the second day he discharged his bill at the coffeehouse (on doing which he had but a few shillings left), and resolved to call personally on an old college associate who had been often obliged to him, and who then was indebted to him more than a hundred pounds. This university companion, after coming of age, had fitted up a house in a state of absurd extravagance in Leinester Square.

I should have told you that, previous to Alexander’s proceeding to London, he had been compelled to dispose of the best part of his apparel to support his wife and himself, and at the time we speak of, his appearance was what ought to be termed shabby genteel.. He proceeded to the house of his friend, and striking upon the huge brass knocker, in the absence of the porter, a pert little French valet, with powdered hair, peeped cautiously from behind the door, and surveying him with a glance of aversion and contempt, in which he no doubt set him down to be a dun; he inquired—"Vat you vant, fellow?"

"The Honourable Edward Stafford, your master," said Alexander, firmly.

"Mon Dieu! Ha! Ha! Ha!" said the little Gaul, and attempted to thrust the door in his face; but Alexander, perceiving his intention, thrust forth his hand with a force that made the door fly back upon its hinges, and caused the huge brass knocker to sound an unusual and unceremonious alarm through the house, and at the same time drove the little powdered piece of foreign impertinence upon his back at the further end of the lobby.

"Moorder! moorder!’ shouted the little valet, sprawling upon his back, and kicking with his feet upon the floor, till kitchen-maids, housekeeper, cook, butler, and all the personages in the Honourable Edward Stafford’s establishment, same rushing around him, holding up their hands.

"0 sacra Marie!" cried the little valet, as they raised him to his feet; de tief; de savage! would commit von moorder! —Ma foi! it be de miracle I be alive!" and, gathering himself upon his hands and knees, he muttered, eyeing him askance—"Je voudrais qu’il s’en alat!"

The honourable Edward Stafford rushed also to the lobby, arrayed in a dressing gown, having sprung from the hands of a hair-dresser, who was performing a-piece of work upon his ringlets for which he did not consider the valet qualified; and to give additional effect to the figure to which he now made in the midst of his servants, he appeared with the one side of his head in curls, while a comb was left sticking in the other.

"What! in the name of the tower of Babel!" cried, or rather squeaked Mr. Stafford—"what is the meaning of this?"

Alexander, whose natural humour returned at the risible scene before him, approached, smiling; and extending his hand, said—"What, don’t you know me, Ned?"

"Back! Back!" exclaimed the honourable and gentle Edward Stafford; "the effluvia of thy garments is poison to my nostrils! Faugh!—know thee—why, thou art a moving tar barrel!" There was some cause for this last remark: for Alexander had slept with the common seamen during his passage to London, and his clothes yet bore witness to the pitchy fragrance of his bed-chamber. But Mr. Stafford, calling for an opera-glass, raised it to his eye, and surveying him for a few moments, inquired—"Why, who are you? Your face—I have seen it somewhere! Who are you?"

"Have you forgot Cambridge and Alexander Hamilton?" said the other.

"Sandy Hamilton!" exclaimed Stafford, rising an inch, as if in surprise—"we always called you Sandy. But come, let me hear this lark—’tis a prime one, I will vow, from your appearance; and yet you were no lad for life either," he added as he coldly held out his forefinger, and turned to conduct him into an apartment.

Alexander, having related to him his present situation, requested from him payment of such a portion of his college debt as he might find convenient.

"A plaguy odd affair, ‘pon my honour!" drawled out Stafford; "but I’m sorry I can’t oblige you just at this moment. Never was a poor dog so confoundedly dunned! I am obliged to bilk the bailiffs at every corner. ‘Pon my word, Sandy, I have had as many Bills of Middlesex served upon me, within these six months, as would fill a stage coach! Nothing could be so provoking!—My rascal of a tailor, too, got a Quare claussum popped into my hands only this morning! Lost a cool five hundred last night, also! So you see, I am involved on all sides. There is no way of redemption for me, that I can see, but taking a walk across Blackfriars. I do say that it is confoundedly hard that one can’t oblige one’s friends—but I hope you see, my dear fellow, that it is impossible. I am sorry for you, but I can’t help it at present—you must see that plain enough. Only, at the same time, your outward man seems approaching to the third and fourth letters of the alphabet—and, if there be anything in my wardrobe that would be of service"-----

Here he paused—and be it known, gentle reader, that the Honourable Edward Stafford was one of the most diminutive of men; and as he stood by the side of Alexander, the crown of his head did not reach his shoulder. He again proceeded—"But why, Sandy, you know, when you were at Cambridge, you were the Apollo, nay, the Adonis, of all the heiresses and rich dowagers within seven leagues. Many of them are in town now, and would be glad of an opportunity"----

"Sir," said Alexander, reprovingly, "you forget that I am a husband."

"Yes, yes, so you are," drawled out Mr. Stafford; "but that need not cause you to make sermons against your own preferment. I remember now, it was a low match—the daughter of one of your father’s clerks. O Sandy! Sandy!— I thought you had more spirit."

"Sir," replied Alexander, "my wife is the daughter of an honest man, whom you contributed to bring low and to ruin;" and casting upon him a look of scorn, which caused the small gentleman to make precipitate retreat behind his chair, he added, with a sneer—"Farewell, Mr. Stafford, and I wish you joy of your hopeful prospects." Thus saying, and without waiting a reply, he left the house.

It was now July, and one hope remained. A gentleman who held a seat in the House of Commons, and who owed his return to the money advanced by the late Mr. Hamilton, and the activity and zeal of Alexander, professed to be touched by his misfortunes, and promised to obtain for him a situation under government, which was then vacant. The day on which he was to be installed into the office was named; and Alexander, in the fulness and gladness of his heart, wrote for Isabella to come to London.


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