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.
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
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
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,
"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 ofhis 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
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
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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