Border Tales Leaves from the Life of
Alexander Hamilton Chapter 3
From week to week,
Alexanders expected appointment under government was delayed; and,
although they had parted with almost every article of any value which they
had brought with them, they began to be in want. Yet Isabella murmured
not, but sought to soothe her husband and raise his drooping spirits. At
length the long wished for day on which he was to be installed into office
arrived, and ten oclock was the hour fixed by his patron for meeting him.
Everything around him wore a face of joy. He now knew that wealth was
unnecessary to secure happiness with one who had taught him that
contentment is true riches. He longed for the appointed hour. There was a
tear in Isabellas eye, but it was a tear of gratitude and happiness.
"Bless theemy own!" she
said, as he rose to depart; and in silence he kissed her cheek.
Never until now had she
felt the full measure of her anxiety for the issue of an event to which
her husband looked forward with passionate eagerness. Slowly and tediously
the morning passed away; noon came, and the hours seemed lengthening; and
evening drew on, but it brought not Alexander. The long summer day died in
midnight, but no remembered footstep stopped at the threshold. The morning
dawn stole upon the voiceless streets, imperceptibly filling them with the
slow and silent light.
"It is another day!" she
exclaimed in agony; "and where is my Alexander?"
Precisely at the appointed
hour, Alexander had arrived at the house of his patron. The servant who
opened the door muttered that it was too earlythat his master was not
downand requested him to remain a few minutes in an apartment adjoining
the lobby. The few minutes became an hour, Alexander was mortified and in
agony. The clock, measuring out the moments, seemed to remind him of the
insults to which he was subjected. At length he heard the great mans foot
upon the stair, and rose to meet him. And the patron passed on, and his
carriage drew up to the door. Alexander sprang forward, and, in the
excitement of his feelings, placed his hand upon his shoulder. The
bestower of patronage turned haughtily, and demanded the cause of the
interruption. Alexander returned his glance with equal haughtiness, and
demanded to know how he had dared first to mock and now insult him.
"Begone, fellow!" exclaimed
the senator contemptuously.
"Never!" replied Alexander,
"until you have apologised for that word, and for having dared to mock
The courage of the silent
member was rather of an aspen character, and he became pale and trembled.
Struggling for dignity of manner, shaking, and calling up an air of
offended importance, he said he should have felt pleasure to have served
him, in consideration of the kindness of his family, but added, after
considerable faltering and hesitation, that he was compelled to withdraw
his countenance and patronage owing to the representations which he had
heard of his habits and character, and that, in consequence, the situation
he intended for him was already bestowed on another.
MY habits and character, sir?" exclaimed Alexander, "tell me who has dared
to revile me?
"My informant is a
gentleman of honour and of family, one who knows you welland beyond this
I will not be braved to inform you."
"You shall!" exclaimed
the other bitterly, and calling to his servants to obtain assistance and
give him into custody; and as he spoke he slid to the farther corner of
the lobby. Alexanders eyes glared upon him as a wounded lion measures its
victim. There was an unearthly earnestness and determination in his manner
that might have appalled a stouter heart. He grasped the trembler firmly
by the arm, and in a tone more impressive than anger, slowly and solemnly
inquired"What is the name of my defamer?"
"The Honourable Edward
Stafford," stammered out the other, awed by the desperate resoluteness of
Alexander, starting back"am I then a second time stung by a
worm!poisoned by a reptileStafford?" he repeated, and hurried from the
He had turned aside into
the Park, to conceal his agitation, indulging in the secret determination
to proceed to Leicester Square and seek vengeance upon his enemy; but his
gestures betrayed the agitation of his spirit and excited the loud
laughter of two horsemen who rode behind him. He turned fiercely round
upon the mockers of his miseryone of them was the Honourable Edward
Stafford. Alexander sprang upon him, and dragged him to the ground, as a
tiger springeth upon its prey. In his fury he trampled him beneath his
feet, and he lay bleeding and insensible upon the ground, when his
companion, having procured the assistance of the police, Alexander was
taken into custody, and, being brought before the magistrates, was
committed for trial.
Wretched and disconsolate,
Isabella beheld the sun of another day set, and yet she heard nothing of
her husband. She had hurried from street to street, wild and restless as
the household bird which, escaped from its cage, breaks its wings and its
heart, as it flutters, without aim and without rest, through the strange
wilderness of liberty. Wearied with fatigue, and well nigh delirious with
wretchedness, she was ready to inquire of every stranger that she
met"Have you seen my Alexander?" And again and again she returned to
their silent and comfortless lodgings; but there the sound of her own
sighs murmured desolation; and, in impatient agony, she exclaimed"My
husband!my Alexander!where shall I find him?"
She had sent messengers in
every direction to all of whom she had heard him mention but their name;
and in her agony her tearful eyes had wandered over the broad Thames,
fearfully and eagerly surveying its shores, and following its stream for
miles, till faint and weary, she sank despairing and exhausted on the
ground. A letter from her husband was at length put into her hands, which
informed her that he was then a prisoner in Newgate. She immediately
hastened to the gloomy prison-house, and when she arrived before it, and
beheld its ponderous gates, studded with bolts of iron, and overhung with
the emblems of the felons chain and the gibbet, she recoiled back for a
few paces, and her heart failed.
Until the time of admission
arrived, she wandered disconsolately in front of the prison, and on being
admitted, she heard the sound of an unruly multitude issuing from the
corner of the prison whither she was conducted. She was shown into a large
and noxious apartment, where about a hundred individuals of all ages, the
accused and the condemned, were assembled togethersome cooking, some
practising the art of the pickpocket, and others holding mock courts of
law. Her heart became motionless with horror as she gazed wildly round the
den of guilt and pollution. On perceiving her they desisted from their
amusements and boisterous mirth, and gazed upon her in silent wonder.
Their sudden and unusual silence aroused Alexander, who was sitting alone
in a dark corner of a room; and sorrowfully raising his head, he perceived
every eye turned upon his own beautiful and afflicted wife. He sprang
forward, and forgetful of all around, she sank upon his bosom. He led her
to a remote corner of the apartment, and pressing her hand to his
breast"Ah, my Isabella!" he whispered in agony, "this is indeed
kind, to visit me in such a place and in the midst of these miserable
"Say not kind, dear
husband," she replied"what is too much for the affection of a wife to do?
Horrible as this place is, but yesterday to have known that you lived, and
I could have been its inmate for life."
"Isabella," added he, "for
imprisonment I care but littlefrom a tribunal of my countrymen I have
nothing to fear; but there is one constant and heart-piercing misery which
is consuming me. While I am here a prisoner, who will protect, who will
provide for you, my love?"
A faint smile trembled over
her features as she replied"HE who sheltereth the lamb from the storm! HE
who provideth the ravens with food!"
"But," added he, "are not
we already almost without money?And, until I am free, until"
"Come love," said she
tenderly, "do not afflict yourself with idle fears. The sparrow chirps not
the less joyfully in the farm yard because the last sheaf is given to the
flail, but day after day finds the little flutterer happy and contented as
when it nestled in profusion. You bade me come smiling, and you only are
sad. Come, lovegive me one smilefear not for me; with my needle I may be
enabled to provide for myself; and to assist you."
"Isabella!" he exclaimed,
starting with agitation, and smiting his hand upon his brow.
"Nay, love," she added,
"start not at shadows; when real deprivations are to be averted, yield not
to those of pride and imagination. Adversity is a stern master, but it
relaxes its brow before a cheerful pupil. Come," she added, "let us rather
speak of what I can do for my prisoner."
She endeavoured to
pronounce the last word playfully; but the attempt failed, and she turned
aside her head to conceal a tear.
"Nay, sweetest," said he,
affectionately drawing her hand from her face, "do not weepI will not be
unhappyfor the sake of my Isabella, I will not."
But the day of trial came;
Alexander was placed before his judges, and his faithful wife stood near
his side. The den of the court rose, and, holding the indictment, said,
"Alexander Hamilton, you are charged with committing an unprovoked and
outrageous assault, with intent to murder, upon the person of the
Honourable Edward Stafford, in Hyde Park. Do you plead guilty, or not
"Not guilty," said the
The counsel for the
prosecution then rose"Gentlemen of the jury," said he, "I must confess I
am at a loss to find words to express the deadliness of purpose, and the
desperate character of the assault with which the prisoner is charged. A
deed more reckless, more atrocious and criminal in its character, never
was attempted. Its aim was blood!murder at noondayin the Park, and in
the midst of hundreds. After this, where is safety to be found? Were the
prisoner to go unpunished, madmen might be set at large, and assassins
crowd our streets with impunity. The ferocity of a savage of the woods,
when fired by victory and enflamed by the war-whoop, is tame, compared
with the brutal violence which was manifested by the prisoner. With a
disregard of all personal consequences, his object was murder / I
repeat the wordmurder was his object; and he has failed in accomplishing
it only through the prompt assistance of the medical gentleman to whose
care my client was intrusted. I do not say this from a desire to influence
you against the prisoner, but from a regard for truth, for our common
safety, and the public welfare. I shall prove to you that this is not a
solitary case of the prisoners outrage; but that, on the same day on
which he attempted the life of the prosecutor, he was guilty of a scarcely
less daring assault upon an honourable member of the House of Commonsthat
on former occasions he has forced his way into the house of Mr. Stafford,
and endeavoured to extort money by violence. In short, the evidence is
such as will leave a doubt upon your mind of the prisoners guilt and
desperate character, and assures me of what will be your verdict. What
plea he will set up, I know not; but he who could attempt the life of a
fellow-man in broad day, will not be nice as to the expedients to which he
resorts. Should temporary insanity be urged, I need not tell you that you
will consider whether it be lawful for a person subject to such fits of
lunacy to be left to go at large amongst mankind; and that if such a plea
be offered, you will duly examine that it be established."
During this harangue, not a
muscle of Alexanders face moved; but he stood with his eyes bent upon the
speaker, manifesting throughout the same calm and proud look of conscious
innocence. Isabella exhibited almost the same calmness as her husband; but
at times the glow of indignation and impatience flushed her cheek, and she
threw upon the accuser a glance of scorn.
I will not enter into the
evidence. Several of the witnesses were gentlemen of rank, who, having
been spectators of the assault in the Park, gave an unprejudiced statement
of what they had seen, and their testimony tended to prepare the minds of
the court to give credence to the evidence of less respectable witnesses;
for they confirmed the desperate character of the attack and the injury
received by the prosecutor. A. herd of others were suborned to aggravate
the charges, and to controvert whatever evidence the prisoner might bring
forward. The case for the prosecution closed, and every hope of acquittal
was destroyed. Still he maintained the same firmness; and, for a few
seconds, not a sound was heard throughout the court. To the ear of
Isabella, the breathless silence was a sudden thunder; hitherto, while
listening to the accumulated perjunies with which her husbands ruin was
sought, notwithstanding her hopelessness and agony, her eye had not
wandered from him; but she now turned, with a wild and imploring look,
towards the jury, at once to read on their countenances the impression
which the evidence had made, and to conjure them, in speechless agony, to
believe it not. But she, shuddering, turned away from the appalling scene,
and a groan burst from her bosom. She beheld in their features the cold,
fixed expression of men who knew no feeling but justice; and she saw their
eyes turned to her husband, but in sternness rather than in compassion.
"Prisoner," said the judge,
"you have heard the charges which have been preferred against you; if you
have any witnesses on your behalf, let them be brought forward; or if you
have aught to say in your defence, why judgment ought not to be pronounced
against you, speak now."
"My Lord," said Alexander,
"I crave your indulgence. Trusting to innocence, I have employed no
counsel, and I hoped to need none. If, therefore, in the few words which I
shall speak, I depart from the rules and usages of this court, I beg your
protection and direction. Gentlemen of the jury," he added, "much of the
evidence which has this day been given before you has not impressed upon
you a firmer conviction of my wickedness than it has filled me with horror
at the baseness and the perjury of which men can be found capable."
"My Lord," interrupted the
prosecutors counsel, "such language is not to be born."
"The prisoner has claimed
my protection," said the judge, "and he shall have it. Proceed," added he,
addressing Alexander; "but remember that unsubstantiated charges against
others will only aggravate the proof already given, and militate against
Alexander bowed, and
continued"Gentlemen, that you believe me the guilty being that I have
been described, I cannot for a moment doubt; nor do I hope that I shall be
able to shake that conviction, and prove to you between myself and the
prosecutor, who is, indeed, the guilty party. I know well that words
spoken by one situated as I now am, come in a questionable form, and
produce but a slight impression, yet, as truth is stronger than falsehood,
I would hope that what I do say may not be altogether ineffectual. That I
did make an attack upon the prosecutor in the Park, is true; that
my manner was as enraged as has been described, I admit; and that my
language might be of a threatening character, I do not deny; but that my
intentions were criminal, that I sought his life, is false."
He then stated the nature
of his acquaintance with Staffordhis having forced his way into his house
to request payment of a part of the debt which he owed him. But when he
spoke of the indignities which he had offered to his wife, and of the
calumnies he had whispered in the ear of him who was to procure him an
appointment under government, his soul flashed truth from his eyes, every
glance told a tale of scorn and wrongs. Stafford, who was present, quailed
as the tide of his eloquent indignation rolled on; and could the
astonished listeners have turned their eyes from the speaker to him of
whom he spoke, they would have read guilt and confusion on his pale
cheeks. Even the judge laid down his notes, and gazed upon the prisoner
with a look of wonder. Isabellas fears passed away as she listened to the
torrent of indignant eloquence which he poured forth; and while she
participated in the admiration of the crowd, she felt also the affection
and the pride of a wife, and starting from a seat with which she had for
some time been accommodated, she pressed closer to his side, her bosom
heaving, her cheeks glowing, and her beaming eyes declaring that, where he
then stood as a criminal, she was proud to call him husband.
"Could any man," he
exclaimed, in conclusion, "bear more than I did, and not resent it? Would
any of you, gentlemenyea, would his Lordship, under the same
provocations, have acted otherwise than I did? If the attack was furious,
was it not provoked? Or could human nature endure more and attempt less?
If I am culpable, it is because I have the feelings of a manbecause I am
not more or because I am not less than a man; and, if I am guilty, is my
The counsel for the
prosecution again rose, and added"Gentlemen of the jury, I presume it is
now unnecessary for me to remind you that the prisoner having attempted
murder on one of his Majestys subjects, it is altogether unnecessary for
him to perform it now upon his Majestys English. If rhetoretical froth
were proof, and sound received as evidence, the case of the prisoner might
be different from what it is. But it unfortunately happens for his
oratory, that froth is not proof, and that noise is not evidence. I will
not insult your good sense by adverting for a moment to his shallow
calumnies and malicious assertions. You will place them to the spirit of
hardened wickedness that invented them. But, gentlemen, we shall now see
what evidence he has to bring forward in support of his oratory, and in
substantiation of his malicious and frail subterfuges."
No witnesses being likely
to appear in behalf of the prisoner, the governor of the gaol voluntarily
came forward and bore testimony to the excellence of Alexanders conduct
while under confinement, and also to the exemplary affection and modesty
manifested by his wife.
He left the witness box,
and another pause ensued, when Isabella sprang forward, stretching out her
arms towards the jury, and exclaimed"Hear me! hear me!only for a
momentas you are menas you are fathersas you are Christians, hear me!
Do not tear my Alexander from mehe is innocent! Yes! yes! he is innocent
of the guilt attributed towards him by the wicked man who seeks his
life!innocent as your babes that may smile at their mothers breast! Save
then, my husband, and Heaven will reward you! He is all that is dear to
mewill you tear us asunder? If ye have hearts within you, you will not.
Look on his countenance is there guilt there? Look upon his prosecutor,
upon his enemy who sits before you, and oh, can you find innocence where
dissippation has left its furrows and hatred its shadows? If ye will
do what may seem to you justiceremember to love mercy! Draw not upon
your heads the misery or the blood of a human being, through the guilt of
a false witness! Save, I implore you, save my husband, for he is
The judge summed up the
evidence; and more than once he paused and wiped away a tear that did not
disgrace his office. "Go," he concluded, addressing the jury"the prisoner
is in your hands; and if there be a doubt upon your minds as to whether
you should pronounce him guilty, give the prisoner the benefit of that
exclaimed Isabella, "deliver my husbandmake known his innocence to these
men!" She stretched her hand towards him, and cried aloud, "O my
Alexanderin deatheven in deathI will be yours. They shall not part us!"
And as she wept, he bent
over the dock, and threw his arms upon her neck, exclaiming"Loved one,
weep not. The Avenger of the oppressed will not forsake us."
The jury were rising to
withdraw, every eye was moistened with Isabellas distresswhile all felt
conscious of her husbands doomwhen a humming noise arose amidst the
spectators, and "Let the jury stop!let the jury stop!" cried many voices
from the door.
The skipper of the vessel in which
Isabella had come to London pressed into the court; and being sworn
"Weel sirs," said he, "it isnt much
that the like o me has got to say; only, ye see, Mr. Hamilton here, that
ye ca a prisoner, is an auld owners son o mine. I have known him since
he was the height o my knee, and he was always a guid and a cannie laddie;
and I venture to say, had his father not been owre honest a man, and paid
twenty shillings in the pound to everybody, he wouldna hae been in his
grave to-day. As for the thing that is carrying on the prosecution
Mr. Hamilton, I knaw something o him tae; and he may consider himself
weel off that it wasna a wife o mine that he showed his blackguardism to;
for had I been my auld maisters son, hang me! after the insults I saw him
offer to this bonny lady here, when they were both passengers on board o
my ship, Jemmy Johnson take me! if I wudna hae twisted his neck off his
shoulders in a moment!"
The counsel for the
prosecution had risen to ridicule the evidence of the prisoner, when he
was interrupted by a negro servant of the Honourable Edward Stafford, who
had been touched by the fiery eloquence of Alexander, and the distress of
his wife, and who rose and exclaimed while others attempted to keep him
down"Me will speak!Massa be de grand villain! Me be black, but you wont
make me one black heart. De prisoner be innocent! Massa do owe him von
hundred pound, for me carried it to massa, and massa did try to steal de
wife ob Massa Hamilton; which be badbery bad! Prisoner be de injured man
like de poor African!"
This involuntary testimony on the
part of the negro arrested the attention of both judge and jury, and they
were requesting that he should be placed in the witness box, when two
gentlemen hurriedly entered the court, and pressing forward, requested to
be heard. The one stated himself to be a Mr. Fulton, a broker in Cornhill.
With him Alexanders father had long had extensive dealings. He has
already been mentioned in the course of this narrative. Alexander had
requested that his wife should address her letters to him to his counting
house. But he was abroad when Alexander reached London, and he only
arrived on the evening before his trial. He knew the services which his
friend, the elder Hamilton, and his son also, had conferred upon the
member of parliament of whom we have spoken, and calling upon him, and
hearing the accusations that were preferred against Alexander by Stafford,
he demanded that they should be probed to the bottom. They did investigate
them, and they discovered them to be wholly false and without foundation.
And the patron now came forward to express his contrition for the act of
injustice into which he had been betrayed, and to bear his testimony
against the character and malignity of the prosecutor. A change came over
the countenances of the jury. The judge seemed perplexed, and was rising
to sum up the evidence, when they rose as one man, and exclaimed"Not
"Not guilty, my Lord,"
repeated the foreman of the jury; "but it would give us pleasure to see
the accuser stand where the accuser has this day stood."
The spectators burst into a
shout, and the Honourable Edward Stafford endeavoured to escape from the
court. All that is necessary to add is, that Alexander Hamilton became the
clerk of Mr Fulton, in a few years his partner, and eventually his
successor, and his latter days were more prosperous than any that his
father had known, while the worth of his wife and her affection increased
with age. One word respecting the Honourable Edward Stafford, and I have
done. In a few years he became a titled beggar, and twenty years
afterwards, when Alexander Hamilton, with his wife and family, came to
reside in Northumberland, where they had been born and brought up, they
heard of a poor gentleman at an inn in the next village, who seemed to be
in great distress. They went to visit himit was the Honourable Edward
Stafford. He wept as he recognised them. In the words of holy writ they
heaped coals of fire upon his headand with his hand in Alexanders he
breathed his last, and at their own expense they buried him with his
fathers. Such are a few Leaves from the life of Alexander Hamilton.
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