Sunday, October 2, 2016

William Cullen Bryant to Richard H. Dana, Esq., December 18, 1862

New York, December 18, 1862

When I got your letter the other day I was about to answer it immediately, but the bad news from Fredericksburg came, and I had no heart to write. The battle was a dreadful piece of butchery, for which I fear General Halleck is responsible. They say that the officers of Burnside's corps were all against making the attempt to carry the enemy's intrenchments. . . . You find many things amiss in our people, and I cannot deny that you have reason, but I do not see that any change in our political constitution would mend matters. Every arrangement for making laws and keeping order among men has its better side and its worse side; and it is only a very impartial and unprejudiced mind that can strike a just balance between them and truly decide which, taking all things together, is the best. You like the British form of government, but you see its operations at a distance. My attention has lately been called to the picture of the moral condition of England, given in its daily journals, and it seems to me that it reveals a frightful corruption of morals in the higher class. What shall we say of the woman Anonyma, with nearly half the peerage in her train, bowing around her carriage in public? What of two men pommelling each other to death in the ring, with a throng of titled personages looking on, who had put the price of admission at two guineas to keep out the rabble? Highway robberies and murders have grown so frequent in London, the robberies often perpetrated at noonday, that the place is hardly more safe than Johnson described it to be in his satire. But you go on to show that the character of our people is improving in this season of adversity. I agree with you there; I see the same result. Perhaps much of what has awakened your disgust was the effect of our temporal prosperity. But you know I hate to dispute. Let us be thankful that God is bringing so much good out of the terrible evil that has fallen on us.

SOURCE: Parke Godwin, A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, Volume 1, p. 187-8

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