Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wilson's Border Tales
Leaves from the Life of Alexander Hamilton
Chapter 3

From week to week, Alexander’s 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 o’clock 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 Isabella’s eye, but it was a tear of gratitude and happiness.

"Bless thee—my 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 early—that his master was not down—and 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 man’s 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 me."

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.

"Representations regarding 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 well—and beyond this I will not be braved to inform you."

"You shall!" exclaimed Alexander.

"Never!" answered 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. Alexander’s 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 his manner.

"Stafford!" exclaimed Alexander, starting back—"am I then a second time stung by a worm!—poisoned by a reptile—Stafford?" he repeated, and hurried from the house.

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 misery—one 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 felon’s 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 together—some 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 beings!"

"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 little—from 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, love—give me one smile—fear 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 weep—I will not be unhappy—for 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 guilty?"

"Not guilty," said the prisoner, firmly.

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 noonday—in 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 word—murder 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 prisoner’s 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 Commons—that 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 prisoner’s 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 Alexander’s 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 husband’s 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 prosecutor’s 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 you."

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 Stafford—his 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. Isabella’s 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, gentlemen—yea, 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 man—because I am not more or because I am not less than a man; and, if I am guilty, is my prosecutor innocent?"

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 Majesty’s subjects, it is altogether unnecessary for him to perform it now upon his Majesty’s 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 Alexander’s 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 moment—as you are men—as you are fathers—as you are Christians, hear me! Do not tear my Alexander from me—he 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 mother’s breast! Save then, my husband, and Heaven will reward you! He is all that is dear to me—will 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 justice—remember 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 innocent!"

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 doubt."

"Merciful Heaven!" exclaimed Isabella, "deliver my husband—make known his innocence to these men!" She stretched her hand towards him, and cried aloud, "O my Alexander—in death—even in death—I 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 Isabella’s distress—while all felt conscious of her husband’s doom—when 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 isn’t much that the like o’ me has got to say; only, ye see, Mr. Hamilton here, that ye ca’ a prisoner, is an auld owner’s 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 maister’s 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 bad—bery 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 Alexander’s 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 Guilty!"

"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 him—it was the Honourable Edward Stafford. He wept as he recognised them. In the words of holy writ— they heaped coals of fire upon his head—and with his hand in Alexander’s 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.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus