Like Bubbles on a Sea

TIMOTHY FLINT CAME TO THE RIVER as a missionary. That was in 1815, during the first big wave of migration to the Mississippi valley. The towns of the Mississippi were believed to be sorely in need of ministers: they already had a reputation for wild licentiousness, for gambling, for prostitution, for casual violence, and for prodigious, near-suicidal drinking. The churches and missionary societies of the East Coast were commissioning every warm body they could find. But Flint was in fact a reasonably good prospect. He had trained as a minister straight out of the highest and most conservative Puritan tradition—he was born in Massachusetts in 1780, was graduated from Harvard in 1800, and had already spent more than a decade serving at local churches in New England. His religious training had put the stress on sobriety, purity, and unquestioning obedience to church doctrine. He added to that his own personality—stiff-necked, querulous, and perpetually aggrieved. A college friend observed of him that there were two striking aspects to his character: he was useless at social intercourse and he was entirely ignorant of human nature. This all made him (it was surely felt by the Missionary Society of Connecticut) perfect for his job.

When Flint set up at his first church in St. Charles, Missouri, it didn’t take long for him to make a pest of himself. With a wide and clear field of sinfulness before him, he decided that there was one particular vice he needed to target: Sabbath breaking. He was driven to a denunciatory rage when he observed the people of St. Charles working, dancing, partygoing, or laughing out loud in public on a Sunday. This didn’t endear him to his flock. He further alienated them by involving himself in a highly unpopular land deal: he bought and fenced in a large patch of forest where people had been accustomed to collecting their firewood in the winter, and he tried to have anyone who went on foraging there prosecuted for trespassing. Even his fellow ministers in town took sides against him for that. It got even worse for him when he tried to resell the land and found no takers. His letters back to the missionary society were filled with laments about how the deal had cleaned him out and how little support he was getting from the town.

But then he was never one to keep silent about his problems. His letters east weren’t primarily about his money troubles and his conflicts with his neighbors—in fact, those topics come as something of a welcome break in the main flow of his complaints, which centered on his health. He had evidently never been very vigorous, and the climate of the river valley seems to have turned him into a perpetual invalid. He contracted countless diseases—measles, influenza, smallpox, and an assortment of fevers and infections named and unnamed. All this, he repeatedly pointed out, explained why he was able to spend so little time actually attending to the business of his church. He could not work, he said at one point, because he had “a bilious complaint accompanied by spasm.” “I suffered fever and ague sixty days,” he wrote another time. On another: “I had seventy fits of the ague.”

Eventually he was forced to give up on the church in St. Charles. He and his family spent the next decade wandering up and down the Mississippi. His luck didn’t change for a long while. He wasn’t a fast learner and the basics of life on the river still eluded him. In 1820 he had an all-too-typical experience. He and his wife, Abigail, and their children were traveling from southern Arkansas to Missouri when they made what would now be called a classic newbie mistake—they tried to go upriver against the current during a season of unusually low water.

The trip was a nightmare. They thought it would take a few days; it prolonged itself into weeks. They petered out in exhaustion while they were still in the wilderness country above Memphis, with several hundred miles left to cross. By then they were in bad shape physically. Abigail was pregnant and nearing term, and she was sick with a fever. Soon they all were coming down with the fever and were too weak to move. Their food was running out. They had counted on buying supplies from the boats passing in the opposite direction, but they’d had the bad luck to find themselves in a lull in the downriver traffic: eight days passed without their seeing another boat. At last a flatboat appeared around the bend ahead of them, and Flint hailed it. The crew, seeing how desperate he was, sold him a barrel of salt pork and a barrel of flour for thirty dollars each—extortionist prices he was still furious about when he wrote his memoirs a decade later.

The family spent the following night in a secluded cove. Even though it was November, it was miserably hot and the cove was shrouded by mosquitoes. The next day was no better. By first light it was already sweltering, and by midmorning the signs were everywhere that a big storm was coming. It was then that Abigail went into labor.

The river was still running low and it was impossible to move forward to look for better shelter. The shallows on the eastern shore were a maze of sandbars; the western shore was a huge cypress swamp. The river was deserted. There was no choice but to ride out the storm and hope for the best. Flint lashed the boat to the trees along the eastern bank, and he had his children wrap themselves in blankets and lie down on a wide sandbar to wait. He did what he could to make Abigail comfortable. She was very weak with the fever, and she’d been “salivated”—meaning that she’d been given a large dose of calomel as an expectorant. Calomel is mercurous chloride; so whatever else Abigail had been enduring before, she was now suffering the effects of mercury poisoning.

The storm broke over them toward noon. It was a rage of hail and lightning, followed by torrential rain. Flint’s only comfort was Abigail: she regarded, he said, the prospect of her imminent death with “perfect tranquility.” She was so tranquil, in fact, that she regarded the fate of their children, who were just then huddled in their blankets out on the sandbar, with total indifference. For Flint, a deeply pious and conventional man, this was proof of her sanctity.

As for Flint himself, he was nowhere near as placid. He was terrified to the point of madness; he felt like King Lear on the heath. The storm kept getting more intense hour by hour. Around midafternoon, a sudden, intense gust of wind tore the roof off their boat, and the rain came pouring in. Flint didn’t dare move his wife; he resolved that he would risk carrying her into the forest to look for shelter only if the boat started to tear loose from its moorings and float downriver.

The storm began to spend itself by late afternoon; the clouds broke up and there was a magnificent sunset. The children all came back aboard the boat—they were waterlogged but still alive. Abigail gave birth at eleven that night. The baby girl, Flint could tell at once, was too weak to survive.

The boat remained stuck on the sandbar. After two days, the baby died. Flint emptied out a small trunk to use as a coffin and buried it in the rushes along the bank. The next day, the river began to rise, and the winds returned with it. Flint and his family hoisted their sails and they went on north without further incident. Flint remembered the location exactly: it was “on a high bank opposite to the second Chickasaw bluff.”

Flint would spend the rest of his life, off and on, traveling the river, and he would pass by that spot many times. Invariably he did so with his thoughts on how he was “carrying … my miserable and exhausted frame, with little hope of its renovation, and in the hourly expectation of depositing my own bones on the banks of the Mississippi.”

The death of his child didn’t come as a great shock to Flint. It wouldn’t have been a shock to any parent: the rule of thumb in the river valley was that one in four children died before their first birthday; one in two didn’t make it to their twenty-first. The situation might have been different if Flint’s family had been able to reach a nearby town and find a doctor—but probably not, given the nature of medical care on the frontier in those days. After all, it was a doctor who had given Abigail the mercurous chloride, and another doctor would have most likely succeeded only in killing her along with the baby.

But then, too, Flint had a certain natural callousness. He was curiously unmoved by the suffering and death of other people—even people in his family. It was characteristic of him that in his account of the river journey, he didn’t spare a single thought for what his other children had gone through that night, left to fend for themselves on the sandbar while the storm raged. But in this he was actually a fairly typical inhabitant of the valley: people did not as a rule display a lot of empathy for other people’s problems. The river discouraged it—life on the river was so dangerous, so unpredictable, and so casually violent that it couldn’t help but leave its inhabitants coarsened. Flint doesn’t seem to have been that interested in other people to start with, and the river never taught him to feel otherwise.

So as a minister, his main concern was simple outward obedience to church doctrine; as a father, he viewed the death of his child primarily as an occasion to reflect on his own mortality. This all made the river his natural home.

Over the next several years, Flint took charge of churches in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Florida. He stayed nowhere long, forced out in each place by poverty or sickness or the opposition of the citizenry. In one town he alienated his neighbors by doing amateur chemistry experiments in his parlor; they thought he was either a necromancer or a counterfeiter, and they couldn’t decide which was worse.

He proselytized everywhere he went. When he met up with Cajuns and Creoles, he addressed them in French. His biographer John Ervin Kirkpatrick noted: “He did not then speak French well enough to preach in it but that he could and did use it to reprove and warn.” The years continually sharpened his inborn knack for the exasperating moral judgment. He once visited a naval garrison in Baton Rouge, where he came across a simple white monument on the esplanade dedicated to the memory of the naval officers who’d died on the river. It was inscribed with a quotation from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man:

Like bubbles on a sea of matter borne,

They rise, they break, and to that sea return.

Flint didn’t recognize the source, misquoted it in his book, and in any case was infuriated by the sentiment. He had no hesitation about outraging his hosts by saying so. Writing about the incident several years later, he didn’t bother to hide his contempt:

It is a matter of regret, that in a country professedly christian, any inscription should ever find a place on a funeral monument, that bears no allusion to our hope of immortality.

Inevitably his meanderings took him in and out of New Orleans. This was a rich prospect for any missionary: it already had a reputation for being the wickedest city in America. The city was notorious for its brothels, its slave markets, its stores selling occult charms and amulets, its voodoo ceremonies held openly in public squares—all of which would seem calculated to torment a prim soul like Flint. And in fact he did find countless things to complain about. The city, he wrote, was “disgusting.” The saloons and brothels had “such an aspect of beastliness and degradation, as to render them utterly unbearable.” He also didn’t like the weather; it was “debilitating and exhausting.” He thought the fruit produced by the local orchards was “less flavoured, and more insipid” than the fruit of New England. He found the presence of so many Catholics “a painful sensation”—“not … a single Protestant house of worship,” he complained about Louisiana. “We need not cross the ocean to Hindostan to find whole regions destitute of even the forms of christian worship.” (Catholicism did not in his eyes count as Christianity.)

On the other hand, the more of his complaints that one reads, the more one gets the curious feeling that he liked the place. He was uncharacteristically forgiving of its situation—he wrote that “New Orleans is of course exposed to greater varieties of human misery, vice, disease, and want, than any other American town,” but in the end he believed it was probably no more sinful than New York or Boston. He was fascinated by the crowds, the babel of languages, the daily storm of color on the streets. He got in the habit of visiting the great cathedral—a new experience for him, as he’d never been inside a Catholic church before—and he was awed by its great taper-lit interior, perpetually shrouded in silent gloom. “This deep and unalterable repose,” he wrote, “in the midst of noise and life, furnishes a happy illustration of the state of a religious mind, amidst the distractions of the world.” He was also enchanted by the ornateness and peculiarity of the city’s famous cemeteries, so cluttered with fantastic crypts and mausoleums. He particularly liked visiting them at night, after the other visitors had cleared out. Their silent delirium reminded him of “how uncertain is the dream of life.”

He eventually took over a church and a school north of New Orleans, in the small town of Alexandria, Louisiana, on the Red River. It proved to be the happiest time of his life. He loved the town; it was a placid and well-groomed place, gorgeously green with catalpa and China trees. In the summer he and his family moved into a cabin in the pinewoods; there was a glade on the riverbank where several of the other families in town had cabins and lodges, and they all passed the hot days in an idyll of games and picnics. The river was swarming with fish; Flint estimated that he caught two thousand trout, “beautifully mottled with white and gold.” In the serene, leaf-glowing evenings he and his friends “had public chowder-parties, where sixty people sat down under grape-vine arbours.”

But it wouldn’t have been like Flint to be at ease in such contentment. “A kind of sad presentiment used to hang over my mind,” he recalled, “to embitter even this pleasant summer, an impression, that as it was so delightful, it would be the last pleasant one allotted to me on the earth.” In the fall he fell sick again. He convinced himself that it was the end. His family hoped that he might recover his health if he were away from the putrid atmosphere of the delta, so they sent him to visit relatives back east. When he got to Massachusetts, he told people that he “had come home to die.”

Idly, with no particular motive other than to occupy his time before his funeral, he began writing his memoirs. He worked quickly, even hectically, with only a loose plan. The book is cast as a series of letters to a friend—a common device in those days (Jonathan Swift remarked in A Tale of a Tub that he thought it was used by an actual majority of contemporary books). This enabled Flint to be casual, amusing, and digressive—qualities that tended to be missing from his actual letters. He put in whatever occurred to him: natural history, political history, sociology, anecdote, folklore, poetry. He indulged in his private obsessions—he was, as his biographer called him, “morbidly fascinated” with the Great Shakes, which had occurred four years before his arrival in the valley, and he passed on every scrap of news and folklore he’d heard about the quakes. He constantly wandered from his point; he launched into stories and forgot to finish them; he fumbled and weaved and meandered as wildly as the river did. The result was a fascinating double study: as much a vivid (if inadvertent) portrait of a peculiar, bigoted, obnoxious, and curiously endearing man as it was of the chaotic life on the river itself.

He was lucky in his theme: by the 1820s, the increasing tide of migration to the Mississippi valley was catching the interest of people all over America and Europe. Travelers, particularly European travelers, were beginning to think of the Mississippi as an essential tourist destination; travel writers describing their experiences in America were more and more likely to include an epic account of a Mississippi steamboat voyage. But Flint had grown to know the Mississippi far more intimately than any tourist could. As he wrote: “I cannot certainly be classed with those writers of travels, who … are wafted through a country in a steam boat, and assume, on the ground of having thus traversed it, to know all about it.” The title of his book was itself a claim to his status as a real river man. He called it Recollections of the Last Ten Years, Passed in Occasional Residences and Journeyings in the Valley of the Mississippi.

The book was published in 1826. It was an immediate success—so much so that it gave Flint a surprising new life. He recovered from his illness—but he found that he no longer wanted to continue his wandering life as a minister. While he was determined to go back west, he didn’t want to risk the climate of the lower valley. So instead he took his family to the rapidly growing new town of Cincinnati on the Ohio. He and his brother opened up a bookstore, and he became a professional writer.

For the next several years, he turned out prose at a furious clip. He wrote novels—mostly about virtuous ministers bearing up with great fortitude under a succession of misfortunes and natural disasters. He translated French novels and works of philosophy (his French had been greatly improved by his years in the delta). He ghostwrote the memoirs of a trapper in the Far West. He wrote a biography of Daniel Boone that was praised by later historians for its scrupulous accuracy (most contemporary biographies about Boone were full of shameless romancing). He wrote and compiled his immense ragbag of a compendium, The History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley. And he founded and edited a magazine called The Western Monthly Review. Each issue ran about fifty pages in minuscule type and contained essays on education, theology, politics, culture, literature, English grammar, and current events—almost all of which were written by Flint himself. His perpetual complaints about his weakness, his exhaustion, and his imminent death came as he labored at his craft like a stevedore.

For better and for worse—mostly worse—he wrote his later books just as he’d written his first one: at a hectic pace, without looking back. “Lack of finish,” his biographer noted, “is one of the greatest evils of the page.… There are so many obvious faults, in plot, sentences, and even in use of words, that one often regrets that he did not spend more time in the revising of his work.” He was also brazen about recycling his own prose: phrases, paragraphs, whole pages from one book will turn up unexpectedly in several others. Much of Recollections was absorbed into his Historyalmost word for word. But then Flint never claimed to be a literary artist. He thought of himself at best as a kind of archivist, recording the life of the river valley for the use of posterity. “We can easily enjoy in anticipation,” he wrote about the back issues of The Western Monthly Review, “the eagerness with which the future historian will repair to them, as a synopsis of most of what has been said and written in the Western Country, touching its own natural, moral, and civil history.”

But he did very well in the present time. He grew to be a popular and highly regarded author, and he became a local celebrity in Cincinnati. When the celebrated British writer Frances Trollope stopped there for an extended stay during her American travels, Flint was the person she was most eager to look up—and, as it turned out, the only person there she actually liked. In the travel book she published shortly afterward, titled Domestic Manners of the Americans, she called him “the most agreeable acquaintance I made in Cincinnati, and indeed one of the most talented men I ever met.” She particularly admired Flint’s mild manners, beneath which she was delighted to find “first-rate powers of satire, and even of sarcasm.” She even felt indulgent toward Flint’s ferocious patriotism: “He is the only American I ever listened to, whose unqualified praise of his country did not appear to me somewhat over-strained and ridiculous.”

But Flint didn’t reciprocate these warm sentiments—at least not after her book was published. He felt a profound exasperation with outsiders venting opinions on his own turf, even when the opinions were ones he might otherwise agree with. (He was personally opposed to slavery, for instance, but he loathed the abolitionists because he thought they had no firsthand knowledge of what they were talking about.) Trollope’s harsh judgments on American manners, which in another mood Flint might have endorsed, he found unforgivable. In his magazine he wrote that Trollope’s views were “absolutely without value,” and he later published a sketch where he courteously described her as “a coarse, flippant, and vulgar man-in-petticoats.”

Meanwhile, he had the money and leisure to begin traveling himself. He retired from his magazine and left Cincinnati in early 1834 to return to the lower Mississippi. He resettled in his beloved town of Alexandria, Louisiana. But almost immediately he left on an extended tour of Canada. He enjoyed it enormously: he adored Montreal; he was awestruck by the natural grandeur of Quebec and the St. Lawrence Seaway; he was impressed by the canals (he called them “prodigious works of art”); he even admired the local steamboats, which he said were finer than those on the Mississippi. He then went on to Europe. This didn’t go as well: it wasn’t as interesting as the New World. He wrote that Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were “intrinsically handsomer towns” than any of the great European capitals. He was bored by all the museums and monuments. The European landscapes left him just as cold; after the sight of an American mountain range, the Alps and Apennines were “bald, ragged, revolting.”

He returned to America and his home in Alexandria. Once again he fell to brooding about the end. “I draw into my shell, abandoned by all others,” he wrote in a letter. In a poem he wrote:

Fondly I thought that, years ere this, my breast

Would cease to swell with joy or sorrow.

In May 1840, Flint and his son James were taking a steamboat trip up the Mississippi from Alexandria. Flint was sixty then; he was, needless to say, in poor health, and he’d retired from professional writing a few years earlier. He and James stopped off on May 7 in Natchez-Under-the-Hill. The town was at that point in the middle of one of its periodic attempts to clean up its image: there were still gambling houses, saloons, and brothels, but there were also dry-goods stores and haberdashers and barbershops, and there was a new hotel, called the Steam Boat Hotel, catering to the upscale river traveler.

Flint and his son had lunch in the Steam Boat Hotel’s elegant new dining room. It was a hot and humid day, and the tall windows were standing open. The sky was hazy and overcast, and beneath the clatterings and babble of the crowded room Flint could hear the mutterings of an approaching storm. He later described the sound as “a continual rumble of a hundred low thunders all melting together.” At around half past one, the sky grew so dark that the hotel staff had to bring out candles. By then the thunder had grown much louder. But nobody was alarmed. It still seemed to them like a typically stormy spring day in the lower valley.

After Flint finished his meal, he wandered restlessly through the lobby into a new barroom. It, too, had an impressive set of windows; these overlooked the main street and the levee. The levee was swarming, as it always was on spring afternoons: hundreds of flatboats, barges, and steamboats were gathered in the waters off the docks, all caught up in their routine frenzy of loading and unloading cargo. Beyond was the grand sweep of the river. Natchez had been built on the outer bank of a hairpin turn, and from where Flint was standing, he could look down the river for miles, as it flowed to the southwest between the Louisiana and Mississippi shores.

The view that afternoon was dominated by a rapidly approaching storm front that had swallowed up most of the sky. As Flint stood at the window, he had an unimpeded sight of “a terrific-looking black cloud, as though a well defined belt of black broad cloth, seeming a mile and a half wide, shooting up the river with fearful velocity.” He looked more closely and saw a weird specter: “At the end it poured out dark wreaths, resembling those of the steam-boat pipe.” He was looking at a tornado that had touched down on the river’s surface to the southwest, about twelve miles downstream, and was moving directly up the center of the channel straight at Natchez.

Another witness to the events of that day, J. H. Freleigh, the captain of the steamboat Prairie, recounted his experiences for a St. Louis newspaper. He had heard the storm coming, too—“a continual dull roaring,” he said, that was broken at intervals by “sharp heavy claps, attended with the most vivid lightning.” But as the storm came up the river, he remembered, “the distant rolling thunder assumed more the sound of moaning.” Still, he took only the ordinary precautions: he put his men on alert, he had more lines tied to the dock, and he ordered the pilot to the wheel and the engineer to the boiler room. He himself went up on the roof with one of the hands to string out a hawser to the forecastle. He never saw the funnel cloud the way Flint did. Instead the storm came directly overhead in a titanic roar and a wave of blackness. As the steamboat roof began to break up beneath him, he jumped down the gangway to the boiler deck, and there he held on desperately to keep from being sucked into the vortex. The storm shrieked around him for barely a minute and was gone. In those few moments, the roof had been torn loose and carried away; the deckhand who had been working with him had been levitated to the forecastle and dropped uninjured.

Freleigh climbed up to the forecastle to survey the damage. His boat had been ripped free from all its moorings and had been blown upstream, where it was drifting and pitching in the shallows. The water was still furiously choppy. The forests on the western bank had been leveled; Freleigh said they “were transformed into mere stubble-fields of splinters.” Freleigh’s boat was “a dismantled and useless wreck, floating a shapeless hulk on the boiling and maddened waters.” One of his crew was dead; five or six were severely injured; five were missing and their bodies were never found.

Meanwhile, Flint had been watching at the hotel window as the storm crossed ashore and engulfed Natchez-Under-the-Hill. As the funnel approached the hotel, Flint finally broke away and went running back to the reading room to find his son James. They had no time to get out before they were hit. All the windows and doors simultaneously blew in. In the fury of the storm, everyone was bolting for the front door. “The rush closed the passage, and kicking, fighting, and cursing ensued,” Flint wrote. “Part were trampled underfoot, and part, such as James and I, thrown over their heads.” They found themselves shouldered into a narrow hallway between the barroom and the reading room. As the building came down around them, Flint remembered, he “expected the next moment to have all my maladies effectually cured.” The walls and pillars closed in, the rains poured over them in torrents, and the last light vanished.

Then the storm was gone. The funnel skipped up the bluff, crossed through Natchez-on-the-Hill, and raced on into the wilderness country beyond.

Within a few minutes, people all over Natchez were emerging from their shelters to survey the damage. Natchez-Under-the-Hill had taken a direct hit. The scene there, Captain Freleigh said, was of “horror, devastation, ruin.” A reporter for the local newspaper, the Natchez Daily Free Trader, found that “on the river the ruin of dwellings, stores, steamboats, flatboats was almost entire from the Vidalia ferry to the Mississippi Cotton Press.” Above the bluff, the scene was as bad or worse. In Natchez-on-the-Hill, the Free Trader reported, “scarcely a house, escaped damage or utter ruin.” The towers of the town’s two big churches had been toppled and the roofs caved in; the buildings in the business district had lost their roofs or had collapsed completely; the courthouse was destroyed; the Natchez Theatre was a pile of debris; most of the houses had been brought down. Particularly heartbreaking to the reporter, “the beautiful and splendid villa of Andrew Brown, Esq., at whose place the most gorgeous and splendid fete ever given in this city to the city guests from Vicksburg last year, is totally ruined.” Even the office of the newspaper itself was a shambles (the reporter apologized in advance for any shortfalls in coverage over the next few days). “We are all in confusion,” the reporter concluded, “and surrounded by the destitute, and houseless, the wounded and the dying. Our beautiful city is shattered as if it had been stormed by all the cannon of Austerlitz. Our delightful China trees are all torn up. We are peeled and desolate.” The headline for the story was DREADFUL VISITATION OF PROVIDENCE.

The best estimate from the rescue parties and vigilance committees was that upwards of three hundred people were dead. There couldn’t be an exact count because most of the casualties were voyageurs and river people who’d been working their boats off the levee. Nobody had any idea how many boats there had been; most of them had sunk or had been blown to scatterings of flotsam. The Free Trader predicted, “There will be mourning all along the banks of the Wabash, the Salt River, and the Ohio.”

Almost unnoticeable in the long record of destruction was a report from under the hill. Work gangs of slaves lent by local plantation owners were excavating the ruins of the Steam Boat Hotel. Eleven bodies had been recovered so far, and a few people had been found alive, including the landlord and his wife—and also “Timothy Flint, the historian and geographer, and his son from Natchitoches, La.”

Flint was characteristically detailed and copious about his situation: “I found myself alive though much bruised and crushed, and a nail had gone through my hat and grazed my temple, so as to cause some bleeding.” About his son, he said only that he lost his hat. About the death and destruction in the town, he said it was “sickening,” but no more. As ever, he wasn’t one to dwell on other people’s sorrows.

His own sufferings continued in the aftermath of the storm. “The weather turned very cold, the night I began to ascend the river,” he wrote, “and my long drenching and exposure, with my previous sickness, gave me severe chills.” But he continued his journey; then he crossed the prairie to the Great Lakes and rode a steamboat to the East Coast, where he paid a visit to his brother. His chills worsened along the way. He’d had his inevitable presentiment by then; his letter describing the Natchez tornado, written that summer, ends in the same spirit as so many of his others:

I had not thought when I began, that I could scrawl so much. Take it, not for what it is worth, but for what it has cost me. You will, probably, be one of my last correspondents.

This time he was right; the letter is the final writing of his that survives. He died at the end of that summer, at his brother’s home in Salem, Massachusetts. The most suitable epitaph might be a remark of perhaps unintended self-description he made in Recollections:

Man is every where a dissatisfied and complaining animal; and if he had a particle of unchanged humanity in him, would find reasons for complaining and repining in paradise.

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