Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery, by Adam Seaborn (pseud. John Cleves Symmes?), , at sacred-texts.com
The Author arrives in the United States—Consigns his cargo to Mr. Slippery—Is reduced to poverty by the failure of Mr. Slippery.—His great distress.—Inducement to publish this brief account of his discoveries.—Conclusion.
On my arrival in port, I felt the importance which an ample fortune gives a man in this external world. The arrival of a South Sea ship from Canton, with a valuable China cargo, was no unusual occurrence, and excited no extraordinary interest; but it was speedily rumoured that the Explorer had made a splendid voyage, and that Capt. Seaborn was as rich as a nabob. Abundant civilities were proffered to me, and numberless invitations to dinner were politely given.
I had now to select some merchant to assist in disposing of my cargo, my long absence, and consequent ignorance of dealers, rendering it imprudent for me to transact my own business; besides which, I found that, notwithstanding the whole of my merchandise was as much the product of
[paragraph continues] American industry, as though I and my people had dug it out of the soil, (for instead of obtaining it with specie, we had procured it by our own manual labour,) I was required to pay or secure the enormous sum of one hundred and ninety thousand dollars duties to government. A strange thing surely, that the same tax should be levied on the privilege of bringing the fruits of our own industry into the country, as on cargoes bought with silver dollars, the carrying away of which impoverishes the nation. This did not seem altogether right either for individuals or the country; but there was no use in reasoning about it—it was required by law.
My own bonds for these duties could not be received, because I was not a permanent resident. In this exigency my friend, Mr. Worthy, occurred to my mind as a very fit man to act as my factor. He was an old acquaintance, a well informed merchant, and a man of strict integrity; but, unhappily, at this time, rather low in credit, in consequence of having lost a great part of his capital by endorsing for his friends. It was doubtful whether his bonds would be thought sufficient at the Custom-house, and
[paragraph continues] I was assured that he could not raise cash enough to answer the heavy demands which would be immediately made upon me by my crew, and my own expenses. Moreover, as I was now very rich, and had daughters nearly grown up, it was proper that I should gain a place in genteel society, whereas my friend Worthy, being a plain frugal citizen, did not mix with the haut ton, and could give me no assistance in that particular. All my friends (and they were now very numerous) protested against so foolish a step as that of putting all my affairs into his hands, for the sake of giving an honest man a commission of ten or twelve thousand dollars, when there were so many great merchants who would readily manage my concerns for a moderate per centage, and introduce me to stylish society into the bargain.
I confess that the Symzonian doctrines had left so much impression on my mind, as to cause me some compunction at the thought of neglecting an opportunity to render my friend Worthy's family comfortable, by giving him my business, instead of bestowing the advantages of it upon a merchant rolling in wealth, who, after being
roundly paid, would consider me under obligations for his services. My external habits and sentiments, however, got the better of my sympathies for my old friend, and, by the advice of my new friends, I addressed myself to Mr. Slippery.
Mr. Slippery was undoubtedly a great merchant. He lived in a spacious house in Broadway, rode in a splendid coach, walked like a man of consequence in Wall-street, was a bank director, and had the handsomest carpeted compting room in the city, and I know not how many clerks writing in the next room. I knew him by sight, and did not altogether like to apply to him, because of his haughty manners. I remembered that when, some years before, I called at his compting room to offer myself as a master for one of his ships, he kept me standing half an hour, with my hat in my hand, before he condescended to notice me, and was no ways pleased that I took the liberty to draw a chair to seat myself until he might be at leisure. But he was certainly a great merchant, and to him I went.
I was delighted on entering his room, to observe a visible improvement in his deportment
and manners. Instead of the distant, haughty reserve I had expected, he met me halfway, with both hands extended, and gave me a hearty welcome to my country after so long an absence; inquired after my wife and children in the most touching manner; was rejoiced to hear that I had made a great voyage, and should be extremely happy to render me any service in his power. He finished his preliminary address with, "I am a great admirer, Captain Seaborn, of you men of enterprise, who draw riches from the great deep to the benefit of the revenue, the extension of trade. and all that sort of thing: you understand me, Sir?"
A hearty invitation to dinner, and a request to be permitted to introduce me to his friends, followed in a breath. I was charmed with him, poor fool that I was, little dreaming that it was the prospect of handling the half million of dollars, which my cargo would produce, that excited his cupidity.
There was no difficulty in settling terms. Mr. Slippery agreed to take charge of my business for half a commission, a simple two and an half per centum. He was
aware, he said, that after a long voyage, I must be disposed to devote my time to my family and my friends, and he would take all the trouble of business off my hands. I had only to endorse over my bills of lading, and direct Mr. Boneto to deliver the cargo to his order; and, as for money, I might draw for what sums I pleased, taking care, when I should draw for large amount.; to make my bills at four or six months, as the goods must be sold on credit, and it would be a long time before be should be in funds from the actual proceeds.
A few months flew on delightfully;—I had no cares, no perplexities. Mr. Slippery recommended that the goods should be sold at auction, to make sure of the best of endorsed paper, and I consented. He paid my officers and men their shares, as I desired; and although the auction sales did not produce for the goods, clear of charges, auction expenses, and Mr. Slippery's commission and guarantee, the actual .cost in Canton, I flattered myself that I should still be rich enough, and at all events, I could send the Explorer on another voyage, whenever I should want more wealth. I purchased a handsome house for thirty
thousand dollars, paid fifteen thousand dollars cash, and gave a mortgage for fifteen thousand; relieved the wants of all my poor relations; assisted many old acquaintances, who had been unfortunate; and still felt myself perfectly secure of all the good things of this world for the remainder of my days.
But, alas! we are short-sighted creatures. I was soon called to lament the loss of my vessel, the partner of my adventures. Mr. Boneto not being satisfied with a life of idleness on shore, and having a wish to visit Europe, I permitted him to take the Explorer, without her machinery, for a voyage to New-Orleans, and thence to Europe. He took his money with him to purchase a cargo. On his way, he knocked that charming vessel to pieces on the Bahama Banks, for want of Blunt's chart, improved by recent surveys, to warn him of all the dangers.
This misfortune grieved me not only for my own loss, but for Boneto's, who was plundered by the Providence wreckers of every dollar. Yet it was but the beginning of affliction. A few days after, I was thunderstruck
by a rumour that my friend the great merchant, Mr. Slippery, had stopped payment. But there was some comfort—I was assured that it was no failure, nothing but a suspension. For some time I was kept at bay by promises and plausible statements. The whole truth, however, burst upon me at the appearance of Mr, Slippery's name in the Gazette, as an applicant for the benefit of the insolvent act.
My situation could no longer be concealed even from myself. I was utterly ruined. Many of my drafts on Mr. Slippery remained unpaid, and came back upon me. I was sued, and called a rascal for not paying my debts. No one would believe that the Nabob was actually poor. I pressed Mr. Slippery for assistance, but got no other comfort than a cool recommendation to take the benefit of the act, as the most judicious course I could pursue.
I went to my family in a state bordering upon distraction. The troubles, mortifications, and miseries which followed, I forbear to dwell on. I endeavoured to sell my house, but was told that property had depreciated so much, it was worth no more
than the mortgage, for which the holder kindly took it off my hands. At length I was constrained to take Mr. Slippery's advice, and apply for the benefit of the act abolishing imprisonment for debt.
I was now reduced to great straits, being confined to the Liberties, as they are called—for the enjoyment of which restrained liberty I found great difficulty in obtaining sufficient bail, my friends having entirely disappeared. Fortunately I met with an old school-fellow, who, on hearing of my distress, proffered his bail, notwithstanding that the forfeiture of it would utterly ruin him.
At this period, when I frequently rose in the morning, without knowing how I should provide food for my children through the day, I found it difficult to feel and believe that it was all for the best. With neither the means of subsistence for my family, nor liberty to go in pursuit of them, my misfortunes and privations often weighed down my spirits, and became almost insupportable. When I thought of my situation, I felt no longer like a man. But the remembrance of the pious resignation, the humility,
the contentment, the peacefulness and happiness of the Symzonians, recalled me to a conviction of the truth, that with a temper of calm and cordial submission to the will of Providence, a man may be happy under any circumstances, but without it must be wretched.
At this period of pecuniary distress, Will Mackerel accidentally heard of the misfortunes of his old commander, and hastened to see me. He could not comprehend why my being possessed of the Liberties should prevent me from going to sea, to acquire the means of subsistence for my family. The worthy fellow was wholly incompetent to understand the policy of depriving a man of liberty, preventing him from supplying the wants of those dependant on him, and compelling him to cast them as paupers upon the community, because he had, through misfortune, lost all his property.
Will had spent most of the money obtained by his voyage with me; but after hearing my story, and an account of the embarrassments under which I laboured, he threw every dollar that remained to him
upon the table, and declared he would never touch a shilling of it whilst his old commander was in distress, but would go to sea to render me further aid. I accepted this generous bounty with the frankness with which it was offered, and recorded Will in my heart as a true-hearted sailor. It was but little that he had left to bestow upon me, but it preserved me from the extremity of want for some time.
I was cheering myself with the prospect of obtaining my real liberty, and of persuading some man of capital to equip a suitable vessel for a second voyage to Seaborn's land, on terms which would give me a fair share of the advantages of the undertaking, when I was informed that Mr. Slippery had neither paid nor provided for the duties on the Explorer's cargo; that the bonds which he had given, owing to the long credits on China goods, were not yet due; and that, as I was the importer, I was responsible for the whole amount, and should be required to pay the uttermost farthing, or lie in jail during the pleasure of government, no insolvent act being considered of sufficient force to impair that prerogative of government,
by which citizens were deprived of their liberty when misfortune had deprived them of every thing else.
I had now no chance of freedom left, unless an opportunity should offer to fly the country before the bonds became due, for even should government relinquish the duties, the costs of suit, which amount in most cases to a large proportion of the debt, would not be relinquished till doomsday. To avail myself, however, of this only expedient, seemed impracticable. Even the shawls and trinkets which I had bestowed upon my wife in the days of our prosperity, were already sold, and the proceeds expended for bread. I was a fortnight in arrears to my landlady, and had not a friend on earth from whom I could obtain a dollar. How then could I get away with nothing to pay my expenses, or those of my wife and children in my absence?
At this moment of difficulty I heard that Captain Riley had obtained some pecuniary relief, by publishing a book of Travels, containing accounts not much more marvellous than those which I could relate of Symzonia. I therefore determined to make
a brief extract from my journal for publication, to raise the wind, reserving most of the details of minute circumstances for my personal narrative, and my scientific researches in statistics, geography, botany, aerology, geology, mineralogy, zoology, ornithology, ichthyology, conchology, entomology, horticulture, agriculture, &c. &c. &c. to be digested hereafter under appropriate titles. The authenticity and genuineness of these researches, since all the autographs and specimens collected to corroborate them were lost by the bursting open of the ship's paddle port, must rest upon the authority of my extracts, translations, journal, and memory. Should they even be questioned and disputed about by the Scavans of the external world, the generality of readers will probably trouble their heads very little on that score.
And now, kind reader, having transcribed thus much of my journal, in a manner which, I hope, will not be thought derogatory to the importance and dignity of the subject, I submit it to your inspection, with an intimation, that I am ready to undertake a second voyage to Seaborn's
land, or a voyage to Belzubia and the place of exile, by the northern route, or another visit to Symzonia, and an ærial excursion thence to the inner spheres, as soon as I am furnished with the funds necessary to my escape from my present uncomfortable situation on the Liberties, in the garret of a lofty house, where, it being about the middle of dog-days, the sun exerts its utmost power upon the roof, within eighteen inches of my head.