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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Novelist’s Picture of Van Buren

By Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1784–1851)

[From The Partisan Leader. Secretly printed in 1836, and afterwards suppressed. Published, and again suppressed, in 1861.]

AS the events of the last ten years make it probable that none of my younger readers have ever seen the august dignitary of whom I speak, and as few of us are like to have occasion to see him in future, a particular description of his person may not be unacceptable. Though far advanced in life, he was tastily and even daintily dressed, his whole costume being exactly adapted to a diminutive and dapper person, a fair complexion, a light and brilliant blue eye, and a head which might have formed a study for the phrenologist, whether we consider its ample developments or its egg-like baldness. The place of hair was supplied by powder, which his illustrious example had again made fashionable. The revolution in public sentiment which, commencing sixty years ago, had abolished all the privileges of rank and age; which trained up the young to mock at the infirmities of their fathers, and encouraged the unwashed artificer to elbow the duke from his place of precedence; this revolution had now completed its cycle. While the sovereignty of numbers was acknowledged, the convenience of the multitude had set the fashions. But the reign of an individual had been restored, and the taste of that individual gave law to the general taste. Had he worn a wig, wigs would have been the rage. But as phrenology had taught him to be justly proud of his high and polished forehead, and the intellectual developments of the whole cranium, he eschewed hair in all its forms, and barely screened his naked crown from the air with a light covering of powder. He seemed, too, not wholly unconscious of something worthy of admiration in a foot, the beauty of which was displayed to the best advantage by the tight fit and high finish of his delicate slipper. As he lay back on the sofa, his eye rested complacently on this member, which was stretched out before him, its position shifting, as if unconsciously, into every variety of grace. Returning from thence, his glance rested on his hand, fair, delicate, small, and richly jewelled. It hung carelessly on the arm of the sofa, and the fingers of this, too, as if rather from instinct than volition, performed sundry evolutions on which the eye of majesty dwelt with gentle complacency.