David Hoffman and the Science of Jurisprudence

Anthony Grumbler on Life in America, 1837

Title page from the 1841 edition.

1837 - After he had resigned from the University of Maryland David Hoffman tried his hand at a number of ventures one of which was literary. Taking for himself the telling pseudonym of "Anthony Grumbler of Grumbler Hall" he offered the nation his view on life in America, or more accurately, Eromitlab. Hoffman's book - Miscellaneous Thoughts on Men, Manners and Things - reflects his disapproval of common social habits and his growing displeasure with American politics. The method of electing government officials and the popular outcry against educated professionals, reflected in the excerpts below, are just two of the many concerns he addressed. Ever the curmudgeon Hoffman didn't neglect his own situation which he summed up in one of the last sections of his book titled "Unjust Ridicule of Book-men:"

In a country like ours, where such book - knowledge is extremely rare; learning, when combined with virtue, should be hailed with honours, and with gratitude, and, at least, should never be made the theme of popular ridicule.

Hoffman's literary efforts continued during this period of his life with a second edition of Miscellaneous Thoughts (1841) and VIATOR; or A Peep into My Note Book published in 1839. The latter was a compilation of thoughts about life in England and the United States offered with the hope of "gradually improving" the reading public.

Title page of Miscellaneous Thoughts, 1841


[Baltimore: Published by Coale & Co., 1837]

Division I: City Manners, Characters and Things


I. Why should young Misses, in their early teens, be suddenly transferred from the enviable domesticity of the nursery, and the salutary quietude of the school- room, into the rudeness of the garish world, and the excitements of the miscellaneous party or ball, by a process equivocally denominated "coming out?" And would it not be in better taste, slowly to glide, and, as it were, to grow into the world of fashion, and into its responsibilities and vanities, then to submit such tender and innocent minds to the copious rush of new ideas, and to the charge of varied and novel duties? For if the part be at once well sustained by the novice, my life for it, it has been at some expense of the discipline of the nursery and school -- and if ill performed, there must be a great sacrifice of feeling and of sentiment before she becomes perfected.
p. 20


XIII. JULIA has never been taught much arithmetic,- hence, in part, is it that, when she gets beyond the first or second cipher, all is terra incognita to her. She gravely tells you that her father's house cost two hundred thousand dollars! That her brother had to pay for Marcus one hundred thousand dollars! &c. this is not an absolute want of veracity in Julia, but consists of equal portions of vanity, of ignorance, and unconsciousness of the elevated nature of truth. Should not young ladies be taught never to speak without a clearly understood and defined idea?
p. 26


XIV. PYRRUS, of old, is said to have made this only request of the gods, in his daily devotions - to have good health, judging from this blessing to contain under it every degree of happiness. SEMPRONIUS (though he never read of Pyrrus,) is, exactly of the same opinion, and he consequently makes the freest use of his physician throughout the year, and at all hours-The kind doctor seldom sends in a bill, and when he does, it is sure to be a very moderate one,-but SEMPRONIUS is quite surprised at its enormity-and pays every baker, grocer, and haberdasher before the doctor! Should not such men be nearly scared to death, and should they ever be physicked but for cash in hand?
p. 27


XXXII. What does the term esquire now import? If nothing, it ought to be disused-if something, it then must confer a title of some precedence. Counsellors at law, justices of the peace and aged gentleman were formally entitled to it, more by reputation than in strict right. But now, no one can venture to address a youth who has passed twenty-one,-a merchant, or even a haberdasher, without esquiring him! Where is this title of precedence so strangely abused as in Eromitlab?-And though it can break no bones, nor pick any pockets, it is still hugely out of keeping, and strongly indicative of the "ultraism" of our democracy. Would it not be far better wholly to abolish every title of precedence, than to use them without the least discrimination?
p. 36-37

Division II: National Manners, Characters and Things


CXIX. Strange that the people, who, with us, are the constitutional fountain of all power, should forge their own chains or suffer others so to do! There must be a reason for this-which is, that the people are not "in fact" the source of all this power, but that there is something paramount to the constitution, and even then, which has its rocky and everlasting foundation in nature itself: and that something is KNOWLEDGE-the sure and ultimate source of all efficient power....If the people be wise and virtuous, they possess both the substance and the shadow of true political rule; if deficient in either, they retain the latter only; their demagogue leaders are sure to have the substance ...Happy would it be, were the people Argus-eyed enough to see when, and how, and by whom, they are so grossly deceived! this would be a golden age, indeed and one that never can arrive as long as man continues to be man; for mere "numerical" power is absurd, and as contrary to nature's philosophy, as mere "hereditary" rule: the people, to be wisely governed, must be wise themselves, or the numerical principle must be abandoned, and the wise and virtuous alone be represented--the ignorant and the vicious would still be fully protected.


CXX. The chief magistrate of this country is, or should be, the nation's unbiased choice. When thus selected, he is truly an honoured man and wields an astonishing mass of constitutional power as generously and freely conferred as the heart of a man could wish. But whatever be the "theory" of a government, its "practice" is sometimes very different; and this, it seems, may be eminently so in this, the only government on earth, too, in which the mere numerical principle is almost universally operative! However the president may be chosen, he who in name, is a democrat, may become a despot, in fact!...
p. 209


CXLV. ...The evils which flow from not duly estimating the excellences of agriculture, manifest themselves in every possible form, and are far greater than those to which we have alluded. We cannot set them forth in a little section of a small volume; we only design to set our readers to "thinking: and if they do think, they must agree with us that no vocation in life is more honourable, laudable and peaceful then that of agriculture...


CXLVI. A thousand kind things have been said of law, and ten times as many evil things of lawyers!Pomponius regards the "science" as the invention of the gods, with the added maxims of wise-men; and that great necromancer, Cornelius Agrippa, if he be good authority, says the "tongue of a lawyer, unless fast bound in silver chains, is most mischievous and pernicious;" and we may add, that it is well if his tongue, and even when so bound, be not still sometimes very dangerous. Censure en masse, of almost any profession, arised from ignorance and vulgar prejudice. Superior knowledge when it appeared in rude ages, was generally ascribed by the ignorant, either to the gift of the gods, or to some mysterious and wicked communion with the Prince of Darkness...It must be admitted that knowledge is too often wrested from its virtuous tendencies, and made the medium of much wickedness and oppression: but, on the whole, if the secret chronicles of the legal profession in all ages and nations, were not fully exposed to view, we truly believe that less of vice and meanness would be brought to light, than on a similar inquiry into the doings of almost any other active and important vocation.
p. 322-323

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