Gregarious animals are by nature inoffensive. The cruel and the savage live apart, and in solitude; but the gregarious, upheld and stimulated by each other, become formidable. So it is with man.
I was told that the scene would be much more interesting and exciting after the lamps were lighted; but I had seen quite enough of it. It was too serious to laugh at, and I felt that it was not for me to condemn. "Cry aloud, and spare not," was the exhortation of the preacher and certainly, if heaven was only to be taken by storm, he was a proper leader for his congregation.
Whatever may be the opinion of the reader as to the meeting which I have described, it is certain that nothing could be more laudable than the intention by which these meetings were originated. At the first settling of the country the people were widely scattered, and the truths of the Gospel, owing to the scarcity of preachers, but seldom heard. It was to remedy this unavoidable evil that they agreed, like the Christians in earlier times, to collect together from all quarters, and pass many days in meditation and prayer, "exhorting one another— comforting one another." Even now it is not uncommon for the settlers in Indians and Illinois to travel one hundred miles in their wagons to attend one of these meetings,—meetings which are now too often sullied by fanaticism on the one hand, and on the other by the levity and infidelity of those who go not to pray, but to scoff; or to indulge in the licentiousness which, it is said, but too often follows, when night has thrown her veil over the scene.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
Lexington, the capital of the State, is embosomed in the very heart of the vale of Kentucky. This vale was the favourite hunting-ground of the Indians; and a fairer country for the chase could not well be imagined than this rolling, well-wooded, luxuriant valley, extending from hill to hill, from dale to dale, for so many long miles. No wonder that the Indians fought so hard to retain, or the Virginians to acquire it; nor was it until much blood had saturated the ground, many reeking scalps had been torn from the head, and many a mother and her children murdered at their hearths, that the contest was relinquished. So severe were the struggles, that the ground obtained the name of the "Bloody Ground." But the strife is over; the red man has been exterminated, and peace and plenty now reign over this smiling country. It is indeed a beautiful and bounteous land; on the whole, the most eligible in the Union. The valley is seven hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea, and, therefore, not so subject to fevers as the States of Indiana and Illinois, and indeed that portion of its own state which borders on the Mississippi. But all the rest of the Kentucky land is by no means equal in richness of soil to that of this valley. There are about ninety counties in the State, of which about thirty are of rich land; but four of them, namely, Fayette, Bourbon, Scotts, and Woodford, are the finest. The whole of these four counties are held by large proprietors, who graze and breed stock to a very great extent, supplying the whole of the Western States with the best description of every kind of cattle. Cattle-shows are held every year, and high prizes awarded to the owners of the finest beasts which are there produced. The State of Kentucky, as well as Virginia, is in fact an agricultural and grazing State; the pasture is very rich, and studded with oak and other timber, as in the manner I have described in Ioway and Wisconsin. The staples of Kentucky are hemp and mules; the latter are in such demand for the south that they can hardly produce them fast enough for the market. The minimum price of a three-year old mule is about eighty dollars; the maximum usually one hundred and sixty dollars, or thirty-five pounds, but they often fetch much higher prices. I saw a pair in harness, well matched, and about seventeen hands high, for which they refused one thousand dollars—upwards of two hundred pounds.
The cattle-show took place when I was at Lexington. That of horned beasts I was too late for; but the second day I went to the exhibition of thorough-bred horses. The premiums were for the best two-year old, yearlings, and colts, and many of them were very fine animals. The third day was for the exhibition of mules; which, on account of size there being a great desideratum, are bred only from mares; the full-grown averaged from fifteen to sixteen hands high, but they have often been known to be seventeen hands high. I had seen them quite as large in a nobleman's carriage in the south of Spain; but then they were considered rare, and of great value. After all the other varieties of age had made their appearance, and the judges had given their decision, the mules foaled down this year were to be examined. As they were still sucking, it was necessary that the brood mares should be led into the enclosed paddock, where the animals were inspected, that the foals might be induced to follow; as soon as they were all in the enclosure the mares were sent out, leaving all the foals by themselves. At first they commenced a concert of wailing after their mothers, and then turned their lamentations into indignation and revenge upon each other. Such a ridiculous scene of kicking took place as I never before witnessed, about thirty of them being most sedulously engaged in the occupation, all at the same time. I never saw such ill-behaved mules; it was quite impossible for the judges to decide upon the prize, for you could see nothing but heels in the air; it was rap, rap, rap, incessantly against one another's sides, until they were all turned out, and the show was over. I rather think the prize must, in this instance, have been awarded to the one that kicked highest.
The fourth day was for the exhibition of jackasses, of two-year and one-year, and for foals, and jennies also; this sight was to me one of peculiar interest. Accustomed as we are in England to value a jackass at thirty shillings, we look down upon them with contempt; but here the case is reversed: you look up at them with surprise and admiration. Several were shown standing fifteen hands high, with head and ears in proportion; the breed has been obtained from the Maltese jackass, crossed by those of Spain and the south of France. Those imported seldom average more than fourteen hands high; but the Kentuckians, by great attention and care, have raised them up to fifteen hands, and sometimes even to sixteen.
But the price paid for these splendid animals, for such they really were, will prove how much they are in request. Warrior, a jackass of great celebrity, sold for 5,000 dollars, upwards of 1,000 pounds sterling. Half of another jackass, Benjamin by name, was sold for 2,500 dollars. At the show I asked a gentleman what he wanted for a very beautiful female ass, only one year old; he said that he could have 1,000 dollars, 250 pounds for her, but that he had refused that sum. For a two-year old jack, shown during the exhibition, they asked 3000 dollars, more than 600 pounds. I never felt such respect for donkeys before; but the fact is, that mule-breeding is so lucrative, that there is no price which a very large donkey will not command.
I afterwards went to a cattle sale a few miles out of the town. Don Juan, a two-year old bull, Durham breed, fetched 1,075 dollars; an imported Durham cow, with her calf, 985 dollars. Before I arrived, a bull and cow fetched 1,300 dollars each of them, about 280 pounds. The cause of this is, that the demand for good stock, now that the Western States are filling up, becomes so great that they cannot be produced fast enough. Mr Clay, who resides near Lexington, is one of the best breeders in the State, which is much indebted to him for the fine stock which he has imported from England.
Another sale took place, which I attended, and I quote the prices:— Yearling bull, 1,000 dollars; ditto heifer, 1,500. Cows, of full Durham blood, but bred in Kentucky, 1,245 dollars; ditto, 1,235 dollars. Imported cow and calf, 2,100 dollars.
It must be considered, that although a good Durham cow will not cost more than twenty guineas perhaps, in England, the expenses of transport are very great, and they generally stand it to the importers, about 600 dollars, before they arrive at the State of Kentucky.
But to prove that the Kentuckians are fully justified in giving the prices they do, I will shew what was the profit made upon an old cow before she was sold for 400 dollars. I had a statement from her proprietor, who had her in his possession for nine years. She was a full-bred cow, and during the time that he had held her in his possession, she had cleared him 15,000 dollars by the sale of her progeny: As follows:—
================================ YYears.YCalvesYSecond YThird YFourth Y ————————————————————— Y Y YGenerationYGenerationYGenerationY ————————————————————— Y 1Y 1Y Y Y Y ————————————————————— Y 2Y 1Y Y Y Y ————————————————————— Y 3Y 1Y 1Y Y Y ————————————————————— Y 4Y 1Y 1Y Y Y ————————————————————— Y 5Y 1Y 1Y 1Y Y ————————————————————— Y 6Y 1Y 1Y 1Y Y ————————————————————— Y 7Y 1Y 1Y 1Y 1Y ————————————————————— Y 8Y 1Y 1Y 1Y 1Y ————————————————————— Y 9Y 1Y 1Y 1Y 1Y ————————————————————— Y Y 9Y 7Y 5Y 3Y ================================
averaging 625 dollars a head, which is by no means a large price, as the two cows, which sold at the sale for 1,245, and 1,235 dollars, were a part of her issue.
Lexington is a very pretty town, with very pleasant society, and afforded me great relief after the unpleasant sojourn I had had at Louisville. Conversing one day with Mr Clay, I had another instance given me of the mischief which the conduct of Miss Martineau has entailed upon all those English who may happen to visit America. Mr Clay observed that Miss Martineau had remained with him for some time, and that during her stay, she had professed very different, or at least more modified opinions on the subject of slavery, than those she has expressed in her book: so much so, that one day, having read a letter from Boston cautioning her against being cajoled by the hospitality and pleasant society of the Western States, she handed it to him, saying, "They want to make a regular abolitionist of me." "When her work came out," continued Mr Clay, "although I read but very little of it, I turned to this subject so important with us, and I must say I was a little surprised to find that she had so changed her opinions." The fact is, Miss Martineau appears to have been what the Kentuckians call, "playing 'possum." I have met with some of the Southern ladies whose conversations on slavery are said, or supposed, to have been those printed by Miss Martineau, and they deny that they are correct. That the Southern ladies are very apt to express great horror at living too long a time at the plantations, is very certain; not, however, because they expect to be murdered in their beds by the slaves, as they tell their husbands, but because they are anxious to spend more of their time at the cities, where they can enjoy more luxury and amusement than can be procured at the plantations.
Every body rides in Virginia and Kentucky, master, man, woman, and slave, and they all ride well: it is quite as common to meet a woman on horseback as a man, and it is a pretty sight in their States to walk by the Church doors and see them all arrive. The Churches have stables, or rather sheds, built close to them, for the accommodation of the cattle.
Elopements in these States are all made on horseback. The goal to be obtained is to cross to the other side of the Ohio. The consequence is that it is a regular steeple-chase; the young couple clearing everything, father and brothers following. Whether it is that, having the choice, the young people are the best mounted, I know not, but the runaways are seldom overtaken. One couple crossed the Ohio when I was at Cincinnati, and had just time to tie the noose before their pursuers arrived.
At Lexington, on Sunday, there is not a carriage or horse to be obtained by a white man for any consideration, they having all been regularly engaged for that day by the negro slaves, who go out in every direction. Where they get the money I do not know; but certain it is, that it is always produced when required. I was waiting at the counter of a sort of pastry-cook's, when three negro lads, about twelve or fourteen years old, came in, and, in a most authoritative tone, ordered three glasses of soda-water.
Returned to Louisville.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
There is one great inconvenience in American travelling, arising from the uncertainty of river navigation. Excepting the Lower Mississippi and the Hudson, and not always the latter, the communication by water is obstructed during a considerable portion of the year, by ice in the winter, or a deficiency of water in the dry season. This has been a remarkable season for heat and drought; and thousands of people remain in the States of Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky, who are most anxious to return home. It must be understood, that during the unhealthy season in the southern States on the Mississippi, the planters, cotton-growers, slave holders, store-keepers, and indeed almost every class, excepting the slaves and overseers, migrate to the northward, to escape the yellow fever, and spend a portion of their gains in amusement.
They go to Cincinnati and the towns of Ohio, to the Lakes occasionally, but principally to the cities and watering places of Virginia and Kentucky, more especially Louisville, where I now am; and Louisville, being also the sort of general rendezvous for departure south, is now crammed with southern people. The steam boats cannot run, for the river is almost dry; and I (as well as others) have been detained much longer on the banks of the Ohio than was my intention. There is land-carriage certainly, but the heat of the weather is so overpowering that even the Southerns dread it; and in consequence of this extreme heat the sickness in these western States has been much greater than usual. Even Kentucky, especially that part which borders on the Mississippi, which, generally speaking, is healthy, is now suffering under malignant fevers. I may here remark, that the two States, Illinois and Indiana, and the western portions of Kentucky and Tennessee, are very unhealthy; not a year passes without a great mortality from the bilious congestive fever, a variety of the yellow fever, and the ague; more especially Illinois and Indiana, with the western portion of Ohio, which is equally flat with the other two States. The two States of Indiana and Illinois lie, as it were, at the bottom of the western basin; the soil is wonderfully rich, but the drainage is insufficient, as may be seen from the sluggishness with which these rivers flow. Many and many thousands of poor Irish emigrants, and settlers also, have been struck down by disease, never to rise again, in these rich but unhealthy States; to which, stimulated by the works published by land-speculators, thousands and thousands every year repair, and, notwithstanding the annual expenditure of life, rapidly increase the population. I had made up my mind to travel by land-carriage to St Louis, Missouri, through the States of Indiana and Illinois, but two American gentlemen, who had just arrived by that route, succeeded in dissuading me. They had come over on horseback. They described the disease and mortality as dreadful. That sometimes, when they wished to put up their horses at seven or eight o'clock in the evening, they were compelled to travel on till twelve or one o'clock before they could gain admittance, some portion in every house suffering under the bilious fever, tertian ague, or flux. They described the scene as quite appalling. At some houses there was not one person able to rise and attend upon the others; all were dying or dead and to increase the misery of their situations, the springs had dried up, and in many places they could not procure water except by sending many miles. A friend of mine, who had been on a mission through the portion of Kentucky and Tennessee bordering on them Mississippi, made a very similar statement. He was not refused to remain where he stopped, but he could procure no assistance, and everywhere ran the risk of contagion. He said that some of the people were obliged to send their negroes with a waggon upwards of fifteen miles to wash their clothes.
That this has been a very unhealthy season is certain, but still, from all the information I could obtain, there is a great mortality every year in the districts I have pointed out; and such indeed must be the case, from the miasma created every fall of the year in these rich alluvial soils, some portions of which have been worked for fifty years without the assistance of manure, and still yield abundant crops. It will be a long while before the drainage necessary to render them healthy can be accomplished. The sickly appearance of the inhabitants establishes but too well the facts related to me; and yet, strange to say, it would appear to be a provision of Providence, that a remarkable fecundity on the part of the women in the more healthy portions of their Western States, should meet the annual expenditure of life. Three children at a birth are more common here than twins are in England; and they, generally speaking, are all reared up. There have been many instances of even four.
The western valley of America, of which the Mississippi may be considered as the common drain, must, from the surprising depth of the alluvial soil, have been (ages back) wholly under water, and, perhaps, by some convulsion raised up. What insects are we in our own estimation when we meditate upon such stupendous changes.
Since I have been in these States, I have been surprised at the stream of emigration which appears to flow from North Carolina to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Every hour you meet with a caravan of emigrants from that sterile but healthy state. Every night the banks of the Ohio are lighted up with their fires, where they have bivouacked previously to crossing the river; but they are not like the poor German or Irish settlers: they are well prepared, and have nothing to do, apparently, but to sit down upon their land. These caravans consist of two or three covered wagons, full of women and children, furniture, and other necessaries, each drawn by a team of horses; brood mares, with foals by their sides, following; half a dozen or more cows, flanked on each side by the men, with their long rifles on their shoulders; sometimes a boy or two, or a half-grown girl on horseback. Occasionally they wear an appearance of more refinement and cultivation, as well as wealth, the principals travelling in a sort of worn-out old carriage, the remains of the competence of former days.
I often surmised, as they travelled cheerfully along, saluting me as they passed by, whether they would not repent their decision, and sigh for their pine barrens and heath, after they had discovered that with fertility they had to encounter such disease and mortality.
I have often heard it asserted by Englishmen, that America has no coal. There never was a greater mistake: she has an abundance, and of the very finest that ever was seen. At Wheeling and Pittsburg, and on all the borders of the Ohio river above Guyandotte, they have an inexhaustible supply, equal to the very best offered to the London market. All the spurs of the Alleghany range appear to be one mass of coal. In the Eastern States the coal is of a different quality, although there is some very tolerable. The anthracite is bad, throwing out a strong sulphureous gas. The fact is that wood is at present cheaper than coal, and therefore the latter is not in demand. An American told me one day, that a company had been working a coal mine in an Eastern State, which proved to be of a very bad quality; they had sent some to an influential person as a present, requesting him to give his opinion of it, as that would be important to them. After a certain time he forwarded to them a certificate couched in such terms as these:—"I do hereby certify that I have tried the coal sent me by the company at —, and it is my decided opinion, that when the general conflagration of the world shall take place, any man who will take his position on that coal-mine will certainly be the last man who will be burnt."
I had to travel by coach for six days and nights, to arrive at Baltimore. As it may be supposed, I was not a little tired before my journey was half over; I therefore was glad when the coach stopped for a few hours, to throw off my coat, and lie down on a bed. At one town, where I had stopped, I had been reposing more than two hours when my door was opened—but this was too common a circumstance for me to think any thing of it; the people would come into my room whether I was in bed or out of bed, dressed or not dressed, and if I expostulated, they would reply, "Never mind, we don't care, Captain." On this occasion I called out, "Well, what do you want?"
"Are you Captain M—-?" said the person walking up to the bed where I was lying.
"Yes, I am," replied I.
"Well, I reckon I wouldn't allow you to go through our town without seeing you any how. Of all the humans, you're the one I most wish to see."
I told him I was highly flattered.
"Well now," said he, giving a jump, and coming down right upon the bed in his great coat, "I'll just tell you; I said to the chap at the bar, 'Ain't the Captain in your house?' 'Yes,' says he. 'Then where is he?' says I. 'Oh,' says he, 'he's gone into his own room, and locked himself up; he's a d—-d aristocrat, and won't drink at the bar with other gentlemen.' So, thought I, I've read M—-'s works, and I'll be swamped if he is an aristocrat, and by the 'tarnal I'll go up and see; so here I am, and you're no aristocrat."
"I should think not," replied I, moving my feet away, which he was half sitting on.
"Oh, don't move; never mind me, Captain, I'm quite comfortable. And how do you find yourself by this time?"
"Very tired indeed," replied I.
"I suspicion as much. Now, d'ye see, I left four or five good fellows down below who wish to see you; I said I'd go up first, and come down to them. The fact is, Captain, we don't like you should pass through our town without showing you a little American hospitality."
So saying, he slid off the bed, and went out of the room. In a minute he returned, bringing with him four or five others, all of whom he introduced by name, and reseated himself on my bed, while the others took chairs.
"Now, gentlemen," said he, "as I was telling the Captain, we wish to show him a little American hospitality; what shall it be, gentlemen; what d'ye say—a bottle of Madeira?"
An immediate answer not being returned, he continued:
"Yes, gentlemen, a bottle of Madeira; at my expense, gentlemen, recollect that; now ring the bell."
"I shall be most happy to take a glass of wine with you," observed I, "but in my own room the wine must be at my expense."
"At your expense, Captain; well, if it must be, I don't care; at your expense then, Captain, if you say so; only, you see, we must show you a little American hospitality, as I said to them all down below; didn't I, gentlemen?"
The wine was ordered, and it ended in my hospitable friends drinking three bottles, and then they all shook hands with me, declaring how happy they should be if I came to the town again, allowed them to show me a little more American hospitality.
There was something so very ridiculous in this event, that I cannot help narrating it; but let it not be supposed, for a moment, that I intend it as a sarcasm upon American hospitality in general. There certainly are conditions usually attached to their hospitality, if you wish to profit by it to any extent; and one is, that you do not venture to find fault with themselves, their manners, or their institutions.
Note—That a guest, partaking of their hospitality, should give his opinions unasked, and find fault, would be in very bad taste, to say the least of it. But the fault in America is, that you are compelled to give an opinion, and you cannot escape by a doubtful reply: as the American said to me in Philadelphia, "I wish a categorical answer." Thus, should you not agree with them, you are placed upon the horns of a dilemma: either you must affront the company, or sacrifice truth.
END OF DIARY.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
The Americans boldly assert that they speak better English than we do, and I was rather surprised not to find a statistical table to that effect in Mr Carey's publication. What I believe the Americans would imply by the above assertion is that you may travel through all the United States and find less difficulty in understanding or being understood, than in some of the counties of England, such as Cornwall, Devonshire, Lancashire and Suffolk. So far they are correct; but it is remarkable how very debased the language has become in a short period in America. There are few provincial dialects in England much less intelligible than the following. A Yankee girl, who wished to hire herself out, was asked if the had any followers or sweethearts? After a little hesitation, she replied, "Well, now, can't exactly say; I bees a sorter courted and a sorter not; reckon more a sorter yes than a sorter no." In many points the Americans have to a certain degree obtained that equality which they profess; and, as respects their language, it certainly is the case. If their lower classes are more intelligible than ours, it is equally true that the higher classes do not speak the language so purely or so classically as it is spoken among the well educated English. The peculiar dialect of the English counties is kept up because we are a settled country; the people who are born in a county live in it, and die in it, transmitting their sites of labour or of amusement to their descendants, generation after generation, without change: consequently, the provincialisms of the language become equally hereditary. Now, in America, they have a dictionary containing many thousands of words, which, with us, are either obsolete or are provincialisms, or are words necessarily invented by the Americans. When the people of England emigrated to the states, they came from every county in England, and each county brought its provincialisms with it. These were admitted into the general stock; and were since all collected and bound up by one Mr Webster. With the exception of a few words coined for local uses (such as snags and sawyers, on the Mississippi,) I do not recollect a word which I have not traced to be either a provincialism of some English county, or else to be obsolete English. There are a few from the Dutch, such as stoup, for the porch of a door, etcetera. I was once talking with an American about Webster's dictionary, and he observed, "Well now, sir, I understand it's the only one used in the Court of St James, by the king, queen, and princesses, and that by royal order."
The upper class of the Americans do not, however, speak or pronounce English according to our standard; they appear to have no exact rule to guide them, probably from the want of any intimate knowledge of Greek or Latin. You seldom hear a derivation from the Greek pronounced correctly, the accent being generally laid upon the wrong syllable. In fact, every one appears to be independent, and pronounces just as he pleases.
But it is not for me to decide the very momentous question, as to which nation speaks the best English. The Americans generally improve upon the inventions of others; probably they may have improved upon our language.
I recollect some one observing how very superior the German language was to the English, from their possessing so many compound substantives and adjectives; whereupon his friend replied, that it was just as easy for us to possess them in England if we pleased, and gave us as an example an observation made by his old dame at Eaton, who declared that young Paulet was, without any exception, the most good-for-nothing-est, the most provoking-people-est, and the most poke-about-every-corner-est boy she had ever had charge of in her life.
Assuming this principle of improvement to be correct, it must be acknowledged that the Americans have added considerably to our dictionary; but, as I have before observed, this being a point of too much delicacy for me to decide upon, I shall just submit to the reader the occasional variations, or improvements, as they may be, which met my ears during my residence in America, as also the idiomatic peculiarities, and having so done, I must leave him to decide for himself.
I recollect once talking with one of the first men in America, who was narrating to me the advantages which might have accrued to him if he had followed up a certain speculation, when he said, "Sir, if I had done so, I should not only have doubled and trebled, but I should have fourbled and fivebled my money."
One of the members of congress once said, "What the honourable gentleman has just asserted I consider as catamount to a denial;"—(catamount is the term given to a panther or lynx.)
"I presume," replied his opponent, "that the honourable gentleman means tantamount."
"No, sir, I do not mean tantamount; I am not so ignorant of our language, not to be aware that catamount and tantamount are anonymous."
The Americans dwell upon their words when they speak—a custom arising, I presume, from their cautious, calculating habits; and they have always more or less of a nasal twang. I once said to a lady, "Why do you drawl out your words in that way?"
"Well," replied she, "I'd drawl all the way from Maine to Georgia, rather than clip my words as you English people do."
Many English words are used in a very different sense from that which we attach to them; for instance: a clever person in America means an amiable, good-tempered person, and the Americans make the distinction by saying, I mean English clever.
Our clever is represented by the word smart.
The verb to admire is also used in the East, instead of the verb to like.
"Have you ever been at Paris?"
"No; but I should admire to go."
A Yankee description of a clever woman:—
"Well, now, she'll walk right into you, and talk to you like a book;" or, as I have heard them say, "she'll talk you out of sight."
The word ugly is used for cross, ill-tempered. "I did feel so ugly when he said that."
Bad is used in an odd sense: it is employed for awkward, uncomfortable: sorry:—
"I did feel so bad when I read that"—awkward.
"I have felt quite bad about it ever since"—uncomfortable.
"She was so bad, I thought she would cry"—sorry.
And as bad is tantamount to not good, I have heard a lady say, "I don't feel at all good this morning."
Mean is occasionally used for ashamed.
"I never felt so mean in my life."
The word handsome is oddly used.
"We reckon this very handsome scenery, sir," said an American to me, pointing to the landscape.
"I consider him very truthful," is another expression.
"He stimulates too much."
"He dissipates awfully."
And they are very fond of using the noun as a verb, as—"I suspicion that's a fact."
"I opinion quite the contrary."
The word considerable is in considerable demand in the United States. In a work in which the letters of the party had been given to the public as specimens of good style and polite literature, it is used as follows:—
"My dear sister, I have taken up the pen early this morning, as I intend to write considerable." (Life and Remains of Charles Pont.)
The word great is oddly used for fine, splendid.
"She's the greatest gal in the whole Union."
But there is one word which we must surrender up to the Americans as their very own, as the children say. I will quote a passage from one of their papers:—
"The editor of the Philadelphia Gazette is wrong in calling absquatiated a Kentucky phrase (he may well say phrase instead of word.) It may prevail there, but its origin was in South Carolina, where it was a few years since regularly derived from the Latin, as we can prove from undoubted authority. By the way, there is a little corruption is the word as the Gazette uses it, absquatalized is the true reading."
Certainly a word worth quarrelling about!
"Are you cold, miss?" said I to a young lady, who pulled the shawl closer over her shoulders.
"Some," was the reply.
The English what? implying that you did not hear what was said to you, is changed in America to the word how?
"I reckon", "I calculate", "I guess," are all used as the common English phrase, "I suppose." Each term is said to be peculiar to different states, but I found them used everywhere, one as often as the other. I opine, is not so common.
A specimen of Yankee dialect and conversation:—
"Well now, I'll tell you—you know Marble Head?"
"Guess I do."
"Well, then, you know Sally Hackett."
"Not know Sally Hackett? Why she lives at Marble Head."
"Guess I don't."
"You don't mean to say that?"
"And you really don't know Sally Hackett?"
"I guess you've heard talk of her?"
"Well, that's considerable odd. Now, I'll tell you—Ephraim Bagg, he that has the farm three miles from Marble Head—just as—but now, are you sure you don't know Sally Hackett?"
"Well, he's a pretty substantial man, and no mistake. He has got a heart as big as an ox, and everything else in proportion, I've a notion. He loves Sal, the worst kind; and if she gets up there, she'll think she has got to Palestine (Paradise); ain't she a screamer? I were thinking of Sal myself, for I feel lonesome, and when I am thrown into my store promiscuous alone, I can tell you I have the blues, the worst kind, no mistake—I can tell you that. I always feel a kind o' queer when I sees Sal, but when I meet any of the other gals I am as calm and cool as the milky way," etcetera, etcetera.
The verb "to fix" is universal. It means to do anything.
"Shall I fix your coat or your breakfast first?" That is—"Shall I brush your coat, or get ready your breakfast first!"
Right away, for immediately or at once, is very general.
"Shall I fix it right away?"—i.e. "Shall I do it immediately?"
In the West, when you stop at an inn, they say—
"What will you have? Brown meal and common doings, or white wheat and chicken fixings;"—that is, "Will you have pork and brown bread, or white bread and fried chicken?"
Also, "Will you have a feed or a check?"—A dinner, or a luncheon?
In full blast—something in the extreme.
"When she came to meeting, with her yellow hat and feathers, wasn't she in fall blast?"
But for more specimens of genuine Yankee, I must refer the reader to Sam Slick and Major Downing, and shall now proceed to some farther peculiarities.
There are two syllables—um, hu—which are very generally used by the Americans as a sort of reply, intimating that they are attentive, and that the party may proceed with his narrative; but, by inflection and intonation, these two syllables are made to express dissent or assent, surprise, disdain, and (like Lord Burleigh's nod in the play) a great deal more. The reason why these two syllables have been selected is, that they can be pronounced without the trouble of opening your mouth, and you may be in a state of listlessness and repose while others talk. I myself found them very convenient at times, and gradually got into the habit of using them.
The Americans are very local in their phrases, and borrow their similes very much from the nature of their occupations and pursuits. If you ask a Virginian or Kentuckian where he was born, he will invariably tell you that he was raised in such a county—the term applied to horses, and, in breeding states, to men also.
When a man is tipsy (spirits being made from grain), they generally say he is corned.
In the West, where steam-navigation is so abundant, when they ask you to drink they say, "Stranger, will you take in wood?"—the vessels taking in wood as fuel to keep the steam up, and the person taking in spirits to keep his steam up.
The roads in the country being cut through woods, and the stumps of the trees left standing, the carriages are often brought up by them. Hence the expression of, "Well, I am stumped this time."
I heard a young man, a farmer in Vermont, say, when talking about another having gained the heart of a pretty girl, "Well, how he contrived to fork into her young affections, I can't tell; but I've a mind to put my whole team on, and see if I can't run him off the road."
The old phrase of "straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel," is, in the Eastern states, rendered "straining at a gate, and swallowing a saw-mill."
To strike means to attack. "The Indians have struck on the frontier,"—"A rattle-snake struck at me."
To make tracks—to walk away. "Well, now, I shall make tracks;"—from foot-tracks in the snow.
Clear out, quit, and put—all mean "be off." "Captain, now, you hush or put"—that is, "Either hold your tongue, or be off." Also, "Will you shut, mister?"—i.e. will you shut your mouth? i.e. hold your tongue?
"Curl up"—to be angry—from the panther and other animals when angry raising their hair. "Rise my dandee up," from the human hair; and a nasty idea. "Wrathy" is another common expression. Also, "Savage as a meat-axe."
Here are two real American words:—
"Sloping"—for slinking away.
"Splunging," like a porpoise.
The word "enthusiasm," in the south, is changed to "entuzzy-muzzy."
In the Western states, where the racoon is plentiful, they use the abbreviation 'coon when speaking of people. When at New York, I went into a hair-dresser's shop to have my hair cut; there were two young men front the west—one under the barber's hands, the other standing by him.
"I say," said the one who was having his hair cut, "I hear Captain is in the country."
"Yes;" replied the other, "so they say; I should like to see the 'coon."
"I'm a gone 'coon" implies "I am distressed—or ruined—or lost." I once asked the origin of this expression, and was very gravely told as follows:—
"There is a Captain Martin Scott (already mentioned in the Diary) in the United States Army who is a remarkable shot with a rifle. He was raised, I believe, in Vermont. His fame was so considerable through the state, that even the animals were aware of it. He went out one morning with his rifle, and spying a racoon upon the upper branches of a high tree, brought his gun up to his shoulder; when the racoon perceiving it, raised his paw for a parley. 'I beg your pardon, mister,' said the racoon, very politely; 'but may I ask you if your name is Scott?'—'Yes,' replied the captain.—'Martin Scott?' continued the racoon—'Yes,' replied the captain—'Captain Martin Scott?' still continued the animal.—'Yes,' replied the captain, 'Captain Martin Scott?'—'Oh! then,' says the animal, 'I may just as well come down, for I'm a gone 'coon.'"
But one of the strangest perversions of the meaning of a word which I ever heard of is in Kentucky, where sometimes the word nasty is used for nice. For instance: at a rustic dance in that state a Kentuckian said to an acquaintance of mine, in reply to his asking the name of a very fine girl, "That's my sister, stranger; and I flatter myself that she shows the nastiest ankle in all Kentuck"—Unde derivatur, from the constant rifle-practice in that state, a good shot or a pretty shot is termed also a nasty shot, because it would make a nasty wound: ergo, a nice or pretty ankle becomes a nasty one.
The term for all baggage, especially in the south or west, is "plunder." This has been derived from the buccaneers, who for so long a time infested the bayores and creeks near the mouth of the Mississippi, and whose luggage was probably very correctly so designated.
I must not omit a specimen of American criticism.
"Well, Abel, what d'ye think of our native genus, Mister Forrest?"
"Well, I don't go much to theatricals, that's a fact; but I do think he piled the agony up a little too high in that last scene."
The gamblers on the Mississippi use a very refined phrase for "cheating"—"playing the advantages over him."
But, as may be supposed, the principal terms used are those which are borrowed from trade and commerce.
The rest, or remainder, is usually termed the balance.
"Put some of those apples into a dish, and the balance into the storeroom."
When a person has made a mistake, or is out in his calculation, they say, "You missed a figure that time."
In a skirmish last war, the fire from the British was very severe, and the men in the American ranks were falling fast, when one of the soldiers stepped up to the commanding officer and said, "Colonel, don't you think that we might compromise this affair?" "Well, I reckon I should have no objection to submit it to arbitration myself," replied the colonel.
Even the thieves must be commercial in their ideas. One rogue meeting another, asked him what he had done that morning; "Not much," was the reply, "I've only realised this umbrella."
This reminds me of a conversation between a man and his wife, which was overheard by the party who repeated it to me. It appears that the lady was economically inclined, and in cutting out some shirts for her husband, resolved that they should not descend much lower than his hip; as thereby so much linen would be saved. The husband expostulated, but in vain. She pointed out to him that it would improve his figure, and make his nether garments set much better; in a word, that long shirt-tails were quite unnecessary; and she wound up her arguments by observing that linen was a very expensive article, and that she could not see what on earth was the reason that people should stuff so much capital into their pantaloons.
There is sometimes in the American metaphors, an energy which is very remarkable.
"Well, I reckon, that from his teeth to his toe-nail, there's not a human of a more conquering nature than General Jackson."
One gentleman said to me, "I wish I had all hell boiled down to a pint, just to pour down your throat."
It is a great pity that the Americans have not adhered more to the Indian names, which are euphonous, and very often musical; but, so far from it, they appear to have had a pleasure in dismissing them altogether. There is a river running into Lake Champlain, near Burlington, formerly called by the Indians the Winooski; but this name has been superseded by the settlers, who, by way of improvement, have designated it the Onion river. The Americans have ransacked scripture, and ancient and modern history, to supply themselves with names, yet, notwithstanding, there appears to be a strange lack of taste in their selection. On the route to Lake Ontario you pass towns with such names as Manlius, Sempronius, Titus, Cato, and then you come to Butternuts. Looking over the catalogue of cities, towns, villages, rivers, and creeks in the different states in the Union, I find the following repetitions:—
Of towns, etcetera, named after distinguished individuals, there are:—
================+ YWashingtonsY43YCarrollsY16Y +—————-—————— YJacksons Y41YAdamses Y18Y —————-——————+ YJeffersons Y32YBolivarsY 8Y +—————-—————— YFranklins Y41YClintonsY19Y —————-——————+ YMadisons Y26YWaynes Y14Y +—————-—————— YMonroes Y25YCasses Y 6Y —————-——————+ YPerrys Y22YClays Y 4Y +—————-—————— YFayettes Y14YFultons Y17Y —————-——————+ YHamiltons Y13Y Y Y +============
Of other towns, etcetera, there are:—
+============++========++ YColumbus Y27YLibertys Y14Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YCentre VillesY14YSalems Y24Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YFairfields Y17YOnions Y28Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YAthenses Y10YMuds Y 8Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YRomes Y 4YLittle MudsY 1Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YCrookeds Y22YMuddies Y11Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YLittles Y20YSandys Y39Y +——————-+—+—————-+—+ YLongs Y18Y Y Y +==========++==========+==+
In colours they have:—
+========++======++ YClears Y13YGreens Y16Y +—————+—+———-+—+ YBlacks Y33YWhites Y15Y +—————+—+———-+—+ YBlues Y 8YYellowsY10Y +—————+—+———-+—+ YVermilionsY14Y Y Y +======++======+==+
Named after trees:—
+========++====++ YCedars Y25YLaurelsY14Y +————-+—+———-+—+ YCypressesY12YPines Y18Y +======++======+==+
+========++========++ YBeavers Y23YFoxes Y12Y +————-+—+—————-+—+ YBuffaloesY21YOtters Y13Y +————-+—+—————-+—+ YBulls Y 9YRacoons Y11Y +————-+—+—————-+—+ YDeers Y13YWolfs Y16Y +————-+—+—————-+—+ YDogs Y 9YBears Y12Y +————-+—+—————-+—+ YElks Y11YBear's RumpY 1Y +======++==========+==+
After birds, etcetera:—
+======++======+==+ YGooses Y10YFishes Y 7Y +———-+—+———-+—+ YDucks Y 8YTurkeysY12Y +———-+—+———-+—+ YEagles Y 8YSwans Y15Y +———-+—+———-+—+ YPigeonsY10YPikes Y20Y +======++======+==+
The consequence of these repetitions is, that if you do not put the name of the state, and often of the county in the state in which the town you refer to may be, your letter may journey all over the Union, and perhaps, after all, never arrive at its place of destination.
The states have already accommodated each other with nicknames, as per example:—
+========================+================+ YIllinois people are termedYSuckers Y +—————————————+—————————+ YMissouri YPukes Y +—————————————+—————————+ YMichigan YWolverines Y +—————————————+—————————+ YIndiana YHoosiers Y +—————————————+—————————+ YKentucky YCorn Crackers Y +—————————————+—————————+ YOhio YBuckeyes, etceteraY +========================+================+
The names of persons are also very strange; and some of them are, at all events, obsolete in England, even if they ever existed there. Many of them are said to be French or Dutch names Americanised. But they appear still more odd to us from the high sounding Christian names prefixed to them; as, for instance: Philo Doolittle, Populorum Hightower, Preserved Fish, Asa Peabody, Alonzo Lilly, Alceus Wolf, etcetera. I was told by a gentleman that Doolittle was originally from the French Do l'hotel; Peabody from Pibaudiere; Bunker from Bon Coeur; that Mr Ezekial Bumpus is a descendant of Monsieur Bon Pas, etcetera, all which is very possible.
Every one who is acquainted with Washington Irving must know that, being very sensitive himself, he is one of the last men in the world to do anything to annoy another. In his selection of names for his writings, he was cautious in avoiding such as might be known; so that, when he called his old schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, he thought himself safe from the risk of giving offence. Shortly afterward a friend of his called upon him, accompanied by a stranger whom he introduced as Major Crane; Irving started at the name; "Major Ichabod Crane," continued his friend, much to the horror of Washington Irving.
I was told that a merchant went down to New Orleans with one Christian name, and came back, after a lapse of years, with another. His name was John Flint. The French at New Orleans translated his surname, and called him Pierre Fusee—on his return the Pierre stuck to him, and rendered into English as Peter, and he was called Peter Flint ever afterward.
People may change their names in the United States by application to Congress. They have a story hardly worth relating, although considered a good one in America, having been told me by a member of congress. A Mr Whitepimple, having risen in the world, was persuaded by his wife to change his name, and applied for permission accordingly. The clerk of the office inquired of him what other name he would have, and he being very indifferent about it himself, replied carelessly, as he walked away, "Oh, anything;" whereupon the clerk enrolled him as Mr Thing. Time passed on, and he had a numerous family, who found the new name not much more agreeable than the old one, for there was Miss Sally Thing, Miss Dolly Thing, the old Things, and all the little Things; and worst of all, the eldest son being christened Robert, went by the name of Thingum Bob.
There were, and I believe still are, two lawyers in partnership in New York, with the peculiarly happy names of Catchem and Chetum. People laughed at seeing these two names in juxtaposition over the door; so the lawyers thought it advisable to separate them by the insertion of their Christian names. Mr Catchem's Christian name was Isaac, Mr Chetum's Uriah. A new board was ordered, but when sent to the painter, it was found to be too short to admit the Christian names at full length. The painter, therefore, put in only the initials before the surnames, which made the matter still worse than before, for there now appeared—
"I Catchem and U Chetum."
I cannot conclude this chapter without adverting to one or two points peculiar to the Americans. They wish, in everything, to improve upon the Old Country, as they call us, and affect to be excessively refined in their language and ideas: but they forget that very often in the covering, and the covering only, consists the indecency; and that, to use the old aphorism—"Very nice people are people with very nasty ideas."
They object to everything nude in statuary. When I was at the house of Governor Everett, at Boston, I observed a fine cast of the Apollo Belvidere; but in compliance with general opinion, it was hung with drapery, although Governor Everett himself is a gentleman of refined mind and high classical attainments, and quite above such ridiculous sensitiveness. In language it is the same thing. There are certain words which are never used in America, but an absurd substitute is employed. I cannot particularise them after this preface, lest I should be accused of indelicacy myself. I may, however, state one little circumstance which will fully prove the correctness of what I say.
When at Niagara Falls I was escorting a young lady with whom I was on friendly terms. She had been standing on a piece of rock, the better to view the scene, when she slipped down, and was evidently hurt by the fall: she had, in fact, grazed her shin. As she limped a little in walking home, I said, "Did you hurt your leg much?" She turned from me, evidently much shocked, or much offended,—and not being aware that I had committed any very heinous offence, I begged to know what was the reason of her displeasure. After some hesitation, she said that as she knew me well, she would tell me that the word leg was never mentioned before ladies. I apologised for my want of refinement, which was attributable to having been accustomed only to English society; and added, that as such articles must occasionally be referred to, even in the most polite circles in America, perhaps she would inform me by what name I might mention them without shocking the company. Her reply was, that the word limb was used; "nay," continued she, "I am not so particular as some people are, for I know those who always say limb of a table, or limb of a piano-forte."
There the conversation dropped; but a few months afterwards I was obliged to acknowledge that the young lady was correct when she asserted that some people were more particular than even she was.
I was requested by a lady to escort her to a seminary for young ladies, and on being ushered into the reception-room, conceive my astonishment at beholding a square piano-forte with four limbs. However, that the ladies who visited their daughters might feel in its full force the extreme delicacy [see note at end of chapter] of the mistress of the establishment, and her care to preserve in their utmost purity the ideas of the young ladies under her charge, she had dressed all these four limbs in modest little trousers, with frills at the bottom of them!
"An English lady, who had long kept a fashionable boarding-school in one of the Atlantic cities, told me that one of her earliest cares with every new-comer, was to endeavour to substitute real delicacy for that affected precision of manner. Among many anecdotes, she told me of a young lady about fourteen, who, on entering the receiving-room, where she only expected to see a lady who had inquired for her, and finding a young man with her, put her hands before her eyes and ran out of the room again, screaming 'A man, a man, a man!' On another occasion, one of the young ladies in going up stairs to the drawing-room, unfortunately met a boy of fourteen coming down, and her feelings were so violently agitated, that she stopped, panting and sobbing, nor would she pass on till the boy had swung himself up on the upper bannisters, to leave the passage free."—Mrs Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.
In the state of New York they have abolished imprisonment for debt; this abolition however, only holds good between the citizens of that state, as no one state in the Union can interfere with the rights of another. A stranger, therefore, can imprison a New Yorker, and a New Yorker can imprison a stranger, but the citizens of New York cannot incarcerate one another. Now although the unprincipled may, and do occasionally take advantage of this enactment, yet the effects of it are generally good, as character becomes more valuable. Without character, there will be no credit—and without credit no commercial man can rise in this city. I was once in a store where the widow who kept it complained to me that a person who owed her a considerable sum of money would not pay her, and aware that she had no redress, I asked her how she would obtain her money. Her reply was—"Oh, I shall eventually get my money, for I will shame him out of it by exposure."
The Americans, probably from being such great speculators, and aware of the uncertainty attending their commerce, are very lenient towards debtors. If a man proves that he cannot pay, he is seldom interfered with, but allowed to recommence business. This is not only Christians like, but wise. A man thrown into prison is not likely to find the means of paying his debts; but if allowed his liberty and the means of earning a subsistence, he may eventually be more fortunate, and the creditors have a chance of being ultimately paid. This, to my knowledge, has often been the case after the release had been signed, and the creditors had no farther legal claim upon the bankrupt. England has not yet made up her mind to the abolition of imprisonment for debt, but from what I have learnt in this city, I have no hesitation in saying, that it would work well for the morals of the community, and that more debts would eventually be paid, than are paid under the present system. Another circumstance which requires to be pointed out when we would examine into the character of the New York commercial community, is, the difference between their bankrupt-laws and those of England. Here there is no law to compel a bankrupt to produce his books; every man may be his own assignee, and has the power of giving preference to one creditor over another; that is to say, he may repay those who have lent him money in the hope of preventing his becoming a bankrupt, and all other debts of a like description. He may also turn over his affairs to an assignee of his own selection, who then pays the debts as he pleases. A bankrupt is also permitted to collect his own debts.
The English bankrupt laws were introduced, but after one year's trial they were discontinued, as it was found they were attended with so much difficulty, and, what is of more importance to Americans, with so much loss of time. Again, in America, if a person wishes to become a special partner (a sleeping partner) in any concern, he may do so to any extent he pleases, upon advertising the same, and is responsible for no more than the sum he invests, although the house should fail for ten times the amount.
Here is an advertisement of special partnership.
"Co-partnership. Notice is hereby given, that a limited partnership hath been entered into by Lambert Morange, DN Morange, and Samah Solomon, of the city of New York, merchants, in pursuance of the provisions of the revised statutes of the city of New York. The general nature of the business of said co-partnership is the manufacturing and selling of fur and silk hats. The said Lambert Morange is the special partner, and as such, hath contributed the sum of ten thousand dollars in cash to the common stock: the said DN Morange and Samah Solomon are the general partners; and the said business is to be conducted under the name and firm of DN Morange and Solomon; said co-partnership is to commence on the 14th day of March, 1837, and to expire on the 14th March, 1840.
"March 14th, 1837. L. Morange. D.N. Morange. Samah Solomon."
That this loose state of the bankrupt law may be, and has been a cause of much dishonesty, is true, but at the same it is the cause of the flourishing state of the community. The bee can always work; indeed the bankrupt-laws themselves provide for a man's not starving. In the city the bankrupt's household furniture is sacred, that his family may not be beggars; and in case of the bankruptcy of a farmer, he is permitted, not only to retain the furniture of his cottage, but even his plough, with a proportion of his team, his kine and sheep, are reserved for him, that he may still be able to support his family. Surely this is much preferable to the English system under which the furniture is dragged away, the hearth made desolate, and the children left to starve, because their father has been unfortunate. Is it not better that a little villainy should escape punishment, than that such cruelty should be in daily practice? I say a little villainy, for if a man becomes bankrupt in New York, it is pretty well known whether he has dealt fairly with his creditors, or has made a fraudulent bankruptcy: and if so, his character is gone, and with it his credit, and without credit he never can rise again in that city, but must remove to some other place.
In England, character will procure to a bankrupt a certificate, but in New York it will leave him the means of re-commencing business. In England, it is a disgrace to be a bankrupt; in America, it is only a misfortune; but this distinction arises from the boldness of the speculations carried on by the Americans in their commercial transactions, and owing to which the highest and most influential, as well as the smaller capitalists, are constantly in a state of jeopardy. I do not believe that there is anywhere a class of merchants more honourable than those of New York. The notorious Colonel Chartres said that he would give 20,000 pounds for a character, because he would have made 100,000 pounds by it. I shall not here enter into the question, whether it is by a similar conviction, or by moral rectitude of feeling, that the merchants of New York are actuated; it is sufficient that it is their interest to be honest, and that they are so. I state the case in this way, because I do not intend to admit that the honesty of the merchants is any proof of the morality of a nation; and I think I am borne out in my opinion by their conduct in the late state of difficulty, and the strenuous exertions made by them to pay to the uttermost farthing, sacrificing at times twenty per cent—in order to be enabled to remit money to their London and Liverpool correspondents, and fulfil their engagements with them.
That there is a great deal of roguery going on in this city is undeniable, much more, perhaps, than (taking into consideration the difference between the populations) in the good city of London. But it should be borne in mind that New York has become, as it were, the Alsatia of the whole continent of Europe. Every scoundrel who has swindled, forged, or robbed in England, or elsewhere, makes his escape to New York. Every pickpocket, who is too well known to the English police, takes refuge here. In this city they all concentrate; and it is a hard thing for the New York merchants, that the stream of society, which otherwise might gradually become more pure, should be thus poisoned by the continual inpourings of the continental dregs, and that they should be made to share in the obloquy of those who are outcasts from the society of the old world.
America exists at present upon credit. If the credit of her merchants were destroyed she would be checked in her rapid advance. But this system of credit, which is necessarily reciprocal, is nevertheless acted upon with all possible caution. Many are the plans which the large New York importers have been compelled to resort to, to ascertain whether their customers from the interior could be trusted or not. Agents have been despatched to learn the characters, standing, and means of the country dealers who are their correspondents, and who purchase their goods; for the whole of the transactions are upon credit, and a book of reference as to people's responsibility is to be found in many of the mercantile houses of New York.
Willing as I am to do justice to the New York merchants, I cannot, however, permit Mr Carey's remarks upon credit to pass unnoticed. Had he said nothing I should have said no more; but, as he asserts that the security of property and credit in America is greater than in England, I must, in defence of my country, make a few observations.
At the commencement of his article Mr Carey says,—
"In England confidence is almost universal. The banker credits the manufacturer and the farmer. They are willing to give credit to the merchant, because they have confidence that he will pay them. He gives credit to the shopkeeper, who, in his turn, gives credit to the labourer.
"Immense masses of property change owners without examination; confidence thus producing a great saving of labour. Orders to a vast extent are given, with a certainty that they will be executed with perfect good faith; and this system is continued year after year, proving that the confidence was deserved."
Now, after this admission what more can be required? Confidence proves security of property, and should any change take place so as to render the security doubtful, confidence would immediately cease. It is, therefore, rather bold of Mr Carey, after such an admission, to attempt to prove that the security of property is greater in America than in England; yet, nevertheless, such is his assertion.
Mr Carey bases his calculation, first upon the losses sustained by the banks of England, in comparison with those sustained by the banks of Massachusetts. Here, as in almost every other argument, Mr Carey selects one state—a state, par excellence, superior to all the others of the Union; a pattern state, in fact—as representing all America against all England. He admits that, as you go south or west, the complexion of things is altered; but notwithstanding this admission, he still argues upon this one state only, and consequently upon false premises. But allowing that he proved that the losses of all the banks in America were less than the losses of all the banks in England, he would still prove nothing, or if he did prove anything, it would be against himself. Why are the losses of the American banks less? Simply because they trust less. There is not that confidence in America that there is in England, and the want of confidence proves the want of security of property.
The next comparison which Mr Carey makes is between the failures of the banks of the two countries; and in this argument he takes most of the states in the Union into his calculation, and he winds up by observing (in italics) that—"From the first institution of banks in America to the year 1837, the failures have been less by about one-fourth, than those of England in the three years of 1814, 15, and 16; and the amount of loss sustained by the public bears, probably, a still smaller proportion to the amount of business transactions."
Now, all this proves nothing, except that the banks of America are more careful in discounting than our own, and that by running less risk they lose less money. But from it Mr Carey draws this strange conclusion:—
"Individuals in Great Britain enjoy as high a degree of credit as can possibly exist, but confidence is more universal in the United States."
Credit is the result of confidence; and if, as appears to be the case, the American confidence in each other will not procure credit, it is a very useless compliment passed between them. It is simply this—"I am certain that you are a very honest man, but notwithstanding I will not lend you a shilling." Indeed. Mr Carey contradicts himself, for, two pages farther on, he says:—"The existence of the credit system is evidence of mutual confidence."
I should like Mr Carey to answer one question.
What would have been the amount of the failures of the banks of America in 1836, if they had not suspended cash payments? It is very easy to carry on the banking business when, in defiance of their charters, the banks will give you nothing but their paper, and refuse you specie. Banks which will not pay bullion for their own notes are not very likely to fail, except in their covenant with the public. But it is of little use for Mr Carey to assert on the one hand, or for me to deny on the other. Every nation makes its own character with the rest of the world, and it is by other nations that the question between us must be decided. The question is then, "Is the credit of America better than that of England, in the intercourse of the two countries with each other, and with foreign nations?" Let the commercial world decide.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.
Although, during my residence in the cities of the United States, I visited most of the public institutions, I have not referred to them at the time in my Diary, as they have been so often described by preceding travellers? I shall now, however, make a few remarks upon the penitentiary system.
I think it was Wilkes who said, that the very worst use to which you could put a man was to hang him; and such appears to be the opinion in America. That hanging does not prevent crime, where people are driven into it by misery and want, I believe; but it does prevent crime where people commit it merely from an unrestrained indulgence of their passions. This has been satisfactorily proved in the United States. At one time the murders in the city of New Orleans were just as frequent as in all the states contiguous to the Mississippi; but the population of the city determined to put an end to such scenes of outrage. The population of New Orleans is very different from that of the southern states in general, being composed of Americans from the eastern states, English merchants, and French creoles. Vigorous laws and an efficient police were established; and one of the southern planters, of good family and connexions, having committed a murder, was tried and condemned. To avoid the gallows, he committed suicide in prison. This system having been rigorously followed up, New Orleans has become perhaps the safest city in the Union; and now, not even a brawl is heard in those streets where, a few years back, murders occurred every hour of the day.
In another chapter I shall enter more fully into this question: at present I shall only say that there is a great unwillingness to take away life in America, and it is this aversion to capital punishment which has directed the attention of the American community to the penitentiary system. Several varieties of this species of punishment have been resorted to, more or less severe. The most rigid—that of solitary confinement in dark cells, and without labour—was found too great an infliction, as, in many cases, it unsettled the reason, and ended in confirmed lunacy. Confinement, with the boon of light, but without employment, was productive of no good effect; the culprit sank into a state of apathy and indifference. After a certain time, day and night passed away unheeded, from the want of a healthy tone to the mind. The prisoners were no longer lunatics, but they were little better than brute animals.
Neither do I consider the present system, as practised at Sing Sing, the state prison of New York, as tending to reform the offenders; it punishes them severely, but that is all. Where corporal punishment is resorted to, there always will be feelings of vindictiveness; and all the bad passions must be allowed to repose before the better can gain the ascendant.
The best system that is acted upon in the Penitentiary at Philadelphia, where there is solitary confinement, but with labour and exercise. Mr Samuel Wood, who superintends this establishment, is a person admirably calculated for his task, and I do not think that any arrangements could be better, or the establishment in more excellent hands. But my object was, not so much to view the prison and witness the economy of it, as to examine the prisoners themselves, and hear what their opinions were. The surgeon may explain the operation, but the patient who has undergone it is the proper person to apply to, if you wish to know the degree and nature of the pain inflicted. I requested, therefore, and obtained permission, to visit a portion of the prisoners without a third party being present to prevent their being communicative; selecting some who had been in but a short time, others who had been there for years, and referring also to the books, as to the nature and degree of their offence. I ought to state that I re-examined almost the whole of the parties about six months afterward, and the results of the two examinations are now given. I did not take their names, but registered them in my notes as No. 1, 2, 3, etcetera.
No. 1—a man who had been sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment for the murder of his wife. He had been bred up as a butcher. (I have observed that when the use of the knife is habitual, the flinching which men naturally feel at the idea of driving it into a fellow-creature, is overcome; and a man who is accustomed to dissect the still palpitating carcasses of animals, has very little compunction in resorting to the knife in the event of collision with his own race.) This fellow looked a butcher; his face and head were all animal; he was by no means intelligent. He was working at a loom, and had already been confined for seven years and a half. He said that, after the first six months of his confinement, he had lost all reckoning of time, and had not cared to think about it until lately, when he inquired, and was told how long he had been locked up. Now that he had discovered that more than half his time had passed away, it occupied his whole thoughts, and sometimes he felt very impatient.
Mr Wood told me afterwards that this feeling, when the expiration of the sentence was very near at hand, sometimes amounted to agony.
This man had denied the murder of his wife, and still persisted in the denial, although there was no doubt of his having committed the crime. Of course, in this instance there was no repentance; and the Penitentiary was thrown away upon him, farther than that, for twelve years, he could not contaminate society.
No. 2—sentenced to four years' imprisonment for forgery; his time was nearly expired. This was a very intelligent man; by profession he had been a schoolmaster. He had been in prison before for the same offence.
His opinion as to the Penitentiary was, that it could do no harm, and might do much good. The fault of the system was one which could not well be remedied, which was, that there was degradation attached to it. Could punishment undergone for crime be viewed in the same way as repentance was by the Almighty, and a man, after suffering for his fault, re-appear in the world with clean hands, and be admitted into society as before, it would be attended with the very best effects; but there was no working out the degradation. When he was released from his former imprisonment, he had been obliged to fly from the place where he was known. He was pursued by the harshness of the world, not only in himself, but in his children. No one would allow that his punishment had wiped away his crime, and this was the reason why people, inclined to be honest, were driven again into guilt. Not only would the world not encourage them, but it would not permit them to become honest; the finger of scorn was pointed wherever they were known, or found out, and the punishment after release was infinitely greater than that of the prison itself.
Miss Martineau observes, "I was favoured with the confidence of a great number of the prisoners in the Philadelphia Penitentiary, where absolute seclusion is the principle of punishment. Every one of these prisoners (none of them being aware of the existence of any other) told me that he was under obligations to those who had charge of him for treating him 'with respect.'"
No 3—a very intelligent, but not educated man: imprisoned three years for stealing. He had only been a few months in the penitentiary, but had been confined for ten years in Sing Sing prison for picking pockets. I asked him his opinion as to the difference of treatment in the two establishments. He replied, "In Sing Sing the punishment is corporal— here it is more mental. In Sing Sing there was little chance of a person's reformation, as the treatment was harsh and brutal, and the feelings of the prisoners were those of indignation and resentment."
Their whole time was occupied in trying how they could deceive their keepers, and communicate with each other by every variety of stratagem. Here a man was left to his own reflections, and at the same time he was treated like a man. Here he was his own tormentor; at Sing Sing he was tormented by others. A man was sent to Sing Sing for doing wrong to others; when there, he was quite as much wronged himself. Two wrongs never made a right. Again, at Sing Sing they all worked in company, and knew each other; when they met again, after they were discharged, they enticed one another to do wrong again. He was convinced that no man left Sing Sing a better man than he went in. He here felt very often that he could become better—perhaps he might. At all events his mind was calm, and he had no feelings of resentment for his treatment. He had now leisure and quiet for self-examination, if he chose to avail himself of it. At Sing Sing there was great injustice and no redress. The infirm man was put to equal labour with the robust, and punished if he did not perform as much. The flogging was very severe at Sing Sing. He once ventured to express his opinion that such was the case, and (to prove the contrary he supposed) they awarded him eighty-seven lashes for the information.
That many of this man's observations, in the parallel drawn between the two establishments, are correct, must be conceded; but still some of his assertions must be taken with due reservation, as it is evident that he had no very pleasant reminiscences of his ten years' geological studies in Sing Sing.
No. 4—an Irishman; very acute. He had been imprisoned seven years for burglary, and his time would expire in a month. He had been confined also in Walnut-street prison, Philadelphia, for two years previous to his coming here. He said that it was almost impossible for any man to reform in that prison, although some few did. He had served many years in the United States navy. He declared that his propensity to theft was only strong upon him when under the influence of liquor, or tobacco, which latter had the same effect upon him as spirits. He thought that he was reformed now; the reason why he thought so was, that he now liked work, and had learnt a profession in the prison, which he never had before. He considered himself a good workman, as he could make a pair of shoes in a day. He cannot now bear the smell of liquor or tobacco. (This observation must have been from imagination, as he had no opportunity in the Penitentiary of testing his dislike.) He ascribed all his crimes to ardent spirits. He was fearful of only one thing: his time was just out, and where was he to go? If known to have been in the prison, he would never find work. He knew a fact which had occurred, which would prove that he had just grounds for his fear. A tailor, who had been confined in Walnut-street prison with him, had been released as soon as his time was up. He was an excellent workman, and resolved for the future to be honest. He obtained employment from a master tailor in Philadelphia, and in three months was made foreman. One of the inspectors of Walnut-street prison came in for clothes, and his friend was called down to take the measures. The inspector recognised him, and as soon as he left the shop told his master that he had been in the Walnut-street prison. The man was in consequence immediately discharged. He could obtain no more work, and in a few months afterwards found his way back again to Walnut-street prison for a fresh offence.
No. 5—a fine intelligent Yankee, very bold in bearing. He was in the penitentiary under a false name, being well connected had been brought up as an architect and surveyor, and was imprisoned for having counterfeit bank notes in his possession. This fellow was a regular lawyer, and very amusing; it appeared as if nothing could subdue his elasticity of spirit. He said that he did not think that he should be better for his incarceration; on the contrary, that it would produce very bad effects. "I am punished," said he, "not for having passed counterfeit notes, but for having them in my possession. The facts are, I had lost all my money by gambling; and then the gamblers, to make me amends, gave me some of their counterfeit notes, which they always have by them. I do not say that I should not have uttered them; I believe that in my distress I should have done so; but I had not exactly made up my mind. At all events, I had not passed them when, from information given, I was taken up. This is certain, that not having passed them, it is very possible for a man to have forged notes in his possession without being aware of it; but this was not considered by my judges, although it ought to have been, as I had never been brought up before; and I have now been sentenced to exactly the same term of imprisonment as those who were convicted of passing them. Now, this I consider as unfair; my punishment is too severe for my offence, and that always does harm—it creates a vindictive feeling, and a desire to revenge yourself for the injustice done to you.
"Now, sir," continued he, "I should have no objection to compromise; if they would reduce my punishment one-half, I would acknowledge the justice of it, and turn honest when I go out again; but, if I am confined here for three years, why, it is my opinion, that I shall revenge myself upon society as soon as I am turned loose again." This was said in a very cheerful, playful manner, as he stood up before his loom. A more energetic expression, a keener grey eye, I never met with. There was evidently great daring of soul in this man.
No 6—had only been confined six weeks; his offence was stealing pigs, and his companion in the crime had been sent here with him. He declared that he was innocent, and that he had been committed by false swearing. There is no country in the world where there is so much perjury as in the United States, if I am to believe the Americans themselves; but Mr Wood told me that he was present at the trial, and that there was no doubt of their guilt. This man was cheerful and contented; he was working at the loom, and had already become skilful. All whom I had seen up to the present had employment of some sort or other, and should have passed over this man, as I had done some others, if it had not been for the contrast between him and his companion.
No. 7—His companion or accomplice. In consequence of the little demand for the penitentiary manufactures this man had no employment. The first thing he told me was that he had nothing to do, and was very miserable. He earnestly requested me to ask for employment for him. He cried bitterly while he spoke, was quite unmanned and depressed, and complained that he had not been permitted to hear from his wife and children. The want of employment appeared to have completely prostrated this man; although confined but six weeks, he had already lost the time, and inquired of me the day of the week and the month.
No. 8—was at large. He had been appointed apothecary to the prison; of course he was not strictly confined, and was in a comfortable room. He was a shrewd man, and evidently well educated; he had been reduced to beggary by his excesses, and being too proud to work, he had not been too proud to commit forgery. I had a long conversation with him, and he made some sensible remarks upon the treatment of prisoners, and the importance of delegating the charge of prisoners to competent persons. His remarks also upon American juries were very severe, and, as I subsequently ascertained, but too true.
No. 9—a young woman about nineteen, confined for larceny; in other respects a good character. She was very quiet and subdued, and said that she infinitely preferred the solitude of the penitentiary to the company with which she must have associated had she been confined in a common gaol. She did not appear at all anxious for the expiration of her term. Her cell was very neat, and ornamented with her own hands in a variety of ways. I observed that she had a lock of hair on her forehead which, from the care taken of it, appeared to be a favourite, and, as I left the cell, I said—"You appear to have taken great pains with that lock of hair, considering that you have no one to look at you?"—"Yes, sir," replied she; "and if you think that vanity will desert a woman, even in the solitude of a penitentiary, you are mistaken."
When I visited this girl a second time, her term was nearly expired; she told me that she had not the least wish to leave her cell, and that, if they confined her for two years more, she was content to stay. "I am quite peaceful and happy here," she said, and I believe she really spoke the truth.
No. 10—a free mulatto girl, about eighteen years of age, one of the most forbidding of her race, and with a physiognomy perfectly brutal; but she evidently had no mean opinion of her own charms: her woolly hair was twisted into at least fifty short plaits, and she grinned from ear to ear as she advanced to meet me. "Pray, may I inquire what you are imprisoned for?" said I.—"Why, sir," replied she, smirking, smiling, and coquetting, as she tossed her head right and left,—"If you please, sir, I was put in here for poisoning a whole family." She really appeared to think that she had done a very praiseworthy act. I inquired of her if she was aware of the heinousness of her offence. "Yes, she knew it was wrong, but if her mistress beat her again as she had done, she thought she would do it again. She had been in prison three years, and had four more to remain." I asked her if the fear of punishment—if another incarceration for seven years would not prevent her from committing such a crime a second time. "She didn't know; she didn't like being shut up—found it very tedious, but still she thought—was not quite sure—but she thought that, if ill-treated, she should certainly do it again."
I paid a second visit to this amiable young lady, and asked her what her opinion was then.—"Why, she had been thinking, but had not exactly made up her mind—but she still thought—indeed, she was convinced—that she should do it again."
I entered many other cells, and had conversations with the prisoners but I did not elicit from them any thing worth narrating. There is, however, a great deal to be gained from the conversation which I have recorded. It must be remembered, that observations made by one prisoner, which struck me as important, if not made by others, were put as questions by me; and I found that the opinions of the most intelligent, although differently expressed, led to the same result— that the present system of the Philadelphia penitentiary was the best that had been invented. As the schoolmaster said, if it did no good, it could do no harm. There is one decided advantage in this system, which is, that they all learn a trade, if they had not one before; and, when they leave the prison, have the means of obtaining an honest livelihood, if they wish so to do themselves, and are permitted so to do by others. Here is the stumbling-block which neutralises almost all the good effects which might be produced by the penitentiary system. The severity and harshness of the world; the unchristianlike feeling pervading society, which denies to the penitent what individually they will have to plead for themselves at the great tribunal, and which will not permit that punishment, awarded and suffered, can expiate the crime; on this point, there is no hope of a better feeling being engendered. Mankind have been, and will be, the same; and it is only to be hoped that we may receive more mercy in the next world than we are inclined to extend toward our fellow-creatures in this.
As I have before observed, I care little for the observations or assertions of directors or of officers entrusted with the charge of the penitentiaries and houses of correction; they are unintentionally biased, and things that appear to them to be mere trifles are very often extreme hardships to the prisoners. It is not only what the body suffers, but what the mind suffers, which must be considered; and it is from the want of this consideration that arise most of the defects in those establishments, not only in America, but everywhere else.
During my residence in the United States, a little work made its appearance, which I immediately procured; it was the production of an American, a scholar, once in the best society, but who, by intemperance, had forfeited his claim to it. He wrote the very best satirical poem I ever read by an American, full of force, and remarkable for energetic versification; but intemperance, the prevalent vice of America, had induced him to beggary and wretchedness, he was (by his own request I understand) shut up in the house of correction at South Boston, that he might, if possible, be reclaimed from intemperance; and, on his leaving it, he published a small work, called "The Rat-Trap, or Cogitations of a Convict in the House of Correction." This work bears the mark of a reflective, although buoyant mind; and as he speaks in the highest terms of Mr Robbins, the master, and bestows praise generally when deserved, his remarks, although occasionally jocose, are well worthy of attention and I shall, therefore, introduce a few of them to the reader.
His introduction commences thus:—
"I take it for granted that one of every two individuals in this most moral community in the world has been, will be, or deserves or fears to be, in the house of correction. Give every man his deserts, and who shall escape whipping? This book must, therefore, be interesting, and will have a good circulation—not, perhaps, in this state alone. The state spends its money for the above institution, and, therefore, has a right to know what it is; a knowledge which can never be obtained from the reports of the authorities, the cursory observations of visitors, or the statements of ignorant and exasperated convicts.
"'What thief e'er felt the halter draw, With good opinion of the law.'
"It has been my aim to furnish such knowledge, and it cannot be denied that I have had the best opportunities to obtain it."
To show the prevalence of intemperance in this country among the better classes, read the following:—
"On entering the wool-shop, a man nodded to me, whom I immediately recognised as a lawyer of no mean talent, who had, at no very distant period, been an ornament of society, and a man well esteemed for many excellent qualities, all of which are now forgotten, while his only fault, intemperance, remains engraven on steel. This was not his first term, or his second, or his third. At this time of writing he is discharged, a sober man, anxious for employment, which he cannot get. His having been in the house of correction shuts every door against him, and he must have more than ordinary firmness if he does not relapse again. From my inmost soul I pity him. Another aged man I recognised as a doctor of medicine: his grey hairs would have been venerable in any other place."
The labour in this house of correction which he describes is chiefly confined to wool-picking, stone-cutting, and blacksmiths' work. The fare he states to be plentiful, but not of the very best quality. Speaking of ill-treatment, he says:—
"The convicts all have the privilege of complaint against officers; but while I was there no one used it but myself. I believe they dared not. The officer would probably deny or gloss over the cause of complaint, and his word would be believed rather than that of the convict; and his power of retaliation is so tremendous, that few would care to brave it. The chance is ten to one that a complaint to the directors would be falsified and proved fruitless; and the visit of the governor, council, and magistrates, for the purpose of inquiry, is mere matter of form. When they asked me if I had reason to complain of my treatment, I answered in the negative, because I really had none; but had they asked me if there was any defect in the institution, I would have pointed out a good many."