"Have you chicken to sell, my boy?"
"Yes, and eggs too, more nor what you'll buy."
Having enquired price, condition, and so on, I recollected that I had been used to give the same price at market, the feathers plucked, and the chicken prepared for the table, and I told him that he ought not to charge the same.
"Oh for that, I expect I can fix 'em as well as ever them was, what you got in market."
"You fix them?"
"Yes to be sure, why not?"
"I thought you were too fond of marbles."
He gave me a keen glance, and said, "You don't know I.—When will you be wanting the chickens?"
He brought them at the time directed, extremely well "fixed," and I often dealt with him afterwards. When I paid him, he always thrust his hand into his breaches pocket, which I presume, as being the keep, was fortified more strongly than the dilapidated outworks, and drew from thence rather more dollars, half-dollars, levies, and fips, than his dirty little hand could well hold. My curiosity was excited, and though I felt an involuntary disgust towards the young Jew, I repeatedly conversed with him.
"You are very rich, Nick," I said to him one day, on his making an ostentatious display of change, as he called it; he sneered with a most unchildish expression of countenance, and replied, "I guess 'twould be a bad job for I, if that was all I'd got to shew."
I asked him how he managed his business. He told me that he bought eggs by the hundred, and lean chicken by the score, from the waggons that passed their door on the way to market; that he fatted the latter in coops he had made himself, and could easily double their price, and that his eggs answered well too, when he sold them out by the dozen.
"And do you give the money to your mother?"
"I expect not," was the answer, with another sharp glance of his ugly blue eyes.
"What do you do with it. Nick?"
His look said plainly, what is that to you? but he only answered, quaintly enough, "I takes care of it."
How Nick got his first dollar is very doubtful; I was told that when he entered the village store, the person serving always called in another pair of eyes; but having obtained it, the spirit, activity, and industry, with which he caused it to increase and multiply, would have been delightful in one of Miss Edgeworth's dear little clean bright-looking boys, who would have carried all he got to his mother; but in Nick it was detestable. No human feeling seemed to warm his young heart, not even the love of self-indulgence, for he was not only ragged and dirty, but looked considerably more than half starved, and I doubt not his dinners and suppers half fed his fat chickens.
I by no means give this history of Nick, the chicken merchant, as an anecdote characteristic in all respects of America; the only part of the story which is so, is the independence of the little man, and is one instance out of a thousand, of the hard, dry, calculating character that is the result of it. Probably Nick will be very rich; perhaps he will be President. I once got so heartily scolded for saying, that I did not think all American citizens were equally eligible to that office, that I shall never again venture to doubt it.
Another of our cottage acquaintance was a market-gardener, from whom we frequently bought vegetables; from the wife of this man we one day received a very civil invitation to "please to come and pass the evening with them in prayer." The novelty of the circumstance, and its great dissimilarity to the ways and manners of our own country, induced me to accept the invitation, and also to record the visit here.
We were received with great attention, and a place was assigned us on one of the benches that surrounded the little parlour. Several persons, looking like mechanics and their wives, were present; every one sat in profound silence, and with that quiet subdued air, that serious people assume on entering a church. At length, a long, black, grim-looking man entered; his dress, the cut of his hair, and his whole appearance, strongly recalled the idea of one of Cromwell's fanatics. He stepped solemnly into the middle of the room, and took a chair that stood there, but not to sit upon it; he turned the back towards him, on which he placed his hands, and stoutly uttering a sound between a hem and a cough, he deposited freely on either side of him a considerable portion of masticated tobacco. He then began to preach. His text was "Live in hope," and he continued to expound it for two hours in a drawling, nasal tone, with no other respite than what he allowed himself for expectoration. If I say that he repeated the words of this text a hundred times, I think I shall not exceed the truth, for that allows more than a minute for each repetition, and in fact the whole discourse was made up of it. The various tones in which he uttered it might have served as a lesson on emphasis; as a question—in accents of triumph—in accents of despair—of pity—of threatening—of authority—of doubt—of hope—of faith. Having exhausted every imaginable variety of tone, he abruptly said, "Let us pray," and twisting his chair round, knelt before it. Every one knelt before the seat they had occupied, and listened for another half hour to a rant of miserable, low, familiar jargon, that he presumed to improvise to his Maker as a prayer. In this, however, the cottage apostle only followed the example set by every preacher throughout the Union, excepting those of the Episcopalian and Catholic congregations; THEY only do not deem themselves privileged to address the Deity in strains of crude and unweighed importunity. These ranters may sometimes be very much in earnest, but surely the least we can say of it is, that they
"Praise their God amiss."
I enquired afterwards of a friend, well acquainted with such matters, how the grim preacher of "Hope" got paid for his labours, and he told me that the trade was an excellent one, for that many a gude wife bestowed more than a tithe of what her gude man trusted to her keeping, in rewarding the zeal of these self- chosen apostles. These sable ministers walk from house to house, or if the distance be considerable, ride on a comfortable ambling nag. They are not only as empty as wind, but resemble it in other particulars; for they blow where they list, and no man knoweth whence they come, nor whither they go. When they see a house that promises comfortable lodging and entertainment, they enter there, and say to the good woman of the house, "Sister, shall I pray with you?" If the answer be favourable, and it is seldom otherwise, he instals himself and his horse till after breakfast the next morning. The best meat, drink, and lodging are his, while he stays, and he seldom departs without some little contribution in money for the support of the crucified and suffering church. Is it not strange that "the most intelligent people in the world" should prefer such a religion as this, to a form established by the wisdom and piety of the ablest and best among the erring sons of men, solemnly sanctioned by the nation's law, and rendered sacred by the use of their fathers?
It would be well for all reasoners on the social system to observe steadily, and with an eye obscured by no beam of prejudice, the result of the experiment that is making on the other side of the Atlantic. If I mistake not, they might learn there, better than by any abstract speculation, what are the points on which the magistrates of a great people should dictate to them and on what points they should be left freely to their own guidance, I sincerely believe, that if a fire-worshipper, or an Indian Brahmin, were to come to the United States, prepared to preach and pray in English, he would not be long without a "very respectable congregation."
The influence of a religion, sanctioned by the government, could in no country, in the nineteenth century, interfere with the speculations of a philosopher in his closet, but it might, and must, steady the weak and wavering opinions of the multitude. There is something really pitiable in the effect produced by the want of this rudder oar. I knew a family where one was a Methodist, one a Presbyterian, and a third a Baptist; and another, where one was a Quaker, one a declared Atheist, and another an Universalist. These are all females, and all moving in the best society that America affords; but one and all of them as incapable of reasoning on things past, present, and to come, as the infants they nourish, yet one and all of them perfectly fit to move steadily and usefully in a path marked out for them. But I shall be called an itinerant preacher myself if I pursue this theme.
As I have not the magic power of my admirable friend, Miss Mitford, to give grace and interest to the humblest rustic details, I must not venture to linger among the cottages that surrounded us; but before I quit them I must record the pleasing recollection of one or two neighbours of more companionable rank, from whom I received so much friendly attention, and such unfailing kindness, in all my little domestic embarrassments, that I shall never recall the memory of Mohawk, without paying an affectionate tribute to these far distant friends. I wish it were within the range of hope, that I might see them again, in my own country, and repay, in part, the obligations I owe them.
Theatre—Fine Arts—Delicacy—Shaking Quakers— Big-Bone Lick—Visit of the President
The theatre at Cincinnati is small, and not very brilliant in decoration, but in the absence of every other amusement our young men frequently attended it, and in the bright clear nights of autumn and winter, the mile and a half of distance was not enough to prevent the less enterprising members of the family from sometimes accompanying them. The great inducement to this was the excellent acting of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Drake, the managers. [Mr. Drake was an Englishman.] Nothing could be more distinct than their line of acting, but the great versatility of their powers enabled them often to appear together. Her cast was the highest walk of tragedy, and his the broadest comedy; but yet, as Goldsmith says of his sister heroines, I have known them change characters for a whole evening together, and have wept with him and laughed with her, as it was their will and pleasure to ordain. I think in his comedy he was superior to any actor I ever saw in the same parts, except Emery. Alexander Drake's comedy was like that of the French, who never appear to be acting at all; he was himself the comic being the author aimed at depicting. Let him speak whose words he would, from Shakspeare to Colman, it was impossible not to feel that half the fun was his own; he had, too, in a very high degree, the power that Fawcett possessed, of drawing tears by a sudden touch of natural feeling. His comic songs might have set the gravity of the judges and bishops together at defiance. Liston is great, but Alexander Drake was greater.
Mrs. Drake, formerly Miss Denny, greatly resembles Miss O'Neil; a proof of this is, that Mr. Kean, who had heard of the resemblance, arrived at New York late in the evening, and having repaired to the theatre, saw her for the first time across the stage, and immediately exclaimed, "that's Miss Denny." Her voice, too, has the same rich and touching tones, and is superior in power. Her talent is decidedly first-rate. Deep and genuine feeling, correct judgment, and the most perfect good taste, distinguish her play in every character. Her last act of Belvidera is superior in tragic effect to any thing I ever saw on the stage, the one great exception to all comparison, Mrs. Siddons, being set aside.
It was painful to see these excellent performers playing to a miserable house, not a third full, and the audience probably not including half a dozen persons who would prefer their playing to that of the vilest strollers. In proof of this, I saw them, as managers, give place to paltry third-rate actors from London, who would immediately draw crowded houses, and be overwhelmed with applause.
Poor Drake died just before we left Ohio, and his wife, who, besides her merit as an actress, is a most estimable and amiable woman, is left with a large family. I have little, or rather no doubt, of her being able to obtain an excellent engagement in London, but her having property in several of the Western theatres will, I fear, detain her in a neighbourhood, where she is neither understood nor appreciated. She told me many very excellent professional anecdotes collected during her residence in the West; one of these particularly amused me as a specimen of Western idiom. A lady who professed a great admiration for Mrs. Drake had obtained her permission to be present upon one occasion at her theatrical toilet. She was dressing for some character in which she was to stab herself, and her dagger was lying on the table. The visitor took it up, and examining it with much emotion, exclaimed, "what! do you really jab this into yourself sevagarous?"
We also saw the great American star, Mr. Forrest. What he may become I will not pretend to prophesy; but when I saw him play Hamlet at Cincinnati, not even Mrs. Drake's sweet Ophelia could keep me beyond the third act. It is true that I have seen Kemble, Macready, Kean, Young, C. Kemble, Cook, and Talma play Hamlet, and I might not, perhaps, be a very fair judge of this young actor's merits; but I was greatly amused when a gentleman, who asked my opinion of him, told me upon hearing it, that he would not advise me to state it freely in America, "for they would not bear it." The theatre was really not a bad one, though the very poor receipts rendered it impossible to keep it in high order; but an annoyance infinitely greater than decorations indifferently clean, was the style and manner of the audience. Men came into the lower tier of boxes without their coats; and I have seen shirt sleeves tucked up to the shoulder; the spitting was incessant, and the mixed smell of onions and whiskey was enough to make one feel even the Drakes' acting dearly bought by the obligation of enduring its accompaniments. The bearing and attitudes of the men are perfectly indescribable; the heels thrown higher than the head, the entire rear of the person presented to the audience, the whole length supported on the benches, are among the varieties that these exquisite posture-masters exhibit. The noises, too, were perpetual, and of the most unpleasant kind; the applause is expressed by cries and thumping with the feet, instead of clapping; and when a patriotic fit seized them, and "Yankee Doodle" was called for, every man seemed to think his reputation as a citizen depended on the noise he made.
Two very indifferent figurantes, probably from the Ambigu Comique, or la Gaiete, made their appearance at Cincinnati while we were there; and had Mercury stepped down, and danced a pas seul upon earth, his godship could not have produced a more violent sensation. But wonder and admiration were by no means the only feelings excited; horror and dismay were produced in at least an equal degree. No one, I believe, doubted their being admirable dancers, but every one agreed that the morals of the Western world would never recover the shock. When I was asked if I had ever seen any thing so dreadful before, I was embarrassed how to answer; for the young women had been exceedingly careful, both in their dress and in their dancing, to meet the taste of the people; but had it been Virginie in her most transparent attire, or Taglioni in her most remarkable pirouette, they could not have been more reprobated. The ladies altogether forsook the theatre; the gentlemen muttered under their breath, and turned their heads aside when the subject was mentioned; the clergy denounced them from the pulpit; and if they were named at the meetings of the saints, it was to show how deep the horror such a theme could produce. I could not but ask myself if virtue were a plant, thriving under one form in one country, and flourishing under a different one in another? If these Western Americans are right, then how dreadfully wrong are we! It is really a very puzzling subject.
But this was not the only point on which I found my notions of right and wrong utterly confounded; hardly a day passed in which I did not discover that something or other that I had been taught to consider lawful as eating, was held in abhorrence by those around me; many words to which I had never heard an objectionable meaning attached, were totally interdicted, and the strangest paraphrastic sentences substituted. I confess it struck me, that notwithstanding a general stiffness of manner, which I think must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, the Americans have imaginations that kindle with alarming facility. I could give many anecdotes to prove this, but will content myself with a few.
A young German gentleman of perfectly good manners, once came to me greatly chagrined at having offended one of the principal families in the neighbourhood, by having pronounced the word corset before the ladies of it. An old female friend had kindly overcome her own feelings so far as to mention to him the cause of the coolness he had remarked, and strongly advised his making an apology. He told me that he was perfectly well disposed to do so, but felt himself greatly at a loss how to word it.
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 the endeavour to substitute real delicacy for this affected precision of manner; among many anecdotes, she told me one of a young lady about fourteen, who on entering the receiving room, where she only expected to see a lady who had enquired 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 pass on till the boy had swung himself up on the upper banisters, to leave the passage free.
At Cincinnati there is a garden where the people go to eat ices, and to look at roses. For the preservation of the flowers, there is placed at the end of one of the walks a sign-post sort of daub, representing a Swiss peasant girl, holding in her hand a scroll, requesting that the roses might not be gathered. Unhappily for the artist, or for the proprietor, or for both, the petticoat of this figure was so short as to shew her ancles. The ladies saw, and shuddered; and it was formally intimated to the proprietor, that if he wished for the patronage of the ladies of Cincinnati, he must have the petticoat of this figure lengthened. The affrighted purveyor of ices sent off an express for the artist and his paint pot. He came, but unluckily not provided with any colour that would match the petticoat; the necessity, however, was too urgent for delay, and a flounce of blue was added to the petticoat of red, giving bright and shining evidence before all men of the immaculate delicacy of the Cincinnati ladies.
I confess I was sometimes tempted to suspect that this ultra refinement was not very deep seated. It often appeared to me like the consciousness of grossness, that wanted a veil; but the veil was never gracefully adjusted. Occasionally, indeed, the very same persons who appeared ready to faint at the idea of a statue, would utter some unaccountable sally that was quite startling, and which made me feel that the indelicacy of which we were accused had its limits. The following anecdote is hardly fit to tell, but it explains what I mean too well to be omitted.
A young married lady, of high standing and most fastidious delicacy, who had been brought up at one of the Atlantic seminaries of highest reputation, told me that her house, at the distance of half a mile from a populous city, was unfortunately opposite a mansion of worse than doubtful reputation. "It is abominable," she said, "to see the people that go there; they ought to be exposed. I and another lady, an intimate friend of mine, did make one of them look foolish enough last summer: she was passing the day with me, and, while we were sitting at the window, we saw a young man we both knew ride up there, we went into the garden and watched at the gate for him to come back, and when he did, we both stepped out, and I said to him, "are you not ashamed, Mr. William D., to ride by my house and back again in that manner?" I never saw a man look so foolish!"
In conversing with ladies on the customs and manners of Europe, I remarked a strong propensity to consider every thing as wrong to which they were not accustomed. I once mentioned to a young lady that I thought a picnic party would be very agreeable, and that I would propose it to some of our friends. She agreed that it would be delightful, but she added, "I fear you will not succeed; we are not used to such sort of things here, and I know it is considered very indelicate for ladies and gentlemen to sit down together on the grass."
I could multiply anecdotes of this nature; but I think these sufficient to give an accurate idea of the tone of manners in this particular, and I trust to justify the observations I have made.
One of the spectacles which produced the greatest astonishment on us all was the Republican simplicity of the courts of justice. We had heard that the judges indulged themselves on the bench in those extraordinary attitudes which, doubtless, some peculiarity of the American formation leads them to find the most comfortable. Of this we were determined to judge for ourselves, and accordingly entered the court when it was in full business, with three judges on the bench. The annexed sketch will better describe what we saw than any thing I can write.
Our winter passed rapidly away, and pleasantly enough, by the help of frosty walks, a little skaiting, a visit to Big-Bone Lick, and a visit to the shaking Quakers, a good deal of chess, and a good deal of reading, notwithstanding we were almost in the back woods of Western America.
The excursion to Big-Bone Lick, in Kentucky, and that to the Quaker village, were too fatiguing for females at such a season, but our gentlemen brought us home mammoth bones and shaking Quaker stories in abundance.
These singular people, the shaking Quakers of America, give undeniable proof that communities may exist and prosper, for they have continued for many years to adhere strictly to this manner of life, and have been constantly increasing in wealth. They have formed two or three different societies in distant parts of the Union, all governed by the same general laws, and all uniformly prosperous and flourishing.
There must be some sound and wholesome principle at work in these establishments to cause their success in every undertaking, and this principle must be a powerful one, for it has to combat much that is absurd and much that is mischievous.
The societies are generally composed of about an equal proportion of males and females, many of them being men and their wives; but they are all bound by their laws not to cohabit together. Their religious observances are wholly confined to singing and dancing of the most grotesque kind, and this repeated so constantly as to occupy much time; yet these people become rich and powerful wherever they settle themselves. Whatever they manufacture, whatever their farms produce, is always in the highest repute, and brings the highest price in the market. They receive all strangers with great courtesy, and if they bring an introduction they are lodged and fed for any length of time they choose to stay; they are not asked to join in their labours, but are permitted to do so if they wish it.
The Big-Bone Lick was not visited, and even partially examined, without considerable fatigue.
It appeared from the account of our travellers, that the spot which gives the region its elegant name is a deep bed of blue clay, tenacious and unsound, so much so as to render it both difficult and dangerous to traverse. The digging it has been found so laborious that no one has yet hazarded the expense of a complete search into its depths for the gigantic relics so certainly hidden there. The clay has never been moved without finding some of them; and I think it can hardly be doubted that money and perseverance would procure a more perfect specimen of an entire mammoth than we have yet seen. [Since the above was written an immense skeleton, nearly perfect, has been extracted.]
And now the time arrived that our domestic circle was again to be broken up. Our eldest son was to be entered at Oxford, and it was necessary that his father should accompany him; and, after considerable indecision, it was at length determined that I and my daughters should remain another year, with our second son. It was early in February, and our travellers prepared themselves to encounter some sharp gales upon the mountains, though the great severity of the cold appeared to be past. We got buffalo robes and double shoes prepared for them, and they were on the eve of departure when we heard that General Jackson, the newly-elected President, was expected to arrive immediately at Cincinnati, from his residence in the West, and to proceed by steamboat to Pittsburgh, on his way to Washington. This determined them not to fix the day of their departure till they heard of his arrival, and then, if possible, to start in the same boat with him; the decent dignity of a private conveyance not being deemed necessary for the President of the United States.
The day of his arrival was however quite uncertain, and we could only determine to have every thing very perfectly in readiness, let it come when it would. This resolution was hardly acted upon when the news reached us that the General had arrived at Louisville, and was expected at Cincinnati in a few hours. All was bustle and hurry at Mohawk-cottage; we quickly dispatched our packing business, and this being the first opportunity we had had of witnessing such a demonstration of popular feeling, we all determined to be present at the debarkation of the great man. We accordingly walked to Cincinnati, and secured a favourable station at the landing-place, both for the purpose of seeing the first magistrate and of observing his reception by the people. We had waited but a few moments when the heavy panting of the steam engines and then a discharge of cannon told that we were just in time; another moment brought his vessel in sight.
Nothing could be better of its kind than his approach to the shore: the noble steam-boat which conveyed him was flanked on each side by one of nearly equal size and splendour; the roofs of all three were covered by a crowd of men; cannon saluted them from the shore as they passed by, to the distance of a quarter of a mile above the town; there they turned about, and came down the river with a rapid but stately motion, the three vessels so close together as to appear one mighty mass upon the water.
When they arrived opposite the principal landing they swept gracefully round, and the side vessels, separating themselves from the centre, fell a few feet back, permitting her to approach before them with her honoured freight. All this manoeuvring was extremely well executed, and really beautiful.
The crowd on the shore awaited her arrival in perfect stillness. When she touched the bank the people on board gave a faint huzza, but it was answered by no note of welcome from the land: this cold silence was certainly not produced by any want of friendly feeling towards the new President; during the whole of the canvassing he had been decidedly the popular candidate at Cincinnati, and, for months past, we had been accustomed to the cry of "Jackson for ever" from an overwhelming majority; but enthusiasm is not either the virtue or the vice of America.
More than one private carriage was stationed at the water's edge to await the General's orders, but they were dismissed with the information that he would walk to the hotel. Upon receiving this intimation the silent crowd divided itself in a very orderly manner, leaving a space for him to walk through them. He did so, uncovered, though the distance was considerable, and the weather very cold; but he alone (with the exception of a few European gentlemen who were present) was without a hat. He wore his grey hair, carelessly, but not ungracefully arranged, and, spite of his harsh gaunt features, he looks like a gentleman and a soldier. He was in deep mourning, having very recently lost his wife; they were said to have been very happy together, and I was pained by hearing a voice near me exclaim, as he approached the spot where I stood, "There goes Jackson, where is his wife?" Another sharp voice, at a little distance, cried, "Adams for ever!" And these sounds were all I heard to break the silence.
"They manage these matters better" in the East, I have no doubt, but as yet I was still in the West, and still inclined to think, that however meritorious the American character may be, it is not amiable.
Mr. T. and his sons joined the group of citizens who waited upon him to the hotel, and were presented to the President in form; that is, they shook hands with him. Learning that he intended to remain a few hours there, or more properly, that it would be a few hours before the steam-boat would be ready to proceed, Mr. T. secured berths on board, and returned, to take a hasty dinner with us. At the hour appointed by the captain, Mr. T. and his son accompanied the General on board; and by subsequent letters I learnt that they had conversed a good deal with him, and were pleased by his conversation and manners, but deeply disgusted by the brutal familiarity to which they saw him exposed at every place on their progress at which they stopped; I am tempted to quote one passage, as sufficiently descriptive of the manner, which so painfully grated against their European feelings.
'There was not a hulking boy from a keel-boat who was not introduced to the President, unless, indeed, as was the case with some, they introduced themselves: for instance, I was at his elbow when a greasy fellow accosted him thus:-
"General Jackson, I guess?"
'The General bowed assent.
"Why they told me you was dead."
"No! Providence has hitherto preserved my life."
"And is your wife alive too?"
'The General, apparently much hurt, signified the contrary, upon which the courtier concluded his harangue, by saying, "Aye, I thought it was the one or the t'other of ye."'
American Spring—Controversy between Messrs. Owen and Cambell— Public ball—Separation of the sexes—American freedom—Execution
The American spring is by no means so agreeable as the American autumn; both move with faultering step, and slow; but this lingering pace, which is delicious in autumn, is most tormenting in the spring. In the one case you are about to part with a friend, who is becoming more gentle and agreeable at every step, and such steps can hardly be made too slowly; but in the other you are making your escape from a dreary cavern, where you have been shut up with black frost and biting blasts, and where your best consolation was being smoke-dried.
But, upon second thoughts, I believe it would be more correct, instead of complaining of the slow pace of the American spring, to declare that they have no spring at all. The beautiful autumn often lingers on till Christmas, after which winter can be trifled with no longer, and generally keeps a stubborn hold through the months which we call spring, when he suddenly turns his back, and summer takes his place.
The inconceivable uncertainty of the climate is, however, such, that I will not venture to state about what time this change takes place, for it is certain, that let me name what time I would, it would be easy for any weather journaliser to prove me wrong, by quoting that the thermometer was at 100 at a period which my statement included in the winter; or 50 long after I made the summer commence.
The climate of England is called uncertain, but it can never, I think, be so described by any who have experienced that of the United States. A gentleman, on whose accuracy I could depend, told me he had repeatedly known the thermometer vary above 40 degrees in the space of twelve hours. This most unpleasant caprice of the temperature is, I conceive, one cause of the unhealthiness of the climate.
At length, however, after shivering and shaking till we were tired of it, and having been half ruined in fire-wood (which, by the way, is nearly as dear as at Paris, and dearer in many parts of the Union), the summer burst upon us full blown, and the ice-house, the piazza, and the jalousies were again in full requisition.
It was in the early summer of this year (1829) that Cincinnati offered a spectacle unprecedented, I believe, in any age or country. Mr. Owen, of Lanark, of New Harmony, of Texas, well known to the world by all or either of these additions, had challenged the whole religious public of the United States to discuss with him publicly the truth or falsehood of all the religions that had ever been propagated on the face of the earth; stating, further, that he undertook to prove that they were all equally false, and nearly equally mischievous. This most appalling challenge was conveyed to the world through the medium of New Orleans newspapers, and for some time it remained unanswered; at length the Reverend Alexander Campbell, from Bethany, (not of Judaea, but of Kentucky,) proclaimed, through the same medium, that he was ready to take up the gauntlet. The place fixed for this extraordinary discussion was Cincinnati; the time, the second Monday in May, 1829, being about a year from the time the challenge was accepted; thus giving the disputants time to prepare themselves.
Mr. Owen's preparation, however, could only have been such as those who run may read, for, during the interval, he traversed great part of North America, crossed the Atlantic twice, visited England, Scotland, Mexico, Texas, and I know not how many places besides.
Mr. Campbell, I was told, passed this period very differently, being engaged in reading with great research and perseverance all the theological works within his reach. But whatever confidence the learning and piety of Mr. Campbell might have inspired in his friends, or in the Cincinnati Christians in general, it was not, as it appeared, sufficient to induce Mr. Wilson, the Presbyterian minister of the largest church in the town, to permit the display of them within its walls. This refusal was greatly reprobated, and much regretted, as the curiosity to hear the discussion was very general, and no other edifice offered so much accommodation.
A Methodist meeting-house, large enough to contain a thousand persons, was at last chosen; a small stage was arranged round the pulpit, large enough to accommodate the disputants and their stenographers; the pulpit itself was throughout the whole time occupied by the aged father of Mr. Campbell, whose flowing white hair, and venerable countenance, constantly expressive of the deepest attention, and the most profound interest, made him a very striking figure in the group. Another platform was raised in a conspicuous part of the building, on which were seated seven gentlemen of the city, selected as moderators.
The chapel was equally divided, one half being appropriated to ladies, the other to gentlemen; and the door of entrance reserved for the ladies was carefully guarded by persons appointed to prevent any crowding or difficulty from impeding their approach. I suspect that the ladies were indebted to Mr. Owen for this attention; the arrangements respecting them on this occasion were by no means American.
When Mr. Owen rose, the building was thronged in every part; the audience, or congregation, (I hardly know which to call them) were of the highest rank of citizens, and as large a proportion of best bonnets fluttered there, as the "two horned church" itself could boast.
It was in the profoundest silence, and apparently with the deepest attention, that Mr. Owen's opening address was received; and surely it was the most singular one that ever Christian men and women sat to listen to.
When I recollect its object, and the uncompromising manner in which the orator stated his mature conviction that the whole history of the Christian mission was a fraud, and its sacred origin a fable, I cannot but wonder that it was so listened to; yet at the time I felt no such wonder. Never did any one practise the suaviter in modo with more powerful effect than Mr. Owen. The gentle tone of his voice; his mild, sometimes playful, but never ironical manner; the absence of every vehement or harsh expression; the affectionate interest expressed for "the whole human family," the air of candour with which he expressed his wish to be convinced he was wrong, if he indeed were so—his kind smile—the mild expression of his eyes—in short, his whole manner, disarmed zeal, and produced a degree of tolerance that those who did not hear him would hardly believe possible.
Half an hour was the time allotted for each haranguer; when this was expired, the moderators were seen to look at their watches. Mr. Owen, too, looked at his (without pausing) smiled, shook his head, and said in a parenthesis "a moment's patience," and continued for nearly another half hour.
Mr. Campbell then arose; his person, voice, and manner all greatly in his favour. In his first attack he used the arms, which in general have been considered as belonging to the other side of the question. He quizzed Mr. Owen most unmercifully; pinched him here for his parallelograms; hit him there for his human perfectibility, and kept the whole audience in a roar of laughter. Mr. Owen joined in it most heartily himself, and listened to him throughout with the air of a man who is delighted at the good things he is hearing, and exactly in the cue to enjoy all the other good things that he is sure will follow. Mr. Campbell's watch was the only one which reminded us that we had listened to him for half an hour; and having continued speaking for a few minutes after he had looked at it, he sat down with, I should think, the universal admiration of his auditory.
Mr. Owen again addressed us; and his first five minutes were occupied in complimenting Mr. Campbell with all the strength his exceeding hearty laughter had left him. But then he changed his tone, and said the business was too serious to permit the next half hour to pass so lightly and so pleasantly as the last; and then he read us what he called his twelve fundamental laws of human nature. These twelve laws he has taken so much trouble to circulate to all the nations of the earth, that it must be quite unnecessary to repeat them here. To me they appear twelve truisms, that no man in his senses would ever think of contradicting; but how any one can have conceived that the explanation and defence of these laws could furnish forth occupation for his pen and his voice, through whole years of unwearying declamation, or how he can have dreamed that they could be twisted into a refutation of the Christian religion, is a mystery which I never expect to understand.
From this time Mr. Owen entrenched himself behind his twelve laws, and Mr. Campbell, with equal gravity, confined himself to bringing forward the most elaborate theological authorities in evidence of the truth of revealed religion.
Neither appeared to me to answer the other; but to confine themselves to the utterance of what they had uppermost in their own minds when the discussion began. I lamented this on the side of Mr. Campbell, as I am persuaded he would have been much more powerful had he trusted more to himself and less to his books. Mr. Owen is an extraordinary man, and certainly possessed of talent, but he appears to me so utterly benighted in the mists of his own theories, that he has quite lost the power of looking through them, so as to get a peep at the world as it really exists around him.
At the conclusion of the debate (which lasted for fifteen sittings) Mr. Campbell desired the whole assembly to sit down. They obeyed. He then requested all who wished well to Christianity to rise, and a very large majority were in an instant on their legs. He again requested them to be seated, and then desired those who believed not in its doctrines to rise, and a few gentlemen and one lady obeyed. Mr. Owen protested against this manoeuvre, as he called it, and refused to believe that it afforded any proof of the state of men's minds, or of women's either; declaring, that not only was such a result to be expected, in the present state of things, but that it was the duty of every man who had children to feed, not to hazard the sale of his hogs, or his iron, by a declaration of opinions which might offend the majority of his customers. It was said, that at the end of the fifteen meetings the numerical amount of the Christians and the Infidels of Cincinnati remained exactly what it was when they began.
This was a result that might have been perhaps anticipated; but what was much less to have been expected, neither of the disputants ever appeared to lose their temper. I was told they were much in each other's company, constantly dining together, and on all occasions expressed most cordially their mutual esteem.
All this I think could only have happened in America. I am not quite sure that it was very desirable it should have happened any where.
In noting the various brilliant events which diversified our residence in the western metropolis, I have omitted to mention the Birthday Ball, as it is called, a festivity which, I believe, has place on the 22nd of February, in every town and city throughout the Union. It is the anniversary of the birth of General Washington, and well deserves to be marked by the Americans as a day of jubilee.
I was really astonished at the coup d'oeil on entering, for I saw a large room filled with extremely well-dressed company, among whom were many very beautiful girls. The gentlemen also were exceedingly smart, but I had not yet been long enough in Western America not to feel startled at recognising in almost every full-dressed beau that passed me, the master or shopman that I had been used to see behind the counter, or lolling at the door of every shop in the city. The fairest and finest belles smiled and smirked on them with as much zeal and satisfaction as I ever saw bestowed on an eldest son, and I therefore could feel no doubt of their being considered as of the highest rank. Yet it must not be supposed that there is no distinction of classes: at this same ball I was looking among the many very beautiful girls I saw there for one more beautiful still, with whose lovely face I had been particularly struck at the school examination I have mentioned. I could not find her, and asked a gentleman why the beautiful Miss C. was not there.
"You do not yet understand our aristocracy," he replied, "the family of Miss C. are mechanics."
"But the young lady has been educated at the same school as these, whom I see here, and I know her brother has a shop in the town, quite as large, and apparently as prosperous, as those belonging to any of these young men. What is the difference?"
"He is a mechanic; he assists in making the articles he sells; the others call themselves merchants."
The dancing was not quite like, yet not very unlike, what we see at an assize or race-ball in a country town. They call their dances cotillions instead of quadrilles, and the figures are called from the orchestra in English, which has very ludicrous effect on European ears.
The arrangements for the supper were very singular, but eminently characteristic of the country. The gentlemen had a splendid entertainment spread for them in another large room of the hotel, while the poor ladies had each a plate put into their hands, as they pensively promenaded the ballroom during their absence; and shortly afterwards servants appeared, bearing trays of sweetmeats, cakes, and creams. The fair creatures then sat down on a row of chairs placed round the walls, and each making a table of her knees, began eating her sweet, but sad and sulky repast. The effect was extremely comic; their gala dresses and the decorated room forming a contrast the most unaccountable with their uncomfortable and forlorn condition.
This arrangement was owing neither to economy nor want of a room large enough to accommodate the whole party, but purely because the gentlemen liked it better. This was the answer given me, when my curiosity tempted me to ask why the ladies and gentlemen did not sup together; and this was the answer repeated to me afterwards by a variety of people to whom I put the same question.
I am led to mention this feature of American manners very frequently, not only because it constantly recurs, but because I consider it as being in a great degree the cause of that universal deficiency in good manners and graceful demeanour, both in men and women, which is so remarkable.
Where there is no court, which every where else is the glass wherein the higher orders dress themselves, and which again reflected from them to the classes below, goes far towards polishing, in some degree, a great majority of the population, it is not to be expected that manner should be made so much a study, or should attain an equal degree of elegance; but the deficiency, and the total difference, is greater than this cause alone could account for. The hours of enjoyment are important to human beings every where, and we every where find them preparing to make the most of them. Those who enjoy themselves only in society, whether intellectual or convivial, prepare themselves for it, and such make but a poor figure when forced to be content with the sweets of solitude: while, on the other hand, those to whom retirement affords the greatest pleasure, seldom give or receive much in society. Wherever the highest enjoyment is found by both sexes in scenes where they meet each other, both will prepare themselves to appear with advantage there. The men will not indulge in the luxury of chewing tobacco, or even of spitting, and the women will contrive to be capable of holding a higher post than that of unwearied tea-makers.
In America, with the exception of dancing, which is almost wholly confined to the unmarried of both sexes, all the enjoyments of the men are found in the absence of the women. They dine, they play cards, they have musical meetings, they have suppers, all in large parties but all without women. Were it not that such is the custom, it is impossible but that they would have ingenuity enough to find some expedient for sparing the wives and daughters of the opulent the sordid offices of household drudgery which they almost all perform in their families. Even in the slave states, though they may not clear-starch and iron, mix puddings and cakes one half of the day, and watch them baking the other half, still the very highest occupy themselves in their household concerns, in a manner that precludes the possibility of their becoming elegant and enlightened companions. In Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, I met with some exceptions to this; but speaking of the country generally, it is unquestionably true.
Had I not become heartily tired of my prolonged residence in a place I cordially disliked, and which moreover I began to fear would not be attended with the favourable results we had anticipated, I should have found an almost inexhaustible source of amusement in the notions and opinions of the people I conversed with; and as it was, I often did enjoy this in a considerable degree.
We received, as I have mentioned, much personal kindness; but this by no means interfered with the national feeling of, I believe, unconquerable dislike, which evidently lives at the bottom of every truly American heart against the English. This shows itself in a thousand little ways, even in the midst of the most kind and friendly intercourse, but often in a manner more comic than offensive.
Sometimes it was thus.—"Well, now, I think your government must just be fit to hang themselves for that last war they cooked up; it has been the ruin of you I expect, for it has just been the making of us."
Then.—"Well, I do begin to understand your broken English better than I did; but no wonder I could not make it out very well at first, as you come from London; for every body knows that London slang is the most dreadful in the world. How queer it is now, that all the people that live in London should put the h where it is not, and never will put it where it is."
I was egotistical enough to ask the lady who said this, if she found that I did so.
"No; you do not," was the reply; but she added, with a complacent smile, "it is easy enough to see the pains you take about it: I expect you have heard how we Americans laugh at you all for it, and so you are trying to learn our way of pronouncing."
One lady asked me very gravely, if we had left home in order to get rid of the vermin with which the English of all ranks were afflicted? "I have heard from unquestionable authority," she added, "that it is quite impossible to walk through the streets of London without having the head filled."
I laughed a little, but spoke not a word. She coloured highly, and said, "There is nothing so easy as to laugh, but truth is truth, laughed at or not."
I must preface the following anecdote by observing that in America nearly the whole of the insect tribe are classed under the general name of bug; the unfortunate cosmopolite known by that name amongst us is almost the only one not included in this term. A lady abruptly addressed me with, "Don't you hate chintzes, Mrs. Trollope?"
"No indeed," I replied, "I think them very pretty."
"There now! if that is not being English! I reckon you call that loving your country; well, thank God! we Americans have something better to love our country for than that comes to; we are not obliged to say that we like nasty filthy chintzes to shew that we are good patriots."
"Chintzes? what are chintzes?"
"Possible! do you pretend you don't know what chintzes are? Why the nasty little stinking blood-suckers that all the beds in London are full of."
I have since been informed that chinche is Spanish for bug; but at the time the word suggested only the material of a curtain.
Among other instances of that species of modesty so often seen in America, and so unknown to us, I frequently witnessed one, which, while it evinced the delicacy of the ladies, gave opportunity for many lively sallies from the gentlemen. I saw the same sort of thing repeated on different occasions at least a dozen times; e.g. a young lady is employed in making a shirt, (which it would be a symptom of absolute depravity to name), a gentleman enters, and presently begins the sprightly dialogue with "What are you making Miss Clarissa?"
"Only a frock for my sister's doll, sir."
"A frock? not possible. Don't I see that it is not a frock? Come, Miss Clarissa, what is it?"
"Tis just an apron for one of our Negroes, Mr. Smith."
"How can you. Miss Clarissa! why is not the two side joined together? I expect you were better tell me what it is."
"My! why then Mr. Smith, it is just a pillow-case."
"Now that passes. Miss Clarissa! 'Tis a pillow-case for a giant then. Shall I guess, Miss?"
"Quit, Mr. Smith; behave yourself, or I'll certainly be affronted."
Before the conversation arrives at this point, both gentleman and lady are in convulsions of laughter. I once saw a young lady so hard driven by a wit, that to prove she was making a bag, and nothing but a bag, she sewed up the ends before his eyes, shewing it triumphantly, and exclaiming, "there now! what can you say to that?"
One of my friends startled me one day by saying in an affectionate, but rather compassionate tone, "How will you bear to go back to England to live, and to bring up your children in a country where you know you are considered as no better than the dirt in the streets?"
I begged she would explain.
"Why, you know I would not affront you for any thing; but the fact is, we Americans know rather more than you think for, and certainly if I was in England I should not think of associating with anything but lords. I have always been among the first here, and if I travelled I should like to do the same. I don't mean, I'm sure, that I would not come to see you, but you know you are not lords, and therefore I know very well how you are treated in your own country."
I very rarely contradicted statements of this kind, as I found it less trouble, and infinitely more amusing, to let them pass; indeed, had I done otherwise, it would have been of little avail, as among the many conversations I held in America respecting my own country, I do not recollect a single instance in which it was not clear that I knew much less about it than those I conversed with.
On the subject of national glory, I presume I got more than my share of buffeting; for being a woman, there was no objection to their speaking out. One lady, indeed, who was a great patriot, evinced much delicacy towards me, for upon some one speaking of New Orleans, she interrupted them, saying, "I wish you would not talk of New Orleans;" and, turning to me, added with great gentleness, "It must be so painful to your feelings to hear that place mentioned!"
The immense superiority of the American to the British navy was a constant theme, and to this I always listened, as nearly as possible, in silence. I repeatedly heard it stated, (so often, indeed, and from such various quarters, that I think there must be some truth in it), that the American sailors fire with a certainty of slaughter, whereas our shots are sent very nearly at random. "This, " said a naval officer of high reputation, "is the blessed effect of your game laws; your sailors never fire at a mark; whilst our free tars, from their practice in pursuit of game, can any of them split a hair." But the favourite, the constant, the universal sneer that met me every where, was on our old-fashioned attachments to things obsolete. Had they a little wit among them, I am certain they would have given us the cognomen of "My Grandmother, the British," for that is the tone they take, and it is thus they reconcile themselves to the crude newness of every thing around them.
"I wonder you are not sick of kings, chancellors, and archbishops, and all your fustian of wigs and gowns," said a very clever gentleman to me once, with an affected yawn, "I protest the very sound almost sets me to sleep."
It is amusing to observe how soothing the idea seems, that they are more modern, more advanced than England. Our classic literature, our princely dignities, our noble institutions, are all gone-by relics of the dark ages.
This, and the vastness of their naked territory, make up the flattering unction which is laid upon the soul, as an antidote to the little misgiving which from time to time arises, lest their large country be not of quite so much importance among the nations, as a certain paltry old-fashioned little place that they wot of.
I was once sitting with a party of ladies, among whom were one or two young girls, whose curiosity was greater than their patriotism, and they asked me many questions respecting the splendour and extent of London. I was endeavouring to satisfy them by the best description I could give, when we were interrupted by another lady, who exclaimed, "Do hold your tongues, girls, about London; if you want to know what a beautiful city is, look at Philadelphia; when Mrs. Trollope has been there, I think she will allow that it is better worth talking about than that great overgrown collection of nasty, filthy, dirty streets, that they call London."
Once in Ohio, and once in the district of Columbia, I had an atlas displayed before me, that I might be convinced by the evidence of my own eyes what a very contemptible little country I came from. I shall never forget the gravity with which, on the latter occasion, a gentleman drew out his graduated pencil-case, and shewed me past contradiction, that the whole of the British dominions did not equal in size one of their least important states; nor the air with which, after the demonstration, he placed his feet upon the chimney-piece, considerably higher than his head, and whistled Yankee Doodle.
Their glorious institutions, their unequalled freedom, were, of course, not left unsung.
I took some pains to ascertain what they meant by their glorious institutions, and it is with no affectation of ignorance that I profess I never could comprehend the meaning of the phrase, which is, however, on the lip of every American, when he talks of his country. I asked if by their institutions they meant their hospitals and penitentiaries. "Oh no! we mean the glorious institutions which are coeval with the revolution." "Is it," I asked, "your institution of marriage, which you have made purely a civil and not a religious rite, to be performed by a justice of peace, instead of a clergyman?"
"Oh no! we speak of our divine political institutions." Yet still I was in the dark, nor can I guess what they mean, unless they call incessant electioneering, without pause or interval for a single day, for a single hour, of their whole existence, "a glorious institution."
Their unequalled freedom, I think, I understand better. Their code of common law is built upon ours; and the difference between us is this, in England the laws are acted upon, in America they are not.
I do not speak of the police of the Atlantic cities; I believe it is well arranged: in New York it is celebrated for being so; but out of the range of their influence, the contempt of law is greater than I can venture to state, with any hope of being believed. Trespass, assault, robbery, nay, even murder, are often committed without the slightest attempt at legal interference.
During the summer that we passed most delightfully in Maryland, our rambles were often restrained in various directions by the advice of our kind friends, who knew the manners and morals of the country. When we asked the cause, we were told, "There is a public-house on that road, and it will not be safe to pass it,"
The line of the Chesapeak and Ohio canal passed within a few miles of Mrs. S—'s residence. It twice happened during our stay with her, that dead bodies were found partially concealed near it. The circumstance was related as a sort of half hour's wonder; and when I asked particulars of those who, on one occasion, brought the tale, the reply was, "Oh, he was murdered I expect; or maybe he died of the canal fever; but they say he had marks of being throttled." No inquest was summoned; and certainly no more sensation was produced by the occurrence than if a sheep had been found in the same predicament.
The abundance of food and the scarcity of hanging were also favourite topics, as proving their superiority to England. They are both excellent things, but I do not admit the inference. A wide and most fertile territory, as yet but thinly inhabited, may easily be made to yield abundant food for its population: and where a desperate villain knows, that when he has made his town or his village "too hot to hold him," he has nothing to do but to travel a few miles west, and be sure of finding plenty of beef and whiskey, with no danger that the law shall follow him, it is not extraordinary that executions should be rare.
Once during our residence at Cincinnati, a murderer of uncommon atrocity was taken, tried, convicted, and condemned to death. It had been shewn on his trial, that some years before he had murdered a wife and child at New Orleans, but little notice had been taken of it at the time. The crime which had now thrown him into the hands of justice was the recent murder of a second wife, and the chief evidence against him was his own son.
The day of his execution was fixed, and the sensation produced was so great from the strangeness of the occurrence, (no white man having ever been executed at Cincinnati,) that persons from sixty miles' distance came to be present at it.
Meanwhile some unco' good people began to start doubts as to the righteousness of hanging a man, and made application to the Governor of the State* of Ohio, to commute the sentence into imprisonment. The Governor for some time refused to interfere with the sentence of the tribunal before which he had been tried; but at length, frightened at the unusual situation in which he found himself, he yielded to the importunity of the Presbyterian party who had assailed him, and sent off an order to the sheriff accordingly. But this order was not to reprieve him, but to ask him if he pleased to be reprieved, and sent to the penitentiary instead of being hanged.
*(The Governors of states have the same power over life and (death as is vested, with us, in the crown.
The sheriff waited upon the criminal, and made his proposal, and was answered. "If any thing could make me agree to it, it would be the hope of living long enough to kill you and my dog of a son: however, I won't agree; you shall have the hanging of me."
The worthy sheriff, to whom the ghastly office of executioner is assigned, said all in his power to persuade him to sign the offered document, but in vain; he obtained nothing but abuse for his efforts.
The day of execution arrived; the place appointed was the side of a hill, the only one cleared of trees near the town; and many hours before the time fixed, we saw it entirely covered by an immense multitude of men, women, and children. At length the hour arrived, the dismal cart was seen slowly mounting the hill, the noisy throng was hushed into solemn silence; the wretched criminal mounted the scaffold, when again the sheriff asked him to sign his acceptance of the commutation proposed; but he spurned the paper from him, and cried aloud, "Hang me!"
Midday was the moment appointed for cutting the rope; the sheriff stood, his watch in one hand, and a knife in the other; the hand was lifted to strike, when the criminal stoutly exclaimed, "I sign;" and he was conveyed back to prison, amidst the shouts, laughter, and ribaldry of the mob.
I am not fond of hanging, but there was something in all this that did not look like the decent dignity of wholesome justice.
It was in the course of this summer that I found the opportunity I had long wished for, of attending a camp-meeting, and I gladly accepted the invitation of an English lady and gentleman to accompany them in their carriage to the spot where it is held; this was in a wild district on the confines of Indiana.
The prospect of passing a night in the back woods of Indiana was by no means agreeable, but I screwed my courage to the proper pitch, and set forth determined to see with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears, what a camp-meeting really was. I had heard it said that being at a camp-meeting was like standing at the gate of heaven, and seeing it opening before you; I had heard it said, that being at a camp-meeting was like finding yourself within the gates of hell; in either case there must be something to gratify curiosity, and compensate one for the fatigue of a long rumbling ride and a sleepless night.
We reached the ground about an hour before midnight, and the approach to it was highly picturesque. The spot chosen was the verge of an unbroken forest, where a space of about twenty acres appeared to have been partially cleared for the purpose. Tents of different sizes were pitched very near together in a circle round the cleared space; behind them were ranged an exterior circle of carriages of every description, and at the back of each were fastened the horses which had drawn them thither. Through this triple circle of defence we distinguished numerous fires burning brightly within it; and still more numerous lights flickering from the trees that were left in the enclosure. The moon was in meridian splendour above our heads.
We left the carriage to the care of a servant, who was to prepare a bed in it for Mrs. B. and me, and entered the inner circle. The first glance reminded me of Vauxhall, from the effect of the lights among the trees, and the moving crowd below them; but the second shewed a scene totally unlike any thing I had ever witnessed. Four high frames, constructed in the form of altars, were placed at the four corners of the enclosure; on these were supported layers of earth and sod, on which burned immense fires of blazing pinewood. On one side a rude platform was erected to accommodate the preachers, fifteen of whom attended this meeting, and with very short intervals for necessary refreshment and private devotion, preached in rotation, day and night, from Tuesday to Saturday.
When we arrived, the preachers were silent; but we heard issuing from nearly every tent mingled sounds of praying, preaching, singing, and lamentation. The curtains in front of each tent were dropped, and the faint light that gleamed through the white drapery, backed as it was by the dark forest, had a beautiful and mysterious effect, that set the imagination at work; and had the sounds which vibrated around us been less discordant, harsh, and unnatural, I should have enjoyed it; but listening at the corner of a tent, which poured forth more than its proportion of clamour, in a few moments chased every feeling derived from imagination, and furnished realities that could neither be mistaken or forgotten.
Great numbers of persons were walking about the ground, who appeared like ourselves to be present only as spectators; some of these very unceremoniously contrived to raise the drapery of this tent, at one comer, so as to afford us a perfect view of the interior.
The floor was covered with straw, which round the sides was heaped in masses, that might serve as seats, but which at that moment were used to support the heads and the arms of the close-packed circle of men and women who kneeled on the floor.
Out of about thirty persons thus placed, perhaps half a dozen were men. One of these, a handsome looking youth of eighteen or twenty, kneeled just below the opening through which I looked. His arm was encircling the neck of a young girl who knelt beside him, with her hair hanging dishevelled upon her shoulders, and her features working with the most violent agitation; soon after they both fell forward on the straw, as if unable to endure in any other attitude the burning eloquence of a tall grim figure in black, who, standing erect in the centre, was uttering with incredible vehemence an oration that seemed to hover between praying and preaching; his arms hung stiff and immoveable by his side, and he looked like an ill-constructed machine, set in action by a movement so violent, as to threaten its own destruction, so jerkingly, painfully, yet rapidly, did his words tumble out; the kneeling circle ceasing not to call in every variety of tone on the name of Jesus; accompanied with sobs, groans, and a sort of low howling inexpressibly painful to listen to. But my attention was speedily withdrawn from the preacher, and the circle round him, by a figure which knelt alone at some distance; it was a living image of Scott's Macbriar, as young, as wild, and as terrible. His thin arms tossed above his head, had forced themselves so far out of the sleeves, that they were bare to the elbow; his large eyes glared frightfully, and he continued to scream without an instant's intermission the word "Glory!" with a violence that seemed to swell every vein to bursting. It was too dreadful to look upon long, and we turned away shuddering.
We made the circuit of the tents, pausing where attention was particularly excited by sounds more vehement than ordinary. We contrived to look into many; all were strewed with straw, and the distorted figures that we saw kneeling, sitting, and lying amongst it, joined to the woeful and convulsive cries, gave to each, the air of a cell in Bedlam.
One tent was occupied exclusively by Negroes. They were all full-dressed, and looked exactly as if they were performing a scene on the stage. One woman wore a dress of pink gauze trimmed with silver lace; another was dressed in pale yellow silk; one or two had splendid turbans; and all wore a profusion of ornaments. The men were in snow white pantaloons, with gay coloured linen jackets. One of these, a youth of coal-black comeliness, was preaching with the most violent gesticulations, frequently springing high from the ground, and clapping his hands over his head. Could our missionary societies have heard the trash he uttered, by way of an address to the Deity, they might perhaps have doubted whether his conversion had much enlightened his mind.
At midnight a horn sounded through the camp, which, we were told, was to call the people from private to public worship; and we presently saw them flocking from all sides to the front of the preachers' stand. Mrs. B. and I contrived to place ourselves with our backs supported against the lower part of this structure, and we were thus enabled to witness the scene which followed without personal danger. There were about two thousand persons assembled.
One of the preachers began in a low nasal tone, and, like all other Methodist preachers, assured us of the enormous depravity of man as he comes from the hands of his Maker, and of his perfect sanctification after he had wrestled sufficiently with the Lord to get hold of him, et cetera. The admiration of the crowd was evinced by almost constant cries of "Amen! Amen!" "Jesus! Jesus!" "Glory! Glory!" and the like. But this comparative tranquility did not last long: the preacher told them that "this night was the time fixed upon for anxious sinners to wrestle with the Lord;" that he and his brethren "were at hand to help them," and that such as needed their help were to come forward into "the pen." The phrase forcibly recalled Milton's lines—
"Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold A sheep-hook, or have learned aught else, the least That to the faithful herdsman's art belongs! —But when they list their lean and flashy songs, Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;— The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed! But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw, Rot inwardly—and foul contagion spread."
"The pen" was the space immediately below the preachers' stand; we were therefore placed on the edge of it, and were enabled to see and hear all that took place in the very centre of this extraordinary exhibition.
The crowd fell back at the mention of the pen, and for some minutes there was a vacant space before us. The preachers came down from their stand and placed themselves in the midst of it, beginning to sing a hymn, calling upon the penitents to come forth. As they sung they kept turning themselves round to every part of the crowd and, by degrees, the voices of the whole multitude joined in chorus. This was the only moment at which I perceived any thing like the solemn and beautiful effect, which I had heard ascribed to this woodland worship. It is certain that the combined voices of such a multitude, heard at dead of night, from the depths of their eternal forests, the many fair young faces turned upward, and looking paler and lovelier as they met the moon-beams, the dark figures of the officials in the middle of the circle, the lurid glare thrown by the altar-fires on the woods beyond, did altogether produce a fine and solemn effect, that I shall not easily forget; but ere I had well enjoyed it, the scene changed, and sublimity gave place to horror and disgust.
The exhortation nearly resembled that which I had heard at "the Revival," but the result was very different; for, instead of the few hysterical women who had distinguished themselves on that occasion, above a hundred persons,, nearly all females, came forward, uttering howlings and groans, so terrible that I shall never cease to shudder when I recall them. They appeared to drag each other forward, and on the word being given, "let us pray," they all fell on their knees; but this posture was soon changed for others that permitted greater scope for the convulsive movements of their limbs; and they were soon all lying on the ground in an indescribable confusion of heads and legs. They threw about their limbs with such incessant and violent motions, that I was every instant expecting some serious accident to occur.
But how am I to describe the sounds that proceeded from this strange mass of human beings? I know no words which can convey an idea of it. Hysterical sobbings, convulsive groans, shrieks and screams the most appalling, burst forth on all sides. I felt sick with horror. As if their hoarse and over strained voices failed to make noise enough, they soon began to clap their hands violently. The scene described by Dante was before me:-
"Quivi sospiri, pianti, ed alti guai Risonavon per l'aere— —Orribili favelle Parole di dolore, accenti d'ira Voci alti e floche, e suon di man con elle."
Many of these wretched creatures were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered "Sister! dear sister!" I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls; I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims, and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red. Had I been a man, I am sure I should have been guilty of some rash act of interference; nor do I believe that such a scene could have been acted in the presence of Englishmen without instant punishment being inflicted; not to mention the salutary discipline of the treadmill, which, beyond all question, would, in England, have been applied to check so turbulent and so vicious a scene.
After the first wild burst that followed their prostration, the meanings, in many instances, became loudly articulate; and I then experienced a strange vibration between tragic and comic feeling.
A very pretty girl, who was kneeling in the attitude of Canova's Magdalene immediately before us, amongst an immense quantity of jargon, broke out thus: "Woe! woe to the backsliders! hear it, hear it Jesus! when I was fifteen my mother died, and I backslided, oh Jesus, I backslided! take me home to my mother, Jesus! take me home to her, for I am weary! Oh John Mitchel! John Mitchel!" and after sobbing piteously behind her raised hands, she lifted her sweet face again, which was as pale as death, and said, "Shall I sit on the sunny bank of salvation with my mother? my own dear mother? oh Jesus, take me home, take me home!" Who could refuse a tear to this earnest wish for death in one so young and so lovely? But I saw her, ere I left the ground, with her hand fast locked, and her head supported by a man who looked very much as Don Juan might, when sent back to earth as too bad for the regions below.
One woman near us continued to "call on the Lord," as it is termed, in the loudest possible tone, and without a moment's interval, for the two hours that we kept our dreadful station. She became frightfully hoarse, and her face so red as to make me expect she would burst a blood-vessel. Among the rest of her rant, she said, "I will hold fast to Jesus, I never will let him go; if they take me to hell, I will still hold him fast, fast, fast!"
The stunning noise was sometimes varied by the preachers beginning to sing; but the convulsive movements of the poor maniacs only became more violent. At length the atrocious wickedness of this horrible scene increased to a degree of grossness, that drove us from our station; we returned to the carriage at about three o'clock in the morning, and passed the remainder of the night in listening to the ever increasing tumult at the pen. To sleep was impossible. At daybreak the horn again sounded, to send them to private devotion; and in about an hour afterwards I saw the whole camp as joyously and eagerly employed in preparing and devouring their most substantial breakfasts as if the night had been passed in dancing; and I marked many a fair but pale face, that I recognised as a demoniac of the night, simpering beside a swain, to whom she carefully administered hot coffee and eggs. The preaching saint and the howling sinner seemed alike to relish this mode of recruiting their strength.
After enjoying abundance of strong tea, which proved a delightful restorative after a night so strangely spent, I wandered alone into the forest, and I never remember to have found perfect quiet more delightful.
We soon after left the ground; but before our departure we learnt that a very satisfactory collection had been made by the preachers, for Bibles, Tracts, and all other religious purposes.
Danger of rural excursions—Sickness
It is by no means easy to enjoy the beauties of American scenery in the west, even when you are in a neighbourhood that affords much to admire; at least, in doing so, you run considerable risk of injuring your health. Nothing is considered more dangerous than exposure to midday heat, except exposure to evening damp; and the twilight is so short, that if you set out on an expedition when the fervid heat subsides, you can hardly get half a mile before "sun down," as they call it, warns you that you must run or drive home again, as fast as possible, for fear you should get "a chill."
I believe we braved all this more than any one else in the whole country, and if we had not, we should have left Cincinnati without seeing any thing of the country around it.
Though we kept steadily to our resolution of passing no more sylvan hours in the forests of Ohio, we often spent entire days in Kentucky, tracing the course of a "creek," or climbing the highest points within our reach, in the hope of catching a glimpse of some distant object. A beautiful reach of the Ohio, or the dark windings of the pretty Licking, were indeed always the most remarkable features in the landscape.
There was one spot, however, so beautiful that we visited it again and again; it was by no means free from mosquitoes; and being on the bank of a stream, with many enormous trees lying on the half-cleared ground around, it was just such a place as we had been told a hundred times was particularly "dangerous;" nevertheless, we dared every thing for the sake of dining beside our beautiful rippling stream, and watching the bright sunbeams dancing on the grassy bank, at such a distance from our retreat that they could not heat us. A little below the basin that cooled our wine was a cascade of sufficient dimensions to give us all the music of a waterfall, and all the sparkling brightness of clear water when it is broken again and again by jutting crags.
To sit beside this miniature cascade, and read, or dream away a day, was one of our greatest pleasures.
It was indeed a mortifying fact, that whenever we found out a picturesque nook, where turf, and moss, and deep shade, and a crystal stream, and fallen trees, majestic in their ruin, tempted us to sit down, and be very cool and very happy, we invariably found that that spot lay under the imputation of malaria.
A row upon the Ohio was another of our favourite amusements; but in this, I believe, we were also very singular, for often, when enjoying it, we were shouted at, by the young free-borns on the banks, as if we had been so many monsters.
The only rural amusement in which we ever saw any of the natives engaged was eating strawberries and cream in a pretty garden about three miles from the town; here we actually met three or four carriages; a degree of dissipation that I never witnessed on any other occasion. The strawberries were tolerable strawberries, but the cream was the vilest sky-blue, and the charge half a dollar to each person; which being about the price of half a fat sheep, I thought "pretty considerable much," if I may be permitted to use an expressive phrase of the country.
We had repeatedly been told, by those who knew the land, that the second summer was the great trial to the health of Europeans settled in America; but we had now reached the middle of our second August, and with the exception of the fever one of my sons had suffered from, the summer after our arrival, we had all enjoyed perfect health; but I was now doomed to feel the truth of the above prediction, for before the end of August I fell low before the monster that is for ever stalking through that land of lakes and rivers, breathing fever and death around. It was nine weeks before I left my room, and when I did, I looked more fit to walk into the Potter's Field, (as they call the English burying ground) than any where else.
Long after my general health was pretty well restored, I suffered from the effect of the fever in my limbs, and lay in bed reading several weeks after I had been pronounced convalescent. Several American novels were brought me. Mr. Flint's Francis Berrian is excellent; a little wild and romantic, but containing scenes of first-rate interest and pathos. Hope Leslie, and Redwood, by Miss Sedgewick, an American lady, have both great merit; and I now first read the whole of Mr. Cooper's novels. By the time these American studies were completed, I never closed my eyes without seeing myriads of bloody scalps floating round me; long slender figures of Red Indians crept through my dreams with noiseless tread; panthers flared; forests blazed; and which ever way I fled, a light foot, a keen eye, and a long rifle were sure to be on my trail. An additional ounce of calomel hardly sufficed to neutralize the effect of these raw-head and bloody-bones adventures. I was advised to plunge immediately into a course of fashionable novels. It was a great relief to me; but as my head was by no means very clear, I sometimes jumbled strangely together the civilized rogues and assassins of Mr. Bulwer, and the wild men, women, and children slayers of Mr. Cooper; and, truly, between them, I passed my dreams in very bad company.
Still I could not stand, nor even sit upright. What was I to read next? A happy thought struck me. I determined upon beginning with Waverley, and reading through (not for the first time certainly) the whole series. And what a world did I enter upon! The wholesome vigour of every page seemed to communicate itself to my nerves; I ceased to be languid and fretful, and though still a cripple, I certainly enjoyed myself most completely, as long as my treat lasted; but this was a shorter time than any one would believe, who has not found how such volumes melt, before the constant reading of a long idle day. When it was over, however, I had the pleasure of finding that I could walk half a dozen yards at a time, and take short airings in an open carriage; and better still, could sleep quietly.
It was no very agreeable conviction which greeted my recovery, that our Cincinnati speculation for my son would in no way answer our expectation; and very soon after, he was again seized with the bilious fever of the country, which terminated in that most distressing of all maladies, an ague. I never witnessed is effects before, and therefore made my self extremely miserable at what those around me considered of no consequence.
I believe this frightful complaint is not immediately dangerous; but I never can believe that the violent and sudden prostration of strength, the dreadfully convulsive movements which distort the limbs, the livid hue that spreads itself over the complexion, can take place without shaking the seat of health and life. Repeatedly we thought the malady cured, and for a few days the poor sufferer believed himself restored to health and strength; but again and again it returned upon him, and he began to give himself up as the victim of ill health. My own health was still very infirm, and it took but little time to decide that we must leave Cincinnati. The only impediment to this was, the fear that Mr. Trollope, who was to join us in the Spring, might have set out, and thus arrive at Cincinnati after we had left it. However, as the time he had talked of leaving England was later in the season, I decided upon running the risk; but the winter had set in with great severity, and the river being frozen, the steam-boats could not run; the frost continued unbroken through the whole of February, and we were almost weary of waiting for its departure, which was to be the signal of ours.
The breaking up of the ice, on the Licking and Ohio, formed a most striking spectacle. At night the river presented a solid surface of ice, but in the morning it shewed a collection of floating icebergs, of every imaginable size and form, whirling against each other with frightful violence, and with a noise unlike any sound I remember.
This sight was a very welcome one, as it gave us hopes of immediate departure, but my courage failed, when I heard that one or two steam-boats, weary of waiting, meant to start on the morrow. The idea of running against these floating islands was really alarming, and I was told by many, that my fears were not without foundation, for that repeated accidents had happened from this cause; and then they talked of the little Miami river, whose mouth we were to pass, sending down masses of ice that might stop our progress; in short, we waited patiently and prudently, till the learned in such matters told us that we might start with safety.
Departure from Cincinnati—Society on board the Steam-boat— Arrival at Wheeling—Bel Esprit
We quitted Cincinnati the beginning of March, 1830, and I believe there was not one of our party who did not experience a sensation of pleasure in leaving it. We had seen again and again all the queer varieties of it's little world; had amused ourselves with it's consequence, it's taste, and it's ton, till they had ceased to be amusing. Not a hill was left unclimbed, nor a forest path unexplored; and, with the exception of two or three individuals, who bore heads and hearts peculiar to no clime, but which are found scattered through the world, as if to keep us every where in good humour with it, we left nought to regret at Cincinnati. The only regret was, that we had ever entered it; for we had wasted health, time, and money there.
We got on board the steam-boat which was to convey us to Wheeling at three o'clock. She was a noble boat, by far the finest we had seen. The cabins were above, and the deck passengers, as they are called, were accommodated below. In front of the ladies' cabin was an ample balcony, sheltered by an awning; chairs and sofas were placed there, and even at that early season, nearly all the female passengers passed the whole day there. The name of this splendid vessel was the Lady Franklin. By the way, I was often amused by the evident fondness which the Americans shew for titles. The wives of their eminent men constantly receive that of "Lady." We heard of Lady Washington, Lady Jackson, and many other "ladies." The eternal recurrence of their militia titles is particularly ludicrous, met with, as they are, among the tavern-keepers, market-gardeners, &c. But I think the most remarkable instance which we noticed of this sort of aristocratical longing occurred at Cincinnati. Mr. T— in speaking of a gentleman of the neighbourhood, called him Mr. M—. "General M—, sir," observed his companion. "I beg his pardon," rejoined Mr. T—, "but I was not aware of his being in the army." "No, sir, not in the army," was the reply, "but he was surveyor- general of the district."
The weather was delightful; all trace of winter had disappeared, and we again found ourselves moving rapidly up the stream, and enjoying all the beauty of the Ohio.
Of the male part of the passengers we saw nothing, excepting at the short silent periods allotted for breakfast, dinner, and supper, at which we were permitted to enter their cabin, and place ourselves at their table.
In the Lady Franklin we had decidedly the best of it, for we had our beautiful balcony to sit in. In all respects, indeed, our accommodations were very superior to what we had found in the boat which brought us from New Orleans to Memphis, where we were stowed away in a miserable little chamber close aft, under the cabin, and given to understand by the steward, that it was our duty there to remain "till such time as the bell should ring for meals."
The separation of the sexes, so often mentioned, is no where more remarkable than on board the steam-boats. Among the passengers on this occasion we had a gentleman and his wife, who really appeared to suffer from the arrangement. She was an invalid, and he was extremely attentive to her, as far, at least, as the regulations permitted. When the steward opened the door of communication between the cabins, to permit our approaching the table, her husband was always stationed close to it to hand her to her place; and when he accompanied her again to the door, he always lingered for a moment or two on the forbidden threshold, nor left his station, till the last female had passed through. Once or twice he ventured, when all but his wife were on the balcony, to sit down beside her for a moment in our cabin, but the instant either of us entered, he started like a guilty thing and vanished.
While mentioning the peculiar arrangements which are thought necessary to the delicacy of the American ladies, or the comfort of the American gentlemen, I am tempted to allude to a story which I saw in the papers respecting the visits which it was stated Captain Basil Hall persisted in making to his wife and child on board a Mississippi steam-boat, after bring informed that doing so was contrary to law. Now I happen to know that neither himself or Mrs. Hall ever entered the ladies' cabin during the whole voyage, as they occupied a state-room which Captain Hall had secured for his party. The veracity of newspaper statements is, perhaps, nowhere quite unimpeachable, but if I am not greatly mistaken, there are more direct falsehoods circulated by the American newspapers than by all the others in the world, and the one great and never-failing source of these voluminous works of imagination is England and the English. How differently would such a voyage be managed on the other side of the Atlantic, were such a mode of travelling possible there. Such long calm river excursions would be perfectly delightful, and parties would be perpetually formed to enjoy them. Even were all the parties strangers to each other, the knowledge that they were to eat, drink, and steam away together for a week or fortnight, would induce something like a social feeling in any other country.
It is true that the men became sufficiently acquainted to game together, and we were told that the opportunity was considered as so favourable, that no boat left New Orleans without having as cabin passengers one or two gentlemen from that city whose profession it was to drill the fifty-two elements of a pack of cards to profitable duty. This doubtless is an additional reason for the strict exclusion of the ladies from their society. The constant drinking of spirits is another, for though they do not scruple to chew tobacco and to spit incessantly in the presence of women, they generally prefer drinking and gaming in their absence.
I often used to amuse myself with fancying the different scene which such a vessel would display in Europe. The noble length of the gentlemen's cabin would be put into requisition for a dance, while that of the ladies, with their delicious balcony, would be employed for refreshments, instead of sitting down in two long silent melancholy rows, to swallow as much coffee and beef-steak as could be achieved in ten minutes. Then song and music would be heard borne along by the midnight breeze; but on the Ohio, when light failed to shew us the bluffs, and the trees, with their images inverted in the stream, we crept into our little cots, listening to the ceaseless churning of the engine, in hope it would prove a lullaby till morning.
We were three days in reaching Wheeling, where we arrived at last, at two o'clock in the morning, an uncomfortable hour to disembark with a good deal of luggage, as the steam-boat was obliged to go on immediately; but we were instantly supplied with a dray, and in a few moments found ourselves comfortably seated before a good fire, at an hotel near the landing-place; our rooms, with fires in them, were immediately ready for us, and refreshments brought, with all that sedulous attention which in this country distinguishes a slave state. In making this observation I am very far from intending to advocate the system of slavery; I conceive it to be essentially wrong; but so far as my observation has extended, I think its influence is far less injurious to the manners and morals of the people than the fallacious ideas of equality, which are so fondly cherished by the working classes of the white population in America. That these ideas are fallacious, is obvious, for in point of fact the man possessed of dollars does command the services of the man possessed of no dollars; but these services are given grudgingly, and of necessity, with no appearance of cheerful goodwill on the one side, or of kindly interest on the other. I never failed to mark the difference on entering a slave state. I was immediately comfortable, and at my ease, and felt that the intercourse between me and those who served me, was profitable to both parties and painful to neither.
It was not till I had leisure for more minute observation that I felt aware of the influence of slavery upon the owners of slaves; when I did, I confess I could not but think that the citizens of the United States had contrived, by their political alchymy, to extract all that was most noxious both in democracy and in slavery, and had poured the strange mixture through every vein of the moral organization of their country.
Wheeling is the state of Virginia, and appears to be a flourishing town. It is the point at which most travellers from the West leave the Ohio, to take the stages which travel the mountain road to the Atlantic cities.
It has many manufactories, among others, one for blowing and cutting glass, which we visited. We were told by the workmen that the articles finished there were equal to any in the world; but my eyes refused their assent. The cutting was very good, though by no means equal to what we see in daily use in London; but the chief inferiority is in the material, which is never altogether free from colour. I had observed this also in the glass of the Pittsburgh manufactory, the labour bestowed on it always appearing greater than the glass deserved. They told us also, that they were rapidly improving in the art, and I have no doubt that this was true.
Wheeling has little of beauty to distinguish it, except the ever lovely Ohio, to which we here bid adieu, and a fine bold hill, which rises immediately behind the town. This hill, as well as every other in the neighbourhood, is bored for coal. Their mines are all horizontal. The coal burns well, but with a very black and dirty cinder.
We found the coach, by which we meant to proceed to Little Washington, full, and learnt that we must wait two days before it would again leave the town. Posting was never heard of in the country, and the mail travelled all night, which I did not approve of; we therefore found ourselves compelled to pass two days at the Wheeling hotel.
I know not how this weary interval would have worn away, had it not been for the fortunate circumstance of our meeting with a bel esprit among the boarders there. We descended to the common sitting room (for private parlours there are none) before breakfast the morning after our arrival; several ordinary individuals entered, till the party amounted to eight or nine. Again the door opened, and in swam a female, who had once certainly been handsome, and who, it was equally evident, still thought herself so. She was tall, and well formed, dressed in black, with many gaudy trinkets about her: a scarlet fichu relieved the sombre colour of her dress, and a very smart little cap at the back of her head set off an immense quantity of sable hair, which naturally, or artificially, adorned her forehead. A becoming quantity of rouge gave the finishing touch to her figure, which had a degree of pretension about it that immediately attracted our notice. She talked fluently, and without any American restraint, and I began to be greatly puzzled as to who or what she could be; a lady, in the English sense of the word, I was sure she was not, and she was a little like an American female of what they call good standing. A beautiful girl of seventeen entered soon after, and called her "Ma," and both mother and daughter chattered away, about themselves and their concerns, in a manner that greatly increased my puzzle.