Whether some such maga dogged my steps, I know not, but many hours had not elapsed ere I again felt the noxious influence of an American autumn. This fever, "built in th' eclipse," speedily brought me very low, and though it lasted not so long as that of the preceding year, I felt persuaded I should never recover from it. Though my forebodings were not verified by the event, it was declared that change of air was necessary, and it was arranged for me, (for I was perfectly incapable of settling any thing for myself,) that I should go to Alexandria, a pretty town at the distance of about fifteen miles, which had the reputation of possessing a skilful physician.
It was not without regret that we quitted our friends at Stonington; but the prescription proved in a great degree efficacious; a few weeks' residence in Alexandria restored my strength sufficiently to enable me to walk to a beautiful little grassy terrace, perfectly out of the town, but very near it, from whence we could watch the various craft that peopled the Potomac between Alexandria and Washington. But though gradually regaining strength, I was still far from well; all plans for winter gaiety were abandoned, and finding ourselves very well accommodated, we decided upon passing the winter where we were. It proved unusually severe; the Potomac was so completely frozen as to permit considerable traffic to be carried on by carts, crossing on the ice, from Maryland. This had not occurred before for thirty years. The distance was a mile and a quarter, and we ventured to brave the cold, and walk across this bright and slippery mirror, to make a visit on the opposite shore; the fatigue of keeping our feet was by no means inconsiderable, but we were rewarded by seeing as noble a winter landscape around us as the eye could look upon.
When at length the frost gave way, the melting snow produced freshes so violent as to carry away the long bridge at Washington; large fragments of it, with the railing still erect, came floating down amidst vast blocks of ice, during many successive days, and it was curious to see the intrepidity with which the young sailors of Alexandria periled their lives to make spoil of the timber.
The solar eclipse of the 12th of February, 1831, was nearer total than any I ever saw, or ever shall see. It was completely annular at Alexandria, and the bright ring which surrounded the moon's shadow, though only 81 deg. in breadth, gave light sufficient to read the smallest print; the darkness was considerably lessened by the snow, which, as the day was perfectly unclouded, reflected brightly all the light that was left us.
Notwithstanding the extreme cold, we passed the whole time in the open air, on a rising ground near the river; in this position many beautiful effects were perceptible; the rapid approach and change of shadows, the dusky hue of the broad Potomac, that seemed to drink in the feeble light, which its snow-covered banks gave back to the air, the gradual change of every object from the colouring of bright sunshine to one sad universal tint of dingy purple, the melancholy lowing of the cattle, and the short, but remarkable suspension of all labour, gave something of mystery and awe to the scene that we shall long remember.
During the following months I occupied myself partly in revising my notes, and arranging these pages; and partly in making myself acquainted, as much as possible, with the literature of the country.
While reading and transcribing my notes, I underwent a strict self-examination. I passed in review all I had seen, all I had felt, and scrupulously challenged every expression of disapprobation; the result was, that I omitted in transcription much that I had written, as containing unnecessary details of things which had displeased me; yet, as I did so, I felt strongly that there was no exaggeration in them; but such details, though true, might be ill-natured, and I retained no more than were necessary to convey the general impressions received. While thus reviewing my notes, I discovered that many points, which all scribbling travellers are expected to notice, had been omitted; but a few pages of miscellaneous observations will, I think, supply all that can be expected from so idle a pen.
American Cooking—Evening Parties—Dress—Sleighing— Money-getting Habits—Tax-Gatherer's Notice—Indian Summer—Anecdote of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar
In relating all I know of America, I surely must not omit so important a feature as the cooking. There are sundry anomalies in the mode of serving even a first-rate table; but as these are altogether matters of custom, they by no means indicate either indifference or neglect in this important business; and whether castors are placed on the table or on the sideboard; whether soup, fish, patties, and salad be eaten in orthodox order or not, signifies but little. I am hardly capable, I fear, of giving a very erudite critique on the subject; general observations therefore must suffice. The ordinary mode of living is abundant, but not delicate. They consume an extraordinary quantity of bacon. Ham and beaf-steaks appear morning, noon, and night. In eating, they mix things together with the strangest incongruity imaginable. I have seen eggs and oysters eaten together: the sempiternal ham with apple-sauce; beefsteak with stewed peaches; and salt fish with onions. The bread is everywhere excellent, but they rarely enjoy it themselves, as they insist upon eating horrible half-baked hot rolls both morning and evening. The butter is tolerable; but they have seldom such cream as every little dairy produces in England; in fact, the cows are very roughly kept, compared with our's. Common vegetables are abundant and very fine. I never saw sea-cale or cauliflowers, and either from the want of summer rain, or the want of care, the harvest of green vegetables is much sooner over than with us. They eat the Indian corn in a great variety of forms; sometimes it is dressed green, and eaten like peas; sometimes it is broken to pieces when dry, boiled plain, and brought to table like rice; this dish is called hominy. The flour of it is made into at least a dozen different sorts of cakes; but in my opinion all bad. This flour, mixed in the proportion of one-third with fine wheat, makes by far the best bread I ever tasted.
I never saw turbot, salmon, or fresh cod; but the rock and shad are excellent. There is a great want of skill in the composition of sauces; not only with fish, but with every thing. They use very few made dishes, and I never saw any that would be approved by our savants. They have an excellent wild duck, called the Canvass Back, which, if delicately served, would surpass the black cock; but the game is very inferior to our's; they have no hares, and I never saw a pheasant. They seldom indulge in second courses, with all their ingenious temptations to the eating a second dinner; but almost every table has its dessert, (invariably pronounced desart) which is placed on the table before the cloth is removed, and consists of pastry, preserved fruits, and creams. They are "extravagantly fond," to use their own phrase, of puddings, pies, and all kinds of "sweets," particularly the ladies; but are by no means such connoisseurs in soups and ragouts as the gastronomes of Europe. Almost every one drinks water at table, and by a strange contradiction, in the country where hard drinking is more prevalent than in any other, there is less wine taken at dinner; ladies rarely exceed one glass, and the great majority of females never take any. In fact, the hard drinking, so universally acknowledged, does not take place at jovial dinners, but, to speak plain English, in solitary dram-drinking. Coffee is not served immediately after dinner, but makes part of the serious matter of tea-drinking, which comes some hours later. Mixed dinner parties of ladies and gentlemen are very rare, and unless several foreigners are present, but little conversation passes at table. It certainly does not, in my opinion, add to the well ordering a dinner table, to set the gentlemen at one end of it, and the ladies at the other; but it is very rarely that you find it otherwise.
Their large evening parties are supremely dull; the men sometimes play cards by themselves, but if a lady plays, it must not be for money; no ecarte, no chess; very little music, and that little lamentably bad. Among the blacks, I heard some good voices, singing in tune; but I scarcely ever heard a white American, male or female, go through an air without being out of tune before the end of it; nor did I ever meet any trace of science in the singing I heard in society. To eat inconceivable quantities of cake, ice, and pickled oysters—and to show half their revenue in silks and satins, seem to be the chief object they have in these parties.
The most agreeable meetings, I was assured by all the young people, were those to which no married women are admitted; of the truth of this statement I have not the least doubt. These exclusive meetings occur frequently, and often last to a late hour; on these occasions, I believe, they generally dance. At regular balls, married ladies are admitted, but seldom take much part in the amusement. The refreshments are always profuse and costly, but taken in a most uncomfortable manner. I have known many private balls, where every thing was on the most liberal scale of expense, where the gentlemen sat down to supper in one room, while the ladies took theirs, standing, in another.
What we call picnics are very rare, and when attempted, do not often succeed well. The two sexes can hardly mix for the greater part of a day without great restraint and ennui; it is quite contrary to their general habits; the favourite indulgences of the gentlemen (smoking cigars and drinking spirits), can neither be indulged in with decency, nor resigned with complacency.
The ladies have strange ways of adding to their charms. They powder themselves immoderately, face, neck, and arms, with pulverised starch; the effect is indescribably disagreeable by daylight, and not very favourable at any time. They are also most unhappily partial to false hair, which they wear in surprising quantities; this is the more to be lamented, as they generally have very fine hair of their own. I suspect this fashion to arise from an indolent mode of making their toilet, and from accomplished ladies' maids not being very abundant; it is less trouble to append a bunch of waving curls here, there, and every where, than to keep their native tresses in perfect order.
Though the expense of the ladies' dress greatly exceeds, in proportion to their general style of living, that of the ladies of Europe, it is very far (excepting in Philadelphia) from being in good taste. They do not consult the seasons in the colours or in the style of their costume; I have often shivered at seeing a young beauty picking her way through the snow with a pale rose-coloured bonnet, set on the very top of her head: I knew one young lady whose pretty little ear was actually frostbitten from being thus exposed. They never wear muffs or boots, and appear extremely shocked at the sight of comfortable walking shoes and cotton stockings, even when they have to step to their sleighs over ice and snow. They walk in the middle of winter with their poor little toes pinched into a miniature slipper, incapable of excluding as much moisture as might bedew a primrose. I must say in their excuse, however, that they have, almost universally, extremely pretty feet. They do not walk well, nor, in fact, do they ever appear to advantage when in movement. I know not why this should be, for they have abundance of French dancing-masters among them, but somehow or other it is the fact. I fancied I could often trace a mixture of affectation and of shyness in their little mincing unsteady step, and the ever changing position of the hands. They do not dance well; perhaps I should rather say they do not look well when dancing; lovely as their faces are, they cannot, in a position that exhibits the whole person, atone for the want of tournure, and for the universal defect in the formation of the bust, which is rarely full, or gracefully formed.
I never saw an American man walk or stand well; notwithstanding their frequent militia drillings, they are nearly all hollow chested and round shouldered: perhaps this is occasioned by no officer daring to say to a brother free-born "hold up your head;" whatever the cause, the effect is very remarkable to a stranger. In stature, and in physiognomy, a great majority of the population, both male and female, are strikingly handsome, but they know not how to do their own honours; half as much comeliness elsewhere would produce ten times as much effect.
Nothing can exceed their activity and perseverance in all kinds of speculation, handicraft, and enterprise, which promises a profitable pecuniary result. I heard an Englishman, who had been long resident in America, declare that in following, in meeting, or in overtaking, in the street, on the road, or in the field, at the theatre, the coffee-house, or at home, he had never overheard Americans conversing without the word DOLLAR being pronounced between them. Such unity of purpose, such sympathy of feeling, can, I believe, be found nowhere else, except, perhaps, in an ants' nest. The result is exactly what might be anticipated. This sordid object, for ever before their eyes, must inevitably produce a sordid tone of mind, and, worse still, it produces a seared and blunted conscience on all questions of probity. I know not a more striking evidence of the low tone of morality which is generated by this universal pursuit of money, than the manner in which the New England States are described by Americans. All agree in saying that they present a spectacle of industry and prosperity delightful to behold, and this is the district and the population most constantly quoted as the finest specimen of their admirable country; yet I never met a single individual in any part of the Union who did not paint these New Englanders as sly, grinding, selfish, and tricking. The yankees (as the New Englanders are called) will avow these qualities themselves with a complacent smile, and boast that no people on the earth can match them at over reaching in a bargain. I have heard them unblushingly relate stories of their cronies and friends, which, if believed among us, would banish the heroes from the fellowship of honest men for ever; and all this is uttered with a simplicity which sometimes led me to doubt if the speakers knew what honour and honesty meant. Yet the Americans declare that "they are the most moral people upon earth." Again and again I have heard this asserted, not only in conversation, and by their writings, but even from the pulpit. Such broad assumption of superior virtue demands examination, and after four years of attentive and earnest observation and enquiry, my honest conviction is, that the standard of moral character in the United States is very greatly lower than in Europe. Of their religion, as it appears outwardly, I have had occasion to speak frequently; I pretend not to judge the heart, but, without any uncharitable presumption, I must take permission to say, that both Protestant England and Catholic France show an infinitely superior religious and moral aspect to mortal observation, both as to reverend decency of external observance, and as to the inward fruit of honest dealing between man and man.
In other respects I think no one will be disappointed who visits the country, expecting to find no more than common sense might teach him to look for, namely, a vast continent, by far the greater part of which is still in the state in which nature left it, and a busy, bustling, industrious population, hacking and hewing their way through it. What greatly increases the interest of this spectacle, is the wonderful facility for internal commerce, furnished by the rivers, lakes, and canals, which thread the country in every direction, producing a rapidity of progress in all commercial and agricultural speculation altogether unequalled. This remarkable feature is perceptible in every part of the union into which the fast spreading population has hitherto found its way, and forms, I think, the most remarkable and interesting peculiarity of the country. I hardly remember a single town where vessels of some description or other may not constantly be seen in full activity.
Their carriages of every kind are very unlike ours; those belonging to private individuals seem all constructed with a view to summer use, for which they are extremely well calculated, but they are by no means comfortable in winter. The waggons and cars are built with great strength, which is indeed necessary, from the roads they often have to encounter. The stagecoaches are heavier and much less comfortable than those of France; to those of England they can bear no comparison. I never saw any harness that I could call handsome, nor any equipage which, as to horses, carriage, harness, and servants, could be considered as complete. The sleighs are delightful, and constructed at so little expense that I wonder we have not all got them in England, lying by, in waiting for the snow, which often remains with us long enough to permit their use. Sleighing is much more generally enjoyed by night than by day, for what reason I could never discover, unless it be, that no gentlemen are to be found disengaged from business in the mornings. Nothing, certainly, can be more agreeable than the gliding smoothly and rapidly along, deep sunk in soft furs, the moon shining with almost midday splendour, the air of crystal brightness, and the snow sparkling on every side, as if it were sprinkled with diamonds. And then the noiseless movement of the horses, so mysterious and unwonted, and the gentle tinkling of the bells you meet and carry, all help at once to soothe and excite the spirits: in short, I had not the least objection to sleighing by night, I only wished to sleigh by day also.
Almost every resident in the country has a carriage they call a carryall, which name I suspect to be a corruption of the cariole so often mentioned in the pretty Canadian story of Emily Montagu. It is clumsy enough, certainly, but extremely convenient, and admirably calculated, with its thick roof and moveable draperies, for every kind of summer excursion.
Their steam-boats, were the social arrangements somewhat improved, would be delightful, as a mode of travelling; but they are very seldom employed for excursions of mere amusement: nor do I remember seeing pleasure-boats, properly so called, at any of the numerous places where they might be used with so much safety and enjoyment.
How often did our homely adage recur to me, "All work and no play would make Jack a dull boy;" Jonathan is a very dull boy. We are by no means so gay as our lively neighbours on the other side the Channel, but, compared with Americans, we are whirligigs and tetotums; every day is a holyday, and every night a festival.
Perhaps if the ladies had quite their own way, a little more relaxation would be permitted; but there is one remarkable peculiarity in their manners which precludes the possibility of any dangerous outbreaking of the kind: few ladies have any command of ready money entrusted to them. I have been a hundred times present when bills for a few dollars, perhaps for one, have been brought for payment to ladies living in perfectly easy circumstances, who have declared themselves without money, and referred the claimant to their husbands for payment. On every occasion where immediate disbursement is required it is the same; even in shopping for ready cash they say, "send a bill home with the things, and my husband will give you a draft."
I think that it was during my stay at Washington, that I was informed of a government regulation, which appeared to me curious; I therefore record it here.
Every Deputy Post-Master is required to insert in his return the title of every newspaper received at his office for distribution. This return is laid before the Secretary of State, who, perfectly knowing the political character of each newspaper, is thus enabled to feel the pulse of every limb of the monster mob. This is a well imagined device for getting a peep at the politics of a country where newspapers make part of the daily food, but is it quite consistent with their entire freedom? I do not believe we have any such tricks to regulate the disposal of offices and appointments.
I believe it was in Indiana that Mr. T. met with a printed notice relative to the payment of taxes, which I preserved as a curious sample of the manner in which the free citizens are coaxed and reasoned into obeying the laws.
"LOOK OUT DELINQUENTS"
"Those indebted to me for taxes, fees, notes, and accounts, are specially requested to call and pay the same on or before the 1st day of December, 1828, as no longer indulgence will be given. I have called time and again, by advertisement and otherwise, to little effect; but now the time has come when my situation requires immediate payment from all indebted to me. It is impossible for me to pay off the amount of the duplicates of taxes and my other debts without recovering the same of those from whom it is due. I am at a loss to know the reason why those charged with taxes neglect to pay; from the negligence of many it would seem that they think the money is mine, or I have funds to discharge the taxes due to the State, and that I can wait with them until it suits their convenience to pay. The money is not mine; neither have I the funds to settle amount of the duplicate. My only resort is to collect; in doing so I should be sorry to have to resort to the authority given me by law for the recovery of the same. It should be the first object of every good citizen to pay his taxes, for it is in that way government is supported. Why are taxes assessed unless they are collected? Depend upon it, I shall proceed to collect agreeably to law, so govern yourselves accordingly.
JOHN SPENCER, Sh'ff and Collector, D.C. Nov 20, 1828."
"N.B. On Thursday, the 27th inst. A. St. Clair and Geo. H. Dunn, Esqrs. depart for Indianopolis; I wish as many as can pay to do so, to enable me to forward as much as possible, to save the twenty-one per cent, that will be charged against me after the 8th of December next.
The first autumn I passed in America, I was surprised to find a great and very oppressive return of heat, accompanied with a heavy mistiness in the air, long after the summer heats were over; when this state of the atmosphere comes on, they say, "we have got to the Indian summer." On desiring to have this phrase explained, I was told that the phenomenon described as the Indian Summer was occasioned by the Indians setting fire to the woods, which spread heat and smoke to a great distance; but I afterwards met with the following explanation, which appears to me much more reasonable. "The Indian summer is so called because, at the particular period of the year in which it obtains, the Indians break up their village communities, and go to the interior to prepare for their winter hunting. This season seems to mark a dividing line, between the heat of summer, and the cold of winter, and is, from its mildness, suited to these migrations. The cause of this heat is the slow combustion of the leaves and other vegetable matter of the boundless and interminable forests. Those who at this season of the year have penetrated these forests, know all about it. To the feet the heat is quite sensible, whilst the ascending vapour warms every thing it embraces, and spreading out into the wide atmosphere, fills the circuit of the heavens with its peculiar heat and smokiness."
This unnatural heat sufficiently accounts for the sickliness of the American autumn. The effect of it is extremely distressing to the nerves, even when the general health continues good; to me, it was infinitely more disagreeable than the glowing heat of the dog-days.
A short time before we arrived in America, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar made a tour of the United States. I heard many persons speak of his unaffected and amiable manners, yet he could not escape the dislike which every trace of gentlemanly feeling is sure to create among the ordinary class of Americans. As an amusing instance of this, I made the following extract from a newspaper.
"A correspondent of the Charlestown Gazette tells an anecdote connected with the Duke of Saxe-Weimar's recent journey through our country, which we do not recollect to have heard before, although some such story is told of the veritable Capt. Basil Hall. The scene occurred on the route between Augusta and Milledgeville; it seems that the sagacious Duke engaged three or four, or more seats, in the regular stage, for the accommodation of himself and suite, and thought by this that he had secured the monopoly of the vehicle. Not so, however; a traveller came along, and entered his name upon the book, and secured his seat by payment of the customary charges. To the Duke's great surprise on entering the stage, he found our traveller comfortably housed in one of the most eligible seats, wrapt up in his fear-nought, and snoring like a buffalo. The Duke, greatly irritated, called for the question of consideration. He demanded, in broken English, the cause of the gross intrusion, and insisted in a very princely manner, though not, it seems in very princely language, upon the incumbent vacating the seat in which he had made himself so impudently at home. But the Duke had yet to learn his first lesson of republicanism. The driver was one of those sturdy southrons, who can always, and at a moment's warning, whip his weight in wild cats: and he as resolutely told the Duke, that the traveller was as good, if not a better man, than himself; and that no alteration of the existing arrangement could be permitted. Saxe-Weimar became violent at this opposition, so unlike any to which his education hitherto had ever subjected him, and threatened John with the application of the bamboo. This was one of those threats which in Georgia dialect would subject a man to "a rowing up salt river;" and, accordingly, down leaped our driver from his box, and peeling himself for the combat, he leaped about the vehicle in the most wild-boar style, calling upon the prince of a five acre patch to put his threat in execution. But he of the star refused to make up issue in the way suggested, contenting himself with assuring the enraged southron of a complaint to his excellency the Governor, on arriving at the seat of government. This threat was almost as unlucky as the former, for it wrought the individual for whom it was intended into that species of fury, which, through discriminating in its madness, is nevertheless without much limit in its violence, and he swore that the Governor might go to —, and for his part he would just as leave lick the Governor as the Duke; he'd like no better fun than to give both Duke and Governor a dressing in the same breath; could do it, he had little doubt, &c. &c.; and instigating one fist to diverge into the face of the marvelling and panic-stricken nobleman, with the other he thrust him down into a seat alongside the traveller, whose presence had been originally of such sore discomfort to his excellency, and bidding the attendants jump in with their discomfited master, he mounted his box in triumph, and went on his journey." I fully believe that this brutal history would be as distasteful to the travelled and polished few who are to be found scattered through the Union, as it is to me: but if they do not deem the possibility of such a scene to be a national degradation, I differ from them. The American people (speaking of the great mass) have no more idea of what constitutes the difference between this "Prince of a five acre patch," and themselves, than a dray-horse has of estimating the points of the elegant victor of the race-course. Could the dray-horse speak, when expected to yield the daintiest stall to his graceful rival, he would say, "a horse is a horse;" and is it not with the same logic that the transatlantic Houynnhnm puts down all superiority with "a man is a man?"
This story justifies the reply of Talleyrand, when asked by Napoleon what he thought of the Americans, "Sire, ce sont des fiers cochons, et des cochons fiers."
The character of the American literature is, generally speaking, pretty justly appreciated in Europe. The immense exhalation of periodical trash, which penetrates into every cot and corner of the country, and which is greedily sucked in by all ranks, is unquestionably one great cause of its inferiority. Where newspapers are the principal vehicles of the wit and wisdom of a people, the higher graces of composition can hardly be looked for.
That there are many among them who can write well, is most certain; but it is at least equally so, that they have little encouragement to exercise the power in any manner more dignified than becoming the editor of a newspaper or a magazine. As far as I could judge, their best writers are far from being the most popular. The general taste is decidedly bad; this is obvious, not only from the mass of slip-slop poured forth by the daily and weekly press, but from the inflated tone of eulogy in which their insect authors are lauded.
To an American writer, I should think it must be a flattering distinction to escape the admiration of the newspapers. Few persons of taste, I imagine, would like such notice as the following, which I copied from a New York paper, where it followed the advertisement of a partnership volume of poems by a Mr, and Mrs. Brooks; but of such, are their literary notices chiefly composed.
"The lovers of impassioned and classical numbers may promise themselves much gratification from the muse of Brooks, while the many-stringed harp of his lady, the Norna of the Courier Harp, which none but she can touch, has a chord for every heart."
Another obvious cause of inferiority in the national literature, is the very slight acquaintance with the best models of composition, which is thought necessary for persons called well educated. There may be reason for deprecating the lavish expense of time bestowed in England on the acquirement of Latin and Greek, and it may be doubtful whether the power of composing in these languages with correctness and facility, be worth all the labour it costs; but as long as letters shall be left on the earth, the utility of a perfect familiarity with the exquisite models of antiquity, cannot be doubted. I think I run no risk of contradiction, when I say that an extremely small proportion of the higher classes in America possess this familiar acquaintance with the classics. It is vain to suppose that translations may suffice. Noble as are the thoughts the ancients have left us, their power of expression is infinitely more important as a study to modern writers; and this no translation can furnish. Nor did it appear to me that their intimacy with modern literature was such as to assist them much in the formation of style. What they class as modern literature seems to include little beyond the English publications of the day.
To speak of Chaucer, or even Spenser, as a modern, appears to them inexpressibly ridiculous; and all the rich and varied eloquence of Italy, from Dante to Monti, is about as much known to them, as the Welsh effusions of Urien and Modred, to us.
Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, &c., were read by the old federalists, but now they seem known more as naughty words, than as great names. I am much mistaken if a hundred untravelled Americans could be found, who have read Boileau or Le Fontaine. Still fewer are acquainted with that delightful host of French female writers, whose memoirs and letters sparkle in every page with unequalled felicity of style. The literature of Spain and Portugal is no better known, and as for "the wits of Queen Anne's day," they are laid en masse upon a shelf, in some score of very old-fashioned houses, together with Sherlock and Taylor, as much too antiquated to suit the immensely rapid progress of mind which distinguishes America.
The most perfect examples of English writing, either of our own, or of any former day, have assuredly not been produced by the imitation of any particular style; but the Fairy Queen would hardly have been written, if the Orlando had not; nor would Milton have been the perfect poet he was, had Virgil and Tasso been unknown to him. It is not that the scholar mimics in writing the phrases he has read, but that he can neither think, feel, nor express himself as he might have done, had his mental companionship been of a lower order.
They are great novel readers, but the market is chiefly furnished by England. They have, however, a few very good native novels. Mr. Flint's Francis Berrian is delightful. There is a vigor and freshness in his writing that is exactly in accordance with what one looks for, in the literature of a new country; and yet, strange to say, it is exactly what is most wanting in that of America. It appeared to me that the style of their imaginative compositions was almost always affected, and inflated. Even in treating their great national subject of romance, the Indians, they are seldom either powerful or original. A few well known general features, moral and physical, are presented over and over again in all their Indian stories, till in reading them you lose all sense of individual character. Mr. Flint's History of the Mississippi Valley is a work of great interest, and information, and will, I hope, in time find its way to England, where I think it is much more likely to be appreciated than in America.
Dr. Channing is a writer too well known in England to require my testimony to his great ability. As a preacher he has, perhaps, hardly a rival any where. This gentleman is an Unitarian, and I was informed by several persons well acquainted with the literary character of the country, that nearly all their distinguished men were of this persuasion.
Mr. Pierpoint is a very eloquent preacher, and a sweet poet. His works are not so well known among us as .they ought to be. Mr. Everett has written some beautiful lines, and if I may judge from the specimens of his speeches, as preserved in the volumes intitled "Eloquence of the United States," I should say that he shone more as a poet than an orator. But American fame has decided otherwise.
Mr. M. Flint, of Louisiana, has published a volume of poems which ought to be naturalised here. Mr. Hallock, of New York, has much facility of versification, and is greatly in fashion as a drawing-room poet, but I think he has somewhat too much respect for himself, and too little for his readers.
It is, I think, Mr. Bryant who ranks highest as the poet of the Union. This is too lofty an eminence for me to attack; besides, "I am of another parish," and therefore, perhaps, no very fair judge.
From miscellaneous poetry I made a great many extracts, but upon returning to them for transcription I thought that ill-nature and dulness, ('oh ill-matched pair!') would be more served by their insertion, than wholesome criticism.
The massive Fredoniad of Dr. Emmons, in forty cantos, I never read; but as I did not meet a single native who had, I hope this want of poetical enterprise will be excused.
They have very few native tragedies; not more than half a dozen I believe, and those of very recent date. It would be ungenerous to fall heavily upon these; the attempt alone, nearly the most arduous a poet can make, is of itself honourable: and the success at least equal to that in any other department of literature.
Mr. Paulding is a popular writer of novels; some of his productions have been recently republished in England. Miss Sedgwick is also well known among us; her "Hope Leslie" is a beautiful story. Mr. Washington Irving and Mr. Cooper have so decidedly chosen another field, whereon to reap their laurels, that it is hardly necessary to name them here.
I am not, of course, competent to form any opinion of their scientific works; but some papers which I read almost accidentally, appeared to me to be written with great clearness, and neatness of definition.
It appears extraordinary that a people who loudly declare their respect for science, should be entirely without observatories. Neither at their seats of learning, nor in their cities, does any thing of the kind exist; nor did I in any direction hear of individuals, given to the study of astronomy.
I had not the pleasure of making any acquaintance with Mr. Bowditch, of Boston, but I know that this gentleman ranks very high as a mathematician in the estimation of the scientific world of Europe.
Jefferson's posthumous works were very generally circulated whilst I was in America. They are a mighty mass of mischief. He wrote with more perspicuity than he thought, and his hot-headed democracy has done a fearful injury to his country. Hollow and unsound as his doctrines are, they are but too palatable to a people, each individual of whom would rather derive his importance from believing that none are above him, than from the consciousness that in his station he makes part of a noble whole. The social system of Mr. Jefferson, if carried into effect, would make of mankind an unamalgamated mass of grating atoms, where the darling "I'm as good as you," would soon take place of the law and the Gospel. As it is, his principles, though happily not fully put in action, have yet produced most lamentable results. The assumption of equality, however empty, is sufficient to tincture the manners of the poor with brutal insolence, and subjects the rich to the paltry expediency of sanctioning the falsehood, however deep their conviction that it is such. It cannot, I think, be denied that the great men of America attain to power and to fame, by eternally uttering what they know to be untrue. American citizens are not equal. Did Washington feel them to be so, when his word outweighed (so happily for them) the votes of thousands? Did Franklin think that all were equal when he shouldered his way from the printing press to the cabinet? True, he looked back in high good humour, and with his kindest smile told the poor devils whom he left behind, that they were all his equals; but Franklin did not speak the truth, and he knew it. The great, the immortal Jefferson himself, he who when past the three score years and ten, still taught young females to obey his nod, and so became the father of unnumbered generations of groaning slaves, what was his matin and his vesper hymn? "All men are born free and equal." Did the venerable father of the gang believe it? Or did he too purchase his immortality by a lie?
From the five heavy volumes of the "Eloquence of the United States," I made a few extracts, which I give more for the sake of their political interest, than for any purpose of literary criticism.
Mr. Hancock (one of those venerated men who signed the act of independence), in speaking of England, thus expresses himself: "But if I was possessed of the gift of prophecy, I dare not (except by Divine command) unfold the leaves on which the destiny of that once powerful kingdom is inscribed." It is impossible not to regret that Mr. Hancock should thus have let "I dare not, wait upon I would." It would have been exceedingly edifying to have known beforehand all the terrible things the republic was about to do for us.
This prophetic orator spoke the modest, yet awful words, above quoted, nearly sixty years ago; in these latter days men are become bolder, for in a modern 4th of July oration, Mr. Rush, without waiting, I think, for Divine command, gives the following amiable portrait of the British character.
"In looking at Britain, we see a harshness of individual character in the general view of it, which is perceived and acknowledged by all Europe; a spirit of unbecoming censure as regards all customs and institutions not their own; a ferocity in some of their characteristics of national manners, pervading their very pastimes, which no other modern people are endued with the blunted sensibility to bear; an universal self-assumed superiority, not innocently manifesting itself in speculative sentiments among themselves, but unamiably indulged when with foreigners, of whatever description, in their own country, or when they themselves are the temporary sojourners in a foreign country; a code of criminal law that forgets to feel for human frailty, that sports with human misfortune, that has shed more blood in deliberate judicial severity for two centuries past, constantly increasing, too, in its sanguinary hue, than has ever been sanctioned by the jurisprudence of any ancient or modern nation, civilized and refined like herself; the merciless whippings in her army, peculiar to herself alone, the conspicuous commission and freest acknowledgment of vice in the upper classes; the overweening distinctions shown to opulence and birth, so destructive of a sound moral sentiment in the nation, so baffling to virtue. These are some of the traits that rise up to a contemplation of the inhabitants of this isle."
Where is the alchymy that can extract from Captain Hall's work one thousandth part of the ill-will contained in this one passage? Yet America has resounded from shore to shore with execrations against his barbarous calumnies.
But now we will listen to another tone. Let us see how Americans can praise. Mr. Everett, in a recent 4th of July oration, speaks thus:—
"We are authorised to assert, that the era of our independence dates the establishment of the only perfect organization of government." Again, "Our government is in its theory perfect, and in its operation it is perfect also. Thus we have solved the great problem in human affairs." And again, "A frame of government perfect in its principles has been brought down from the airy regions of Utopia, and has found a local habitation and a name in our country."
Among my miscellaneous reading, I got hold of an American publication giving a detailed, and, indeed, an official account of the capture of Washington by the British, in 1814. An event so long past, and of so little ultimate importance, is, perhaps, hardly worth alluding to; but there are some passages in the official documents which I thought very amusing.
At the very moment of receiving the attack of the British on the heights of Bladensburgh, there seems to have been a most curious puzzle among the American generals, as to where they were to be stationed, and what they were to do. It is stated that the British threw themselves forward in open order, advancing singly. The American general (Winden) goes on in his narrative to describe what followed, thus:
"Our advanced riflemen now began to fire, and continued it for half a dozen rounds, when I observed them to run back to an orchard. They halted there, and seemed for a moment about returning to their original position, but in a few moments entirely broke and retired to the left of Stansburg's line. The advanced artillery immediately followed the riflemen.
"The first three or four rockets fired by the enemy were much above the heads of Stansburg's line; but the rockets having taken a more horizontal direction, an universal flight of the centre and left of this brigade was the consequence. The 5th regiment and the artillery still remained, and I hoped would prevent the enemy's approach, but they advancing singly, their fire annoyed the 5th considerably, when I ordered it to retire, to put it out of the reach of the enemy. This order was, however, immediately countermanded, from an aversion to retire before the necessity became stronger, and from a hope that the enemy would issue in a body, and enable us to act upon him on terms of equality. But the enemy's fire beginning to annoy the 5th still more, by wounding several of them, and a strong column passing up the road, and deploying on its left, I ordered them to retire; their retreat became a flight of absolute and total disorder."
Of Beall's regiment, the general gives the following succinct account—"It gave one or two ineffectual fires and fled."
In another place he says, piteously,—"The cavalry would do any thing but charge."
General Armstrong's gentle and metaphysical account of the business was, that—"Without all doubt the determining cause of our disasters is to be found in the love of life."
This affair at Washington, which in its result was certainly advantageous to America, inasmuch as it caused the present beautiful capitol to be built in the place of the one we burnt, was, nevertheless, considered as a national calamity at the time. In a volume of miscellaneous poems I met with one, written with the patriotic purpose of cheering the country under it; one triplet struck me as rather alarming for us, however soothing to America.
"Supposing George's house at Kew Were burnt, as we intend to do, Would that be burning England too?"
I think I have before mentioned that no work of mere pleasantry has hitherto been found to answer; but a recent attempt of the kind as been made, with what success cannot as yet be decided. The editors are comedians belonging to the Boston company, and it is entitled "The American Comic Annual." It is accompanied by etchings, somewhat in the manner, but by no means with the spirit of Cruikshank's. Among the pleasantries of this lively volume are some biting attacks upon us, particularly upon our utter incapacity of speaking English. We really must engage a few American professors, or we shall lose all trace of classic purity in our language. As a specimen, and rather a favourable one, of the work, I transcribed an extract from a little piece, entitled, "Sayings and Doings, a Fragment of a Farce." One of the personages of this farce is an English gentleman, a Captain Mandaville, and among many speeches of the same kind, I selected the following. Collins's Ode is the subject of conversation.
"A—r, A—a—a it stroiks me that that you manetion his the hode about hangger and ope and orror and revenge you know. I've eard Mrs. Sitdowns hencored in it at Common Garden and Doory Lane in the ight of her poplarity you know. By the boye, hall the hactin in Amareka is werry orrid. You're honely in the hinfancy of the istoryonic hart you know; your performers never haspirate the haitch in sich vords for instance as hink and hoats, and leave out the w in wice wanity you know; and make nothink of homittin the k in somethink."
There is much more in the same style, but, perhaps, this may suffice. I have given this passage chiefly because it affords an example of the manner in which the generality of Americans are accustomed to speak of English pronunciation and phraseology.
It must be remembered, however, here and every where, that this phrase, "the Americans," does not include the instructed and travelled portion of the community.
It would be absurd to swell my little volumes with extracts in proof of the veracity of their contents, but having spoken of the taste of their lighter works, and also of the general tone of manners, I cannot forbear inserting a page from an American annual (The Token), which purports to give a scene from fashionable life. It is part of a dialogue between a young lady of the "highest standing" and her "tutor," who is moreover her lover, though not yet acknowledged.
"And so you wo'nt tell me," said she, "what has come over you, and why you look as grave and sensible as a Dictionary, when, by general consent, even mine, 'motley's the only wear?'"
'"Am I so grave, Miss Blair?"
'"Are you so grave, Miss Blair? One would think I had not got my lesson today. Pray, sir, has the black ox trod upon your toe since we parted?"
'Philip tried to laugh, but he did not succeed; he bit his lip and was silent.
'"I am under orders to entertain you, Mr. Blondel, and if my poor brain can be made to gird this fairy isle, I shall certainly be obedient. So I begin with playing the leech. What ails you, sir?"
'"Miss Blair!" he was going to remonstrate.
'"Miss Blair! Now, pity. I'm a quack! for whip me, if I know whether Miss Blair is a fever or an ague. How did you catch it, sir?"
'"Really, Miss Blair—"
'"Nay, I see you don't like doctoring; I give over, and now I'll be sensible. It's a fine day, Mr. Blondel."
'"A pleasant lane, this, to walk in, if one's company were agreeable."
'"Does Mr. Skefton stay long?" asked Philip, abruptly.
'"No one knows,"
'"Indeed! are you so ignorant?"
'"And why does your wisdom ask that question?"'
In no society in the world can the advantage of travel be so conspicuous as in America, in other countries a tone of unpretending simplicity can more than compensate for the absence of enlarged views or accurate observation; but this tone is not to be found in America, or if it be, it is only among those who, having looked at that insignificant portion of the world not included in the Union, have learnt to know how much is still unknown within the mighty part which is. For the rest, they all declare, and do in truth believe, that they only, among the sons of men, have wit and wisdom, and that one of their exclusive privileges is that of speaking English elegantly. There are two reasons for this latter persuasion; the one is, that the great majority have never heard any English but their own, except from the very lowest of the Irish; and the other, that those who have chanced to find themselves in the society of the few educated English who have visited America, have discovered that there is a marked difference between their phrases and accents and those to which they have been accustomed, whereupon they have, of course, decided that no Englishman can speak English.
The reviews of America contain some good clear-headed articles; but I sought in vain for the playful vivacity and the keenly-cutting satire, whose sharp edge, however painful to the patient, is of such high utility in lopping off the excrescences of bad taste, and levelling to its native clay the heavy growth of dulness. Still less could I find any trace of that graceful familiarity of learned allusion and general knowledge which mark the best European reviews, and which make one feel in such perfectly good company while perusing them. But this is a tone not to be found either in the writings or conversation of Americans; as distant from pedantry as from ignorance, it is not learning itself, but the effect of it; and so pervading and subtle is its influence that it may be traced in the festive halls and gay drawing-rooms of Europe as certainly as in the cloistered library or student's closet; it is, perhaps, the last finish of highly-finished society.
A late American Quarterly has an article on a work of Dr. Von Schmidt Phiseldek, from which I made an extract, as a curious sample of the dreams they love to batten on.
Dr. Von Phiseldek (not Fiddlestick), who is not only a doctor of philosophy, but a knight of Dannebrog to boot, has never been in America, but he has written a prophecy, showing that the United States must and will govern the whole world, because they are so very big, and have so much uncultivated territory; he prophesies that an union will take place between North and South America, which will give a death-blow to Europe, at no distant period; though he modestly adds that he does not pretend to designate the precise period at which this will take place. This Danish prophecy, as may be imagined, enchants the reviewer. He exhorts all people to read Dr. Phiseldek's book, because "nothing but good can come of such contemplations of the future, and because it is eminently calculated to awaken the most lofty anticipations of the destiny which awaits them, and will serve to impress upon the nation the necessity of being prepared for such high destiny." In another place the reviewer bursts out, "America, young as she is, has become already the beacon, the patriarch of the struggling nations of the world;" and afterwards adds, It would be departing from the natural order of things, and the ordinary operations of the great scheme of Providence, it would be shutting our ears to the voice of experience, and our eyes to the inevitable connexion of causes and their effects, were we to reject the extreme probability, not to say moral certainty, that the old world is destined to receive its influences in future from the new." There are twenty pages of this article, but I will only give one passage more; it is an instance of the sort of reasoning by which American citizens persuade themselves that the glory of Europe is, in reality, her reproach. "Wrapped up in a sense of his superiority, the European reclines at home, shining in his borrowed plumes, derived from the product of every corner of the earth, and the industry of every portion of its inhabitants, with which his own natural resources would never have invested him, he continues revelling in enjoyments which nature has denied him."
The American Quarterly deservedly holds the highest place in their periodical literature, and, therefore, may be fairly quoted as striking the keynote for the chorus of public opinion. Surely it is nationality rather than patriotism which leads it thus to speak in scorn of the successful efforts of enlightened nations to win from every corner of the earth the riches which nature has scattered over it.
The incorrectness of the press is very great; they make strange work in the reprints of French and Italian; and the Latin, I suspect, does not fare much better: I believe they do not often meddle with Greek.
With regard to the fine arts, their paintings, I think, are quite as good, or rather better, than might be expected from the patronage they receive; the wonder is that any man can be found with courage enough to devote himself to a profession in which he has so little chance of finding a maintenance. The trade of a carpenter opens an infinitely better prospect; and this is so well known, that nothing but a genuine passion for the art could beguile any one to pursue it. The entire absence of every means of improvement, and effectual study, is unquestionably the cause why those who manifest this devotion cannot advance farther. I heard of one young artist, whose circumstances did not permit his going to Europe, but who being nevertheless determined that his studies should, as nearly as possible, resemble those of the European academies, was about to commence drawing the human figure, for which purpose he had provided himself with a thin silk dress, in which to clothe his models, as no one of any station, he said, could be found who would submit to sit as a model without clothing.
It was at Alexandria that I saw what I consider as the best picture by an American artist that I met with. The subject was Hagar and Ishmael. It had recently arrived from Rome, where the painter, a young man of the name of Chapman, had been studying for three years. His mother told me that he was twenty-two years of age, and passionately devoted to the art; should he, on returning to his country, receive sufficient encouragement to keep his ardour and his industry alive, I think I shall hear of him again.
Much is said about the universal diffusion of education in America, and a vast deal of genuine admiration is felt and expressed at the progress of mind throughout the Union. They believe themselves in all sincerity to have surpassed, to be surpassing, and to be about to surpass, the whole earth in the intellectual race. I am aware that not a single word can be said, hinting a different opinion, which will not bring down a transatlantic anathema on my head; yet the subject is too interesting to be omitted. Before I left England I remember listening, with much admiration, to an eloquent friend, who deprecated our system of public education, as confining the various and excursive faculties of our children to one beaten path, paying little or no attention to the peculiar powers of the individual.
This objection is extremely plausible, but doubts of its intrinsic value must, I think, occur to every one who has marked the result of a different system throughout the United States.
From every enquiry I could make, and I took much pains to obtain accurate information, it appeared that much is attempted, but very little beyond reading, writing, and bookkeeping, is thoroughly acquired. Were we to read a prospectus of the system pursued in any of our public schools and that of a first-rate seminary in America, we should be struck by the confined scholastic routine of the former, when compared to the varied and expansive scope of the latter; but let the examination go a little farther, and I believe it will be found that the old fashioned school discipline of England has produced something higher, and deeper too, than that which roars so loud, and thunders in the index.
They will not afford to let their young men study till two or three and twenty, and it is therefore declared, ex cathedra Americana, to be unnecessary. At sixteen, often much earlier, education ends, and money-making begins; the idea that more learning is necessary than can be acquired by that time, is generally ridiculed as obsolete monkish bigotry; added to which, if the seniors willed a more prolonged discipline, the juniors would refuse submission. When the money-getting begins, leisure ceases, and all of lore which can be acquired afterwards, is picked up from novels, magazines, and newspapers.
At what time can the taste be formed? How can a correct and polished style, even of speaking, be acquired? or when can the fruit of the two thousand years of past thinking be added to the native growth of American intellect? These are the tools, if I may so express myself, which our elaborate system of school discipline puts into the hands of our scholars; possessed of these, they may use them in whatever direction they please afterwards, they can never be an incumbrance.
No people appear more anxious to excite admiration and receive applause than the Americans, yet none take so little trouble, or make so few sacrifices to obtain it. This may answer among themselves, but it will not with the rest of the world; individual sacrifices must be made, and national economy enlarged, before America can compete with the old world in taste, learning, and liberality.
The reception of General Lafayette is the one single instance in which the national pride has overcome the national thrift; and this was clearly referrible to the one single feeling of enthusiasm of which they appear capable, namely, the triumph of their successful struggle for national independence. But though this feeling will be universally acknowledged as a worthy and lawful source of triumph and of pride, it will not serve to trade upon for ever, as a fund of glory and high station among the nations. Their fathers were colonists; they fought stoutly, and became an independent people. Success and admiration, even the admiration of those whose yoke they had broken, cheered them while living, still sheds a glory round their remote and untitled sepulchres, and will illumine the page of their history for ever.
Their children inherit the independence; they inherit too the honour of being the sons of brave fathers; but this will not give them the reputation at which they aim, of being scholars and gentlemen, nor will it enable them to sit down for evermore to talk of their glory, while they drink mint julap and chew tobacco, swearing by the beard of Jupiter (or some other oath) that they are very graceful, and agreeable, and, moreover abusing every body who does not cry out Amen!
To doubt that talent and mental power of every kind exist in America would be absurd; why should it not? But in taste and learning they are woefully deficient; and it is this which renders them incapable of graduating a scale by which to measure themselves. Hence arises that over weening complacency and self-esteem, both national and individual, which at once renders them so extremely obnoxious to ridicule, and so peculiarly restive under it.
If they will scorn the process by which other nations have become what they avowedly intend to be, they must rest satisfied with the praise and admiration they receive from each other; and turning a deaf ear to the criticism of the old world, consent to be their own prodigious great reward."
Alexandria has its churches, chapels, and conventicles as abundantly, in proportion to its size, as any city in the Union. I visited most of them, and in the Episcopal and Catholic heard the services performed quietly and reverently.
The best sermon, however, that I listened to, was in a Methodist church, from the mouth of a Piquot Indian. It was impossible not be touched by the simple sincerity of this poor man. He gave a picture frightfully eloquent of the decay of his people under the united influence of the avarice and intemperance of the white men. He described the effect of the religious feeling which had recently found its way among them as most salutary. The purity of his moral feeling, and the sincerity of his sympathy with his forest brethren, made it unquestionable that he must be the most valuable priest who could officiate for them. His English was very correct, and his pronunciation but slightly tinctured by native accent.
While we were still in the neighbourhood of Washington, a most violent and unprecedented schism occurred in the cabinet. The four secretaries of State all resigned, leaving General Jackson to manage the queer little state barge alone.
Innumerable contradictory statements appeared upon this occasion in the papers, and many a cigar was thrown aside, ere half consumed, that the disinterested politician might give breath to his cogitations on this extraordinary event; but not all the eloquence of all the smokers, nor even the ultradiplomatic expositions which appeared from the seceding secretaries themselves, could throw any light on the mysterious business. It produced, however, the only tolerable caricature I ever saw in the country. It represents the President seated alone in his cabinet, wearing a look of much discomfiture, and making great exertions to detain one of four rats, who are running off, by placing his foot on the tail. The rats' heads bear a very sufficient resemblance to the four ex-ministers. General Jackson, it seems, had requested Mr. Van Buren, the Secretary of State, to remain in office till his place was supplied; this gave occasion to a bon mot from his son, who, being asked when his father would be in New York, replied, "When the President takes off his foot."
Journey to New York—Delaware River—Stagecoach— City of New York—Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies— Theatres—Public Garden—Churches—Morris Canal— Fashions—Carriages
At length, in spite of the lingering pace necessarily attending consultations, and arrangements across the Atlantic, our plans were finally settled; the coming spring was to show us New York, and Niagara, and the early summer was to convey us home.
No sooner did the letter arrive which decided this, than we began our preparations for departure. We took our last voyage on the Potomac, we bade a last farewell to Virginia, and gave a last day to some of our kind friends near Washington.
The spring, though slow and backward, was sufficiently advanced to render the journey pleasant; and though the road from Washington to Baltimore was less brilliant in foliage than when I had seen it before, it still had much of beauty. The azalias were in full bloom, and the delicate yellow blossom of the sassafras almost rivalled its fruit in beauty.
At Baltimore we again embarked on a gigantic steam-boat, and reached Philadelphia in the middle of the night. Here we changed our boat and found time, before starting in the morning, to take a last look at the Doric and Corinthian porticos of the two celebrated temples dedicated to Mammon.
The Delaware river, above Philadelphia, still flows through a landscape too level for beauty, but it is rendered interesting by a succession of gentlemen's seats, which, if less elaborately finished in architecture, and garden grounds, than the lovely villas on the Thames, are still beautiful objects to gaze upon as you float rapidly past on the broad silvery stream that washes their lawns They present a picture of wealth and enjoyment that accords well with the noble city to which they are an appendage. One mansion arrested our attention, not only from its being more than usually large and splendid, but from its having the monument which marked the family resting-place, rearing itself in all the gloomy grandeur of black and white marble, exactly opposite the door of entrance.
In Virginia and Maryland we had remarked that almost every family mansion had its little grave yard, sheltered by locust and cypress trees; but this decorated dwelling of the dead seemed rather a melancholy ornament in the grounds.
We had, for a considerable distance, a view of the dwelling of Joseph Bonaparte, which is situated on the New Jersey shore, in the midst of an extensive tract of land, of which he is the proprietor.
Here the ex-monarch has built several houses, which are occupied by French tenants. The country is very flat, but a terrace of two sides has been raised, commanding a fine reach of the Delaware River; at the point where this terrace forms a right angle, a lofty chapel has been erected, which looks very much like an observatory; I admired the ingenuity with which the Catholic prince has united his religion and his love of a fine terrestrial prospect. The highest part of the building presents, in every direction, the appearance of an immense cross; the transept, if I may so express it, being formed by the projection of an ample balcony, which surrounds a tower. A Quaker gentleman, from Philadelphia, exclaimed, as he gazed on the mansion, "There we see a monument of fallen royalty! Strange! that dethroned kings should seek and find their best strong-hold in a Republic."
There was more of philosophy than of scorn in his accent, and his countenance was the symbol of gentleness and benevolence; but I overheard many unquakerlike jokes from others, as to the comfortable assurance a would-be king must feel of a faithful alliance between his head and shoulders.
At Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, we left our smoothly-gliding comfortable boat for the most detestable stage-coach that ever Christian built to dislocate the joints of his fellow men. Ten of these torturing machines were crammed full of the passengers who left the boat with us. The change in our movement was not more remarkable than that which took place in the tempers and countenances of our fellow-travellers. Gentlemen who had lounged on sofas, and balanced themselves in chairs, all the way from Philadelphia, with all the conscious fascinations of stiff stays and neck-cloths, which, while doing to death the rash beauties who ventured to gaze, seemed but a whalebone panoply to guard the wearer, these pretty youths so guarded from without, so sweetly at peace within, now crushed beneath their armour, looked more like victims on the wheel, than dandies armed for conquest; their whalebones seemed to enter into their souls, and every face grew grim and scowling. The pretty ladies too, with their expansive bonnets, any one of which might handsomely have filled the space allotted to three,—how sad the change! I almost fancied they must have been of the race of Undine, and that it was only when they heard the splashing of water that they could smile. As I looked into the altered eyes of my companions, I was tempted to ask, "Look I as cross as you?" Indeed, I believe that, if possible, I looked crosser still, for the roads and the vehicle together were quite too much for my philosophy.
At length, however, we found ourselves alive on board the boat which was to convey us down the Raraton River to New York.
We fully intended to have gone to bed, to heal our bones, on entering the steam-boat, but the sight of a table neatly spread determined us to go to dinner instead. Sin and shame would it have been, indeed, to have closed our eyes upon the scene which soon opened before us. I have never seen the bay of Naples, I can therefore make no comparison, but my imagination is incapable of conceiving any thing of the kind more beautiful than the harbour of New York. Various and lovely are the objects which meet the eye on every side, but the naming them would only be to give a list of words, without conveying the faintest idea of the scene. I doubt if ever the pencil of Turner could do it justice, bright and glorious as it rose upon us. We seemed to enter the harbour of New York upon waves of liquid gold, and as we darted past the green isles which rise from its bosom, like guardian centinels of the fair city, the setting sun stretched his horizontal beams farther and farther at each moment, as if to point out to us some new glory in the landscape.
New York, indeed, appeared to us, even when we saw it by a soberer light, a lovely and a noble city. To us who had been so long travelling through half-cleared forests, and sojourning among an "I'm-as-good-as-you" population, it seemed, perhaps, more beautiful, more splendid, and more refined than it might have done, had we arrived there directly from London; but making every allowance for this, I must still declare that I think New York one of the finest cities I ever saw, and as much superior to every other in the Union (Philadelphia not excepted), as London to Liverpool, or Paris to Rouen. Its advantages of position are, perhaps, unequalled any where. Situated on an island, which I think it will one day cover, it rises, like Venice, from the sea, and like that fairest of cities in the days of her glory, receives into its lap tribute of all the riches of the earth.
The southern point of Manhatten Island divides the waters of the harbour into the north and east rivers; on this point stands the city of New York, extending from river to river, and running northward to the extent of three or four miles. I think it covers nearly as much ground as Paris, but is much less thickly peopled. The extreme point is fortified towards the sea by a battery, and forms an admirable point of defence; I should suppose, no city could boast. From hence commences the splendid Broadway, as the fine avenue is called, which runs through the whole city. This noble street may vie with any I ever saw, for its length and breadth, its handsome shops, neat awnings, excellent trottoir, and well-dressed pedestrians. It has not the crowded glitter of Bond Street equipages, nor the gorgeous fronted palaces of Regent Street; but it is magnificent in its extent, and ornamented by several handsome buildings, some of them surrounded by grass and trees. The Park, in which stands the noble city-hall, is a very fine area, I never found that the most graphic description of a city could give me any feeling of being there; and even if others have the power, I am very sure I have not, of setting churches and squares, and long drawn streets, before the mind's eye. I will not, therefore, attempt a detailed description of this great metropolis of the new world, but will only say that during the seven weeks we stayed there, we always found something new to see and to admire; and were it not so very far from all the old-world things which cling about the heart of an European, I should say that I never saw a city more desirable as a residence.
The dwelling houses of the higher classes are extremely handsome, and very richly furnished. Silk or satin furniture is as often, or oftener, seen than chintz; the mirrors are as handsome as in London; the cheffoniers, slabs, and marble tables as elegant; and in addition, they have all the pretty tasteful decoration of French porcelaine, and or-molu in much greater abundance, because at a much cheaper rate. Every part of their houses is well carpeted, and the exterior finishing, such as steps, railings, and door-frames, are very superior. Almost every house has handsome green blinds on the outside; balconies are not very general, nor do the houses display, externally, so many flowers as those of Paris and London; but I saw many rooms decorated within, exactly like those of an European petite maitresse. Little tables, looking and smelling like flower beds, portfolios, nick-nacks, bronzes, busts, cameos, and alabaster vases, illustrated copies of ladylike rhymes bound in silk, and, in short, all the pretty coxcomalities of the drawing-room scattered about with the same profuse and studied negligence as with us.
Hudson Square and its neighbourhood is, I believe, the most fashionable part of the town; the square is beautiful, excellently well planted with a great variety of trees, and only wanting our frequent and careful mowing to make it equal to any square in London. The iron railing which surrounds this enclosure is as high and as handsome as that of the Tuilleries, and it will give some idea of the care bestowed on its decoration, to know that the gravel for the walks was conveyed by barges from Boston, not as ballast, but as freight.
The great defect in the houses is their extreme uniformity when you have seen one, you have seen all. Neither do I quite like the arrangement of the rooms. In nearly all the houses the dining and drawing rooms are on the same floor, with ample folding doors between them; when thrown together they certainly make a very noble apartment; but no doors can be barrier sufficient between dining and drawing-rooms. Mixed dinner parties of ladies and gentlemen, however, are very rare, which is a great defect in the society; not only as depriving them of the most social and hospitable manner of meeting, but as leading to frequent dinner parties of gentlemen without ladies, which certainly does not conduce to refinement.
The evening parties, excepting such as are expressly for young people, are chiefly conversational; we were too late in the season for large parties, but we saw enough to convince us that there is society to be met with in New York, which would be deemed delightful any where. Cards are very seldom used; and music, from their having very little professional aid at their parties is seldom, I believe, as good as what is heard at private concerts in London.
The Americans have certainly not the same besoin of being amused, as other people; they may be the wiser for this, perhaps, but it makes them less agreeable to a looker-on.
There are three theatres at New York, all of which we visited. The Park Theatre is the only one licensed by fashion, but the Bowery is infinitely superior in beauty; it is indeed as pretty a theatre as I ever entered, perfect as to size and proportion, elegantly decorated, and the scenery and machinery equal to any in London, but it is not the fashion. The Chatham is so utterly condemned by bon ton, that it requires some courage to decide upon going there; nor do I think my curiosity would have penetrated so far, had I not seen Miss Mitford's Rienzi advertised there. It was the first opportunity I had had of seeing it played, and spite of very indifferent acting, I was delighted. The interest must have been great, for till the curtain fell, I saw not one quarter of the queer things around me: then I observed in the front row of a dress-box a lady performing the most maternal office possible; several gentlemen without their coats, and a general air of contempt for the decencies of life, certainly more than usually revolting.
At the Park Theatre I again saw the American Roscius, Mr. Forrest. He played the part of Damon, and roared, I thought, very unlike a nightingale. I cannot admire this celebrated performer.
Another night we saw Cinderella there; Mrs. Austin was the prima donna, and much admired. The piece was extremely well got up, and on this occasion we saw the Park Theatre to advantage, for it was filled with well-dressed company; but still we saw many "yet unrazored lips" polluted with the grim tinge of the hateful tobacco, and heard, without ceasing, the spitting, which of course is its consequence. If their theatres had the orchestra of the Feydeau, and a choir of angels to boot, I could find but little pleasure, so long as they were followed by this running accompaniment of thorough base.
Whilst at New York, the prospectus of a fashionable boarding-school was presented to me. I made some extracts from it, as a specimen of the enlarged scale of instruction proposed for young females.
Brooklyn Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies, Brooklyn Heights, opposite the City of New York.
Latin Grammar, Liber Primus; Jacob's Latin Reader, (first part); Modern Geography; Intellectual and Practical Arithmetic finished; Dr. Barber's Grammar of Elocution; Writing, Spelling, Composition, and Vocal Music.
Jacob's Latin Reader, (second part); Roman Antiquities, Sallust; Clark's Introduction to the Making of Latin; Ancient and Sacred Geography; Studies of Poetry; Short Treatise on Rhetoric; Map Drawing, Composition, Spelling, and Vocal Music.
Caesar's Commentaries; first five books of Virgil's Aeneid; Mythology; Watts on the Mind; Political Geography, (Woodbridge's large work); Natural History; Treatise on the Globes; Ancient History; Studies of Poetry concluded; English Grammar, Composition, Spelling, and Vocal Music.
Virgil, (finished); Cicero's Select Orations; Modern History; Plane Geometry; Moral Philosophy; Critical Reading of Young's Poems; Perspective Drawing; Rhetoric; Logic, Composition, and Vocal Music.
Livy; Horace, (Odes); Natural Theology; small Compend of Ecclesiastical History; Female Biography; Algebra; Natural Philosophy, (Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, and Acoustics); Intellectual Philosophy; Evidences of Christianity; Composition, and Vocal Music.
Horace, (finished); Tacitus; Natural Philosophy, (Electricity, Optics, Magnetism, Galvanism); Astronomy, Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology; Compend of Political Economy; Composition, and Vocal Music.
The French, Spanish, Italian, or Greek languages may be attended to, if required, at any time.
The Exchange is very handsome, and ranks about midway between the heavy gloom that hangs over our London merchants, and the light and lofty elegance which decorates the Bourse at Paris. The churches are plain, but very neat, and kept in perfect repair within and without; but I saw none which had the least pretension to splendour; the Catholic Cathedral at Baltimore is the only church in America which has.
At New York, as every where else, they show within, during the time of service, like beds of tulips, so gay, so bright, so beautiful, are the long rows of French bonnets and pretty faces; rows but rarely broken by the unribboned heads of the male population; the proportion is about the same as I have remarked elsewhere. Excepting at New York, I never saw the other side of the picture, but there I did. On the opposite side of the North River, about three miles higher up, is a place called Hoboken. A gentleman who possessed a handsome mansion and grounds there, also possessed the right of ferry, and to render this productive, he has restricted his pleasure grounds to a few beautiful acres, laying out the remainder simply and tastefully as a public walk. It is hardly possible to imagine one of greater attraction; a broad belt of light underwood and flowering shrubs, studded at intervals with lofty forest trees, runs for two miles along a cliff which overhangs the matchless Hudson; sometimes it feathers the rocks down to its very margin, and at others leaves a pebbly shore, just rude enough to break the gentle waves, and make a music which mimics softly the loud chorus of the ocean. Through this beautiful little wood, a broad well gravelled terrace is led by every point which can exhibit the scenery to advantage; narrower and wilder paths diverge at intervals, some into the deeper shadow of the wood, and some shelving gradually to the pretty coves below.
The price of entrance to this little Eden, is the six cents you pay at the ferry. We went there on a bright Sunday afternoon, expressly to see the humours of the place. Many thousand persons were scattered through the grounds; of these we ascertained, by repeatedly counting, that nineteen-twentieths were men. The ladies were at church. Often as the subject has pressed upon my mind, I think I never so strongly felt the conviction that the Sabbath-day, the holy day, the day on which alone the great majority of the Christian world can spend their hours as they please, is ill passed (if passed entirely) within brick walls, listening to an earth-born preacher, charm he never so wisely.
"Oh! how can they renounce the boundless store Of charms, which Nature to her vot'ries yields! The warbling woodland, the resounding shore, The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields, All that the genial ray of morning gilds, And all that echoes to the song of even, All that the mountain's sheltering bosom yields, And all the dread magnificence of heaven; Oh! how can they renounce, and hope to be forgiven!"
How is it that the men of America, who are reckoned good husbands and good fathers, while they themselves enjoy sufficient freedom of spirit to permit their walking forth into the temple of the living God, can leave those they love best on earth, bound in the iron chains of a most tyrannical fanaticism? How can they breathe the balmy air, and not think of the tainted atmosphere so heavily weighing upon breasts still dearer than their own? How can they gaze upon the blossoms of the spring, and not remember the fairer cheeks of their young daughters, waxing pale, as they sit for long sultry hours, immured with hundreds of fellow victims, listening to the roaring vanities of a preacher canonized by a college of old women? They cannot think it needful to salvation,or they would not withdraw themselves. Wherefore is it? Do they fear these self-elected, self-ordained priests, and offer up their wives and daughters to propitiate them? Or do they deem their hebdomadal freedom more complete, because their wives and daughters are shut up four or five times in the day at church or chapel? It is true, that at Hoboken, as every where else, there are reposoires, which, as you pass them, blast the sense for a moment, by reeking forth the fumes of whiskey and tobacco, and it may be that these cannot be entered with a wife or daughter. The proprietor of the grounds, however, has contrived with great taste to render these abominations not unpleasing to the eye; there is one in particular, which has quite the air of a Grecian temple, and did they drink wine instead of whiskey, it might be inscribed to Bacchus; but in this particular, as in many others, the ancient and modern Republics differ.
It is impossible not to feel, after passing one Sunday in the churches and chapels of New York, and the next in the gardens of Hoboken, that the thousands of well-dressed men you see enjoying themselves at the latter, have made over the thousands of well-dressed women you saw exhibited at the former, into the hands of the priests, at least, for the day. The American people arrogate to themselves a character of superior morality and religion, but this division of their hours of leisure does not give me a favourable idea of either.
I visited all the exhibitions in New York. The Medici of the Republic must exert themselves a little more before these can become even respectable. The worst of the business is, that with the exception of about half a dozen individuals, the good citizens are more than contented, they are delighted.
The newspaper lungs of the Republic breathe forth praise and triumph, may, almost pant with extacy in speaking of their native chef d'oeuvres. I should be hardly believed were I to relate the instances which fell in my way, of the utter ignorance respecting pictures to be found among persons of the first standing in society. Often where a liberal spirit exists, and a wish to patronise the fine arts is expressed, it is joined to a profundity of ignorance on the subject almost inconceivable. A doubt as to the excellence of their artists is very nervously received, and one gentleman, with much civility, told me, that at the present era, all the world were aware that competition was pretty well at an end between our two nations, and that a little envy might naturally be expected to mix with the surprise with which the mother country beheld the distance at which her colonies were leaving her behind them.
I must, however, do the few artists with whom I became acquainted, the justice to say, that their own pretensions are much more modest than those of their patrons for them. I have heard several confess and deplore their ignorance of drawing, and have repeatedly remarked a sensibility to the merit of European artists, though perhaps only known by engravings, and a deference to their authority, which showed a genuine feeling for the art. In fact, I think that there is a very considerable degree of natural talent for painting in America, but it has to make its way through darkness and thick night. When an academy is founded, their first care is to hang the walls of its exhibition room with all the unutterable trash that is offered to them. No living models are sought for; no discipline as to the manner of study is enforced. Boys who know no more of human form, than they do of the eyes, nose, and mouth in the moon, begin painting portraits. If some of them would only throw away their palettes for a year, and learn to draw; if they would attend anatomical lectures, and take notes, not in words, but in forms, of joints and muscles, their exhibitions would soon cease to be so utterly below criticism.
The most interesting exhibition open when I was there was, decidedly, Colonel Trumbold's; and how the patriots of America can permit this truly national collection to remain a profitless burden on the hands of the artist, it is difficult to understand. Many of the sketches are masterly; but like his illustrious countryman, West, his sketches are his chef d'oeuvres.
I can imagine nothing more perfect than the interior of the public institutions of New York. There is a practical good sense in all their arrangements that must strike foreigners very forcibly. The Asylum for the Destitute offers a hint worth taking. It is dedicated to the reformation of youthful offenders of both sexes, and it is as admirable in the details of its management, as in its object. Every part of the institution is deeply interesting; but there is a difference very remarkable between the boys and the girls. The boys are, I think, the finest set of lads I ever saw brought together; bright looking, gay, active, and full of intelligence. The girls are exactly in reverse; heavy, listless, indifferent, and melancholy. In conversing with the gentleman who is the general superintendant of the establishment, I made the remark to him, and he told me, that the reality corresponded with the appearance. All of them had been detected in some act of dishonesty; but the boys, when removed from the evil influence which had led them so to use their ingenuity, rose like a spring when a pressure is withdrawn; and feeling themselves once more safe from danger and from shame, hope and cheerfulness animated every countenance. But the pour girls, on the contrary, can hardly look up again. They are as different as an oak and a lily after a storm. The one, when the fresh breeze blows over it, shakes the raindrops from its crest, and only looks the brighter; the other, its silken leaves once soiled, shrinks from the eye, and is levelled to the earth for ever.
We spent a delightful day in New Jersey, in visiting, with a most agreeable party, the inclined planes, which are used instead of locks on the Morris canal.
This is a very interesting work; it is one among a thousand which prove the people of America to be the most enterprising in the world. I was informed that this important canal, which connects the waters of the Hudson and the Delaware, is a hundred miles long, and in this distance overcomes a variation of level amounting to sixteen hundred feet. Of this, fourteen hundred are achieved by inclined planes. The planes average about sixty feet of perpendicular lift each, and are to support about forty tons. The time consumed in passing them is twelve minutes for one hundred feet of perpendicular rise. The expense is less than a third of what locks would be for surmounting the same rise. If we set about any more canals, this may be worth attending to.
This Morris canal is certainly an extraordinary work; it not only varies its level sixteen hundred feet, but at one point runs along the side of a mountain at thirty feet above the tops of the highest buildings in the town of Paterson, below; at another it crosses the falls of the Passaic in a stone aqueduct sixty feet above the water in the river. This noble work, in a great degree, owes its existence to the patriotic and scientific energy of Mr. Cadwallader Colden.
There is no point in the national character of the Americans which commands so much respect as the boldness and energy with which public works are undertaken and carried through. Nothing stops them if a profitable result can be fairly hoped for. It is this which has made cities spring up amidst the forests with such inconceivable rapidity; and could they once be thoroughly persuaded that any point of the ocean had a hoard of dollars beneath it, I have not the slightest doubt that in about eighteen months we should see a snug covered rail-road leading direct to the spot.
I was told at New York, that in many parts of the state it was usual to pay the service of the Presbyterian ministers in the following manner. Once a year a day is fixed, on which some member of every family in a congregation meet at their minister's house in the afternoon. They each bring an offering (according to their means) of articles necessary for housekeeping. The poorer members leave their contributions in a large basket, placed for the purpose, close to the door of entrance. Those of more importance, and more calculated to do honour to the piety of the donors, are carried into the room where the company is assembled. Sugar, coffee, tea, cheese, barrels of flour, pieces of Irish linen, sets of china and of glass, were among the articles mentioned to me as usually making parts of these offerings. After the party is assembled, and the business of giving and receiving is dispatched, tea, coffee, and cakes are handed round; but these are not furnished at any expense either of trouble or money to the minster, for selected ladies of the congregation take the whole arrangement upon themselves. These meetings are called spinning visits.
Another New York custom, which does not seem to have so reasonable a cause, is the changing house once a year. On the 1st of May the city of New York has the appearance of sending off a population flying from the plague, or of a town which had surrendered on condition of carrying away all their goods and chattels. Rich furniture and ragged furniture, carts, waggons, and drays, ropes, canvas, and straw, packers, porters, and draymen, white, yellow, and black, occupy the streets from east to west, from north to south, on this day. Every one I spoke to on the subject complained of this custom as most annoying, but all assured me it was unavoidable, if you inhabit a rented house. More than one of my New York friends have built or bought houses solely to avoid this annual inconvenience.
There are a great number of negroes in New York, all free; their emancipation having been completed in 1827. Not even in Philadelphia, where the anti-slavery opinions have been the most active and violent, do the blacks appear to wear an air of so much consequence as they do at New York. They have several chapels, in which negro ministers officiate; and a theatre in which none but negroes perform. At this theatre a gallery is appropriated to such whites as choose to visit it; and here only are they permitted to sit; following in this, with nice etiquette, and equal justice, the arrangement of the white theatres, in all of which is a gallery appropriated solely to the use of the blacks. I have often, particularly on a Sunday, met groups of negroes, elegantly dressed; and have been sometimes amused by observing the very superior air of gallantry assumed by the men, when in attendance on their belles, to that of the whites in similar circumstances. On one occasion we met in Broadway a young negress in the extreme of the fashion, and accompanied by a black beau, whose toilet was equally studied; eye-glass, guard-chain, nothing was omitted; he walked beside his sable goddess uncovered, and with an air of the most tender devotion. At the window of a handsome house which they were passing, stood a very pretty white girl, with two gentlemen beside her; but alas! both of them had their hats on, and one was smoking!