If it were not for the peculiar manner of walking, which distinguishes all American women, Broadway might be taken for a French street, where it was the fashion for very smart ladies to promenade. The dress is entirely French; not an article (except perhaps the cotton stockings) must be English, on pain of being stigmatized as out of the fashion. Every thing English is decidedly mauvais ton; English materials, English fashions, English accent, English manner, are all terms of reproach; and to say that an unfortunate looks like an English woman, is the cruellest satire which can be uttered.
I remember visiting France almost immediately after we had made the most offensive invasion of her territory that can well be imagined, yet, despite the feelings which lengthened years of war must have engendered, it was the fashion to admire every thing English. I suppose family quarrels are most difficult to adjust; for fifteen years of peace have not been enough to calm the angry feelings of brother Jonathan towards the land of his fathers,
"The which he hateth passing well."
It is hardly needful to say the most courteous amenity of manner distinguishes the reception given to foreigners by the patrician class of Americans.
Gentlemen, in the old world sense of the term, are the same every where; and an American gentleman and his family know how to do the honours of their country to strangers of every nation, as well as any people on earth. But this class, though it decidedly exists, is a very small one, and cannot, in justice, be represented as affording a specimen of the whole.
Most of the houses in New York are painted on the outside, but in a manner carefully to avoid disfiguring the material which it preserves: on the contrary, nothing can be neater. They are now using a great deal of a beautiful stone called Jersey freestone; it is of a warm rich brown, and extremely ornamental to the city wherever it has been employed. They have also a grey granite of great beauty. The trottoir paving, in most of the streets, is extremely good, being of large flag stones, very superior to the bricks of Philadelphia.
At night the shops, which are open till very late, are brilliantly illuminated with gas, and all the population seem as much alive as in London or Paris. This makes the solemn stillness of the evening hours in Philadelphia still more remarkable.
There are a few trees in different parts of the city, and I observed young ones planted, and guarded with much care; were they more abundant it would be extremely agreeable, for the reflected light of their fierce summer sheds intolerable day.
Ice is in profuse abundance; I do not imagine that there is a house in the city without the luxury of a piece of ice to cool the water, and harden the butter.
The hackney coaches are the best in the world, but abominably dear, and it is necessary to be on the qui vive in making your bargain with the driver; if you do not, he has the power of charging immoderately. On my first experiment I neglected this, and was asked two dollars and a half for an excursion of twenty minutes. When I referred to the waiter of the hotel, he asked if I had made a bargain. "No." "Then I expect" (with the usual look of triumph) "that the Yankee has been too smart for you."
The private carriages of New York are infinitely handsomer and better appointed than any I saw elsewhere; the want of smart liveries destroys much of the gay effect, but, on the whole, a New York summer equipage, with the pretty women and beautiful children it contains, look extremely well in Broadway, and would not be much amiss anywhere.
The luxury of the New York aristocracy is not confined to the city; hardly an acre of Manhatten Island but shows some pretty villa or stately mansion. The most chosen of these are on the north and east rivers, to whose margins their lawns descend. Among these, perhaps, the loveliest is one situated in the beautiful village of Bloomingdale; here, within the space of sixteen acres, almost every variety of garden scenery may be found. To describe all its diversity of hill and dale, of wood and lawn, of rock and river, would be in vain; nor can I convey an idea of it by comparison, for I never saw anything like it. How far the elegant hospitality which reigns there may influence my impression, I know not; but, assuredly, no spot I have ever seen dwells more freshly on my memory, nor did I ever find myself in a circle more calculated to give delight in meeting, and regret at parting, than that of Woodlawn.
Reception of Captain Basil Hall's Book in the United States
Having now arrived nearly at the end of our travels, I am induced, ere I conclude, again to mention what I consider as one of the most remarkable traits in the national character of the Americans; namely, their exquisite sensitiveness and soreness respecting everything said or written concerning them. Of this, perhaps, the most remarkable example I can give, is the effect produced on nearly every class of readers by the appearance of Captain Basil Hall's "Travels in North America." In fact, it was a sort of moral earthquake, and the vibration it occasioned through the nerves of the Republic, from one corner of the Union to the other, was by no means over when I left the country in July, 1831, a couple of years after the shock.
I was in Cincinnati when these volumes came out, but it was not till July, 1830, that I procured a copy of them. One bookseller to whom I applied, told me that he had had a few copies before he understood the nature of the work, but that after becoming acquainted with it, nothing should induce him to sell another. Other persons of his profession must, however, have been less scrupulous, for the book was read in city, town, village, and hamlet, steam-boat, and stage-coach, and a sort of war-whoop was sent forth perfectly unprecedented in my recollection upon any occasion whatever.
It was fortunate for me that I did not procure these volumes till I had heard them very generally spoken of, for the curiosity I felt to know the contents of a work so violently anathematised, led me to make enquiries which elicited a great deal of curious feeling.
An ardent desire for approbation, and delicate sensitiveness under censure, have always, I believe, been considered as amiable traits of character; but the condition into which the appearance of Capt. Hall's work threw the Republic, shows plainly that these feelings, if carried to excess, produce a weakness which amounts to imbecility.
It was perfectly astonishing to hear men, who, on other subjects, were sane of judgment, utter their opinions upon this. I never heard of any instance in which the common sense generally found in national criticism was so overthrown by passion. I do not speak of the want of justice, and of fair and liberal interpretation: these, perhaps, were hardly to be expected. Other nations have been called thin-skinned, but the citizens of the Union have, apparently, no skins at all; they wince if a breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation. It was not, therefore, very surprising that the acute and forcible observations of a traveller they knew would be listened to, should be received testily. The extraordinary features of the business were, first, the excess of the rage into which they lashed themselves; and secondly, the puerility of the inventions by which they attempted to account for the severity with which they fancied they had been treated.
Not content with declaring that the volumes contained no word of truth from beginning to end (which is an assertion I heard made very nearly as often as they were mentioned), the whole country set to work to discover the causes why Capt. Hall had visited the United States, and why he had published his book.
I have heard it said with as much precision and gravity as if the statement had been conveyed by an official report, that Capt. Hall had been sent out by the British government expressly for the purpose of checking the growing admiration of England for the government of the United States, that it was by a commission from the Treasury he had come, and that it was only in obedience to orders that he had found anything to object to.
I do not give this as the gossip of a coterie; I am persuaded that it is the belief of a very considerable portion of the country. So deep is the conviction of this singular people that they cannot be seen without being admired, that they will not admit the possibility that anyone should honestly and sincerely find aught to disapprove in them, or their country.
At Philadelphia I met with a little anonymous book, written to show that Capt. Basil Hall was in no way to be depended on, for that he not only slandered the Americans, but was himself, in other respects, a person of very equivocal morals. One proof of this is given by a quotation of the following playful account of the distress occasioned by the want of a bell. The commentator calls it an instance of "shocking coarseness."
"One day I was rather late for breakfast, and as there was no water in my jug, I set off, post haste, half shaved, half dressed, and more than half vexed, in quest of water, like a seaman on short allowance, hunting for rivulets on some unknown coast. I went up stairs, and down stairs, and in the course of my researches into half a dozen different apartments, might have stumbled on some lady's chamber, as the song says, which considering the plight I was in, would have been awkward enough."
Another indication of this moral coarseness is pointed out in the passage where Capt. Hall says, he never saw a flirtation all the time he was in the Union.
The charge of ingratitude also was echoed from mouth to mouth. That he should himself bear testimony to the unvarying kindness of the reception he met with, and yet find fault with the country, was declared on all hands to be a proof of the most abominable ingratitude that it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive. I once ventured before about a dozen people to ask whether more blame would not attach to an author, if he suffered himself to be bribed by individual kindness to falsify facts, than if, despite all personal considerations, he stated them truly?
"Facts!" cried the whole circle at once, "facts! I tell you there is not a word of fact in it from beginning to end."
The American Reviews are, many of them, I believe, well known in England; I need not, therefore, quote them here, but I sometimes wondered that they, none of them, ever thought of translating Obadiah's curse into classic American; if they had done so, only placing (he, Basil Hall,) between brackets instead of (he, Obadiah,) it would have saved them a world of trouble.
I can hardly describe the curiosity with which I sat down at length to pursue these tremendous volumes; still less can I do justice to my surprise at their contents. To say that I found not one exaggerated statement throughout the work, is by no means saying enough. It is impossible for any one who knows the country not to see that Captain Hall earnestly sought out things to admire and commend. When he praises, it is with evident pleasure, and when he finds fault, it is with evident reluctance and restraint, excepting where motives purely patriotic urge him to state roundly what it is for the benefit of his country should be known.
In fact, Captain Hall saw the country to the greatest possible advantage. Furnished, of course, with letters of introduction to the most distinguished individuals, and with the still more influential recommendation of his own reputation, he was received in full drawing-room style and state from one end of the Union to the other. He saw the country in full dress, and had little or no opportunity of judging of it unhouselled, disappointed, unannealed, with all its imperfections on its head, as I and my family too often had.
Captain Hall had certainly excellent opportunities of making himself acquainted with the form of the government and the laws; and of receiving, moreover, the best oral commentary upon them, in conversation with the most distinguished citizens. Of these opportunities he made excellent use; nothing important met his eye which did not receive that sort of analytical attention which an experienced and philosophical traveller alone can give. This has made his volumes highly interesting and valuable; but I am deeply persuaded, that were a man of equal penetration to visit the United States with no other means of becoming acquainted with the national character than the ordinary working-day intercourse of life, he would conceive an infinitely lower idea of the moral atmosphere of the country than Captain Hall appears to have done; and the internal conviction on my mind is strong, that if Captain Hall had not placed a firm restraint on himself, he must have given expression to far deeper indignation than any he has uttered against many points in the American character, with which he shows, from other circumstances, that he was well acquainted. His rule appears to have been to state just so much of the truth as would leave on the minds of his readers a correct impression, at the least cost of pain to the sensitive folks he was writing about. He states his own opinions and feelings, and leaves it to be inferred that he has good grounds for adopting them; but he spares the Americans the bitterness which a detail of the circumstances would have produced.
If any one chooses to say that some wicked antipathy to twelve millions of strangers is the origin of my opinion, I must bear it; and were the question one of mere idle speculation, I certainly would not court the abuse I must meet for stating it. But it is not so. I know that among the best, the most pious, the most benevolent of my countrymen, there are hundreds, nay, I fear thousands, who conscientiously believe that a greater degree of political and religious liberty (such as is possessed in America) would be beneficial for us. How often have I wished, during my abode in the United States, that one of these conscientious, but mistaken reasoners, fully possessed of his country's confidence, could pass a few years in the United States, sufficiently among the mass of the citizens to know them, and sufficiently at leisure to trace effects to their causes. Then might we look for a statement which would teach these mistaken philanthropists to tremble at every symptom of democratic power among us; a statement which would make even our sectarians shudder at the thought of hewing down the Established Church, for they would be taught, by fearful example, to know that it was the bulwark which protects us from the gloomy horrors of fanatic superstition on one side, and the still more dreadful inroads of infidelity on the other. And more than all, such a man would see as clear as light, that where every class is occupied in getting money, and no class in spending it, there will neither be leisure for worshipping the theory of honesty, nor motive strong enough to put its restrictive doctrine in practice. Where every man is engaged in driving hard bargains with his fellows, where is the honoured class to be found into which gentleman-like feelings, principles, and practice, are necessary as an introduction?
That there are men of powerful intellect, benevolent hearts, and high moral feeling in America, I know: and I could, if challenged to do so, name individuals surpassed by none of any country in these qualities; but they are excellent, despite their institutions, not in consequence of them. It is not by such that Captain Hall's statements are called slanders, nor is it from such that I shall meet the abuse which I well know these pages will inevitably draw upon me; and I only trust I may be able to muster as much self-denial as my predecessor, who asserts in his recently published "Fragments," that he has read none of the American criticisms on his book. He did wisely, if he wished to retain an atom of his kindly feeling toward America, and he has, assuredly, lost but little on the score of information, for these criticisms, generally speaking, consist of mere downright personal abuse, or querulous complaints of his ingratitude and ill usage of them; complaints which it is quite astonishing that any persons of spirit could indulge in.
The following good-humoured paragraphs from the Fragments, must, I think, rather puzzle the Americans. Possibly they may think that Captain Hall is quizzing them, when he says he has read none of their criticisms; but I think there is in these passages internal evidence that he has not seen them. For if he had read one-fiftieth part of the vituperation of his Travels, which it has been my misfortune to peruse, he could hardly have brought himself to write what follows.
If the Americans still refuse to shake the hand proffered to them in the true old John Bull spirit, they are worse folks than even I take them for.
Captain Hall, after describing the hospitable reception he formerly met with, at a boarding-house in New York, goes on thus:—"If our hostess be still alive, I hope she will not repent of having bestowed her obliging attentions on one, who so many years afterwards made himself, he fears, less popular in her land, than he could wish to be amongst a people to whom he owes so much, and for whom he really feels so much kindness. He still anxiously hopes, however, they will believe him, when he declares, that, having said in his recent publication no more than what he conceived was due to strict truth, and to the integrity of history, as far as his observations and opinions went, he still feels, as he always has, and ever must continue to feel towards America, the heartiest good-will.
"The Americans are perpetually repeating that the foundation-stone of their liberty is fixed on the doctrine, that every man is free to form his own opinions, and to promulgate them in candour and in moderation. Is it meant that a foreigner is excluded from these privileges? If not, may I ask, in what respect have I passed these limitations? The Americans have surely no fair right to be offended because my views differ from their's; and yet I am told I have been rudely handled by the press of that country. If my motives are distrusted, I can only say, I am sorely belied. If I am mistaken, regret at my political blindness were surely more dignified than anger on the part of those with whom I differ; and if it shall chance that I am in the right, the best confirmation of the correctness of my views, in the opinion of indifferent persons, will perhaps be found in the soreness of those, who wince when the truth is spoken.
"Yet, after all, few things would give me more real pleasure, than to know that my friends across the water would consent to take me at my word; and, considering what I have said about them as so much public matter, which it truly is, agree to reckon me, in my absence, and they always did, when I was amongst them, and, I am sure, they would count me, if I went back again, as a private friend. I differed with them in politics, and I differ with them now as much as ever; but I sincerely wish them happiness individually; and, as a nation, I shall rejoice if they prosper. As the Persians write, "What can I say more?" And I only hope these few words may help to make my peace with people who justly pride themselves on bearing no malice. As for myself, I have no peace to make; for I have studiously avoided reading any of the American criticisms on my book, in order that the kindly feelings I have ever entertained towards that country should not be ruffled. By this abstinence I may have lost some information, and perhaps missed many opportunities of correcting erroneous impressions. But I set so much store by the pleasing recollection of the journey itself, and of the hospitality with which my family were every where received, that whether it be right, or whether it be wrong, I cannot bring myself to read anything which might disturb these agreeable associations. So let us part in peace; or, rather, let us meet again in cordial communication; and if this little work shall find its way across the Atlantic, I hope it will be read there without reference to anything that has passed between us; or, at all events, with reference only to those parts of our former intercourse, which are satisfactory to all parties."—Hall's Fragments, Vol.1.p.200.
I really think it is impossible to read, not only this passage, but many others in these delightful little volumes, without feeling that their author is as little likely to deserve the imputation of harshness and ill-will, as any man that ever lived.
In reading Capt. Hall's volumes on America, the observation which, I think, struck me the most forcibly, and which certainly came the most completely home to my own feelings, was the following.
"In all my travels both amongst Heathens, and amongst Christians, I have never encountered any people by whom I found it nearly so difficult to make myself understood as by the Americans."
I have conversed in London and in Paris with foreigners of many nations, and often through the misty medium of an idiom imperfectly understood, but I remember no instance in which I found the same difficulty in conveying my sentiments, my impressions, and my opinions to those around me, as I did in America. Whatever faith may be given to my assertion, no one who has not visited the country can possibly conceive to what extent it is true. It is less necessary, I imagine, for the mutual understanding of persons conversing together, that the language should be the same, than that their ordinary mode of thinking, and habits of life should, in some degree, assimilate; whereas, in point of fact, there is hardly a single point of sympathy between the Americans and us; but whatever the cause, the fact is certainly as I have stated it, and herein, I think, rests the only apology for the preposterous and undignified anger felt and expressed against Capt. Hall's work. They really cannot, even if they wished it, enter into any of his views, or comprehend his most ordinary feelings; and, therefore, they cannot believe in the sincerity of the impressions he describes. The candour which he expresses, and evidently feels, they mistake for irony, or totally distrust; his unwillingness to give pain to persons from whom he has received kindness, they scornfully reject as affectation; and, although they must know right well, in their own secret hearts, how infinitely more they lay at his mercy than he has chosen to betray, they pretend, even to themselves, that he has exaggerated the bad points of their character and institutions; whereas, the truth is, that he has let them off with a degree of tenderness which may be quite suitable for him to exercise, however little merited; while, at the same time, he has most industriously magnified their merits, whenever he could possibly find anything favourable. One can perfectly well understand why Capt. Hall's avowed Tory principles should be disapproved of in the United States, especially as (with a questionable policy in a bookselling point of view, in these reforming times,) he volunteers a profession of political faith, in which, to use the Kentucky phrase, "he goes the whole hog," and bluntly avows, in his concluding chapter, that he not only holds stoutly to Church and State, but that he conceives the English House of Commons to be, if not quite perfect, at least as much so for all the required purposes of representation as it can by possibility be made in practice. Such a downright thorough-going Tory and Anti-reformer, pretending to judge of the workings of the American democratical system, was naturally held to be a monstrous abomination, and it has been visited accordingly, both in America, and as I understand, with us also. The experience which Capt. Hall has acquired in visits to every part of the world, during twenty or thirty years, goes for nothing with the Radicals on either side the Atlantic: on the contrary, precisely in proportion to the value of that authority which is the result of actual observation, are they irritated to find its weight cast into the opposite scale. Had not Capt. Hall been converted by what he saw in North America, from the Whig faith he exhibited in his description of South America, his book would have been far more popular in England during the last two years of public excitement; it may, perhaps, be long before any justice is done to Capt. Hall's book in the United States, but a less time will probably suffice to establish its claim to attention at home.
Journey to Niagara—Hudson—West Point—Hyde Park— Albany—Yankees—Trenton Falls—Rochester— Genesee Falls—Lockport
How quickly weeks glide away in such a city as New York, especially when you reckon among your friends some of the most agreeable people in either hemisphere. But we had still a long journey before us, and one of the wonders of the world was to be seen.
On the 30th of May we set off for Niagara. I had heard so much of the surpassing beauty of the North River, that I expected to be disappointed, and to find reality flat after description. But it is not in the power of man to paint with a strength exceeding that of nature, in such scenes as the Hudson presents. Every mile shows some new and startling effect of the combination of rocks, trees, and water; there is no interval of flat or insipid scenery, from the moment you enter upon the river at New York, to that of quitting it at Albany, a distance of 180 miles.
For the first twenty miles the shore of New Jersey, on the left, offers almost a continued wall of trap rock, which from its perpendicular form, and lineal fissures, is called the Palisados. This wall sometimes rises to the height of a hundred and fifty feet, and sometimes sinks down to twenty. Here and there, a watercourse breaks its uniformity; and every where the brightest foliage, in all the splendour of the climate and the season, fringed and chequered the dark barrier. On the opposite shore, Manhatten Island, with its leafy coronet gemmed with villas, forms a lovely contrast to these rocky heights.
After passing Manhatten Island, the eastern shore gradually assumes a wild and rocky character, but ever varying; woods, lawns, pastures, and towering cliffs all meet the eye in quick succession, as the giant steam-boat cleaves its swift passage up the stream.
For several miles the voyage is one of great interest independent of its beauty, for it passes many points where important events of the revolutionary war took place.
It was not without a pang that I looked on the spot where poor Andre was taken, and another where he was executed.
Several forts, generally placed in most commanding situations, still show by their battered ruins, where the struggle was strongest, and I felt no lack of that moral interest so entirely wanting in the new States, and without which no journey can, I think, continue long without wearying the spirits.
About forty miles from New York you enter upon the Highlands, as a series of mountains which then flank the river on both sides, are called. The beauty of this scenery can only be conceived when it is seen. One might fancy that these capricious masses, with all their countless varieties of light and shade, were thrown together to show how passing lovely rocks and woods, and water could be. Sometimes a lofty peak shoots suddenly up into the heavens, showing in bold relief against the sky; and then a deep ravine sinks in solemn shadow, and draws the imagination into its leafy recesses. For several miles the river appears to form a succession of lakes; you are often enclosed on all sides by rocks rising directly from the very edge of the stream, and then you turn a point, the river widens, and again woods, lawns, and villages are reflected on its bosom.
The state prison of Sing Sing is upon the edge of the water, and has no picturesque effect to atone for the painful images it suggests; the "Sleepy Hollow" of Washington Irving, just above it, restores the imagination to a better tone.
West Point, the military academy of the United States, is fifty miles from New York. The scenery around it is magnificent, and though the buildings of the establishment are constructed with the handsome and unpicturesque regularity which marks the work of governments, they are so nobly placed, and so embosomed in woods, that they look beautiful. The lengthened notes of a French horn, which I presume was attending some of their military manoeuvres, sounded with deep and solemn sweetness as we passed.
About thirty miles further is Hyde Park, the magnificent seat of Dr. Hosack; here the misty summit of the distant Kaatskill begins to form the outline of the landscape; it is hardly possible to imagine anything more beautiful than this place. We passed a day there with great enjoyment; and the following morning set forward again in one of those grand floating hotels called steamboats. Either on this day, or the one before, we had two hundred cabin passengers on board, and they all sat down together to a table spread abundantly, and with considerable elegance. A continual succession of gentlemen's seats, many of them extremely handsome, borders the river to Albany. We arrived there late in the evening, but had no difficulty in finding excellent accommodation.
Albany is the state capital of New York, and has some very handsome public buildings; there are also some curious relics of the old Dutch inhabitants.
The first sixteen miles from Albany we travelled in a stage, to avoid a multitude of locks at the entrance of the Erie canal; but at Scenectedy we got on board one of the canal packet-boats for Utica.
With a very delightful party, of one's own choosing, fine temperate weather, and a strong breeze to chase the mosquitos, this mode of travelling might be very agreeable, but I can hardly imagine any motive of convenience powerful enough to induce me again to imprison myself in a canal boat under ordinary circumstances. The accommodations being greatly restricted, every body, from the moment of entering the boat, acts upon a system of unshrinking egotism. The library of a dozen books, the backgammon board, the tiny berths, the shady side of the cabin, are all jostled for in a manner to make one greatly envy the power of the snail; at the moment I would willingly have given up some of my human dignity for the privilege of creeping into a shell of my own. To any one who has been accustomed in travelling, to be addressed with, "Do sit here, you will find it more comfortable," the "You must go there, I made for this place first," sounds very unmusical.
There is a great quietness about the women of America (I speak of the exterior manner of persons casually met), but somehow or other, I should never call it gentleness. In such trying moments as that of fixing themselves on board a packet-boat, the men are prompt, determined, and will compromise any body's convenience, except their own. The women are doggedly stedfast in their will, and till matters are settled, look like hedgehogs, with every quill raised, and firmly set, as if to forbid the approach of any one who might wish to rub them down. In circumstances where an English woman would look proud, and a French woman nonchalante, an American lady looks grim; even the youngest and the prettiest can set their lips, and knit their brows, and look as hard and unsocial as their grandmothers.
Though not in the Yankee or New England country, we were bordering upon it sufficiently to meet in the stages and boats many delightful specimens of this most peculiar race. I like them extremely well, but I would not wish to have any business transactions with them, if I could avoid it, lest, to use their own phrase, "they should be too smart for me."
It is by no means rare to meet elsewhere, in this working-day world of our's, people who push acuteness to the verge of honesty, and sometimes, perhaps, a little bit beyond; but, I believe, the Yankee is the only one who will be found to boast of doing so. It is by no means easy to give a clear and just idea of a Yankee; if you hear his character from a Virginian, you will believe him a devil: if you listen to it from himself, you might fancy him a god—though a tricky one; Mercury turned righteous and notable. Matthews did very well, as far as "I expect," "I calculate," and "I guess;" but this is only the shell; there is an immense deal within, both of sweet and bitter. In acuteness, cautiousness, industry, and perseverance, he resembles the Scotch; in habits of frugal neatness, he resembles the Dutch; in love of lucre he doth greatly resemble the sons of Abraham; but in frank admission, and superlative admiration of all his own peculiarities, he is like nothing on earth but himself.
The Quakers have been celebrated for the pertinacity with which they avoid giving a direct answer, but what Quaker could ever vie with a Yankee in this sort of fencing? Nothing, in fact, can equal their skill in evading a question, excepting that with which they set about asking one. I am afraid that in repeating a conversation which I overheard on board the Erie canal boat, I shall spoil it, by forgetting some of the little delicate doublings which delighted me—yet I wrote it down immediately. Both parties were Yankees, but strangers to each other; one of them having, by gentle degrees, made himself pretty well acquaninted with the point from which every one on board had started, and that for which he was bound, at last attacked his brother Reynard thus:-
"Well, now, which way may you be travelling?"
"I expect this canal runs pretty nearly west."
"Are you going far with it?"
"Well, now, I don't rightly know how many miles it may be."
"I expect you'll be from New York?"
"Sure enough I have been at New York, often and often."
"I calculate, then, 'tis not there as you stop?"
"Business must be minded, in stopping and in stirring."
"You may say that. Well, I look then you'll be making for the Springs?"
"Folks say as all the world is making for the Springs, and I except a good sight of them is."
"Do you calculate upon stopping long when you get to your journey's end?"
"'Tis my business must settle that, I expect?"
"I guess that's true, too; but you'll be for making pleasure a business for once, I calculate?"
"My business don't often lie in that line."
"Then, may be, it is not the Springs as takes you this line?"
"The Springs is a right elegant place, I reckon."
"It is your health, I calculate, as makes you break your good rules?"
"My health don't trouble me much, I guess."
"No? Why that's well. How is the markets, sir? Are bread stuffs up?"
"I a'nt just capable to say."
"A deal of money's made by just looking after the article at the fountain's head."
"You may say that."
"Do you look to be making great dealings in produce up the country?"
"Why that, I expect, is difficult to know."
"I calculate you'll find the markets changeable these times?"
"No markets ben't very often without changing."
"Why, that's right down true. What may be your biggest article of produce?"
"I calculate, generally, that's the biggest, as I makes most by."
"You may say that. But what do you chiefly call your most particular branch?"
"Why, that's what I can't justly say."
And so they went on, without advancing or giving an inch, 'till I was weary of listening; but I left them still at it, when I stepped out to resume my station on a trunk at the bow of the boat, where I scribbled in my note-book this specimen of Yankee conversation.
The Erie canal has cut through much solid rock, and we often passed between magnificent cliffs. The little falls of the Mohawk form a lovely scene; the rocks over which the river runs are most fantastic in form. The fall continues nearly a mile, and a beautiful village, called the Little Falls, overhangs it. As many locks occur at this point, we quitted the boat, that we might the better enjoy the scenery, which is of the widest description. Several other passengers did so likewise, and I was much amused by one of our Yankees, who very civilly accompanied our party, pointing out to me the wild state of the country, and apologizing for it, by saying, that the property all round thereabouts had been owned by an Englishman; "and you'll excuse me, ma'am, but when the English gets a spot of wild ground like this here, they have no notions about it like us; but the Englishman have sold it, and if you was to see it five years hence, you would not know it again; I'll engage there will be by that, half a score elegant factories—'tis a true shame to let such a privilege of water lie idle."
We reached Utica at twelve o'clock the following day, pretty well fagged by the sun by day, and a crowded cabin by night; lemon-juice and iced-water (without sugar) kept us alive. But for this delightful recipe, feather fans, and eau de Cologne, I think we should have failed altogether; the thermometer stood at 90 degrees.
At two, we set off in a very pleasant airy carriage for Trenton Falls, a delightful drive of fourteen miles. These falls have become within the last few years only second in fame to Niagara. The West Canada Creek, which in the map shows but as a paltry stream, has found its way through three miles of rock, which, at many points, is 150 feet high. A forest of enormous cedars is on their summit; and many of that beautiful species of white cedar which droops its branches like the weeping-willow grow in the clefts of the rock, and in some places almost dip their dark foliage in the torrent. The rock is of a dark grey limestone, and often presents a wall of unbroken surface. Near the hotel a flight of very alarming steps leads down to the bed of the stream, and on reaching it you find yourself enclosed in a deep abyss of solid rock, with no visible opening but that above your head. The torrent dashes by with inconceivable rapidity; its colour is black as night, and the dark ledge of rock on which you stand, is so treacherously level with it, that nothing warns you of danger. Within the last three years two young people, though surrounded by their friends, have stepped an inch too far, and disappeared from among them, as if by magic, never to revisit earth again. This broad flat ledge reached but a short distance, and then the perpendicular wall appears to stop your farther progress; but there is a spirit of defiance in the mind of man; he will not be stayed either by rocks or waves. By the aid of gunpowder a sufficient quantity of the rock has been removed to afford a fearful footing round a point, which, when doubled, discloses a world of cataracts, all leaping forward together in most magnificent confusion. I suffered considerably before I reached the spot where this grand scene is visible; a chain firmly fastened to the rock serves to hang by, as you creep along the giddy verge, and this enabled me to proceed so far; but here the chain failed, and my courage with it, though the rest of the party continued for some way farther, and reported largely of still increasing sublimity. But my knees tottered, and my head swam, so while the rest crept onward, I sat down to wait their return on the floor of rock which had received us on quitting the steps.
A hundred and fifty feet of bare black rock on one side, an equal height covered with solemn cedars on the other, an unfathomed torrent roaring between them, the fresh remembrance of the ghastly legend belonging to the spot, and the idea of my children clinging to the dizzy path I had left, was altogether sombre enough; but I had not sat long before a tremendous burst of thunder shook the air; the deep chasm answered from either side, again, again, and again; I thought the rock I sat upon trembled: but the whole effect was so exceedingly grand, that I had no longer leisure to think of fear; my children immediately returned, and we enjoyed together the darkening shadows cast over the abyss, the rival clamour of the torrent and the storm, and that delightful exaltation of the spirits which sets danger at defiance. A few heavy rain drops alarmed us more than all the terrors of the spot, or rather, they recalled our senses, and we retreated by the fearful steps, reaching our hotel unwetted and unharmed. The next morning we were again early a foot; the last night's storm had refreshed the air, and renewed our strength. We now took a different route, and instead of descending, as before, walked through the dark forest along the cliff, sufficiently near its edge to catch fearful glimpses of the scene below. After some time the patch began to descend, and at length brought us to the Shantee, commemorated in Miss Sedgwick's Clarence. This is by far the finest point of the falls. There is a little balcony in front of the Shantee, literally hanging over the tremendous whirlpool; though frail, it makes one fancy oneself in safety, and reminded me of the feeling with which I have stood on one side a high gate, watching a roaring bull on the other. The walls of this Shantee are literally covered with autographs, and I was inclined to join the laugh against the egotistical trifling, when one of the party discovered "Trollope, England," amidst the innumerable scrawls. The well known characters were hailed with such delight, that I think I shall never again laugh at any one for leaving their name where it is possible a friend may find it.
We returned to Utica to dinner, and found that we must either wait till the next day for the Rochester coach, or again submit to the packet-boat. Our impatience induced us to prefer the latter, not very wisely, I think, for every annoyance seemed to increase upon us. The Oneida and the Genesee country are both extremely beautiful, but had we not returned by another route we should have known little about it. From the canal nothing is seen to advantage, and very little is seen at all. My chief amusement, I think, was derived from names. One town, consisting of a whiskey store and a warehouse, is called Port Byron. At Rome, the first name I saw over a store was Remus, doing infinite honour, I thought, to the classic lore of his godfathers and godmothers; but it would be endless to record all the drolleries of this kind which we met with. We arrived at Rochester, a distance of a hundred and forty miles, on the second morning after leaving Utica, fully determined never to enter a canal boat again, at least, not in America.
Rochester is one of the most famous of the cities built on the Jack and Bean-stalk principle. There are many splendid edifices in wood; and certainly more houses, warehouses, factories, and steam-engines than ever were collected together in the same space of time; but I was told by a fellow-traveller that the stumps of the forest are still to be found firmly rooted in the cellars.
The fall of the Genesee is close to the town, and in the course of a few months will, perhaps, be in the middle of it. It is a noble sheet of water, of a hundred and sixty feet perpendicular fall; but I looked at it through the window of a factory, and as I did not like that, I was obligingly handed to the door-way of a sawing-mill; in short, "the great water privilege" has been so ingeniously taken advantage of, that no point can be found where its voice and its movement are not mixed and confounded with those of the "admirable machinery of this flourishing city."
The Genesee fall is renowned as being the last and fatal leap of the adventurous madman, Sam Patch; he had leaped it once before, and rose to the surface of the river in perfect safety, but the last time he was seen to falter as he took the leap, and was never heard of more. It seems that he had some misgivings of his fate, for a pet bear, which he had always taken with him on his former break-neck adventures, and which had constantly leaped after him without injury, he on this occasion left behind, in the care of a friend, to whom he bequeathed him "in case of his not returning." We saw the bear, which is kept at the principal hotel; he is a noble creature, and more completely tame than I ever saw any animal of the species.
Our journey now became wilder every step, the unbroken forest often skirted the road for miles, and the sight of a log-hut was an event. Yet the road was, for the greater part of the day, good, running along a natural ridge, just wide enough for it. This ridge is a very singular elevation, and, by all the enquiry I could make, the favourite theory concerning it is, that it was formerly the boundary of Lake Ontario, near which it passes. When this ridge ceased, the road ceased too, and for the rest of the way to Lockport, we were most painfully jumbled and jolted over logs and through bogs, till every joint was nearly dislocated.
Lockport is beyond all comparison, the strangest looking place I ever beheld. As fast as half a dozen trees were cut down, a factory was raised up; stumps still contest the ground with pillars, and porticos are seen to struggle with rocks. It looks as if the demon of machinery, having invaded the peaceful realms of nature, had fixed on Lockport as the battle-ground on which they should strive for mastery. The fiend insists that the streams should go one way, though the gentle mother had ever led their dancing steps another; nay, the very rocks must fall before him, and take what form he wills. The battle is lost and won. Nature is fairly routed and driven from the field, and the rattling, crackling, hissing, spitting demon has taken possession of Lockport for ever.
We slept there, dismally enough. I never felt more out of humour at what the Americans call improvement; it is, in truth, as it now stands, a most hideous place, and gladly did I leave it behind me.
Our next stage was to Lewiston; for some miles before we reached it we were within sight of the British frontier; and we made our salaams.
The monument of the brave General Brock stands on an elevated point near Queenstown, and is visible at a great distance.
We breakfasted at Lewiston, but felt every cup of coffee as a sin, so impatient were we, as we approached the end of our long pilgrimage, to reach the shrine, which nature seems to have placed at such a distance from her worshippers on purpose to try the strength of their devotion.
A few miles more would bring us to the high altar, but first we had to cross the ferry, for we were determined upon taking our first view from British ground. The Niagara river is very lovely here; the banks are bold, rugged, and richly coloured, both by rocks and woods; and the stream itself is bright, clear, and unspeakably green.
In crossing the ferry a fellow-passenger made many enquiries of the young boatman respecting the battle of Queenstown; he was but a lad, and could remember little about it, but he was a British lad, and his answers smacked strongly of his loyal British feeling. Among other things, the questioner asked if many American citizens had not been thrown from the heights into the river.
"Why, yes, there was a good many of them; but it was right to show them there was water between us, and you know it might help to keep the rest of them from coming to trouble us on our own ground."
This phrase, "our own ground," gave interest to every mile, or I believe I should have shut my eyes, and tried to sleep, that I might annihilate what remained of time and space between me and Niagara.
But I was delighted to see British oaks, and British roofs, and British boys and girls. These latter, as if to impress upon us that they were not citizens, made bows and courtseys as we passed, and this little touch of long unknown civility produced great effect. "See these dear children, mamma! do they not look English? how I love them!" was the exclamation it produced.
Niagara—Arrival at Forsythes—First sight of the Falls— Goat Island—The Rapids—Buffalo—Lake Erie—Canandaigna— Stage-coach adventures
At length we reached Niagara. It was the brightest day that June could give; and almost any day would have seemed bright that brought me to the object, which for years, I had languished to look upon.
We did not hear the sound of the Falls till very near the hotel, which overhangs them; as you enter the door you see behind the hall an open space surrounded by galleries, one above another, and in an instant you feel that from thence the wonder is visible.
I trembled like a fool, and my girls clung to me, trembling too, I believe, but with faces beaming with delight. We encountered a waiter who had a sympathy of some sort with us, for he would not let us run through the hall to the first gallery, but ushered us up stairs, and another instant placed us where, at one glance, I saw all I had wished for, hoped for, dreamed of.
It is not for me to attempt a description of Niagara; I feel I have no powers for it.
After one long, stedfast gaze, we quitted the gallery that we might approach still nearer, and in leaving the house had the good fortune to meet an English gentleman, (The accomplished author of "Cyril Thornton.") who had been introduced to us at New York; he had preceded us by a few days, and knew exactly how and where to lead us. If any man living can describe the scene we looked upon it is himself, and I trust he will do it. As for myself, I can only say, that wonder, terror, and delight completely overwhelmed me. I wept with a strange mixture of pleasure and of pain, and certainly was, for some time, too violently affected in the physique to be capable of much pleasure; but when this emotion of the senses subsided, and I had recovered some degree of composure, my enjoyment was very great indeed.
To say that I was not disappointed is but a weak expression to convey the surprise and astonishment which this long dreamed of scene produced. It has to me something beyond its vastness; there is a shadowy mystery hangs about it which neither the eye nor even the imagination can penetrate; but I dare not dwell on this, it is a dangerous subject, and any attempt to describe the sensations produced must lead direct to nonsense.
Exactly at the Fall, it is the Fall and nothing else you have to look upon; there are not, as at Trenton, mighty rocks and towering forests, there is only the waterfall; but it is the fall of an ocean, and were Pelion piled on Ossa on either side of it, we could not look at them.
The noise is greatly less than I expected; one can hear with perfect distinctness everything said in an ordinary tone, when quite close to the cataract. The cause of this, I imagine to be, that it does not fall immediately among rocks, like the far noisier Potomac, but direct and unbroken, save by its own rebound. The colour of the water, before this rebound hides it in foam and mist, is of the brightest and most delicate green; the violence of the impulse sends it far over the precipice before it falls, and the effect of the ever varying light through its transparency is, I think, the loveliest thing I ever looked upon.
We descended to the edge of the gulf which received the torrent, and thence looked at the horse-shoe fall in profile; it seems like awful daring to stand close beside it, and raise one's eyes to its immensity. I think the point the most utterly inconceivable to those who have not seen it, is the centre of the horse-shoe. The force of the torrent converges there, and as the heavy mass pours in, twisted, wreathed, and curled together, it gives an idea of irresistible power, such as no other object ever conveyed to me.
The following anecdote, which I had from good authority, may give some notion of this mighty power.
After the last American war, three of our ships stationed on Lake Erie were declared unfit for service, and condemned. Some of their officers obtained permission to send them over Niagara Falls. The first was torn to shivers by the rapids, and went over in fragments; the second filled with water before she reached the fall; but the third, which was in better condition, took the leap gallantly, and retained her form till it was hid in the cloud of mist below. A reward of ten dollars was offered for the largest fragment of wood that should be found from either wreck, five for the second, and so on. One morsel only was ever seen, and that about a foot in length, was mashed as by a vice, and its edges notched like the teeth of a saw. What had become of the immense quantity of wood which had been precipitated? What unknown whirlpool had engulphed it, so that, contrary to the very laws of nature, no vestige of the floating material could find its way to the surface?
Beyond the horse-shoe is Goat Island, and beyond Goat Island the American fall, bold, straight, and chafed to snowy whiteness by the rocks which meet it; but it does not approach, in sublimity or awful beauty, to the wondrous crescent on the other shore. There, the form of the mighty cauldron, into which the deluge poors, the hundred silvery torrents congregating round its verge, the smooth and solemn movement with which it rolls its massive volume over the rock, the liquid emerald of its long unbroken waters, the fantastic wreaths which spring to meet it, and then, the shadowy mist that veils the horrors of its crash below, constitute a scene almost too enormous in its features for man to look upon. "Angels might tremble as they gazed;" and I should deem the nerves obtuse, rather than strong, which did not quail at the first sight of this stupendous cataract.
Minute local particulars can be of no interest to those who have not felt their influence for pleasure or for pain. I will not tell of giddy stairs which scale the very edge of the torrent, nor of beetling slabs of table rock, broken and breaking, on which, shudder as you may, you must take your stand or lose your reputation as a tourist. All these feats were performed again and again even on the first day of our arrival, and most earthly weary was I when the day was done, though I would not lose the remembrance of it to purchase the addition of many soft and silken ones to my existence.
By four o'clock the next morning I was again at the little shantee, close to the horse-shoe fall, which seems reared in water rather than in air, and took an early shower-bath of spray. Much is concealed at this early hour by the heavy vapour, but there was a charm in the very obscurity; and every moment, as the light increased, cloud after cloud rolled off, till the vast wonder was again before me.
It is in the afternoon that the rainbow is visible from the British side; and it is a lovely feature in the mighty landscape. The gay arch springs from fall to fall, a fairy bridge.
After breakfast we crossed to the American side, and explored Goat Island. The passage across the Niagara, directly in face of the falls, is one of the most delightful little voyages imaginable; the boat crosses marvellously near them, and within reach of a light shower of spray. Real safety and apparent danger have each their share in the pleasure felt. The river is here two hundred feet deep. The passage up the rock brings you close upon the American cataract; it is a vast sheet, and has all the sublimity that height and width, and uproar can give; but it has none of the magic of its rival about it. Goat Island has, at all points, a fine view of the rapids; the furious velocity with which they rush onward to the abyss is terrific; and the throwing a bridge across them was a work of noble daring.
Below the falls, the river runs between lofty rocks, crowned with unbroken forests; this scene forms a striking contrast to the level shores above the cataract. It appears as if the level of the river had been broken up by some volcanic force. The Niagara flows out of Lake Erie, a broad, deep river; but for several miles its course is tranquil, and its shores perfectly level. By degrees its bed begins to sink, and the glassy smoothness is disturbed by a slight ripple. The inverted trees, that before lay so softly still upon its bosom, become twisted and tortured till they lose their form, and seem madly to mix in the tumult that destroys them. The current becomes more rapid at every step, till rock after rock has chafed the stream to fury, making the green one white. This lasts for a mile, and then down sink the rocks at once, one hundred and fifty feet, and the enormous flood falls after them. God said, let there be a cataract, and it was so. When the river has reached its new level, the precipice on either side shows a terrific chasm of solid rock; some beautiful plants are clinging to its sides, and oak, ash, and cedar, in many places, clothe their terrors with rich foliage.
This violent transition from level shores to a deep ravine, seems to indicate some great convulsion as its cause, and when I heard of a burning spring close by, I fancied the volcanic power still at work, and that the wonders of the region might yet increase.
We passed four delightful days of excitement and fatigue; we drenched ourselves in spray; we cut our feet on the rocks; we blistered our faces in the sun; we looked up the cataract, and down the cataract; we perched ourselves on every pinnacle we could find; we dipped our fingers in the flood at a few yards' distance from its thundering fall; in short, we strove to fill as many niches of memory with Niagara as possible; and I think the images will be within the power of recall for ever.
We met many groups of tourists in our walks, chiefly American, but they were, or we fancied they were, but little observant of the wonders around them.
One day we were seated on a point of the cliff, near the ferry, which commands a view of both the Falls. This, by the way, is considered as the finest general view of the scene. One of our party was employed in attempting to sketch, what, however, I believe it is impossible for any pencil to convey an idea of to those who have not seen it. We had borrowed two or three chairs from a neighbouring cottage, and amongst us had gathered a quantity of boughs which, with the aid of shawls and parasols, we had contrived to weave into a shelter from the midday sun, so that altogether I have no doubt we looked very cool and comfortable.
A large party who had crossed from the American side, wound up the steep ascent from the place where the boat had left them; in doing so their backs were turned to the cataracts, and as they approached the summit, our party was the principal object before them. They all stood perfectly still to look at us. This first examination was performed at the distance of about a dozen yard from the spot we occupied, and lasted about five minutes, by which time they had recovered breath, and acquired courage. They then advanced in a body, and one or two of them began to examine (wrong side upwards) the work of the sketcher, in doing which they stood precisely between him and his object; but of this I think it is very probable they were not aware. Some among them next began to question us as to how long we had been at the Falls; whether there were much company; if we were not from the old country, and the like. In return we learnt that they were just arrived; yet not one of them (there were eight) ever turned the head, even for a moment, to look at the most stupendous spectacle that nature has to show.
The company at the hotel changed almost every day. Many parties arrived in the morning, walked to the falls; returned to the hotel to dinner, and departed by the coach immediately after it. Many groups were indescribably whimsical, both in appearance and manner. Now and then a first-rate dandy shot in among us, like a falling star.
On one occasion, when we were in the beautiful gallery, at the back of the hotel, which overlooks the horse-shoe fall, we saw the booted leg of one of this graceful race protruded from the window which commands the view, while his person was thrown back in his chair, and his head enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
I have repeatedly remarked, when it has happened to me to meet any ultra fine men among the wilder and more imposing scenes of our own land, that they throw off, in a great degree, their airs, and their "townliness," as some one cleverly calls these simagrees, as if ashamed to "play their fantastic tricks" before the god of nature, when so forcibly reminded of his presence; and more than once on these occasions I have been surprised to find how much intellect lurked behind the inane mask of fashion. But in America the effect of fine scenery upon this class of persons is different, for it is exactly when amongst it, that the most strenuous efforts at elegant nonchalance are perceptible among the young exquisites of the western world. It is true that they have little leisure for the display of grace in the daily routine of commercial activity in which their lives are passed, and this certainly offers a satisfactory explanation of the fact above stated.
Fortunately for our enjoyment, the solemn character of the scene was but little broken in upon by these gentry. Every one who comes to Forsythe's Hotel (except Mrs. Bogle Corbet), walks to the shantee, writes their name in a book which is kept there, and, for the most part, descends by the spiral staircase which leads from the little platform before it, to the rocks below. Here they find another shantee, but a few yards from the entrance of that wondrous cavern which is formed by the falling flood on one side, and by the mighty rock over which it pours, on the other. To this frail shelter from the wild uproar, and the blinding spray, nearly all the touring gentlemen, and even many of the pretty ladies, find their way. But here I often saw their noble daring fail, and have watched them dripping and draggled turn again to the sheltering stairs, leaving us in full possession of the awful scene we so dearly loved to gaze upon. How utterly futile must every attempt be to describe the spot! How vain every effort to convey an idea of the sensations it produces! Why is it so exquisite a pleasure to stand for hours drenched in spray, stunned by the ceaseless roar, trembling from the concussion that shakes the very rock you cling to, and breathing painfully in the moist atmosphere that seems to have less of air than water in it? Yet pleasure it is, and I almost think the greatest I ever enjoyed. We more than once approached the entrance to this appalling cavern, but I never fairly entered it, though two or three of my party did. I lost my breath entirely; and the pain at my chest was so severe, that not all my curiosity could enable me to endure it.
What was that cavern of the winds, of which we heard of old, compared to this? A mightier spirit than Aeolus reigns here.
Nor was this spot of dread and danger the only one in which we found ourselves alone. The path taken by "the company" to the shantee, which contained the "book of names" was always the same; this wound down the steep bank from the gate of the hotel garden, and was rendered tolerably easy by its repeated doublings; but it was by no means the best calculated to manage to advantage the pleasure of the stranger in his approach to the spot. All others, however, seemed left for us alone.
During our stay we saw the commencement of another staircase, intended to rival in attraction that at present in use; it is but a few yards from it, and can in no way, I think, contribute to the convenience of the descent. The erection of the central shaft of this spiral stair was a most tremendous operation, and made me sick and giddy as I watched it. After it had been made fast at the bottom, the carpenters swung themselves off the rocks, by the means of ropes, to the beams which traversed it; and as they sat across them, in the midst of the spray and the uproar, I thought I had never seen life periled so wantonly. But the work proceeded without accident, and was nearly finished before we left the hotel.
It was a sort of pang to take what we knew must be our last look at Niagara; but "we had to do it," as the Americans say, and left it on the 10th June, for Buffalo.
The drive along the river, above the Falls, is as beautiful as a clear stream of a mile in width can make it; and the road continues close to it till you reach the ferry at Black Rock.
We welcomed, almost with a shout, the British colours which we saw, for the first time, on Commodore Barrie's pretty sloop, the Bull Dog, which we passed as it was towing up the river to Lake Erie, the commodore being about to make a tour of the lakes.
At Black Rock we crossed again into the United States, and a few miles of horrible jolting brought us to Buffalo.
Of all the thousand and one towns I saw in America, I think Buffalo is the queerest looking; it is not quite so wild as Lockport, but all the buildings have the appearance of having been run up in a hurry, though every thing has an air of great pretension; there are porticos, columns, domes, and colonnades, but all in wood. Every body tells you there, as in all their other new-born towns, and every body believes, that their improvement, and their progression, are more rapid, more wonderful, than the earth ever before witnessed; while to me, the only wonder is, how so many thousands, nay millions of persons, can be found, in the nineteenth century, who can be content so to live. Surely this country may be said to spread rather than to rise.
The Eagle Hotel, an immense wooden fabric, has all the pretension of a splendid establishment, but its monstrous corridors, low ceilings, and intricate chambers, gave me the feeling of a catacomb rather than a house. We arrived after the table d'hote tea-drinking was over, and supped comfortably enough with a gentleman, who accompanied us from the Falls: but the next morning we breakfasted in a long, low, narrow room, with a hundred persons, and any thing less like comfort can hardly be imagined.
What can induce so many intellectual citizens to prefer these long, silent tables, scantily covered with morsels of fried ham, salt fish and liver, to a comfortable loaf of bread with their wives and children at home? How greatly should I prefer eating my daily meals with my family, in an Indian wig-wam, to boarding at a table d'hote in these capacious hotels; the custom, however, seems universal through the country, at least we have met it, without a shadow of variation as to its general features, from New Orleans to Buffalo.
Lake Erie has no beauty to my eyes; it is not the sea, and it is not the river, nor has it the beautiful scenery generally found round smaller lakes. The only interest its unmeaning expanse gave me, arose from remembering that its waters, there so tame and tranquil, were destined to leap the gulf of Niagara. A dreadful road, through forests only beginning to be felled, brought us to Avon; it is a straggling, ugly little place, and not any of their "Romes, Carthages, Ithacas, or Athens," ever provoked me by their name so much. This Avon flows sweetly with nothing but whiskey and tobacco juice.
The next day's journey was much more interesting, for it showed us the lake of Canandaigua. It is about eighteen miles long, but narrow enough to bring the opposite shore, clothed with rich foliage, near to the eye; the back-ground is a ridge of mountains. Perhaps the state of the atmosphere lent an unusual charm to the scene; one of those sudden thunderstorms, so rapid in approach, and so sombre in colouring, that they change the whole aspect of things in a moment, rose over the mountains and passed across the lake while we looked upon it. Another feature in the scene gave a living, but most sad interest to it. A glaring wooden hotel, as fine as paint and porticos can make it, overhangs the lake; beside it stands a shed for cattle. To this shed, and close by the white man's mushroom palace, two Indians had crept to seek a shelter from the storm. The one was an aged man, whose venerable head in attitude and expression indicated the profoundest melancholy: the other was a youth, and in his deep-set eye there was a quiet sadness more touching still. There they stood, the native rightful lords of the fair land, looking out upon the lovely lake which yet bore the name their fathers had given it, watching the threatening storm that brooded there; a more fearful one had already burst over them.
Though I have mentioned the lake first, the little town of Canandaigua precedes it, in returning from the West. It is as pretty a village as ever man contrived to build. Every house is surrounded by an ample garden, and at that flowery season they were half buried in roses.
It is true these houses are of wood, but they are so neatly painted, in such perfect repair, and show so well within their leafy setting, that it is impossible not to admire them.
Forty-six miles farther is Geneva, beautifully situated on Seneca Lake. This, too, is a lovely sheet of water, and I think the town may rival its European namesake in beauty.
We slept at Auburn, celebrated for its prison, where the highly-approved system of American discipline originated. In this part of the country there is no want of churches; every little village has its wooden temple, and many of them too; that the Methodists and Presbyterians may not clash.
We passed through an Indian reserve, and the untouched forests again hung close upon the road. Repeated groups of Indians passed us, and we remarked that they were much cleaner and better dressed than those we had met wandering far from their homes. The blankets which they use so gracefully as mantles were as white as snow.
We took advantage of the loss of a horse's shoe, to leave the coach, and approach a large party of them, consisting of men, women, and children, who were regaling themselves with I know not what, but milk made a part of the repast. They could not talk to us, but they received us with smiles, and seemed to understand when we asked if they had mocassins to sell, for they shook their sable locks, and answered "no." A beautiful grove of butternut trees was pointed out to us, as the spot where the chiefs of the six nations used to hold their senate; our informer told me that he had been present at several of their meetings, and though he knew but little of their language, the power of their eloquence was evident from the great effect it produced among themselves.
Towards the end of this day, we encountered an adventure which revived our doubts whether the invading white men, in chasing the poor Indians from their forests, have done much towards civilizing the land. For myself, I almost prefer the indigenous manner to the exotic.
The coach stopped to take in "a lady" at Vernon; she entered, and completely filled the last vacant inch of our vehicle; for "we were eight" before.
But no sooner was she seated, than her beau came forward with a most enormous wooden best-bonnet box. He paused for a while to meditate the possibilities—raised it, as if to place it on our laps—sunk it, as if to put it beneath our feet. Both alike appeared impossible; when, in true Yankee style he addressed one of our party with. If you'll just step out a minute, I guess I'll find room for it."
"Perhaps so. But how shall I find room for myself afterwards?"
This was uttered in European accents, and in an instant half a dozen whiskey drinkers stepped from before the whiskey store, and took the part of the beau.
"That's because you'll be English travellers I expect, but we have travelled in better countries than Europe—we have travelled in America—and the box will go, I calculate."
We remonstrated on the evident injustice of the proceeding, and I ventured to say, that as we had none of us any luggage in the carriage, because the space was so very small, I thought a chance passenger could have no right so greatly to incommode us.
"Right!—there they go—that's just their way—that will do in Europe, may be; it sounds just like English tyranny, now don't it? but it won't do here." And thereupon he began thrusting in the wooden box against our legs, with all his strength.
"No law, sir, can permit such conduct as this."
"Law!" exclaimed a gentleman very particularly drunk, "we makes our own laws, and governs our own selves."
"Law!" echoed another gentleman of Vernon, "this is a free country, we have no laws here, and we don't want no foreign power to tyrannize over us."
I give the words exactly. It is, however, but fair to state, that the party had evidently been drinking more than an usual portion of whiskey, but, perhaps, in whiskey, as in wine, truth may come to light. At any rate the people of the Western Paradise follow the Gentiles in this, that they are a law unto themselves.
During the contest, the coachman sat upon the box without saying a word, but seemed greatly to enjoy the joke; the question of the box, however, was finally decided in our favour by the nature of the human material, which cannot be compressed beyond a certain degree.
For the great part of this day we had the good fortune to have a gentleman and his daughter for our fellow-travellers, who were extremely intelligent and agreeable; but I nearly got myself into a scrape by venturing to remark upon a phrase used by the gentleman, and which had met me at every corner from the time I first entered the country. We had been talking of pictures, and I had endeavoured to adhere to the rule I had laid down for myself, of saying very little, where I could say nothing agreeable. At length he named an American artist, with whose works I was very familiar, and after having declared him equal to Lawrence (judging by his portrait of West, now at New York), he added, "and what is more, madam, he is perfectly self-taught."
I prudently took a few moments before I answered; for the equalling our immortal Lawrence to a most vile dauber stuck in my throat; I could not say Amen; so for some time I said nothing; but, at last, I remarked on the frequency with which I had heard this phrase of self-taught used, not as an apology, but as positive praise.
"Well, madam, can there be a higher praise?"
"Certainly not, if spoken of the individual merits of a person, without the means of instruction, but I do not understand it when applied as praise to his works."
"Not understand it, madam? Is it not attributing genius to the author, and what is teaching compared to that?"
I do not wish to repeat all my own bons mots in praise of study, and on the disadvantages of profound ignorance, but I would, willingly, if I could, give an idea of the mixed indignation and contempt expressed by our companion at the idea that study was necessary to the formation of taste, and to the development of genius. At last, however, he closed the discussion thus,—"There is no use in disputing a point that is already settled, madam; the best judges declare that Mr. H—g's portraits are equal to that of Lawrence."
"Who is it who has passed this judgement, sir?"
"The men of taste of America, madam."
I then asked him, if he thought it was going to rain?
The stages do not appear to have any regular stations at which to stop for breakfast, dinner, and supper. These necessary interludes, therefore, being generally impromptu, were abominably bad. We were amused by the patient manner in which our American fellow-travellers ate whatever was set before them, without uttering a word of complaint, or making any effort to improve it, but no sooner reseated in the stage, than they began their complaints—"twas a shame"—"twas a robbery"—"twas poisoning folks"—and the like. I, at last, asked the reason of this, and why they did not remonstrate? "Because, madam, no American gentleman or lady that keeps an inn won't bear to be found fault with."
We reached Utica very late and very weary; but the delights of a good hotel and perfect civility sent us in good humour to bed, and we arose sufficiently refreshed to enjoy a day's journey through some of the loveliest scenery in the world.
Who is it that says America is not picturesque? I forget; but surely he never travelled from Utica to Albany. I really cannot conceive that any country can furnish a drive of ninety-six miles more beautiful, or more varied in its beauty. The road follows the Mohawk River, which flows through scenes changing from fields, waving with plenty, to rocks and woods; gentle slopes, covered with cattle, are divided from each other by precipices 500 feet high. Around the little falls there is a character of beauty as singular as it is striking. Here, as I observed of many other American rivers, the stream appears to run in a much narrower channel than it once occupied, and the space which it seems formerly to have filled, is now covered with bright green herbage, save that, at intervals, large masses of rock rise abruptly from the level turf; these are crowned with all such trees as love the scanty diet which a rock affords. Dwarf oak, cedars, and the mountain ash, are grouped in a hundred different ways among them; each clump you look upon is lovelier than its neighbour; I never saw so sweetly wild a spot.
I was surprised to hear a fellow-traveller say, as we passed a point of peculiar beauty, "all this neighbourhood belongs, or did belong, to Mr. Edward Ellice, an English Member of Parliament, but he has sold a deal of it, and now, madam, you may see as it begins to improve;" and he pointed to a great wooden edifice, where, on the white paint, "Cash for Rags," in letters three feet high, might be seen.
I then remembered that it was near this spot that my Yankee friend had made his complaint against English indifference to "water privilege." He did not name Mr. Edward Ellice, but doubtless he was the "English, as never thought of improvement."
I have often confessed my conscious incapacity for description, but I must repeat it here to apologize for my passing so dully through this matchless valley of the Mohawk. I would that some British artist, strong in youthful daring, would take my word for it, and pass over, for a summer pilgrimage through the State of New York. In very earnest, he would wisely, for I question if the world could furnish within the same space, and with equal facility of access, so many subjects for his pencil. Mountains, forests, rocks, lakes, rivers, cataracts, all in perfection. But he must be bold as a lion in colouring, or he will make nothing of it. There is a clearness of atmosphere, a strength of chiaro oscuro, a massiveness in the foliage, and a brilliance of contrast, that must make a colourist of any one who has an eye. He must have courage to dip his pencil in shadows black as night, and light that might blind an eagle. As I presume my young artist to be an enthusiast, he must first go direct to Niagara, or even in the Mohawk valley his pinioned wing may droop. If his fever run very high, he may slake his thirst at Trenton, and while there, he will not dream of any thing beyond it. Should my advice be taken, I will ask the young adventurer on his return (when he shall have made a prodigious quantity of money by my hint), to reward me by two sketches. One shall be the lake of Canandaigua; the other the Indians' Senate Grove of Butternuts.
During our journey, I forget on which day of it, a particular spot in the forest, at some distance from the road, was pointed out to us as the scene of a true, but very romantic story. During the great and the terrible French revolution (1792), a young nobleman escaped from the scene of horror, having with difficulty saved his head, and without the possibility of saving any thing else. He arrived at New York nearly destitute; and after passing his life, not only in splendour, but in the splendour of the court of France, he found himself jostled by the busy population of the New World, without a dollar between him and starvation. In such a situation one might almost sigh for the guillotine. The young noble strove to labour; but who would purchase the trembling efforts of his white hands, while the sturdy strength of many a black Hercules was in the market? He abandoned the vain attempt to sustain himself by the aid of his fellow-men, and determined to seek a refuge in the forest. A few shillings only remained to him; he purchased an axe, and reached the Oneida territory. He felled a few of the slenderest trees, and made himself a shelter that Robinson Crusoe would have laughed at, for it did not keep out the rain. Want of food, exposure to the weather, and unwonted toil, produced the natural result; the unfortunate young man fell sick, and stretched upon the reeking earth, stifled, rather than sheltered, by the withering boughs which hung over him; he lay parched with thirst, and shivering in ague, with the one last earthly hope, that each heavy moment would prove the last.
Near to the spot which he had chosen for his miserable rest, but totally concealed from it by the thick forest, was the last straggling wigwam of an Indian village. It is not known how many days the unhappy man had lain without food, but he was quite insensible when a young squaw, whom chance had brought from this wigwam to his hut, entered, and found him alive, but totally insensible. The heart of woman is, I believe, pretty much the same every where; the young girl paused not to think whether he were white or red, but her fleet feet rested not till she had brought milk, rum, and blankets, and when the sufferer recovered his senses, his head was supported on her lap, while, with the gentle tenderness of a mother, she found means to make him swallow the restoratives she had brought.
No black eyes in the world, be they of France, Italy, or even of Spain, can speak more plainly of kindness, than the large deep-set orbs of a squaw; this is a language that all nations can understand, and the poor Frenchman read most clearly, in the anxious glance of his gentle nurse, that he should not die forsaken.
So far the story is romantic enough, and what follows is hardly less so. The squaw found means to introduce her white friend to her tribe; he was adopted as their brother, speedily acquired their language, and assumed their dress and manner of life. His gratitude to his preserver soon ripened into love, and if the chronicle spoke true, the French noble and the American savage were more than passing happy as man and wife, and it was not till he saw himself the father of many thriving children that the exile began to feel a wish of rising again from savage to civilized existence.
My historian did not explain what his project was in visiting New York, but he did so in the habit of an Indian, and learnt enough of the restored tranquillity of his country to give him hope that some of the broad lands he had left there might be restored to him.
I have made my story already too long, and must not linger upon it farther than to say that his hopes were fulfilled, and that, of a large and flourishing family, some are settled in France, and some remain in America, (one of these, I understood, was a lawyer at New York), while the hero and the heroine of the tale continue to inhabit the Oneida country, not in a wigwam, however, but in a good house, in a beautiful situation, with all the comforts of civilized life around them.
Such was the narrative we listened to, from a stage coach companion; and it appears to me sufficiently interesting to repeat, though I have no better authority to quote for its truth, than the assertion of this unknown traveller.
Return to New York—Conclusion
The comfortable Adelphi Hotel again received us at Albany, on the 14th of June, and we decided upon passing the following day there, both to see the place, and to recruit our strength, which we began to feel we had taxed severely by a very fatiguing journey, in most oppressively hot weather. It would have been difficult to find a better station for repose; the rooms were large and airy, and ice was furnished in most profuse abundance.
But notwithstanding the manifold advantages of this excellent hotel, I was surprised at the un-English arrangement communicated to me by two ladies with whom we made a speaking acquaintance, by which it appeared that they made it their permanent home. These ladies were a mother and daughter; the daughter was an extremely pretty young married woman, with two little children. Where the husbands were, or whether they were dead or alive, I know not; but they told me they had been boarding there above a year. They breakfasted, dined, and supped at the table d'hote, with from twenty to a hundred people, as accident might decide; dressed very smart, played on the piano, in the public sitting-room, and assured me they were particularly comfortable and well accommodated. What a life!
Some parts of the town are very handsome; the Town Hall, the Chamber of Representatives, and some other public buildings, stand well on a hill that overlooks the Hudson, with ample enclosures of grass and trees around them.