"It is but natural that you should feel thus; for, while we may miss distinctions and luxuries to which we have ever been accustomed, they rarely excite pride in the possessor, even while they awaken envy in the looker-on."
"Nevertheless, I cannot see what the old pew has to do with the rents, or my legal rights."
"When a cause is bad, everything is pressed into it that it is believed may serve a turn. No man who had a good legal claim for property, would ever think of urging any other; nor would any legislator who had sound and sufficient reasons for his measures—reasons that could properly justify him before God and man for his laws—have recourse to slang to sustain him. If these anti-renters were right, they would have no need of secret combinations, of disguises, blood-and-thunder names, and special agents in the legislature of the land. The right requires no false aid to make it appear the right; but the wrong must get such support as it can press into its service. Your pew is called aristocratic, though it confers no political power; it is called a patent of nobility, though it neither gives nor takes away; and it is hated, and you with it, for the very reason that you can sit in it and not make yourself ridiculous. I suppose you have not examined very closely the papers I gave you to read?"
"Enough so to ascertain that they are filled with trash."
"Worse than trash, Hugh; with some of the loosest principles, and most atrocious feelings, that degrade poor human nature. Some of the reformers propose that no man shall hold more than a thousand acres of land, while others lay down the very intelligible and distinct principle that no man ought to hold more than he can use. Even petitions to that effect, I have been told, have been sent to the legislature."
"Which has taken care not to allude to their purport, either in debate or otherwise, as I see nothing to that effect in the reports."
"Ay, I dare say the slang-whangers of those honourable bodies will studiously keep all such enormities out of sight, as some of them doubtless hope to step into the shoes of the present landlords, as soon as they can get the feet out of them which are now in. But these are the projects and the petitions in the columns of the journals, and they speak for themselves. Among other things, they say it is nobility to be a landlord."
"I see by the letter of Mr. Dunning, that they have petitioned the legislature to order an inquiry into my title. Now, we hold from the crown——"
"So much the worse, Hugh. Faugh! hold from a crown in a republican country! I am amazed you are not ashamed to own it. Do you not know, boy, that it has been gravely contended in a court of justice that, in obtaining our national independence from the King of Great Britain, the people conquered all his previous grants, which ought to be declared void and of none effect?"
"That is an absurdity of which I had not heard," I answered, laughing; "why, the people of New York, who held all their lands under the crown, would in that case have been conquering them for other persons! My good grandfather and great-grandfather, both of whom actually fought and bled in the revolution, must have been very silly thus to expose themselves to take away their own estates, in order to give them to a set of immigrants from New England and other parts of the world!"
"Quite justly said, Hugh," added my uncle, joining in the laugh. "Nor is this half of the argument. The State, too, in its corporate character, has been playing swindler all this time. You may not know the fact, but I as your guardian do know, that the quit-rents reserved by the crown when it granted the lands of Mooseridge and Ravensnest, were claimed by the State; and that, wanting money to save the people from taxes, it commuted with us, receiving a certain gross sum in satisfaction of all future claims."
"Ay, that I did not know. Can the fact be shown?"
"Certainly—it is well known to all old fellows like myself, for it was a very general measure, and very generally entered into by all the landholders. In our case, the receipts are still to be found among the family-papers. In the cases of the older estates, such as those of the Van Rensselaers, the equity is still stronger in their favour, since the conditions to hold the land included an obligation to bring so many settlers from Europe within a given time; conditions that were fulfilled at great cost, as you may suppose, and on which, in truth, the colony had its foundation."
"How much it tells against a people's honesty to wish to forget such facts, in a case like this!"
"There is nothing forgotten, for the facts were probably never known to those who prate about the conquered rights from the crown. As you say, however, the civilization of a community is to be measured by its consciousness of the existence of all principles of justice, and a familiarity with its own history. The great bulk of the population of New York have no active desire to invade what is right in this anti-rent struggle, having no direct interests at stake; their crime is a passive inactivity, which allows those who are either working for political advancement, or those who are working to obtain other men's property, to make use of them, through their own laws."
"But is it not an embarrassment to such a region as that directly around Albany, to have such tenures to the land, and for so large a body of people to be compelled to pay rent, in the very heart of the State, as it might be, and in situations that render it desirable to leave enterprise as unshackled as possible?"
"I am not prepared to admit this much, even, as a general principle. One argument used by these anti-renters is, for instance, that the patroons, in their leases, reserved the mill-seats. Now, what if they did? Some one must own the mill-seats; and why not the Patroon as well as another? To give the argument any weight, not as law, not as morals, but as mere expediency, it must be shown that the patroons would not let these mill-seats at as low rents as any one else; and my opinion is that they would let them at rents of not half the amount that would be asked, were they the property of so many individuals, scattered up and down the country. But, admitting that so large an estate of this particular sort has some inconveniences in that particular spot, can there be two opinions among men of integrity about the mode of getting rid of it? Everything has its price, and, in a business sense, everything is entitled to its price. No people acknowledge this more than the Americans, or practise on it so extensively. Let the Rensselaers be tempted by such offers as will induce them to sell, but do not let them be invaded by that most infernal of all acts of oppression, special legislation, in order to bully or frighten them from the enjoyment of what is rightfully their own. If the State think such a description of property injurious in its heart, let the State imitate England in her conduct towards the slave-holders—buy them out; not tax them out, and wrong them out, and annoy them out. But, Hugh, enough of this at present; we shall have much more than we want of it when we get home. Among my letters, I have one from each of my other wards."
"'Still harping on my daughter,' sir!" I answered, laughing. "I hope that the vivacious Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke, and the meek Miss Anne Marston, are both perfectly well?"
"Both in excellent health, and both write charmingly. I must really let you see the letter of Henrietta, as I do think it is quite creditable to her: I will step into my room and get it."
I ought to let the reader into a secret here that will have some connexion with what is to follow. A dead-set had been made at me, previously to leaving home, to induce me to marry either of three young ladies—Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke, Miss Anne Marston, and Miss Opportunity Newcome. The advances in the cases of Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke and Miss Anne Marston came from my uncle Ro, who, as their guardian, had a natural interest in their making what he was pleased to think might be a good connexion for either; while the advances on account of Miss Opportunity Newcome came from herself. Under such circumstances, it may be well to say who these young ladies actually were.
Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke was the daughter of an Englishman of good family, and some estate, who had emigrated to America and married, under the impulse of certain theories in politics which induced him to imagine that this was the promised land. I remember him as a disappointed and dissatisfied widower, who was thought to be daily growing poorer under the consequences of indiscreet investments, and who at last got to be so very English in his wishes and longings, as to assert that the common Muscovy was a better bird than the canvas-back! He died, however, in time to leave his only child an estate which, under my uncle's excellent management, was known by me to be rather more than one hundred and seventy-nine thousand dollars, and which produced a nett eight thousand a-year. This made Miss Henrietta a belle at once; but, having a prudent friend in my grandmother, as yet she had not married a beggar. I knew that uncle Ro went quite as far as was proper, in his letters, in the way of hints touching myself; and my dear, excellent, honest-hearted, straightforward old grandmother had once let fall an expression, in one of her letters to myself, which induced me to think that these hints had actually awakened as much interest in the young lady's bosom, as could well be connected with what was necessarily nothing but curiosity.
Miss Anne Marston was also an heiress, but on a very diminished scale. She had rather more than three thousand a-year in buildings in town, and a pretty little sum of about sixteen thousand dollars laid by out of its savings. She was not an only child, however, having two brothers, each of whom had already received as much as the sister, and each of whom, as is very apt to be the case with the heirs of New York merchants, was already in a fair way of getting rid of his portion in riotous living. Nothing does a young American so much good, under such circumstances, as to induce him to travel. It makes or breaks at once. If a downright fool, he is plucked by European adventurers in so short a time, that the agony is soon over. If only vain and frivolous, because young and ill-educated, the latter being a New York endemic, but with some foundation of native mind, he lets his whiskers grow, becomes fuzzy about the chin, dresses better, gets to be much better mannered, soon loses his taste for the low and vulgar indulgences of his youth, and comes out such a gentleman as one can only make who has entirely thrown away the precious moments of youth. If tolerably educated in boyhood, with capacity to build on, the chances are that the scales will fall from his eyes very fast on landing in the old world—that his ideas and tastes will take a new turn—that he will become what nature intended him for, an intellectual man; and that he will finally return home, conscious alike of the evils and blessings, the advantages and disadvantages, of his own system and country—a wiser, and it is to be hoped a better man. How the experiment had succeeded with the Marstons, neither myself nor my uncle knew; for they had paid their visit while we were in the East, and had already returned to America. As for Miss Anne, she had a mother to take care of her mind and person, though I had learned she was pretty, sensible and discreet.
Miss Opportunity Newcome was a belle of Ravensnest, a village on my own property; a rural beauty, and of rural education, virtues, manners and habits. As Ravensnest was not particularly advanced in civilization, or, to make use of the common language of the country, was not a very "aristocratic place," I shall not dwell on her accomplishments, which did well enough for Ravensnest, but would not essentially ornament my manuscript.
Opportunity was the daughter of Ovid, who was the son of Jason, of the house of Newcome. In using the term "house," I adopt it understandingly; for the family had dwelt in the same tenement, a leasehold property of which the fee was in myself, and the dwelling had been associated with the name of Newcome from time immemorial; that is, for about eighty years. All that time had a Newcome been the tenant of the mill, tavern, store and farm, that lay nearest the village of Ravensnest, or Little Nest, as it was commonly called; and it may not be impertinent to the moral of my narrative if I add that, for all that time, and for something longer, had I and my ancestors been the landlords. I beg the reader to bear this last fact in mind, as there will soon be occasion to show that there was a strong disposition in certain persons to forget it.
As I have said, Opportunity was the daughter of Ovid. There was also a brother, who was named Seneca, or Seneky, as he always pronounced it himself, the son of Ovid, the son of Jason, the first of the name at Ravensnest. This Seneca was a lawyer, in the sense of a license granted by the Justices of the Supreme Court, as well as by the Court of Common Pleas, in and for the county of Washington. As there had been a sort of hereditary education among the Newcomes for three generations, beginning with Jason, and ending with Seneca; and, as the latter was at the bar, I had occasionally been thrown into the society of both brother and sister. The latter, indeed, used to be fond of visiting the Nest, as my house was familiarly called, Ravensnest being its true name, whence those of the "patent" and village; and as Opportunity had early manifested a partiality for my dear old grandmother, and not less dear young sister, who occasionally passed a few weeks with me during the vacations, more especially in the autumns, I had many occasions of being brought within the influence of her charms—opportunities that, I feel bound to state, Opportunity did not neglect. I have understood that her mother, who bore the same name, had taught Ovid the art of love by a very similar demonstration, and had triumphed. That lady was still living, and may be termed Opportunity the Great, while the daughter can be styled Opportunity the Less. There was very little difference between my own years and those of the young lady; and, as I had last passed through the fiery ordeal at the sinister age of twenty, there was not much danger in encountering the risk anew, now I was five years older. But I must return to my uncle and the letter of Miss Henrietta Coldbrooke.
"Here it is, Hugh," cried my guardian, gaily; "and a capital letter it is! I wish I could read the whole of it to you; but the two girls made me promise never to show their letters to any one, which could mean only you, before they would promise to write anything to me beyond commonplaces. Now, I get their sentiments freely and naturally, and the correspondence is a source of much pleasure to me. I think, however, I might venture just to give you one extract."
"You had better not, sir; there would be a sort of treachery in it, that I confess I would rather not be accessary to. If Miss Coldbrooke do not wish me to read what she writes, she can hardly wish that you should read any of it to me."
Uncle Ro glanced at me, and I fancied he seemed dissatisfied with my nonchalance. He read the letter through to himself, however, laughing here, smiling there, then muttering "capital!" "good!" "charming girl!" "worthy of Hannah More!" &c. &c., as if just to provoke my curiosity. But I had no desire to read "Hannah More," as any young fellow of five-and-twenty can very well imagine, and I stood it all with the indifference of a stoic. My guardian had to knock under, and put the letters in his writing-desk.
"Well, the girls will be glad to see us," he said, after a moment of reflection, "and not a little surprised. In my very last letter to my mother, I sent them word that we should not be home until October; and now we shall see them as early as June, at least."
"Patt will be delighted, I make no doubt. As for the other two young ladies, they have so many friends and relations to care for, that I fancy our movements give them no great concern."
"Then you do both injustice, as their letters would prove. They take the liveliest interest in our proceedings, and speak of my return as if they look for it with the greatest expectation and joy."
I made my uncle Ro a somewhat saucy answer; but fair-dealing compels me to record it.
"I dare say they do, sir," was my reply; "but what young lady does not look with 'expectation and joy' for the return of a friend, who is known to have a long purse, from Paris!"
"Well, Hugh, you deserve neither of those dear girls; and, if I can help it, you shall have neither."
"Poh! this is worse than silly—it is rude. I dare say neither would accept you, were you to offer to-morrow."
"I trust not, sir, for her own sake. It would be a singularly palpable demonstration were either to accept a man she barely knew, and whom she had not seen since she was fifteen."
Uncle Ro laughed, but I could see he was confoundedly vexed; and, as I loved him with all my heart, though I did not love match-making, I turned the discourse, in a pleasant way, on our approaching departure.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Hugh," cried my uncle, who was a good deal of a boy in some things, for the reason, I suppose, that he was an old bachelor; "I'll just have wrong names entered on board the packet, and we'll surprise all our friends. Neither Jacob nor your man will betray us, we know; and, for that matter, we can send them both home by the way of England. Each of us has trunks in London to be looked after, and let the two fellows go by the way of Liverpool. That is a good thought, and occurred most happily."
"With all my heart, sir. My fellow is of no more use to me at sea than an automaton would be, and I shall be glad to get rid of his rueful countenance. He is a capital servant on terra firma, but a perfect Niobe on the briny main."
The thing was agreed on; and, a day or two afterwards, both our body-servants, that is to say, Jacob the black and Hubert the German, were on their way to England. My uncle let his apartment again, for he always maintained I should wish to bring my bride to pass a winter in it; and we proceeded to Havre in a sort of incognito. There was little danger of our being known on board the packet, and we had previously ascertained that there was not an acquaintance of either in the ship. There was a strong family resemblance between my uncle and myself, and we passed for father and son in the ship, as old Mr. Davidson and young Mr. Davidson, of Maryland—or Myr-r-land, as it is Doric to call that state. We had no concern in this part of the deception, unless abstaining from calling my supposed father "uncle," as one would naturally do in strange society, can be so considered.
The passage itself—by the way, I wish all landsmen would be as accurate as I am here, and understand that a "voyage" means "out" and "home," or "thence" and "back again," while a "passage" means from place to place—but our passage was pregnant with no events worth recording. We had the usual amount of good and bad weather, the usual amount of eating and drinking, and the usual amount of ennui. The latter circumstance, perhaps, contributed to the digesting of a further scheme of my uncle's, which it is now necessary to state.
A re-perusal of his letters and papers had induced him to think the anti-rent movement a thing of more gravity, even than he had first supposed. The combination on the part of the tenants, we learned also from an intelligent New Yorker who was a fellow-passenger, extended much further than our accounts had given us reason to believe; and it was deemed decidedly dangerous for landlords, in many cases, to be seen on their own estates. Insult, personal degradation, or injury, and even death, it was thought, might be the consequences, in many cases. The blood actually spilled had had the effect to check the more violent demonstrations, it is true; but the latent determination to achieve their purposes was easily to be traced among the tenants, in the face of all their tardy professions of moderation, and a desire for nothing but what was right. In this case, what was right was the letter and spirit of the contracts; and nothing was plainer than the fact that these were not what was wanted.
Professions pass for nothing, with the experienced, when connected with a practice that flatly contradicts them. It was only too apparent to all who chose to look into the matter, and that by evidence which could not mislead, that the great body of the tenants in various counties of New York were bent on obtaining interests in their farms that were not conveyed by their leases, without the consent of their landlords, and insomuch that they were bent on doing that which should be discountenanced by every honest man in the community. The very fact that they supported, or in any manner connived at, the so-called "Injin" system, spoke all that was necessary as to their motives; and, when we come to consider that these "Injins" had already proceeded to the extremity of shedding blood, it was sufficiently plain that things must soon reach a crisis.
My uncle Roger and myself reflected on all these matters calmly, and decided on our course, I trust, with prudence. As that decision has proved to be pregnant with consequences that are likely to affect my future life, I shall now briefly give an outline of what induced us to adopt it.
It was all-important for us to visit Ravensnest in person, while it might be hazardous to do so openly. The 'Nest house stood in the very centre of the estate, and, ignorant as we were of the temper of the tenants, it might be indiscreet to let our presence be known; and circumstances favoured our projects of concealment. We were not expected to reach the country at all until autumn, or "fall," as that season of the year is poetically called in America; and this gave us the means of reaching the property unexpectedly, and, as we hoped, undetected. Our arrangement, then, was very simple, and will be best related in the course of the narrative.
The packet had a reasonably short passage, as we were twenty-nine days from land to land. It was on a pleasant afternoon in May when the hummock-like heights of Navesink were first seen from the deck; and, an hour later, we came in sight of the tower-resembling sails of the coasters which were congregating in the neighbourhood of the low point of land that is so very appropriately called Sandy Hook. The light-houses rose out of the water soon after, and objects on the shore of New Jersey next came gradually out of the misty back-ground, until we got near enough to be boarded, first by the pilot, and next by the news-boat; the first preceding the last for a wonder, news usually being far more active, in this good republic, than watchfulness to prevent evil. My uncle Ro gave the crew of this news-boat a thorough scrutiny, and, finding no one on board her whom he had ever before seen, he bargained for a passage up to town.
We put our feet on the Battery just as the clocks of New York were striking eight. A custom-house officer had examined our carpet-bags and permitted them to pass, and we had disburthened ourselves of the effects in the ship, by desiring the captain to attend to them. Each of us had a town-house, but neither would go near his dwelling; mine being only kept up in winter, for the use of my sister and an aunt who kindly took charge of her during the season, while my uncle's was opened principally for his mother. At that season, we had reason to think neither was tenanted but by one or two old family servants; and it was our cue also to avoid them. But "Jack Dunning," as my uncle always called him, was rather more of a friend than of an agent; and he had a bachelor establishment in Chamber Street that was precisely the place we wanted. Thither, then, we proceeded, taking the route by Greenwich Street, fearful of meeting some one in Broadway by whom we might be recognised.
Cit. "Speak, speak."
1 Cit. "You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?"
Cit. "Resolved, resolved."
1 Cit. "First you know, Caius Marcus is chief enemy to the people."
Cit. "We know't, we know't."
1 Cit. "Let's kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price.
Is't a verdict?"
The most inveterate Manhattanese, if he be anything of a man of the world, must confess that New York is, after all, but a Rag-Fair sort of a place, so far as the eye is concerned. I was particularly struck with this fact, even at that hour, as we went stumbling along over an atrociously bad side-walk, my eyes never at rest, as any one can imagine, after five years of absence. I could not help noting the incongruities; the dwellings of marble, in close proximity with miserable, low constructions in wood; the wretched pavements, and, above all, the country air, of a town of near four hundred thousand souls. I very well know that many of the defects are to be ascribed to the rapid growth of the place, which gives it a sort of hobbledehoy look; but, being a Manhattanese by birth, I thought I might just as well own it all, at once, if it were only for the information of a particular portion of my townsmen, who may have been under a certain delusion on the subject. As for comparing the Bay of New York with that of Naples on the score of beauty, I shall no more be guilty of any such folly, to gratify the cockney feelings of Broadway and Bond street, than I should be guilty of the folly of comparing the commerce of the ancient Parthenope with that of old New York, in order to excite complacency in the bosom of some bottegajo in the Toledo, or on the Chiaja. Our fast-growing Manhattan is a great town in its way—a wonderful place—without a parallel, I do believe, on earth, as a proof of enterprise and of the accumulation of business; and it is not easy to make such a town appear ridiculous by any jibes and innuendoes that relate to the positive things of this world, though nothing is easier than to do it for itself by setting up to belong to the sisterhood of such places as London, Paris, Vienna and St. Petersburg. There is too much of the American notion of the omnipotence of numbers among us Manhattanese, which induces us to think that the higher rank in the scale of places is to be obtained by majorities. No, no; let us remember the familiar axiom of "ne sutor ultra crepidum." New York is just the queen of "business," but not yet the queen of the world. Every man who travels ought to bring back something to the common stock of knowledge; and I shall give a hint to my townsmen, by which I really think they may be able to tell for themselves, as by feeling a sort of moral pulse, when the town is rising to the level of a capital. When simplicity takes the place of pretension, is one good rule; but, as it may require a good deal of practice, or native taste, to ascertain this fact, I will give another that is obvious to the senses, which will at least be strongly symptomatic; and that is this: When squares cease to be called parks; when horse-bazaars and fashionable streets are not called Tattersalls and Bond street; when Washington Market is rechristened Bear Market, and Franklin and Fulton and other great philosophers and inventors are plucked of the unmerited honours of having shambles named after them; when commercial is not used as a prefix to emporium; when people can return from abroad without being asked "if they are reconciled to their country," and strangers are not interrogated at the second question, "how do you like our city?" then may it be believed that the town is beginning to go alone, and that it may set up for itself.
Although New York is, out of all question, decidedly provincial, labouring under the peculiar vices of provincial habits and provincial modes of thinking, it contains many a man of the world, and some, too, who have never quitted their own firesides. Of this very number was the Jack Dunning, as my uncle Ro called him, to whose house in Chamber street we were now proceeding.
"If we were going anywhere but to Dunning's," said my uncle, as we turned out of Greenwich street, "I should have no fear of being recognised by the servants; for no one here thinks of keeping a man six months. Dunning, however, is of the old school, and does not like new faces; so he will have no Irishman at his door, as is the case with two out of three of the houses at which one calls, now-a-days."
In another minute we were at the bottom of Mr. Dunning's "stoup"—what an infernal contrivance it is to get in and out at the door by, in a hotty-cold climate like ours!—but, there we were, and I observed that my uncle hesitated.
"Parlez au SUISSE," said I; "ten to one he is fresh from some Bally-this, or Bally-that."
"No, no; it must be old Garry the nigger"—my uncle Ro was of the old school himself, and would say "nigger"—"Jack can never have parted with Garry."
"Garry" was the diminutive of Garret, a somewhat common Dutch christian name among us.
We rang, and the door opened—in about five minutes. Although the terms "aristocrat" and "aristocracy" are much in men's mouths in America just now, as well as those of "feudal" and the "middle ages," and this, too, as applied to modes of living as well as to leasehold tenures, there is but one porter in the whole country; and he belongs to the White House, at Washington. I am afraid even that personage, royal porter as he is, is often out of the way; and the reception he gives when he is there, is not of the most brilliant and princely character. When we had waited three minutes, my uncle Ro said—
"I am afraid Garry is taking a nap by the kitchen-fire; I'll try him again."
Uncle Ro did try again, and, two minutes later, the door opened.
"What is your pleasure?" demanded the Suisse, with a strong brogue.
My uncle started back as if he had met a sprite; but he asked if Mr. Dunning was at home.
"He is, indeed, sir."
"Is he alone, or is he with company?"
"He is, indeed."
"But what is he, indeed?"
"He is that."
"Can you take the trouble to explain which that it is? Has he company, or is he alone?"
"Just that, sir. Walk in, and he'll be charmed to see you. A fine gentleman is his honour, and pleasure it is to live with him, I'm sure!"
"How long is it since you left Ireland, my friend?"
"Isn't it a mighty bit, now, yer honour!" answered Barney, closing the door. "T'irteen weeks, if it's one day."
"Well, go ahead, and show us the way. This is a bad omen, Hugh, to find that Jack Dunning, of all men in the country, should have changed his servant—good, quiet, lazy, respectable, old, grey-headed Garry the nigger—for such a bogtrotter as that fellow, who climbs those stairs as if accustomed only to ladders."
Dunning was in his library on the second floor, where he passed most of his evenings. His surprise was equal to that which my uncle had just experienced, when he saw us two standing before him. A significant gesture, however, caused him to grasp his friend and client's hand in silence; and nothing was said until the Swiss had left the room, although the fellow stood with the door in his hand a most inconvenient time, just to listen to what might pass between the host and his guests. At length we got rid of him, honest, well-meaning fellow that he was, after all; and the door was closed.
"My last letters have brought you home, Roger?" said Jack, the moment he could speak; for feeling, as well as caution, had something to do with his silence.
"They have, indeed. A great change must have come over the country, by what I hear; and one of the very worst symptoms is that you have turned away Garry, and got an Irishman in his place."
"Ah! old men must die, as well as old principles, I find. My poor fellow went off in a fit last week, and I took that Irishman as a pis aller. After losing poor Garry, who was born a slave in my father's house, I became indifferent, and accepted the first comer from the intelligence office."
"We must be careful, Dunning, not to give up too soon. But hear my story, and then to other matters."
My uncle then explained his wish to be incognito, and his motive. Dunning listened attentively, but seemed uncertain whether to dissent or approve. The matter was discussed briefly, and then it was postponed for further consideration.
"But how comes on this great moral dereliction, called anti-rentism? Is it on the wane, or the increase?"
"On the wane, to the eye, perhaps; but on the increase so far as principles, the right, and facts, are concerned. The necessity of propitiating votes is tempting politicians of all sides to lend themselves to it; and there is imminent danger now that atrocious wrongs will be committed under the form of law."
"In what way can the law touch an existing contract? The Supreme Court of the United States will set that right."
"That is the only hope of the honest, let me tell you. It is folly to expect that a body composed of such men as usually are sent to the State Legislature, can resist the temptation to gain power by conciliating numbers. That is out of the question. Individuals of these bodies may resist, but the tendency there will be as against the few, and in favour of the many, bolstering their theories by clap-traps and slang political phrases. The scheme to tax the rents, under the name of quit-rents, will be resorted to, in the first place."
"That will be a most iniquitous proceeding, and would justify resistance just as much as our ancestors were justified in resisting the taxation of Great Britain."
"It would more so, for here we have a written covenant to render taxation equal. The landlord already pays one tax on each of these farms—a full and complete tax, that is reserved from the rent in the original bargain with the tenant; and now the wish is to tax the rents themselves; and this not to raise revenue, for that is confessedly not wanted, but most clearly with a design to increase the inducements for the landlords to part with their property. If that can be done, the sales will be made on the principle that none but the tenant must be, as indeed no one else can be, the purchaser; and then we shall see a queer exhibition—men parting with their property under the pressure of a clamour that is backed by as much law as can be pressed into its service, with a monopoly of price on the side of the purchaser, and all in a country professing the most sensitive love of liberty, where the prevailing class of politicians are free-trade men!"
"There is no end of these inconsistencies among politicians."
"There is no end of knavery when men submit to 'noses,' instead of principles. Call things by their right names, Ro, as they deserve to be. This matter is so plain, that he who runs can read."
"But will this scheme of taxation succeed? It does not effect us, for instance, as our leases are for three lives."
"Oh! that is nothing; for you they contemplate a law that will forbid the letting of land, for the future, for a period longer than five years. Hugh's leases will soon be falling in, and then he can't make a slave of any man for a longer period than five years."
"Surely no one is so silly as to think of passing such a law, with a view to put down aristocracy, and to benefit the tenant!" I cried, laughing.
"Ay, you may laugh, young sir," resumed Jack Dunning; "but such is the intention. I know very well what will be your course of reasoning; you will say, the longer the lease, the better for the tenant, if the bargain be reasonably good; and landlords cannot ask more for the use of their lands than they are really worth in this country, there happening to be more lands than there are men to work it. No, no; landlords rather get less for their lands than they are worth, instead of more, for that plain reason. To compel the tenant to take a lease, therefore, for a term as short as five years, is to injure him, you think; to place him more at the control of his landlord, through the little interests connected with the cost and trouble of moving, and through the natural desire he may possess to cut the meadows he has seeded, and to get the full benefit of manure he has made and carted. I see how you reason, young sir; but you are behind the age—you are sadly behind the age."
"The age is a queer one, if I am! All over the world it is believed that long leases are favours, or advantages, to tenants; and nothing can make it otherwise, caeteris paribus. Then what good will the tax do, after violating right and moral justice, if not positive law, to lay it? On a hundred dollars of rent, I should have to pay some fifty-five cents of taxes, as I am assessed on other things at Ravensnest; and does anybody suppose I will give up an estate that has passed through five generations of my family, on account of a tribute like that!"
"Mighty well, sir—mighty well, sir! This is fine talk; but I would advise you not to speak of your ancestors at all. Landlords can't name their ancestors with impunity just now."
"I name mine only as showing a reason for a natural regard for my paternal acres."
"That you might do, if you were a tenant; but not as a landlord. In a landlord, it is aristocratic and intolerable pride, and to the last degree offensive—as Dogberry says, 'tolerable and not to be endured.'"
"But it is a fact, and it is natural one should have some feelings connected with it."
"The more it is a fact, the less it will be liked. People associate social position with wealth and estates, but not with farms; and the longer one has such things in a family, the worse for them!"
"I do believe, Jack," put in my uncle Ro, "that the rule which prevails all over the rest of the world is reversed here, and that with us it is thought a family's claim is lessened, and not increased, by time."
"To be sure it is!" answered Dunning, without giving me a chance to speak. "Do you know that you wrote me a very silly letter once, from Switzerland, about a family called de Blonay, that had been seated on the same rock, in a little castle, some six or eight hundred years, and the sort of respect and veneration the circumstance awakened? Well, all that was very foolish, as you will find when you pay your incognito visit to Ravensnest. I will not anticipate the result of your schooling; but, go to school."
"As the Rensselaers and other great landlords, who have states on durable leases, will not be very likely to give them up, except on terms that will suit themselves, for a tax as insignificant as that mentioned by Hugh," said my uncle, "what does the legislature anticipate from passing the law?"
"That its members will be called the friends of the people, and not the friends of the landlords. Would any man tax his friends, if he could help it?"
"But what will that portion of the people who compose the anti-renters gain by such a measure?"
"Nothing; and their complaints will be just as loud, and their longings as active, as ever. Nothing that can have any effect on what they wish, will be accomplished by any legislation in the matter. One committee of the assembly has actually reported, you may remember, that the State might assume the lands, and sell them to the tenants, or some one else; or something of the sort."
"The constitution of the United States must be Hugh's aegis."
"And that alone will protect him, let me tell you. But for that noble provision of the constitution of the Federal Government, his estate would infallibly go for one-half its true value. There is no use in mincing things, or in affecting to believe men more honest than they are—AN INFERNAL FEELING OF SELFISHNESS IS SO MUCH TALKED OF, AND CITED, AND REFERRED TO, ON ALL OCCASIONS, IN THIS COUNTRY, THAT A MAN ALMOST RENDERS HIMSELF RIDICULOUS WHO APPEARS TO REST ON PRINCIPLE."
"Have you heard what the tenants of Ravensnest aim at, in particular?"
"They want to get Hugh's lands, that's all; nothing more, I can assure you."
"On what conditions, pray?" demanded I.
"As you 'light of chaps,' to use a saying of their own. Some even profess a willingness to pay a fair price."
"But I do not wish to sell for even a fair price. I have no desire to part with property that is endeared to me by family feeling and association. I have an expensive house and establishment on my estate, which obtains its principal value from the circumstance that it is so placed that I can look after my interests with the least inconvenience to myself. What can I do with the money but buy another estate? and I prefer this that I have."
"Poh! boy, you can shave notes, you'll recollect," said uncle Ro, drily. "The calling is decided to be honourable by the highest tribunal; and no man should be above his business."
"You have no right, sir, in a free country," returned the caustic Jack Dunning, "to prefer one estate to another, more especially when other people want it. Your lands are leased to honest, hard-working tenants, who can eat their dinners without silver forks, and whose ancestors——"
"Stop!" I cried, laughing; "I bar all ancestry. No man has a right to ancestry in a free country, you'll remember!"
"That means landlord-ancestry; as for tenant-ancestry, one can have a pedigree as long as the Maison de Levis. No, sir; every tenant you have has every right to demand that his sentiment of family feeling should be respected. His father planted that orchard, and he loves the apples better than any other apples in the world——"
"And my father procured the grafts, and made him a present of them."
"His grandfather cleared that field, and converted its ashes into pots and pearls——"
"And my grandfather received that year ten shillings of rent, for land off which his received two hundred and fifty dollars for his ashes."
"His great-grandfather, honest and excellent man—nay, super-honest and confiding creature—first 'took up' the land when a wilderness, and with his own hands felled the timber, and sowed the wheat."
"And got his pay twenty-fold for it all, or he would not have been fool enough to do it. I had a great-grandfather, too; and I hope it will not be considered aristocratic if I venture to hint as much. He—a dishonest, pestilent knave, no doubt—leased that very lot for six years without any rent at all, in order that the 'poor, confiding creature' might make himself comfortable, before he commenced paying his sixpence or shilling an acre rent for the remainder of three lives, with a moral certainty of getting a renewal on the most liberal terms known to a new country; and who knew, the whole time, he could buy land in fee, within ten miles of his door, but who thought this a better bargain than that."
"Enough of this folly," cried uncle Ro, joining in the laugh; "we all know that, in our excellent America, he who has the highest claims to anything, must affect to have the least, to stifle the monster envy; and, being of one mind as to principles, let us come to facts. What of the girls, Jack, and of my honoured mother?"
"She, noble, heroic woman! she is at Ravensnest at this moment; and, as the girls would not permit her to go alone, they are all with her."
"And did you, Jack Dunning, suffer them to go unattended into a part of the country that is in open rebellion?" demanded my uncle, reproachfully.
"Come, come! Hodge Littlepage, this is very sublime as a theory, but not so clear when reduced to practice. I did not go with Mrs. Littlepage and her young fry, for the good and substantial reason that I did not wish to be 'tarred and feathered.'"
"So you leave them to run the risk of being 'tarred and feathered' in your stead?"
"Say what you will about the cant of freedom that is becoming so common among us, and from which we were once so free; say what you will, Ro, of the inconsistency of those who raise the cry of 'feudality,' and 'aristocracy,' and 'nobility,' at the very moment they are manifesting a desire for exclusive rights and privileges in their own persons; say what you will of dishonesty, envy, that prominent American vice, knavery, covetousness, and selfishness; and I will echo all you can utter;—but do not say that a woman can be in serious danger among any material body of Americans, even if anti-renters, and mock-redskins in the bargain."
"I believe you are right there, Jack, on reflection. Pardon my warmth; but I have lately been living in the old world, and in a country in which women were not long since carried to the scaffold on account of their politics."
"Because they meddled with politics. Your mother is in no serious danger, though it needs nerve in a woman to be able to think so. There are few women in the State, and fewer of her time of life anywhere, that would do what she has done; and I give the girls great credit for sticking by her. Half the young men in town are desperate at the thought of three such charming creatures thus exposing themselves to insult. Your mother has only been sued."
"Sued! Whom does she owe, or what can she have done to have brought this indignity on her?"
"You know, or ought to know, how it is in this country, Littlepage; we must have a little law, even when most bent on breaking it. A downright, straight-forward rascal, who openly sets law at defiance, is a wonder. Then we have a great talk of liberty when plotting to give it the deepest stab; and religion even gets to share in no small portion of our vices. Thus it is that the anti-renters have dragged in the law in aid of their designs. I understand one of the Rensselaers has been sued for money borrowed in a ferry-boat to help him across a river under his own door, and for potatoes bought by his wife in the streets of Albany!"
"But neither of the Rensselaers need borrow money to cross the ferry, as the ferry-men would trust him; and no lady of the Rensselaer family ever bought potatoes in the streets of Albany, I'll answer for it."
"You have brought back some knowledge from your travels, I find!" said Jack Dunning, with comic gravity. "Your mother writes me that she has been sued for twenty-seven pairs of shoes furnished her by a shoemaker whom she never saw, or heard of, until she received the summons!"
"This, then, is one of the species of annoyances that has been adopted to bully the landlords out of their property?"
"It is; and if the landlords have recourse even to the covenants of their leases, solemnly and deliberately made, and as solemnly guarantied by a fundamental law, the cry is raised of 'aristocracy' and 'oppression' by these very men, and echoed by many of the creatures who get seats in high places among us—or what would be high places, if filled with men worthy of their trusts."
"I see you do not mince your words, Jack."
"Why should I? Words are all that is left me. I am of no more weight in the government of this State than that Irishman, who let you in just now, will be, five years hence—less, for he will vote to suit a majority; and, as I shall vote understandingly, my vote will probably do no one any good."
Dunning belonged to a school that mingles a good deal of speculative and impracticable theory, with a great deal of sound and just principles; but who render themselves useless because they will admit of no compromises. He did not belong to the class of American doctrinaires, however, or to those who contend—no, not contend, for no one does that any longer in this country, whatever may be his opinion on the subject—but those who think that political power, as in the last resort, should be the property of the few; for he was willing New York should have a very broad constituency. Nevertheless, he was opposed to the universal suffrage, in its wide extent, that does actually exist; as I suppose quite three-fourths of the whole population are opposed to it, in their hearts, though no political man of influence, now existing, has the moral calibre necessary to take the lead in putting it down. Dunning deferred to principles, and not to men. He well knew that an infallible whole was not to be composed of fallible parts; and while he thought majorities ought to determine many things, that there are rights and principles that are superior to even such unanimity as man can manifest, and much more to their majorities. But Dunning had no selfish views connected with his political notions, wanting no office, and feeling no motive to affect that which he neither thought nor wished. He never had quitted home, or it is highly probable his views of the comparative abuses of the different systems that prevail in the world would have been essentially modified. Those he saw had unavoidably a democratic source, there being neither monarch nor aristocrat to produce any other; and, under such circumstances, as abuses certainly abound, it is not at all surprising that he sometimes a little distorted facts, and magnified evils.
"And my noble, high-spirited, and venerable mother has actually gone to the Nest to face the enemy!" exclaimed my uncle, after a thoughtful pause.
"She has, indeed; and the noble, high-spirited, though not venerable, young ladies have gone with her," returned Mr. Dunning, in his caustic way.
"All three, do you mean?"
"Every one of them—Martha, Henrietta, and Anne."
"I am surprised that the last should have done so. Anne Marston is such a meek, quiet, peace-loving person, that I should think she would have preferred remaining, as she naturally might have done, without exciting remark, with her own mother."
"She has not, nevertheless. Mrs. Littlepage would brave the anti-renters, and the three maidens would be her companions. I dare say, Ro, you know how it is with the gentle sex, when they make up their minds?"
"My girls are all good girls, and have given me very little trouble," answered my uncle, complacently.
"Yes, I dare say that may be true. You have only been absent from home five years, this trip."
"An attentive guardian, notwithstanding, since I left you as a substitute. Has my mother written to you since her arrival among the hosts of the Philistines?"
"She has, indeed, Littlepage," answered Dunning, gravely; "I have heard from her three times, for she writes to urge my not appearing on the estate. I did intend to pay her a visit; but she tells me that it might lead to a violent scene, and can do no good. As the rents will not be due until autumn, and Master Hugh is now of age and was to be here to look after his own affairs, I have seen no motive for incurring the risk of the tarring and feathering. We American lawyers, young gentleman, wear no wigs."
"Does my mother write herself, or employ another?" inquired my uncle, with interest.
"She honours me with her own hand. Your mother writes much better than you do yourself, Roger."
"That is owing to her once having carried chain, as she would say herself. Has Martha written to you?"
"Of course. Sweet little Patty and I are bosom friends, as you know."
"And does she say anything of the Indian and the negro?"
"Jaaf and Susquesus? To be sure she does. Both are living still, and both are well. I saw them myself, and even ate of their venison, so lately as last winter."
"Those old fellows must have each lived a great deal more than his century, Jack. They were with my grandfather in the old French war, as active, useful men—older, then, than my grandfather!"
"Ay! a nigger or a redskin, before all others, for holding on to life, when they have been temperate. Let me see—that expedition of Abercrombie's was about eighty years since; why, these fellows must be well turned of their hundred, though Jaap is rather the oldest, judging from appearances."
"I believe no one knows the age of either. A hundred each has been thought, now, for many years. Susquesus was surprisingly active, too, when I last saw him—like a healthy man of eighty."
"He has failed of late, though he actually shot a deer, as I told you, last winter. Both the old fellows stray down to the Nest, Martha writes me; and the Indian is highly scandalized at the miserable imitations of his race that are now abroad. I have even heard that he and Yop have actually contemplated taking the field against them. Seneca Newcome is their especial aversion."
"How is Opportunity?" I inquired. "Does she take any part in this movement?"
"A decided one, I hear. She is anti-rent, while she wishes to keep on good terms with her landlord; and that is endeavouring to serve God and Mammon. She is not the first, however, by a thousand, that wears two faces in this business."
"Hugh has a deep admiration of Opportunity," observed my uncle, "and you had needs be tender in your strictures. The modern Seneca, I take it, is dead against us?"
"Seneky wishes to go to the legislature, and of course he is on the side of votes. Then his brother is a tenant at the mill, and naturally wishes to be the landlord. He is also interested in the land himself. One thing has struck me in this controversy as highly worthy of notice; and it is the naivete with which men reconcile the obvious longings of covetousness with what they are pleased to fancy the principles of liberty! When a man has worked a farm a certain number of years, he boldly sets up the doctrine that the fact itself gives him a high moral claim to possess it for ever. A moment's examination will expose the fallacy by which these sophists apply the flattering unction to their souls. They work their farms under a lease, and in virtue of its covenants. Now, in a moral sense, all that time can do in such a case, is to render these covenants the more sacred, and consequently more binding; but these worthies, whose morality is all on one side, imagine that these time-honoured covenants give them a right to fly from their own conditions during their existence, and to raise pretensions far exceeding anything they themselves confer, the moment they cease."
"Poh, poh! Jack; there is no need of refining at all, to come at the merits of such a question. This is a civilized country, or it is not. If it be a civilized country, it will respect the rights of property, and its own laws; and if the reverse, it will not respect them. As for setting up the doctrine, at this late day, when millions and millions are invested in this particular species of property, that the leasehold tenure is opposed to the spirit of institutions of which it has substantially formed a part, ever since those institutions have themselves had an existence, it requires a bold front, and more capacity than any man at Albany possesses, to make the doctrines go down. Men may run off with the notion that the tendencies to certain abuses, which mark every system, form their spirit; but this is a fallacy that a very little thought will correct. Is it true that proposals have actually been made, by these pretenders to liberty, to appoint commissioners to act as arbitrators between the landlords and tenants, and to decide points that no one has any right to raise?"
"True as Holy Writ; and a regular 'Star Chamber' tribunal it would be! It is wonderful, after all, how extremes do meet!"
"That is as certain as the return of the sun after night. But let us now talk of our project, Jack, and of the means of getting among these self-deluded men—deluded by their own covetousness—without being discovered; for I am determined to see them, and to judge of their motives and conduct for myself."
"Take care of the tar-barrel, and of the pillow-case of feathers, Roger!"
"I shall endeavour so to do."
We then discussed the matter before us at length and leisurely. I shall not relate all that was said, as it would be going over the same ground twice, but refer the reader to the regular narrative. At the usual hour, we retired to our beds, retaining the name of Davidson, as convenient and prudent. Next day Mr. John Dunning busied himself in our behalf, and made himself exceedingly useful to us. In his character of an old bachelor, he had many acquaintances at the theatre; and through his friends of the green-room he supplied each of us with a wig. Both my uncle and myself spoke German reasonably well, and our original plan was to travel in the characters of immigrant trinket and essence pedlars. But I had a fancy for a hand-organ and a monkey; and it was finally agreed that Mr. Hugh Roger Littlepage, senior, was to undertake this adventure with a box of cheap watches and gilded trinkets; while Mr. Hugh Roger Littlepage, junior, was to commence his travels at home, in the character of a music-grinder. Modesty will not permit me to say all I might, in favour of my own skill in music in general; but I sang well for an amateur, and played, both on the violin and flute, far better than is common.
Everything was arranged in the course of the following day, our wigs of themselves completely effecting all the disguises that were necessary. As for my uncle, he was nearly bald, and a wig was no great encumbrance; but my shaggy locks gave me some trouble. A little clipping, however, answered the turn; and I had a hearty laugh at myself, in costume, that afternoon, before Dunning's dressing-room glass. We got round the felony law, about being armed and disguised, by carrying no weapons but our tools in the way of trade.
"And she hath smiles to earth unknown—— Smiles, that with motion of their own Do spread, and sink, and rise; That come and go with endless play And ever, as they pass away, Are hidden in her eyes."
I was early in costume the following morning. I question if my own mother could have known me, had she lived long enough to see the whiskers sprout on my cheeks, and to contemplate my countenance as a man. I went into Dunning's library, drew the little hurdy-gurdy from its hiding-place, slung it, and began to play St. Patrick's Day in the Morning, with spirit, and, I trust I may add, with execution. I was in the height of the air, when the door opened, and Barney thrust his high-cheeked-bone face into the room, his mouth as wide open as that of a frozen porker.
"Where the divil did ye come from?" demanded the new footman, with the muscles of that vast aperture of his working from grin to grim, and grim to grin again. "Yee's wilcome to the tchune; but how comes ye here?"
"I coomes vrom Halle, in Preussen. Vat isht your vaterland?"
"Be yees a Jew?"
"Nein—I isht a goot Christian. Vilt you haf Yankee Tootle?"
"Yankee T'under! Ye'll wake up the masther, and he'll be displais'd, else ye might work upon t'at tchune till the end of time. That I should hear it here, in my own liberary, and ould Ireland t'ree thousand laigues away!"
A laugh from Dunning interrupted the dialogue, when Barney vanished, no doubt anticipating some species of American punishment for a presumed delinquency. Whether the blundering, well-meaning, honest fellow really ascertained who we were that breakfasted with his master, I do not know; but we got the meal and left the house without seeing his face again, Dunning having a young yellow fellow to do the service of the table.
I need scarcely say that I felt a little awkward at finding myself in the streets of New York in such a guise; but the gravity and self-possession of my uncle were a constant source of amusement to me. He actually sold a watch on the wharf before the boat left it, though I imputed his success to the circumstance that his price was what a brother dealer, who happened to be trading in the same neighbourhood, pronounced "onconscionably low." We took a comfortable state-room between us, under the pretence of locking-up our property, and strolled about the boat, gaping and looking curious, as became our class.
"Here are at least a dozen people that I know," said my uncle, as we were lounging around—loafing around, is the modern Doric—about the time that the boat was paddling past Fort Washington; "I have reconnoitred in all quarters, and find quite a dozen. I have been conversing with an old school-fellow, and one with whom I have ever lived in tolerable intimacy, for the last ten minutes, and find my broken English and disguise are perfect. I am confident my dear mother herself would not recognise me."
"We can then amuse ourselves with my grandmother and the young ladies," I answered, "when we reach the Nest. For my part, it strikes me that we had better keep our own secret to the last moment."
"Hush! As I live, there is Seneca Newcome this moment! He is coming this way, and we must be Germans again."
Sure enough, there was 'Squire Seneky, as the honest farmers around the Nest call him; though many of them must change their practices, or it will shortly become so absurd to apply the term "honest" to them, that no one will have the hardihood to use it. Newcome came slowly towards the forecastle, on which we were standing; and my uncle determined to get into conversation with him, as a means of further proving the virtue of our disguises, as well as possibly of opening the way to some communications that might facilitate our visit to the Nest. With this view, the pretended pedlar drew a watch from his pocket, and, offering it meekly to the inspection of the quasi lawyer, he said—
"Puy a vatch, shentlemans?"
"Hey! what? Oh! a watch," returned Seneca, in that high, condescending, vulgar key, with which the salt of the earth usually affect to treat those they evidently think much beneath them in intellect, station, or some other great essential, at the very moment they are bursting with envy, and denouncing as aristocrats all who are above them. "Hey! a watch, is it? What countryman are you, friend?"
"A Charmans—ein Teutscher."
"A German—ine Tycher is the place you come from, I s'pose?"
"Nein—ein Teutscher isht a Charman."
"Oh, yes! I understand. How long have you been in Ameriky?"
"Why, that's most long enough to make you citizens. Where do you live?"
"Nowhere; I lifs jest asht it happens—soometimes here, ant soometimes dere."
"Ay, ay! I understand—no legal domicile, but lead a wandering life. Have you many of these watches for sale?"
"Yees—I haf asht many as twenty. Dey are as sheep as dirt, and go like pig clocks."
"And what may be your price for this?"
"Dat you can haf for only eight tollars. Effery poty wilt say it is golt, dat doesn't know petter."
"Oh! it isn't gold then—I swan!"—what this oath meant I never exactly knew, though I suppose it to be a puritan mode of saying "I swear!" the attempts to cheat the devil in this way being very common among their pious descendants, though even "Smith Thompson" himself can do no man any good in such a case of conscience—"I swan! you come plaguy near taking even me in! Will you come down from that price any?"
"If you wilt gif me some atfice, perhaps I may. You look like a goot shentlemans, and one dat woultn't sheat a poor Charmans; ant effery poty wants so much to sheat de poor Charmans, dat I will take six, if you will drow in some atfice."
"Advice? You have come to the right man for that! Walk a little this way, where we shall be alone. What is the natur' of the matter—action on the case, or a tort?"
"Nein, nein! it isht not law dat I wants, put atfice."
"Well, but advice leads to law, ninety-nine times in a hundred."
"Ya, ya!" answered the pedlar, laughing; "dat may be so; put it isht not what I vants—I vants to know vere a Charman can trafel wit' his goots in de coontry, and not in de pig towns."
"I understand you—six dollars, hey! That sounds high for such a looking watch"—he had just before mistaken it for gold—"but I'm always the poor man's friend, and despise aristocracy"—what Seneca hated with the strongest hate, he ever fancied he despised the most, and by aristocracy he merely understood gentlemen and ladies, in the true signification of the words—"why, I'm always ready to help along the honest citizen. If you could make up your mind, now, to part with this one watch for nawthin', I think I could tell you a part of the country where you might sell the other nineteen in a week."
"Goot!" exclaimed my uncle, cheerfully. "Take him—he ist your broberty, and wilcome. Only show me de town where I canst sell de nineteen udders."
Had my uncle Ro been a true son of peddling, he would have charged a dollar extra on each of the nineteen, and made eleven dollars by his present liberality.
"It is no town at all—only a township," returned the literal Seneca. "Did you expect it would be a city?"
"Vat cares I? I woult radder sell my vatches to goot, honest, country men, dan asht to de best burghers in de land."
"You're my man! The right spirit is in you. I hope you're no patroon—no aristocrat?"
"I don't know vat isht badroon, or vat isht arishtocrat."
"No! You are a happy man in your ignorance. A patroon is a nobleman who owns another man's land; and an aristocrat is a body that thinks himself better than his neighbours, friend."
"Well, den, I isht no badroon, for I don't own no land at all, not even mine own; and I ishn't petter asht no poty at all."
"Yes, you be; you've only to think so, and you'll be the greatest gentleman of 'em all."
"Well, den, I will dry and dink so, and be petter asht de greatest shentlemans of dem all. But dat won't do, nudder, as dat vilt make me petter dan you; for you are one of de greatest of dem all, shentlemans."
"Oh! as for me, let me alone. I scorn being on their level. I go for 'Down with the rent!' and so'll you, too, afore you've been a week in our part of the country."
"Vat isht de rent dat you vants to git down?"
"It's a thing that's opposed to the spirit of the institutions, as you can see by my feelin's at this very moment. But no matter! I'll keep the watch, if you say so, and show you the way into that part of the country, as your pay."
"Agreet, shentlemans. Vat I vants is atfice, and vat you vants is a vatch."
Here uncle Ro laughed so much like himself, when he ought clearly to have laughed in broken English, that I was very much afraid he might give the alarm to our companion; but he did not. From that time, the best relations existed between us and Seneca, who, in the course of the day, recognised us by sundry smiles and winks, though I could plainly see he did not like the anti-aristocratic principle sufficiently to wish to seem too intimate with us. Before we reached the islands, however, he gave us directions where to meet him in the morning, and we parted, when the boat stopped alongside of the pier at Albany that afternoon, the best friends in the world.
"Albany! dear, good old Albany!" exclaimed my uncle Ro, as we stopped on the draw of the bridge to look at the busy scene in the basin, where literally hundreds of canal-boats were either lying to discharge or to load, or were coming and going, to say nothing of other craft; "dear, good old Albany! you are a town to which I ever return with pleasure, for you at least never disappoint me. A first-rate country-place you are; and, though I miss your quaint old Dutch church, and your rustic-looking old English church from the centre of your principal street, almost every change you make is respectable. I know nothing that tells so much against you as changing the name of Market street by the paltry imitation of Broadway; but, considering that a horde of Yankees have come down upon you since the commencement of the present century, you are lucky that the street was not called the Appian Way. But, excellent old Albany! whom even the corruptions of politics cannot change in the core, lying against thy hillside, and surrounded with thy picturesque scenery, there is an air of respectability about thee that I admire, and a quiet prosperity that I love. Yet, how changed since my boyhood! Thy simple stoups have all vanished; thy gables are disappearing; marble and granite are rising in thy streets, too, but they take honest shapes, and are free from the ambition of mounting on stilts; thy basin has changed the whole character of thy once semi-sylvan, semi-commercial river; but it gives to thy young manhood an appearance of abundance and thrift that promise well for thy age!"
The reader may depend on it that I laughed heartily at this rhapsody; for I could hardly enter into my uncle's feelings. Albany is certainly a very good sort of a place, and relatively a more respectable-looking town than the "commercial emporium," which, after all, externally, is a mere huge expansion of a very marked mediocrity, with the pretension of a capital in its estimate of itself. But Albany lays no claim to be anything more than a provincial town, and in that class it is highly placed. By the way, there is nothing in which "our people," to speak idiomatically, more deceive themselves, than in their estimate of what composes a capital. It would be ridiculous to suppose that the representatives of such a government as this could impart to any place the tone, opinions, habits and manners of a capital; for, if they did, they would impart it on the novel principle of communicating that which they do not possess in their own persons. Congress itself, though tolerably free from most shackles, including those of the constitution, is not up to that. In my opinion, a man accustomed to the world might be placed blindfolded in the most finished quarter of New York, and the place has new quarters in which the incongruities I have already mentioned do not exist, and, my life on it, he could pronounce, as soon as the bandage was removed, that he was not in a town where the tone of a capital exists. The last thing to make a capital is trade. Indeed, the man who hears the words "business" and "the merchants" ringing in his ears, may safely conclude, de facto, that he is not in a capital. Now, a New-York village is often much less rustic than the villages of the most advanced country of Europe; but a New-York town is many degrees below any capital of a large State in the old world.
Will New York ever be a capital? Yes—out of all question, yes. But the day will not come until after the sudden changes of condition which immediately and so naturally succeeded the revolution, have ceased to influence ordinary society, and those above again impart to those below more than they receive. This restoration to the natural state of things must take place, as soon as society gets settled; and there will be nothing to prevent a town living under our own institutions—spirit, tendencies and all—from obtaining the highest tone that ever yet prevailed in a capital. The folly is in anticipating the natural course of events. Nothing will more hasten these events, however, than a literature that is controlled, not by the lower, but by the higher opinion of the country; which literature is yet, in a great degree, to be created.
I had dispensed with the monkey, after trying to get along with the creature for an hour or two, and went around only with my music. I would rather manage an army of anti-renters than one monkey. With the hurdy-gurdy slung around my neck, therefore, I followed my uncle, who actually sold another watch before we reached a tavern. Of course we did not presume to go to Congress Hall, or the Eagle, for we knew we should not be admitted. This was the toughest part of our adventures. I am of opinion my uncle made a mistake; for he ventured to a second-class house, under the impression that one of the sort usually frequented by men of our supposed stamp might prove too coarse for us, altogether. I think we should have been better satisfied with the coarse fare of a coarse tavern, than with the shabby-genteel of the house we blundered into. In the former, everything would have reminded us, in a way we expected to be reminded, that we were out of the common track; and we might have been amused with the change, though it is one singularly hard to be endured. I remember to have heard a young man, accustomed from childhood to the better habits of the country, but who went to sea a lad, before the mast, declare that the coarseness of his shipmates, and there is no vulgarity about a true sailor, even when coarsest, gave him more trouble to overcome, than all the gales, physical sufferings, labour, exposures and dangers, put together. I must confess, I have found it so, too, in my little experience. While acting as a strolling musician, I could get along with anything better than the coarse habits which I encountered at the table. Your silver-forkisms, and your purely conventional customs, as a matter of course, no man of the world attaches any serious importance to; but there are conventionalities that belong to the fundamental principles of civilized society, which become second nature, and with which it gets to be hard, indeed, to dispense. I shall say as little as possible of the disagreeables of my new trade, therefore, but stick to the essentials.
The morning of the day which succeeded that of our arrival at Albany, my uncle Ro and I took our seats in the train, intending to go to Saratoga, via Troy. I wonder the Trojan who first thought of playing this travestie on Homer, did not think of calling the place Troyville, or Troyborough! That would have been semi-American, at least, whereas the present appellation is so purely classical! It is impossible to walk through the streets of this neat and flourishing town, which already counts its twenty thousand souls, and not have the images of Achilles, and Hector, and Priam, and Hecuba, pressing on the imagination a little uncomfortably. Had the place been called Try, the name would have been a sensible one; for it is trying all it can to get the better of Albany; and, much as I love the latter venerable old town, I hope Troy may succeed in its trying to prevent the Hudson from being bridged. By the way, I will here remark, for the benefit of those who have never seen any country but their own, that there is a view on the road between Schenectady and this Grecian place, just where the heights give the first full appearance of the valley of the Hudson, including glimpses of Waterford, Lansingburg and Albany, with a full view of both Troys, which gives one a better idea of the affluence of European scenery, than almost any other spot I can recall in America. To my hurdy-gurdy:
I made my first essay as a musician in public beneath the windows of the principal inn of Troy. I cannot say much in favour of the instrument, though I trust the playing itself was somewhat respectable. This I know full well, that I soon brought a dozen fair faces to the windows of the inn, and that each was decorated with a smile. Then it was that I regretted the monkey. Such an opening could not but awaken the dormant ambition of even a "patriot" of the purest water, and I will own I was gratified.
Among the curious who thus appeared, were two whom I at once supposed to be father and daughter. The former was a clergyman, and, as I fancied by something in his air, of "the Church," begging pardon of those who take offence at this exclusive title, and to whom I will just give a hint in passing. Any one at all acquainted with mankind, will at once understand that no man who is certain of possessing any particular advantage, ever manifests much sensibility because another lays claim to it also. In the constant struggles of the jealous, for instance, on the subject of that universal source of jealous feeling, social position, the man or woman who is conscious of claims never troubles himself or herself about them. For them the obvious fact is sufficient. If it be answered to this that the pretension of "the Church" is exclusive, I shall admit it is, and "conclusive," too. It is not exclusive, however, in the sense urged, since no one denies that there are many branches to "the Church," although those branches do not embrace everything. I would advise those who take offence at "our" styling "ourselves" "the Church," to style themselves "the Church," just as they call all their parsons bishops, and see who will care about it. That is a touchstone which will soon separate the true metal from the alloy.
My parson, I could easily see, was a Church clergyman—not a meeting-house clergyman. How I ascertained that fact at a glance, I shall not reveal; but I also saw in his countenance some of that curiosity which marks simplicity of character: it was not a vulgar feeling, but one which induced him to beckon me to approach a little nearer. I did so, when he invited me in. It was a little awkward, at first, I must acknowledge, to be beckoned about in this manner; but there was something in the air and countenance of the daughter that induced me not to hesitate about complying. I cannot say that her beauty was so very striking, though she was decidedly pretty; but the expression of her face, eyes, smile, and all put together, was so singularly sweet and feminine, that I felt impelled by a sympathy I shall not attempt to explain, to enter the house, and ascend to the door of a parlour that I saw at once was public, though it then contained no one but my proper hosts.
"Walk in, young man," said the father, in a benevolent tone of voice. "I am curious to see that instrument; and my daughter here, who has a taste for music, wishes it as much as I do myself. What do you call it?"
"Hurty-gurty," I answered.
"From what part of the world do you come, my young friend?" continued the clergyman, raising his meek eyes to mine still more curiously.
"Vrom Charmany; vrom Preussen, vere did reign so late de good Koenig Wilhelm."
"What does he say, Molly?"
So the pretty creature bore the name of Mary! I liked the Molly, too; it was a good sign, as none but the truly respectable dare use such familiar appellations in these ambitious times. Molly sounded as if these people had the aplomb of position and conscious breeding. Had they been vulgar, it would have been Mollissa.
"It is not difficult to translate, father," answered one of the sweetest voices that had ever poured its melody on my ear, and which was rendered still more musical by the slight laugh that mingled with it. "He says he is from Germany—from Prussia, where the good King William lately reigned."
I liked the "father," too—that sounded refreshing, after passing a night among a tribe of foul-nosed adventurers in humanity, every one of whom had done his or her share towards caricaturing the once pretty appellatives of "Pa" and "Ma." A young lady may still say "Papa," or even "Mamma," though it were far better that she said "Father" and "Mother;" but as for "Pa" and "Ma," they are now done with in respectable life. They will not even do for the nursery.
"And this instrument is a hurdy-gurdy?" continued the clergyman. "What have we here—the name spelt on it?"
"Dat isht de maker's name—Hochstiel fecit."
"Fecit!" repeated the clergyman; "is that German?"
"Nein—dat isht Latin; facio, feci, factum, facere—feci, feciste, FECIT. It means make, I suppose you know."
The parson looked at me, and at my dress and figure, with open surprise, and smiled as his eye glanced at his daughter. If asked why I made this silly display of lower-form learning, I can only say that I chafed at being fancied a mere every-day street musician, that had left his monkey at home, by the charming girl who stood gracefully bending over her father's elbow, as the latter examined the inscription that was stamped on a small piece of ivory which had been let into the instrument. I could see that Mary shrunk back a little under the sensitive feeling, so natural to her sex, that she was manifesting too much freedom of manner for the presence of a youth who was nearer to her own class than she could have supposed it possible for a player on the hurdy-gurdy to be. A blush succeeded; but the glance of the soft blue eye that instantly followed, seemed to set all at rest, and she leaned over her father's elbow again.
"You understand Latin, then?" demanded the parent, examining me over his spectacles from head to foot.
"A leetle, sir—just a ferry leetle. In my coontry, efery mans isht obliget to be a soldier some time, and them t'at knows Latin can be made sergeants and corporals."
"That is Prussia, is it?"
"Ya—Preussen, vere so late did reign de goot Koenig Wilhelm."
"And is Latin much understood among you? I have heard that, in Hungary, most well-informed persons even speak the tongue."
"In Charmany it isht not so. We all l'arnts somet'ing, but not all dost l'arn efery t'ing."
I could see a smile struggling around the sweet lips of that dear girl, after I had thus delivered myself, as I fancied, with a most accurate inaccuracy; but she succeeded in repressing it, though those provoking eyes of hers continued to laugh, much of the time our interview lasted.
"Oh! I very well know that in Prussia the schools are quite good, and that your government pays great attention to the wants of all classes," rejoined the clergyman; "but I confess some surprise that you should understand anything of Latin. Now, even in this country, where we boast so much——"
"Ye-e-s," I could not refrain from drawling out, "dey does poast a great teal in dis coontry!"
Mary actually laughed; whether it was at my words, or at the somewhat comical manner I had assumed—a manner in which simplicity was tant soit peu blended with irony—I shall not pretend to say. As for the father, his simplicity was of proof; and, after civilly waiting until my interruption was done, he resumed what he had been on the point of saying.
"I was about to add," continued the clergyman, "that even in this country, where we boast so much"—the little minx of a daughter passed her hand over her eyes, and fairly coloured with the effort she made not to laugh again—"of the common schools, and of their influence on the public mind, it is not usual to find persons of your condition who understand the dead languages."
"Ye-e-s," I replied; "it isht my condition dat misleats you, sir. Mine fat'er wast a shentlemans, and he gifet me as goot an etication as de Koenig did gif to de Kron Prinz."
Here, my desire to appear well in the eyes of Mary caused me to run into another silly indiscretion. How I was to explain the circumstance of the son of a Prussian gentleman, whose father had given him an education as good as that which the King of his country had given to its Crown Prince, being in the streets of Troy, playing on a hurdy-gurdy, was a difficulty I did not reflect on for a moment. The idea of being thought by that sweet girl a mere uneducated boor, was intolerable to me; and I threw it off by this desperate falsehood—false in its accessories, but true in its main facts—as one would resent an insult. Fortune favoured me, however, far more than I had any right to expect.
There is a singular disposition in the American character to believe every well-mannered European at least a count. I do not mean that those who have seen the world are not like other persons in this respect; but a very great proportion of the country never has seen any other world than a world of "business." The credulity on this subject surpasseth belief; and, were I to relate facts of this nature that might be established in a court of justice, the very parties connected with them would be ready to swear that they are caricatures. Now, well-mannered I trust I am, and, though plainly dressed and thoroughly disguised, neither my air nor attire was absolutely mean. As my clothes were new, I was neat in my appearance; and there were possibly some incongruities about the last, that might have struck eyes more penetrating than those of my companions. I could see that both father and daughter felt a lively interest in me, the instant I gave them reason to believe I was one of better fortunes. So many crude notions exist among us on the subject of convulsions and revolutions in Europe, that I dare say, had I told any improbable tale of the political condition of Prussia, it would have gone down; for nothing so much resembles the ignorance that prevails in America, generally, concerning the true state of things in Europe, as the ignorance that prevails in Europe, generally, concerning the true state of things in America. As for Mary, her soft eyes seemed to me to be imbued with thrice their customary gentleness and compassion, as she recoiled a step in native modesty, and gazed at me, when I had made my revelation.
"If such is the case, my young friend," returned the clergyman, with benevolent interest, "you ought, and might easily be placed in a better position than this you are now in. Have you any knowledge of Greek?"
"Certainly—Greek is moch study in Charmany."
'In for a penny, in for a pound,' I thought.
"And the modern languages—do you understand any of them?"
"I speaks de five great tongues of Europe, more ast less well; and I read dem all, easily."
"The five tongues!" said the clergyman, counting on his fingers; "what can they be, Mary?"
"French, and German, and Spanish, and Italian, I suppose, sir."
"These make but four. What can be the fifth, my dear?"
"De yoong laty forgets de Englisch. De Englisch is das funf."
"Oh! yes, the English!" exclaimed the pretty creature, pressing her lips together to prevent laughing in my face.
"True—I had forgotten the English, not being accustomed to think of it as a mere European tongue. I suppose, young man, you naturally speak the English less fluently than any other of your five languages?"
Again the smile struggled to the lips of Mary.
"I feel a deep interest in you as a stranger, and am sorry we have only met to part so soon. Which way shall you be likely to direct your steps, my Prussian young friend?"
"I go to a place which is callet Ravensnest—goot place to sell vatch, dey tells me."
"Ravensnest!" exclaimed the father.
"Ravensnest!" repeated the daughter, and that in tones which put the hurdy-gurdy to shame.
"Why, Ravensnest is the place where I live, and the parish of which I am the clergyman—the Protestant Episcopal clergyman, I mean."