« ZurückWeiter »
earth can be. But one passage escapes him, which makes his correctness of taste a matter of doubt. He says of the cataract, that, when night came," It seemed reckless waste to keep it going still, while its glorious beauty was hidden from mortal view." Surely, to speak of it as a show got up to astonish the natives, and depending for its value upon the spectators it might gather, seems almost profane; even the most careless intimation of this sort is not precisely the kind of thought which Niagara might be expected to inspire.
But as we have no room to travel with the author through all his course, we will confine our remarks to his tour in this country, which is but a short one, and yet is more to the purpose than the heavier works of mere professional writers. Flattering it is not; but we do not complain, for it is not the business of a tourist to flatter. He is less influenced by his English feelings than some other travellers, and does not condemn the Americans, as they do, for not having been born and brought up on English ground, privilege which, if it be one, is obviously not always within their reach. On one subject, he exercised more valor than discretion; when slavery was mentioned, he considered it the duty of an Englishman to bear witness against it, utterly, unconditionally, whether among friends or foes. Nothing can be objected, certainly, to the openness of this course, or to the truth and justness of his feeling; we should be ready to accede to all that he would say; the only point to which we should ask his attention is, what good the testimony of an Englishman can be likely to do. None of these philanthropic voices, now so officious in their humanities, were lifted up against the opium war, in which thousands of almost unresisting Chinese were slaughtered; no conscience was troubled about the bloody proceedings in India; nor does any one concern himself about the poor New Zealanders, whose fate it is to be hunted down. But when England comes to us with blood on her face and hands, and preaches somewhat pertly about our sins, with an amiable unconsciousness of her own, we cannot help thinking that she would not be the worse for "a cogfu' o' water," before she lectures her friends. Indeed, it may be doubted whether the instructions of wolves to their offspring on subjects of humanity and morals ever sink very deep into their youthful hearts.
should be sorry to deprive her sons and daughters of the clear comfort which they take, in thus flourishing their consciences without any expense to themselves; but as the power of reproof always depends very much on the quarter from which it comes, it will be some time before this English sensibility to all sins except their own will take effect on the American heart.
Our traveller, as he came through New York, was struck with the appearance of prosperity everywhere, the striking result and manifestation of what unfettered industry can do. At first, he was somewhat confounded by the incessant activity and bustle; but he soon became infected by it, and dashed in and out of railroad-cars and stations with as much headlong precipitation as any Yankee of them all. Some things annoyed him, as well they might, though he says but little about them. The Hottentot fashion, for such it certainly is, in which meals are devoured at our public tables, is a remnant of barbarism, which it is impossible to deny, and foolish to defend. Instead of being angry when any one remarks upon its coarseness, the better way is to endeavour to correct it by precept, ridicule, and example; not so much, however, to gain the applause of foreign travellers, as to save ourselves from dyspeptic visitations and untimely graves; perhaps, too, to avoid a resemblance to him, not exemplary in this respect, who despatched an ox and picked his teeth with the horn. Still more idle is it to resent what foreigners say of our spitting, when, if all that is thus ejected in any given moment were collected into a single current, it would make another Yellowstone river. To be sure, we have not a monopoly of these luxuries; other nations are about as much accustomed as we are to the use of tobacco, in some of its filthy varieties of form. But since their being as bad as we are does not make us any better, we may as well confess the sin and shame, and endeavour to save the rising generation from the infection of impure examples. In all this, we have spoken much more largely than he does of those offences against decency and good manners, which he could not but see, and with which he had a right to be disgusted. We trust that he is not one of those many Englishmen who, as they travel in our country, offend all civilized persons yet more, by an incessant and horrible profaneness, compared with which these transgressions against propriety
are few and small. It will not do for wretches who shock the ears of all round them by a villanous blasphemy, to complain that the society in which they travel wants an elegant and graceful tone; their notes collect about them other unclean birds of the same feather with their own, and instead of seeing the homes of America, they get their impressions from inmates of the stable and the bar. Admitting, to the full extent of truth, all that is charged upon us by English travellers, we see some explanation of their impressions in the tone of the select society into which habits of this kind would have a natural tendency to throw them.
But while this sensible and good-natured traveller, who is a person probably of a different stamp, says but little of offensive peculiarities which he encountered, and gives high praise to the American character in the main, he is discriminating in his perception both of defects and virtues; it is not that he does not see the one, but he more enjoys acknowledging the other. He says that we are absurdly jealous of the opinion of foreigners concerning our country, which is too generally true; we resent their observing the very things which we scold about from morning till night, as if we expected every one who visits our country to see it best by shutting his eyes. He says that we are touched in every thought and feeling by the passion for traffic; which, allowing for a figure of speech, is true. But we apprehend that people elsewhere have some little taste for money, and what money will buy, which is about the same; and this only proves that innumerable avenues to prosperity and gain are open in this country which are closed in most others, and not that the love of gold is peculiar to ourselves, and unknown in foreign lands. He says that we are jealous and boastful, which is also true; but not to such an extent as might be supposed by one who does not remember that flattery is here addressed to the soyereign people as it is elsewhere to the crowned head; and where a good price is paid for such articles, the market will always have a full supply.
As to the want of independence which is charged upon us, it is hard to say what it means. It is the common cant of parties, to say, that, if every one spoke his real convictions, his language would be the same as theirs. If it means that we surrender our right to form opinions, we answer that the dictation of party is not stronger here than in other lands; it
always seals up many lips and keeps many spirits in prison. But what misleads the Englishman is a natural reserve, which makes many of us slow to form a judgment, and slower still to express a judgment which we have had no means of forming. What nonsense to talk of the want of freedom of thought! When every thing, good or bad, wise or foolish, decent or depraved, is everywhere blurted out, in the house and by the way, from tongues, pulpits, and presses without number; when every head spins with confusion at the multitude of original ideas and suggestions which are constantly stuffed into its ears and eyes; when no harm awaits the man who comes forward with his parable, whether it be holy or profane, save that of not being listened to, it passes one's patience to hear of the suppression of thought. We see many who produce their whims and fancies, both in politics and religion; and when the quiet common-sense of the land rejects them with coolness and indifference, sufficiently provoking to those who have them at heart, they ascribe it, not to their own ambitious folly, but to the want of independence in the public mind. Foreigners have struck into the same keynote, when they might see, that, even in the respect felt for every thing English, which is so common, there is an evident contempt of popularity. The love of the mother-land is not the passion which burns highest in the hearts of our people; and it is the one which, if individuals cared for popular favor, they would be most tempted to suppress.
Having freely stated what he conceives to be the weak points of the Americans, the writer goes on to admit that they are brave, hospitable, and friendly; keen, intelligent, and energetic; patriotic, generous, and lovers of liberty";
great and substantial virtues, which must, of course, in the present state of human nature, be balanced by a large proportion of shade. That his favorable verdict is not owing to his having met with nothing but sunshine is made clear by his account of an interview with a shoemaker in Saratoga, -a creature utterly unworthy of his useful profession, and who could only contribute to its success by furnishing bristles for waxed ends.
The name of Saratoga recalls the surrender of Burgoyne; and after saying that the ill success of that expedition was owing to the difficulties of the country, and the energy of its opposers, our author expresses some wonder that so little is
said of Gates in comparison with Washington, when this triumph had so great an effect on the future fortunes of the war. He appears not to know, that Gates was considered as having stepped in to receive the credit of a victory which Schuyler's previous arrangements had been the means of gaining; and that his ill success on subsequent occasions tended to confirm the doubts of his ability which had been entertained before. But more than all, his hostility to Washington was enough to destroy all respect for him in the hearts of the American people. A fatal victory that over Burgoyne would have been, had it produced the effect which some few desired, of intrusting to Gates's feeble hands the conduct of the Revolutionary war. When we read the account of Burgoyne's march, and compare it with the scene of action, it is not quite clear why so much is said of the difficulties of the country. The region is level, the soil sandy, and the forest must always have been light. With the exception of the want of roads, which armies cannot expect to find Macadamized to their hands, there seems no particular obstacle in the region over which the English army passed. The weather, it is true, was unpropitious, supplies were not always forthcoming, and there probably was a depressing effect in the sense of loneliness, which even an army feels in the midst of dark forests, and in the heart of an enemy's country.
This traveller was very much impressed by the bustle and activity of New York, and particularly by the energy of self-restoring power with which it recovers from the effect of the great fires that at times have wasted it. He thinks, and doubtless he is right, that its variety and richness of resources will keep it, as it is now, the capital of the United States. If so, it is unfortunate that it should not be able to exert a greater and better influence on other parts of the land. But it has grown too fast to have the right foundation of moral principle and habit, which only can prevent great cities from being great evils. He was not much delighted with its prevailing aspect. In church-building, on which the appearance of any city so much depends, a better taste begins to prevail. Instead of new and unparalleled inventions, it is thought better to adopt the Gothic, a style which the crowd of associations it awakens, if nothing else, recommends for houses of worship, while the Grecian, which has nothing about it well suited for such a purpose, is rapidly passing away. From