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CHAPTER XL. - Gouverneur Morris, The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, vol. 2 
The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, Minister of the United States to France; Member of the Constitutional Convention, ed. Anne Cary Morris (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
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Morris bids farewell to his friends in Europe. Returns to America. Difficulties of the voyage. Rebuilds his house at Morrisania. Pressed by friends once more to enter public life. Hamilton especially solicitous that he should do so. Death of Washington. Morris pronounces his funeral oration. Elected United States Senator in April. Journey to Northern New York. Niagara. Letter to James Parish. Enthusiastic description of the climate and prospects of America.
The time Morris had fixed for his return to America drew near, and regretfully he bade a final farewell to the society at Frankfort. “The Prince de Reusse, Mr. Crauford, and M. Simolin call to take leave of me,” he says, June 14th. “The Prince and Crauford, are strongly affected, and even Simolin is more so than I should have suspected.”
From Frankfort he went to Altona, there to make preparations for crossing the Atlantic; for it required time and much judgment to find and examine a ship, proper in its appointments and condition, for so long and perilous a voyage. Madame Leray and her children were to be Morris’s companions on shipboard—making the choice of a vessel even more than ordinarily important. But although annoyed by much tiresome preparation for his journey, Morris still continued the entries in his diary, recording the public news, the kindness of friends, and various more or less interesting items of gossip; among them, the news that Baron d’Escar “has married Madame de Nadaillac, who has gone back to France, leaving the Baron at Hamburg.” “The Baron,” Morris says, “tells me that the Court of Berlin will submit to anything rather than quarrel with France.” “The French have taken Malta [July 12th], the news of which arrived yesterday morning. There are flying reports that hostilities are to begin again in Germany.”
“M. de Lafayette called on me [July 24th], and asked my advice whether he should go out immediately to America, or stay a while longer. I tell him that he had made up his mind to stay; this he blushingly acknowledges. I then tell him that it would have been well to have gone out immediately, but as he has staid so long I don’t think it can make any difference should he remain a little longer. He again consults me as to his future motions, but as I know that this is more the effect of habit than anything else, I take little heed as to the answer. Always declaring his resolution to lead a private life, he sighs still for an opportunity of appearing again on the public theatre.”
“It is said [August 1st] that the news from Rastadt are pacific. The French Directory seem a little alarmed at the state of things in America, and desirous of reconciliation. There has been an embargo laid in France on American ships.”
“All the letters from Italy [August 10th] announce a victory over the French in the Mediterranean.”
“A newspaper from Philadelphia has been shown to me [August 15th] with the form of a law now in agitation (i.e., when the paper was printed), being a declaration of war against France. Captain Barclay tells me that General Washington takes command of the American army of fifty thousand men. Some privateers are already brought in.”
“To-day [August 20th] the accounts from the fountain-head in France show that they wish to avoid a war with America. It seems certain that Nelson has overtaken Bonaparte and had a successful action, but the particulars are yet unknown.”
“It appears now [August 29th] that the French, under Bonaparte, have reached Alexandria without accident and taken possession of it. The Directory have taken off the embargo on American vessels, but that is not publicly known. They have also applied to the Dutch to become mediators with America. By accounts from Frankfort it would seem that a war is like to take place between the Emperor and France.”
“To-day [August 31st] Mr. Parish and I go on board two ships. The one called the Ocean we shall go in for America; examine the accommodations for ourselves and horses, and see the captain of the ship, who recommends a man to furnish me with stores. The captain is rather an assuming man, who must be kept off. On further acquaintance he shows himself off as a most disagreeable and impertinent fellow; so we break with him, and must look out for another ship. Mr. Parish goes to look at other ships and finds none which are convenient, and, as the captain is coming to and offers for thirty guineas additional to accede to our terms, it is finally decided that the Ocean is to receive us.”
“The news to-day [September 14th] are that the French, who had landed from eight to twelve thousand men in Ireland early in September, have made some progress in Ireland and repulsed General Lake, but Lord Cornwallis was collecting in force to surround them. The people have not joined them in any numbers. Call on the Duchess of Cumberland to-day. She is, as usual, sharp as vinegar. She seems to have been born in the Opposition.”
“We hear [September 19th] that the French troops in Ireland have surrendered at discretion.”
“There is an account arrived [September 21st] that Nelson has destroyed the French fleet in the Bay of Alexandria, that Bonaparte’s army has suffered both from the Arabs and by an inundation of the Nile, and that the Grand Seigneur has declared war against France. All this taken together (though possible) is too much to be believed. The first article is not unlikely, and, should it be verified, may have given ground for the last, but the overflowings of the Nile are phenomena so regular that Bonaparte cannot be ignorant of them, and the Arabs are too far from the Nile to render credible a catastrophe in which both take a share.”
“The account of the destruction of the French fleet is confirmed [September 22d] and of the war between the Turks and the French.”
“The English mail [October 1st] brings no news except the sailing of the Brest fleet, destined unquestionably for Ireland. It came out after the gale of the 12th, which drove Admiral Bridport from his station.”
“The German paper [October 2d] contains the details of Admiral Nelson’s victory. The attack was one of the boldest and the victory one of the greatest ever obtained or made. The French, though beaten, were not dishonored. Their resistance was exceeded only by the assault. The Turk has declared war. Naples is to be invaded, and thus the east of Europe is leagued against the great nation—great in her enterprise, great in her resource, and great in crime. Whether she will be great in her fall remains to be decided.”
“The gale which has blown for several days has subsided [October 3d], and the sea grown smoother. All our effects are sent on board of the ship, and at ten o’clock I receive notice that we must go on board early to-morrow morning.”
“This morning at nine [October 4th] we go on board a boat, and follow the ship down to the road of Gluckstadt. Very fine weather, with easterly wind. The ship gets under way, and we part with our friend Leray, which is, after all preparation, a painful thing for his wife. We deceive her, therefore, and he is off before she knows a word of the matter. We come to a little to the eastward of Cux-haven, as the darkness prevents us from seeing the buoys.”
By the 7th of October the Ocean and her small party of passengers fairly started on the voyage, which, with all the changes of wind and weather, the high-running seas, which “tumbled everything topsy-turvy and made sleep and rest impossible,” was to last until the first day of December. On Sunday, October 14th, the sea was so rough that Morris says: “I am obliged to keep my bed to-day and yesterday, because of its being impossible to conveniently quit it. One of my horses is dead. They had placed the poor animal in such a situation that one of the ship’s bolts was directly behind his rump, and at every send of the sea it gored him, and that for several days before it was discovered, so that his mangled flesh mortified. A few days later another of my horses dies of his bruises, and is committed to the waves.”
“At noon to-day [October 30th] we are stopped by the Agincourt for about an hour and a half. The Admiral is out cruising, with a number of frigates. He tells us there are a great number of cruisers, British and American, along our coast, to protect the commerce against French privateers. We get an observation this day, and find our latitude 46° 48′. The longitude, by my computation, is 42° 28′ 37″. The Agincourt is three days from St. John’s. The officer who came on board would not tell us their reckoning of longitude, but they had light winds the first two days. One of the boat’s crew says they had soundings yesterday at three o’clock on the bank. This must be the outer bank, and as that is in 47° N. and 45° W., it would agree with my reckoning.”
“Yesterday [November 11th] we had scarce wind enough to keep the ship steady, and it kept veering about till, towards evening, it got to the north-northeast, and we went on till near midnight, when it had risen so high that the captain laid the ship to. This morning there is a heavy sea going, and a Frenchman, who had shipped as a seaman, fell from the shrouds into the sea and was drowned; for, though they threw him a rope and he got hold of it, he had not strength to keep his hold. On examining his chest they find a great deal of clothes of a kind much finer than is generally used by seamen. His manners, they say, were mild and gentle, and that he was not a good sailor; from all which it is to be conjectured that he had seen better days, and adds one more to the numerous victims of the French Revolution.”
“I find [November 15th] that the captain has not above twenty days’ provisions left for his crew, and we have something more than five hundred miles before we are up with the Hook.”
“At midnight [November 29th] the mate told me we were on soundings, and from the account of the currents we ought to have been so, but this morning we can get no bottom. I am therefore determined to trouble myself no more with keeping a reckoning, since either currents, or, what is more probable, the inability of the men at the helm, render all calculation little more than mere conjecture.”
“To-day [November 30th] we see a schooner from Block Island, so we stand on for Montauk Point, with a view of getting into Rhodes Island Harbor.”
The question on the 1st of December was whether to run blindly on and try to make Montauk Point, with a view to getting into Rhode Island Harbor, or be surprised by a change of wind to the northwest, which would “oblige the Ocean to seek refuge in the West Indies.” Quite uncertain where he was and what to do, the captain applied to Morris for advice. “I tell him that if I were in his situation, wanting provisions, I would certainly run into the first port or place where I could secure myself against being blown off; that I think, moreover, the passage through the Sound is a very safe one.” Just at this moment a schooner from Baltimore informed the captain of the Ocean of his position regarding Montauk Point, and that evening the vessel was safely anchored in Rhode Island Harbor. Dirty weather, snow, and rain made the voyage through the Sound for some days impossible; and it was not until the 12th of December, after innumerable worries and anxieties, that the party, having transferred themselves and their luggage to another vessel, started for New York. Here again the delays, by reason of the weather and inefficient and drunken seamen, were to the last degree harassing.
“We had hopes of getting off last night, but were deceived, and so must build up a new fabric of hope for the night to come. Patience, patience,” Morris says, in the diary of the 12th, but the hope was again futile, for after reaching Point Judith, “a tedious and dangerous business,” they were obliged to put back to Newport, there to remain till the 19th, when they made a new departure.
“This morning [December 26th] is employed by me in sleeping, as I was awake all last night, partly from the tempest and partly from my care of little Poupon, Madame Leray’s child, whose nurse brought him to me to keep out of the water with which her bed was overflowed.”
“We have a tumbling night. Friday and Saturday [December 21st and 22d], we make some progress, but come to anchor each night, owing to snow-storms and darkness. On Sunday the 23d we get off Throgg’s (or Frog’s) Point, and, the wind serving us, we reach New York at half an hour after two. Many of my friends come on board to see me. With Mr. Constable I go and take lodgings in the Government House. After dinner many friends come, and it seems as if I were not an unwelcome guest in my native country. Colonel Hamilton, now General Hamilton, comes, whom I am very glad to see. I take occasion to let them know early my intention to lead a private life.”
“I sit down to write [December 25th], but am interrupted by a succession of visitors. My farmer, Gibson, comes to state in some degree the situation of my farm. Dine with Mr. Church. General Hamilton comes with me, and tells me the state of our affairs. He wishes me to take a share in the administration.”
“Dine at Colonel Troup’s [December 29th], who is still, as ever, a pleasant, laughing fellow. Stay late and sup, which is not wise.”
“Mr. Low calls this morning [December 30th], and takes me to his seat in Trinity Church, where Mr. Bache preaches a theological sermon. The news is come that the French Brest fleet has been defeated without effecting a landing in Ireland, that Bonaparte’s transports are destroyed, and that his army is reduced to ten thousand men. This last part is, I fancy, premature.”
“To-day [January 5th] I dine at home and go after dinner to my house at Morrisania, where I arrive at dusk, after an absence of above ten years.”
With apparently no regret for the gay life of foreign courts, in which he had moved so long, Morris threw himself with all his natural energy into the affairs of his farm. He rebuilt his house, which he found in an unfit condition to receive the many articles of furniture he had brought home with him, and personally inspected the stones for the house as they were taken from the quarry on his farm. He laid out roads, superintended their construction himself, and in the course of the summer made himself quite familiar with the large farm of fifteen hundred acres which he sometimes said he had “rashly” undertaken to improve. In the spring of 1799 (April 16th) Morris journeyed to Philadelphia, stopping along the route to visit various friends. His object in Philadelphia was to visit his old friend Robert Morris, the financier—then in prison for debt—with whom he had been so closely associated before he left America, and whose affairs had taken him to Europe.
“I am strongly affected,” Morris says, “by the situation of my poor friend, and he seems equally so. Mrs. Morris, who is with him, puts on an air of firmness which she cannot support, and was wrong to assume.” The next day Morris dined with his friends in the prison. “Morris and his family,” he says of them, “are in high spirits, and I keep them so by a very lively strain of conversation, but see, with infinite concern, that, his mind is more made up to his situation than I could have believed. Mr. Ross speaks to me of Robert Morris’s situation, and says he behaved very ill. Mr. Fitzsimmons tells me that he is completely ruined by advances to Robert Morris. Another man has sunk $80,000 in the vortex. Mr. Morris tells me that my share of the Genesee lands has swept off what I owed to him, without which I should have been considerably in his debt.”
“The Chevalier d’Orléans comes to me [May 2d], and I deliver him a blank form of attorney and a certificate of citizenship. General Dickinson, with whom I dine, seems desirous of knowing whether I intend to marry. I am told that Miss Dickinson’s family wish me to espouse her. She is spoken of as a very fine young woman, and I answer, in general terms, that such a thing is not impossible.”
Here was an opportunity most congenial to the match-making mamma, and not to be lost, if possible. But this courtier was proof for some years longer against the beseiging friendly enemy, and the charms of Miss Bayard and of Miss Schuyler failed to carry the fortress that had already resisted the blandishments of the ladies of France. Morris quietly went on with his work at Morrisania, and kept his house open to all comers, from the Chevalier d’Orléans and his suite to the poorest man who wanted a dinner. A propos of M. d’Orléans, Morris makes an entry in his diary to this effect:
“Yesterday my coachman overturned M. d’Orléans’ chair, so I must dismiss him.”
Morris’s friends pressed him hard to engage in public life; “which I decline,” he says, “though they assure me it is deemed necessary by all my friends. Hamilton tells me I must take an active part in our public affairs, for that the Anti-Federalists are determined to overthrow our Constitution. This is a painful idea, every way.” But, apparently, superintending the gathering in of the apples, the cutting up of hogs and beef and storing them, wholly occupied Morris’s time, and the novelty of the work satisfied his ambition, for the moment at least. It was, however, not for long that he was allowed to indulge in these bucolic pursuits, so congenial to his taste, for on Thursday, December 19, 1799, the news of Washington’s death came, and at the same moment a request from the corporation of New York that Morris should pronounce the funeral oration. “This request,” he says, “is distressing, and I pray time till to-morrow to consider.”
“On Sunday [December 29th] Mr. and Mrs. Hammond and the Chevalier d’Orléans and his brethren pass the evening here. I read my oration for them, as I am told no tickets will be given.”
“At eleven o’clock this morning [December 31st] I go to St. Paul’s Church. The procession does not arrive till after three, and we do not get away till six. Pronounced my oration badly.”
“To-day [January 1st] I have a number of visitors, among them a deputation from the ‘Cincinnati,’ to request a copy of my oration for the press. This morning I had already sent it, on a request of the Common Council, to the Recorder. Dine at General Hamilton’s. I hear that the anti-federal faction are to consider my oration as too cold.”
The condition of public affairs very deeply interested Morris, notwithstanding his disinclination to take an active part in them, and it was his earnest hope that Washington might still be induced to leave the quiet of Mount Vernon and resume his place in the fore rank. Although thoroughly understanding and appreciating Washington’s desire for rest and tranquillity after his stirring and responsible life, Morris still thought it hardly right that he should leave the helm of the State at such a stormy moment. With the desire, therefore of modifying, if not altering Washington’s determination to abandon public life, Morris urgently appealed to him to reconsider his decision. This letter, the last Morris wrote to his life-long friend, was dated at Morrisania, December 9, 1799, scarcely two weeks before Washington’s death, and is as follows:
“During a late visit to New York I learnt that the leading characters (even in Massachusetts) consider Mr. Adams as unfit for the office he now holds. Without pretending to decide on the merits of that opinion, which will operate alike, whether well or ill founded, it appeared necessary to name some other person. You will easily conceive that his predecessor was wished for and regretted. Nor will you be surprised that the doubt whether he will again accept should have excited much concern, for you are so perfectly acquainted with the different characters in America, and with the opinions which prevail respecting them, that you must be convinced, however painful the conviction, that should you decline no man will be chosen whom you would wish to see in that high office. Believing, then, that the dearest interests of our country are at stake, I beg leave to speak with you freely on this subject.
“No reasonable man can doubt that after a life of glorious labor you must wish for repose; and it would not be surprising that a wish so natural should, by frequent disappointment, have acquired the force of passion. But is the retirement, in the strict sense of the word, a possible thing? and is the half-retirement which you may attain to more peaceful than public life? Nay, has it not the disadvantage of leaving you involved in measures you can neither direct nor control? Another question suggests itself from another view of the subject. Will you not, when the seat of government is in your neighborhood, enjoy more retirement as President of the United States than as General of the Army. And in the same view, again, another question arises. May not your acceptance be the needful means of fixing the government in that seat? There is a more important consideration. Shall the past treasure of your fame be committed to the uncertainty of events, be exposed to the attempts of envy, and subject to the spoliation of slander? From envy and slander no retreat is safe but the grave, and you must not yet hide yourself behind that bulwark. As to the influence of events, if there be a human being who may look them fairly in the face, you are the man.
“Recollect, sir, that each occasion which has brought you back on the public stage has been to you the means of new and greater glory. If General Washington had not become member of the Convention, he would have been considered only as the defender and not as the legislator of his country. And if the President of the Convention had not become President of the United States, he would not have added the character of a statesman to those of patriot and hero. Your modesty may repel these titles, but Europe has conferred them, and the world will set its seal of approbation when, in these tempestuous times, your country shall have again confided the helm of her affairs to your steady hands. But you may say that you stand indirectly pledged to private life. Surely, sir, you neither gave nor meant to give such pledge to the extent of possible contingencies. The acceptance of your present office proves that you did not. Nay, you stand pledged by all your former conduct that, when circumstances arise which shall require it, you will act again. These circumstances seem to be now imminent, and it is meet that you consider them on the broad ground of your extensive information. Ponder them, I pray, and, whatever may be the decision, pardon my freedom and believe me, truly yours.”
Morris was not long left to enjoy the tranquil and congenial pleasures of Morrisania. The presidential election was impending, constant demands were made on his time for opinions and advice, and in the month of April, 1800, he was elected United States Senator; “which,” he remarked when told of his election, “is unfortunate.” On the subject of the forthcoming election he wrote on January 16th to Alexander Hamilton the following letter, in which he stated his opinion that “the idea that the division of the votes would bring on the aristocrats who call themselves democrats to vote for Burr is unfounded.” And he continues:
“Were it otherwise, a number of federalists, that is, of republicans, would urge the experiment. The conviction that they will not abandon their man may induce the republicans to unite with the adversary and give Mr. Jefferson an unanimous vote. I have hinted that, should they find the opposition to him ineffectual, it might be advisable openly to declare that, ‘unable to estimate the respective merits of the candidates, whose virtues they are equally ignorant of, the republicans will join in the choice of the person whom they may designate.’ Under present circumstances this appears to me the best expedient for avoiding all responsibility at the bar of public opinion, and that is important. For, let the choice fall as it may, many will be displeased. The present moment is indeed of high interest, but prudence seems to be more necessary than anything else—not the cold quality which avoids mistakes, but the active virtue which corrects the evil of mistakes already made. Nil desperandum.”
During the year that Morris had been at home he seems to have found no leisure for his correspondence, which had always before so fully re-enforced his diary. However, making his oration at Washington’s funeral the excuse for communicating with his friends in Europe, to the Princesse de la Tour et Taxis he wrote, in January, expressing the hope that “the lovely Princess will perhaps recollect der gute Engländer, who retains a deep sense of her kindness. He takes the liberty of sending her a piece which has the merit of truth, and may convey some idea of a man of whom it may be truly said, ‘Take him for all in all, we ne’er shall look upon his like again.’ Will you, lovely princess, remember to his Ratisbon acquaintance the man of t’other world, and do him the justice to believe that he loves you sincerely. Mille et mille choses des plus amiables à S. A.”
To the Duke of Montrose he also wrote later, begging his acceptance of the enclosed oration; “not,” he says, “as a piece of fine composition, but as a picture of the man it describes, and as a slight testimonial of my respect and attachment. If I supposed Her Grace to have any recollection of me, I would entreat you to present her mes hommages. Say a thousand things for me to Colonel Graham when you see him, and believe me, my lord, etc.”
Sending his oration to Count Woronzow, he begged him to accept “la copie ci-jointe d’une oraison funèbre que j’ai prononcée il y a quelque temps. Que d’événements depuis que j’ai eu le bonheur de vous voir! Dans ce pays-ci, on ne se lasse point d’admirer votre Souwarow et les milliers de héros qu’il mène à la victoire. En regardant un prince, juste et magnanime, à la tête d’une nation dont la fidélité dispute à la bravoure, on ne peut plus nier que dans les monarchies les plus confirmées, comme dans les républiques les mieux organisées, on trouve des vertus et de grandes qualités. Dans les uns pourtant comme dans les autres, il est rare, mon cher comte, de rencontrer cette amitié qui vous distingue et qui vous fait aimer par ceux qui vous entourent presqu’ autant qu’on respecte vos talents, votre génie et votre caractère. Adieu; croyez à tout mon attachement.”∗
During the winter of 1800, Morris, previous to his election to the Senate, made a journey to Albany, and through the northern part of New York State, to investigate the condition of large tracts of lands owned by him and others, and to make arrangements for selling the farms. Leaving Albany he pushed on toward Glens Falls, through a part of the country which he had not seen since the year 1777, when it was almost a wilderness.
“And now,” the diary mentions, “they begin, I am told, on some farms to feel the loss of wood. It is now very thickly settled, and the banks of the river are covered for miles with timber and boards. All day I see a number of the settlers on my lands. We fix the terms of purchase, and they are to decide in May or June next. We put up at McMaster’s Inn, at or near Ballston. There is here also a mineral spring, which has more of fixed air in it than the Saratoga spring, which, of course, has more reputation. It is, moreover, nearer to the settlements. There are already several houses built here for the accommodation of visitors. Our landlady tells me they had at one time last summer eighty lodgers in this house. At dinner we have oysters, which are brought hither by traders from Connecticut. It is not yet twenty-seven years since I attended the sale of land in this place at auction in New York. It was then a wilderness. The American War broke out shortly after, and it was not until the year 1785 that the settlements commenced. In this short space of fifteen years a whole region is converted from a wilderness into a settled country. Already in this neighborhood fuel is beginning to grow scarce, and already industry ministers to luxury by bringing oysters near two hundred miles from the sea. This is indeed wonderful. Had imagination pictured anything like it twenty years ago, he who would have ventured to express an idea so fanciful would have been deemed a madman. Yet here is a reality which exceeds the most extensive sketch to which imagination could have soared. As we descend, southward, we cross various roads by which the people of New England roam into the Western world, and on every road they are met with.”
Early in March Morris was at home again, busily forwarding the building of his house, but not neglecting to note in the diary of March 15th, that “the new French Constitution has arrived, which, as far as we can understand it, is the government of a single man, who is said to be Bonaparte.”
On Friday the 2d of May, 1800, Morris left Morrisania for Philadelphia, to assume his duties in the Senate of the United States. The last drawing-room of the season was held by the President’s wife the day of his arrival. “I go,” he says, “and there is a good deal of company. I find that my office of Senator attracts a good deal of that respect which, in my opinion, it does not deserve; but it is so far pleasant as it shows the Government to be well in the opinion of the public. Possibly, also, the persons in whom I remark it are in office, or wishing to be so. I am already tired of it. On my return from the drawing-room we stop at Meredith’s, and then, at the request of my nephew Lewis, who accompanied me, I go to his lodgings, where Mr. Sedgwick is smoking and swinging in a seat with his heels on the table. He continues his attitude and occupation, which to a man of European ideas would appear a marked contempt. I know it is not so, but if my head were in the way of being turned by respect this would be a wholesome check to it.”
“To-day [May 3d] I go to the Senate. The New York election has been carried by the democrats, and it is from thence concluded that Jefferson will be the President.”
“It is said [May 13th] that Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams have made a coalition. Liston∗ tells me that Adams is the most passionate, intemperate man he ever had anything to do with. His imprudence is as notorious. Burr, they say, is to be appointed Minister of War.”
On May 14th, the Senate adjourned, to meet next at Washington, and Morris went back to his quiet life at Morrisania, where fishing and sailing were among his keenest pleasures. In July he again made a journey into the wilderness of New York State, and, by river and lake through miles of forests, he travelled until he came to Montreal. The possibilities of the soil for high garden-cultivation, the climate, and the scenery all united to inspire him with hopes for the brilliant future of a State which, he says, “will probably take a foremost place during the present century.” After a few days at Montreal, spent among friends, Morris pushed on, up the St. Lawrence and up the Genesee River, far into the wilderness to inspect his lands; “through a country which is, on the whole,” he says, “the finest I ever saw. A river whose banks are composed of the richest land, a sky bright, an atmosphere brilliant, fish and game in abundance and of the best quality, what more could one ask?”
Morris reached Niagara Falls the 29th of August, following the river from its mouth, “over steep hills and through morasses, under a broiling sun, till we attain the Table Rock. This is a continuation of that through which or, rather, over which, the river is precipitated, and like that, too, is excavated by its waters. Judge Hamilton, who is with me, tells me that he and Mr. Stedman have observed that in the course of twenty-seven years, during which they have resided here, the river has worn away about twenty yards of the rock, retiring the falls so much farther westward; and he concludes, from various appearances, that originally it was at the place where the landing now is. It is a stupendous object; I do not pretend to judge the quantity of water, but it is a large river and falls from a great height.”
The return journey to Montreal, made in much the same way, by the lake, was not without a spice of danger from shipwreck. On the 20th of September “we find ourselves,” says the diary, “at Montreal, having had a wet time from Lachine to this place.”
“Dine at Sir John Johnston’s [September 24th], and I dance (i.e., hobble) in the evening. The party is so small as to excuse a part of the ridiculousness of this attempt. On Thursday we dine at the Beaver Club, a society composed of persons who have travelled far into the country to purchase furs. We have from one of the members a speech in the Indian language. They all understand, and many of them speak it. We have also some of the songs of the voyageurs and boatmen. I am seated next to Mr. Henry, who is by seniority the president. He tells me he was at Detroit in the year 1761, and has followed that business ever since. When he first became acquainted with the Indians they were cleanly both in their persons and in their houses, but now they are very filthy, being depraved by the use of rum. Mr. McGillivray has frequently observed to me that the attempt to tame and civilize them is vain, for that they are always the worse for it, and the Christian Indians the worst of all. He says that in their commerce they keep them as much as possible from rum, and that the nations who have not got the habit of it are not fond of it at first. He has a high opinion of the Indians in their natural state; but Mr. Henry tells me to-day that those who know the Indians best like them least; that it is common to be pleased with them at first, but in the event they are found to be perfidious.”
Leaving Montreal, Morris journeyed through the woods to the head of Lake George, where he arrived on October 3d, and heard the first news that had reached him in many weeks, some friends telling him that “the negotiation between France and America is suspended in consequence of the high demand of M. Bonaparte.” Reaching Albany on the 9th, the latest news which had been brought from New York the night before was to the effect that “the French do not come into such terms as our commissioners can offer and, the negotiation is said to be finished. I am told that the Anti-Jacobin reviewers in London speak very ill of my oration.”
The memory of this visit to what was then the Far West lingered long with Morris, who was always an enthusiastic lover of nature, and months afterward [January 20th] he gave to his friend John Parish, then in London, a glowing description of the climate and of the country, with a sort of prophetic insight into the future.
“There is,” he wrote, “a brilliance in our atmosphere you can have no idea of, except by going to Italy, or else by viewing one of Claude Lorraine’s best landscapes, and persuading yourself that the light there exhibited is a just though faint copy of nature. I believe there is much more water in the St. Lawrence than in the Danube at Vienna. Of the rapids I can say nothing; still less can I pretend to convey to you the sentiment excited by a view of the lake. It is to all purposes of human vision an ocean: the same majestic motion, too, in its billows. . . . To form a faint idea of the Cataract of Niagara, imagine that you saw the Firth of Forth rush wrathfully down a steep descent, leap foaming over a perpendicular rock one hundred and seventy feet high, then flow away in the semblance of milk from a basin of emerald. A quiet, gentle stream leaves the shores of a country level and fertile, and along the banks of this stream we proceed to Fort Erie. Here again the boundless waste of waters fills the mind with renewed astonishment, and here, as in turning a point of wood the lake broke on my view, I saw riding at anchor nine vessels, the least of them above a hundred tons. Can you bring your imagination to realize this scene? Does it not seem like magic? Yet this magic is but the early effort of victorious industry. Hundreds of large ships will, in no distant period, bound on the billows of these inland seas. At this point commences a navigation of more than a thousand miles. Shall I lead your astonishment up to the verge of incredulity? I will. Know, then, that one-tenth of the expense borne by Britain in the last campaign would enable ships to sail from London through Hudson’s River into Lake Erie. As yet, my friend, we only crawl along the outer edge of our country. The interior excels the part we inhabit in soil, in climate, in everything.
“The proudest empire in Europe is but a bubble compared to what America will be, must be, in the course of two centuries—perhaps of one. Forty years ago all America could not, without bills of credit, raise one million of dollars to defend themselves against an enemy at their doors. Now, in profound peace, the taxes bring into the treasury, without strain or effort, above ten millions. In the year 1760 there was not, perhaps, a million of specie dollars in this country. At present the banks of Philadelphia alone have above ten millions to dispose of beyond the demand.
“I heard it remarked, many years ago, as wonderful that in 1760 there were in privateers sailing from America as many seamen as there had been on board of the Royal Navy of Elizabeth. Is it less wonderful that our present tonnage should be equal to that of all the British dominions at the accession of George the Second? . . . If we go forward, not with sextuple but merely quadruple ratio for two more periods of twenty years, beginning with two millions sterling we have, for 1820, eight millions, and for 1840 more than thirty millions sterling of revenue, raised from a population which may then amount to near thirty millions of souls.∗ This, indeed, seems impossible, but did it not seem equally impossible at the close of the Seven Years’ War that the net revenue of British America should exceed two millions sterling by the end of the century? Had this been asserted on the Exchange of London in the year 1760, would it not have been laughed at? In 1780—but whither am I going?
“If you were on this side the Atlantic I should greatly rejoice, but you won’t come. You will shiver along through German and Scotch summers, consoling yourself for the tediousness of June by the long, snug, comfortable evenings of January. You tell me, my friend, that I must join you, and, particularly, must take up my residence in London. But have you reflected that there is more of real society in one week at Neusteden† than in a London year? Recollect that a tedious morning, a great dinner, a boozy afternoon, make the sum total of English life. It is admirable for young men who shoot; hunt, drink, and—but for us! how are we to dispose of ourselves? No. Were I to give you a rendezvous in Europe, it should be on the Continent. I respect, as you know, the English nation highly, and love many individuals among them, but I do not love their manners. They are perhaps too pure, but they are certainly too cold for my taste. The Scotch are more agreeable to me, but, were the manners of those countries as pleasant as the people are respectable, I should never be reconciled to their summers. Compare the uninterrupted warmth and splendor of America from the 1st of May to the last of September, and her autumn truly celestial, with your shivering June, your July and August, sometimes warm but often wet, your uncertain September, your gloomy October, your dismal November; compare these things, and then say how a man who prizes the charms of nature can think of making the exchange. If you were to pass one autumn with us you would not give it for the best six months to be found in any other country, unless, indeed, you should get tired of fine weather.”
[∗]Translation.—The enclosed is the copy of a funeral oration I pronounced a short time ago. What events since I had the pleasure of reading your last letter! In this country everyone admires your Souwarow and the thousands of heroes he leads to victory. When one sees a just and magnanimous prince at the head of a nation the fidelity of which equals its bravery, one cannot deny that in the strictest monarchies, as in the best organized republics, there are to be found virtues and lofty qualities. In either the one or the other it is rare to find such friendship as yours, my dear count—a feeling which gains for you almost as much love as your talents, genius, and character win respect. Good-by. Believe in my attachment.
[∗]British Minister to the United States.
[∗]The census of 1800 showed a population, in the United States, of 5,308,483.
[†]The residence of Mr. Parish, near Hamburg.