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HOT AND COLD WEATHER. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 3.
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HOT AND COLD WEATHER.
I believe no one attempts to praise the climate of New England. The very low average of health there, the prevalence of consumption and of decay of the teeth, are evidences of an unwholesome climate which I believe are universally received as such. The mortality among children, throughout the whole country, is a dark feature of life in the United States. I do not know whether any investigation has been made into the numbers who die in infancy; but there can be no mistake in assuming that it is much greater than among the classes in Europe who are in a situation of equal external comfort. It was afflicting to meet with cases of bereavement which seem to leave few hopes or objects in life: it is afflicting to review them now, as they rise up before my mind. One acquaintance of mine had lost four out of six children; another five out of seven; another six out of seven; another thirteen out of sixteen; and one mourner tells me that a fatality seems to attend the females of his family, for, out of eighteen, only one little grand-daughter survives: and most of this family died very young, and of different kinds of disease. Never did I see so many woe-worn mothers as in America. Wherever we went in the North, we heard of “the lung fever” as of a common complaint; and children seemed to be as liable to it as grown persons. The climate is doubtless chiefly to blame for all this; and I do not see how any degree of care could obviate much of the evil. The children must be kept warm within doors; and the only way of affording them the range of the house is by warming the whole, from the cellar to the garret, by means of a furnace in the hall. This makes all comfortable within; but then the risk of going out is very great. There is far less fog and damp than in England; and the perfectly calm, sunny days of midwinter are endurable: but the least breath of wind seems to chill one's very life. I had no idea what the suffering from extreme cold amounted to till one day, in Boston, I walked the length of the city and back again, in a wind, with the thermometer seven degrees and a half below zero. I had been warned of the cold, but was anxious to keep an appointment to attend a meeting. We put on all the merinos and furs we could muster; but we were insensible of them from the moment the wind reached us. My muff seemed to be made of ice; I almost fancied I should have been warmer without it. We managed getting to the meeting pretty well, the stock of warmth we had brought out with us lasting till then. But we set out cold on our return: and by the time I got home, I did not very well know where I was, and what I was about. The stupefaction from cold is particularly disagreeable, the sense of pain remaining through it: and I determined not to expose myself to it again. All this must be dangerous to children: and if, to avoid it, they are shut up during the winter, there remains the danger of encountering the ungenial spring.
The fiery part of the trial, however, I did not much mind; for, after the first week of languor, I enjoyed the heat, except for the perpetual evidence that was before us of the mischief or fatality of its effects to persons who could not sit in the shade, and take it quietly, as we could. There were frequent instances of deaths in the streets: and the working-people suffer cruelly in the hot months. But the cold is a real evil to all classes, and I think much the most serious of the two. I found the second winter more trying than the first, and I hardly know how I should have sustained a third.
Every season, however, has its peculiar pleasures; and in the retrospect these shine out brightly, while the evils disappear.
On a December morning you are awakened by the domestic scraping at your hearth. Your anthracite fire has been in all night; and now the ashes are carried away, more coal is put on, and the blower hides the kindly red from you for a time. In half an hour the fire is intense, though, at the other end of the room, every thing you touch seems to blister your fingers with cold. If you happen to turn up a corner of the carpet with your foot, it gives out a flash; and your hair crackles as you brush it. Breakfast is always hot, be the weather what it may. The coffee is scalding, and the buckwheat cakes steam when the cover is taken off. Your host's little boy asks whether he may go coasting to-day; and his sisters tell you what day the schools will all go sleighing. You may see boys coasting on Boston Common all the winter day through; and too many in the streets, where it is not so safe. To coast is to ride on a board down a frozen slope; and many children do this in the steep streets which lead down to the Common, as well as on the snowy slopes within the enclosure where no carriages go. Some sit on their heels on the board; some on their crossed legs. Some strike their legs out, put their arms a-kimbo, and so assume an air of defiance amidst their velocity. Others prefer lying on their stomachs, and so going head-foremost; an attitude whose comfort I never could enter into. Coasting is a wholesome exercise for hardy boys. Of course they have to walk up the ascent, carrying their boards, between every feat of coasting; and this affords them more exercise than they are at all aware of taking.
As for the sleighing, I heard much more than I experienced of its charms. No doubt early association has something to do with the American fondness for this mode of locomotion; and much of the affection which is borne to music, dancing, supping, and all kinds of frolic, is transferred to the vehicle in which the frolicking parties are transported. It must be so, I think, or no one would be found to prefer a carriage on runners to a carriage on wheels,—except on an untrodden expanse of snow. On a perfectly level and crisp surface I can fancy the smooth rapid motion to be exceedingly pleasant; but such surfaces are rare in the neighbourhood of populous cities. The uncertain, rough motion in streets hillocky with snow, or on roads consisting for the season of a ridge of snow with holes in it, is disagreeable, and provocative of headache. I am no rule for others as to liking the bells; but to me their incessant jangle was a great annoyance. Add to this the sitting, without exercise, in a wind caused by the rapidity of the motion, and the list of désagrémens is complete. I do not know the author of a description of sleighing which was quoted to me, but I admire it for its fidelity. “Do you want to know what sleighing is like? You can soon try. Set your chair on a spring board out in the porch on Christmas-day: put your feet in a pail full of powdered ice: have somebody to jingle a bell in one ear, and somebody else to blow into the other with the bellows,—and you will have an exact idea of sleighing.”
I was surprised to find that young people whose health is too delicate to allow them to do many simple things, are not too delicate to go out sleighing, in an open sleigh. They put hot bricks under their feet, and wrap up in furs; but the face remains exposed; and the breathing the frosty air of a winter's night, after dancing, may be easily conceived to be the cause of much of the “lung fever” of which the stranger hears. The gayest sleighing that I saw was on the day when all the schools in Boston have a holiday, and the pupils go abroad in a long procession of sleighs. The multitude of happy young faces, though pinched with cold, was a pretty sight.
If the morning be fine, you have calls to make, or shopping to do, or some meeting to attend. If the streets be coated with ice, you put on your India-rubber shoes—unsoled—to guard you from slipping. If not, you are pretty sure to measure your length on the pavement before your own door. Some of the handsomest houses in Boston, those which boast the finest flights of steps, have planks laid on the steps during the season of frost; the wood being less slippery than stone. If, as sometimes happens, a warm wind should be suddenly breathing over the snow, you go back to change your shoes; India-rubbers being as slippery in wet as leather soles are on ice. Nothing is seen in England like the streets of Boston and New York at the end of the season, while the thaw is proceeding. The area of the street had been so raised that passengers could look over the blinds of your ground-floor rooms: when the side-walks become full of holes and puddles, they are cleared, and the passengers are reduced to their proper level: but the middle of the street remains exalted, and the carriages drive along a ridge. Of course this soon becomes too dangerous; and for a season ladies and gentlemen walk; carts tumble, slip, and slide, and get on as they can; while the mass, now dirty, not only with thaw, but with quantities of refuse vegetables, sweepings of the poor people's houses, and other rubbish which it was difficult to know what to do with while every place was frozen up, daily sinks and dissolves into a composite mud. It was in New York, and some of the inferior streets of Boston, that I saw this process in its completeness.
If the morning drives are extended beyond the city, there is much to delight the eye. The trees are eased in ice; and when the sun shines out suddenly, the whole scene looks like one diffused rainbow,—dressed in a brilliancy which can hardly be conceived of in England. On days less bright, the blue harbour spreads in strong contrast with the sheeted snow which extends to its very brink.
The winter evenings begin joyously with the festival of Thanksgiving Day, which is, if I remember rightly, held on the first Thursday of December. The festival is ordered by proclamation of the Governor of the State; which proclamation is read in all the churches. The Boston friends with whom we had ascended the Mississippi, and travelled in Tennessee and Kentucky, did not forget that we were strangers in the land; and many weeks before Thanksgiving Day, they invited us to join their family gathering on that great annual festival. We went to church in the morning, and listened to the thanksgiving for the mercies of the year, and to an exemplification of the truth that national prosperity is of value only as it is sanctified to individual progression; —an important doctrine, well enforced. This is the occasion chosen by the boldest of the clergy to say what they think of the faults of the nation,—and particularly to reprobate apathy on the slavery question. There are few who dare do this, though it seems to be understood that this is an occasion on which “particular preaching” may go a greater length than on common Sundays. Yet a circumstance happened in New York on this very day which shows that the clergy have, at least in some places, a very short tether, even on Thanksgiving Day. An episcopalian clergyman from England, named Pyne, who had been some years settled in America, preached a thanksgiving sermon in which he made a brief and moderate, even common-place allusion to the toleration of slavery, among other national sins. For some weeks, he heard only the distant mutterings of the storm which was about to burst upon him; but within three months, he was not only dismissed from his office, but compelled to leave the country, though he had settled his family from England beside him. He was anxious to obey the wishes of his friends, and print verbatim the sermon which had caused his ruin; but no printer would print, and no publisher would agree to sell his sermon. At length, he found a printer who promised to print it, on condition of his name being kept secret; and the sermon was dispersed without the aid of a publisher. Mr. Pyne sailed for England on the following 1st of April; as it happened, in the same ship with Mr. Breckinridge, the presbyterian clergyman who put himself into unsuccessful opposition to Mr. Thompson, at a public discussion at Glasgow, last year. The voyage was not a pleasant one, as might be supposed, to either clergyman. Nothing could be more mal-à-propos than that one who came over with a defence in his mouth of the conduct of the American clergy on the slavery question should be shut up for three weeks with a clergyman banished for opening his lips on the subject.
After service, Dr. Channing took us to Persico's studio, where the new bust of Dr. Channing stood; and one, scarcely less excellent, of Governor Everett. We then spent an hour at Dr. Channing's, and he gave me his book on slavery, which was to be published two days afterwards. I was obliged to leave it unread till the festivities of the day were over; but that night, and two succeeding ones, I read it completely through before I slept. It is impossible to communicate an idea of the importance and interest of that book at the time it was published. I heard soon afterwards that there was difficulty in procuring it at Washington,—partly from the timidity of the booksellers, it having been called in Congress “an incendiary book.” It was let out at a high price per hour. Of course, as soon as this was understood at Boston, supplies were sent, otherwise than through the booksellers, so that members of Congress were no longer obliged to quote the book merely from the extracts contained in the miserable reply to it which was extensively circulated in the metropolis.
This book was in my head all the rest of the day, from whose observances all dark subjects seemed banished. At three o'clock, a family party of about thirty were assembled round two wellspread tables. There was only one drawback,—that five of the children were absent, being ill of the measles. There was much merriment among us grown people at the long-table; but the bursts of laughter from the children's side-table, where a kind aunt presided, were incessant. After dinner, we played hunt-the-slipper with the children, while the gentlemen were at their wine; and then went to spend an hour with a poor boy in the measles, who was within hearing of the mirth, but unable to leave his easy chair. When we had made him laugh as much as was good for him with some of our most ludicrous English Christmas games, we went down to communicate more of this curious kind of learning in the drawing-rooms. There we introduced a set of games quite new to the company; and it was delightful to see with what spirit and wit they were entered into and carried on. Dumb Crambo was made to yield its ultimate rhymes; and the story-telling in Old Coach was of the richest. When we were all quite tired with laughing, the children began to go away: some fresh visitors dropped in from other houses, and music and supper followed. We got home by eleven o'clock, very favourably impressed with the institution of Thanksgiving Day. I love to dwell upon it now, for a new interest hangs over that festival. The friend by whose thoughtfulness we were admitted to this family gathering, and in whose companionship we went,—the beloved of every heart there, the sweetest, the sprightliest of the party,—will be among them no more.
Christmas evening was very differently passed, but in a way to me even more interesting. We were in a country village, Hingham, near the shores of Massachusetts Bay; and were staying in the house of the pastor,—our clerical shipmate. The weather was bad,—in the early part of the day extremely so; and the attendance at the church was therefore not large, and no one came to dinner. The church was dressed up with evergreens, in great quantity, and arranged with much taste. The organist had composed a new anthem, which was well sung by the young men and women of the congregation. At home, the rooms were prettily dressed with green, and an ample supply of lights was provided against the evening. Soon after dinner, some little girls arrived to play with the children of the house: and we resumed the teaching of English Christmas games. The little things were tired, and went away early enough to leave us a quiet hour before the doors were thrown open to “the parish.” whose custom it is to flock to the pastor's house, to exchange greetings with him on Christmas night. What I saw makes me think this a delightful custom. There is no expensive or laborious preparation for their reception. The rooms are well lighted, and cake and lemonade are provided: and this is all.
The pastor and his wife received their guests as they came in: and then all moved on to offer the greetings of the season to me. Many remained to talk with me, to my great delight. There was the schoolmaster with his daughters. There was farmer B., who has a hobby. This place was colonised by English from Hingham in Norfolk; and farmer B.'s ancestors were among them. He has a passion for hearing about Old Hingham: and by dint of questioning every stranger, and making use of all kinds of opportunity, he has learned far more than I ever knew about the old place. His hopes rose high when he found I was a native of Norfolk; but I was obliged to depress them again by confessing how little I could tell of the old place, within a few miles of which my early years were spent. I was able, to give him some trifling fact, however, about, the direction in which the road winds; and for this he expressed fervent gratitude. I was afterwards told that he is apt to drive his oxen into the ditch, and to lose a sheep or two when his head is running on “the old place.” I have not yet succeeded in my attempts to obtain a sketch of Old Hingham, to send over to Farmer B.: but I wish I could, for I believe it would please him more than the bequest of a fortune.
Then came Captain L. with his five fine daughters. He looked too old to be their father; and well he might. When master of a vessel, he was set ashore by pirates, with his crew, on a desert island, where he was thirty-six days without food. Almost all his crew were dead, and he just dying, when help arrived,—by means of freemasonry. Among the pirates was a Scotchman, a mason, as was Captain L. The two exchanged signs. The Scotchman could not give aid at the moment: but, after many days of fruitless and anxious attempts, he contrived to sail back, at the risk of his life, and landed on the desert island, on the thirty-sixth day from his leaving it. He had no expectation of finding any of the party alive: but, to takc the chance and lose no time, he jumped ashore with a kettle full of wine in his hand. He poured wine down the throats of the few whom he found still breathing, and treated them so judiciously that they recovered. At least, it was called recovery: but Captain L.'s looks are very haggard and nervous still. He took the Scotchman home, and cherished him to the day of his death.
Then there was an excellent woman, the general benefactress of the village, who is always ready to nurse the sick and help the afflictcd, and to be of eminent service in another way to her young neighbours. She assembles them in the evenings, once or twice a week, and reads with them and to them; and thus the young women of the village are obtaining a knowledge of Italian and French, as well as English literature, which would have been unattainable without her help. The daughters of the fishermen, bucket and net-makers, and farmers of Hingham, are far more accomplished than many a high-bred young lady in England and New York. Such a village population is one of the true glories of America. Many such girls were at their pastor's this evening, dressed in silk gowns of the latest make, with rich French pelerines, and their wellarranged hair bound with coloured ribbon;—as pretty a set of girls as could be collected anywhere.
When it appeared that the rooms were beginning to thin, the organist called the young people round him, and they sang the new Christmas anthem, extremely well. Finally, a Christimas hymn was sung by all to the tune of the Old Hundred: the pastor and his people exchanged the blessing of the season, and, in a few minutes, the house was cleared.
About this scene also hangs a tender and mournful interest. Our hostess was evidently unwell at this time; I feared seriously so; and I was not mistaken. She was one of the noblest women I have ever known; with a mind large in its reach, rich in its cultivation, and strong in its independence: yet never was there a spirit more yearning in its tenderness, more gay in its innocence. Just a year after this time, she wrote me tidings of her approaching death, cheerfully intimating the probability that she might live to hear from me once more. My letter arrived just as she was laid in her coffin. Her interest in the great objects of humanity, to which she had dedicated her best days, never failed. Her mind was active about them to the last. She was never deceived, as the victims of consumption usually are, about her state of health and chance of life, but saw her case as others saw it; only with far more contentment and cheerfulness. She left bright messages of love for all of us who knew what was in her mind, with an animating bidding to go on with our several works. Nothing could be more simple than the state of her mind, and the expression of it,—proving that she so knew how to live as to find nothing strange in dying.
I was present at the introduction into the new country of the spectacle of the German Christmas-tree. My little friend Charley, and three companions, had been long preparing for this pretty show. The cook had broken her eggs carefully in the middle for some weeks past, that Charley might have the shells for cups; and these cups were gilt and coloured very prettily. I rather think it was, generally speaking, a secret out of the house; but I knew what to expect. It was a New-Year's tree, however; for I could not go on Christmas-eve; and it was kindly settled that New-Year's-eve would do as well. We were sent for before dinner; and we took up two round-faced boys by the way. Early as it was, we were all so busy that we could scarcely spare a respectful attention to our plum-pudding. It was desirable that our preparations should be completed before the little folks should begin to arrive; and we were all engaged in sticking on the last of the seven dozen of wax-tapers, and in filling the gilt egg-cups, and gay paper cornucopiæ with comfits, lozenges, and barley-sugar. The tree was the top of a young fir, planted in a tub, which was ornamented with moss. Smart, dolls, and other whimsies, glittered in the evergreen; and there was not a twig; which had not something sparkling upon it. When the sound of wheels was heard, we had just finished; and we shut up the tree by itself in the front drawing-room, while we went into the other, trying to look as if nothing was going to happen. Charley looked a good deal like himself, only now and then twisting himself about in an unaccountable fit of giggling. It was a very large party; for besides the tribes of children, there were papas and mammas, uncles, aunts, and elder sisters. When all were come, we shut out the cold: the great fire burned clearly; the tea and coffee were as hot as possible, and the cheeks of the little ones grew rosier, and their eyes brighter every moment. It had been settled that, in order to cover our designs, I was to resume my vocation of teaching Christmas games after tea, while Charley's mother and her maids went to light up the front room. So all found seats, many of the children on the floor, for Old Coach. It was difficult to divide even an American stage-coach into parts enough for every member of such a party to represent one: but we managed it without allowing any of the elderly folks to sit out. The grand fun of all was to make the clergyman and an aunt or two get up and spin round. When they were fairly practised in the game, I turned over my story to a neighbour, and got away to help to light up the tree.
It really looked beautiful; the room seemed in a blaze; and the ornaments were so well hung on that no accident happened, except that one doll's petticoat caught fire. There was a sponge tied to the end of a stick to put out any supernumerary blaze; and no harm ensued. I mounted the steps behind the tree to see the effect of opening the doors. It was delightful. The children poured in; but in a moment, every voice was hushed. Their faces were upturned to the blaze, all eyes wide open, all lips parted, all steps arrested. Nobody spoke; only Charley leaped for joy. The first symptom of recovery was the children's wandering round the tree. At last, a quick pair of eyes discovered that it bore something eatable; and from that moment the babble began again. They were told that they might get what they could without burning themselves; and we tall people kept watch, and helped them with good things from the higher branches. When all had had enough, we returned to the larger room, and finished the evening with dancing. By ten o'clock, all were well warmed for the ride home with steaming mulled wine, and the prosperous evening closed with shouts of mirth. By a little after eleven, Charley's father and mother and I were left by ourselves to sit in the New Year. I have little doubt the Christmas-tree will become one of the most flourishing exotics of New England.
The sky-sights of the colder regions of the United States are resplendent in winter. I saw more of the aurora borealis, more falling stars and other meteors during my stay in New England than in the whole course of my life before. Every one knows that splendid and mysterious exhibitions have taken place in all the Novembers of the last four years, furnishing interest and business to the astronomical world. The most remarkable exhibitions were in the Novembers of 1833 and 1835,—the last of which I witnessed.
The persons who saw the falling stars of the 14th of November, 1833, were few; but the sight was described to me by more than one. It was seen chiefly by masters of steam-boats, watchmen, and sick nurses. The little children of a friend of mine, who happened to sleep with their heads near a window, surprised their father in the morning with the question what all those sparks were that had been flying about in the night. Several country people, on their way to early market, saw the last of the shower. It is said that some left their carts, and kneeled in the road, thinking that the end of the world was come;—a very natural persuasion; for the spectacle must have been much like the heavens falling to pieces. About nine o'clock in the evening, several persons observed that there was an unusual number of falling stars; and went home, thinking no more about it. Others were surprised at the increase by eleven, but went to rest, notwithstanding. Those who were up at four, saw the grandest sight. There were then three kinds of lights in the heaven, besides the usual array of stars. There were shooting points of light, all directed from one centre to the circuit of the horizon, much resembling a thick shower of luminous snow. There were luminous bodies which hung dimly in the air: and there were falling fire-balls, some of which burst, while others went out of sight. These were the meteors which were taken by the ignorant for the real stars, falling from the sky. One was seen, apparently larger than the full moon; and they shed so bright a light that the smallest objects became distinctly visible. One luminous body was like a serpent, coiling itself up; another “like a square table;” another like a pruning-hook. Those which burst left trains of light behind them, some tinged with the prismatic colours. The preceding day had been uncommonly warm for the season: but before morning the frost was of an intensity very rare for the month of November. The temperature of the whole season was unusual. Throughout November and December, it was so warm about the Northern lakes that the Indians were making maple sugar at Mackinaw, while the orange trees were cut off by the frost in Louisiana. A tremendous succession of gales at the same time set in along the Eastern coast. Those may explain these mysteries who can.
It is exceedingly easy to laugh at men who, created to look before and after, walking erect, with form “express and admirable” under the broad canopy of heaven, yet contrive to miss the sights which are hung out in the sky: but which of us does not deserve to be thus laughed at? How many nights in the year do we look up into the heavens? How many individuals of a civilized country see the stars on any one night of the year? Some of my friends and I had a lesson on this, during the last April I spent in America. I was staying at a house in the upper part of New York. My host and hostess had three guests at dinner that day,—three persons sufficiently remarkable for knowing how to use their eyes,—Miss Sedgwick, Mr. Bryant, and the author of the Palmyra Letters. During dinner, we amused ourselves with pitying some persons who had actually walked abroad on the night of the last 17th of November without seeing the display. Our three friends walked homewards together, two miles down Broadway, and did exactly the same thing,—failed to look up while an aurora borealis, worthy of November, was illuminating the heavens. We at home failed to look out, and missed it too. The next time we all met, we agreed to laugh at ourselves before we bestowed any more of our pity upon others.
On the 17th of November in question, that of 1835, I was staying in the house of one of the Professors of Harvard University, at Cambridge. The Professor and his son John came in from a lecture at nine o'clock, and told us that it was nearly as light as day, though there was no moon. The sky presented as yet no remarkable appearance; but the fact set us telling stories of sky-sights. A venerable Professor told us of a blood-red heaven which shone down on a night of the year 1789; when an old lady interpreted the whole French revolution from what she saw. None of us had any call to prophesying, this night. John looked out from time to time while we were about the piano; but our singing had come to a conclusion before he brought us news of a very strange sky. It was now near eleven. We put cloaks and shawls over our heads, and hurried into the garden. It was a mild night, and about as light as with half a moon. There was a beautiful rose-coloured flush across the entire heaven, from south-east to north-west. This was every moment brightening, contracting in length, and dilating in breadth. My host ran off, without his hat, to call the Natural Philosophy Professor. On the way, he passed a gentleman who was trudging along, pondering the ground. “A remarkable night, sir,” cried my host. “Sir! how, sir?” replied the pedestrian. “Why, look above your head!” The startled walker ran back to the house he had left, to make every body gaze. There was some debate about ringing the college-bell; but it was agreed that it would cause too much alarm.
The Natural Philosophy Professor came forth, in curious trim: and his household and ours joined in the road. One lady was in her night-cap; another with a handkerchief tied over her head, while we were cowled in cloaks. The sky was now resplendent. It was like a blood-red dome, a good deal pointed. Streams of a greenish white light radiated from the centre in all directions. The colours were so deep, especially the red, as to give an opaque appearance to the canopy; and as Orion and the Pleiades, and many more stars could be distinctly seen, the whole looked like a vast dome inlaid with constellations. These sky sights make one shiver,—so new are they, so splendid, so mysterious. We saw the heavens grow pale, and before midnight believed that the mighty show was over; but we had the mortification of hearing afterwards that at one o'clock it was far brighter than ever, and as light as day.
Such are some of the wintry characteristics of New England.
If I lived in Massachusetts, my residence during the hot months should be beside one of its ponds. These ponds are a peculiarity in New England scenery, very striking to the traveller. Geologists tell of the time when the valleys were chains of lakes; and in many parts the eye of the observer would detect this without the aid of science. There are many fields, and clusters of fields, of remarkable fertility, lying in basins, the sides of which have much the appearance of the greener and smoother of the dykes of Holland. These suggest the idea of their having been ponds at the first glance. Many remain filled with clear water,—the prettiest meres in the world. A cottage on Jamaica Pond, for instance, within an easy ride of Boston, is a luxurious summer abode. I know of one, unequalled in its attractions,—with its flower garden, its lawn, with banks shelving down to the mere; banks dark with rustling pines, from under whose shade the bright track of the moon may be seen, lying cool on the rippling waters. A boat is moored in the cove at hand. The cottage itself is built for coolness; and its broad piazza is draperied with vines, which keep out the sun from the shaded parlours.
The way to make the most of a summer's day in a place like this is to rise at four, mount your horse, and ride through the lanes for two hours, finding breakfast ready on your return. If you do not ride, you slip down to the bathing-house, on the creek; and, once having closed the door, have the shallow water completely to yourself, carefully avoiding going beyond the deep water-mark, where no one knows how deep the mere may be. After breakfast you should dress your flowers, before those you gather have quite lost the morning dew. The business of the day, be it what it may, housekeeping, study, teaching, authorship, or charity, will occupy you till dinner at two. You have your dessert carried into the piazza, where, catching glimpses of the mere through the wood on the banks, your water-melon tastes cooler than within, and you have a better chance of a visit from a pair of humming-birds. You retire to your room, all shaded with green blinds, lie down with a book in your hand, and sleep soundly for two hours at least. When you wake and look out, the shadows are lengthening; on the lawn, and the hot haze has melted away. You hear a carriage behind the fence, and conclude that friends from the city are coming to spend the evening with you. They sit within till after tea, telling you that you are living in the sweetest place in the world. When the sun sets, you all walk out, dispersing in the shrubbery, or on the banks. When the moon shows herself above the opposite woods, the merry voices of the young people are heard from the cove, where the boys are getting out the boat. You stand, with a companion or two, under the pines, watching the progress of the skiff, and the receding splash of the oars. If you have any one, as I had, to sing German popular songs to you, the enchantment is all the greater. You are capriciously lighted home by fire-flies; and there is your table covered with fruit and iced lemonade. When your friends have left you, you would fain forget it is time to rest; and your last act before you sleep is to look out once more from your balcony upon the silvery mere and moon-lit lawn.
The only times when I felt disposed to quarrel with the inexhaustible American mirth was on the hottest days of summer. I liked it as well as ever; but European strength will not stand more than an hour or two of laughter in such seasons. I remember one day when the American part of the company was as much exhausted as the English. We had gone, a party of six, to spend a long day with a merry household in a country village; and, to avoid the heat, had performed the journey of sixteen miles before ten o'clock. For three hours after our arrival, the wit was in full flow; by which time we were all begging for mercy, for we could laugh no longer with any safety. Still, a little more fun was dropped all round, till we found that the only way was to separate; and we all turned out of doors. I cannot conceive how it is that so little has been heard in England of the mirth of the Americans: for certainly nothing in their manners struck and pleased me more. One of the rarest characters among them, and a great treasure to all his sportive neighbours, is a man who cannot take a joke.
The prettiest playthings of summer are the humming-birds. I call them playthings because they are easily tamed, and are not very difficult to take care of for a time. It is impossible to attend to book, work, or conversation, while there is a humming-bird in sight; its exercises and vagaries are so rapid and beautiful. Its prettiest attitude is vibrating before a blossom which is tossed in the wind. Its long beak is inserted in the flower, and the bird rises and falls with it, quivering its burnished wings with dazzling rapidity. My friend E, told me how she had succeeded in taming a pair. One flew into the parlour where she was sitting, and perched. E's sister stepped out for a branch of honeysuckle, which she stuck up over the mirror. The other bird followed, and, the pair alighted on the branch, flew off, and returned to it. E, procured another branch, and held it on the top of her head; and hither also the little creatures came without fear. She next held it, in her hand, and still they hovered and settled. They bore being shut in for the night, a nest of cotton-wool being provided. Of course it was impossible to furnish them with honeysuckles enough for food; and sugar and water was tried, which they seemed to relish very well. One day, however, when E, was out of the room, one of the little creatures was too greedy in the saucer; and when E, returned, she found it lying on its side, with its wings stuck to its body, and its whole little person clammy with sugar. E, tried a sponge and warm water; it was too harsh: she tried old linen, but it was not soft enough: it then occurred to her that the softest of all substances is the human tongue. In her love for her little companion, she thus cleansed it, and succeeded perfectly, so far as the outward bird was concerned. But though it attempted to fly a little, it never recovered, but soon died of its surfeit. Its mate was, of course, allowed to fly away.
Some Boston friends of mine, a clergyman and his wife, told me of a pleasant summer adventure which they had,—quite against their will. The lady had been duly inoculated or vaccinated, (I forget which.) in her childhood, but nevertheless had the smallpox, in a way, after her marriage. She was slightly feverish, and a single spot appeared on her hand. The physician declared “that is it,” and, as good citizens are bound to do, they gave information of this fearful smallpox to the authorities. The lady and her husband were ordered into quarantine: the city coach came for them, and they were transported to the wharf, and then to the little quarantine island in the harbour, where they spent a particularly pleasant week. My friend was getting well when she went, and she was quite able to enjoy the charms of her new residence. Her husband read to her in the piazza as she worked: he bathed, and was spared a Sunday's preaching; she looked abroad over the sea, and laughed as often as she imagined what their friends supposed their situation to be. They had the establishment all to themselves, except that there was a tidy Scotchwoman to wait on them. Was ever quarantine so performed before?
The reader may think, at the end of this chapter, that there is something far more pleasant than worthy of complaint in the extremes of the seasons in the United States. It would be so if health were not endangered by them; but the incessant regard to the physical welfare which prudence requires is a great drawback to ease and pleasure; and the failure of health, which is pretty sure to come, sooner or later, is a much worse. In my own opinion, the dullest climate and scenery may be turned to more pleasurable account by vigour of body and mind, than all the privileges of American variety and beauty by languid powers. All that the people of New England can do is to make the best of their case. Those who are blessed with health should use every reasonable endeavour to keep it; and it may be hoped that an improved settlement and cultivation of the country will carry on that amelioration of its climate, which many of its inhabitants are assured has already begun.