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Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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|Board, including furniture, washing and attendance||100|
|Fuel and candles||15|
|Rent of half a dormitory||8|
|Use of the library and public rooms||15|
|Fees to professors, say||75|
exclusive of books and stationery, clothing and pocket-money. The students wear a uniform, which is very becoming, and not at all conspicuous being merely a coat of particularly simple fashion, and dark colour.
Of the 206 students whom I had the pleasure of seeing, 151 belonging to the State; 5 came from the Northern States; and the rest from the South and West; 6 from South Carolina, though there are colleges both at Charleston and Columbia. Professor Patterson spoke of the youths among whom he was living as being as steady and promising a set of young men as could be met with. We heard afterwards a somewhat different account in a stage coach: but, of course, the testimony of a resident professor is worth much more than that of two chance travellers; and all that I saw of the appearance and manners of the students was very creditable to the institution. Every student visits each professor's house twice in the session; once to dinner, and once to a ball; and, I suppose, as much oftener as he may be asked. The session lasts ten months; the vacation being in the hot months of July and August.
The distinctive principle of this University is that each student is free to attend the schools of his choice, and no others; provided that, being under twenty-one years of age, he shall attend at least three professors. The professors highly approve of this arrangement, finding that it enables young men to qualify themselves rapidly and effectually for particular callings, in cases where time is valuable; and that the youths put givour into tyheir pursuits, in proportion as they are free, within a reasonable limit, to gratify their tastes, and fulfil their own purposes, in the choice of their studies.
There are nine professorships; and in each school there are three regular lectures a-week, besides the instructions suited to the several classes into which the school is divided. The Professors, when I was there, were—
Professor Harrison; Ancient Languages and History. This gentleman must find himself fully occupied. He was the sole instructor, that session, of 75 young men in Latin and Greek, and, of such as desired it, in Hebrew. His qualifications are understood to be of a very high order.
Professor Blœttermann had 64 pupils in Modern Languages; viz., French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Anglo-Saxon: and was ready to teach, more over, the Danish, Swedish; Dutch, and Portuguese language.
Professor Bonnycastle (Mathematics) had a large attendance, consisting of 109, divided into five classes, beginning with the theory of Arithmetic, and concluding the course of pure Mathematics with the Integral Calculus. There is, moreover, a class of Mixed Mathematics, for such of the more advanced students as choose to pursue it; and another of Civil Engineering.
Professor Patterson undertakes the Natural Philosophy, having an attendance of 73 pupils. The apparatus provided for the use of this school is very extensive and complete; and an observatory, with the necessary astronomical instruments, is open to the students.
Professor Emmet, Chemistry and Materia Medica; 89 pupils.
Professor Magill, Medicine; 41 pupils.
Professor Warner, Anatomy and Surgery; 44 pupils. An extensive musseum is attached to the Medical Department; and the anatomical school is regularly supplied with subjects, from which the lectures are delivered. The advantage claimed for this above all other medical schools in the country is that it session lasts ten months instead of four.
Professor Tucker, Moral Philosophy; 67 pupils, who are divided into two classes: the examinations of the junior class being in Rhetoric, Belles Lettres, Logic, and Ethics, from the Professor's lectures, Blair's and Campbell's Rhetoric, and Stewart's “Active and Moral Powers.” The senior class studies Mental Philosophy, and Political Economy; and the examinations are from the Professor's lectures. Brown's Lectures: Say's and Adam Smith's Political Economy.
Professor Davis. Law; 48 pupils. The students of this school have instituted a Law Society, at whose meetings the Professor presides, and where the business of every branch of the profession is rehearsed.
Three honorary distinctions are conferred in this University; a Certificate of Proficiency, conferred by the faculty on any proficient in a particular branch of study: that of Graduate in any school, and the third, of Master of Arts of the University of Virginia, is obtained by graduation, in the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Moral Philosophy. All these are obtained when deserved, and not in consequence of any prescribed term of study having been gone through. The title of Doctor of Medicine is conferred on the graduate in the Medical Department. The certificates and diplomas are delivered in the presence of all the members of the University, and of the public, on the last day of the session, in the Rotunda, amidst many observances and rites.
It will be observed that there is no Theological professorship. It was noticed by the religious North, at the time of the foundation of the University, that this was probably the first instance in the world of such an establishment exhibiting this kind of deficiency: and the experiment was denounced as a very hazardous one. The result seems to have been that, while theological instruction has been obtainable elsewhere, a greater number and variety of young men, of different religious persuasions, have been educated at this institution than would have been likely to resort to it if it had, by the choice of theological professor, identified itself with any single denomination. The reasons for the omission of professorship of Divinity are stated in the first Report of the Commissioners who met in August, 1818, at Rockfish Gap, on the Blue Ridge, for the purpose of organizing the plans of this institution. Jefferson was understood to be the author of the Report, which contains the following passage:
“In conformity with the principles of our constitution, which places all sects of religion on an equal footing; with the jealousy of the different sects, in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise; and with the sentiments of the legislature, in favour of freedom of religion, manifested on former occasions, we have proposed no professor of Divinity: and the rather, as the proofs of the being of a God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of the universe, the Author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer, will be within the province of the professor of Ethics; to which, adding the developments of those moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, a basis will be formed, common to all sects. Proceeding thus far without offence to the constitution, we have thought it proper at this point to leave ever sect to provide, as they think fittest, the means of further instruction in their own peculiar tenets.”
There are no daily public prayers at this institution; but there are regular services on Sundays, administered by clergymen of the four denominations, in turns of a year each. These clergymen officiate on the invitation of the professors, officers, and students. The attendance upon public worship is purely voluntary; and, as might be expected as a consequence, it is regular and complete.
This institution may well be called Jefferson's University. The first conception was his; the whole impulse and direction; the scheme of its studies, and the organization of its government. His letters to his intimate friends, during the last five years of his life, breathe a rational ardour about this enterprise which is very animating to those connected with the University, and which affords a fine stimulus to the students who are daily reminded of what they owe to him, and what were his expectations from them. “I fear not to say,” he writes, “that within twelve or fifteen years from this time, (1825) a majority of the rulers of our State will have been educated here. They shall carry hence the correct principles of our day; and you may count assuredly that they will exhibit their country in a degree of sound respectability it has never known, either in our days, or those of our forefathers. I cannot live to see it. My joy must only be that of anticipation.” In his last letter to Madison, a few months later, he says, “And if I remove beyond the reach of attentions to the University, or beyond the bourne of life itself, as I soon must, it is a comfort to leave that institution under your care, and an assurance that it will not be wanting.”
The following passage in the same letter renders strangers curious to learn the politics of the University. “In the selection of our Law Professor, we must be rigourously attentive to his political principles. You will recollect that, before the Revolution, Coke-Littleton was the universal elementary book of law students; and a sounder whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English liberties. You remember also, that our lawyers were then all whigs. But when his black-letter text, and uncouth but cunning learning got out of fashion, and the honied Mansfieldism of Blackstone became the student's horn-book, from that moment, that profession (the nursery of our Congress) began to slide into torysim, and nearly all the young brood of lawyers now are of that hue. They suppose themselves, indeed, to be whigs, because they no longer know what whigism or republicanism means. It is in our seminary that that vestal flame is to be kept alive; it is thence to spread anew over our own and the sister States.” On inquiry I found that, out of the 206 students, 7 held the principles of the democratic party. There seemed to be little or none of the federalism of the North; but a strong attachment to Calhoun on the part of the majority in the establishment. The evil influences of slavery have entered in to taint the work of the great champion of freedom. The political attachments of this once democratic institution are to the leader who, in order to uphold slavery, would, to judge him by himself, establish a Lacedemonian government throughout the South; making every white man a soldier, in order to preserve a false idea of honour, and to obviate danger from the oppressed servile class. To observing eyes it appears plain that the hour is approaching when these young men must, like all other American men, choose their part, and enter decisively into struggle, to maintain or overthrow the first principles of freedom. It will then be seen whether “the vestal flame” has been kept alive, or whether the name of him who cherished it has been honoured with mere lip-worship, while the labours of his latter years have been despised and undone. The eyes of the world will be fixed on Jefferson's University during the impending conflict between slave-holders and freemen.
To return to our Sunday afternoon. It was known that we should soon arrive at the University with our letters of introduction; and a truly hospitable welcome was prepared for us. We called first at Professor Patterson's, where we found ourselves, in half an hour, as much at home as if we had been acquainted for months. We were obliged to decline taking up our abode there at once; but promised to return the next morning, and remain for as long a time as we could spare. Professor Tucker, long known in England, and at present more extensively so, through his very acceptable Life of Jefferson, was recovering from an illness which confined him to his room, and sent to ask me to visit him there. I was glad that he was well enough to see me; and that I had thus the benefit of a good deal of his lively, sensible, and earnest conversation.
A great disappointment awaited our rising on the Monday morning. On the Sunday afternoon the sun had been so hot that we threw off our shawls. The next morning we looked out upon a snow-storm. There was, from the beginning, no hope of our getting to Monticello. Jefferson's house upon the mountain was actually in sight and there was no possibility of our reaching it: and we were obliged to satisfy ourselves with the traces we found of him about the University. Professor Patterson's carriage came for us early, and we passed a morning of the liveliest gossip with the ladies and children of the family, while the Professors were engaged in their duties. The frankness of the whole society was particularly winning; and so was the cordiality among themselves; a degree of mutual good understanding which is seldom found in the small society of a college, village-like in its seclusion and leisure, with added temptations to jealousy and censoriousness. The ladies of Professor Patterson's family gave me a spirited and amiable description of their arrival as strangers at the University, and of the zeal and kind consideration with which they were welcomed and aided on every hand. Two facts struck me, in the course of our feminine talk on the subject of housekeeping; that chickens are there to be had for a dollar a dozen; plump fowls ready for the fire: and that Mrs. Patterson's coachman, a slave, could read. These ladies, seeing apparently only domestic slaves, kindly treated like their own, spoke lightly on the great subject, asking me if I did not think the slaves were happy: but their husbands used a very different tone, observing, with gloom, that it was a dark question every way.
Four of the Professors, and two or three students, fine, well-mannered young men, joined us at dinner; and many ladies, and others of the Professors, in the evening. I was amused and gratified by the interest shown in the living authors of England, especially the ladies. Every particular that I could tell about Mrs. Somerville and Mrs. Marcet was eagerly listened to. The Herschel family, Mr. Malthus, and many more, were fully and affectionately discussed. The great treat of the evening to me was a long conversation with Professor Hamilton on the German language and literature, and on the mutual criticism of the Germans and the English. He offered a comparison of the genius of the Greek and German languages, which, for want of sufficient learning, I do not pretend to appreciate, but which impressed me strongly with admiration of his powers of conversation.
One of the ladies took an opportunity of asking me privately to request leave to attend a lecture with the Natural Philosophy class, in the morning. Ladies are excluded by rule: but she thought that the rule might for once be infringed without injury, in the case of foreign ladies. The Professor kindly made no difficulty; and my prompter highly enjoyed her single opportunity.
We breakfasted before eight, and went immediately to survey the large building,—the Rotunda. First we saw the library, a well-chosen collection of books, the list of which was made out by Jefferson. The students read in the Rotunda, and take out books by order. In the gallery, above the books, the mineralogical collection, belonging to Professor Patterson, is arranged, and open to observation. Higher up still is a whispering gallery. The lecture to which we were admitted was on Heat. It was clear, fluent, and entertaining. The young men appeared to be good listeners; some wrote down almost all they heard; and many asked questions of the Professor at the conclusion of the lecture.
Mr. Tucker begged us to go to his chamber to luncheon, as he was still unable to venture out of it. We had a delightful hour there. The sick gentleman's room was crowded with guests, all busy with question and remark, our time being short, and the quantity we had to say, like old friends in a brief meeting, being inexhaustible. A serious request was made to us that we would stay a month, giving up a portion of our southern journey in exchange for the good offices of the University. We could not possibly do this; but there can be no doubt of what our enjoyment would have been, during a whole month of intimate intercourse with such stirring people as this graceful, kindly little society is composed of. Having said all that so many tongues could, in an hour's time, about the Theory of Rent, Colonel Thompson, and Mr. Malthus; the value of public censure and eulogy; Mrs. Somerville again, Philadelphia ale, American politics, and a hundred other things, we were obliged to go. Keepsakes of the ladies' work were put into our hands, and packets of sandwiches into the carriage; and a party escorted us to our inn, bad as the weather was. Letters of introduction were hastily prepared, and sent after us; and during our whole visit nothing was omitted which could concern our comfort, or enhance our pleasure. As I cast my last look from the window of the stage towards the University, it was with less regret than pleasurable astonishment at my own experience of the speed with which it is possible for foreign minds to communicate, and lasting regard to be established.[Back to Table of Contents]
COUNTRY LIFE IN THE SOUTH.
- “For Nature here
- Wantoned as in her prime, and played at will
- Her virgin fancies.”
“These views of the degradation of the Southern States receive a melancholy and impressive confirmation from the general aspect and condition of the country, viewed in contrast with its former prosperity. With natural advantages more bountiful than were ever dispensed by a kind Providence to any other people upon the face of the globe, there is, from the mountains to the sea-coast, cay.”—Southern Review, vol. ii., p. 513.
There was no end to the kind cautions given me against travelling through the Southern States; not only on account of my opinions on -slavery, but because of the badness of the roads, and the poverty of the wayside accommodations. There was so much of this, that my companion and I held a consultation one day, in our room at Washington, spreading out the map, and surveying the vast extent of country we proposed to traverse before meeting my relatives at New Orleans. We found that neither was afraid; and afterwards that there was no cause for fear, except to persons who are annoyed by irregularity and the absence of comfort. The evil prognostications went on multiplying as we advanced: but we learned to consider them as mere voices on the mountain of our enterprise, which must not deter us from accomplishing it. We had friends to visit at Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina; Augusta, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; and Mobile. At Richmond we were cautioned about the journey into South Carolina: at Charleston we met with dreadful reports of travelling in Georgia: in Georgia people spoke of the horrors of Alabama, and so on: and, after all, nothing could well be easier than the whole undertaking. I do not remember a single difficulty that occurred, all the way. There was much fatigue, of course. In going down from Richmond to Charleston, with a party of friends, we were nine days on the road, and had only three nights rest. Throughout the journey, we were obliged to accommodate ourselves to the stage hours, setting off sometimes in the evening, sometimes at midnight; or, of all uncomfortable seasons, at two or three in the morning. On a journey of many days, we had to inform ourselves of the longest time that the stage would stop at a supping or breakfasting place, so that we might manage to snatch an hour's sleep. While the meal was preparing, it was my wont to lie down and doze, in spite of hunger: if I could find a bed or sofa, it was well: if not, I could wrap myself in my cloak, and make a pillow on the floor of my carpet-bag. I found that a sleep somewhat louder than this, when I could go to bed for two hours, was more fatiguing than refreshing. The being waked up at two, when I had lain down at midnight, was the greatest discomfort I experienced. But little sleep can be obtained in the stage, from the badness of the roads. It was only when quite wearied out that I could forget myself for an hour or two, amidst the joltings and rollings of the vehicle. In Alabama, some of the passengers in the stage were Southern gentlemen, coming from New York, in comparison with whose fatigues ours were nothing. I think they had then travelled eleven days and nights, with very short intervals of rest; and the badness of the roads at the end of a severe winter had obliged them to walk a good deal. They looked dreadfully haggard and nervous; and we heard afterwards that one of them had become incessantly convulsed in the face, after we had left them. It is not necessary, of course, to proceed without stopping, in such a way as this; but it is necessary to be patient of fatigue to travel in the South at all.
Yet I was very fond of these long journeys. The traveller (if he be not an abolitionist) is perfectly secure of good treatment; and fatigue and indifferent fare are the only evils which need be anticipated. The toils of society in the cities were so great to me that I generally felt my spirits rise when our packing began; and, the sorrow of parting with kind hosts once over, the prospect of a journey of many days was a very cheerful one. The novelty and the beauty of the scenery seemed inexhaustible; and the delightful American stages, open or closed all round at the will of the traveller, allow of everything being seen.
The American can conceive of nothing more dismal than a pine-barren, on a rainy day: but the profound tranquillity made it beautiful to me, whose rainy days have been almost all passed in cities, amidst the rumbling of hackney-coaches, the clink of pattens, the gurgle of spouts, and the flitting by of umbrellas. It is very different in the pine-barrens. The sandy soil absorbs the rain, so that there is no mud: the pines stand meekly drooping, as if waiting to be fed: the drip is noiseless: and the brooks and pools are seen bubbling clear, or quietly filling, while not a wing cleaves the-air, each bird nestling in the covert of its domestic tree. When the rain ceases, towards evening, the whole region undergoes a change. If a parting ray from the west pierces the woods, the stems look lilac in the moist light; the vines glitter before they shake off their last drops; the red-bird startles the eye; the butterflies come abroad in clouds; the frogs grow noisy, and all nature wakens up fresh as from her siesta. The planter may be seen on his pacing while horse, in a glade of the wood; or superintending the negroes who are repairing the fence of his estate. One black holds the large dibble, with which the holes for the stakes are made; others are warming their bands at the fire which blazes on the ground:—many hands to do slovenly work. While any light is left, the driver is apt to shorten his road by cutting across a knoll, instead of winding round it: and then the wheels are noiseless on the turf; the branches crash as the vehicle is forced between the trees; and the wood-pigeons, frightened from their roost, flutter abroad.
When the sun has gone down, all is still within the stage: the passengers grow drowsy, unless hunger keeps them awake. Each one nods upon his neighbour's shoulder, till a red light, gradually illuminating all the faces, and every moment growing brighter, rouses the dullest. Each tells somebody else that we are coming to a fire in the woods. First there are lines of little yellow flames on each side the path:—the blazing up of twigs too dry to have been made incombustible by the morning's rain. Then there is a pond of red fire on either hand; and pillars of light rising from it.—tall burning stems, throwing out jets of flame on all sides, or emitting a flood of sparks when touched by the night breeze. The succeeding darkness is intense. The horses seem to feel it; for they slacken to a foot-pace, and the grazing of a wheel against a pine-stem, or the zigzag motion of the vehicle, intimates that the driver's eyes have been dazzled. Presently the horses set off again; and the passengers sink once more into silence. They are next roused by the discordant horn of the driver, sending out as many distinct blasts as there are passengers; each blast more of a screech than the last; and the final flourish causing a shout of laughter in the coach; laughter animated a little, perhaps, by the prospect of supper. Right or left, soon appears the log-house, its open shutters and door giving token that a large fire is blazing within. The gentlemen hand out the ladies at the door, and then stand yawning and stretching, or draw to the fire while they can.—before the ladies take possession of the best place. The hostess, who is busy cooking, points to a lamp, with which the ladies light themselves to her chamber, to put up their hair under their bonnets for the night. Little impish blacks peep and grin from behind the stove, or shine in the heat of the chimney-earner. If any one of them has ever received a compliment on his dexterity, he serves with most ostentations bustle, his eyes wide open, his row of white teeth all in sight, and his little body twisting about; with every affectation of activity. An observer may see some fun going on behind the mistress's back; a whisk of the carrying knife across a companion's throat; or a flourish of two plates like cymbals over the head.
At last, supper is ready:—the broiled venison, the ham collops and eggs, and apple sauce; the infusion which is called tea or coffee; and the reeking corn-bread. Before the clatter of knives had ceases, the stage, with its fresh horses, is at the door; the ladies snatch a final warming, while the driver finishes his protracted meal, their eyes, being now at liberty to study the apartment, looking round for some other object than the old story.—the six Presidents who smile from the walls of almost every log-house in American, and the great map of the United States, with a thumb-mark. amounting to an erasure, on the spot of the very territory where this particular log-house happens to be. If we wanted to consult a map in a hurry, in such places as these, we never had to hunt out our present situation. There was always the worn spot, to serve as the center to our investigations. The passengers, however wearily they might have descended from the stage, are pretty sure to enter it again with a spring.—warm and satisfied, with a joke on their tongues, and a good supper to sleep or muse upon.
The sleep seldom lasts long. however. You are sure to come to a creek, where nobody has ever erected a bridge, or where a freshet has carried one away, and no measure have been taken to rebuild it. With drowsy groans, the passengers rouse themselves, and get out at the driver's bidding, under the cold stars, or the drifting clouds. The ladies slip on their India-rubber shoes; for their first step may be into soft mud. They stand upon a bank, if there be one, in order not to be run over in the dark; while the scow shows by the reflection of the light at her bow where the river is. When she touches the bank, the driver calls to everybody to keep out of the way, cracks his whip, and drives his lumbering carriage down the bank, and into the scow: the passengers follow; the scow is unchained, and the whole load is pushed across the stream, or pulled, if it happens to be a rope-ferry. When the expected shock tells you that have arrived at the other side, the driver again cracks his whip, and the horses scramble. If, they should refuse to mount the steep bank, and back a step upon the passengers instead, every one would infallibly be driven into the river. A delicate coaxing is therefore employed; and I imagine the animals must be aware what a ticklish thing any freak of theirs would be in such a situation; for I never know them decline mounting the bank, without a single back step.
If the team bolt, or other fastening of equal consequence should happen to break, there is a chance of two hours rest, or so. Something snaps; the vehicle stops; the gentlemen get out; the ladies gaze from the windows, while somebody half-dressed comes out with a lantern from any dwelling that may be in sight, and goes back again for hammer and nail, or, at worst, a piece of cord: and you proceed at a slow foot-pace, to the nearest hotel. There, the slaves, roused from the floor, where they are lying like dogs, go winking about, putting fresh logs on the smoldering fire, and lighting a lamp or two. After repeated inquiries on the part of the ladies, who feel the first miuntes of their two hours slipping away without any promise of rest, a female slave at last appears, staring as if she had never seen any body before. The ladies have already taken out nightcap, soap and towel from their carpet-bags. They motion the woman up-stairs, and follow her. They find the water-jug, if there be one, empty, of course. With coaxing, they get the attendant to fill it. Long after they are undressed, it comes, clear or “sort o' muddy,” as may be. If there are no sheets, or yellow ones, the ladies spread their dressing-gowns over the bed, and use their cloaks for a covering. As soon as they have lain down, a draught begins to blow in the strangest way on the top of their heads. They examine, and find a broken window behind the bed. They wrap up their heads, and lie down again. AS soon as they are fairly dreaming that they are at home, and need not get up till they please, the horn startles them, they raise their, heads, see a light under the door, and the black woman looks in to drawl out that they must please to make haste. It seems like a week since they down; but they are not rested, turn away sick and dizzy from the flickering light.
In the morning, you wonder where your fatigue is gone, As the day steals through the forest, kindling up beauty as it goes, the traveller's whole being is refreshed. The young aloes under the fallen trunks glitter with dew; the grey moss, dangling from the trees, waves in the breath of the morning. The busy little chameleons run along the fences, and the squirrel erects his brush as you pass. While the crescent moon and the morning star glittered low down in the sky, you had longed to stay the sun beneath the horizon; but now that he is come, fresh vigour and enjoyment seem to be shed down with his rays.
At such an hour, you often come up with a family departing from the spot where they had “camped out” for the night. I never had the pleasure of camping out: but I know exactly what it must be like: for I have seen establishments of this sort in every stage of the process,—from the searching out a spot blessed with a running stream, a shelter to windward, a dry soil, and plenty of fuel,—to the pilling the wagon with the pots, pans, and children, previous to starting at dawn. There is a striking air of cheer about the family when beginning their new day; leaving behind the desolation they have made; the scorched turf, the scattered brushwood, chips and meat bones, and setting forth in renewed strength in the fresh morning. I owe to these people many a picture such as will never meet my eye in the galleries of art.
Our stationary rural life in the South was various and pleasant enough: all shaded with the presence of slavery; but without any other drawback. There is something in the make-shift irregular mode of life which exists where there are slaves that is amusing when the cause is forgotten.
The waking in the morning is accomplished by two or three black women staring at you from the bed-posts. Then it is five minutes' work to get them out of the room. Perhaps before you are half dressed, you are summoned to breakfast. You look at your watch, and listen whether it has stopped; for it seems not to be seven o'clock yet. You hasten, however, and find your hostess making the coffee. The young people drop in when the meal is half done, and then it is discovered the breakfast has been served an hour too early, because the clock has stopped, and cook has ordered affairs according to her own conjectures. Every body laughs, and nothing ensues. After breakfast, a farmer in homespun,—blue trowsers and an orange-brown coat.—or all over grey,—comes to speak with your host. A drunken white has shot one of his Negroes, and he fears no punishment can be obtained, because there were no witnesses of the deed but blacks. A consultation is held whether the affair shall go into court: and before the farmer departs, he is offered cake and liqueur.
Your hostess, meantime, has given her orders, and is now engaged in a back room, or out the piazza behind the house, cutting out clothes for her slaves;—very laborious work in warm weather. There may be a pretence of lessons among the young people; and something more than pretence, if they happen to have a tutor or governess: but the probability is that their occupations are as various as their tempers. Rosa cannot be found: she is lying on the bed in her own room, reading a novel: Clara is weeping for her canary, which has flown away while she was playing with it: Alfred is trying to ascertain how soon we may all go out to ride; and the little ones are lounging about the court, with their arms round the necks of blacks, of their own size. You sit down to the piano, or to read and one slave or another enters every half hour to ask what is o'clock. Your hostess comes in, at length; and you sit down to work with her; she gratifies your curiosity about her “people;” telling you how soon they burn out their shoes at the toes, and wear out their shoes at the toes, and wear out their winter woolens, and tear up their summer cottons; and how impossible it is to get black women to learn to cut out clothes without waste; and how she never inquires when and where the whipping is done, as it is the overseer's business, and not hers. She has not been seated many minutes when she is called away, and returns saying how babyish these people are, that they will not take medicine unless she gives it to them; and how careless of each other, so that she has been obliged to stand by and see Diana put clean linen upon her infant, and to compel Bet to get her sick husband some breakfast.
Morning visitors next arrive. It may be the clergyman, with some new book that you want to look at; and inquiries whether your host sees any prospect of getting the requisite number of professors for the new college; or whether the present head of the insitution is to continue to fill all the chairs. It may be a lank judge from some raw district, with a quid in his cheek, a sword cane in his hand, and a legal doubt in his mind, which he wants your host to resolve. It may be a sensible woman, with courtesy in her countenance, and decision in her air, who is accustomed really to rule her household, and to make the host of such human material and such a human lot as are pressing around and upon her. If so, the conversation between her and your hostess becomes rapid and interesting,—full of tales of perplexity and trouble, of droll anecdotes, and serious and benevolent plans. Or it may be a lady of a different cast, who is delighted at the prospect of seeing you soon again. You look perplexed, and mention that you fear you shall be unable to return this way, O, but you will come and live here. You plead family, friends, and occupation in England,—to say nothing of England being your home. O, but you can bring your family and friends with you. You laughingly ask why. She draws up the replies, “for the honour and glory of living in a republic.”
Meantime, Clara has dried her tears, for some one has recovered her canary, and the door of the cage is shut. The carriage and saddle-horses are scrambling on the gravel before the door, and the children run in to know if they may ride with you. Cake, fruit and liqueurs, or perhaps tea, are brought in; and then the ladies depart. The clergyman thinks he will ride round with your party, hearing that you are going to inspect Mr. A.'s plantation. He warns you that it will not be “pleasant to see even the best plantations;” and your trembling heart fully agrees.
You admire the horsemanship of your host on his white horse, and the boys on their black ponies. The carriage goes at good speed, and yet the fast pace of the saddle-horses enables the party to keep together. While you are looking out upon a picturesque loghouse, peeping forth from a blossomy thicket, or admiring a splendid hedge of the Cherokee rose, in straggling bloom. Rosa rouses herself from a reverie, and asks you to tell her all about Victoria.
“What shall I tell you?”
“What religion is she? A Unitarian, I suppose, like you.”
Church of Englandism and dissent being explained, Rosa resumes, in a plaintive voice, “Is she betrothed yet?”
“Not that I know of.”
“O, I hope she is! I wish I knew! When will she be queen? When she is eighteen, won't she?—O, I thought she was to be of age, and be made queen at eighteen. How long will she be a queen?”
“As long as she lives.”
“As long as she lives! Why I thought—”
Rosa has no idea of rulers not being changed every four or eight years. Even her imagination is almost overpowered at the idea of being set above every body else for life.
The carriage stops, and you are invited to step out, and view the ravages of a tornado, a season or two ago; you see how clear a path it made for itself in the forest; and how it swept across the river, tearing down an answering gap through the tall cane-brake on the opposite bank. The prostrated trees lie sunk in swamp, half hidden by flowering reeds and bright mosses; while their stumps, twice as tall as yourself, are all cropped off, whatever may be their thickness, precisely at the same height; and so wrenched and twisted as to convince you that you never before conceived of the power of the winds. The boys show you a dry path down to the river side, that you may see the fish traps that arc laid in the stream, and watch the couples of shad fishers—dark figures amidst the flashing waters,—who are pursuing their occupation in the glare of noon. The girls tell you how father remembers the time when there were bears in that cane-brake, and there was great trouble in getting them to come out of their thick covert to be killed. When father first came here, this side of the river was all cane-brake too. Is not a cane-brake very ugly?—It may not have any picturesque beauty; but your eye rests upon it with satisfaction, as a tropical feature in the scene.
You proceed, and point out with admiration a beautifully situated dwelling, which you declare takes your fancy more than any you have seen. The children are amused that you should suppose any one lives there, overshadowed with trees as it is, so that its inhabitants would be devoured by mosquitoes. Your hostess tells you that it is called Mr. B.'s Folly. He spent a good deal of money, and much taste upon it; but it is uninhabitable from being rather too near the river. The fever appeared so immediately and decisively that the family had to leave it in three months; and there it stands, to be called B.'s Folly.
Your host paces up to the carriage window, to tell you that you arc now on A.'s plantation. You are overtaking a long train of negroes going to their work from dinner. They look all over the colour of the soil they are walking on: dusky in clothing, dusky in complexion. An old man, blacker than the rest, is indicated to you as a native African; and you point out a child so light as to make you doubt whether he be a slave. A glance at the long heel settles the matter. You feel that it would be a relief to be assured that this was a troop of monkeys dressed up for sport, rather than that these dull, shuffling animals should be human.
There is something inexpressibly disgusting in the sight of a, slave woman in the field. I do not share in the horror of the Americans at the idea of women being employed in out-door labour. It did not particularly gratify me to sec the cows always milked by men (where there were no slaves); and the hay and harvest fields would have looked brighter in my eyes if women had been there to share the wholesome and cheerful toil; But a negro woman behind the plough presents a very different object from the English mother with her children in the turnip field, or the Scotch lassie among the reapers. In her pre-eminently ugly costume, the long, scanty, dirty woollen garment, with the shabby large bonnet at the back of her head, the perspiration streaming down her dull face, the heavy tread of the splay foot, the slovenly air with which she guides her plough,—a more hideous object cannot well be conceived; unless it be the same woman at home, in the negro quarter, as the cluster of slave dwellings is called.
You are now taken to the cotton-gin, the building to your left, where you are shown how the cotton, as picked from the pods, is drawn between cylinders, so as to leave the seeds behind; and how it is afterwards packed, by hard pressure, into bales. The neighbouring creek is dammed up to supply the water-wheel by which this gin is worked. You afterwards sec the cotton-seed laid in handfuls round the stalks of the young springing corn, and used in the cotton field as manure.
Meantime, you attempt to talk with the slaves. You ask how old that very aged man is, or that boy; they will give you no intelligible answer. Slaves never know, or never will tell, their ages; and this is the reason why the census presents such extraordinary reports on this point; declaring a great number to be above a hundred rears old. If they have a kind master, they will boast to you of how much he gave for each of them, and what sums he has refused for them. If they have a hard master, they will tell you that they would have more to eat, and be less flogged, but that massa is busy, and has no time to come down, and see that they have enough to cat. Your hostess is well known on this plantation, and her kind face has been recognized from a distance; and already a negro woman has come to her with seven or eight eggs, for which she knows she shall receive a quarter dollar You follow her to the negro quarter, where yon see a tidy woman knitting, while the little children who are left in her charge are basking in the sun, or playing all kinds of anties in the road; little shining, plump, clear-eyed children, whose mirth makes you sad, when yon look round upon their parents, and see what these bright creatures arc to come to. You enter one of the dwellings, where every thing seems to be of the same dusky hue: the crib against the wall, the walls themselves, and the floor, all look one yellow. More children are crouched round the wood fire, lying almost in the embers. You see a woman pressing up against the wall, like an idiot, with her shoulder turned towards you, and her apron held up to her face. You ask what is the matter with her, and are told that she is shy. You see a woman rolling herself about in a crib, with her head tied up, You ask if she is ill, and are to told that she has not a good temper; that she struck at a girl she was jealous of with an axe; and the weapon being taken from her, she threw herself into the well, and was nearly drowned before she was taken out, with her head much hurt.
The overseer has, meantime, been telling your host about the fever having been more or less severe last season, and how well off he shall think himself if he has no more than so many days' illness this summer: how the vegetation has suffered from the late frosts, pointing out how many of the oranges have been cut off, but that the great magnolia in the centre of the court is safe. You are then invited to see the house, learning by the way the extent and value of the estate you are visiting, and of the “force” upon it. You admire the lofty, cool rooms, with their green blinds, and the width of the piazzas on both sides the house, built to compensate for the want of shade from trees, which cannot be allowed near the dwelling, for fear of mosquitoes. You visit the ice-house, and find it pretty full, the last winter having been a severe one. You learn that for three or four seasons after this ice-house was built, there was not a spike of ice in the State; and a cargo had to be imported from Massachusetts.
When you have walked in the field as long as the heat will allow, you step into the overseer's bare dwelling, within its bare enclosure, where fowls are strutting about, and refresh yourself with a small tumbler of milk,—a great luxury, which has been ordered for the party. The overseer's fishing tackle and rifle are on the wall: and there is a medicine chest, and a shelf of books. He is tall, sallow, and nonchalant, dropping nothing more about himself and his situation than that he does not know that he has had more than his share of sickness and trouble in his vocation, and so he is pretty well satisfied.
Your hostess reminds the party that they are going out to dinner, and that it is quite time to be returning to dress. So you go straight home by a shorter road, stopping no more, but looking out, now at a glorious trumpet honeysuckle dangling from a branch; now at a lefty, spreading green tree, red hot close to the ground, while a sheet of flames is spreading all about its roots, the flames looking orange and blue in the bright sunshine.
You are glad to find, on arriving at home, that you have half an hour to lie down before you dress, and are surprised, on rising, to feel how you are refreshed. You have not very far to go to dinner,—only to Mr. E.'s cottage on the Sand Hills. The E.'s have just come for the summer; the distant city being their winter residence. If you find the accommodations poor, you must excuse it, in consideration of their recent removal, The E.'s live in very good style in the city. The cottage is half way up a gentle ascent, with a deep, sandy road leading to the wooden steps of the front piazza, and pine forests in the rear. The entertainment to-day is not solely on your account: it is a parting dinner to young Mr. and Mrs. F., who are going to reside further west. They are leaving their parents and friends, and the family estate, and are to live in a loghouse, till a proper dwelling can be built. Mrs. F. is rather low in spirits, but her mother means to send the old family nurse with her; so that she will have one comfort, at any rate, and will be able to trust her infant out of her sight now and then. As for Mrs. E., she informs you that she has come out to the cottage sooner than she usually does, as she is expecting her confinement. She has all her five children in her presence always; and as she cannot trust them for an hour with her “people,” their noise and the heat would be intolerable in town; but here, where her room opens upon the piazza, she can have the children always in her sight or hearing, with less fatigue than in the city. You ask whether such a charge be not too much for her. Certainly; but there is no use in complaining, for it cannot be helped. She never had a nurse that was not more plague than use. It is not only that the servants tell the children improper things, and teach them falsehood, but it is impossible to get the little boys' faces washed without seeing it done; and the infant may, as likely as not, be dropped into the fire or out of the window. Ladies must make the best of their lot, for they cannot help themselves.
The dinner is plentiful, including, of course, turkey, ham, and sweet potatoes; excellent claret, and large blocks of ice-cream. A slave makes gentle war against the flies with the enormous bunch of peacocks' feathers: and the agitation of the air is pleasant, while the ladies are engaged in eating, so that they cannot use their own fans, which are hung by loops on the backs of their chairs. The afternoon is spent in the piazza, where coffee is served. There the ladies sit, whisking their feather fans, jesting with the children, and talking over the last English poem, or American novel; or complaining bitterly of the dreadful incendiary publications which Mr. E. heard from Mr. H., who had heard it from Mr. M., that Judge R. had said that somebody had seen circulated among the negroes, by some vile agent of the horrid abolitionists of the North.
You go in to tea, and find the table strewed with prints, and the piano open; and Mrs. F. plays and sings. The gentlemen have done discussing the French war and the currency, and are praising the conduct of the Committee of Vigilance; frankly informing you, as a stranger, of the reasons of its formation, and the modes of its operation in deterring abolitionists from coming into the neighbourhood, in arresting them oil any suspicion of tampering with the negroes, and in punishing them summarily, if any facts are established against them. While you are endeavouring to learn the nature of the crime and its evidence, you are summoned. There is going to be a storm, and your party must get home, if possible, before it comes on. In such a case, Mrs. E. will say nothing in opposition to your leaving her so early. She would not be the means of exposing you to the storm. You hasten away, and reach home during the first explosion of thunder.
You find there a bouquet, sent to you with Miss G.'s compliments; a splendid bunch of quince, yellow jessamine, arbor vitæ, hyacinths, cherry, and other blossoms. It is not nearly bed-time yet; and you sit on the sofa, fanning yourself, with the table-lamp, dimmed by the momentary glare of blue lightning. Your hostess learns from the servants that poor Miss Clara went to bed in great grief; the cat having killed her canary in the afternoon. It has been a sad day for poor Clara, from the adventures of her bird: but she is now fast asleep.
Your host amuses you with anecdotes of South country life. He asks you how you were struck with Mrs. L., whose call you returned yesterday. You reply that she seems a cheerful, hearty personage, who makes the best of a poor lot; and you relate how pleased you were at the frankness with which she owned, pointing to the stocking she was darning, that she knew little of books now-a-days, or of music, as she was making shirts and darning stockings for her sons, all the year round. You were sorry to see such evidences of poverty: chairs with broken backs, and a piano with three legs, and a cracked flute: but glad that Mrs. L. seemed able to look on the bright side of things. Your host throws himself back, and laughs for three minutes: and when he recovers, informs you that Mrs. L. is the wealthiest widow in the State. You protest that you looked upon her with respect as a meritorious widow, doing her best for a large family. Your host repeats that she is the richest widow in the State; and that she and all her family are odd about money. She has a sister in a neighbouring State, Mrs. M., who is even more bent upon economy. Last year Mrs. L. visited this sister, who lives in a country town. The sisters went out in Mrs. M.'s carriage, to make calls and do shopping. Mrs. L. observed that her sister's carriage was attended by a little mulatto girl, who let down the steps, and put them up, and mounted behind very dexterously. “The child is clever enough,” said Mrs. L.: “but, sister, your carriage should have a proper footman. You should not be seen in town with a girl behind your carriage.” Mrs. M. promised to consider the matter. The next day, a spruce mulatto lad was in waiting, of whom Mrs. L. fully approved. When she looked in his face, however, as he was letting down the steps at the entrance of a store, she was struck by his remarkable like-ness to the girl of yesterday, and observed upon it. Mrs. M. laughed, and owned she had got suit of boy's clothes made since yesterday, for the girl to wear during morning drives: and she thought this an excellent plan. Many such a story does your host amuse you with; observing that, though America has fewer humourists than England, they may be met with in abundance in rare settlements and retired districts, where they can indulge their fancies without much suffering from public opinion.
The storm abates. you are the oracle as to what o'clock it is; and, as you are confident that it is near eleven, the chamber lights are brought. You dismiss your dusky attendants, and throw yourself on your sample sofa for half an hour, to recal what yon have seen and heard this day, and meditate on the scope and tendencies of Country Life in the Southern States.[Back to Table of Contents]
CITY LIFE IN THE SOUTH.
- “Ye thus hospitably live.
- And strangers with good cheer receive.”
- “Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
- Reverbs no hollowness.”
The disasters of our railroad journey to Charleston have been described elsewhere.* We were to have arrived at the city about six P.M. of the 10th of March, when every object would have looked bright in the sunshine of a spring evening. As it was, we reached the railroad station at ten minutes past four the next morning. There was much delay in obtaining our luggage, and getting away from the station. We could not think of disturbing the slumbers of the friends whose hospitality we were about to enjoy; and we therefore proceeded in the omnibus which was in waiting, to the Planters' Hotel. We were all hungry, having scarcely tasted food since noon the day before; and very weary, having travelled the whole of two nights, and enjoyed no sufficient rest since we left Richmond, nine days before. Every little event became a great one to persons so exhausted. The omnibus jolted and stopped, and we were told that an accident had happened. The gentlemen got out, but the darkness was total. A light was brought from a private house, and it appeared that a wheel had touched the kirbstone! It seemed as if horses were never backed in Charleston, so long were we in proceeding. When I afterwards saw what the streets of Charleston are like. I did not wonder at any extreme of caution in a driver. The soil is a fine sand, which after rain turns into a most deceptive mud; and there is very little pavement yet. The deficiency of stone is, however, becoming supplied by importation, and the inhabitants hope soon to be able to walk about the city in all weathers, without danger of being lost in crossing the streets. They told me, as an on dit, that a horse was drowned, last winter, in a mud-hole, in a principal street.
At the hotel, all was dark and comfortless. We made a stir among the servants: the gentlemen got two men to light a fire, and fetch us wine and biscuits; and we persuaded two women to make up beds, and warm some water. We were foolish enough to be tempted to take wine and water, as we could have neither tea nor coffee; and when we lose from our unrefreshing sleep, an hour after noon, we formed such a dismal group of aching heads us could hardly be matched out of an hospital.
Two of us proceeded, in a light pretty buck-carriage, to the friend's house where we were expected. Nothing could be more considerate than our reception. A pile of English and American letters and newspapers awaited us; and our hostess know that we must be fatigued: a fire was therefore immediately lighted in my chamber, and we were told that the day was our own; that our dinner would be sent up to us, and that we should not be expected in the drawing-room till we chose to join the family. I shall not soon forget the refreshment of lingering over family letters and London newspapers; of feeling that we were not liable to be called up in the dark for a fortnight at least; and of seeing my clothes laid in drawers, for the first time, I think, since I landed. A chest of drawers is seldom to be seen in the chambers,—or, at least, in the guest-chambers of American houses. We were favoured in the article of closets, with rows of pegs; but I believe I had the use of a chest of drawers only two or three times during my travels.
A circumstance happened this day, which, as being illustrative of manners, may be worth relating. The day before I left Richmond, Virginia, two companions and myself had employed a hack-carriage, driven by a black, for some hours; and on dismissing had paid the fare, which we thought reasonable.—two dollars and a half. The proprietor of the carriage, and master of the driver, had by some means heard who it was that had been his customer. Finding that I had left Richmond, he took the trouble to send the two dollars and a half down to Charleston. five hundred miles, with a message that it was not for the honour of Virginia that I should pay carriage hire! and the money was awaiting me on my arrival.
I had soon reason to perceive that Charleston deserves its renown for hospitality. A lecturer on phrenology sent us tickets for his course: six carriages were immediately placed at my disposal, and the servants came every morning for orders for the day. The difficulty was to use them all and equally: but, by employing one for the morning drive, and another for the evening visiting, we contrived to show our friends that we were willing to avail ourselves of their kindness. I believe there was scarcely a morning during our stay when some pretty present did not arrive before I rose: sometimes it was a bouquet of hyacinths, which were extremely rare that year, from the lateness and severity of the frosts: sometimes it was a dish of preserve or marmalade; sometimes a feather fan. when the day promised to be hot; sometimes a piece of Indian work; sometimes of indigenous literary production. One morning, I found on my window-seat a copy of the Southern Review, and a bonquet of hyacinths from General Hayne; and the next, a basket of wafers from Mrs. P.; and the third, a set of cambric handkerchiefs, inimitably marked with complimentary devices, from Mrs. W.
In the midst of all this, there was no little watchfulness among a totally different set of persons, about my proceedings with regard to the negroes, I had not been in the city twenty-four hours before we were amused with ridiculous reports of my championship on behalf of the blacks; and long after I had left the place, reported speeches of mine were in circulation which were remarkably striking to me when I at length heard them. This circumstance shows how irritable the minds of the people are upon this topic. I met with no difficulty, however, among my associates. I made it a rule to allow others to introduce the subject of slavery, knowing that they would not fail to do so, and that I might learn as much from their method of approaching the topic as from any thing they could say upon it. Before half an hour had passed, every man, woman or child I might be conversing with had entered upon the question. As it was likewise a rule with me never to conceal or soften my own opinions, and never to allow mvself to be irritated by what I heard, (for it is too serious a subject to indulge frailtics with.) the best understanding existed between slave-holders and myself. We never quarrelled; while I believe we never failed to perceive the extent of the difference of opinion and feeling between us. I met with much more cause for admiration in their frankness than reason to complain of illiberality. The following may serve as a specimen of this part of our intercourse:—
The first time I met an eminent Southern gentleman, a defender of slavery, he said to me (within the half hour)—
“I wish you would not be in such a hurry away. I wish you would stay a year in this city. I wish you would stay ten years; and then you would change your opinions.”
“Your opinions on slavery.”
“What do you know of my opinions on slavery?”
“Oh, we know them well enough: we have all read ‘Demerara.’”
“Very well: now we shall understand each other; for I must tell you that I think about slavery exactly as I did when I wrote that story. Nothing, that I have seen shows me that I have anything to qualify of what is said there. So now you do know my opinions.”
“Oh yes. I don't want to know anything more of your opinions. I want you to know mine.”
“That is exactly what I want. When will you let me have them?”
We had engaged to dine with this gentleman the next week: it was now arranged that our party should go two hours earlier than the other guests, in order to hear this gentleman's exposition of slavery. He was well prepared; and his statement of facts and reasons was clear, ready, and entertaining. The fault was in the narrowness of his premises; for his whole argument was grounded on the supposition that human rights consist in sufficient subsistence in return for labour. Before he began I told him that I fully understood his wish not to argue the question, and that I came to hear his statement, not to controvert it; but that I must warn liim not to take my silence for assent. Upon this understanding we proceeded; with some little irritability on his part when I asked questions, but with no danger of any quarrel. I never found the slightest difficulty in establishing a similar clear understanding with every slave-holder I met. In the drawing-room of the boarding-house at Richmond, Virginia, three gentlemen, two of whom were entire strangers, attacked me in the presence of a pretty large company, one afternoon. This was a direct challenge, which I did not think fit to decline, and we had it all out. They were irritable at first, but softened as they went on; and when, at the end of three hours, we had exhausted the subject, we were better friends than when we began.
Some of the reports of my championship of the negroes arose from a circumstance which occurred the day after my arrival at Charleston. Our host proposed to take us up a church steeple, to obtain a view of the city and its environs. The key of the church was at the Guard House opposite; and our host said we might as well go for it ourselves, and thus get a sight of the Guard House. One of the city authorities showed us over it; and we staid a few moments in a room where a lady was preferring a complaint against two negro boys for robbing a hen-roost. They were proved guilty, and sentenced to be flogged at the place of punishment at the other end of the city.
The view from the church steeple was very fine; and the whole, steeped in spring sunshine, had an oriental air which took me by surprise. The city was spread out beneath us in a fan-like form, its streets converging towards the harbour. The heat and moisture of the climate give to the buildings the hue of age so as to leave nothing of the American air of spruceness in the aspect of the place. The sandy streets, the groups of mulattoes, the women with turbaned heads, surmounted with water-pots and baskets of fruit; the small panes of the house windows; the yucca bristling in the gardens below us, and the hot haze through which we saw the blue main and its islands, all looked so oriental, as to strike us with wonder. We saw Ashley and Cooper rivers, bringing down produce to the main, and were taught the principal buildings,—the churches, and the Custom-house, built just before the Revolution,—and the leading streets,—Broad and Meeting Streets intersecting, and affording access to all that we were to see. It would be wise in travellers to make it their first business in a foreign city to climb the loftiest point they can reach, so as to have the scene they are to explore laid out as in a living map beneath them. It is scarcely credible how much time is saved, and confusion of ideas obviated by these means. I gained much by mounting the State House at Boston, Pennsylvania Hospital at Philadelphia; the new hotel at Baltimore; the Capitol at Washington; the high hills about Cincinnati; the college at Lexington; the hill where the State House is to be at Nashville; the Cotton-press at New Orleans; and this church steeple at Charleston.
Another care of the traveller should be to glance at the local newspapers. This first morning I found a short newspaper article which told volumes. It was an Ordinance for raising ways and means for the city. Charitable and religious institutions were left free from taxation; as were the salaries of the clergy and schoolmasters. There was a direct levy on real property, on slaves, and on carriages, and a special tax on free people of colour: a class who, being precluded from obtaining taxable property and luxuries, were yet made to pay by means of a poll-tax.
Our mornings were divided between receiving callers, and drives about the city, and in the country. The country is flat and sandy; and the only objects arc planters' mansions, surrounded with evergreen woods; the gardens exhibiting the tropical yucca, and fenced with hedges of the Cherokee rose. From the lower part of the city, glimpses of the main may be had; but the intervening space is very ugly, except at high tide; an expanse of reeking slime, over which large flocks of buzzards are incessantly hovering. On the top of each of the long row of stakes discovered at low water sits a buzzard. A fine is imposed for killing one of these birds,—the unsalaricd scavengers of the moister districts of the city.
The houses which we visited in returning calls were generally handsome; with capacious piazzas, rich plants and bouquets, and good furniture. The political bias of the inhabitant was often discoverable from the books on the table, or the prints and casts on the walls. In no society in the world could the division of parties be more distinct, and their alienation more threatening than in Charleston, at the time I was there.* The Union gentlemen and ladies wore dispirited and timid. They asked one another's opinion whether there was not some mysterious stir among the Nullifiers; whether they were not concerting measures for a new defiance of the General Government. This anxious watchfulness contrasted strangely with the arrogant bearing of the leading Nullifiers. During my stay, Mr. Calhoun and his family arrived from Congress; and there was something very striking in the welcome he received, like that of a chief returned to the bosom of his clan. He stalked about like a monarch of the little domain; and there was certainly an air of mysterious understanding between him and his followers; whether there was really any great secret under it or not. One lady who had contributed ample amounts of money to the Nullification funds, and a catechism to Nullification lore, amused while she grieved me by the strength of her political feelings. While calling on her, one morning, the conversation turned on prints, and I asked an explanation of a strange-looking one which hung opposite my eye; the portrait of a gentleman, the top of the head and the dress visible, but the face obliterated or covered over. She was only too ready to explain. It was a portrait of President Jackson, which she had hung up in days when he enjoyed her favour. Since Nullification she had covered over the face, to show how she hated him. A stranger hardly knows what to think of a cause whose leaders will flatter and cherish the perpetrators of a piece of petty spite like this: yet this lady is treated as if she were a main pillar of the Nullification party.
Some of our mornings were spent in going with the Hayne and Calhoun families to the public library, to a panorama, and to the arsenal. The library is supported by private subscriptions, and is very creditable to the city, whose zeal about its books might well have been exhausted by the repeated destruction of the library by fire, and in the war. We amused ourselves with files of newspapers, which have survived all disasters,—old London Gazettes and colonial papers extending as far back as 1678.
We visited the arsenal twice; the second time with Mr. Calhoun and Governor Hayne, when we saw the arms and ammunition, which were not visible the first time, because “the key was not on the premises;” a token that no invasion was immediately expected. There were two bombs brought in by Governor Hayne; and all the warlike apparatus which was made ready during the Nullification struggle. It is difficult to believe that Mr. Calhoun seriously meant to go to war with such means as his impoverished State could furnish; but there is no doubt that he did intend it. The ladies were very animated in their accounts of their State Rights Ball, held in the area of the arsenal; and of their subscriptions of jewels to the war fund. They were certainly in earnest.
The soldiers were paraded in our presence, some eleven or twelve recruits, I believe: and then Mr. Calhoun first, and Governor Hayne afterwards, uncovered and addressed them with us much gravity and effusion of patriotic sentiment, as if we had been standing on the verge of a battle-field. Some of our party were of Union politics; and they looked exceedingly arch during the speechifying. It will be too sad if this child's play should be turned into bloodshed after all, for the gratification of any man's restless ambition, or in the guilty hope of protracting slavery under the reprobation of the whole of society, except a small band of mercenaries.
My chief interest in these expeditions was in the personages who accompanied me. Governor Hayne's name is well known in England, from his having furnished the provocation to Webster's renowed speech, exhibiting the constitutional argument against Nullification: and from his being afterwards the leader of the struggle in South Carolina, while Mr. Calhoun fulfilled the same function in Congress. He is descended from the Haynes whose cruel sufferings in the Revolutionary War are notorious, to the disgrace of the British: one of the two brothers having perished through the miseries of a British prison-ship, and the other having been hanged by Lord Rawdon and Colonel Balfour, under circumstances which, I believe, justify the horror and reprobation with which the act is viewed by all who have heard the story. It is one of the most dreadful tales of the Revolutionary War; and the English have not been behind the Americans in their feeling with regard to the case. The circumstances are briefly these:—
Colonel Isaac Hayne was a peaceful planter at the time of the breaking out of the war. He lived upon his estate all the year round, and was remarkably quiet and domestic in his temper and habits. He served in the American army during the siege of Charleston; and on the fall of the city returned to his plantation, under the guarantee of security to person and property, shared by all who had capitulated at Charleston. The small-pox broke out in his family; all his children had it; one was dead, and his wife dying, when Colonel Hayne received peremptory orders to repair to the British standard, to take up arms as a British subject, or to surrender himself prisoner at Charleston. He declared that no force should separate him from his dying wife and children, and asserted his inviolability under the capitulation of Charleston. The British officer, Colonel Bellingall, who brought the order, assured him of his immediate return home if he would repair to Charleston, to give an assurance that he would “demean himself as a British subject, while the country should be covered with a British army.” Colonel Hayne went, with the written agreement of Colonel Bellingall in his hand. He was, however, detained, and offered the alternative of lasting imprisonment, or of signing an unconditional promise to obey orders as a British subject. He declared that he never would bear arms against his country, and was assured that this act would never ber equired of him. There were several witnesses to his having signed under this protest and assurance. He returned to his family, finding another of his children dead, and his wife just expiring.
He observed the strictest neutrality while the promise under which he signed was kept. His house was alternately occupied by English and American troops, when the prospects of the republicans began to improve; and he is known to have refused to let his horses be used by friends in the American force,—in short, to have kept his engagement like a man of honour. His position was, however, considered to perilous an one, and he was summoned to join the British standard. He considered that this was such a violation of a promise on the part of the British officers as set him free. He joined his countrymen, fought, and was captured. He was imprisoned at Charleston for some weeks till Lord Rawdon came to town, and then, after two days' notice, brought before a Court of Inquiry, consisting of four general officers and five captains. Having no idea that this was anything more than a preliminary measure, and finding that the members of the Court were not sworn, nor the witnesses examined on oath, Colonel Hayne called no witnesses, and the proceedings closed without his being aware that he had gone through an affair of life or death. He was wholly taken by surprise, therefore, at the news conveyed to him by letter that he was to die on the gibbet the next day but one. He was respited for forty-eight hours, in order that he might see his children, and in consideration of the “humane treatment shown by his hands;” and he spent the interval in the discharge of business and affectionate intercourse with his friends. His chief regret was, that this act would probably provoke retaliation, and so lead to the shedding of much innocent blood. He required his eldest son, a boy of thirteen, to be present at his execution, in order to receive his body, and see that it was laid in the family burial place. The boy, frantic with grief, declared that he should not long survive him: and it is not surprising that he shortly became insane, and died. Colonel Hayne met his fate with a tranquility which convinced his enemies that (to use their own words) “though he did not die in a good cause, he must, at least, have acted from a persuasion of its being so.”
Such stories are very painful; but they ought not to be forgotten. The horrors of colonial war may not be over; and it is well that the conflicts of duty and affection which can take place only in wars of this character should be remembered, while Great Britain has colonies which she may oppress, and noble subjects, like Colonel Hayne, whom she may be even now alienating, and whose contrariety of affections she may be yet again driven or tempted to solve in blood.
The present representative of the family was made Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives at the age of twenty-seven. He was afterwards Attorney-General of the State, a senator in Congress, and Governor of the State. During the preparations for war in 1832, he was the soul of every movement. He is now considered to be deeply involved in the Southern transactions relating to the acquisition of Texas, whatever these may in reality be, and to have linked his fortunes with the slavery question. When I saw him he was forty-four years of age, with a robust, active frame, a lively, pleasant countenance, and very engaging manners,—with much of the eagerness of the school-boy, mixed with the case of the gentleman. He can do everything better than reason, as appeared in the senatorial conflict, in which he was ground to powder by the tremendous weight and force of Webster's constitutional argument and sound declamation. Governor Hayne can state clearly, enforce ardently, illustrate gracefully, and boast magnificently; but he cannot reason. His best friends are probably the most anxious to admit this; for there is such want of reason in his present course of opposition to the first principles on which society is founded, and in his attachment to worn-out feudal institutions, that the observer, however friendly, finds himself reduced to the alternative of supposing this busy mind perverted by unholy passions, or by an unbalanced imagination.
Governor Hamilton is less known at a distance; but he is, perhaps, a yet more perfect representative of the Southern gentlemen. He is handsome, and his manners have all the grace, without much of the arrogance of the bearing of his class. I was much struck too with his generous appreciation of the powers and virtues of the great men of every party at Washington:—a moral grace which I should have been glad to see shared in a greater degree by some of his neighbours. Governor Hamilton has done what he could to impair the favourable impressions he makes upon all who know him by the atrocious Report he issued in 1835, as Chairman of a Committee of the South Carolina Legislature appointed to consider what steps should be taken in defence of “the peculiar domestic institutions of the South.” This report is unconstitutional in its requisitions, and savage in its spirit towards the abolitionist.
With these gentlemen, their friends, and the ladies of their families, we saw many sights, and passed many pleasant hours: and with gentlemen and ladies of the opposite party we spent other portions of our leisure. I was told much of the Poor-House, rather in a tone of boasting; and I was anxious to see what a Poor-House could be in a region where all labourers are private property, and where pauperism would therefore seem to be obviated. Infirmity, vice, and orphanhood keep up a small amount of pauperism, even here; reducing capitalists to a state of dependance. There were about 120 inmates when I visited the institution; and the number was soon to be reduced by the periodical clearance made by sending the children to the Orphan House, and the insane to the State asylum at Columbia. The intemperate and vagrants were employed in coffin-making and stone-breaking. By a slight stretch of the law, persons found drunk are sent here and locked up for a month. We saw two respectable-looking men who had been brought in intoxicated the day before, and who looked duly ashamed of their situation.
The orphan House has been established about forty years; and it contained, at the time of my visit, 200 children. As none but whites are admitted, it is found to be no encouragement to vice to admit all destitute children whether orphans or not; for the licentiousness of the South takes the women of colour for its victims. The children in this establishment are taught reading, writing, and arithmetic; and the girls sewing: but the prejudice against work appears as much here as any where. No active labour goes on: the boys do not even garden. No employment is attempted which bears any resemblance to what is done by staves. The boys are apprenticed out to trades at fourteen; and the girls to mantua-making; almost the only employment in which a white Southern woman can earn a subsistence. The children are taken in from the age of two years; but they generally enter at the ages of four, five, or six. I was rather surprised to see them badged; an anti-republican practice which had better be abolished; but I woundered the less when I observed the statue of Pitt still standing in the court-yard; with the right arm shot off in the war, however. There is a good-sized church connected with this establishment, which was well filled on the afternoon when I went with the family of a friend, who was taking his turn with his brother clergy to preach.
Charleston is the place in which to see those contrasting seenes of human life brought under the eye which moralists gather together for the purpose of impressing the imagination. The stranger has but to pass from street to street, to live from hour to hour in this city, to witness in conjunction the extremes between which there is everywhere else a wide interval. The sights of one morning I should remember if every other particular of my travels were forgotten. I was driven round the city by a friend whose conversation was delightful all the way. Though I did not agree in all his views of society, the thoughtfulness of his mind and the benevolence of his exertions betokened a healthy state of feeling, and gave value to all he said. He had been a friend of the lamented Grimkeé; and he showed me the house where Grimké lived and died, and told me much of him,—of the nobleness of his character, the extent of his attainments, and how, dying at fifty-four, he had lived by industry a long life. My mind was full of the contemplation of the heights which human beings are destined to reach, when I was plunged into a new scene.—one which it was my own conscientious choice to visit, but for which the preceding conversation had ill-prepared me. I went into the slave-market.-a place which the traveler ought not to avoid, to spare his feelings. There was a table, on which stood two auctioneers: one with a hammer, the other to exhibit “the article,” and count the bids. The slaves for sale were some of them in groups below; and some in a long row behind the auctioneers. The sale of a man was just concluding when we entered the market. A woman, with two children, one at the breast, and another holding by her apron, composed the next lot. The restless, jocose zeal of the auctioneer who counted the bids was the most infernal sight I ever beheld. The woman was a mulatto; she was nearly dressed, with a clean apron, and a yellow head-handkerchief. The elder child clung to her. She hung her head low, lower, and still lower on her breast, yet turning her eyes incessantly form side to side, with an intensity of expectation which showed that she had not reached the last stage of despair. I should have thought that her agony of shame and dread would have silenced the tongue of every spectator: but it was not so. A lady chose this moment to turn to me and say, with a cheerful air of complacency:— “You know my theory,—that the one race must be subservient to the other. I do not car which; and if the blacks should ever have the upper hand, I should not mind standing on that table, and being sold with two of my children.” Who could help saying within himself. “Would you were! So that that mother were released!” Who could help seeing in vision the blacks driving the whites into the field, and preaching from the pulpits of Christian churches the doctrines now given out there, that God has respect of persons, that men are to hold each other as property, instead of regarding each other as brethren; and that the right interpretation of the golden rule by the slaveholder is, “Do unto your slaves as you would wish your master to do unto you, if you were a slave?” A little boy of eight or nine years old, apparently, was next put up alone. There was no bearing the child's look of helplessness and shame. It seemed like an outrange to be among the starers from whom he shrunk; and we went away before he was disposed of.
We next entered a number of fine houses where we were presented with flowers, and entertained with lively talk about the small affairs of gay society which to little minds are great. To me every laugh had lost its gaiety, every courtesy had lost its grace, all intercourse had lost its innocence. It was a relief to think of Grunké in his grave, escaped from the hell in which we were pent. If there be a scene which might stagger the faith of the spirit of Christianity itself,—if there be an experience which might overthrow its serenity, it is the transition from the slave-market to the abodes of the slave-masters, bright with sunshine, and gay with flowers, with courtesies and mirth.
If the moral gloom which oppresses the spirit of the stranger were felt by the residents, of course this condition of society would not endure another day. Much trouble is experienced, and there are many sighs over the system; but the anxiety is not to any great number what it is to the sisters of Grimké,—such a poisoner of life as to induce them to sacrifice property, home, friends, and repose, in order to obtain case of mind for themselves, and to do something towards destroying the curse by which their native region is blighted. Every day shows how many mansions there are in this hell; how variously the universally allowed evil visits minds of different strength and discernment. All suffer, from the frivolous and sophisticated child to the farseeing and disciplined saint. The difficulty is to have patience with the diversity, and to wait, as God waits, till the moral gloom strikes upon every heart, and causes every eye to turn for light where some already see it. At the same hour when the customary sins of the slave-market were being perpetrated, hundreds of the little people of Charleston were preparing for their childish pleasures,—their merry dancing schools, there juvenile fancy balls,—ordering their little slaves about, and allowing themselves to be fanned by black attendants while reposing in preparation for the fatigues of the evening: ministers of the gospel were agreeing to deprive persons of colour of all religious education: a distant Lynch mob was outraging the person of a free and innocent citizen: elegant ladies were administering hospitality, and exchanging gossip and sentiment: and Angelina Grunké was penning the letter which contains the following passages;—a private letter to a friend who was shortly to undergo the strengthening process of being mobbed:—
“I can hardly express to thee the deep and solemn interest with which I have viewed the violent proceedings of the last few weeks. Although I expected opposition, yet I was not prepared for it so soon—it took me by surprise, and I greatly feared Abolitionists would be driven back in the first onset, and thrown into confusion. So fearful was I, that though I clung with unflinching firmness to our principles, yet I was afraid to even opening one of thy papers, lest I should see some indications of compromise, some surrender, some palliation. Under these feelings. I was urged to read thy Appeal to the citizens of Boston. Judge, then, what were my feelings on finding that my fears were utterly groundless, and that thou stoodest firm in the midst of the storm, determined to suffer and to die, rather than yield one inch.
“Religious persecution always begins with mobs. It is always unprecedented in the age or country in which it commences, and therefore there are no laws by which Reformers can be punished: consequently, a lawless band of unprincipled men determine to take the matter into their own hands, and act out in mobs what they know are the principles of a large majority of these who are too high in Church and State to condescend to mingle with them, though they secretly approve and rejoice over their violent measures. The first Christian martyr was stoned by a lawless mob; and if we look at the rise of various sects. Methodists, Friends, &c., we shall find that mobs began the persecution against them, and that it was not until after the people had spoken out their wishes that laws were framed to fine, imprison, or destroy them. Let us then be prepared for the enactment of laws, even in our free States, against Abolitionists. And how ardently has the prayer been breathed, that God would prepare us for all that he is preparing for us!
“My mind has been especially turned towards those who are standing in the forefront of the battle; and the prayer has gone up for their preservation—not the preservation of their lives, but the preservation of their minds in humility and patience, faith, hope, and charity. If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the accomplishment of this great ende,—Emancipation,—then, in dependence upon him for strength to bear it, I feel as if I could say, ‘Let it come;’ for it is my deep, solemn, deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for.
“At one time, I thought this system would be overthrown in blood, with the confused noise of the warrior; but a hope gleams across my mind, that our blood will be spilt, instead of the slave-holder'; our lives will be taken, and theirs spared. I say ‘a hope,’ for of all things I desire to be spared the anguish of seeing our beloved country desolated with the horrors of a servile war.”
The writer of this letter was born into the system, under the same circumstances with the ladies who repeatedly asked me if I did not find that the slaves were very happy. So widely different are the influences of the same circumstances upon different minds!
Our evening engagements were as strangely contrasted as those of the morning. We were at parties where we heard loud talk of justice and oppression,—appeals to the eternal principles of the one, when the tariff was the subject, and expressions of the most passionate detestation of the other which night, but for the presence of black faces in the rooms, lead a stranger to suppose that he was in the very sanctuary of human rights. We were at a young heiress's first ball, where every guest was presented with a bouquet on entering; where the young ladies waltzed, and the young gentlemen gave a loose to their spirits, and all who were present had kindly greetings for the stranger. Nothing could be gayer than the external aspect of these entertainments; but it is impossible for the stranger to avoid being struck with the anxiety which shows itself through it all. I think I never was in society in any of the southern cities without being asked what I would do if I had a legacy of slaves, or told, in vindictiveness or sorrow, that the prosperity of the North was obtained at the expense of the South. I was never in southern society without perceiving that its characteristic is a want of repose. It is restlessly gay, or restlessly sorrowful. It is angry, or exulting; it is hopeful, or apprehensive. It is never content; never in such a state of calm satisfaction as to forget itself. This peculiarity poisons the satisfaction of the stranger in the midst of the free and joyous hospitality to which he would otherwise surrender himself with inconsiderate delight. While every thing is done that can be conceived of to make you happy, there is a weight pulling at your heartstrings, because you see that other hearts are heavy; and the nobler the heavier. While the host's little child comes to you at first sight, and holds up her mouth for a kiss, and offers to tell you a story, and pours out all her mirth and all her generosity upon you, the child's father tells you that there is a dark prospect before these young creatures, and Heaven knows what lot is in store for them. Your vigilance is kept active by continual suggestions that society is composed of two classes which entertain a mortal dread of each other. If ever you forget this for an hour, it is recalled by the sight of a soldier at the corner of a street, of a decaying mansion or deserted estate, or of some anti-republican arrangement for social or domestic defence. You reproach yourself because you are anxious and cannot be deceived; and feel as if it were ingratitude to your entertainers not to think them the secure and happy people which, in alternation with their complaints of all the external world, they assure you they are.
Our evenings were diversified with attendance upon phrenological lectures, —which, however, soon ceases to be a variety, from the absolute sameness of all courses of lectures on that subject,—with readings at home, and with a visit to a scene which I was strongly urged not to omit,—the Saturday night's market, hold by the slaves.
I should have been sorry to miss this spectacle. The slaves enjoy the amusement and profit yielded by this market. They sit in rows, by lamp light, some with heaps of fruit and vegetables before them; or surrounded by articles of their own manufacture,—boxes, bedsteads, baskets, and other handiworks, very cheap, and of good workmanship. The bananas, pines, imported apples, and oranges, which are seen in threat abundance, arc usually the property of the master: while the manufactured articles, made at spare hours, are nominally the slave's own. Some are allowed to make use of their leisure in preparing for the market, on condition of bringing their masters six dollars each, per week, retaining whatever surplus they may gain. I could not learn the consequence of failing to bring in the six dollars per week. They enjoy the fun and bustle of the market, and look with complacency on any white customers who will attend it. Their activity and merriment at market were pointed out to me as an assurance of their satisfaction with their condition, their conviction that their present position is the one they were made for, and in which their true happiness is to be found.
At the very same moment, I was shown the ruins of the church of St, Philip, destroyed by fire, as they frowned in the roar of the lamp-light; and I was informed that the church had once before been on fire, but had been saved by the exertions of a slave, who “had his liberty given him for a reward.”
“A reward!” said I; “What! when the slaves arc convinced that their true happiness lies in slavery?”
The conversation had come to an awkward pass. A lady advanced to the rescue, saying that some few, too many, were haunted by a pernicious fancy, put into their heads by others, about liberty;—a mere fancy, which, however, made them like the idea of freedom.
“So the benefactor of the city was rewarded by being indulged, to his own hurt, in a pernicious fancy?”
“Why . . . yes.”
My impressions of Charleston may easily be gathered from what I have said. It seems to me a place of great activity, without much intellectual result: of great gaiety, without much case and pleasure, I am confident that, whatever might be the reason, the general mind was full of mystery and anxiety at the time of my visit; and that some hearts were glowing with ambitious hopes, and others sinking in fears, more or less clearly defined, of the political crisis which seems to be now at hand. These are the influences which are educating the youth of Charleston, more powerfully than all schools and colleges, and all books; inducing a reliance on physical rather than moral force, and strengthening attachment to feudal notions of honour, and of every kind of good,—notions which have no affinity with true republican morals. This prospects of the citizens are “dark every way;” as some declared: for the rising; generation must either ascend, through a severe discipline, and prodigious sacrifices, to a conformity with republican principles; or descend into a condition of solitary feudalism, neither sanctioned by the example nor cheered by the sympathy of the world; but, on the contrary, regarded with that compassion which is precisely the last species of regard which the feudal spirit is able to endure.
We left Charleston in company with Mr. Callioun and his family, The great Nullifior told me many and long stories of his early days. Not being aware of my strong impressions respecting his present views and purposes, he could have no idea of the intense interest with which I listened to his accounts of the first kindling of his burning mind. He was five years old, standing between his father's knees, when his first political emotions stirred within him, awakened by his parent's talk of the colony and of free times, just after the Revolution. If some good angel had at that, moment whispered the parent, inspiring him to direct that young ambition to the ultimate grandeur of meek service; to animate that high spirit to a moral conflict with all human wrongs, we might already have owed to a mind so energetic the redemption of the negro race from the affliction, and of the Republic from the disgrace of slavery, instead of mourning over tho dedication of such powers to the propagation and exasperation of the curse. I feared how it would be,—what part he would take in the present struggle between the two principles of greatness, physical force with territorial conquest, and moral power shown in self-conquest. I feared that Mr. Calhoun would organise and head the feudal party,—as he has done: but I never had any fears that that party would prevail. When we parted at Uranehvillo, he little knew,—he might have been offended if he had known,—with what affectionate solicitude those whom he left behind looked on into his perilous political path. I am glad we could not foresee how soon our fears would be justified. Mr. Calhonn is at present insisting that the pirate-colony of Texas shall be admitted into the honourable American Union; that a new impulse shall thereby be given to the slave-trade, and a new extension to slavery: and that his country shall thereby surrender her moral supremacy among the nations for a gross and antiquated feudal ambition. He vows, taking the whole Union to witness, that these things shall be. The words have publicly passed his pen and his lips, “Texas shall be annexed to the United States.” His best friends must hope that the whole world will say, “It shall not.”[Back to Table of Contents]
- “O! das Leben, Valer,
- Hat Reize, die wir nie gekamut.—Wir haben
- Des schonen Lebens ode Kuste nur
- Wie ein umirrend Raabervolk befharen
- Was is den innern Thalern Kostliehes
- Das land verbirgt, O! davon—davon ist
- Auf unsrer wilden Fahrt uns niehts ersehienen.”
- “We ask
- But to pat forth our strength, our human streagth,
- All starting fairly, all equipped alike.
- Gifted alike, and eagle-eyed, true-hearted,”
The traveler in America hears, on every hand, of the foundness of slaves for slavery. If he points to the little picture of a runaway prefixed to advertisements of fugitives, and repeated down whole columns of the first newspaper that comes to hand, he is met with anecdotes of slaves who have been offered their freedom, and prefer remaining in bondage. Both aspects of the question are true; and yet more may be said on both sides. The traveler finds, as he proceeds, that suicides are very frequent among slaves; and that there is a race of Africans who will not endure bondage at all, and who, when smuggled from Africa into Louisiana, are avoided in the market by purchasers, thought they have great bodily strength and comeliness. When one of this race is accidentally purchased and taken home, he is generally missed, before twenty-four hours are over, and found hanging behind a door, or drowned in the nearest pond. The Cuba slave-holders have volumes of stories to tell of his race proving their incapacity for slavery. On the other hand, the traveler may meet with a few negroes who have returned into slave-land from a state of freedom, and besought their masters to take them back.
These seeming contradictions admit of an easy explanation. Slaves are more or less degraded by slavery in proportion to their orginal strength of character, or educational discipline of mind. The most degraded are satisfied, the least degraded are dissatisfied with slavery. The lowest order prefer release from duties and cares to the enjoyment of rights and the possession of themselves; and the highest order have a directly opposite taste. The mistake lies in not perceiving that slavery is emphatically condemned by the conduct of both.
The stories on the one side of the question are all alike. The master offers freedom,—of course to the worst of his slaves,—to those who are more plague than profit. Perhaps he sends the fellow he wants to get rid of an some errand into a free State, hoping that he will not return. The man comes back; and if questioned as to why he did not stay where he might have been free, he replies that he knows better than to work hard for a precarious living when he can be fed by his master without anxiety of his own, as long as he lives, As for those who return after having been free, they are usually the weak-minded, who have been persuaded into remaining in a free State where they have been carried in attendance on their masters families, and who want courage to sustain their unprotected freedom. I do not remember ever hearing of the return of a slave who, having long nourished the idea and purpose of liberty, had absconded with danger and difficulty. The prosecution of such a purpose argues a strength of mind worthy of freedom.
The stories on this side of the question are as various as the characters and fortunes of the heroes of them. Many facts of this nature became known to me during my travels, most of which cannot be published, for fear of involving in difficulty either the escaped heroes, or those who assisted them in regaining their liberty. But a few may be safely related, which will show, as well as any greater number, the kind of restlessness which is the torment of the lives of “persons held to labour,”—the constitutional description of the slave-class of the constituents of government.
Slavery is nowhere more hopeless and helpless than in Alabama. The richness of the soil and the paucity of inhabitants make the labourer a most valuable possession: while his distance from any free State,—the extent of country overspread with enemies which the fugitive has to traverse,—makes the attempt to escape desperate. All coloured persons traveling in the Slave States without a pass,—a certificate of freedom or of leave,—are liable to be arrested and advertised, and if unclaimed at the end of a certain time, sold in the market. Yet slaves do continue to escape from the farthest corners of Alabama or Mississippi. Two slaves in Alabama, who had from their early manhood cherished the idea of freedom, planned their escape in concert, and laboured for many years at their scheme. They were allowed the profits of their labour at over-hours: and by strenuous toil and self-denial, saved and hid a large sum of money. Last year, they found they had enough, and that the time was come for the execution of their purpose. They engaged the services of “a mean white:”—one of the extremely degraded class who are driven by loss of character to labour in the slave States, where, labour by whites being disgraceful, they are looked down upon by the slaves, no less than the slaves are by the superior whites. These two slaves hired a “mean white man” to personate a gentleman; bought him a suit of good clothes, a portmanteau, a carriage and houses, and proper costume for themselves. One night the three set off in style, as master, coachman and footman, and travelled rapidly through the whole country, without the slightet hindereance, to Buffalo. There the slaves sold their carriage, horses, and finery, paid off their white man, and escaped into Canada, where they now are in safety.
They found in Canada a society of their own colour prepared to welcome and aid them. In Upper Canada there are upwards of 10,000 people of colour, chiefly fugitive slaves, who prosper in the country which they have chosen for a refuge. Scarcely an instance is known of any of them having received alms, and they are as respectable for their intelligence as for their morals. One peculiarity in them is the extravagance of their loyalty. They exert themselves vehemently in defence of all the acts of the Executive, whatever they may be. The reason for this is obvious:—they exceedingly dread the barest mention of the annexation of Canada to the United States.
It is astonishing that, in the face of fact of daily occurrence, like that of the escape of these men, it can be pleaded in behalf of slavery, that negroes cannot take care of themselves, and that they prefer beign held as property. A lady of a New York favoured me with some of her recollections of slavery in that State. She told me of a favourite servant who had been her father's property for five-and-twenty years. I believe the woman was the family nurse. She was treated with all possible indulgence, and was the object of the attachment of the whole household. The woman was never happy. During all these dreary years she was haunted with the longing for freedom, and at last fell ill. Apparently from anxiety of mind. From her sickbed she implored her master so movingly to make her free and her medical attendant was so convinced that her life depended on her request being granted, that her master made the desired promise.—very unwillingly, as he thought freedom would be more of a care than a blessing to her. She immediately recovered and in spite of all entreaty, pecuniary inducement, and appeals to her gratitude, left the family. She shed many tears, mourned over parting with the children, and thanked the family for all the favour with which she had been treated but declared that she could not remain. Every thing savoured too strongly of the bondage she had been unable to endure. She took a service not far off, deposited her earnings with her old master, and frequently visited the family, but, to the last, shrank from all mention of returning to them.
While I was in the United States, a New York friend of mine was counsel for a native African who sued his mistress for his earnings of many years. This man had been landed in the South after the year 1808, the date fixed by the Constitution for the cessation of the importation of negroes. He was purchased by a lady to whom he proved very profitable, his services being of a superior kind. She let him out and he paid over to her all the money he earned. After many years, she visited New York, bringing this man with her, not anticipation that, in that free city, he would gain new lights as to his relation to her. He refused to return, and brought his mistress into court to answer his demand for the repayment of all the money he had earned abroad, with interest, and compensation for his services at home, during his illegal bondage. As a knowledge of the law was necessarily supposed on both sides, the counsel for the slave made compulsion his plea. This was not allowed. The slave's maintenance was decided to be a sufficient compensation for his services at home; and he was decreed to receive only the earnings of his hired labour, without interest. His counsel had, however, the pleasure of seeing him in the strength of his manhood, free, and in possession of a large sum of money to begin life with, on his own account.
A woman once lived in Massachusetts, whose name ought to be preserved in all histories of the State, as one of its honours, though she was a slave, Some anecdotes of her were related in a Lyecum lecture delivered at Stockbridge in 1831. Others were told me by the Sedgwicks, who had the honour of knowing her best, by means of rendering her the greatest services. Mum Bett. Whose real name was Elizabeth Freeman, was born, it is supposed, about 1742. Her parents were native Africans, and she was a slave for about thirty years. At an early age she was purchased, with her sister, from the family into which she was born, in the States of New York, by Colonel Ashley, of Sheffield, Massachusetts. The lady of the mansion, in a fit of passion, one day struck at Mum Bett's sister with a heated kitchen shovel. Mum Bett interposed her arm, and received the blow, the scar of which she bore to the day of her death. “She resented the insult and outrage as a white person would have done.” Leaving the house, and refusing to return. Colonel Ashley appealed to the law for the recovery of his slave. Mum Bett called on Mr. Sedgwick, and asked him if she could not claim her liberty under the law. He inquired what could put such an idea into her head. She replied that the “Bill o Rights” said that all were born free and equal, and that as she was not a dumb heast, she was certainly one of the nation. When afterwards asked how she learned the doctrine and facts on which she proceeded, she replied. “By keepin' still and mindin' things.” It was a favourits doctrine of hers, that people might learn by keeping still and minding things. But what did she mean, she was asked, by keeping still and minding things, Why, for instance, when she was waiting at table, she heard gentlemen talking over the Bill of Rights and the new constitution of Massachusetts; and in all they said she never heard but that all people were born free and equal, and she thought long about it, and resolved she would try whether she did not come in among them.
Mr. Sedgwick undertook her cause, which was tried at Great Barrington. Mum Bett obtained her freedom, and compensation for her services from twenty-one years of age. “What shall I do with all this money of yours?” said Mr. Sedgwick, “Fee the lawyers handsomely,—pay 'em well,” said she, “and keep the rest till I want it.” She was offered every inducement to return to Colonel Ashley's: but she recoiled from all that reminded her of slavery. She begged the Sedgwicks to take her into their family, which they did; and with them she spent twenty years of great, comfort. Her example was followed by many slaves; and from the day of her emancipation, in 1772. more and more claimants were decreed free under the Bill of Rights, till slavery was abolished in Massachusetts.
Her services to the Sedgwick family are gratefully remembered by them. She is believed to have saved her master's life by following her own judgment in his treatment when she was nursing him in a dangerous fever. When her master was in Boston, and the rural districts were liable to nightly visitations from marauders after Shay's war (as an insurrection in Massachusetts was called). the village of Stockbridge. in the absence of the gentlemen. depended on Mum Bett for its safety; so general was the confidence in her wisdom and courage. The practice of the marauders was to enter and plunder gentlemen's houses in the night. on pretence of searching for ammunition and prisoners. Mum Bett declared that she could have no cowards in the village: as many as were afraid had better go up the hills to sleep. Several children and a few women went up the hills in the evening to farmhouses, which were safe from intrusion. All brought their valuables of small bulk to Mum Bett for security. Every body's watches, gold chains, rings, and other trinkets were deposited in an iron chest in the garret where Mum Bett slept.
The marauders arrived one night when Mrs. Sedgwick was very ill: and Mum Bett was unwilling to admit them. She quietly told her mistress that her pistols were loaded, and that, a low shots from the windows would probably send the wretches away, as they could not be sure but that there were gentlemen in the house. Her mistress, however, positively ordered her to let the people in. without delay. Mum Bett obeyed the order with much unwillingness. She appeared at the door with a large kitchen shovel in one hand, and a light in the other. and assured the strangers that they would find nothing of what they asked for, — neither Judge Sedgwick. nor ammunition and prisoners. They chose to search the he use, however, as she had exported. Her great fear was that they would drink themselves intoxicated in the cellar, and become unmanageable; and she had prepared for this by putting rows of porter bottles in front of the wine and spirits, having drawn the corks to let the porter get that, and put them in again. The intruders offered to take the light from her hand, but she held it back, saying that no one should carry the light but herself. Here was the way to the cellars, and there was the way to the chambers: she would light the gentlemen wherever they chose to go: but she would not let the house he set on fire over her sick mistress's head. “The gentlemen” went down to the cellar first. One of the party broke the neck of a bottle of porter, for which she rebuked him, saying that if they wished to drink, she would fetch the corkscrew, and draw the cork, and they might drink like gentlemen: but that if any one broke the neck of another bottle, she would lay him low with her shovel. The flat porter was not to the taste of the visitors, who made wry faces, said, if gentlemen liked such cursed bitter stuff, they might keep it. and praised spirits in comparison; upon which Mum Bett coolly observed, that they were “sort of gentlemen that lived here that did not drink spirits.”
At the foot of the cellar stairs stood a barrel of pickled pork, out of which the intruders began helping themselves. In a tone of utter scorn, Mum Bett exclaimed. “Ammunition and prisoners, indeed! You come for ammunition and prisoners, raid take up with pickled pork!” They were fairly ashamed, and threw back the pork into the barrel. They went through all the chambers, poking with their bayonets under the beds, lest Judge Sedgwick should be there. At last, to Mum Bett's sorrow, they decided to search the garrets. In hers, the iron chest came into view. She hoped in vain that they would pass it over. One of the party observed that it looked as if it held something. Mum Bett put down the light, kneeled on the chest, and brandished her weapon, saying, “This is my chest, and let any man touch it at his peril.” The men considered the matter not worth contesting, and went down stairs. They were actually departing without having met with a single article of value enough to carry away, when a young lady, a niece of Judge Sedgwick's. wishing to be civil to the wretches, asked them, at the hall door, whether they would like to see the stables. They were glad of the hint, and stole one horse (if I remember right) and ruined another with hard riding. Mum Bett's expression of wrath was, “If I had thought the pesky fool would have done such a thing. I would have turned the horses loose over night in the meadow: they would have come back at my call in the morning.”
She was considered as connected with Judge Sedgwick's family after she had left their house for a home of her own. By her great industry and frugality she supported a large family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There was nothing remarkable about her husband: and her descendants do not appear to have inherited her genius. Mum Bett lies in the Stockbridge graveyard,—in the corner where the people of colour lieapart. Her epitaph, written by a son of Judge Sedgwick. is as follows:—
- Died December 28th, 1829. Her supposed ago was 85 years,
- She was born a slave, and remained a slave for nearly thirty years:
- she could neither rend nor write, yet in her own sphere she
- had no superior nor equal: she neither wasted time nor
- property : she never violated a trust, nor failed to
- perform a duty. In every situation of domestic
- trial, she was the most efficient helper,
- and the tenderest friend.
Good Mother, Farewell.
As far as energy and talent are concerned. I should hesitate to say that in her own sphere Mum Bett “had no superior nor equal:” and the same may be said about the quality of fidelity. I know of a slave in Louisiana who picked up a parcel containing 10,000 dollars, and returned it. with much trouble, to its owner. I know of a slave in South Carolina, belonging to a physician, who drives his master's gig, and has made a wonderful use of what he sees in the course of his morning's duty. While waiting for his master at the doors of patients, this slave occupied himself with copying in the sandy soil the letters he saw on signs. When he believed he had caught the method, he begged a slate, or paper and pencil, and brought home his copies, coaxing the boys of the family to tell him the names of the letters. He then put them together, and thus learned to read and write,—without any further help whatever. Having once discovered his own power of doing and learning, he went on in the only direction which seemed open to him. He turned his attention to mechanism, and makes miniature violins and pianos of surprising completeness, but no use. Here he will most likely stop: for there is no probability of his ever ceasing to be a slave, or having opportunity to turn to practical account a degree of energy, patience, and skill which, in happier circumstances, might have been the instruments of great deeds.
The energies of slaves sometimes take a direction which their masters contrive to render profitable,— when they take to religion as a pursuit. The universal, unquenchable reverence for religion in the human mind is taken advantage of, when the imagination of the slave has been turned into the channel of superstition. It is a fact, that in the newspapers of New Orleans may be seen an advertisement, now and then, of a lot of “pious negroes.” Such “pious negroes” are convenient on a plantation where the treatment is not particularly mild; as they consider non-resistance a Christian duty, and are able to inspire a wonderful degree of patience into their fellow-sufferers.
The vigour which negroes show when their destiny is fairly placed in their own hands, is an answer to all arguments about their helplessness drawn from their dullness in a state of bondage. A highly satisfactory experiment upon the will, judgment, and talents of a large body of slaves was made, a few years ago, by a relative of Chief-Justice Marshall. This gentleman and his family had attached their negroes to them by a long course of judicious kindness. At length, an estate at some distance was left to the gentleman, and he saw, with much regret, that it was his duty to leave the plantation on which he was living. He could not bear the idea of turning over his people to the tender mercies or unproved judgment of a stranger overseer. He called his negroes together, told them the case, and asked whether they thought they could manage the estate themselves. If they were willing to undertake the task, they must choose an overseer from among themselves, provide comfortably for their own wants, and remit him the surplus of the profits. The negroes were full of grief at losing the family, but willing to try what they could do. They had an election for overseer, and chose the man their master would have pointed out; decidedly the strongest head on the estate. All being; arranged, the master left them, with a parting charge to keep their festivals, and take their appointed holidays, as if he were present. Alter some time, he rode over to see how all went on, choosing a festival day, that he might meet them in their holiday gaiety. He was surprised, on approaching, to hear no merriment; and on entering his fields, he found his “force” all hard at work. As they flocked round him, he inquired why they were not making holiday. They told him that the crop would suffer in its present state by the loss of a day; and that they had therefore put off their holiday, which, however, they meant to take by-and-by. Not many days after, an express arrived to inform the proprietor that there was an insurrection, on his estate. He would not believe it; declared it impossible, as there was nobody to rise against; but the messenger, who had been sent by the neighbouring gentlemen, was so confident of the facts, that the master galloped, with the utmost speed, to his plantation, arriving as night was coming on. As he rode in, a cry of joy arose from his negroes, who pressed round to shake hands with him. They were in their holiday clothes, and had been singing and dancing. They were only enjoying the deferred festival. The neighbours, hearing the noise on a quiet working day, had jumped to the conclusion that it was an insurrection.
There is no catastrophe yet to this story. When the proprietor related it, he said that no trouble had arisen; and that for some seasons, ever since this estate had been wholly in the hands of his negroes, it had been more productive than it ever was while he managed it himself.
The finest harvest field of romance perhaps in the world is the frontier between the United States and Canada. The vowed student of human nature could not do better than take up his abode there, and hear what fugitives and their friends have to tell. There have been no exhibitions of the forces of human character in any political revolution, or religious reformation, more wonderful and more interesting than may almost daily be witnessed there. The impression on even careless minds on the spot is very strong. I remember observing to a friend in the ferry-boat, when we were crossing the Niagara, from Lewiston to Queenston, that it seemed very absurd, on looking at the opposite banks of the river, to think that while the one belonged to the people who lived on it, the other was called the property of a nation three thousand miles off,—the shores looking so much alike as they do. My friend replied, with a smile, “Runaway slaves see a great difference.” “That they do!” cried the ferryman, in a tone of the deepest earnestness. He said that the leap ashore of an escaped slave is a sight unlike any other that can be seen.
On other parts of the frontier, I heard tales which I grieve that it is not in my power to tell,— so honourable are they to individuals of both races, —friends of the slaves. The time may come when no one will be injured by their being made public. Meantime, I will give one which happened many years ago, and which relates to a different part of the country.
A., now an elderly man, was accustomed in his youth to go up and down the Mississippi, on trading expeditions; and both in these, and in subsequent wanderings of many years,—to Hayti among other places,—he has had opportunity to study the character of the negro race; and he is decidedly of opinion that there is in them only a superinduced inferiority to the whites. In relating his experiences among the coloured people, he told the following story:—
When he was a young man, he was going down the Mississippi in a boat, with a cargo of salt; when he stopped at a small place on the Kentucky shore, called Unity, opposite to a part of Arkansas. While he was there, a slave-trader came up with his company of upwards of two hundred slaves, whom he was conveying to the New Orleans market. Among these, A. remarked a gigantic mulatto,—handsome in countenance, and proud in bearing,—who was nearly naked, and fettered. He had an iron band round his waist, and round each wrist, and these bands were connected by chains. The trader observed to A. that tins man was the most valuable slave lie had ever had on sale. I think he said that he would not take two thousand dollars for him: he added that he was obliged to chain him, as he was bent on getting away. When the trader's back was turned, the mulatto looked at A. as if wishing to talk with him.
“Why are you chained in this way?” asked A.
“Because my master is afraid of losing me. He knows that I am the most valuable slave he has; and that I mean to get away.”
“Have you told him so?”
“And how do you mean to get away?”
“I don't know: but I mean it.”
After a pause, he said in a low voice to A.,
“Could not you give me a file?”
“No,” said A., decidedly. “Do you think I don't know the law? Do you think I am going to help you away, and get punished for it? No; I can't give you a file.”
As A. went back to his boat he saw the slave looking wist fully after him, and his heart smote him for what he had said. He bethought himself that if he could manage to put an instrument of deliverance in the man's way without touching it, he might keep within the letter of the law; and he acted upon this notion. He looked about his boat, and found a strong three-sided file, which he put between his coat and waistcoat, so that it would be sure to drop out when the coat was unbuttoned. He sauntered back on shore, and the mulatto, who watched all his movements, came up to him, eagerly whispering,
“Have you got a file? Are you going to give me a file?”
“No,” said A. “I told you that I knew better than to give you a file.”
The slave's countenance fell.
“However,” continued A., “I should not wonder if I can tell you where to get one. If you look about by yonder wood-pile, I think perhaps you may find a file. No, not now. Go back to your company now, and don't look at me; and when I am gone on board my boat you can wander off to the wood-pile.”
A. unbuttoned his coat as he appeared to be picking up the scattered wood round the pile, and presently returned to his boat, whence he saw the mulatto walk to the wood-pile, and stoop down just at the right spot. A. watched all day, and late into the night: but he saw and heard nothing more.
In the morning, the slave-trader came on board the boat; exclaiming angrily that A. had a slave of his concealed there. A. desired him to search the boat, which he did, looking behind every bag of salt. He was confident that A. must have helped the man away: chained as he was, he could not have got off without help. As for himself, he had rather have lost thousands of dollars than this man: but he always knew it would be so: the fellow always said he would get away.
Thus grumbling, the trader departed, to make search in another direction. In an hour he returned, saying that the slave must either be drowned, or have got over into Arkansas. His irons and a strong file were lying on a point of land, projecting into the river, about a mile off; and the marks were visible where the fugitive had taken the water. A. went, and long did he stay, questioning and meditating: and during all the years that have since elapsed, it has been his frequent daily and nightly speculation whether the mulatto escaped or perished. Sometimes, when he remembers the gigantic frame of the man, and the force of the impulse which urged him, A. hopes that it may have been possible for him to reach the opposite shore. At other times, when he thinks of the width of the Mississippi at that part, and of the tremendous force of the current, which would warrant the assertion that it is impossible for a swimmer to cross, he believes himself convinced that the fugitive has perished Yet still the hope returns that the strong man may be living in wild freedom in some place where the sense of safety and peace may have taught him to forgive and pity his oppressors.[Back to Table of Contents]
“Though every body eried ‘Shame!’ and ‘Shocking!’ yet every body visited them,”—miss Edgeworth.
When we arrived at the extreme south-west point of our journey, it was amusing to recur to the warnings of our kind friends about its inconveniences and dangers. We had brought away tokens of the hospitality of Charleston, in the shape of a large basket of provision which had been prepared, on the supposition that we should find little that we could eat on the road. There was wine, tea, and cocoa; cases of French preserved meat, crackers (biscuits), and gingerbread. All these good things, except the wine and crackers, we found it expedient to leave behind, from place to place. There was no use in determining beforehand to eat them at any particular meal: when it came to the point, we always found hunger or, disgust so much more bearable than the shame of being ungracious to entertainers who were doing their best for us, that we could never bring ourselves to produce our stores. We took what was set before us, and found ourselves, at length, alive and well at New Orleans.
At Mobile I met some relatives who kindly urged my taking possession of their house at New Orleans, during my stay of ten days. I was thankful for the arrangement, as the weather was becoming hot, and we could secure more leisure and repose in a house of our own than in a boarding-house, or as the guests of a family. With the house, we were, of course, to have the services of my friend's slaves. He told me something of their history. He had tried all ways to obtain good service, and could not succeed. He had attempted wages, treating his people like free servants, &c. and all in vain. His present plan was promising them freedom and an establishment in a free State after a short term of years, in case of good desert. He offered to take care of the money they earned, during their leisure hours, and to pay them interest upon it; but they preferred keeping it in their own hands. One of them sewed up 150 dollars in her bed: she fell ill, and the person who nursed her is supposed to have got at the money; for when the poor slave recovered, her earnings were gone.
We left Mobile for New Orleans on the 24th of April. The portion of forest which we crossed in going down from Mobile to the coast was the most beautiful I had seen. There was fresh grass under foot, and the woods were splendid with myrtles, magnolias, and many shrubs whose blossoms were new to me, and their names unknown. We had plenty of time to look about us; for the back which carried the four passengers whom the stage would not contain broke down every half hour, and the stage company had to stop till it could proceed. We had an excellent dinner in the gallery of a log-house in the midst of the forest, where we were plentifully supplied with excellent claret. There had been showers all day, with intervals of sunshine, but towards sunset the settled gloom of the sky fore-boded a night of storm. I was on the watch for the first sight of the Gulf of Mexico. I traced the line where the forest retires to give place to the marsh, and the whole scene assumes a sudden air of desolation. At this moment the thunder burst, sheets of lightning glared over the boiling sea, and the rain poured down in floods. Our umbrellas were found to be broken, of course; and we had to run along the pier to the steam-boat in such a rain as I was never before exposed to: but it was well worth while getting wet for such a first sight of the Gulf of Mexico, it soon grew dark; and before morning we were in Lake Pontchartrain; so that this stormy view of the Gulf was the only one we had.
We amused ourselves in die morning with tracing the dim shores of the State of Mississippi to the north, and of Louisiana to the west. About nine o'clock we arrived in sight of the long piers which stretch out from the swamp into the lake, the mud-craft, the canoes, with blacks fishing for crabs; the baths, and the large Washington hotel, with its galleries and green blinds, built for coolness, where gentlemen from New Orleans go to eat fish and bathe. Next we saw the train of railroad cars waiting for us; and without the loss of a moment's time we were whirled away to the city,—five miles in a quarter of an hour. I have expressed elsewhere* my admiration of the swamp through which our road lay,—an admiration which faded as we traversed the lower faubourg, and died away in the Champs Elysées. Before ten o'clock we were breaking the seals of our English letters in the drawing-room of our temporary home.
When we had satisfied ourselves with home news, unpacked, dressed, and lunched, we took our seats by the window, in the intervals of visits from callers. All was very new, very foreign in its aspect. Many of the ladies in the streets wore caps or veils instead of bonnets; the negroes who passed shouted their very peculiar kind of French; and every thing seemed to tell us that we had plunged into the dog-days. I never knew before how impressions of heat can be conveyed through the eye. The intensity of glare and shadow in the streets, and the many evidences that the fear of heat is the prevailing idea of the place, affect the imagination even more than the scorching power of the sun does the bodily frame.
I was presented with a pamphlet written by a physician, which denies the unhealthiness of New Orleans as strenuously as some of its inhabitants deny its immorality. To me it appears that everything depends on what is understood by Morals and Health. As to the morals of the city, I have elsewhere stated the principal facts on which my unfavourable judgment is founded* . In regard to another department of morals, the honourable fact of the generous charity of New Orleans to strangers should be stated. Great numbers of sick and destitute foreigners are perpetually thrown upon the mercy of the inhabitants; and that mercy is unbounded. I have reason to believe that the sick are not merely nursed and cured, but provided with funds before departing. When I visited the hospital, it contained 250 patients, not above 50 of whom were Americans. As to the health of the place, I believe the average is good among that portion of the population which can afford to remove northwards for the hot months: but very low if the total white population be included, The pamphlet which I read argues that though the fever is very destructive during a portion of the year, mortality from other discuses is much below the common average; that tire variations of temperature are slight, though frequent; and that the average of children and old persons is high. All this may be true; but a place must be called peculiarly unhealthy whose inhabitants are compelled, on pain of death, to remove for three or four months of every year. Instead of arguing against such a fact as this, many citizens are hoping and striving to put an end to the necessity of such a removal. They hone, by means of draining and paving, to render their city habitable all the year round. Plans of drainage are under consideration, and I saw some importations of paving stones. The friends of the New Orleans people can hardly wish them a greater good than the success of such attempts: for the perpetual shitting about which they are subjected to by the dread of the fever is a serious evil to sober families of an industrious, domestic turn. It is very injurious ous to the minds of children, and to the habits of young people, and a great hardship to the aged. I was struck with a remark which fell from a lady about her children's exercise in the open air. She said that she always took them out when the wind blew from over the lake, and kept them at home in warm weather when it blew from any other quarter, as it then only made them. “more languid” to go out. This did not tend to confirm the doctrine of the pamphlet; but I was not surprised at the remark when I looked abroad over the neighbouring country from the top of the hospital. Thence I saw the marsh which was given to Lafayette, and which he sold, not long before his death to a London firm, who sold it again. On this marsh, most of which was under water, the city of New Orleans was begun. A strip of buildings was carried to the river bank, where the city spread. In the midst of the flooded lots of ground stood the gas-works: surrounded by stagnant ponds lay the Catholic cemetery. The very churches of the city seemed to spring up out of the water. The blossomy beauties of the swamp could not be seen at this height, and all looked hideously desolate in the glaring sun. The view from the turret of the Cotton-press is much more advantageous. It commands many windings of the majestic river, and the point where it seems to lose itself in the distant forest; while below appears everything that is dry in all the landscape,—the shipping, the Levee, the busy streets of the city, and the shady avenues of the suburbs.
The ladies of New Orleans walk more than their countrywomen of other cities, from the streets being in such bad order as to make walking the safest means of locomotion. The streets are not very mumerous; they are well distinguished, and lie at right angles, and their names are clearly printed up; so that, strangers find no difficulty in going about, except when a fall of rain has made the crossings impassable. The heat is far less oppressive in the streets than in the open country, as there is generally a shady side. We were never kept within doors by the heat, though summer weather had fairly set in before our arrival. We made calls, and went shopping and sight-seeing, much as we do in London; and moreover, walked to dinner visits, to the theatre, and to church, while the sun was blazing as if he had drawn that part of the world some millions of miles nearer to himself than that in which we had been accustomed to live. It is in, vain to attempt describing what the moonlight is like. We walked under the long rows of Pride-of-India trees on the Remparts, amidst the picturesque low dwellings of the Quadroons, and almost felt the glow of the moonlight, so warm, so golden, so soft as I never saw it elsewhere. We were never tired of watching the lightning from our balcony, flashing through the first shades of twilight, and keeping the whole heaven in night-long conflagration. The mosquitoes were a great and perpetual plague, except while we were asleep. We found our mosquito curtains a sufficient protection at night: but we had to be on the watch against these malicious insects all day, and wage war against them during the whole evening. Many ladies are accustomed, during the summer months, to get after breakfast into a large sack of muslin tied round the throat, with smaller sacks for the arms, and to sit thus at work or book, fanning themselves to protect their faces. Other sit all the morning on the bed, within their mosquito curtains. I were gloves and prunella boots all day long: but hands and feet were stung through all the defences I could devise. After a while the sting of the mosquito erases to irritate more than the English gnat-sting; but to strangers the suffering is serious; to those of feverish habit, sometimes dangerous.
Sunday is the busiest day of the week to the stranger in New Orleans. There is first the negro market to be seen at five o'clock. We missed this sight as the mornings were foggy, and it was accounted unsafe to go out in the early damp. Then there is the cathedral to be attended, a place which the European gladly visits, as the only one in the United States where all men meet together as brethren. As he goes, the streets are noisy with traffic. Some of those who keep the Sunday sit at their doors or windows, reading the newspapers, or chatting with their acquaintance. Merchants are seen hastening to the counting-house or the wharf, or busy in the stores, Others are streaming into the church doors. There are groups about the cathedral gates, the blacks and the whites parting company as if they had not been worshipping side by side. Within the edifice there is no separation. Some few persons may be in pews; but kneeling on the pavement may be seen a multitude, of every shade of complexion, from the fair Scotchwoman or German to the jet-black pure African. The Spanish eye flashes from beneath the veil; the French creole countenance, painted high, is surmounted by the neat cap or the showy bonnet; while between them may be thrust a grey-headed mulatto, following with his stupid eyes the evolutions of the priest; or the devout negro woman telling her beads,—a string of berries,—as if her life depended on her task. During the preaching, the multitude of anxious faces, thus various in tint and expression, turned up towards the pulpit, afforded one of those few spectacles which are apt to haunt the whole future life of the observer like a dream. Several Protestants spoke to me of the Catholic religion as being a great blessing to the ignorant negro,—viewing a ritual religion as a safe resting-place between barbarism and truth. Nothing that I saw disposed me to agree with them. I saw among Catholics of this class only the most abject worship of things without meaning, and no comprehension whatever of symbols. I was persuaded that if a ritual religion be ever a good it is so in the case of the most not the least, enlightened: of those who accept the ritual as symbolical, and not of those who pay it literal worship. I could not but think that if the undisguised story of Jesus were presented to these last, as it was to the fishermen of Galilee, and the peasants on the reedy banks of Jordan, they would embrace a Christianity, in comparison with which their present religion is an unintelligible and ineffectual mythology. But such a primitive Christianity they, as slaves, never will and never can have as its whole spirit is destructive of slavery.
Half a year before my visit to New Orleans, a great commotion had been raised in the city against a Presbyterian clergyman, the Rev. Joel Parker, on account of some expressions which he had been reported to have used, while on a visit in New England, respecting the morals of New Orleans, and especially the desecration of the Sunday. Some meddlesome person had called a public meeting, to consider what should be done with the Rev. Joel Parker, for having employed his constitutional freedom of speech in declaring what almost everybody knew or believed to be true. Many gentlemen of the city were vexed at this encroachment upon the liberty of the citizen, and at the ridicule which such apparent sensitiveness about reputation would bring upon their society; and they determined to be present at the meeting, and support the pastor's rights. Matters were proceeding fast towards a condemnation of the accused, and sentence of banishment, when these gentlemen demanded that he should be heard in his own defence,—a guarantee for his personal safety being first passed by the meeting. This was agree to, and Mr. Parker appeared on the hustings. Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity,—a particularly favourable one,—of making a moral impressing which would never have been lost. A full declaration of what he had said, the grounds of it, and his right to say it, would have turned the emotions of the assemblage, already softened in his favour, towards himself and the right. As it was, he did nothing wrong; except in as far as that he did nothing very right: but there was a want of judgment and taste in his address which was much to be regretted. He was allowed to go free for the time; but the newspaper reported all the charges against him, suppressed his replies, and lauded the citizens for not having pulled the offender to pieces: and Mr. Parker's congregation were called upon, on the ground of the resolutions passed at the public meeting to banish their pastor. They refused, and appealed to all the citizens to protect them from such oppression as was threatened. No further steps were taken, I believe, against the pastor and his people: his church flourished under this little gust of persecution; and when I was there, a handsome new edifice was rising up to accommodate the increased number of his congregation. I wished to hear this gentleman; and was glad to find that his flock met, while the building was going on, in the vestry of the new church; a spacious crypt, which was crowed when he preached, I had not expected much from his preaching, and was therefore taken by surprise by the exceeding beauty of his discourse;—beauty, by the style, of spirit. The lofty and tender earnestness of both his sentiments and manner put the observer off his watch about the composition of the sermon. I was surprised to perceive in conversation afterwards tokens that Mr. Parker was not a highly educated man. I was raised by the lofty tone of his preaching far abouve all critical vigilance.
I had much opportunity of seeing in the United States what is the operation of persecution on strong and virtuous minds; and I trust the lesson of eucouragement will never be lost. As it is certain that the progression of the race must be carried on through persecution of some kind and degree,—as it is clear that the superior spirits to whom the race owes its advancement must, by their very act of anticipation, get out of the circle of general intelligence and sympathy, and be thus subject to the trials of spiritual solitude and social enmity,—since thus it has ever been, and thus, by the laws of human nature, it must ever be,—it is heart-cheering and soul-staying to perceive that the effects of persecution may be and often are, more blessed than those of other kinds of discipline. Many quail under the apprehension of persecution; some are soured by it; but some pass through the suffering, the bitter suffering of popular hatred, with a strength which intermits less and less; and come out of it with new capacities for enjoyment, with affections which can no longer be cheeked by want of sympathy, and with an object in life which can never be overthrown. Mr. Parker's case was not one of any high or permanent character: though, as far as his trial went, it seemed to have given calmness and vigour to his mind. (I judge from his manner of speaking of the affair to me.) The Abolitionists are the persons I have had, and always shall have, chiefly in view in speaking of the effects of persecution. They often reminded me of the remark, that you may know a philanthropist in the street by his face. The life, light, and gentleness of their countenances, the cheerful earnestness of their speech, and the gaiety of their manners, were enough to assure the unprejudiced foreign observer of the integrity of their cause, and the blessedness of their pilgrim lives.
The afternoon or evening Sunday walk in New Orleans run not fail to convince the stranger of the truth of the sayings of Mr. Parker, for which he afterwards was subjected to so fierce a retribution. Whatever may be thought of the duty or expediency of a strict observance of the Sunday, no one can contend that in this city the observance is strict. In the market there is traffic in meat and vegetables, and the groups of foreigners make a Babel of the place with their loud talk in many tongues. The men are smoking outside their houses; the girls, with broad coloured ribbons streaming from the ends of their long braids of hair, are walking or flirting; while veiled ladies are stealing through the streets, or the graceful Quadroon women are taking their evening airing on the Levée. The river is crowded with shipping, to the hulls of which the walkers look up from a distance, the river being above the level of the neighbouring streets. It rushes along through the busy region, seeming to be touched with mercy, or to disdain its power of mischief. It might overwhelm in an instant the swarming inhabitants of the boundless level: it looks as if it could scarcely avoid doing so; yet it rolls on within its banks so steadily, that the citizens forget their insecurity. Its breadth is not striking to the eye; yet when one begins to calculate, the magnitude of the stream becomes apparent. A steam-boat carries down six vessels at once; two on each side, and two behind; and this duster of seven vessels looks somewhat in the proportion of a constellation in the sky. From the Levée, the cathedral looks well, fronting the river, standing in the middle of a square, and presenting an appearance of great antiquity, hastened, no doubt, by the moisture of the atmosphere in which it stands.
The Levée continues to be crowded long after the sun has set. The quivering summer lightning plays over the heads of the merry multitude, who are conversing in all the tongues, and gay in all the costumes of the world.
Another bright scene is on the road to the lake, on a fine afternoon. This road winds for five miles through the swamp, and is bordered by cypress, flowering reeds, fleurs-de-lis of every colour, palmetto, and a hundred aquatic shrubs new to the eye of the stranger. The grey moss common in damp situations floats in streamers from the branches. Snakes abound, and coil about the negroes who are seen pushing their canoes through the rank vegetation, or towing their rafts, laden with wood, along the sluggish bayou. There is a small settlement, wholly French in its character, where the ancient dwellings, painted red, and with broad eaves, look highly picturesque in the green landscape. The winding white road is thronged with carriages, driven at a very rapid rate, and full of families of children, or gay parties of young people, or a company of smoking merchants, going to the lake to drink or to bathe. Many go merely as we did,—for the sake of the drive, and of breathing the cool air of the lake, while enjoying a glass of iced lemonade or sangarce.
It was along this road that Madame Lalaurie escaped from the hands of her exasperated countrymen, about five years ago. The remembrance or tradition of that day will always be fresh in New Orleans. In England the story is little if at all known. I was requested on the spot not to publish it as exhibiting a fair specimen of slave-holding in New Orleans: and no one could suppose it to be so: but it is a revelation of what, may happen in a slave-holding country, and can happen nowhere else. Even on the mildest supposition that the case admits of,—that Madame Lalaurie was insane, there remains the fact that the insanity could have taken such a direction, and perpetrated such deeds nowhere but in a slave country.
There is, as every one knows, a mutual jealousy between the French and American Creoles* in Louisiana. Till lately the French Creoles have carried every thing their own way, from their superior numbers. I believe that even yet no American expects to got a verdict, on any evidence, from a jury of French Creoles. Madame Lalaurie enjoyed a long impunity, from this circumstance. She was a French Creole, and her third husband, M. Lalaurie, was. I believe, a Frenchman. He was many years younger than his lady, and had nothing to do with the management of her property; so that he has been in no degree mixed up with her affairs and disgraces. It had been long observed that Madame Lalaurie's slaves looked singularly haggard and wretched, except the coachman, whose appearance was sleek and comfortable enough. Two daughters by a former marriage, who lived with her, were also thought to be spiritless and unhappy-looking. But the lady was so graceful and accomplished, so charming in her manners, and so hospitable, that no one ventured openly to question her perfect goodness. If a murmur of doubt began among the Americans, the French resented it. If the French had occasional suspicions, they concealed them for the credit of their faction. “She was very pleasant to whites,” I was told; and sometimes to blacks; but so broadly so as to excite suspicions of hypocrisy. When she had a dinner party at homo, she would hand the remains of her glass of wine to the emaciated negro behind her chair, with a smooth audible whisper, “Here, my friend, take this: it will do you good.” At length, rumours spread which induced a friend of mine, an eminent lawyer, to send her a hint about the law which ordains that slaves who can be proved to have been cruelly treated shall be taken from the owner, and sold in the market for the benefit of the State. My friend, being of the American party, did not appear in the matter himself, but sent a young French crcole, who was studying law with him. The young man returned full of indignation against all who could suspect this amiable woman of doing anything wrong. He was confident that she could not harm a fly, or give pain to any human being.
Soon after this, a lady living in a house which joined the premises of Madame Lalaurie, was going up stairs, when she heard a piercing shriek from the next court-yard. She looked out, and saw a little negro girl, apparently about eight years old, flying across the yard towards the house, and Madame Lalaurie pursuing her, cowhide in hand. The lady saw the poor child run from story to story, her mistress following, till both came out upon the top of the house. Seeing the child about to spring over, the witness put her hands before her eyes; but she heard the fall, and saw the child taken up, her body bending, and limbs hanging, as if every bone was broken. The lady watched for many hours; and at night she saw the body brought out a shallow hole dug by torch-light in the corner of the yard, and the corpse covered over, No secret was made of what had been seen. Inquiry was instituted, and illegal cruelty proved in the case of nine slaves, who were forfeited according to law. It afterwards came out that this woman induced some family connexions of her own to purchase these slaves., and sell them again to her, conveying them back to her premises in the night. She must have desired to have them for purposes of torture; for she could not lot them be seen in a neighbour-hood where they were known.
During all this time, she docs not appear to have lost caste, though it appears that she beat her daughters as often as they attempted in her absence to convey food to her miserable victims. She always knew of such attempts by means of the sleek coachman, who was her spy. It was necessary to have a spy, to preserve her life from the vengeance of her household: so she pampered this obsequious negro, and at length owed her escape to him.
She kept her cook chained within eight yards of the fireplace, where sumptuous dinners were cooked in the most sultry season. It is a pity that some of the admiring guests whom she assembled round her hospitable table could not see through the floor, and be made aware at what a cost they were entertained One morning, the cook declared that they had better all be burned together than lead such, a life; and she set the house on fire. The alarm spread over the city: the gallant French Creoles all ran to the aid of their accomplished friend, and the fire was presently extinguished. Many, whose curiosity had been roused about the domestic proceedings of the lady, seized the opportunity of entering those parts of the premises from which the whole world had been hitherto carefully excluded. They perceived that as often as they approached a particular outhouse, the lady became excessively uneasy lest some property in an opposite direction should be burned. When the fire was extinguished, they made bold to break open this outhouse. A horrible sight met their eyes. Of the nine slaves, the skeletons of two were afterwards found poked into the ground; the other seven could scarcely be recognised as human. Their faces had the wildness of famine, and their bones were coming through the skin. They were chained and tied in constrained postures; some on their knees, some with their hands above their heads. They had iron collars with spikes which kept their heads in one position. The cowhide, stiff with blood, hung against the wall; and there was a step-ladder on which this fiend stood while flogging her victims, in order to lay on the lashes with more effect. Every morning, it was her first employment after breakfast to lock herself in with her captives, and flog them till her strength failed.
Amidst shouts and groans, the sufferers were brought out into the air and light. Food was given them,—with too much haste; for two of them died in the course of the day. The rest, maimed and helpless, are pensioners of the city.
The rage of the crowd, especially of the French Creoles, was excessive The lady shut herself up in the house, with her trembling daughters, while the street was filled, from end to end, with a yelling crowd of gentlemen. She consulted her coachman as to what she had best do. He advised that she should have her coach to the door after dinner, and appear to go forth for her afternoon drive, as usual; escaping or returning, according to the aspect of affairs. It is not told whether she ate her dinner that day, or prevailed on her remaining slaves to wait upon her. The carriage appeared at the door; she was ready, and stepped into it. Her assurance seems to have paralyzed the crowd. The moment the door was shut, they appeared to repent having allowed her to enter, and they tried to upset the carriage,—to hold the horses,—to make a snatch at the lady. But the coachman laid about him with his whip, made the horses plunge, and drove off. He took the road to the lake, where he could not be intercepted, as it winds through the swamp. He outstripped the crowd, galloped to the lake, bribed the master of a schooner which was lying there to put off instantly with the lady to Mobile. She escaped to France, and took up her abode in Paris under a feigned name; but not for long. Late one evening, a party of gentlemen called on her, and told her she was Madame Lalaurie, and that she had better be off. She fled that night, and is supposed to be now skulking about in some French province, under a false name.
The New Orleans mob met the carriage returning from the lake. What became of the coachman I do not know. The carriage was broken to pieces, and thrown into the swamp, and the horses stabbed, and left dead upon the road. The house was gutted,—the two poor girls having just time to escape from a window. They arc now living, in great poverty, in one of the faubourgs. The piano, tables, and chairs were burned before the house. The feather-beds were ripped up, and the feathers emptied into the street, where they afforded a delicate footing for sonic days. The house stands, and is meant to stand, in its ruined state. It was the strange sight of its gaping windows and empty walls, in the midst of a busy street, which excited my wonder, and was the cause of my being told the story, the first time. I gathered other particulars afterwards from eye-witnesses.
The crowd at first intended to proceed to the examination of other premises, whose proprietors were under suspicion of cruelty to their slaves; but the shouts of triumph which went up from the whose population of the city showed that this would not be safe. Fearing a general rising, the gentlemen organized themselves into a patrol, to watch the city, night and day, till the commotion should have subsided. They sent circulars to all proprietors suspected of cruelty, warning them that the eyes of the city were upon them. This is the only benefit the negroes have derived from the exposure. In reply to inquiries, I was told that it was very possible that cruelties like those of Madame Lalaurie might be incessantly in course of perpetration. It may be doubted whether any more such people exist: but if they do, there is nothing to prevent their following her example with impunity, as long as they can manage to preserve that secrecy which was put an end to by accident in her case.
I could never get out of the way of the horrors of slavery in this region. Under one form or another, they met me in every house, in every street,—everywhere but in the intelligence pages of newspapers, where I might read on in perfect security of exemption from the subject. In the advertizing columns, there were offers of reward for runaways, restored dead or alive; and notices of the capture of a fugitive with so many brands on his limbs and shoulders, and so many scars on his back. But from the other half of the newspaper, the existence of slavery could be discovered only by inference. What I saw elsewhere was, however, dreadful enough. In one house the girl who waited on me with singular officiousness, was so white, with blue eyes and light hair, that it never occurred to me that she could be a slave. Her mistress told me afterwards that this girl of fourteen was such a depraved hussey that she must be sold. I exclaimed involuntarily, but was referred to the long heel, in proof of the child's being of negro extraction. She had the long heel, sure enough. Her mistress stold me that it is very wrong to plead in behalf of slavery; that families are rarely separated; and gave me, as no unfair example of the dealings of masters, this girl's domestic history.
The family had consisted of father, mot her, and four children; this girl being the eldest, and the youngest an infant at the breast. The father was first sold separately; and then the rest of the family were purchased in the market by the husband of my friend,—the mother being represented to be a good cook and house servant. She proved to be both; but of so violent a temper that it was necessary to keep her own children out of her way when she had a knife in her hand, lest she should murder them. The anxiety of watching such a temper was not to be borne, and the woman was sold with her infant. Here was the second division of this family. The behaviour of the eldest girl was so outrageously profligate, that she was about to be disposed of also. And vet she was only a fair illustration of the results of the education by circumstance that slaves receive. When detected in some infamous practices, this young creature put on an air of prudery, and declared that it gave her great pain to be thought immodest: that so far from her being what she was thought, she had no wish to have any other lover than her master. Her master vas so enraged at this,—being a domestic Northern man, and not a planter,—that he tied her to the whipping-post, and flogged her severely with his own hands. The story of this dispersed and wretched family has nothing singular in it. With slight variations, it may be found repeated in every Southern settlement the traveller visits.
Just about the time that this was happening, a family in the neighbourhood was poisoned by a slave. I think one died, and the others had a narrow escape. The poisoner was sold in the market, as the proprietor could not afford to lose his human property by the law taking its course.
About the same time, the cashier of a bank in New Orleans sent one of his slaves out of the way, in order to be undisturbed in the violence which he meditated against the negro's attached wife. The negro understood the case, but dared not refuse to go whore he was bid. Me returned unexpectedly soon, however; found his home occupied, and stabbed the defiler of it. The cashier was the stronger man: and in spite of his wound, he so maltreated the negro that he expired on the barrow on which he was being conveyed to goal. Nothing ensued on account of this affair; though, when the cashier was some time after found to be a defaulter, he absconded.
I would fain know what has become of a mulatto child in whom I became much interested at New Orleans. Ailsic was eight years old, perfectly beautiful, and one of the most promising children I ever saw. She was quick, obedient, and affectionate, to a touching degree. She had a kind master and mistress. Her mistress's health was delicate; and the child would watch her countenance wistfully, in the constant hope of saving her trouble. She would look very grave if the lady went up stairs with a languid step, take hold of her gown, and timidly ask. “What, an't ye well?” I used to observe her helping to dress her mistress's hair, her little hands trembling with eagerness, her eye following every glance of the eye which ever looked tenderly upon her. Her master declared he did not know what to make of the child, she looked so scared, and trembled so if she was spoken to: and she was indeed the most sensitive of children. As she stood at the corner of the dinner-table to fan away the flies, she was a picture from which it was difficult to turn away. Her little yellow headdress suited well with her clear brown complexion and large soft black eyes: nothing that she could at all understand of the conversation escaped her, while she never intermitted her waving of the huge brush of peacocks' feathers. Her face was then composed in its intelligence, for she stood by her mistress's elbow: a station where she seemed to think no harm could befal her. Alas! she has lost her kind mistress. Amidst the many sad thoughts which thronged into my mind when I heard of the death of this lady, one of the wisest and best of American women. I own that some of my earliest regrets were for little Ailsic; and when I think of her sensibility, her beauty, and the dreadful circumstances of her parentage, as told me by her mistress, I am almost in despair about her future lot; for what can her master, with all his goodness, do for the forlorn little creature's protection? None but a virtuous mistress can fully protect a female slave.—and that too seldom.
Ailsic was born on an estate in Tennessee. Her father is a white gentleman, not belonging to the family; her mother the family cook. The cook's black husband cherished such a deadly hatred against this poor child, as to be for ever threatening her life: and she was thought to be in such danger from his axe, that she was sent down the river to be taken into the family where I saw her, What a cruel world.—what a hard human life, must Ailsic find that she is born into!
Such facts, occurring at every step, put the stranger on the watch for every revelation of the feelings of the masters about the relation of the two races. Some minute circumstances surprised me in this connexion. At the American theatre in New Orleans, one of the characters in the play which my party attended was a slave, one of whose speeches was, “I have no business to think and feel.”
At a dinner party. where three negroes were waiting, and where Ailsic stood fanning, a gentleman of very high official rank told a facetious story, at which every body laughed heartily.—(being. indeed, quite unable to help it. the manner of the narrator was so droll.—except a gentleman next me, who had once been a slave-trader. The senator told us of a couple from the Green Island, Pat and Nancy, who had settled on the Mississippi, and in course of time (to use the language of the region) “acquired six children and nine negroes.” Pat had a mind to better his fortunes and to go unincumbered higher up the river; and he therefore explained his plans to Nancy, finishing with,” and so, my darlin, I'll lave you; but I'll do inv best by you: I'll have you the six dear, nate, pretty little childer, and I'll take the nine nasty dirty negroes.” While every other American at the table laughed without control, I saw my neighbour, the former slave-trader, glance up at the negroes who were in attendance, and use a strong effort not to laugh.
The stranger has great difficulty in satisfying himself as to the bounds of the unconsciousness oppression which he finds urged as the exculpatory plea of the slave-holder, while he mourns over it as the great hindrance in the way of social reformation. It has been seen that an audience at the theatre will quietly receive a hit which would subject the author to punishment if he were an Abolitionist. When I listened to the stories told by ladies to each other, in their morning calls, showing the cleverness of their slaves. I often saw that they could not but be as fully convinced as I was that their slaves were as altogether human as themselves. I heard so many anecdotes,—somewhat of the character of the following,—that I began to suspect that one use of slaves is to furnish topics for the amusement of their owners.
Sam was sadly apt to get drunk, and had been often reproved by his muster on that account, One day his master found him intoxicated, and cried out, “What drunk again, Sam? I scolded you for being drunk last night: and here you are drunk again.” “No. massa. same drunk, massa: same drunk.”
But enough of this dark side of the social picture, I find myself dwelling long upon it, and frequently recurring to it, because all other subjects shrink into insignificance beside it: but these others must not be forgotten.
The gay visiting season at New Orleans was over before we arrived: but: we were in several parties. The division between the American and French factions is visible even in the drawing-room. The French complain that the Americans will not speak French.—will not meet their neighbours even half way in accommodation of speech. The Americans ridicule the toilette practices of the French ladies.—their liberal use of rouge and pearl powder. If the French ladies do thus beautify themselves. they do it with great art, I could not be quite sure of the fact in any one instance: while I am disposed to bel eve it from the clumsy imitation of the art which I saw in the countenance of an American rival or two. I witnessed with strong disgust the efforts of a voting lady from Philadelphia to make herself as French as possible by these disagreeable means. She was under twenty, and would have been rather pretty if she had given herself a fair chance: but her coarsely-painted eyebrows, daubed cheeks, and powdered throat inspired a disgust which she must be singularly unwise not to have anticipated. If this were a singles case, it would not be worth mentioning; but I was told by a resident that it is a common practice for young ladies to paint both white and red, under the idea of accommodating themselves to the French manners of the place. They bad better do it by practicing the French language. Than by copying the French toilette. New Orleans is the only place in the United States where I am aware of having seen a particle of rouge.
Large parties are much alike everywhere; and they leave no very distinct impression. Except for the mixture of languages, and the ample provision of ices, fans, and ventilators, the drawing-room, assemblages of New Orleans bear a strong resemblance to the routs and dinner parties of a country town in England. Our pleasantest days in the great Southern city were those which we spent quietly in the homes of intimate acquaintances. I vividly remember one which I was told was a true Louisiana day. We ladies carried our work-bags, and issued forth by eleven o'clock, calling by the way for a friend,— Ailsic's mistress. The house we were to visit was a small shaded dwelling, with glass doors opening into a pretty garden. In a cool parlour we sat at work, talking of things solemn and trivial of affairs native and foreign, till dinner, which was at two. We were then joined by the gentlemen. We left the dinner-table eartly, and the gentlemen trundled rocking-chairs and low stools into the garden, where we sat in the shade all the afternoon, The ladies working, the gentlemen singing Irish Melodies, telling good native stories and throwing us all into such a merry mood. That we positively refused the siesta, which we were urged to take, and forgot what a retribution we might expect from the mosquitoes for sitting so long under the trees. After tea we got to the piano, and were reminded. at last, by the darkness, of the number of hours which this delightful Louisiana visit had consumed. We all walked home together through the quiet streets, the summer lightning quivering through the thick trees, in singular contrast with the steady moonlight.
We should have liked to spend every day thus with friends who always made us forget that we were far from home; but a traveller's duty is to see every variety of society which comes within his reach. I was sought by some, and met accidentally with other persons who were on the eve of departure for Texas. Attempts were made to induce me to go myself; and also to convince me of the eligibility of the country as a place of settlement for British emigrants, in the hope that the arrival of a cargo of settlers form England might afford to the Texans a plea of countenance form the British Government. The subject of Texas is now so well understood that there is no occasion to enlarge upon the state of the question as it was two years and a half ago; and besides, if I were to give a precise account of the conversations between myself and the friends of the Texan aggression, my story would not be believed. The folly and romance of some of the agents employed, and the villany which people out of every admission extorted from the advocates of the scheme, would make my readers as astonished as I was myself, that any attempts should be made in the neighbourhood of the scene to gain the sympathy of strangers who were at all above the rank of knaves and fools. Suflice it that one class of advocates told me that I should be perfectly safe there, as the inhabitants were chiefly persons who could fight bravely against the Mexicans, from having nothing to lose, and from their having been compelled to leave the United States, by their too free use of arms; while the opposite species of agent enlarged, not only on the beauty of the sunsets, and the greenness of the savannahs, but on the delightful security of living under the same laws as the people of the United States, and amidst a condition of morals kept perfectly pure by Colonel Austin's practice of baying every person whom he conceived to have offended whipped at the cart's tail;—the fact being carefully concealed that Colonel Austin was at that time, and had been for two years, in gaol in the Mexican capital.
Our friends indulged us in what they knew to be our favourite pleasure,—in country drives. There can be no great choice of drives in the neighbourhood of a city which stands in a swamp; but such place as were attainable we reached. One was a rope-walk, 1200 feet long, under a roof. It looked picturesque, like every other rope-walk that I ever saw: but what struck me most about it was the sudden and profound repose we plunged into from the bustle of the city. The cottages of the Negroes were embowered in green, and the whole place had a tropical air, with its thickets of fig and catalpa, and its rows of Pride-of-India trees. This last tree looks to my eye like a shrub which has received mistaken orders to grow into a tree. Its fragrance is its great charm. The mixture of its lilac flowers with its green leaves impairs the effect of the foliage, as far as colour is concerned; and the foliage is besides not massy enough. A single sprig of it is beautiful and probably its fragrance propitiates the eyes of those who plant it, for I found it considered a beautiful tree. The dark shades of these thickets are enlivened by a profusion of roses; and the air fanned by myriads of insects wings. How the Negroes make friendship with the tribes of insects which drive the white man to forego the blessing of natural shade. I could never understand; but the black never looks more contented than when he shrouds himself in rauk vegetation, and lives in a concert of insect chirping, droning, and trumpeting.
We were taken to the Battle-ground, the native soil of General Jackson's political growth. Seeing the Battle-ground was all very well; but my delight was in the drive to it. With the Mississippi on the right hand, and on the left gardens of roses which bewildered the imagination. I really believed at the time that I saw more roses that morning than during the whole course of my life before. Gardens are so rare in America, from want of leisure, and deficiency of labour, that when they do occur, they are a precious luxury to the traveler, especially when they are in their spring beauty. In the neighbourhood of Mobile, my relative, who has a true English love of gardening, had introduced the practice; and I there saw villas and cottages surrounded with a luxuriant growth of Cherokee roses, honeysuckles, and myrtles, while groves of orange trees appeared in the background: but not even these equaled what I saw, this warm 4th of May, on our way to the Battle-ground. One villa, built by an Englishman, was obstinately inappropriate to the scene and climate;—red brick, without gallery, or even caves or porch,—the mere sight of it was scorching;. All the rest were an entertainment to the eye as they stood, white and cool, amidst their flowering magnolias, and their blossoming alleys, hedges, and thickets of roses. In returning, we alighted at one of these delicious retreats, and wandered about, losing each other among the thorns, the ceringas, and the wilderness of shrubs. We met in a grotto, under the summer-house, cool with a greenish light and veiled at its entrance with a tracery of creepers. There we lingered, amidst singing or silent dreaming. There seemed to be too little that was real about the place for ordinary voices to be heard speaking about ordinary things.
The river was rising, as we were told in a tone of congratulation. The eddies would be filled, and our voyage expedited. The canes in the sugar grounds were showing themselves above the soil; young sprouts that one might almost see grow. A negro was feed to gather flowers for us, and he filled the carriage with magnolia, honeysuckle, and roses, grinning the while at our pleasure, and at his own good luck in falling in with us.
The Battle-ground is rather more than four miles from the city. We were shown the ditch and the swamp by which the field of action was bounded on two sides, and some remains of the breast-work of earth which was thrown up. There has been great exaggeration about the cotton-bags, of which there were only a few in a line with the earthen defence, instead of an entire breast-work, as has been supposed in all the jokes and all the admiration which have been expended on the expedient. It was a deadly battle-field. It makes the spectator shudder to see the wide open space, the unsheltered level, over which the British soldiers were compelled to inarch to certain destruction. Never was greater bravery shown by soldiers; and never, perhaps, was bravery more abused by the unskilfulness of leaders. The result proves this. The British killed were nearly 3000: the Americans had six killed, and seven wounded. By all accounts, General Jackson showed consummate ability throughout the whole brief campaign; and the British leaders an imbecility no less remarkable.
I was shown a house on a plantation where, twelve days before the battle, the son of the proprietor was quietly dining at one o'clock, when a slave ran in, and told him that some men in red coats were in the yard. The young man instantly comprehended that the British had captured the American scouts. He bolted through the window, and into a canoe, and crossed the river amidst a shower of balls, seized a horse, and galloped to the city. The troops, dispersed on different points, were collected by drum and bell; and, between two o'clock and eleven at night, the city was made ready to abide the enemy's approach. It is still incomprehensible to the Americans why the British, who actually did throw a party over the river, did not all step ashore on the opposite side of the Mississippi, and quietly march the lour miles up to the city, and into it. It could have offered no defence; nor was there any impediment by the way.
The head-quarters of both generals are very conspicuous on the plain. Sir Edward Pakenham and a party of his officers were spied by the Americans, standing in the balcony of the house they inhabited. A gunner was ordered to take aim at them. Seeing the importance of the shot, he was flurried, and struck the river, a mile off. He was ordered to retire. He knew that this was the crisis of his professional fate, and implored that he might be granted one more chance. He then hit the pillar which supported the balcony, immediately under the feet of the group of officers, who hurried pell-mell into the house.
After eleven days of housekeeping in New Orleans, we were obliged to depart, having been fortunate enough to secure berths in a capital boat which started northwards on the 6th of May. The slaves in our temporary abode had served us intelligently and well. Wishing to see what they could do, we did not give any orders about our table. We were rarely at home at dinner; but our breakfasts and occasional dinners were more luxurious than if we had provided for ourselves. Excellent coffee, French bread, radishes, and strawberries at breakfast; and at dinner, broth, fowls, beef-steak, with peas, young asparagus, salad, new potatoes, and spinach, all well cooked; claret at dinner, and coffee worthy of Paris after it,—this was the kind of provision with which we were favoured. Every thing was done to make us cool. The beds were literally as hard as the floor. We had a bath of the coldest water prepared morning and night: all the doors and windows were kept open, and the curtains drawn, to establish draughts and keep out the sun. There was ice in the water jug; ice on the lump of butter; ice in the wine glass; and ice cream for dessert.
Abroad, all was, as in every other American city, hospitality and gaiety. I had rather dreaded the visit to New Orleans, and went more from a sense of duty than from inclination. A friendship that I formed there, though already eclipsed by death, left me no feeling but rejoicing that I had gone: and I also learned much that was useful in helping me to interpret some things which met my observation both previously and subsequently. But my strongest impression of New Orleans is, that while it affords an instructive study, and yields some enjoyment to a stranger, it is the last place in which men are gathered together where one who prizes his Humanity would wish to live.[Back to Table of Contents]
“That it was full of monsters who devoured canoes as well as men; that the devil stopped its passage, and sunk all those who ventured to approach the place where he stood; and that the river itself at last was swallowed up in the bottomless gulf of a tremendous whirlpool.”—Quarterly Review.
- “Hie ver purpureum: varios hie flumina circum
- Fundit humus flores: hie candida populus antro
- Imminet, et lentæ texunt umbracula vites.”
About four o'clock in the afternoon of the 6th of May we were conveyed, by a large party of friends, to the “Henry Clay,” on board of which accommodations had been secured for us by great exertion on the part of a fellow-voyager. The “Henry Clay” had the highest reputation of any boat on the river, having made ninety-six trips without accident; a rare feat on this dangerous river. As I was stepping on board, Judge P. said he hoped we were each provided with a life-preserver. I concluded he was in joke; but he declared himself perfectly serious, adding that we should probably find ourselves the only cabin passengers unprovided with this means of safety. We should have been informed of this before : it was too late now. Mr. E., of our party on board, told me all that this inquiry made me anxious to know. He had been accustomed to ascend and descend the river annually, with his family; and he made his arrangements according to his knowledge of the danger of the navigation. It was his custom to sit up till near the time of other people's rising, and to sleep in the day. There are always companies of gamblers in these boats, who, being awake and dressed during the hours of darkness, are able to seize the boats, on the first alarm of an accident in the night, and are apt to leave the rest of the passengers behind. Mr. E. was a friend of the captain; he was a man of gigantic bodily strength, and cool temper; every way fitted to be of use in an emergency: and the captain gave him the charge of the boats, in case of a night accident. Mr. E. told me that, as we were particularly under his charge, his first thought, in a time of danger, would be of us. He had a life-preserver, and was an excellent swimmer, so that he had little doubt of being able to save us, in any case. He only asked us to come the instant we were called; to do as we were bid; and to be quiet. As we looked at the stately vessel, with her active captain, her two pilots, the crowds of gay passengers, and all the provision for safety and comfort, it was scarcely possible to realize the idea of danger: but we knew that the perils of this extraordinary river, sudden and overwhelming, are not like those of the ocean, which can be, in a great measure, guarded against by skill and care. The utmost watchfulness cannot here provide against danger from squalls, from changes in the channel of the river, and from the snags, planters, and sawyers (trunks of trees brought down from above by the current, and fixed in the mud under water,) which may, at any moment, pierce the hull of the vessel.
Our Now Orleans friends remained with us upwards of an hour, introducing us to the captain, and to such of the passengers as they knew. Among these were Mr. and Mrs. L., of Boston, Massachusetts. We little imagined, that afternoon, how close an intimacy would grow out of this casual meeting; how many weeks we should afterwards spend in each other's society, with still-increasing esteem and regard The last thing one of my friends said was that he was glad we were going, as there had been forty cases of cholera in the city, the day before.
After five o'clock, the company on deck and in the cabins, who had bidden farewell to their friends some time before, began to inquire of one another why we were not setting off. We had found the sun too warm on deck, and had had enough of mutual staring with the groups on the wharf: we turned over the books, and made acquaintance with the prints in the ladies' cabin; and then leisurely arranged our state-rooms to our liking: and still there was no symptom of departure. The captain was obviously annoyed. It was the non-arrival of a party of passengers which occasioned the delay. A multitude of Kentuckians and other western men had almost forced their way on board, as deck-passengers; men who had come down the river in flat-boats with produce, who were to work their way up again by carrying wood at the wooding-places, morning and evening, to supply the engine-fire. These men, like others, prefer a well-managed to a perilous boat; and their eagerness to secure a passage was excessive. More thronged in, after the captain had declared that he was full; more were bustling on the wharf, and still the expected party did not come. The captain ordered the plank to be taken up which formed a communication with the shore. Not till six o'clock was it put down for the dilatory passengers, who did not seem to be aware of the inconvenience they had occasioned. They were English. A man on the wharf took advantage of the plank being put down, to come on board, in spite of prohibition. He went with his bundle to the spot on the second deck which he chose for a sleeping place, and immediately lay down, without attracting particular notice from any one.
We braved the heat on the hurricane dock, for the sake of obtaining last views of New Orleans. The city soon became an indistinguishable mass of buildings, lying in the swamp; yet with something of a cheerful air, from the brightness of the sun. The lofty Cotton-press, so familiar to the eye of every one acquainted with that region, was long visible, amidst the windings of the river, which seemed to bring us quite near the city again, when we thought we should see it no more.
At seven we were summoned to supper, and obtained a view of the company in whose society we were to pass the next ten days. There was a great mixture. There was a physician from New York, with his wife and a friend or two; an ultra exclusive party. There were Mr. and Mrs. B., also from New York, amiable elderly people, with some innocent peculiarities: and showing themselves not the less mindful of other people from taking great care of each other. There was the party that had kept the captain waiting,—some of them very agreeable: and the L.'s, whom it would have been a privilege to meet any where. There were long trains of young men,—so many as to extinguish all curiosity as to who they were, and where they came from: and a family party belonging to the West, father, mother, grandmother, and six children, who had a singular gift of squalling; and their nurses,—slaves. These are all that I distinctly remember among the multitude that surrounded the almost interminable table in the cabin. This table, long as it was, would not hold all the company. Many had to wait till seats were vacated; and yet we were to go on receiving passengers, all the way to Natchez.
We took in more this evening. After supper we hastened again to the hurricane deck, where the air was breathing cool, and, to our great joy, strong enough to relieve us from mosquitoes. The river was lined with plantations of cotton and sugar; as it continued to be for two hundred miles farther. Almost every turn of the mighty stream disclosed a sugar-house of red brick, with a centre and wings;—all much alike. Groups of slaves, most of them nearly naked, were chopping wood, or at other kinds of toil along the shore. As the twilight melted into the golden moonlight of this region, I saw sparkles among the reeds on the margin of the stream. It did not occur to me what they were, till I saw a horse galloping in a meadow, and apparently emitting gleams of fire. I then knew that I at length saw fire flies. One presently alighted on the linen coat of a gentleman standing beside me; where it spread its gleam over a space as large as the palm of my hand, making the finest of the threads distinctly visible.
In a dark recess of the shore a large fire suddenly blazed up, and disclosed a group of persons standing on the brink of the stream. Our boat neared the shore; for this was a signal from a party who had secured their passage with us. Night after night I was struck with the same singular combination of lights which I now beheld;— the moonlight, broad and steady; the blazing brands, sometimes on the shore, and sometimes on board the flat-boats we met; and the glancing fire-flies.
When we went down for the night, we had our first experience of the crying of the little H.'s. They were indefatigable children: when one? Became quiet, another began; and among them, they kept up the squall nearly the twenty-four hours round. Their mother scolded them; their nurses humoured them; and, between these two methods of management, there was no peace for anybody within hearing. There was a good deal of trampling overhead too. Many of the deck passengers had to sleep in the open air, on the hurricane deck, from there being no room for them below; and, till they had settled themselves, sleep was out of the question for those whose state-rooms were immediately beneath. At length, however, all was quiet but the rumbling of the engine, and we slept.
When I went on deck in the morning, before six, I was privately told, by a companion, that the man who had last forced his way on board had died of cholera in tho night, and had boon laid under a tree, at the wooding-place, a few minutes before. Never was there a lovelier morning for a worn wretch to lie down to his long sleep. The captain particularly desired that the event should be passed over in entire silence, as he was anxious that there should be no alarm about the disease; on board the boat. The poor man had, as I have mentioned, lain down in his place as soon as he came among us. He lay unobserved till two in the morning, when he roused the neighbour on each side of him. They saw his state at a glance, and lost not a moment in calling down the New York physician: but before this gentleman could get to him, the sick man died. His body was handed over to the people at the wooding-place, and buried in the cheerful morning sunshine. We sped away from that lonely grave as if we were in a hurry to forget it; and when we met at breakfast, there was mirth and conversation, and conventional observance, just as if death had not been among us in the night. This was no more than a quickening of the process by which man drops out of life, and all seems to go on as if he had never been:—only seems, however. Even in this case, where the departed had been a stranger to us all, and had sunk from amidst us in eight hours. I believe there were few or no hearts untouched,—either by sorrow for him or fear for themselves, We were none of us as we should have been if this, his brief connexion with us, had never existed.
All the morning we were passing plantations; and there were houses along both banks, at short intervals: sometimes the mansions of planters; sometimes sugar-houses; sometimes groups of slave-dwellings, painted or unpainted, standing under the shade of sycamores, magnolias, live oaks, or Pride-of-India trees. Many dusky gazing figures of men with the axe, and women with the pitcher, would have tempted the pencil of an artist. The field were level and rich-looking, and they were invariably bounded by the glorious forest. Towards noon, we perceived by the number of sailing boats that we were near some settlement, and soon came upon Donaldsonville, a considerable village, with a large unfinished State-House, where the legislature of Louisiana once sat, which was afterwards removed to New Orleans, whence it has never come back. Its bayou boasts a steamer, by which planters in the south back-country are conveyed to their estates, on quitting the Mississippi.
We now felt ourselves sufficiently at home to decide upon the arrangement of our day. The weather was too hot to let the fatigues of general conversation be endurable for many hours together; and there was little in the general society of the vessel to make us regret this. We rose at five, or a little later; the early morning being delicious. Breakfast was ready at seven: and after it. I apparently went to my state-room for the morning: but this was not exactly the case. I observed that the laundresses hung their counterpanes and sheets to dry in the gallery before my window, and that therefore nobody came to that gallery. It struck me that this must be the coolest part of the boat, such an evaporation as was perpetually going on. I therefore stepped out of my window, with my book, work, or writing; and, sitting under the shade of a counterpane, and in full view of the river and western shore, spent in quiet some of the pleasantest morning I have ever known. I was now and then reminded of the poor parson, pitied by Mrs. Barbauld:—
- “or crossing lines
- Shall mar thy musings, as the wet cold sheet
- Flaps in thy face abrupt:”
and sometimes an unsympathizing laundress would hang up an impenetrable veil between me and some object on shore that I was eagerly watching; but these little inconveniences were nothing in the way of counterbalance to the privilege of retirement. I took no notice of the summons to luncheon at eleven, and found that dinner, at half-past one. came far too soon. We all thought it our duty to be sociable in the afternoon, and therfore took our seats in the gallery on the other side of the boat, where we were daily introduced to members of our society who beofre were strangers, and spent two or three hours in conversation or at chess. It was generally very hot, and the conversation far from lively, consisting chiefly of complaints of the heat or the glare—of the children, or of the dulness of the river: varied by mutual interrogation about where every body was going. A remark here and there was amusing; as when a lady described Canada as the place where people row boats and sing “Row, brothers, row.” and all that. When the heat began to decline, we went to the hurricane deck to watch the beauty of evening stealing on: and as no one but ourselves and our most esteemed acquaintance seemed to care for the wider view we here obtained, we had the place to ourselves; except that some giddy boys pursued their romps here, and kept us in aperprtual panic, lost, in their racing, they should run overboard. There is no guard whatever, and the leads overhang the water. Mr. E. said he never allowed his boys to play here; but gave them the choice of playing below, or sitting still on the top.
After tea we came up again on fine evenings; walked for an hour or two, and watched the glories of the night, till the deck passengers appeared with their blankets, and compelled us to go down.
Nothing surprised me more than to see that very few of the ladies looked out of the boat, unless their attention was particularly called. All the morining the greater number sat in their own cabin, working collars, netting purses or doing nothing: all the evening they amused themselves in the other cabin, dancing or talking. And such scenery as we were passing! I was in perpetual amazement that, with all that has been said of the grandeur of this mighty river, so little testimony has been borne to its beauty.
On the evening of our first day on the Missisippi. Mr. E. told me of the imminent danger he and his lady had twice been in, on board steamboats. His stories give an idea of the perils people should make up thier minds to, on such excursions as ours. On their wedding journey, the E.'s. accompanied by their relative. Judge H., went down the Alabama river. One night, when Mr. E. was just concluding the watch I have described him as keeping the boat ran foul of another and parted in two, beginning instantly to sink. Mr. E. roused his lady from her sleep, made her thrust her feet into his boots, threw his cloak over her, and carried her up to the deck, not doubting that, from her being the only lady on board, she would be the first to be accommodated in the boat. But the boat had been seized by some gamblers who were wide awake, and ready dressed, when the accident happened, and they had got clear of the steamer. Mr. E. shouted to them to take in the lady,—only the lady: he promised that neither Judge H, nor himself should enter the boat. They might have come back for every one on board with perfect safety: but he could not move them. Judge H. meanwhile had secured a plank on which he hoped to seat Mrs. E., while Mr. E. and himself, both good swimmers, might push it bofore them to the shore, if they could escape the eddy from the sinking vessel. Mr. E. heard next the voice of an old gentleman whom he knew, who was in the boat, and trying to persuade the fellows to trun back. Mr. E. shouted to him to shoot the wretches if they would not come. The old gentleman took the hint, and held a pistol (which however was not loaded) at the head of the man who was steering: upon which they turned back and took in, not only Mrs. E., her party and their luggage, but every body else; so that no lives were lost. Mrs. E. lost nothing but the clothes she had left by her bedside. She was perfectly quiet and obedient to directions, the whole time. The vessel sank within a quarter of an hour.
A few years after, the E.'s went up the Mississippi with their little girl. Some fine ladies on board wondered at Mrs. E. for shaking hands with a rude farmer, with whom she had some acquaintance: and it appears probable that the farmer was aware of what passed. when Mr. E. was going down to bed, near day, he heard a deck passenger say to another, in a tone of alarm, “I say, John, look here?” “What's the matter?” asked Mr. E. “Nothing, Sir: only the boat's sinking.” Mr. E. ran to the spot, and found the news too true. The vessel had been pierced by a snag, and the water was rushing in by hogsheads. The boat seemed likely to be at the bottom in ten minutes. Mr. E. banded the men a pole and bade them thrust their bedding into the breach which they did with much cleverness, till the carpenter was ready with a better plug. The horrid words, “the boat's sinking,” had, however, been overhead: and the screams of the ladies were dreadful. The uproar above and below was excessive: but through it all was heard the voice of the rough farmer saying, “Where's E.'s girl? I shall save her first.” The boat was run safely ashore, and the fright was the greatest damage sustained.
We passed Baton Rouge, on the cast Louisiana bank, on the afternoon of this day. It stands on the first eminence we had seen on these shores, and the barracks have a handsome appearance from the water. A summer-house, perched on a rising ground, was full of people, amusing themselves with smoking and looking abroad upon the river; and truly they had an enviable station. A few miles farther on, we went ashore at the wooding-place, and I had my first walk in the untrodden forest. The height of the trees seemed incredible, as we stood at their foot, and looked up. I made us feel suddenly dwarfed. We stood in a crowd of locust and cotton-wood trees, elm, maple, and live oak: and they were all bound together by an inextricable tangle of creepers, which seemed to frobid our pencirating many paces into the forest beyond where the wood-cutters had intruded. I had a great horror of going too far; and was not sorry to find it impossible: it would he so easy for the boat to leave two or three passengers behind, without finding it out: and no fate could be conceived more desolate. I looked into the wood-cutters' dwelling, and hardly knew what to think of the hardihood of any one who could embrace such a mode of life for asingle week, on any consideration. Amidst the desolation and abominable dirt, I observed a mosquito bar,—a muslin curtain,—suspended over the crib. Without this, the dweller in the wood would be stung almost to madness or death before morning. This curtain was nearly of a saffron colour; the floor of the hut was of damp earth, and the place so small that the wonder was how two men could live in it. There was a rude enclosure round it to keep off intruders; but the space was grown over with the rankest grass and yellow weeds. The ground was swampy all about, up to the wall of untouched forest which rendered this spot inaccessible except, from the river. The beautiful squills-flower grew plentifully; the only relief to the eye from the vastness and rankness. Piles of wood were built up on the brink of the river, and were now rapidly disappearing under the activity of our deck-passengers, who were passing in two lines to and from the vessel. The bell from the boat tinkled through the wilderness, like a foreign sound. We hastened on board; and I watched the wood-cutters, with deep pity, as they gazed after us for a minute or two, and then turned into their forlorn abode.
We were in hopes of passing the junction of the Red River with the Mississippi before dark; but found that we were not to sec the Red River at all; a channel having been partly found and partly made between an island and the eastern shore, which saves a circuit of many miles. In this narrow channel the current ran strong against us; and as we laboured through it in the evening light, we had opportunity to observe every green meadow, every solitary dwelling, which presented itself in the intervals of the forest. We grew more and more silent as the shades fell, till we emerged from the dark channel into the great expanse of the main river, glittering in the moonlight. It was like putting out to sea.
Just before bed-time we stopped at Sarah Bayou to take in still more passengers. The steward complained that he was coming to an end of his mattresses, and that there was very little more room for gentlemen to lie down, as they were already ranged along the tables, as well as all over the floor. So much for the reputation of the “Henry Clay.”
The next morning, the 8th, I was up in time to witness the scramble for milk that was going on at the wooding-place. The moment we drew to the land, and the plank was put out, the steward leaped on shore, and ran to the wood-cutters' dwelling, pitcher in hand. The servants of the gentry on board followed, hoping to get milk for breakfast; but none succeeded, except the servant of an exclusive. This family had better have been without milk to their coffee than have been tempted by it to such bad manners as they displayed at the breakfast table. Two young ladies who had come on board the night before, who suspected nothing of private luxuries at a public table, and were not aware of the scarcity of milk, asked a waiter to hand them a pitcher which happened to belong to the exclusives. The exclusives' servant was instantly sent round to take it from them; and not a word of explanation was offered.
The wood-cutters' dwelling before us was very different from the one we had seen the night before. It was a good-sized dwelling, with a cotton-wood tree before it. casting a flickering shadow upon the porch; and behind it was a well-cleared field. The children were decently dressed, and several slaves peeped out from the places where they were pursuing their avocations. A passenger brought me a beautiful bunch of dwarf-roses which he had gathered over the garden paling. The piles of wood prepared for the steam-boats were enormous; betokening that there were many stout arms in the household.
This morning, we seemed to be lost among islands, in a waste of waters. The vastness of the river now began to bear upon our imaginations. The flat boats we met looked as if they were at the mercy of the floods, their long oars bending like straws in the current. They are so picturesque, however, and there is something so fanciful in the canopy of green boughs under which the floating voyagers repose during the heat of the day, that some of us proposed building a flat boat on the Ohio, and floating down to New Orleans at our leisure.
Adams Fort, in the State of Mississippi, afforded the most beautiful view we had yet seen on the river. The swelling hills, dropped with wood, closed in a reach of the waters, and gave them the appearance of a lake. White houses nestled in the clumps; goats, black and white, browsed on the points of the many hills; and a perfect harmony of colouring dissolved the whole into something like a dream. This last charm is as striking to us as any in the vast wilderness, through which the “Father of Waters” takes his way. Even the turbid floods, varying their hues with the changes of light and shallow, are a fit element of the picture; and no one wishes them other than they are.
In the afternoon we ran over a log: the vessel trembled to her centre; the ladies raised their heads from their work; the gentlemen looked overboard; and I saw our yawl snagged, as she was careering at the stern. The sharp end of the log pricked through her bottom as if she had been made of brown paper. She was dragged after us, full of water, till we stopped at the evening wooding-place; when I ran to the hurricane deck, to see her pulled up on shore and mended. There I found the wind so high that it appeared to me equally impossible to keep my seat, and to get down: my feather-fan blew away, and I expected to follow it myself,—so strangling was the gust,— one of the puffs which take the voyager by surprise amidst the windings of this forest-banked river. The yawl was patched up in a surprisingly short timé. The deck passengers clustered round to lend a hand; and the blows of the mallet resounded along the shore, fitfully, as the gust came and passed over.
Every one wished to reach and leave Natchez before dark; and this was accomplished. As soon as we came in sight of the bluff on which the city is built, we received a hint from the steward to lock our state-rooms, and leave nothing about; as there was no preventing the townspeople from coming on board. We went on shore. No place can be more beautifully situated;—on a bend of the Mississippi, with a low platform on which all the ugly traffic of the place can be transacted; bluffs on each side; a steep road up to the town; and a noble prospect from thence. The streets are sloping, and the drains are remarkably well built: but the place is far from healthy, being subject to the yellow fever. It is one of the oldest of the southern cities, though with a new,—that is, a perpetually shifting population. It has handsome buildings; especially the Agricultural Bank, the Court House, and two or three private dwellings. Main-street commands a fine view from the ascent, and is lined with Pride-of-India trees. I believe the landing-place at Natchez has not improved its reputation since the descriptions which have been given of it by former travellers. When we returned to the boat, after an hour's walk, we found the captain very anxious to clear his vessel of the townspeople, and get away. The cabin was half full of the intruders, and the heated, wearied appearance of our company at tea bore testimony to the fatigues of the afternoon.
In the evening, only one fire-fly was visible; the moon was misty, and faint lightning flashed incessantly. Before morning, the weather was so cold that we shut our windows; and the next day, there was a fire in the ladies' cabin. Such are the changes of temperature in this region.
The quantity of drift-wood that we encountered above Natchez was amazing. Some of it was whirling slowly down with the current; but much more was entangled in the bays of the islands, and detained, in incessant accumulation. It can scarcely be any longer necessary to explain that it is a mistake to suppose this drift-wood to be the foundation of the islands of the Mississippi. Having itself no foundation, it could not serve any such purpose. The islands are formed by deposits of soil brought down from above by the strong force of the waters. The accumulation proceeds till it reaches the surface, when the seeds contained in the soil, or borne to it by the winds, sprout, and bind the soft earth by a network of roots, thus providing a basis for a stronger vegetation every year. It is no wonder that superficial observers have fallen into this error respecting the origin of the new lands of the Mississippi; the rafts of drift-wood look so like incipient islands; and when one is fixed in a picturesque situation, the gazer longs to heap earth upon it, and clothe it with shrubbery.
When we came in sight of Vicksburg, the little H.'s made a clamour for some new toys. Their mother told them how very silly they were; what a waste of money it would be to buy such toys as they would get at Vicksburg; that they would suck the paint, &c. Strange to say, none of these considerations availed anything. Somebody had told the children that toys were to be bought at Vicksburg; and all argument was to them worth less than the fact. The contention went on till the boat stopped, when the mother yielded, with the worst possible grace, and sent a slave nurse on shore to buy toys. An hour after we were again on our way, the lady showed me, in the presence of the children, the wrecks of the toys; horses' legs, dogs' heads, the broken body of a wagon, &c., all, whether green, scarlet, or yellow, sucked into an abominable daub. She complained bitterly of the children for their folly, and particularly for their waste of her money; as if the money were not her concern, and the fun theirs!
We walked through three or four streets of Vicksburg; but the captain could not allow us time to mount the hill. It is a raw-looking, straggling place, on the side of a steep ascent, the steeple of the Court House magnificently overlooking a huge expanse of wood, and a deep bend of the river. It was three months after this time that the tremendous Vicksburg massacre took place; a deed at which the whole country shuddered; and much of the world beyond. In these disorders, upwards of twenty persons were executed, without trial by jury, or pretence of justice. Some of the sufferers were gamblers, and men of bad character otherwise. Some were wholly innocent of any offence whatever; and I believe it is now generally admitted that the plot for rousing the slaves to insurrection, which was the pretext for the whole proceeding, never had any real existence. It was the product of that peculiar faculty of imagination which is now monopolized by the slave-holder, as of old by imperial tyrants. Among the sufferers in this disturbance was a young farmer, of Ohio, I think, who was proceeding to New Orleans on business, and was merely resting on the eastern bank of the river, on his way. I have seldom seen anything more touching than his brief letter to his parents, informing them that he was to be executed the next morning. Nothing could be quieter in its tone than this letter; and in it he desired that his family would not grieve too much for his sudden death, for he did not know that he could ever feel more ready for the event than then. His old father wrote an affecting appeal to the Governor of Mississippi, desiring, not vengeance, for that could be of no avail to a bereaved parent; but investigation, for the sake of his son's memory, and the future security of innocent citizens. The Governor did not recognize the appeal. The excuse made for him was that he could not: that, if the citizens of the State preferred Lynch law to regular justice, the Governor could do nothing against the will of the majority. The effect of barbarism like this is not to justify the imputation of its excesses to the country at large; but to doom the region in which it prevails to be peopled by barbarians. The lovers of justice and order will avoid the places where they are set at naught.
Every day reminded us of the superiority of our vessel: for we passed every boat going the same way; and saw some so delayed by accidents that we wondered what was to become of the passengers; at least, of their patience. A disabled boat was seen on the morning of this day, the 9th, crowded with Kentuckians, some of whom tried to win their way on board the “Henry Clay” by witticisms; but our captain was inexorable, declaring that we could hold no more. Then we passed the Ohio steam-boat, which left New Orleans three days before us, but was making her way very slowly, with cholera on board.
The 10th was Sunday. The children roared as usual: but the black damsels were dressed; there was no laundry-work going on, nor fancy-work in the cabin; and there was something of a Sunday look about the place. As I was sitting by my state-room window, sometimes reading, and sometimes looking out upon the sunny river, green woods, and flat boats that keep no sabbath, a black servant entered to say that Mr. E. desired me “to come to the preachin'.” I thought it unlikely that Mr. E. should be concerned in the affair, and knew too well what the service was likely to be, in such a company, and conducted by such a clergyman as was to officiate, to wish to attend. I found afterwards that the service had been held against the wishes of the captain, Mr. E., and many others; and that it had better, on all accounts, have been omitted. Some conversation which the young clergyman had thrust upon me had exhibited, not only his extreme ignorance of the religious feelings and convictions of Christians who differed from him, but no little bitterness of contempt towards them: and he was therefore the last person to conduct the worship of a large company whose opinions and sentiments were almost as various as their faces, This reminds me that an old lady on board asked an acquaintance of mine what my religion was. On being told that I was an Unitarian, she exclaimed, “She had better have done with that: she won't find it go down with us.” It never occurred to me before to determine my religion by what would please people on the Mississippi.
Before breakfast, one morning, when I was walking on the hurricane deck, I was joined by a young man who had been educated at West Point, and who struck me as being a fair and creditable specimen of American youth. He told me that he was very poor, and described his difficulties from being disappointed of the promotion he had expected on leaving West Point. He was now turning to the law; and he related by what expedients he meant to obtain the advantage of two years study of law, before settling in Maine. His land-travelling was done on foot; and there was no pretension to more than his resources could command. His manners were not so good as those of American youths generally; and he was not at first, very fluent; but expressed himself rather in schoolboy phrase. His conversation was, however, of a host of metaphysicians, as well as lawyers; and I thought he would never have tired of analyzing Bentham; from whom he passed on, like every one who talks in America about books or authors, to Bulwer, dissecting his philosophy and politics very acutely. He gave me clear and sensible accounts of the various operation of more than one of the United States institutions, and furnished me with some very acceptable information. Alter our walk and conversation had lasted an hour and a half, we were summoned to breakfast; and I thought we had earned it.
During the morning, I heard a friend of mine, in an earnest but amused tone, deprecating a compliment from two slave women, who were trying to look most persuasive. They were imploring her to cut out a gown for each of them like the one she wore. They were so enormously fat and slovenly, and the lady's dress fitted so neatly, to make the idea of the pattern being transferred to them most ludicrous. As long as we were on board, however, I believe they never doubted my friend's power of making them look like herself, if she only would; and they continued to cast longing glances on the gown.
On the 11th, we overtook another disabled steamboat, which had been lying forty-eight hours with both her cylinders burst; unable, of course, to move a yard. We towed her about two miles, to a settlement: and the captain agreed to take on board two young ladies who were anxious to proceed, and a few deck-passengers.
The scenery was by this time very wild. These hundreds of miles of level woods and turbid, rushing waters, and desert islands, are oppressive to the imagination. Very few dwellings were visible. We went ashore in the afternoon, just for the sake of having been in Arkansas. We could penetrate only a little way through the young cotton-wood and the tangled forest, and we saw nothing.
In the evening, we touched at Helena, and more passengers got on board, in defiance of the captain's shouts of refusal. He declared that the deck was giving wav under the crowd; and that he would not go near the shore again, but anchor in the middle of the river, and send his boats for provisions.
While I was reading on the morning of the 12th, the report of a rifle from the lower deck summoned me to look out. There were frequent rifle-shots, and they always betokened our being near shore,— generally under the bank, where the eye of the sportsman was in the way of temptation from some object in the forest. We were close under the eastern bank, whence we could peep through the massy beech-trunks into the dark recesses of the woods. For two days, our eves had rested on scenery of this kind: now it was about to change. We were approaching the fine Chickasaw bluffs, below Memphis, in the State of Tennessee. The captain expressed a wish that none of the passengers would go on shore at Memphis, where the cholera was raging. He intended to stay only a few minutes, for bread and vegetables, and would not admit a single passenger, on any consideration. We did not dream of disregarding his wishes, if indeed the heat had left us any desire to exert ourselves: but Mr. B. was so anxious that his lady should mount the bluff, that she yielded to his request; though stout and elderly as she was, the ascent would have been a serious undertaking, on a cool afternoon, and with plenty of time, The entire company of passengers was assembled to watch the objects on shore;—the cotton bales piled on the top of the bluff; the gentleman on horseback on the ridge, who was eyeing us in return; the old steamer, fitted up as a store, and moored by the bank, for the chance of traffic with voyagers: and above all the slaves, ascending and descending the steep path with trays of provisions on their heads,—the new bread and fresh vegetables with which we were to be cheered. Of course, all eyes were fixed upon Mr. and Mrs. B. as they attempted the ascent. The husband lent his best assistance, and dragged his poor lady about one-third of the way up: when she suddenly found that she could not go a step forward or back: she stuck, in a most finished attitude of panic, with her face to the cliff, and her back to us, her husband holding her up by one arm, and utterly at a loss what to do next, I hope they did not hour the shout of laughter which wont up from our vessel, A stout boatman ran to their assistance, and enabled the lady to urn round, after which she came down without accident, She won every body's esteem by her perfect good-humour on the occasion. Heated and flurried as she was, she was perfectly contented with having tried to oblige her husband. This was her object, and she trained it; and more,—more than she was aware of unless indeed she found that her follow-passengers were more eager to give her pleasure after this adventure than before.
The town of Memphis looked bare and hot; and the bluffs though a relief from the level vastness on which we had been gazing for two days are not so beautiful as the eminences four or five hundred miles below.
The air was damp and close this night; the moon dim the lightning blue, and glaring: incessantly and the wood-ashes from the chimneys very annoying. It was not weather for the deck; and seeing that Mr. E. and two other gentlemen wanted to make up a rubber. I joined them. In our well-lighted cabin, the lightning seemed to pour in in streams; and the thunder soon began to crack over-head. Mrs. H. came to us, and rebuked us for playing cards while it thundered, which she thought very blasphemous. When our rubber was over, and I retired to the ladies cabin, I found that the lady had been doing something which had a least as much levity in it. After undressing, she had put on her life-preserver, and floundered on the floor, to show how she should swim if the boat sank. Her slaves had got under the table to laugh, They little thought how near we might come to swimming for our lives before morning. I believe it was about three hours after midnight when I was awakened by a tremendous and unaccountable noise overhead. It was most like ploughing through a forest, and crashing all the trees down. The lady who shared my state-room was up, pale and frightened; and lights were moving in the ladies cabin, I did not choose to cause alarm by inquiry; but the motion of the boat was so strange that I thought it must waken every one on board. The commotion lasted. I should think, about twenty minutes, when I suppose it subsided, for I fell asleep. In the morning. I was shown the remains of hail-stones, which must have been of an enormous size, to judge by what was left of them at the end of three hours. Mr. K. told me that we had been in the utmost danger, for above a quarter of an hour, from one of the irresistible squalls to which this navigation is liable. Both the pilots had been blown away from the helm, and were obliged to leave the vessel to its fate. It was impossible to preserve a footing for an instant on the top; and the poor passengers who lay there had attempted to come down, bruised with the tremendous hail, (which caused the noise we could not account for.) and seeing, with the pilot, no other probability than that the hurricane deck would be blown completely away: but there was actually no standing room for these men, and they bail to remain above, and take their chance. The vessel drove madly from side to side of the dangerous channel; and the pilots expected every moment that she would, founder. I find that we usually made much more, wav by-night than by day, the balance of the boat being kept even while the passengers are equally dispersed and quiet, instead of running from side to side, or crowding the one gallery and deserting the other.
I was on the look out for alligators, all the way up the river, but could never see one. A deck passenger declared that a small specimen slipped off a log into the water one day when nobody else was looking: but his companions supposed he might be mistaken, as alligators are now rarely seen in this region. Terrapins were very numerous, sometimes sunning themselves on floating logs, and sometimes swimming, with only their pert little heads visible above water. Wood-pigeons might be seen flitting in the forest when we were so close under the banks as to pry into the shades; and the beautiful blue jay often gleamed before our eyes. No object was more striking than the canoes which we frequently saw, looking fearfully light, and frail amidst the strong current. The rower used a spoon-shaped paddle, and advanced with amazing swiftness; sometimes crossing before our bows; sometimes darting along under the bank; sometimes shooting across a track of moonlight. Very often there was only one person in the canoe; as in the instance I have elsewhere mentioned* of a woman who was supposed to be going on a visit, twenty or thirty miles up the stream. I could hardly have conceived of a solitude so intense as this appeared to me;—the being alone on that rushing sea of waters, shut in by untrodden forests; the slow fish-hawk wheeling overhead; and perilous masses of drift-wood whirling down the current,— trunks obviously uprooted by the forces of nature, and not laid low by the hand of man. What a spectacle must our boat, with its gay crowds, have appeared to such a solitary! what a revelation that there was a busy world still stirring somewhere:— a fact which, I think, I should soon discredit, if I lived in the depths of this wilderness; for life would become tolerable there only by the spirit growing into harmony with the scene,— wild and solemn as the objects around it.
The morning after the storm the landscape looked its wildest. The clouds were drifting away, and a sun-gleam came out as I was peeping into the forest at the wooding-place. The vines look beautiful on the black trunks of the trees after rain. Scarcely a habitation was to be seen; and it was like being set back to the days of creation, we passed so many islands in every stage of growth. I spent part of the morning: with the L's: and we were more than once alarmed by a fearful scream, followed by a trampling and scuffling in the neighbouring gallery. It was only some young ladies, with their work and guitar, who were in a state of terror because some green boughs would sweep over when we were close under the bank. They could not be re-assured by the gentlemen who waited upon them: nor would they change their seats: so that we were treated with a long series of screams, till the winding of the channel carried us across to the opposite bank.
In the afternoon we came in sight of New Madrid, in the State of Missouri; a scattered small place, on a green table land. We sighed to think how soon our wonderful voyage would be over: and at every settlement we reached repined at being there so soon. While others went on shore, I remained on board to see how they looked, dispersed in the woods, grouped round the wood-piles and seated on logs. The clergyman urged my going, saying, “It's quite a retreat to go on shore.” This gentleman is Vice-president of an educational establishment for young ladies, where there are public exhibitions of their proficiency, and the poor ignorant little girls take degrees. Their heads must be so stuffed with vain-glory, that there can be little room for any thing else.
There were threatenings of another night of storm. The vessel seemed to labour much; and the weather was gusty, with incessant lightnings. The pilots said that they were never in such danger on the river as for twenty minutes of the preceding night. The captain was, however, very thankful for a few hours of cold weather: for his boat was so overcrowded as to make him dread, above all things, the appearance of disease on board. Some of us went to bed early this night, expecting to be called up to see the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi, by such light as there might be two hours after midnight. Mr. E. promised to have me called; and on the faith of this I went to sleep at the usual time. I had impressed him with my earnest desire not to miss this sight as I had seen no junction of large rivers, except that of the Tombigbee with the Alabama. Mrs. B, would not trust to being called, but sat up, telling her husband that it was now his turn to gratify her, and he must come for her in good time to see the spectacle. Both she and I were disappointed, however. When I awoke, it was five o'clock, and we were some miles into the Ohio. Mr. E. had fallen asleep, and awaked just a minute too late to make it of any use to rouse me. Mr. B. had put his head into his wife's room, to tell her that the cabin floor was so completely covered with sleepers, that she could not possibly make her way to the deck; and he shut the door before she could open her lips to reply. Her lamentations were sad. “The three great rivers meeting and all: and the little place on the point called Trinity and all: and I having sat up for it and all! It is a bad thing on some accounts to be married. If I had been a single woman, I could have managed it all for myself, I know.”
However, junctions became frequent now, and we saw two small ones in the morning, to make up for having missed the large one in the night. When I went up on deck. I found the sun shining on the full Ohio, which was now as turbid as the Mississippi, from the recent storms. The stream stood in among the trees, on either bank, to a great depth and extent, it was so swollen. The most enormous willows I ever saw overhung our deck, and the beechen shades beyond, where the turf and unincumbered stems were dressed in translucent green, seemed like a palace of the Dryads. How some of us fixed our eyes on the shores of free Illinois! After nearly five months of sojourn in slave-land, we were now in sight of a free State once more. I saw a settler in a wild spot, looking very lonely among the tall trees; but I felt that I would rather be that man than the wealthiest citizen of the opposite State, who was satisfied to dwell there among his slaves.
At eleven o'clock, on this, the ninth and last day of our voyage, we passed Paducah, in Kentucky, a small neat settlement on the point of junction of the Tennessee and Ohio. Preparations were going on before our eyes for our leaving the boat; our luggage, and that of the L.'s, who joined company with us, was brought out: cold beef and negus were provided for us in the ladies' cabin, the final sayings were being said, and we paid our fare;—fifty dollars each, for our voyage of 1200 miles. Smithland, at the mouth of the Cumberland river, soon appeared; and, as we wished to ascend to Nashville without delay, we were glad to see a small steam-boat in waiting. We stepped on shore, and stood there, in spite of a shower, for some time, watching the “Henry Clay” ploughing up the river, and waving our handkerchiefs in answer to signals of farewell from several of the multitude who were clustered in every part of the noble vessel.
If there be excess of mental luxury in this life, it is surely in a voyage up the Mississippi, in the bright and leafy month of May.[Back to Table of Contents]
“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”—Hosea, viii. 7.
THE greatest advantage of long life, at least to those who know how and wherefore to live, is the opportunity which it gives of seeing moral experiments worked out, of being present at the fructification of social causes; and of thus gaining a kind of wisdom which in ordinary cases seems reserved for a future life. An equivalent for this advantage is possessed by such as live in those critical periods of society when retribution is hastened, or displayed in clear connexion with the origin of its events. The present seems to be such an age. It is an age in which the societies of the whole world are daily learning the consequences of what their fathers did, the connexion of cause and effect being too palpable to be disputed; it is an age when the active men of the new world are witnessing the results of their own early counsels and deeds. It seems indeed as if the march of events were everywhere accelerated for a time, so as to furnish some who are not aged with a few complete pieces of experience. Some dispensation,—like the political condition of France, for instance,—will still be centuries in the working out: but in other cases,—the influence of eminent men, for example.—results seem to follow more closely than in the slower and quieter past ages of the world. It is known to all how in England, and also in America, the men of the greatest intellectual force have sunk from a higher to a far lower degree of influence from the want of high morals. It seems as if no degree of talent and vigour can long avail to keep a man eminent in either politics or literature, unless his morals are also above the average. Selfish vanity, double-dealing, supreme regard to expediency, are as fatal to the most gifted men in these days, and almost as speedily fatal, as intellectual incapacity to a pretender. Men of far inferior knowledge and power rise over their heads in the strength of honesty; and by dint of honesty, (positive or comparative) retain the supremacy, even through a display of intellectual weakness and error of which the fallen make their sport. This is a cheering sign of the times, indicating that the days are past when men were possessed by their leaders, and that the time is coming when power will be less unfairly distributed, and held on a better tenure than it has been. It indicates that traitors and oppressors will not in future be permitted to work their will and compass their purposes at the expense of others, till guilty will and purpose are prostrated on the threshold of eternity. It indicates that that glorious and beautiful spectacle of judgment may be witnessed in this world which religious men have referred to another, when the lowly shall be exalted; when, unconscious of their dignity, they shall with amazement hear themselves greeted as the blessed of the Father, and see themselves appointed to a moral sovereignty in comparison with whose splendour
- “grows dim and dies
- All that this world is proud of. From their spheres
- The stars of human glory are east down;
- Perish the roses and the flowers of Kings,
- Princes and Emperors, and the crowns and palms
- of all the Mighty, withered and consumed.”
However long it may be before the last shred of tinsel may be cast into the fire, and the last chaff of false pretence winnowed away, the revolution is good and secure as far as it goes. Moral power has begun its long series of conquests over physical force and selfish cunning, and the diviner part of man is a guarantee that not one inch of the ground gained shall ever be lost. For our encouragement, we are presented with a more condensed evidence of retribution than has hitherto been afforded to the world. Moral causes seem to be quickened as well as strengthened in their operation by the new and more earnest heed which is given to them.
In the new world, however long some moral causes may be in exhibiting their results, there have been certain deeds done which have produced their consequences with extraordinary rapidity, and in indisputable clearness. May all men open their eyes to see them, and their hearts to understand them!
The people of the United States were never under a greater temptation to follow temporary expediency in preference to everlasting principle than in the case of the admission of Missouri, with slave-institutions, into the Union. To this temptation they yielded, by a small majority of their representatives. The final decision rested, as it happened, in the hands of one man, Mr. Clay; but it is to the shame of the North, (which had abolished slavery) that it did so happen. The decision was made to prefer custom and expediency to principle; it was hoped that if the wind were once got under confinement, something would prevent its bursting forth as the whirlwind.
The plea of slave-holders, and a plausible one up to the year 1820, was that slavery was not an institution of their choice, or for which they were answerable: it was an inherited institution. Since the year 1820, this plea has become hypocrisy; for in that year, a deliberate vote was passed by Congress to perpetuate slavery in the Union, by admitting a new State whose institutions had this basis. This new States north-west of the Ohio were prohibited from introducing slavery, by the very act of cession of the land: and nothing could have been easier than to have procured the exclusion of slavery from Missouri by simply refusing to admit any new State whose distinguishing institution was one incompatible in principle with the principles on which the American Constitution was founded. Missouri would undoubtedly have surrendered slavery, been admitted, and virtuously flourished, like her neighbour, Illinois. But there was division of opinion, and because the political device of the Union seemed in danger, the eternal principles of justice were set aside, and protection was deliberately pledged to slavery, not only in Missouri, but, as a consequence, in Arkansas and Florida. The Constitution and Declaration of Fights of Missouri therefore exhibit the following singular mixture of declarations and provisions. It will be seen afterwards how they are observed.
“The general assembly shall not have power to pass laws,
- “1. For the emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owners; or without paying them, before such emancipation, a full equivalent for such slaves so emancipated: and
- “2. To prevent bona fide emigrants to this State, or actual settlers therein, from bringing from any of the United States, or from any of their territories, such persons as may there be deemed to be slaves, so long as any persons of the same descriptions are allowed to be held as slaves by the laws of this State.
“It shall be their duty, as soon as may be, to pass such laws as may be necessary,
- “1. To prevent free negroes and mulattoes from coming to, and settling in this State, under any pretext whatsoever.”
“Schools and the means of education shall for ever be encouraged in this State.
“That the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.
“That the accused cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.
“That cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted.
“That the free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and that every person may freely speak, write, and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”
The consequences of the compromise began to show themselves first in the difference between the character of the population in Missouri and Illinois; the latter of which is two years older than the former. They lie opposite each other on the Mississippi, and both are rich in advantages of soil, climate, and natural productions. They showed, however, social differences from the very beginning of their independent career which are becoming more striking every day. Rapacious adventurers, who know that the utmost profit of slaves is made by working them hard on a virgin soil, began flocking to Missouri; while settlers who preferred smaller gains to holding slaves sat down in Illinois. When it was found, as it soon was, that slavery does not answer so well in the farming parts of Missouri as on the new plantations of the South, a further difference took place. New settlers perceived that, in point of immediate interest merely, the fine lands of Missouri were less worth having, with the curse of slavery upon them, than those of Illinois without it. In vain has the price of land been lowered in Missouri as that in Illinois rose. Settlers go first and look at the cheaper land: some remain upon it; but many recross the river, and settle in the rival State. This enrages the people of Missouri. Their soreness and jealousy, combined with other influences of slavery, so exasperate their prejudices against the people of colour as to give a perfectly diabolical character to their hatred of negroes and the friends of negroes. That such is the temper of those who conduct poplar action in the State, is shown by some events which happened in the year 1836. In the very bottom of the souls of the American statesmen who admitted Missouri on unrighteous terms, these events must kindle a burning comparison between what the social condition of the frontier States of their honourable Union is and what it might have been.
A man of colour in St. Louis was arrested for some offence, and rescued by a free man of his own colour, a citizen of Pennsylvania, named Mackintosh, who was steward on board a steam-boat then at St. Louis. Mackintosh was conveyed to gaol for rescuing his comrade, whose side of the question we have no means of knowing. Mackintosh appears to have been a violent man; or, at least, to have been in a state of desperation at the time that he was on his way to gaol, guarded by two peace-officers. He drew a knife from his side (almost every man on the western frontier being accustomed to carry arms,) killed one of the officers, and wounded the other. He was immediately lodged in the prison. The wife and children of the murdered officer bewailed him in the street, and excited the rage of the people against Mackintosh. Some of the citizens acknowledged to me that his colour was the provocation which aggravated their rage so far beyond what it had ever been in somewhat similar cases of personal violence; and that no one would have dreamed of treating any white man as this mulatto was treated. The citizens assembled round the gaol in the afternoon, demanding the prisoner; and the gaoler delivered him up. He was led into the city; and when there, they did not know what to do with him. While deliberating, they tied him to a tree. This seemed to suggest the act which tongues echoed the cry. Brushwood was rooted up, and a heap of green wood piled about the man. Who furnished the fire does not seem to be known. Between two and three thousand of the citizens of St. Louis were present. Two gentlemen of the place assured me that the deed was done by the hands of nto more than six; but they could give no account of the reasons why the two or three thousand stood by in silence to witness the act of the six, further than that they were afraid to interfere!
The victim appears to have made no resistance nor entreaty. He was, some say twenty minutes, some say half an hour, in dying; during the whole of which time he was praying or singing hymns, in a firm voice. This fact was the ground of an accusation, made by magistrates, of his being “connected with the abolitionists.” When his legs were consumed, so that his body dropped into the fire, and he was no longer seen, a bystander observed to another, “There! it is over with him: he does not feel any more now.” “Yes, I do,” observed the man's quiet voice from out of the flames.
I saw the first notice which was given of this in the St. Louis newspapers. The paragraph briefly related that a ruffian of colour had murdered a citizen, had been demanded by the indignant fellow-citizens of the murdered man, and burned in the neighbourhood of the city: that this unjustifiable act was to be regretted; but that it was hoped that the veil of oblivion would be drawn over the deed. Some of the most respectable of the citizens were in despair when they found that the newspapers of the Union generally were disposed to grant the last request; and it is plain that on the spot, no one dared to speak out about the act. The charge of Judge Lawless (his real name) to the Grand Jury is a sufficient commentary upon the state of St. Louis society. He told the jury that a bad and lamentable deed had been committed, in burning a man alive without trial; but that it was quite another question whether they were to take any notice of it. It it should be proved to be the act of the few, every one of those few ought undoubtedly to be indicted and punished: but if it should be proved to be the act of the many, incited by that electric and metaphysical influence which occasionally carries on multitude to do deeds above and beyond the law, it was no affair for a jury to interfere in. He spoke of Mackintosh as connected with the body of abolitionists. Of course, the affair was found to be electric and metaphysical, and all proceedings were dropped.
All proceedings in favour of law and order: other of an opposite character were vigorously instituted by magistrates, in defiance of some of those clauses of the Constitution which I have quoted above. The magistrates of St. Louis prosecuted a domiciliary inquisition into the periodical publications of the city, visiting the newspaper offices, prying and threatening, and offering rewards for the discovery of any probability that the institution of slavery would be spoken against in print. In the face of the law, the press was rigidly controlled.
Information was given, while the city was in this excited state, of every indication of favour to the coloured people, and of disapprobation of slavery; and the savages of St. Louis were on the alert to inflict vengeance. In Marion College, Palmyra, (Missouri) two coloured boys to read. These boys were carried by them to the college for service, the one being employed on the farm, and the other in the college, to clean shoes and wait on the young men. One afternoon, a large number of citizens from St. Louis, well mounted, appeared on the Palmyra road; and they made no secret of their intention to lynch the two students who taught their servants to read. The venerable Dr. Nelson, who was, I believe, at the head of the institution, came out of his house to implore the mob with tears not to proceed; and the ladies of his family threw themselves down in the road in the way of the horses. The way was forcibly cleared, and the persecutors proceeded. The young men came forth as soon as summoned. They were conducted to the edge of the forest, where it opens upon a prairie. There a circle was formed, and they were told that they stood in a Lynch court.
The younger one was first set in the midst. He acknowledged the act with which he was charged. He was offered the alternative of receiving twenty lashes with the horrid cowhide, (which was shown him) or of immediately leaving the State for ever. He engaged to leave the State for ever, and was set across the river into Illinois.
The elder student made his trial a longer one. He acknowledged the act of teaching his servant to read, and made himself heard while he defended it. He pleaded that he was a citizen of Missouri, being of age, and having exercised the suffrage at the last election. He demanded a fair trial in a court of law, and pledged himself to meet any accusation there. At last it came to their binding him to a tree, and offering him the choice of two hundred lashes with the cowhide, or of promising to leave the State, and never to return to it. He know that a sentence of two hundred lashes meant death by torture: (it is so understood in Lynch courts:) and he knew that a promise thus extorted was not binding: so he promised. He was also set across the river, where he immediately published a narrative of the whole transaction, and declared his intention of returning to his State, to resume the duties and privileges of citizenship, as soon as he could be personally safe.
The St. Louis Lynchers next ordered the heads of Marion College to hold a public meeting, and declare their convictions and feelings on the subject of slavery. They were obeyed, and they put pretty close questions to the Professors, especially Dr. Ely who was a suspected man.
Dr. Ely came from one of the eastern States, and was considered by the abolitionists of his own religious persuasion to be one of their body. Some time after he went into Missouri, it appeared incidentally in some newspaper communications that he had bought a slave. His friends at the east resented the imputation, and were earnest in his vindication; but were presently stopped and thrown into amazement by his coming out with an acknowledgment and defence of the act. He thought that the way in which lie could do most good was by purchasing negroes for purposes of enlightenment. So he bought his man Abraham, designing to enlighten him for nine years, and then set him free, employing the proceeds of his nine years' labour in purchasing two other slaves, to be enlightened and robbed in the same manner, for the purpose of purchasing four more, at the expiration of another series of years; and so on. It seems astonishing that a clergyman should thus deliberately propose to confer his charities through the medium of the grossest injustice: but so it was. When, at the enforced meeting, he was questioned by the Lynchers as to his principles, he declared himself opposed to the unchristian fanaticism of abolitionism; spurned the imputation of being one of the body, and in proof of his sincerity, declared himself to be the master of one slave, and to be already contracting for more.
The Lynchers returned to St. Louis without having committed murder. They had triumphantly broken the laws, and trodden under foot their Constitution of sixteen years old. If it could be made known at what expense they were saved from bloodshed,—if it could be revealed what violence they offered to conscience, what feelings they lacerated, what convictions they stifled, what passions they kindled, what an undying worm—they fixed at the core of many a heart, at the root of many a life, it might have been clear to all eyes that the halter and the cowhide would have been merry in comparison with the tortures with which they strewed their way.
I have told enough to show what comes of compromise. There is no need to lengthen out my story of persecutions. I will just mention that the last news from Missouri that I saw was in the form of an account of the proceedings of its legislature, but which yet seems to me incredible. It is stated to have been enacted that any person, of any complexion, coming into or found in the State of Missouri, who shall be proved to have spoken, written, or printed, a word in disapprobation of slavery, or in favour of abolition, shall be sold into slavery, for the benefit of the State. If, in the fury of the moment, such a law should really have been passed, it must speedily be repealed. The general expectation is that slavery itself will soon be abolished in Missouri, as it is found to be unprofitable and perilous, and a serious drawback to the prosperity of the region.
What a lesson is meantime afforded as to the results of compromise! Missouri might now have been a peaceful and orderly region, inhabited by settlers as creditable to their country as those of the neighboring free States, instead of being a nest of vagabond slave-dealers, rapacious slave-drivers, and ferocious rioters. If the inhabitants think it hard that all should be included in a censure which only some have deserved, they must bestir themselves to show in their legislature, and by their improved social order, that the majority are more respectable than they have yet shown themselves to be. At present, it seems as if one who might have been a prophet preaching in, the wilderness, had preferred the profession of a bandit of the desert. But it should never be forgotten whence came the power to inflict injury,—by a permission being given where there should have been a prohibition. Whatever danger there ever was to the Union from difference of opinion on the subject of the compromise is now increased. The battle has still to be fought at a greater disadvantage than when a bad deed was done to avert it.[Back to Table of Contents]
“‘Sir,’ said the custom-house officer at Leghorn, ‘your papers are forced! there is no such place in the world! your vessel must be confiscated!’ The trembling captain laid before the officer a map of the United States,—directed him to the Gulf of Mexico,—pointing out the mouth of the Mississippi,—led him 1000 miles up it, to the mouth of the Ohio,—and thence, another 1000 to Pittsburg. ‘There, sir, is the port whence my vessel cleared out.’ The astonished officer, before he saw the map, would as soon have believed that this ship had been navigated from the moon.”—Clay's Speeches.
We reached Cincinnati by descending the Ohio from Maysville. Kentucky, whence we took passage in tile first boat going down to the great City of the West. It happened to be an inferior boat; but, as we were not to spend a night on board, this was of little consequence. We were summoned by the bell of the steamer at 9 a.m., but did not set off till past noon. The cause of the delay forbade all complaint, though we found our station in the sun, and out of any breeze that might be stirring, oppressively hot, in the hottest part of a midsummer day. The captain had sent nine miles into convey to a place down the river where her other son was lying sick of the cholera. At noon the wagon with the old lady and her packages appeared. We were prepared to view her situation with the kindest feelings; but our pity scarcely survived the attempts she made to ensure it. I suppose the emotions of different minds must always have different modes of expression; but I could comprehend nothing of such a case as this. While there were apartments on board where the afflicted mother might have indulged her feelings in privacy, it was disagreeable to see the parade of hartshorn and water, and exclamations and sensibilities, in the presence of a company of entire strangers. Her son and a kind-hearted stewardess were very attentive to her, and it was much to be wished that she had been satisfied with their assiduities.
The scenery was fully equal to my expectations; and when we had put out into the middle of the river, we found ourselves in the way of a breeze which enabled us to sit outside, and enjoy the luxury of vision to the utmost. The sunny and shadowy hills, advancing and retiring, ribbed and crested with belts and clumps of gigantic beech: the rich bottoms always answering on the one shore to the group of hills on the other,—a perfect level, smooth, rich and green, with little settlements sprinkled over it: the shady crocks, very frequent between the hills, with sometimes a boat and figures under the trees which meet over it,—these were the spectacles which succeeded each other before our untiring eyes.
We touched at a number of small places on the banks, to put out and take in passengers. I believe we were almost as impatient as the good captain to get to Richmond, where his sick brother was lying, that the family might be out of suspense about his fate. A letter was put into the captain's hand from the shore, which did not tend to raise his spirits. It told him of the death, by cholera, of a lady whom he had just brought up the river. The captain's brother, however, was better. We were all committed to the charge of the clerk of the boat; and as we put out into the stream again, we saw the captain helping his mother up the hill, and looking a changed man, within a few minutes!
The moral plagues consequent on pestilence are an old subject; but one ever new to the spectator. The selfishness of survivors, the brutality of the well to the sick in a time of plague, have been held up to the detestation of the untried from the days of Defoe downwards, at least: but it seems as if the full horror of such a paroxysm of society had been left to be exhibited in America. Not that the ravages of the cholera were or could he fiercer there than in the plague-seasons of the Old World: but that in a country so much more Christianised in its spirit of helpfulness than any other, examples of selfish desertion show a more ghastly aspect than elsewhere. The disease was met there, and its inflictions sustained in the noblest spirit of charity, courage, and wisdom. A thousand-and-one tales might be told of the devotion of the clergy to their flocks, of masters to their slaves, of physicians to the poor, of neighbours to each other: but, in fearful contrast to these, stood out some of the gloomy facts which belong to such a time. In the west, the disease was particularly fatal, and the panic was not stilled when I was there, two years after the most destructive season. In the vicinity of Lexington, Kentucky, I saw a large white house, prettily placed, and was told of the dismal end of its late occupier, a lady who was beloved above every body in the neighbourhood, and who, on account of her benevolent deeds, would have been previously supposed the last person likely to want for solace on her dying bed. In this house lived Mrs. J., with her sister, Miss A. Miss A. died of cholera at nine in the evening, and was buried in the garden during the night by the servants. Mrs. J. was taken ill before the next evening, and there was no female hand near to tend her. The physician, who knew how much he was wanted in the town, felt it right to leave her when the case became entirely hopeless. He told the men who were assisting that she could not survive the night, and directed them to bury her immediately after her death. As soon as the breath was out of her body, these men wrapped her in the sheet on which she was lying, put her into a large box, and dug a hole in the garden, where they laid her beside her sister. Forty-eight hours before, the sisters had been apparently in perfect health, and busy providing aid for their sick neighbours. Thus, and thus soon were they huddled into their graves.
From the time of our leaving Richmond, the boat went on at good speed. We ceased to wear round, to take in casks and deals, at the beck of everybody on shore. The dinner was remarkably disagreeable:—tough beef, skinny chickens, grey-looking potatoes, gigantic radishes, sour bread, and muddy water in dirty tumblers. The only eatable thing on the table was a saucer-full of cranberries; and we had a bottle of claret with us. It was already certain that we should not reach Cincinnati so as to have a daylight view of it: our hopes were bounded to not being obliged to sit down to another meal on board.
The western sky faded while we were watching the Hunter pursuing the Coquette,—two pretty little steam-boats that were moving along under the shadow of the banks. Some time after dark, we came in sight of long rows of yellow lights, with a flaring and smoking furnace here and there, which seemed to occupy a space of nearly two miles from the wharf where we at length stopped I had little idea how beautiful this flaring; region would appear in sunshine.
After waiting some time in the boat for the arrival of a back, we proceeded up the steep pavement above the wharf to the Broadway Hotel and Boarding-house. There we were requested to register our names, and were then presented with the cards of some of the inhabitants who had called to inquire for us. We were well and willingly served; and I went to rest, intensely thankful to be once more out of sight of slavery.
The next morning was bright, and I scarcely remember a pleasanter day during all my travels than this 16th of June. We found ourselves in a large boarding-house, managed by a singularly zealous and kindly master. His care of us was highly amusing, during the whole time of our stay. His zeal may be judged of by a circumstance which happened one morning. At breakfast, he appeared healed and confused, and looked as if he had a bad head-ache. He requested us to excuse any forget-fulness that we might observe, and mentioned that he had, by mistake, taken a dangerous dose of laudanum. We begged he would leave the table, and not trouble himself about us, and hoped he had immediately taken measures to relieve himself of the dose. He replied that he had had no time to atted to himself till a few minutes ago. We found that he had actually put off taking an emetic till he had gone to market, and sent home all the provision for the day. He had not got over the consequences of the mistake the next morning. The ladies at the breakfast-table looked somewhat vulgar; and it is undeniable that the mustard was spilled, and that the relies of the meal were left in some disorder by the gentlemen who were most in a hurry to be off to business. But every one was obliging; and I saw at that table a better thing than I saw at any other table in the United States;—a lady of colour breakfasting in the midst of us!
I looked out from our parlour window, and perceived that we were in a wide, well-built street, with broad foot-pavements, and handsome houses. A house was at the moment going up the street,—a rather arduous task, as the ascent was pretty steep. There was an admirable apparatus of levers and pulleys; and it moved on, almost imperceptibly, for several yards, before our visitors began to arrive, and I had to give up watching its march. When the long series of callers came to an end, the strolling house was out of sight.
The first of our visitors was an English gentleman, who was settled in business in Cincinnati. He immediately undertook a commission of inquiry with which I had been charged from England, about a family of settlers, and sent me a pile of new books, and tickets for a concert which was to be held in Mrs. Trollope's bazaar the next evening but one. He was followed by a gentleman of whom much will be told in my next chapter; and by Dr. Drake, the first physician in the place; and Miss Beecher, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Beecher, Head of Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati, then on his trial for heresy, and justly confident of acquittal. Miss Beecher is a lady eminent for learning and talents, and for her zeal in the cause of education. These were followed by several merchants, with their ladies, sisters, and daughters. The impression their visits left on our minds was of high respect for the society of Cincinnati, if these were, in manners, dress, and conversation, fair specimens. Dr. Drake and his daughter proposed to call us for an afternoon drive, and take us home to tea with them; a plan to which we gladly agreed.
After dinner, we first arranged ourselves in a parlour which was larger and better furnished than the one we first occupied; and then walked down to the river while waiting for Dr. Drake's carriage. The opposite Kentucky shore looked rich and beautiful; and the bustle on the river, covered with every kind of craft; the steam-boats being moored six or more abreast, gave us a highly respectful notion of the commerce of the place.
Dr. Drake took us a delightful drive, the pleasure of which was much enhanced by his very interesting conversation. He is a complete and favourable specimen of a Westerner. He entered Ohio just forty-seven years before this time, when there were not above a hundred white persons in the State, and they all French, and when the shores were one expanse of cane-brake, infested by buffalo. He had seen the foundations of the great city laid; he had watched its growth till he was now able to point out to the stranger, not only the apparatus for the exportation of 6,000,000 dollars' worth a-year of produce and manufactures, but things which he values far more,—the ten or twelve edifices erected for the use of the common schools,—the new church of St. Paul,—the two fine banking-houses,—and the hundred and fifty handsome private dwellings,—all the creations of the year 1835. He points to the periodicals,—the respectable monthlies, and the four daily, and six weekly papers of the city. He looks with a sort of paternal complacency on the 35,000 inhabitants, scarcely one of whom is without the comforts of life, the means of education, and a bright prospect for the future. Though a true Westerner, and devoutly believing the buckeyes (natives of Ohio) to be superior to all others of God's creatures, he hails every accession of intelligent members to his darling society. He observed to me, with his calm enthusiasm (the concomitant of a conviction which has grown out of experience rather than books,) on the good effects of emigration on the posterity of emigrants; and told how, with the same apparent means of education, they surpass the descendants of natives. They combine the influences of two countries. Thus believing, he carries a cheerful face into the homes of his Welsh, Irish, English, German, and Yankee patients: he bids them welcome, and says, from the bottom of his heart, that he is glad to see them. His knowledge of the case of the emigrant enables him to alleviate, more or less, with the power which an honest and friendly physician carries about with him, an evil which he considers the worst that attends emigration. He told me that, unless the head of the emigrant family be timely and judiciously warned, the peace of the household is broken up by the pining of the wife. The husband soon finds interests in his new abode,—he becomes a citizen, a man of business, a man of consequence, with brightening prospects; while the poor wife, surrounded by difficulties or vexed with hardships at home, provided with no compensation for what she has left behind, pines away, and wonders that her husband can be so happy when she is so miserable, When there is an end of congeniality, all is over; and a couple who would in their own land have gone through life cheerily, hand in hand, become uneasy yoke-fellows, in the midst of a much-improved outward condition or prospect.
Dr. Drake must be now much older than he looks. He appears vigorous as ever, running beside his stout black gig-horse in difficult bits of forest road, head uncovered, and coat splashed, like any farmer making his way to market. His figure is spare and active; his face is expressive of shrewdness, humour, and kindliness. His conversation is of a high order; though I dare say it never entered his head that conversation is ever of any order at all. His sentences take whatever form fate may determine; but they bear a rich burden of truth hard won by experience, and are illumined by gleams of philosophy which shine up from the depths of his own mind. A slight degree of western inflation amuses the stranger; but there is something so much more loving than vain in the magniloquence, that it is rather winning than displeasing,—to strangers,—not to Yankees, who resent it as sectional prejudice, and in whose presence it might be as well forborne. The following passage, extracted from an Address delivered by Dr. Drake, before the Literary Convention of Kentucky, gives some idea of the spirit of the man in one of its aspects, though it has none of the pithy character of his conversation:—
“The relations between the upper and lower Mississippi States, established by the collective waters of the whole valley, must for ever continue unchanged. What the towering oak is to our climbing winter grape, the ‘Father of Waters’ must ever be to the communities along its trunk and countless tributary streams—an imperishable support, an exhaustless power of union. What is the composition of its lower coasts and alluvial plains, but the soil of all the upper States and territories, transported, commingled, and deposited by its waters? Within her own limits, Louisiana has, indeed, the rich mould of ten sister States, which have thus contributed to the fertility of her plantations. It might almost be said, that for ages this region has sent thither a portion of its soil, where, in a milder climate, it might produce the cotton, oranges, and sugar, which, through the same channel, we receive in exchange for the products of our cornfields, workshops, and mines;—facts which prepare the way, and invite to perpetual union between the West and South.
“The State of Tennessee, separated from Alabama and Mississippi on the south, and Kentucky on the north, by no natural barrier, has its southern fields overspread with floating cotton, wafted from the two first by every autumnal breeze; while the shade of its northern woods lies for half the summer day on the borders of the last. The songs and uproar of a Kentucky husking are answered from Tennessee; and the midnight racoon-hunt that follows, beginning in one State, is concluded in the other. The Cumberland, on whose rocky banks the capital of Tennessee rises in beauty, begins and terminates in Kentucky—thus bearing on its bosom at the same moment the products of the two States descending to a common market. Still further, the fine river Tennessee drains the eastern half of that State, dips into Alabama, recrosses the State in which it arose, and traverses Kentucky to reach the Ohio river; thus uniting the three into one natural and enduring commercial compact.
“Further north, the cotton trees, which fringe the borders of Missouri and Illinois, throw their images towards each other in the waters of the Mississippi:—the toiling emigrant's axe, in the depths of the leafless woods, and the crash of the falling rail-tree on the frozen earth, resound equally among the hills of both States—the clouds of smoke from their burning prairies mingle in the air above, and crimson the setting sun of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.
“The Pecan tree sheds its fruit at the same moment among the people of Indiana and Illinois, and the boys of the two States paddle their canoes and fish together in the Wabash, or hail each other from opposite banks. Even villages belong equally to Indiana and Ohio, and the children of the two commonwealths trundle their hoops together in the same street.
“But the Ohio river forms the most interesting boundary among the republics of the West. For a thousand miles its fertile bottoms are cultivated by farmers, who belong to the different States, while they visit each other as friends or neighbours. As the schoolboy trips or loiters along its shores, he greets his playmates across the stream, or they sport away an idle hour in its summer waters. These are to be among the future, perhaps the opposing statesmen of the different commonwealths. When, at low water, we examine the rocks of the channel, we find them the same on both sides. The plants which grow above, drop their seeds into the common current, which lodges them indiscriminately on either shore. Thus the very trees and flowers emigrate from one republic to another. When the bee sends out its swarms, they as often seek a habitation beyond the stream, as in their native woods. Throughout its whole extent, the hills of Western Virginia and Kentucky cast their morning shadows on the plains of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The thunder cloud pours down its showers on different commonwealths; and the rainbow resting its extremities on two sister States, presents a beautiful arch, on which the spirits of peace may pass and re-pass in harmony and love.
“Thus connected by nature in the great valley, we must live in the bonds of companionship, or imbrue our hands in each other's blood. We have no middle destiny. To secure the former to our posterity, we should begin while society is still tender and pliable. The saplings of the woods, if intertwined, will adapt themselves to each other and grow together; the little bird may hang its nest on the twigs of different trees, and the dew-drop fall successively on leaves which are nourished by distinct trunks. The tornado strikes harmless on such a bower, for the various parts sustain each other; but the grown tree, sturdy and set in its way, will not bend to its fellow, and when uprooted by the tempest, is dashed in violence against all within its reach.
“Communities, like forests, grow rigid by time. To be properly trained, they must be moulded while young. Our duty, then, is quite obvious. All who have moral power should exert it in concert. The germs of harmony must be nourished, and the roots of present contrariety or future discord torn up and cast into the fire. Measures should be taken to mould a uniform system of manners and customs, out of the diversified elements which are scattered over the West. Literary meetings should be held in the different States; and occasional conventions in the central cities of the great valley, be made to bring into friendly consultation our enlightened and zealous teachers, professors, lawyers, physicians, divines, and men of letters, from its remotest sections. In their deliberations the literary and moral wants of the various regions might be made known, and the means of supplying them devised. The whole should successively lend a helping hand to all the parts, on the great subject of education, from the primary school to the university. Statistical facts, bearing on this absorbing interest, should be brought forward and collected; the systems of common school instruction should be compared, and the merits of different school books, foreign and domestic, freely canvassed. Plans of education, adapted to the natural, commercial, and social condition of the interior, should be invented; a correspondence instituted among all our higher seminaries of learning, and an interchange established of all local publications on the subject of education. In short, we should foster Western genius, encourage Western writers, patronize Western publishers, augment the number of Western readers, and create a Western heart.
“When these great objects shall come seriously to occupy our minds, the union will be secure, for its centre will be sound, and its attraction on the surrounding parts irresistible. Then will our State governments emulate each other in works for the common good; the people of remote places begin to feel as the members of one family; and our whole intelligent and virtuous population unite, heart and hand, in one long, concentrated, untiring effort, to raise still higher the social character, and perpetuate for ever the political harmony of the green and growing West.”
How strange is the feeling to the traveller in wild regions of having his home associations unexpectedly connected with the scene before him! Here, in this valley of the Mississippi, to my eye wild and luxuriant in beauty as I fancy Ceylon or Juan Fernandez, Dr. Drake pointed out to me two handsome dwellings with gardens, built by artisans from Birmingham; and he presently alighted to visit a Welsh patient. What a vision of brass-founding, tea urns, and dingy streets, and then of beaver hats and mob caps did these incidents call up! And again, when we were buried in a beechen wood, where “a sunbeam that had lost its way” streaked the stems, and lighted up the wild vines, Dr. Drake, in telling me of the cholera season in Cincinnati, praised a medical book on cholera which happened to be by a brother-in-law of mine. It was an amusing incident. The woods of Ohio are about the last place where the author would have anticipated that I should hear accidental praises of his book.
The Doctor had at present a patient in Dr. Beecher's house; so we returned by the Theological Seminary. Dr. Beecher and his daughters were not at home. We met them on the road in their cart,—the ladies returning from their school in the city; and we spent an evening there the next week. The seminary (Presbyterian) was then in a depressed condition, in consequence of the expulsion of most of the pupils for their refusal to avoid discussion of the Slavery question. These expelled youths have since been founders and supporters of abolition societies; and the good cause has gained even more than the seminary has lost by the absurd tyranny practised against the students.
From this, the Montgomery road, there is a view of the city and surrounding country which defies description. It was of that melting beauty which dims the eyes and fills the heart,—that magical combination of all elements,—of hill, wood, lawn, river, with a picturesque city steeped in evening sunshine, the impression of which can never be lost, nor ever communicated. We ran up a knoll, and stood under a clump of beeches to gaze; and went down and returned again and again, with the feeling that if we lived upon the spot, we could nevermore see it look so beautiful.
We soon entered a somewhat different scene, passing the slaughter-houses on Deer Creek, the place where more thousands of hogs in a year than I dare to specify are destined to breathe their last. Deer Creek, pretty as its name is, is little more than the channel through which their blood runs away. The division of labour is brought to as much perfection in these slaughter-houses as in the pin manufactories of Birmingham. So I was told. Of course I did not verify the statement by attending the process. In my childhood I was permitted by the carelessness of a nursemaid to see the cutting up of the reeking carcase of an ox; and I can bear witness that one such sight is enough for a life-time. But,—to tell the story as it was told to me,—these slaughter-houses are divided into apartments, communicating with each other: one man drives into one pen or chamber the reluctant hogs, to be knocked on the head by another whose mallet is for ever going. A third sticks the throats, after which they are conveyed by some clever device to the cutting-up room, and thence to the pickling, and thence to the packing and branding; a set of agents being employed for every operation. The exportation of pickled pork from Cincinnati is enormous. Besides supplying the American navy, ship-loads are sent to the West India Islands, and many other parts of the world. Dr. Drake showed me the dwelling and slaughter-house of an Englishman who was his servant in 1818; who then turned pork-butcher, and was, in a few years, worth ten thousand dollars.
The tea-table was set out in the garden at Dr. Drake's. We were waited upon, for the first time for many months, by a free servant. The long grass grew thick under our feet; fire-flies were flitting about us, and I doubted whether I had ever heard more sense and eloquence at any old world tea-table than we were entertained with as the twilight drew on.
As we walked home, through the busy streets, where there was neither the apathy of the South, nor the disorder consequent on the presence of a pauper class, I felt strongly tempted to jump to some hasty conclusions about the happiness of citizenship in Cincinnati. I made a virtuous determination to suspend every kind of judgment: but I found each day as exhilarating as the first; and when I left the city, my impressions were much like what they were after an observation of twenty-four hours.
The greater part of the next morning was occupied with visitors: but we found an interval to go out, under the guidance of friends, to see a few things which lay near at hand. We visited the Museum, where we found, as in all new museums whose rooms want filling up, some trumpery among much which is worthy to remain. There was a Mermaid, not very cleverly constructed, and some bad wax figures, posted like sentinels among the cases of geological and entomological specimens: but, on the whole, the Museum is highly creditable to the zeal of its contributors. There is, among other good things, a pretty complete collection of the currency of the country, from the earliest colonial days; and some of other countries with it. I hope this will be persevered in; and that the Cincinnati merchants will make use of the opportunities afforded by their commerce of collecting specimens of every kind of currency used in the world, from the gilt and stamped leather of the Chinese and Siberians to the last of Mr. Biddle's twenty-dollar notes. There is a reasonable notion abroad that the Americans are the people who will bring the philosophy and practice of exchanges to perfection; and theirs are the museums in which should be found a full history of currency, in the shape of a complete set of specimens.
We visited Mr. Flash's book-store, where we saw many good books, some very pretty ones, and all cheap. We heard there good accounts of the improved and improving literary taste of the place, shown in the increasing number of book societies, and the superior character of the works supplied to their orders. Mr. Flash and his partner are in favour of the protection of foreign literary property, as a matter of interest as well as principle.
We next went to the painting room of a young artist. Mr. Beard, whose works pleased me more than those of any other American artist. When I heard his story, and witnessed what he had already achieved, I could not doubt that, if he lived, he would run a noble career. The chief doubt was about his health,—the doubt which hangs over the destiny of almost every individual of eminent promise in America. Two years before I saw him, Beard had been painting portraits, at a dollar a head, in the interior of Ohio: and it was only a year since he suddenly and accidentally struck into the line in which he will probably show himself the Flamingo of the New World. It was just a year since he had begun to paint children. He had then never been out of his native state. He was born in the interior, where he began to paint without having ever seen a picture, except the daubs of itinerant artists. He married at nineteen, and came to Cincinnati, with wife, child, an empty purse, a head full of admiration of himself, and a heart full of confidence in this admiration being shared by all the inhabitants of the city. He had nothing to show, however, which could sanction his high claims; for his portraits were very bad. When he was in extreme poverty, he and his family were living, or rather starving, in one room, at whose open window he put up some of his pictures, to attract the notice of passengers. A wealthy merchant, Mr. G., and a gentleman with him, stopped and made their remarks to each other, Mr. G. observing “the fellow has talent, after all.” Beard was sitting behind his pictures, heard the remark, and knew the voice. He was enraged. Mr. G. visited him, with a desire to encourage and assist him; but the angry artist long resisted all attempts to pacify him. At his first attempt to paint a child, soon after, all his genius shone forth, to the astonishment of every one but himself. He has proved to be one of the privileged order who grow gentle, if not modest, under appreciation; he forgave Mr. G., and painted several pictures for him. A few wealthy citizens were desirous of sending him to Italy to study. His reply to every mention of the subject is, that he means to go to Italy, but that he shall work his own way there. In order to see how he liked the world, he paid a visit to Boston, while I was there, intending to stay some time. From a carriage window, I saw him in the street, stalking along like a chief among inferiors, his broad white collar laid over his coat, his throat bare, and his hair parted in the middle of his forehead, and waving down the sides of his face. People turned to look after him. He staid only a fortnight, and went back to Ohio, expressing great contempt for cities. This was the last I heard of him.
I have a vivid remembrance of three of his pictures of children. One, of a boy trudging through a mill-stream to school, absolutely American, not only in the scenery, but in the air and countenance of the boy. which were exquisitely natural and fresh. Another was a boy about to go unwillingly to school: his satchel was so slung over his shoulder as to show that he had not put it on himself: the great bite in the slice of bread and butter intimated that breakfast was going on in the midst of the grief; and the face was distorted with the most ludicrous passion. Thus far all might have been done by the pencil of the mere caricaturist. The triumph of the painter was in the beauty and grace of the child shining through the ridiculous circumstances amidst which he was placed. It was obvious that the character of the face when undisturbed by passion was that of careless gaiety. The third was a picture of children and a dog; one beautiful creature astride of the animal. and putting his cap upon the head of the dog, who was made to look the sage of the party. I saw and liked some of his pictures of another character. Any one of his humorous groups might be thought almost worthy of Wilkie: but there was repetition in them; two favourite heads especially, were popped in. in situations too nearly resembling. The most wonderful perhaps of his achievements was a fine full-length portrait of a deceased lady, whom he had never seen. It was painted from a miniature, and under the direction of the widower, whom it fully satisfied in regard to the likeness. It was a breathing picture. He is strongly disposed to try his hand on sculpture. I saw a bust of himself which he had modelled. It was a perfect likeness, and had much spirit. All this, and much more, having been done in a single year, by one who had never seen a good picture, it seems reasonable to expect great things from powers so rapidly and profusely developed. Beard's name was little, if at all. known beyond his native State, while I was in the country. If he lives, it will soon be heard of in Europe.
In the afternoon, a large party called us for an expedition into Kentucky. We crossed the river in the ferry-boat, without leaving the carriages, drove through Covington. and mounted slowly through a wood. till we reached the foot of a steep hill, where we alighted. We climbed the hill, wild with tall grass and shrubs, and obtained the view of Cincinnati which is considered the completest. I now perceived that, instead of being shut in between two hills, the city stands on a noble platform, round which the river turns, while the hills rise behind. The platform is perfectly ventilated: and the best proof of this is the healthiness of the city, above all other American cities. A physician who had been seven years a resident told me that he had been very delicate in health, before he came, like many others of the inhabitants: and like many others, he had not had a day's illness since his arrival. The average of deaths in the city during; the best season was seven per week: and. at the worst time of the year, the mortality was less than in any city of its size in the republic.
There is ample room on the platform for a city as large as Philadelphia, without encroaching at all on the hill-sides. The inhabitants are already consulting as to where the Capitol shall stand, whenever the nation shall decree the removal of the General Government beyond the mountains. If it were not for the noble building at Washington, this removal would probably take place soon.—perhaps after the opening of the great Southern rail-road. It seems rather absurd to call senators and representatives to Washington, from Missouri and Louisiana, while there is a place on the great rivers which would save them half the journey, and suit almost every body else just as well, and many much better. The peril to health at Washington in the winter season is great; and the mild and equable temperature of Cincinnati is an important circumstance in the case.
We hurried home to prepare for an evening party, and tea was brought up to us while we dressed. All the parties I was at in Cincinnati were very amusing, from the diversity in the company, and in the manners of the natives of the east and west. The endeavour seems to be to keep up, rather than to disuse distinctive observances; and this almost makes the stranger fancy that he has travelled a thousand miles between one evening and the next. The effect is entertaining enough to the foreign guest, but not very salutary to the temper of the residents: to judge by the complaints I heard about sectional exclusiveness. It appeared to me that the thing chiefly to be wished, in this connexion, was that the Easterners should make large concessions and allowance. It would be well for them to remember that it was they who chose the western city, and not the city them: and that if the elderly inhabitants are rather proud of their western deeds, and ostentatiously attached to their western symbols, this is a circumstance belonging to the place, and deliberately encountered, with other circumstances. by new residents: and that, moreover, all that they complain of is an indulgence of the feelings of a single generation. When the elderly members of the society drop off. the children of all residents will wear the buckeye, or forget it alike, And it certainly appeared to me that the cool assumption by Easterners of the superiority of New England over all other countries was. whether just or not, likely to be quite as offensive to the buckeyes, as any buckeye exultation could be to the Yankees.
At one evening party, the company sat round the drawing-room, occasionally changing places, or forming croups without much formality. They were chietly Yankees, of various accomplishments, from the learned learned who talked with enthusiasm about Chauning. and with strong sense about every thing but politics, in which his aristocratic bias drew him aside into something like nonsense.—to the sentimental young widow, who instantly began talking to me of her dear Mr.— and who would return to the subject as often as I led away from it. Every place was remarkable for her dear Mr.— — having been better or worse there: and every event was measured by its having happened so lone before or after her dear Mr. ——was buried. The conversation of the society was most about books, and society and its leaders at home and abroad. The manners of the lady of the house were, though slightly impaired by timidity. such as would grace any society of any country. The house, handsomely furnished, and adorned with some of the best of Beard's pictures, stood on a terrace beautifully surrounded with shrubbery, and commanding a fine view of the city.
At another party there was a greater variety. An enormous buckeye howl of lemonade, with a ladle of buckeye, stood on the hall table; and symbolical sprigs of the same adorned the walls. On entering the drawing-room. I was presented with a splendid bouquet, sent by a lady by the hands of her brother, from a garden and conservatory which are the pride of the city. My first introduction was to the catholic bishop; my next to a lady whom I thought then and afterwards one of the cleverest women I met in the country. There was a slight touch of pedantry to be excused, and a degree of tory prejudice against the bulk of the human race which could scarcely be exceeded even in England: but there was a charming good-humour in the midst of it all. and a power both of observation and reasoning which commanded high respect. One western gentleman sidled about in a sort of minuet step, unquestionably a gentleman as he as in all essential respects: and one young lady who was, I fancy, taking her first peep at the world, kept her eves earnestly fixed on the guests as they entered. bowing unconsciously in sympathy with every gentleman who bowed, and curtseying with every lady who curtseyed. She must have been well practiced in salutation before the evening was over, for the party was a large one. All the rest, with the exception of a forward Scotchman, were well-bred, and the evening passed off very pleasantly amidst brisk conversation, mirth, and excellent refreshments.
Another party was at the splendid house to which the above-mentioned garden and conservatory belong. The proprietor has a passion for gardening and his ruling taste seems likely to be a blessing to the city, He employs four gardeners, and toils in his grounds with his own hands. His garden is on a terrace which overlooks the canal, and the most park-like eminences form the background of the view. Between the garden and the hills extend his vineyards, from the produce of which he has succeeded in making twelve kinds of wine, some of which are highly praised by good judges. Mr. Longworth himself is sanguine as to the prospect of making Ohio a wine-growing region: and he has done all that an individual can to enhance the probability. In this house is West's preposterous picture of Ophelia, the sight of which amazed me after all I had heard of it. It is not easy to imagine how it should have obtained the reputation of being his best, while his Cromwell is in existence. The party at this house was the largest and most elegant of any that I attended in Cincinnati, Among many other Bursts, we met one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, a Member of Congress and his lady, two Catholic priests. Judge Hall, the popular writer, with divines, physicians, lawyers, merchants and their families. The spirit and superiority of the conversation were worthy of the people assembled.
The morning of the 19th shone brightly down on the festival of the day. It was the anniversary of the opening of the Common Schools. Some of the schools passed our windows in procession, their banners dressed with garlands, and the children gay with flowers and ribands. A lady who was sitting with me remarked, “this is our populace.” I thought of the expression months afterwards, when the gentlemen of Cincinnati met to pass resolutions on the subject of abolitionism, and when one of the resolutions recommended mobbing as a retribution for the discussion of the subject of slavery; the law at lording no punishment for free discussion. Among those who moved and seconded these resolutions, and formed a deputation to threaten an advocate of free discussion, were some of the merchants who form the aristocracy of the place; and the secretary of the meeting was the accomplished lawyer whom I mentioned above, and who told me that the object of his life is law reform in Ohio! The “populace” of whom the lady was justly proud have in no case that I know of been the law-breakers; and in as far as “the populace” moans, not “the multitude” but the “vulgar,” I do not agree with the lady that these children were the populace, Some of the patrons and prize givers afterwards proved themselves the “vulgar” of the city.
The children were nearly and tastefully dressed. A great improvement has taken place in the costume of little boys in England, within my recollection; but I never saw such graceful children as the little boys in America: at least in their summer dress. They are slight, active, and free. I remarked that several were barefoot, though in other respects well clad: and I found that many put off shoes and stockings from choice during the three hot months. Others were barefoot from poverty,—children of t recent settlers, and of the poorest class of the community.
We set out for the church as soon as the procession had passed, and arrived before the doors were opened. A platform had been erected below the pulpit, and on it were seated the mayor and principal gentlemen of the city. The two thousand children then filed in. The Report was read, and proved very satisfactory. These schools were established by a cordial union of various political and religious parties: and nothing could be more promising than the prospects of the institution, as to funds, as to the satisfaction of the class benefited, and as to the continued union of their benefactors. Several boys then gave specimens of elocution, which were highly amusing. They seemed to suffer under no false shame, and to have no misgiving about the effect of the vehement action they had been taught to employ. I wondered how many of them would speak in Congress hereafter. It seems doubtful to me whether the present generation of Americans are not out in their calculations about the value and influence of popular oratory. They ought certainly to know best: but I never saw an oration produce nearly so much effect as books, newspapers, and conversation. I suspect that there is a stronger association in American minds than the times will justify between republicanism and oratory: and that they overlook the facts of the vast change introduced by the press.—a revolution which has altered men's tastes and habits of bought, as well as varied the methods of reaching minds. As to the style of oratory itself, reasoning; is now found to be much more impressive than declamation, certainly in England, and I think also in the United States: and though, as every American boy is more likely than not to act some part in public life, it is desirable that all should be enabled to speak their minds clearly and gracefully, I am inclined to think it a pernicious mistake to render declamatory accomplishment so prominent a part of education as it now is. I trust that the next generation will exclude whatever there is of insincere and traditional in the practice of popular oratory; discern the real value of the accomplishment, and redeem. the reproach of bad taste which the oratory of the present generation has brought upon the people. While the Americans have the glory of every citizen being a reader, and having books to read, they cannot have, and need not desire, the glory of shining in popular oratory,—the glory of an age gone by.
Many prizes of books were given by the gentlemen on the platform; and the ceremony closed with an address from the pulpit which was true, and in some respects beautiful; but which did not appear altogether judicious to those who are familiar with children's minds. The children were exhorted to trust their teachers entirely; to be assured that their friends would do by them what was kindest. Now, neither children nor grown people trust, any more than they believe, because they arc bid. Telling them to have confidence is so much breath wasted. If they arc properly trained, they will unavoidably have this trust and confidence, and the less that is said about it the better. If not, the less said the better, too; for confidence is then out of the question, and there is danger in making it an empty phrase. It would he well if those whose office it is to address children wore fully aware that exhortation, persuasion, and dissuasion are of no use in their case; and that there is immeasurable value in the opposite method of appeal. Make truth credible, and they will believe it: make goodness lovely, and they will love it: make holiness cheerful, and they will be glad in it: but remind them of themselves by threat, inducement, or exhortation, and you impair (if you do any thing) the force of their unconscious affections: try to put them upon a task of arbitrary self-management, and your words pass over their ears only to be forgotten.
Before eight o'clock in the evening, the Cincinnati public was pouring into Mrs. Trollope's, bazaar, to the first concert ever offered to them. This bazaar is the great deformity of the city Happily, it is not very conspicuous, being squatted down among houses nearly as lofty as the summit of its dome. From my window at the boarding house, however, it was only too distinctly visible. It is built of brick, and has Gothic windows, Grecian pillars, and a Turkish dome, and it was originally ornamented with Egyptian devices, which have, however, all disappeared under the brush of the whitewasher. The concert was held in a large plain room, where a quiet, well-mannered audience was collected. There was something extremely interesting in the spectacle of the first public introduction of music into this rising city. One of the best performers was an elderly man, clothed from head to foot in grey homespun. He was absorbed in his enjoyment; so intent on his violin, that one might watch the changes of his pleased countenance, the whole performance through, without fear of disconcerting him. There was a young girl, in a plain white frock, with a splendid voice, a good car, and a love of warbling which carried her through very well indeed, though her own taste had obviously been her only teacher. If I remember right, there were about five-and-twenty instrumental performers, and six or seven vocalists, besides a long row for the closing chorus. It was a most promising beginning. The thought came across me how far we were from the musical regions of the Old World, and how lately this place had been a cane-brake, echoing with the bellow and growl of wild beasts; and here was the spirit of Mozart swaying and inspiring a silent crowd as if they were assembled in the chapel at Salzburg!
This account of our three first clays at Cincinnati will convey a sufficient idea of a stranger's impressions of the place. There is no need to give a report of its charitable institutions and its commerce: the details of the latter are well known to those whom they may concern; and in America, wherever men are gathered together, the helpless are aided, and the suffering relieved. The most threatening evil to Cincinnati is from that faithlessness which manifests itself in illiberality. The sectional prejudice of the two leading—classes of inhabitants has been mentioned; and also the ill-principled character of the opposition made to abolitionism. The offence against freedom, not only of opinion, but of action was in this case so rank, that citizen of Louisville, on the slaveholding side of the Ohio, taunted the citizens of Cincinnati with persecuting men for opinion from mercenary interest; with putting down free discussion from fear of injury to their commerce. A third direction in this illiberality shows itself is towards the Catholics. The Catholic religion spreads rapidly in many most of the recently-settled parts of the United States, and its increase produces an almost insane dread among some Protestants, who fail to see that no evils that the Catholic religion can produce in the present state of society can be so afflictive and dangerous as the bigotry by which it is proposed to put it down. The removal to Cincinnati of Dr. Beecher, the ostentation and virulent foe of the Catholics, has much quickened the spirit of alarm in that region. It is to be hoped that Dr. Beecher and the people of Cincinnati will remember what has been the invariable consequence in America of public denunciations of assumed offences which the law does not reach; namely, mobbing. It is to be hoped that all parties will remember that Dr. Beecher preached in Boston three sermons vituperative of the Catholics, the Sunday before the Circumstances may also have shown them by this time how any kind faith grown under persecution; and, above all, it may be hoped that the richer classes of citizens will become more aware than they have yet proved themselves to be of their republican (to say nothing of their human) obligation to refrain from encroaching, in the smallest particulars, on their brethren's rights of opinion and liberty of conscience.
The roads in the interior of Ohio were in so bad a state from recent rains that I did not, at this time, attempt to visit the middle or northern parts of the State, where may be seen those monuments of an extinct race, about which much antiquarian inquiry is going forward. One of the large mounds, whose uses are yet unexplained, and in which are found specimens of the arts of life which are considered to show that their artificers were not of Indian race, still remains within the city. It was crumbling away when I saw it, being a tempting sport for children's play. It is a pity it should not be carefully preserved; for the whole history of evidence, particularly the more recent portion of it, shows the impossibility of anticipating what revelations may emanate from a single object of historical interest.
A volume might presently be filled with descriptions of our drives about the environs of Cincinnati. There are innumerable points of view whence the city with its masses of building and its spires, may be seen shining through the limpid atmosphere, like a cloud-city in the evening sky. There are many spots where it is a relief to lose the river from the view, and to be shut in among the brilliant green hills, which are more than can be numbered. But there is one drive which I almost wonder the inhabitants do not take every summer day,—to the Little Miami bottoms. We continued castward along the bank of the river for seven miles, the whole scenery of which was beautiful: but the unforgotten spot was the level about the mouth of the Little Miami river,—the richest of plains, level valleys, studded with farm-houses, enlivened with clearings, and kept primitive in appearance by the masses of dark forest which filled up all the unoccupied spaces. Upon this scene we looked down from a great height,—a Niphates of the new world. On entering a little pass, between two grassy hills, crested with wood, we were desired to alight. I ran up the ascent to the right, and was startled at finding myself on the top of a precipice. Far beneath me ran the Little Miami, with a narrow white pebbly strand, arrow-like trees springing over from the brink of the precipice, and the long evening shadows making the current as black as night, while the green, up to the very lips of the ravine, was of the sunniest, in the last flood of western light.
For more reasons than one I should prefer Cincinnati as a residence to any other large city of the United States. Of these reasons, not the last would be that the “Queen of the West” is enthroned in a region of wonderful and inexhaustible beauty.[Back to Table of Contents]
“Small is it that thou canst trample the earth with its injuries under thy feet, us old Greek Zeno trained thee; thou canst love the earth while it injures thee, and even because it injures thee; for this a greater than Zeno was needed, and he, too, was sent. Knowest thou that ‘Worship of Sorrow?’ The temple thereof, opened some eighteen centuries ago, how lies in ruins, overgrown with jungle, the habitation of doleful creatures, Nevertheless, venture forward; in a low crypt, arched out of falling fragments, thou findest the altar still there, and its sacred lamp perennially burning.”—Sartor Resurtus.
“I will tell you, scholar, I have heard a grave divine say that God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart,”—Isaac Walton.
Among the strongest of the fresh feelings excited by foreign travel,—those fresh feelings which are an actual reinforcement of life,—is that of welcome surprise at the sympathy the traveller is able to yield, as well as privileged to receive. We are all apt to lose faith in the general resemblance between human beings when we have remained too long amidst one set of circumstances,—all of us, nearly as weakly as the school-girl who thinks that the girl of another school cannot comprehend her feelings; or the statesman who is surprised that the lower classes appear sometimes to understand their own interests; or the moralist who starts back from the antique page where he meets the reflection of his own convictions; or the clergyman who has one kind of truth for his study, and another for his pulpit. Intellectual sympathy comes to the traveler in a distant land like a benignant rebuke of his narrowness; and when he meets with moral beauty which is a realization of his deep and secret dreams, he finds how true it is that there is no nationality in the moral creation, and that wherever grass grows and the sun shines, truth springs up out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. Those who bring home a deep, grateful, influential conviction of this have become possessed of the best results of travel: those who are not more assured than before of the essential sympathy of every human being they meet will be little the worse for staying at home all the rest of their lives. I was delighted with an observation of a Boston merchant who had made several voyages to Chine. He dropped a remark by his own fireside on the narrowness which causes us to conclude, avowedly or silently, that, however will men may use the light they have, they must be very pitiable, very far behind us, unless they have our philosophy, our Christianity, our ways of knowing the God who is the Father of us all, and the Nature which is the home of us all. He said that his thoughts often wandered back, with vivid pleasure, to the long conversation he had enjoyed with some of his Chinese friends on the deepest themes of philosophy, and the highest truths of religion, when he found them familiar with the convictions, the emotions, the hopes which, in religious New England, are supposed to be derivable only from the Christianity of the region. His observation gave me intense pleasure at the time I heard it; and now, thought I have no such outlandish friends as the Chinese appear to a narrow imagination, I can tell him, from a distance of three thousand miles, that his animating experience is shared by other minds.
The most extensive agreement that I have ever known to exist between three minds, is between two friends of mine in America and myself, Dr. F. being German, Mrs. F. American, and I English, —by birth, education, and (at least in one of the three,) prejudice. Before any of the three met, all had become as fixed as they were ever likely to be in habits of thought and feeling; and yet our differences were so slight, our agreements so extensive, that our intercourse was like a perpetual recognition, rather than a gradual revelation. Perhaps a lively imagination may conceive something of the charm of imparting to one another glimpses of our early life. While our years wer passing amidst scenes and occupations as unlike as possible, our minds were converging through foreign regions of circumstance to a common centre of conviction. We have sat mutually listening for hours, day after day, week after week, to his account of early years spent in the range of a royal forester's domain, and of the political struggles of later years: to her history of a youthful life nourished by all kinds of American influences; and to mine, as unlike both theirs as each was to the other.
The same sort of experience is yielded by every chapter of human history which comes under the mind's eye in a foreign country. The indolence of the speculatist, however, generally prevents his making this use of any but the most extraordinary and eventful sections of this interminable history. Such contemplations rouse sympathy, extinguish nationality, and enlarge the spirit to admit new kindred by an irresistible assurance of the rightfulness of all claims of brotherhood. Every love-tale has this effect; for true love is the same all over the wide earth. Most tales of woe have the same influence; for the deepest woes spring from causes universally prevalent. But above all, spectacles of moral beauty work miracles of reconciliation between foreign minds. The heart warms to every act of generosity, and the spirit sends out a fervent greeting to every true expression of magnanimity, whether it be meek intrepidity in doing, or unconscious bravery in suffereing.
Many such a heart-warning must the stranger experience in America, where the diversities of society are as great as over the European Continent, and where all virtues can find the right soil to thrive in. If there are in some regions broader exhibitions of vice.—of licentiousness and violence.—than can be seen where slavery is not, in other regions, or amidst different circumstances, there are brighter revelations of virtue than are often seen out of a primitive state of society. One of these, one of many, may, I think, be spoken of without risk of hurting any feelings, or betraying any confidence; though I must refrain from throwing such light and beauty over the story as the letters of the parties would afford. I was never so tempted to impart a correspondence; and it is not conceivable that any harm could arise from it, beyond the mischief of violating the sacredness of private correspondence; but this is not to be thought of.
At Cincinnati, I became acquainted with the Re. E. P., whom I found to be beloved, fervently but rationally, by his flock, some of whom think him not a whit inferior, as a preacher, to Dr. Channing. He was from New England; and, till he spoke, he might have been taken for one of the old puritans risen from an early grave to walk the earth for awhile. He was tall, gaunt, and severe-looking, with rather long black hair, and very large black eyes. When he spoke, all the severity vanished; his countenance and voice expressed gentleness, and his quiet fun showed that the inward man was no puritan. His conversation was peculiar. His voice was somewhat hollow, and not quite manageable, and he was wont to express himself with schoolboy abruptness and awkwardness of phrase, letting drop gems of truth and flowers of beauty, without being in the least aware of the inequality of his conversation, or perhaps that he was conversing at all. Occasionally, when he had lighted on a subject on which he had bestowed much thought, all this inequality vanished, and his eloquence was of a very high order. He was a man who fixed the attention at once, and could not, after a single interview, be ever forgotten. The first time I saw him, he told me that his wife and he had hoped to had made their house my home in Cincinnati, but that she and the child had been obliged to set out on their summer visit to her parents in New England before my arrival. Whenever he spoke of his home, it was in a tone of the most perfect cheerfulness; so that I should not have imagined that any anxieties harboured there, but for the fervent though calm manner in which he observed in conversation one day, that outward evils are evils only as far as we think them so; and that our thinking them so may be wonderfully moderated by a full conviction of this. This was said in a tone which convinced me that it was not a fragment of preaching, but of meditation. I found that he had been about two Years married to a pretty, lively, accomplished girl from New England. Some of his friends were rather surprised at the match, for she had appeared hitherto only as a sprightly belle, amiable but a little frivolous. It was not, however, that he was only proud of her beauty and accomplishments, or transiently in love: for his young wife had soon occasion to reveal a strength of mind only inferior to his own. Her sight began to fail: it failed more and more rapidly, till, after the birth of her child, she was obliged to surrender to others all the nicer cares of maternal management. Her accomplishments became suddenly useless. Her favourite drawing was first given up; then her needle was laid aside; then she could neither write nor read, nor bear a strong light. In her state of enforced idleness (the greatest trial of all to the spirits), her cheerfulness never failed. Her step was as light, her voice as gay as ever. She said it was because her husband was as happy as ever. He aided her in every conceivable way; by doing all that was possible of what she was prevented from doing, and by upholding her conviction that the mind is its own place; and he thus proved that he did not desire for her or for himself indolent submission, but cheerful acquiescence.
As summer came on the child sickened in teething, and was sent with its mother to New England, in order to escape the greatest heats. They had set out, under good guardianship, the week before I arrived at Cincinnati. Mr. P. could not leave his church for many weeks, but was to follow in August, so as to be in time to deliver a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge. Massachusetts, in Harvard Commencement week. I fancied that I saw him meditating this poem, more than once, during our drives through the splendid scenery round Cincinnati. I was uneasy about his health, and expressed some apprehensions to one of his friends, who however made light of what I said. I thought that, made for strength as he looked, he had little of it. He seemed incessantly struggling against exhaustion, and I was confident that he often joined in conversation with his eyes alone, because he was unequal to the exertion of talking. I was quite sure of all this, and wondered how others could help seeing it too, on the day of the procession of the free schools of Cincinnati, when he was appointed to address the children. His evident effort in the pulpit, and exhaustion afterwards, made me fear that there were more trials in store for his young wife. During their separation, she could neither write to him nor read his letters.
When, towards the end of August, I arrived at Cambridge for Commencement, one of my first inquiries was for the P.s. He had joined his wife, his poem was ready, and they were in cheerful spirits, though both her sight and the child's health were rather worse than better. I did not see them among the assemblage on the great Commencement day. On the morrow, when the Phi Beta Kappa Society had marched in to music, and the oration had been delivered, and we all looked eagerly for Mr. P. and his poem, a young clergyman appeared, with a roll of M.S. in his hand, and, with a faltering voice, and a countenance of repressed grief, told us that Mr. P. had been seized with sudden and severe illness, and hail requested from him, as an office of friendship, that he would read the poem which its author was prevented from delivering. The tidings ran in a mournful whisper through the assemblage that Mr. P. had broken a blood-vessel.
The poem was descriptive, with touches of human interest, many and strong. It related the passage of an emigrant family over the Alleghanies, and their settlement in the West. It was read with much modesty, truth and grace. Atone part the reader's voice failed him,— at a brief description of the burial of an infant in the woods: it was too like a recent scene at which the reader had been present as chief mourner.
The P.s were next at a country-house within two miles of another where I was spending ten days, Mr. P. was shut up, and condemned to the trial which his wife was bearing so well.—enforced idleness. His bodily weakness made him feel it more, and he found it difficult to bear. He had been unused to sickness: and the only failure I ever saw in him was in obedience to the necessities of his situation, and the orders of his physician. He could not write a page of a letter: and reading fatigued his head: but he could not help trying to do what he had been accustomed to perform with case: and no dexterity of his visitors could prevent his clapping on his hat, and being at the carriage door before them. I thought once that I had fairly shut him into his parlour; but he was holding my stirrup before I had done my farewell to his wife. I was commissioned to carry him grapes and peaches from a friend's hot-house: and I would fain have gone every day to read to him: but I found that he saw too many people, and I therefore went seldom. Nothing can be conceived more touching than the cheerfulness of his wife. Many would have inwardly called it cruel that she could now do almost nothing for her husband: or what she thought almost nothing. She could neither read to him, nor write for him the many passing thoughts, the many remembrances to absent friends, that it would have been a relief to his now restless mind to have had set down. But their common conviction completely sustained them both; and I never saw them otherwise than unaffectedly cheerful. The child was sometimes better, and sometimes worse. I saw him but once, but I should have known him again among a thousand. The full, innocent gaze of his bright black eyes, the upright carriage, so striking in a well-tended infant, and the attitude of repose in which he contemplated from his mother's arms whatever went on about him, fixed the image of the child in my memory for over. In another month I heard, at a distance, of the child's death. For a fortnight before, he had been quite blind, and had suffered grievously. In the common phrase, I was told that the parents supported themselves wonderfully.
As the cold weather approached, it became necessary for Mr. P. to remove southwards. It was a weary journey over the Alleghanies into Ohio: but it had to be performed. Every arrangement of companionship, and about conveyance, resting-places. &c., was made to lessen the fatigue to the utmost; but we all dreaded it for him. The party was to touch at Providence, Rhode Island, where the steam-boat would wait a quarter of an hour. I was in Providence, and of course went down to the boat to greet them. Mr. P. saw me from a distance, and ran ashore, and let down the steps of the carriage with an alacrity which filled me with joy and hope. He was not nearly so thin as when I last saw him, and his countenance was more radiant that ever. “I knew we should see you.” Said he, as he led me on board to his wife. She too was smiling. They were not in mourning. Like some other persons in America who disapprove of wearing mourning, they had the courage to break through the custom. It would indeed have been inconsistent with the conviction which was animating them all this time.—the conviction that the whole disposal of us is wise and right and kind.—to have made an external profession that any thing that befell them was to be lamented. I could not but observe the contrast between their maid-servant. Whose heart was doubless aching at having to go back without the child. The mother's feelings were any thing but deadened. The cheerfulness and the hearts mourning existed together. Tears trembled in her eyes, and her voice faltered. More than once; but then came the bright smile again, and an intimation given almost in a spirit of gaiety, that it was easy to bear any thing while he was always so strong in spirit and so happy.
This was the last I saw of them, Their travel companions wrote cheerlessly of his want of strength, and of the suffering the long journey caused him. They were taken into the house of a kind friend at Cincinnati, where there was a room fitted up with green for the sake of Mrs. P. s eyes, and every arrangement made in a similar spirit of consideration. But it would not do: there was yet to be no rest for the invalid. The excitement of being among his flock, while unable to do any thing in their service, was injurious to him. He was sent down the river to New Orleans; and his wife was not allowed to accompany him. The reasons were sufficient; but the separation at a time when he was nearly as anxious about her health as she about his, was a dreadful trial. I heard of it, and wrote him a long letter to amuse him, desiring him not to exert himself to answer it. After a while, however, he did so; and I shall never part with that letter, e spoke briefly of himself and his affairs, but I saw the whole state of his mind in the little he did say. He found himself in no respect better; in many much worse. He often felt that he was going down the dark valley, and longed intensely for the voices of his home to cheer him on his way. But still his happiest conviction was the uppermost. He knew that all things were ordered well, and he had no cares. He wrote more copiously of other things.—of his voyage down the great river, of the state of mind and manners amidst the influences of slavery, which had converted his judgment and his sympathies to the abolition cause; and of the generous kindness of his people, the full extent of which he might never have known but for his present sickness. This letter left me little hope of his recovery: yet even here the spirit of cheerfulness, predominant through the whole, was irresistible; and it left me less anxious for them than before.
After this, I wandered about for some months, out of reach of any of the P. 's connexions, and could only procure general accounts of his being better. Just before I sailed, I received from Mr. P. a letter full of good news, as calmly cheerful in its tone as any written in the depths of his adversity. He had ascended the river with the first warmth of spring; was so much better as to be allowed to preach once on the Sunday, and to be about to undertake it twice; and was now writing beside the cradle of his new-born daughter, whose mother sent me word that they were all well and happy.
The power of a faith like theirs goes forth in various directions, to work many wonders. It not only fortifies the minds of sufferers, but modifies the circumstances themselves from which they suffer, bracing the nerves in sickness, and equalising the emotions in sorrow: it practically asserts the supremacy of the real over the apparent, and the high over the low; and among other kindly operations, refreshes the spirit of the stranger with a revelation of true kindred in a foreign land;—for this faith is the fundamental quality in the brotherhood of the race.[Back to Table of Contents]
THE NATURAL BRIDGE.
“Come on, sir; here's the place:—Stand still. How fearful And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!”
- “Desperate now
- All farther course—yon beetling brow,
- In craggy nakedness sublime,
- What heart or loot shall dare to climb?”
The shrewd Yankee driver of the “extra exclusive return stage” which contained four out of six of our travelling party in Virginia was jocose about the approach to the Natural Bridge. Mr. L. and I were on horseback, and the driver of the stage called after us when we were “going ahead” to warn us that we should get over the bridge without knowing it, if we went first. We, of course, determined to avoid looking so foolish as we should do, if we passed the Natural Bridge,—the little spot deemed important enough to be put in capital letters in maps of the American Union,—without knowing it. Heads were popped out of the stage window to shout the warning after us; and the jokes really seemed so extremely insulting that we were disposed to push on, and get our sight of Jefferson's great wonder before our fellow-travellers came up. For five miles we kept out of sight of the stage: but at this point there was a parting of the roads, and we could see no possible means of learning which we were to follow. We were obliged to wait in the shade till the distant driver's whip pointed out the right-hand road to us. We were now not far from the object of our expectations, We agreed that we felt very quiet about it—that we were conscious of little of the veneration which the very idea of Niagara inspires. The intensity of force, combined with repose, is the charm of Niagara. No form of rock, however grand in itself, or however beautifully surrounded, can produce any thing like the same impression. Experience proved that we were right.
At a mile from the Bridge, the road turns off through a wood. While the stage rolled and jolted along the extremely bad road, Mr. L. and I went prying about the whole area of the wood, poking our horses' noses into every thicket, and between any two pieces of rock, that we might be sure not to miss our object; the driver smiling alter us whenever he could spare attention from his own not very easy task of getting his charge along. With all my attention, I could see no precipice, and was concluding to follow the road without more vagaries, when Mr. L., who was a little in advance, waved his whip, as he stood beside his horse, and said, “Here is the Bridge!” I then perceived that we were nearly over it, the piled rocks on either hand forming a barrier which prevents a careless eye from perceiving the ravine which it spans. I turned to the side of the road, and rose in my stirrup to look over: but I found it would not do. I went on to the inn., deposited my horse, and returned on foot to the Bridge.
With all my efforts I could not look down steadily into what seemed the bottomless abyss of foliage and shadow. Front every point of the Bridge I tried, and all in vain. I was heated and extremely hungry, and much vexed at my own weakness. The only way was to go down and look up; though where the bottom could be was past my imagining, the view from the top seeming to be of foliage below foliage for ever.
The way to the glen is through a field opposite the inn, and down a steep, rough, rocky path which leads under the Bridge, and a few yards beyond it. I think the finest view of all is from this path, just before reaching the Bridge. The irregular arch of rock, spanning a chasm of 160 feet in height, and from 60 to 90 in width, is exquisitely tinted with every shade of grey and brown; while trees encroach from the sides, and overhang from the top, between which and the arch there is an additional depth of 56 feet. It was now early in July; the trees were in their brightest and thickest foliage; and the tall beeches under the arch contrasted their verdure with the grey rock, and received the gilding of the sunshine as it slanted into the ravine, glittering in the drip from the arch, and in the splashing and tumbling waters of Cedar Creek, which ran by our feet. Swallows were flying about under the arch. What others of their tribe can boast of such a home?
We crossed and re-crossed the creek on stepping-stones, searching out every spot to which any tradition belonged. Under the arch, thirty feet from the water, the lower part of the letters G. W. may be soon carved in the rock. When Washington was a young man, he climbed up hither, to leave this record of his visit. There are other inscriptions of the same kind, and above them a board, on which arc painted the names of two persons, who have thought it worth while thus to immortalize their feat of climbing highest. But their glory was but transient, after all. They have been outstripped by a traveller whose achievement will probably never be rivalled, for he would not have accomplished it if he could by any means have declined the task. Never was a wonderful deed more involuntarily performed. There is no disparagement to the gentleman in saying this: it is only absolving him from the charge of fool-hardiness.
This young man, named Blacklock, accompanied by two friends, visited the Natural Bridge, and, being seized with the ambition appropriate to the place, of writing his name highest, climbed the rock opposite to the part selected by Washington, and carved his initials. Others had perhaps seen what Mi. Blacklock overlooked,—that it was a place easy to ascend, but from which it is impossible to come down. He was forty feet or more from the path; his footing was precarious; he was weary with holding on while carving his name, and his head began to swim when he saw the impossibility of getting down again. He called to his companions that his only chance was to climb up upon the Bridge, without hesitation or delay. They saw this, and with anguish agreed between themselves that the chance was a very bare one. They cheered him, and advised him to look neither up nor down. On he went, slanting upwards from under the arch, creeping round a projection on which no foot-hold is visible from below, and then disappearing in a recess filled up with foliage. Long and long they waited, watching for motion, and listening for crashing among the trees. He must have been now 150 feet above them. At length their eyes were so strained that they could sec no more, and they had almost lost all hope. There was little doubt that he had fallen while behind the trees, where his body would never be found. They went up to try the chance of looking for him from-above. They found him lying insensible on the Bridge. He could just remember reaching the top, when he immediately fainted. One would like to know whether the accident left him a coward in respect of climbing, or whether it strengthened his confidence in his nerves.
The guide showed us a small cedar, which projected from a shelf of the rock about two hundred feet above our heads, and along whose stem a young lady climbed several feet, so as to court destruction in a very vain and foolish manner. If the support had failed, as might reasonably have been expected, her immortality of reputation would not have been of an enviable kind.
We remained in the ravine till we were all exhausted with hunger; but we had to wait for dinner still another hour, after arriving at the inn. By way of passing the time, one gentleman of our party fainted, and had to be laid along on the floor; which circumstance, I fancy, rather accelerated the announcement of our meal. The moment it was over, I hastened to the Bridge, and was pleased to find that, being no longer fatigued and hungry, I could look into the abyss, with perfect case. I lay down on the rocks, and studied the aspect of the ravine, in its afternoon lights and shadows, from five different points of view. While thus engaged, I was called to see a handsome copper-headed snake; but it had gained its hole before I could reach the spot. We ladies so much preferred the view of the Bridge from the glen to the view of the glen from the Bridge, that we went down for another hour before departing. It looked most beautiful. The sunshine was slowly withdrawing from under the arch, and leaving us in the shadows of evening while all was glowing like noon in the region—to which we looked up from our lowly scats,—the stepping-stones in the midst of the gushing creek.
The Natural Bridge is nearly in the centre of Virginia, and about half way between Fincastle and Lexington, which are about thirty-seven miles apart. The main central road of Virginia runs over the Bridge; so that no excuse is left for travellers who neglect to visit this work, framed by the strong hand of Nature,
- “by wondrous art
- Pontifical, a ridge of pendant rock
- Over the vex'd abyss,”
—vexed, not by the iumults of Chaos, but by the screams of caverned birds, the battles of snakes with their prey, and the chafing of waters against opposing rocks.[Back to Table of Contents]
“His extraordinary plans and expectations for himself might he of such a nature as to depend on other persons for their accomplishment, and might therefore be as extravagant as if other persons alone had been their object.”—Foster's Essays.
The romance of political adventure is generally found to flourish in the regions of despotism; and it seems a matter of course that there can be no room for conspiracy in a democratic republic, where each man is a member of the government, and means are provided for the expression of every kind of political opinion and desire. Yet the United States can exhibit a case of conspiracy, and a political advendurer such as might rejoice the souls of the lovers of romance. Scattered notices of Colonel Aaron Burr and of his supposed schemes are before the English public; but no connected history which might be depended upon appeared during his life. He died last year, and has left no relations; so that no reason now exists why every thing that can be learned about him should not be made known.
In 1795, Aaron Burr had attained to eminence at the New York Bar. He was about the same age as Alexander Hamilton, who was born in 1757, and their professional reputation and practice were about equal. Hamilton was the leader of the federal party. He was in countenance eminently handsome, in manner engaging, in temper amiable and affectionate, in eloquence both persuasive and commanding; and his mind was so comprehensive, and his powers of application and execution so great as to cause him to be considered by the federal party the greatest man their country has produced. Burr was of democratic politics; he had a fiercely ambitious temper, which he hid under a gentle and seductive manner. He was usually so quiet and sedate that he might have been thought indifferent, but for the expression of his piercing black eyes. His face was otherwise plain, and his figure and gait were stooping and ungraceful. He assumed great authority of manner upon occasion. His speaking at the bar was brief and to the purpose. His most remarkable characteristic seems to have been his power of concealment. He not only carried on a conspiracy befor the nation's eyes which they to this day cannot more or less understand; but lived long years with the tremendous secret in his breast, and has gone down to the grave without affording any solution of the mystery. It may be doubted whether, in all the long private conversations he had with individuals, he ever committed himself, otherwise than apparently, to anybody. He seems to have been understood by Hamilton, however, from the begining; and Hamilton never concealed his opinion that Burr was an ambitious and dangerous man.
Jefferson put a generous trust in Burr; and for many years they were intimate correspondents. It is very touching to read, after all that has since happened, such letters as the following,—written shortly after the two men had been rival candidates for the Presidentship, at a time of unexampled party excitement:—
“To Colonel Burr.
- “Washington, February
“Dear Sir,—It was to be expected that the enemy would endeavour sow tares between us, that they might divide us and our friends. Every consideration satisfies me that you will be on your guard against this, as I assure you I am strongly. I hear of one stratagem so imposing and so base, that it is proper I should notice it to you. Mr. Munford, who is here, says he saw at New York before he left it, an original letter of mine to Judge Breckinridge, in which are sentiments highly injurious to you. He knows my handwriting, and did not doubt that to be genuine. I enclose you a copy taken from a press copy of the only letter I ever wrote to Judge Breckinridge in my life: the press copy itself has been shown to several of our mutual friends here. Of consequence, tho letter seen by Mr. Munford must be a forgery, imd if it contains a sentiment unfriendly or disrespectful to you, I aftirm it solemuly to be a forgery; as also if it varies from the copy enclosed. With the common trash of slander I should not think of troubling you: but the forgery of one's handwriting is too imposing to be neglected. A mutual knowledge of each other furnished us with the best test of the contrivances which will be practised by the enemies of both.
“Accept assurances of my high respect and esteem.
In the Presidential election of 1800, there were four candidates,—Jefferson. Burr, John Adams, and Pinckney. The votes were for Jefferson 73, for Burr 73, for Adams 65, for Pinckney 64. The numbers for Jefferson and Burr being equal, the choice devolved upon the House of Representatives, which voted to attend to no other business till the election was settled, and not to adjourn till the decision was effected. For seven days and nights the balloting went on, every member being present. Some who were ill or infirm were accommodated with beds and couches; and one sick member was allowed to be attended by his wife. Admas was, as President, on the spot, watching his impending political annihilation. Jefferson was at hand, daily presiding in the Senate. Burr was in the State of New York, anxiously expecting tidings, The federal party were in despair at having to choose between two republicans (as the democratic party was at that day called). It is said that Hamilton was consulted by his party; and that his advice was to choose Jefferson rather than Burr:—a piece of counsel which affected the everlasting destinies of the country, and cost the counsellor his life. At the end of the seven days, Jefferson was elected President, and Burr Vice-President; which office Burr hold for a single term,—four years.
In the winter of 1804, Burr was proposed at Albany as a candidate for the office of Governor of the State of New York. Hamilton, at a public meeting of his party, strongly opposed the nomination, declaring that he would never join in supporting such a candidate. About this time, Dr. Chas. D. Cooper wrote a letter in which he said “General Hamilton and —— have declared in substance, that they looked upon Mr. Burr as a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” “I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.” This letter was published; and on the 18th of June, 1804, Buri sent a copy of it to Hamilton, with a demand that the expressions it contained should be acknowledged or denied. The correspondence which ensued is discreditable to both parties. To use the expression of a great man,” Hamilton went into it like a capuchin. “He knew that it was Burr's determination to fix a deadly quarrel upon him; he knew that Burr was an unworthy adversary; he disapproved of the practice of dueling, but he feared the imputation of want of courage if he refused to meet his foe. He therefore explained and corresponded with an amplitude and indecision which expose his reputation to more danger from harsh judges than a refusal to fight would have done. As for Burr, he was savage in his pursuit of his enemy. He enlarged his accusations demands, as he saw the irresolution of his victim: and I believe there is no doubt that, though he was a good shot before, he employed the interval of twenty days which elapsed before the duel took place in firing at a mark, making no secret of the purpose of his practising.
This interval was occasioned by Hamilton's refusal to go out till the Circuit Court, in the business of which he was engaged, should have closed its sittings. The Court rose on Friday, the 6th of July, and Burr received notice that General Hamilton would be ready at any time after the following Sunday.
On Wednesday morning, the 11th, the parties crossed the Hudson to the Jersey shore, arriving on the ground at seven o'clock, Burr was attended by Mr. Van Ness and a surgeon; Hamilton by Mr. Pendleton and Dr. Hosack. It was Hamilton's intention not to fire; but when his adversary's ball struck him on the right side, he raised himself involuntarilv on his toes, and turned a little to the left, his pistol going off with the movement. He observed to his physician. “This is a mortal wound, Doctor,” and then became insensible. He revived; however, in the boat, in the course of removal home: and cautioned his attendants about the pistol, which he was not aware of having discharged. He lived, in great agony, till two o'clock of the following day.
He left a paper which contained his statement of reasons for meeting; Burr, notwithstanding his conscientious disapproval of the practice of dueling, and his particular desire to avoid an encounter with such an adversary, and in such a cause as the present. In this paper, he declares his resolution to reserve and throw away his first fire, and perhaps his second. His reasons for fighting are now, I believe, generally agreed to be unsatisfactory. As to the effect of his determination to spare his adversary,—I never could learn that Colonel Burr expressed the slightest regret for the pertinacity with which he hunted such an enemy.—merely a political foe.—to death. Neither did he appear to feel the execration with which he was regarded in the region of which Hamilton had been the pride and ornament.
To avoid the legal consequences of his deed, he wandered into the West, and remained so long in retreat, that some passing wonder was excited as to what he could be doing there. He was ensuaring more victims.
In the Ohio river, a few miles below Marietta, there is a beautiful island, tinely wooded, but now presenting a dismal picture of ruin. This island was purchased, about thirty-five years ago, by an Irish gentleman, named Herman Blannerhassett, whose name the island has since borne. This gentleman took his beautiful and attached wife to his new property, and their united tastes made it such an abode as was never before, and has never since been seen in the United States. Shrubberies, conservatories and gardens ornamented the island; and within doors, there was a fine library, philosophical apparatus, and music-room. Burr seems to have been introduced to this family by some mutual friends at the East, and to have been received as a common acquaintance at first. The intimacy grew: and the oftener he went to Blannerhassett's Island, and the longer he staid. The deeper was the gloom which overspread the unfortunate family. Blannerhassett himself seems to have withdrawn his interest from his children, his books, his pursuits, as Burr obtained influence over his mind, and poisoned it with some dishonest ambition. The wife's countenance grew sad, and her manners constrained. It is not known how far she was made acquainted with what was passing between her husband and Burr.
The object of Burr's conspiracy remains as much a mystery as over, while there is no doubt whatever of its existence. Some suppose that he intended to possess himself of Mexico; an enterprise less absurd than at first sight it appears. There was great hatred towards the Mexicans at that period,—the period of agitation the acquisition of Louisiana: thousands of citizens were ready to march down upon Mexico on any pretence; and it is certain that Burr was so amply provided with funds from some unknown quarter, that he had active adherents carrying on his business, from the borders of Maine all down the course of the great Western rivers. Another supposition is that he designed the plunder of New Orleans, in the event of a war with Spain. A more probable one is that he proposed to found a great Western Empire, with the aid of Spain, making himself its Emperor, and drawing off the allegiance of all the countries west of the Alleghanies: and finally that, as a cover to, and final substitute for other designs, he meant to effect the colonization of the banks of the river Washita. Such are the various objects assigned as the end of Burr's movements: but all that is known is that he engaged a number of men in his service,—supposed to be not loss than a thousand,—under an assurance that the service required of them was one approved by the government: that he endeavoured to persuade Latrobe, the architect, to engage five hundred more labourers on pretext of their working on the Ohio canal, in which it turned out that he had no interest: that a guard was mounted round Blannerhassett's Island: that boats, manned and furnished with arms, set forth from the island on the night of the 10th of December, 1806: that they were joined by Burr, with a reinforcement, at the mouth of the Cumberland; and that they all proceeded down the Mississippi together.
The government had become aware of secret meetings between Burr, the Spanish Yruyo, and Dr. Bollman, one of the liberators of Lafayette; and the proper time was seized for putting forth proclamations which undeceived the people with regard to Burr's movements, and caused them to rise against him wherever he had been acting. Orders to capture him and his party, and if necessary, to destroy his boats, were eagerly received. Burr did not venture to New Orleans. He caused himself to be put ashore in the territory of Mississippi, and thence found his way, attended by only one person, to the banks of the Tombigbee, which he reached on the 19th of February, 1807. At eleven at night, the wanderers passed a settlement called Washington Court Mouse: Burr preceded his companion by some yards, and passed on quietly: but his companion enquired of a man standing at the door of a public-house, about the dwelling of a Major Hinson; and, on receiving his answer, joined Burr. The person enquired of went to Hinson's with the sheriff, and had his suspicions so confirmed that he proceeded to Fort Stoddart, and brought back an officer and four soldiers, who took Burr into custody. He was lodged, a prisoner, at Richmond, Virginia, by the end of March.
Burr had previously been brought to trial in Kentucky, on an accusation of illegal secret practices in that State. He was defended and brought off by Mr. Clay and Colonel Allen, who were persuaded of his innocence, and refused a fee. Mr. Clay was for long after his advocate, in public and in private, and asked him, for friendly purposes, for a full declaration that he was innocent, which Burr gave unhesitatingly and explicitly: and the note is now among Jefferson's papers. When, some time subsequently, a letter of Burr's in cipher came to light, Mr. Clay found how he had been deceived; but his advocacy was, for the time, of great benefit to Burr.
On the 17th of August, Burr was brought to trial at Richmond, before Chief Justice Marshall. He was charged with having excited insurrection, rebellion, and war on the 10th of December, 1806, at Blannerhassett's Island, in Virginia, Secondly, the same charge was repeated, with the addition of a traitorous intention of taking possession of the city of New Orleans with force and arms. The evidence established every thing but the precise charge. The presence of Burr in the island was proved: and his levies of men and provisions on the banks of the Ohio. The presence of armed men in the island, and the expedition of the 10th of December were also proved: but not any meeting of these men with Burr. The proof of the overt act completely failed. He was then tried at the same court on the indictment for misdemeanour, and acquitted. He was then ordered to be committed to answer an indictment in the State of Ohio. He was admitted to bail, and it does not appear that the State of Ohio meddled with him at all.
Bollman was one of the witnesses on the side of the prosecution. His certificate of pardon was offered to him in court by the counsel for the prosecution. He refused to accept it, but was sworn, and his evidence received.
It is impossible to suppose any bias on the part of the Court in favour of the prisoner. His acquittal seems to have arisen from unskilfulness in deducing the charges from the evidence; and to the trial having taken place before all the requisite evidence could be gathered from distant regions.
Blannerhassett and others were tried on the same charges as Burr; but what became of them I do not remember, further than that Blannerhassett was utterly ruined and disgraced.
Burr repaired to England. His connexion with Bentham appears wholly unaccountable. The story is, that he was in a bookseller's shop one day, when Bentham entered and fixed his observation: that he wrote a letter to Bentham, as soon as he was gone, expressive of his high admiration of his works: that Bentham admitted him to an interview, invited him to stay with him, and urged the prolongation of his visit from time to time, till it ended in being a sojourn of two years. It is difficult to conceive how an agreeable intercourse could be kept up for so long a time between the single-minded philosopher and the crafty yet boastful, the vindictive yet smooth political adventurer.
In October, 1808, Jefferson wrote to a friend.
“Burr is in London, and is giving out to his friends that that government offers him two millions of dollars, the moment he can raise an ensign of rebellion as big as a handkerchief. Some of his partisans will believe this because they wish it. But those who know him best will not believe it the more because he says it.”* He returned to America in 1812, being sent away from England on account of his too frequent, and very suspicious political correspondence with France.
He settled quietly at New York, and resumed practice at the bar, which he continued as long as his health permitted. He owed such practice as he had to his high legal ability, and not to any improved opinion of his character. When Mr. Clay arrived in New York, from his English mission, he went the round of the public institutions, attended by the principal inhabitants. In one of the courts he met Burr, and, of course, after the affair of the cipher letter, cut him. Burr made his way to him, declared himself anxious to clear up every misapprehension which had alienated the regard of his benefactor, and requested to be allowed half an hour's private conservation. Mr. Clay readily agreed to this and the hour was named. Burr failed to keep his appointment, and never afterwards appeared in Mr. Clay's presence.
One pure light, one healthy affection, illumined and partially redeemed the life of the adventurer. He had an only child, a daughter, whom he loved with all the love of which he was capable, and which she fully deserved. She was carly married to a Mr. Alston, and lived at Charleston. I believe she was about five-and-twenty when she fell into ill health, and the strong soul of her father was shaken with the terror of losing her. He spared no pains or expense to obtain the best opinions on her case from Europe; and the earnestness of his appeals to the physicians, to whom he wrote full statements of her case, are very moving. While awaiting a decision as to what measures should be taken for her restoration, it was decided that she must leave Charleston before the summer heats; and he summoned her to his home at New York. To avoid fatigue, she went by sea with her child and the nurse. Her father had notice of her departure, and watched hour after hour for her arrival. The hours wore away, and days, and weeks, and years. The vessel never arrived, nor any tidings of her. She must have foundered, or, far worse, fallen into the hands of pirates. A pang went through the heart of every one for many years, as often as the thought recurred that Mrs. Alston and her child might be living in slavery to pirates in some place inaccessible to the inquities of even her wretched father. When all had been done that could be devised, and every one had ceased to hope, Burr closed his lips upon the subject. No one of the few who were about him ever heard him mention his daughter.
While I was in America, a foreign sailor died in an hospital; my memory fails me as to where it was. When near death, he made a confession which was believed to be true by all whom I heard speak on the subject. He confessed himself to have been a pirate, and to have served on board the vessel which captured that which was conveying Mrs. Alston. He declared that she was shut up below while the captain and crew were being murdered on deck. She was then brought up, and was present at the decision that it would not be safe to spare her life. She was ordered to walk the plank, with her child in her arms; and, finding all quiet remonstrance vain, she did it, without hesitation or visible tremor. The recollection of it was too much for the pirate in his dying moments.
About a year before his death, Colonel Burr sanctioned the publication of a so-called life of himself; a panegyric which leaves in the reader's mind the strongest conviction of the reality of his western adventures, and of the justice of every important charge against him. He died last year; and it will probably be soon known with exactness whether he took care that his secrets should be buried with him, or whether he made arrangements for some light being at length thrown on his eventful and mysterious history.
end of vol. ii.
Printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street.
“Society in America,” Vol. ii., p. 160.
Jefferson's Memeir and Correspondence, vol. iv., p. 428.— Date, February 17th, 1826.
Society in America, vol. ii., p. 183.
For an explanation of Nullification, and a short history of the struggle of the Nullifiers, see “Society in America,” vol. i., p 92–109.
“Society in America,” vol. ii., p. 179.
“Society in America.” Vol. ii., p 326.
Creole means native. French and American Creoles are natives of French and American extraction.
Society in America, vol. ii., p 101.
Jefferson's Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 115.