Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

in it; though a few may sit, perhaps, from 20 to 25 minutes, but none for half an hour.

The afternoon is literally whiled away between the drawingroom and the sleeping-room, or in the spacious and shady piazzas or verandas, in one of which, fronting the garden at the back of the house, the gentlemen retire to smoke their cigars, and in the other, in front of the house, ladies and gentlemen, not otherwise occupied, mingle in the promenade. In all the great houses ererything is sacrificed to appearance. The piazzas are of splendid dimensions, 200 feet by 20, and 50 feet high, supported by lofty pillars, entwined with spiral wreaths of foliage; the dining-halls capable of seating 400 persons; the drawing-rooms, especially that of the United States, of magnificent dimensions and handsomely furnished; but the bedrooms are generally exceedingly small

, those of Congress Hall especially, scantily provided, and altogether inferior to what the scale and style of the house, in other respects, would warrant the visiter to expect.

The third meal, of tea, is taken at seven o'clock, and is, in short, a supper, as meats of various kinds are placed on the table, which is covered with a tablecloth as at dinner, and at which the 200 or 300 visiters seat themselves in the same way. This is got through with the same rapidity as the two preceding ones, no fatigue during the day, or any other consideration, inducing persons to relax in the least from the hurry with which everything is done in this country; a feature that is thus expressed by an American writer in one of their public journals:

"THE AMERICAN CHARACTER.–We are born in a hurry," says an American writer; “we are educated at speed. We make a fortune with the wave of a wand, and lose it in like manner, to remake and relose it in the twinkling of an eye. Our body is a locomotive, travelling at the rate of ten leagues an hour; our spirit is a high-pressure engine; our life resembles a shooting star; and death surprises us like an electric shock.”

The evenings are more varied than the day, as there is sometimes a ball, and sometimes a "hop," as it is termed here, the difference being, that at the former a full-dress is expected, at the latter the ordinary dinner-dress will suffice; occasionally there is a concert, sometimes a display of ventriloquism, now and then a farce by a company of strolling players, and this again varied by a conjuror with tricks of legerdemain. It is in this vein of the trifling and the ridiculous that the taste is said to run at all times here, and certainly during our short stay it was made pretty manifest by the crowded audience of the most fashionable of the visiters at the United States and the Congress Hall, to hear a Dr. Irving, from South Carolina, deliver what were called two “popular discour

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ses."

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

The first of them was one of the most empty rhodomontades that

[blocks in formation]

it was ever my fate to listen to, being an attempted imitation of

Passages from the Diary of a Physician," originally published in Blackwood's Magazine, narrating real occurrences in the families of patients in South Carolina, and giving expression to the most licentious principles and feelings, in affected descriptions of lovescenes between the young assistant surgeon,

who had to attend the parents in his medical capacity, and the daughter of his patients, so offensive that, though it was patiently listened to by some, many rose and left the room before it was ended, and nearly all whom I heard express an opinion on the subject condemned it in no measured terms. This he called his “Penseroso," and at the close of it he announced that this appeared to give such general satisfaction, he should try his hand at an “ Allegro," the subject of which would shortly be made public.

Accordingly, on the next morning a handbill appeared, of which the following is a copy:

"A CARD. Dr. Irving, encouraged by the flattering attention bestowed upon his first lecture, respectfully announces his intention to deliver, on Thursday evening, August 2, in the saloon of Congress Hall, commencing at half past eight, a satirical review of the nursery ballad of Little Cock Robin ;' considered as a great modern Epic, aster the most apa proved mode of reviewing works in general, and poems in particular.

• All the birds fell

To sighing and sobbing,
When they heard tell

Or the death of Cock Robin.' “Admittance 50 cents. Tickets may be procured at the principal hotels and at the reading-rooms."

I attended this to see what would be the character of the audience, what the reception of the speaker, and what the impression made by his discourse, hardly expecting there would be many present, as I thought the native Americans would rather be disposed to resent such an affront to their taste and understanding than to patronise it by a very large attendance. In this, however, I was mistaken, for there were certainly not less than 500 persons present, and those of the first style of fashion, from the two principal hotels

, including old and young, and about an equal nuinber of both sexes, including grave and venerable gentlemen of 70, and matronly ladies of 60, with all the beaux and belles between 15 and 20.

The speaker was received in silence, as it is not usual for an audience to applaud, except at the theatres and political meetings. As he proceeded to develop his subject, which was a tissue of the most absurd and puerile conceits, and abortive attempts at wit and humour, that I ever remember to have witnessed, there was a great variety in the expressions of the auditors' countenances. Some endeavoured to force a smile, as if to show that they had sagacity enough to perceive the wit intended; some looked more ashamed

for themselves at being present than for the speaker as an orator of their own country; but the great majority were evidently uncomfortable at their present position, sorry that they had got into it, but wanting courage enough to rise and go out, though some did this before the discourse was half over.

As the former narrative, of the loves of a young physician and his patient's daughter, was thickly interspersed with pictures bordering on the lascivious, at which I do not think a female audience would have sat still for many minutes in England, so this second discourse was interlarded with the most fulsome appeals to the beauty and tenderness of the young ladies, as the " loves of society," and the gallantry and devotedness of the young men, as the “cock-robins and sparrows of the community,” in a strain that was at once insulting to the understanding, as it was offensive to all minds of delicacy or good taste. Nevertheless, by a large number of the audience, the speaker was applauded to the echo, at which the old looked abashed, and the middle-aged embarrassed : yet for a long hour and a half was this most insufferable tediousness bestowed upon the audience, and their indulgent forbearance coolly taken by the speaker as a proof of their very flattering approbation of his critical and oratorical labours.

On retiring to the drawing-room I had an opportunity of hearing directly, and overhearing indirectly, in the crowded promenade, in which all joined, a number of opinions delivered on this literary performance. Some expressed their unqualified disgust, and thought this feeling ought to have been evinced in some public manner; but these were very few; the greater number admitted that it was the most arrant nonsense they had ever heard, but thought that it was not patriotic to run it down, since, after all, it was the performance of a native American ; and some, who had noticed my being present, and who supposed it probable that I should give to the world some account of my travels in America, expressed a hope that I should not mention anything so discreditable to the taste of an American audience in my Journal.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small]

Sensitiveness of Americans to foreign Censure ~Opinion of Mr. Latrobe on American

Character. Evil Effects produced by Hotel and Boarding house Life.-100 early In troduction of the Young 10 public Society.--Effects on the Taste and Manners of the more advanced. -Disadvantages lo married and elderly Persons.- No Return for this in improved Health or Vigour.-- Equal Applicability of this to English Watering, places.-Suggestion of a better Mode of making Summer Excursions.--Beneficial Effects which would flow from its adoption -Deaths of two Inmates of the House at Saratoga.--Impressive Solemnity of a Quaker Funeral.-Address of an Elder or Pa. triarch of the Society.- Affecting Prayer of the Mother of the Deceased.- Effect pro. duced on the whole Assembly.-Contrast with more gorgeous Funerals.-Quakers universally_friendly to Abolition. Many of the American Clergy Apologists for Slavery.-Prejudices on Republicanism and on Monarchy.--Opinion of Mr. Cooper, the American, on Slavery.-Fallacies of the Arguments used on this Subject. --Public Meeting at Saratoga on Education.--Public Meeting at Ballston on Témperance.-Comparison between English and American Farmers.-Difference in the Appearance of the Females.

[ocr errors]

One of the most striking features of the American character is the extreme sensitiveness of all classes to the opinions of foreigners; and it is only to the fact of their being the opinions of foreigners that they object; for the same censures, coming from one of their own nation, are scarcely heeded. The North, for instance, will abuse the South in unmeasured terms, both in their public journals and at public meetings, as a set of unprincipled, licentious, reckless slaveholders, sharpers, and gamblers combined. The South will return the compliment, by calling the men of the North a set of cold, selfish, calculating, canting hypocrites, desiring to pursue their schemes of pretended philanthropy at the expense of their fellowcitizens, committing acts of fraud and overreaching during the week, and wiping it off with sanctimonious faces and long prayers on Sundays. "The Democratic party will accuse its political opponents of being tyrants, oppressors, and bloodsuckers, preying on the vitals of the nation, holding the power of the banks, to make themselves a moneyed aristocracy, and traitors to the liberties of the people. The aristocratic party, here called the Whigs, will denounce the Democrats as agrarians, levellers, incendiaries, and plunderers, who desire to seize the property of the rich and divide it among themselves, and whose designs are fraught with the utmost danger to property, morality, and religion.

It may be doubted whether either of these parties themselves believe what they say of their opponents. It is hardly possible that they should not know that it is not true. But it serves, or is supposed to serve, the interests of the respective parties so to denounce and vilify each other, that if a collection could be made of all that the American speakers and writers say of all parts and sections of their own country in turn, it might be pronounced, upon their own

[ocr errors]

respective authorities, to be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah in the very height of their wickedness. While this warfare against each other still goes on, however, let but an English traveller venture to express an opinion of the inferiority of the American people to his own countrymen, in any the most trifling particular, whether in beauty or healthiness of appearance, dress, manners, accomplishments, taste, or any other quality, and every one will be up in arms against him. This is not because the observations are unjust (for they could not be so deemed by those who say much worse things of each other), but because they are uttered by a foreigner, who is guilty, according to their notions, of an unfit return for the hospitalities he may have received, in speaking even the truth of them, if it does not place them in the most favourable point of view possible.

Among the more sensible and more liberal of the Americans, there are many who think that it is highly advantageous to the nation at large to have its defects pointed out by those who can discern them; for many things are perceptible to the foreign eye, which, from habitual familiarity, escape the native vision; and hence the wise wish of Burns,

“Oh! that the gods the gift would gi' us

To see ourselves as others see us.

I have already quoted the observations of Mr. Nicholas Biddle, of Philadelphia, in his address to the Alumni of Princeton College on this subject; and I subjoin some very just remarks to the same purpose from a judicious and impartial observer, Mr. Latrobe, who says,

“Well may the foreigner be surprised at the utter perversity and sensitiveness of mind of by far the greater majority of Americans, of whatever class, in taking to heart and bitterly resenting any chance remarks upon the men and manners of a given district, when perhaps not exactly of a laudatory description, thus making the quarrel of one division of the community ihe quarrel of all. In this respect there is doubtless a characteristic nationality of feeling. To see a gentleman of Boston or Baltimore resenting, by word or deed, the sketch published to the world of the society of a district of the West, borders on the ludicrous; the more so as, if untravelled, they are frequently as ignorant of the state of things there as a stay-at-home Englishman might be supposed to be. It impresses one with the idea that the inhabitants of the United States-little mercy as they show each other in their stormy political contests, little measure as they hold in their terms of satire and obloquy, defamation, and abuse of parties and individuals in their public printsare sensitive, as a people, beyond example, to criticism from without, and more particularly so when the observation comes from an inhabitant of Britain. This weakness amounts to national disease."

If these pages shall be read by any friends of mine in America, from whom I have received the kind and friendly attentions for which I freely acknowledge myself their debtor, I shall be blamed

« ForrigeFortsett »