« AnteriorContinuar »
But we must draw our remarks to a close, and merely add, that we shall have done a good deed, if a single individual should be induced by them, to make himself acquainted with their subject. We have expressed our admiration of the man and his mind, without discussing the character of his opinions or philosophy. It is enough if we find something to honour, little to cavil at, still less to blame. Time will prove itself the friend of that which is worthy of preservation, and close over all that it dooms to destruction.
ART. II.- The Southwest, by A YANKEE. 2 vols. 12mo. New
York: Harper & Brothers. 1835.
For two reasons, the above book claims our notice. In the first place, it is an American production, evincing considerable talent; and secondly, the kind of work is a novelty. Travels in America, by an American! How many ideas does the very phrase suggest! The magnitude of the country; the diversity of character, of education, habits, and modes of life; the variety of institutions; the system of internal colonisation by which we build up mighty states within ourselves, the population of one section flooding another, and converting wildernesses into gardens. These ideas, and others as interesting, press at once upon the mind, and almost baffle both calculation and conjecture. Here is a native of one quarter of our land, who projects a visit to a distant part, which, perhaps at his birth, was, in a great measure, a pathless desert; inhabited but by hostile tribes of savages, and claimed as subject to foreign rule; after a sea-voyage of sufficient length to transport him to a totally different climate, (for he had left the trees and herbage of his native hills pinched by the winter's frost, and he finds every thing around him laughing in the luxuriance of summer;) he arrives at what, in so short a space of time, has become a permanent and settled portion of our Union, and discovers her teeming with population, wealth and enterprise, and preparing to be herself a centre for like progressive action upon lands as remote as she from her parent soil. Though distant more than a thousand miles from his native state, he feels the genial and protecting influence of the constitution of his country, which has expanded to encircle and embrace new empires, and he recognises the same principles of civil and religious liberty, which course, with the blood, through the veins of every American. But though the same general outline meets his view, every diversity of detail is presented to him. He has left a manufacturing and commercial, and is among an agricultural people; planters, not farmers; with an agriculture unlike any he had seen, and with labourers of a different race of men. He surveys a picture of life where all the touches are grand, though rude; hospitality, boundless; generosity, profuse; expenditure, liberal; enterprise, unlimited ; and though the fair face of the portraiture be occasionally discoloured by ruinous vices, as gambling, intemperance, and disregard of religion, he feels convinced that these are the inevitable scourges of a new country, where the door is thrown open so widely to profitable speculation, and that they will finally vanish, as they are in fact now gradually passing away, before the advance of civilisation, and her true parent, religion.
All this he records for the benefit of his countrymen at the north; and as he saw much that was both new and entertaining to himself, he concludes, and rightly, that it will be equally so to them.
In the destinies of the west, we believe all feel a deep interest. Every reflecting man is convinced, that the sceptre of empire in America is passing into western hands; and whether for weal or for woe, will ultimately depend upon their fitness to wield it. Hence the anxiety experienced at the east, for the spread of religion, of education, and of correct political sentiments in that vast region; and hence, too, the efforts of the virtuous and intelligent there, for the accomplishment of the same beneficent purposes. While, however, the interest is such as we have described, the actual information upon the subject with the majority at the north and east, is, we believe, but partial; and to such, the present work will be highly acceptable.
Of the productions of foreign tourists, except for purposes of amusement, we have seen quite enough. For information, it is idle to turn to them. These writers either do not, or will not, understand us. We would except Latrobe; but for the rest, none have gone beneath the surface, whether from want of intellect, or want of knowledge, may be questionable. They either flounder about in a thick mist which their own ignorance has engendered, or else, leaving their homes with certain theories in their heads, which must be made to suit all times and all places, every thing appears warped which does not square with them; or, if any cannot be so bent as to fit, they are, of course, condemned. What is new is absurd, and must therefore be laughed at. Mere externals easily admit of this, and these have, on that account, generally been selected for this object. We have made an exception in favour of such
productions: it is that of amusement. For this, commend us to the Notes of an English Traveller in the United States. The fun is by no means all upon their side. That much may be furnished to them, we readily admit. No one, with a lively imagination, could travel in a foreign country where the manners of the inhabitants differ from his own countrymen, and their modes of thought vary so widely as do those of Englishmen and Americans, and not find, if he sought it, abundant food for ridicule. We say nothing of the taste or feeling of those who would indulge it to any extent, or of their flimsy judgment, who, from such trifles-equal, at least, in authority, as regards any inherent or actual propriety-would pass upon the character of the institutions of a great nation, or of her probable onward march.
But the pleasure of the actors, and of the spectators, is at least balanced. Is there no food for laughter and for sarcasm, in the voluntary display of false premises and illogical conclusions? None in that of hasty deductions from a monentary glance at matters requiring cautious and enlightened investigation? Is there no mirth raised by the sight of soured selfconceit, or of vanity decked in a grim, mock dignity? And is there not a mutuality of amusement caused by strangeness of deportment, novelty of pronunciation, language, temperament, or habits? Verily, there is much: much more than some travellers would appear to have dreamt of, though the publicity accorded to such variations has been all on one side. For ourselves, we should lament, on the score of mere amusement, the eradication from the order of literary creations, the genus of "books of travel in the United States of America;" they have peculiarities that can never be mistaken, and which recommend them powerfully to all lovers of the burlesque.
But our “Yankee" author may suppose us to have overlooked him, in pursuit of other game. Far from it; in accordance with Sir Jonah Barrington's Irish Baronet's advice, we have, “by avoiding him, met him plump.” He is neither an ignorant nor a prejudiced observer; and though fresh from the " land of notions," he went to the Southwest, not predetermined to find fault with whatever differed from the ways of “down East," nor supposing that he alone was the arbiter of either elegance or propriety. He went for information, and he obtained it; and with it, much legitimate amusement also; and on the score of capacity to profit by what he saw, to judge from his letters, there is no deficiency in that particular.
In commending thus the general character of the book, we would not be understood as insensible to its deficiencies. These, however, are chiefly those of style. The language is often coarse, and soinetimes vulgar; and what is more objectionable, the writer seems fond of indulging in the frequent use of scriptural expressions, applied at times with much levity, and to trivial circumstances. And yet, when speaking directly upon the subject of religion, he would wish to be considered as ranged decidedly upon her side. This arises, no doubt, from carelessness; but a little consideration might have prevented the occasion for such criticism. The work is never tedious -on the contrary, it is lively and spirited, and abounds in most graphic descriptions of scenery and manners. We shall skim lightly over it, touching upon such portions as we think most likely to reward attention.
The interesting topics connected with the all-absorbing subject of slavery, form a large proportion of the contents. Upon this part of the work, we shall say nothing at present; considering it better, for the repose of the community, to abstain from its public discussion. It is, however, greatly to be desired, that as much correct information as can be furnished at the north, should be had there; it being conducive to a future correct judgment upon the point. One essential basis for any such conclusion, would seem to be a knowledge of the actual present condition of the negroes at the south-their happiness or unhappiness—their manners; physical appearances; peculiarities of every kind, and their intellectual qualities : all these points will be found to be noted and illustrated by our author; and they form a very amusing part of his account. Some of these we may extract as we proceed.
The writer's impartiality as regards his “ Yankee” brethren, may be gathered from a paragraph we shall quote. Near the Bahama Banks, during the voyage from Boston to New Orleans, the vessel was becalmed, and lay near a brig loaded with lumber, technically called “a fruiterer.” These constitute a considerable portion of the trading ships of some of the eastern states ; and our author thus speaks of them and their owners:
"These lumber vessels, which are usually loaded with shingles, masts, spars, and boards, have been long the floating mines of Maine. But as her forests disappear, which are the veins from whence she draws the ore, her sons will have to plough the earth instead of the ocean. Then, and not till then, will Maine take a high rank as an agricultural state. The majority of men who sail in these lumber vessels are both farmers and sailors; who cultivate their farms at one season, fell its timber and sail away with it in the shape of boards and shingles to a West India mart at anoiher. Jonathan is the only man who knows how to carry on two trades at one time, and carry them on successfully.
“For their lumber, which they more frequently barter away than sell, they generally obtain a return cargo of molasses, which is converted by our sober and moral' fellow-country men into liquid gunpowder, in the. vals of those numerous distilleries, which, like guide-posts to the regions of death, line the sea-skirts of New England !”
He arrived at New Orleans in the midst of the gaiety and business of that thriving metropolis, and was soon initiated into all the mysteries of the place. In passing up the river to the city, the vessel swept round the curve denominated " The English Turn," and the writer, who was of course inquisitive, and is fond of giving derivations to names, found out the following etymology :
" Tradition saith, that some British vessels of war pursuing some American vessels up the river, on arriving at this place gave up the pursuit as useless, and turned back to the Balize.
“Another tradition saith that John Bull chasing some American ships up the river, thought, in his wisdom, when he arrived at this bend, that this was but another of the numerous outlets of the hydra-headed Mississippi, and supposing the Yankee ships were taking advantage of it to escape to the sea-he turned about and followed his way back again, determined as school-boys say, to 'head them !! "
Whether true or not, we are unable to say; it is, however, as probable as many given on other subjects by learned antiquarians.
The “ Yankee" made also another discovery of a matter, about which we confess that we never heard any difficulty suggested. It would seem, however, from his remarks, that our eastern friends have been in the habit of regarding creole as synonymous with mulatto. If so, now especially is the time when the mistake should be rectified. One would have supposed the derivation of the word to be sufficient to show that its meaning had no connection with colour. He states in a note :
"Where there is one individual in New England correctly informed, there are one hundred who, like him, know no distinction between the terms creole and mulatto. Creole' is simply a synonym for 'native.' It has, however, only a local, whereas 'native' has a general application. To say, 'He is a creole of Lousiana,' is to say 'He is a native of Louisiana. Contrary to the general opinion at the north, it is seldom applied to coloured persons. Creole is sometimes, though not frequently, applied to Mississippians; but with the exception of the West Iodia Islands, it is usually confined to Louisiana.”
Immediately after his arrival, the author had his eastern sentiments shocked by what we can by no means consider as the peculiar sin of New Orleans, but as unfortunately pervading the whole of our country. We refer to duelling; which, though prevailing probably more at the south-west, is still, unhappily, to be charged upon all quarters of our land. On this occasion, he was accidentally present at a quarrel in the evening; a challenge passed between the parties—they met next morning, and one of the combatants was killed.
It will be recollected that endeavours were made by the well disposed portion of the society of New Orleans to put a stop to