Charles Dickens.

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all that he had seen and heard, was not encouraging.
He sat down at the deserted board, and becoming
more and more despondent, as he thought of all
the uncertainties and difficulties of his precarious
situation, sighed heavily.

Now, there had been at the dinner-table a middle-
aged man with a dark eye and a sunburned face, who
had attracted Martin's attention by having some-
thing very engaging and honest in the expression of
his features : but of whom he could learn nothing
from either of his neighbors, who seemed to consider
him quite beneath their notice. He had taken no
part in the conversation round the stove, nor had
he gone forth with the rest ; and now, when he


heard Martin sigh for the third or fourth time, he
interposed with some casual remark, as if he desired,
without obtruding himself upon a stranger's notice,
to engage him in cheerful conversation if he could.
His motive was so obvious, and yet so delicately
expressed, that Martin felt really grateful to him,
and showed him so, in the manner of his reply.

" I will not ask you," said this gentleman with a
smile, as he rose and moved towards him, '•' how you
like my country, for I can quite anticipate your
feeling on that point. But, as I am an American,
and consequently bound to begin with a question,
I'll ask you how you like the colonel ? "

" You are so very frank," returned Martin, " that
I have no hesitation in saying I don't like him at
all. Though I must add that I am beholden to him
for his civility in bringing me here — and arranging
for my stay, on pretty reasonable terms, by the
way," he added : remembering that the colonel had
whispered him to that effect, before going out.

" Not much beholden," said the stranger dryly.
" The colonel occasionally boards packet-ships, I
have heard, to glean the latest information for his
journal ; and he occasionally brings strangers to
board here, I believe, with a view to the little per-
centage which attaches to those good offices ; and
which the hostess deducts from his weekly bill. I
don't offend you, I hope ? " he added, seeing that
Martin reddened.

"My dear sir," returned Martin, as they shook
hands, " how is that possible ? To tell you the
truth, I — am — "

" Yes ? " said the gentleman, sitting down beside

VOL. I.-27.


" I am rather at a loss, since I must speak plainly,"
said Martin, getting the better of his hesitation,
" to know how this colonel escapes being beaten."

" Well ! He has been beaten once or twice," re-
marked the gentleman quietly. " He is one of a
class of men in whom our own Franklin, so long
ago as ten years before the close of the last century,
foresaw our danger and disgrace. Perhaps you
don't know that Franklin, in very severe terms,
published his opinion that those who were slandered
by such fellows as this colonel, having no sufficient
remedy in the administration of this country's laws
or in the decent and right-minded feeling of its
people, were justified in retorting on such public
nuisances by means of a stout cudgel ? "

" I was not aware of that," said Martin, " but I
am very glad to know it, and I think it worthy of
his memory ; especially — " Here he hesitated

" Go on," said the other, smiling, as if he knew
what stuck in Martin's throat.

" Especially," pursued Martin, " as I can already
understand that it may have required great courage,
even in his time, to write freely on any question
which was not a party one in this very free coun-

" Some courage, no doubt," returned his new
friend. " Do you think it would require any to do
so now ? "

" Indeed I think it would ; and not a little," said

" You are right. So very right, that I believe no
satirist could breathe this air. If another Juvenal
or Swift could rise up among us to-morrow, he would


be hunted down. If you have any knowledge of
our literature, and can give me the name of any man,
American born and bred, who has anatomized our
follies as a people, and not as this or that party ;
and has escaped the foulest and most brutal slander,
the most inveterate hatred and intolerant pursuit ;
it will be a strange name in my ears, believe me.
In some cases I could name to you, where a native
writer has ventured on the most harmless and good-
humored illustrations of our vices or defects, it has
been found necessary to announce, that in a second
edition the passage has been expunged, or altered,
or explained away, or patched into praise."

" And how has this been brought about ? " asked
Martin, in dismay.

"Think of what you have seen and heard to-day,
beginning with the colonel," said his friend, "and
ask yourself. How they came about is another
question. Heaven forbid that they should be sam-
ples of the intelligence and virtue of America, but
they come uppermost, and in great numbers too, and
too often represent it. Will you walk ? "

There was a cordial candor in his manner, and an
engaging confidence that it would not be abused ; a
manly bearing on his own part, and a simple reli-
ance on the manly faith of a stranger ; which
Martin had never seen before. He linked his arm
readily in that of the American gentleman, and
they walked out together.

It was perhaps to men like this, his new compan-
ion, that a traveller of honored name, who trod
those shores now nearly forty years ago, and woke
upon that soil, as many have done since, to blots and
stains upon its high pretensions, which in the


brightness of his distant dreams were lost to view,
appealed in these words :

" Oh, but for such, Columbia's days were done;
Kank without ripeness, quickened without sun,
Crude at the surface, rotten at the core,
Her fruits would fall before her spring were o'er!"


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Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 28 of 28)