Charles Dickens.

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wall. Curious, however, after reading this announcement,
to see what kind of morsels were so carefully preserved, I


turned a few leaves, and found them scrawled all over with
the vilest and the filthiest ribaldry that ever human hogs
delighted in.

It is humiliating enough to know that there are among
men, brutes so obscene and worthless, that they can delight
in laying their miserable profanations upon the very steps
of Nature's greatest altar. But that these should be hoarded
up for the delight of their fellow-swine, and kept in a
public place where any eyes may see them, is a disgrace
to the English language in which they are written (though
I hope few of these entries have been made by English-
men), and a reproach to the English side, on which they are

The quarters of our soldiers at Niagara, are finely and
airily situated. Some of them are large detached houses on
the plain above the Falls, which were originally designed
for hotels ; and in the evening time, when the women and
children were leaning over the balconies watching the men
as they played at ball and other games upon the grass before
the door, they often presented a little picture of cheerful-
ness and animation which made it quite a pleasure to pass
that way.

At any garrisoned point where the line of demarcation
between one country and another is so very narrow as at
Niagara, desertion from the ranks can scarcely fail to be of
frequent occurrence: and it may be reasonably supposed
that when the soldiers entertain the wildest and maddest
hopes of the fortune and independence that await them on
the other side, the impulse to play traitor, which such a
place suggests to dishonest minds, is not weakened. But it
very rarely happens that the men who do desert, are happy
or contented afterwards ; and many instances have been known
in which they have confessed their grievous disappointment,
and their earnest desire to return to their old service if they
could but be assured of pardon, or lenient treatment. Many
of their comrades, notwithstanding, do the like, from time


to time ; and instances of loss of life in the effort to cross
the river with this object, are far from being uncommon.
Several men were drowned in the attempt to swim across,
not long ago ; and one, who had the madness to trust
himself upon a table as a raft, was swept down to the
whirlpool, where his mangled body eddied round and round
some days.

I am inclined to think that the noise of the Falls is very
much exaggerated; and this will appear the more probable
when the depth of the great basin in which the water is
received, is taken into account. At no time during our stay
there, was the wind at all high or boisterous, but we never
heard them, three miles off", even at the very quiet time of
sunset, though we often tried.

Queenston, at which pface the steamboats start for Toronto
(or I should rather say at which place they call, for their
wharf is at Lewiston, on the opposite shore), is situated in
a delicious valley, through which the Niagara river, in colour
a very deep green, pursues its course. It is approached by a
road that takes its winding way among the heights by which
the town is sheltered; and seen from this point is extremely
beautiful and picturesque. On the most conspicuous of these
heights stood a monument erected by the Provincial Legisla-
ture in memory of General Brock, who was slain in a battle
with the American forces, after having won the victory.
Some vagabond, supposed to be a fellow of the name of Lett,
who is now, or who lately was, in prison as a felon, blew up
this monument two years ago, and it is now a melancholy
ruin, with a long fragment of iron railing hanging dejectedly
from its top, and waving to and fro like a wild ivy branch
or broken vine stem. It is of much higher importance than
it may seem, that this statue should be repaired at the public
cost, as it ought to have been long ago. Firstly, because
it is beneath the dignity of England to allow a memorial
raised in honour of one of her defenders, to remain in this
condition, on the very spot where he died. Secondly, because


the sight of it in its present state, and the recollection
of the unpunished outrage which brought it to this pass,
is not very likely to soothe down border feelings among
English subjects here, or compose their border quarrels and

I was standing on the wharf at this place, watching the
passengers embarking in a steamboat which preceded that
whose coming we awaited, and participating in the anxiety
with which a sergeant's wife was collecting her few goods
together keeping one distracted eye hard upon the porters,
who were hurrying them on board, and the other on a
hoopless washing-tub for which, as being the most utterly
worthless of all her movables, she seemed to entertain par-
ticular affection when three or four soldiers with a recruit
came up and went on board.

The recruit was a likely young fellow enough, strongly
built and well made, but by no means sober : indeed he had
all the air of a man who had been more or less drunk for
some days. He carried a small bundle over his shoulder, slung
at the end of a walking-stick, and had a short pipe in his
mouth. He was as dusty and dirty as recruits usually are,
and his shoes betokened that he had travelled on foot some
distance, but he was in a very jocose state, and shook hands
with this soldier, and clapped that one on the back, and
talked and laughed continually, like a roaring idle dog as
he was.

The soldiers rather laughed at this blade than with him :
seeming to say, as they stood straightening their canes in
their hands, and looking coolly at him over their glazed
stocks, " Go on, my boy, while you may ! you'll know better
by-and-by : " when suddenly the novice, who had been backing
towards the gangway in his noisy merriment, fell overboard
before their eyes, and splashed heavily down into the river
between the vessel and the dock.

I never saw such a good thing as the change that came
over these soldiers in an instant. Almost before the man


was down, their professional manner, their stiffness and con-
straint, were gone, and they were filled with the most violent
energy. In less time than is required to tell it, they had
him out again, feet first, with the tails of his coat flapping
over his eyes, everything about him hanging the wrong way,
and the water streaming off at every thread in his threadbare
dress. But the moment they set him upright and found that
he was none the worse, they were soldiers again, looking over
their glazed stocks more composedly than ever.

The half-sobered recruit glanced round for a moment, as if
his first impulse were to express some gratitude for his
preservation, but seeing them with this air of total uncon-
cern, and having his wet pipe presented to him with an oath
by the soldier who had been by far the most anxious of the
party, he stuck it in his mouth, thrust his hands into his
moist pockets, and without even shaking the water off his
clothes, walked on board whistling; not to say as if nothing
had happened, but as if he had meant to do it, and it had
been a perfect success.

Our steamboat came up directly this had left the wharf,
and soon bore us to the mouth of the Niagara ; where the
stars and stripes of America flutter on one side and the Union
Jack of England on the other : and so narrow is the space
between them that the sentinels in either fort can often hear
the watchword of the other country given. Thence we
emerged on Lake Ontario, an inland sea; and by half-past
six o'clock were at Toronto.

The country round this town being very flat, is bare of
scenic interest ; but the town itself is full of life and motion,
bustle, business, and improvement. The streets are well
paved, and lighted with gas ; the houses are large and good ;
the shops excellent. Many of them have a display of goods in
their windows, such as may be seen in thriving county towns
in England ; and there are some which would do no discredit
to the metropolis itself. There is a good stone prison here ;
and there are, besides, a handsome church, a court-house,


public offices, many commodious private residences, and a
government observatory for noting and recording the mag-
netic variations. In the College of Upper Canada, which is
one of the public establishments of the city, a sound educa-
tion in every department of polite learning can be had, at a
very moderate expense : the annual charge for the instruction
of each pupil, not exceeding nine pounds sterling. It has
pretty good endowments in the way of land, and is a valuable
and useful institution.

The first stone of a new college had been laid but a few
days before, by the Governor General. It will be a hand-
some, spacious edifice, approached by a long avenue, which is
already planted and made available as a public walk. The
town is well adapted for wholesome exercise at all seasons,
for the footways in the thoroughfares which lie beyond the
principal street, are planked like floors, and kept in very
good and clean repair.

It is a matter of deep regret that political differences
should have run high in this place, and led to most discredit-
able and disgraceful results. It is not long since guns were
discharged from a window in this town at the successful
candidates in an election, and the coachman of one of them
was actually shot in the body, though not dangerously
wounded. But one man was killed on the same occasion;
and from the very window whence he received his death, the
very flag which shielded his murderer (not only in the com-
mission of his crime, but from its consequences), was displayed
again on the occasion of the public ceremony performed by
the Governor General, to which I have just adverted. Of all
the colours in the rainbow, there is but one which could be
so employed : I need not say that flag was orange.

The time of leaving Toronto for Kingston is noon. By
eight o'clock next morning, the traveller is at the end of his
journey, which is performed by steamboat upon Lake
Ontario, calling at Port Hope and Coburg, the latter a
cheerful thriving little town. Vast quantities of flour form


the chief item in the freight of these vessels. We had no
fewer than one thousand and eighty barrels on board, between
Coburg and Kingston.

The latter place, which is now the seat of government in
Canada, is a very poor town, rendered still poorer in the
appearance of its market-place by the ravages of a recent fire.
Indeed, it may be said of Kingston, that one half of it
appears to be burnt down, and the other half not to be
built up. The Government House is neither elegant nor
commodious, yet it is almost the only house of any impor-
tance in the neighbourhood.

There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed,
and excellently regulated, in every respect. The men were
employed as shoemakers, ropemakers, blacksmiths, tailors,
carpenters, and stonecutters ; and in building a new prison,
which was pretty far advanced towards completion. The
female prisoners were occupied in needlework. Among them
was a beautiful girl of twenty, who had been there nearly
three years. She acted as bearer of secret despatches for
the self-styled Patriots on Navy Island, during the Canadian
Insurrection : sometimes dressing as a girl, and carrying them
in her stays ; sometimes attiring herself as a boy, and secret-
ing them in the lining of her hat. In the latter character
she always rode as a boy would, which was nothing to her,
for she could govern any horse that any man could ride, and
could drive four-in-hand with the best whip in those parts.
Setting forth on one of her patriotic missions, she appro-
priated to herself the first horse she could lay her hands on ;
and this offence had brought her where I saw her. She had
quite a lovely face, though, as the reader may suppose from
this sketch of her history, there was a lurking devil in her
bright eye, which looked out pretty sharply from between
her prison bars.

There is a bomb-proof fort here of great strength, which
occupies a bold position, and is capable, doubtless, of doing
good service ; though the town is much too close upon the


frontier to be long held, I should imagine, for its present
purpose in troubled times. There is also a small navy -yard,
where a couple of Government steamboats were building, and
getting on vigorously.

We left Kingston for Montreal on the tenth of May, at
half-past nine in the morning, and proceeded in a steamboat
down the St. Lawrence river. The beauty of this noble
stream at almost any point, but especially in the commence-
ment of this journey when it winds its way among the thou-
sand Islands, can hardly be imagined. The number and
constant successions of these islands, all green and richly
wooded; their fluctuating sizes, some so large that for half
an hour together one among them will appear as the opposite
bank of the river, and some so small that they are mere
dimples on its broad bosom ; their infinite variety of shapes ;
and the numberless combinations of beautiful forms which
the trees growing on them present: all form a picture
fraught with uncommon interest and pleasure.

In the afternoon we shot down some rapids where the
river boiled and bubbled strangely, and where the force and
headlong violence of the current were tremendous. At seven
o'clock we reached Dickenson's Landing, whence travellers
proceed for two or three hours by stage-coach : the naviga-
tion of the river being rendered so dangerous and difficult in
the interval, by rapids, that steamboats do not make the
passage. The number and length of those portages, over
which the roads are bad, and the travelling slow, render the
way between the towns of Montreal and Kingston, somewhat

Our course lay over a wide, uninclosed tract of country at
a little distance from the river-side, whence the bright warn-
ing lights on the dangerous parts of the St. Lawrence shone
vividly. - The night was dark and raw, and the way dreary
enough. It was nearly ten o'clock when we reached the wharf
w lure the next steamboat lay; and went on board, and
to bed.


She lay there all night, and started as soon as it was day.
The morning was ushered in by a violent thunderstorm, and
was very wet, but gradually improved and brightened up.
Going on deck after breakfast, I was amazed to see floating
down with the stream, a most gigantic raft, with some thirty
or forty wooden houses upon it, and at least as many flag-
masts, so that it looked like a nautical street. I saw many
of these rafts afterwards, but never one so large. All the
timber, or "lumber," as it is called in America, which is
brought down the St. Lawrence, is floated down in this
manner. When the raft reaches its place of destination, it is
broken up ; the materials are sold ; and the boatmen return
for more.

At eight we landed again, and travelled by a stage-coach
for four hours through a pleasant and well-cultivated country,
perfectly French in every respect : in the appearance of the
cottages ; the air, language, and dress of the peasantry ; the
sign-boards on the shops and taverns : and the Virgin's
shrines, and crosses, by the wayside. Nearly every common
labourer and boy, though he had no shoes to his feet, wore
round his waist a sash of some bright colour : generally red :
and the women, who were working in the fields and gardens,
and doing all kinds of husbandry, wore, one and all, great
flat straw hats with most capacious brims. There were
Catholic Priests and Sisters of Charity in the village streets ;
and images of the Saviour at the corners of cross-roads, and
in other public places.

At noon we went on board another steamboat, and reached
the village of Lachine, nine miles from Montreal, by three
o'clock. There, we left the river, and went on by land.

Montreal is pleasantly situated on the margin of the St.
Lawrence, and is backed by some bold heights, about which
there are charming rides and drives. The streets are generally
narrow and irregular, as in most French towns of any age;
but in the more modern parts of the city, they are wide and
airy. They display a great variety of very good shops ; and


both in the town and suburbs there are many excellent
private dwellings. The granite quays are remarkable for
their beauty, solidity, and extent.

. There is a very large Catholic cathedral here, recently
erected ; with two tall spires, of which one is yet unfinished.
In the open space in front of this edifice, stands a solitary,
grim-looking, square brick tower, which has a quaint and
remarkable appearance, and which the wiseacres of the place
have consequently determined to pull down immediately.
The Government House is very superior to that at Kingston,
and the town is full of life and bustle. In one of the
suburbs is a plank road not footpath five or six miles long,
and a famous road it is too. All the rides in the vicinity
were made doubly interesting by the bursting out of spring,
which is here so rapid, that it is but a day's leap from barren
winter, to the blooming youth of summer.

The steamboats to Quebec, perform the journey in the
night ; that is to say, they leave Montreal at six in the
evening, , and arrive at Quebec at six next morning. We
made this excursion during our stay in Montreal (which
exceeded a fortnight), and were charmed by its interest and

The impression made upon the visitor by this Gibraltar of
America : its giddy heights ; its citadel suspended, as it were,
in the air; its picturesque steep streets and frowning gate-
ways; and the splendid views which burst upon the eye at
every turn : is at once unique and lasting.

It is a place not to be forgotten or mixed up in the mind
with other places, or altered for a moment in the crowd of
scenes a traveller can recall. Apart from the realities of this
most picturesque city, there are associations clustering about
it which would make a desert rich in interest. The dangerous
precipice along whose rocky front, Wolfe and his brave
companions climbed to glory ; the Plains of Abraham, where
he received his mortal wound ; the fortress so chivalrously
defended by Montcalm ; and his soldier's grave, dug for him


while yet alive, by the bursting of a shell; are not the least
among them, or among the gallant incidents of history.
That is a noble Monument too, and worthy of two great
nations, which perpetuates the memory of both brave generals,
and on which their names are jointly written.

The city is rich in public institutions and in Catholic
churches and charities, but it is mainly in the prospect from
the site of the Old Government House, and from the Citadel,
that its surpassing beauty lies. The exquisite expanse of
country, rich in field and forest, mountain-height and water,
which lies stretched out before the view, with miles of
Canadian villages, glancing in long white streaks, like veins
along the landscape ; the motley crowd of gables, roofs, and
chimney tops in the old hilly town immediately at hand ; the
beautiful St. Lawrence sparkling and flashing in the sunlight ;
and the tiny ships below the rock from which you gaze, whose
distant rigging looks like spiders 1 webs against the light,
while casks and barrels on their decks dwindle into toys, and
busy mariners become so many puppets ; all this, framed by
a sunken window in the fortress and looked at from the
shadowed room within, forms one of the brightest and most
enchanting pictures that the eye can rest upon.

In the spring of the year, vast numbers of emigrants who
have newly arrived from England or from Ireland, pass
between Quebec and Montreal on their way to the backwoods
and new settlements of Canada. If it be an entertaining
.lounge (as I very often found it) to take a morning stroll
upon the quay at Montreal, and see them grouped in
hundreds on the public wharfs about their chests and boxes,
it is matter of deep interest to be their fellow-passenger on
one of these steamboats, and mingling with the concourse,
see and hear them unobserved.

The vessel in which we returned from Quebec to Montreal
was crowded with them, and at night they spread their beds
between decks (those who had beds, at least), and slept so
close and thick about our cabin door, that the passage to and


fro was quite blocked up. They were nearly all English;
from Gloucestershire the greater part; and had had a long
winter-passage out; but it was wonderful to see how clean
the children had been kept, and how untiring in their love
and self-denial all the poor parents were.

Cant as we may, and as we shall to the end of all things,
it is very much harder for the poor to be virtuous than it
is for the rich; and the good that is in them, shines the
brighter for it. In many a noble mansion lives a man, the
best of husbands and of fathers, whose private worth in both
capacities is justly lauded to the skies. But bring him here,
upon this crowded deck. Strip from his fair young wife her
silken dress and jewels, unbind her braided hair, stamp early
wrinkles on her brow, pinch her pale cheek with care and
much privation, array her faded form in coarsely patched
attire, let there be nothing but his love to set her forth
or deck her out, and you shall put it to the proof indeed.
So change his station in the world, that he shall see in those
young things who climb about his knee : not records of his
wealth and name : but little wrestlers with him for his daily
bread ; so many poachers on his scanty meal ; so many units
to divide his every sum of comfort, and farther to reduce its
small amount. In lieu of the endearments of childhood in its
sweetest aspect, heap upon him all its pains and wants, its
sicknesses and ills, its fretfulness, caprice, and querulous
endurance : let its prattle be, not of engaging infant fancies,
but of cold, and thirst, and hunger : and if his fatherly
affection outlive all this, and he be patient, watchful, tender;
careful of his children's lives, and mindful always of their joys
and sorrows ; then send him back to Parliament, and Pulpit,
and to Quarter Sessions, and when he hears fine talk of the
depravity of those who live from hand to mouth, and labour
hard to do it, let him speak up, as one who knows, and tell
those holders forth that they, by parallel with such a,
should be High Angels in their daily lives, and lay but humble
siege to Heaven at last.


Which of us shall say what he would be, if such realities,
with small relief or change all through his days, were his !
Looking round upon these people : far from home, houseless,
indigent, wandering, weary with travel and hard living : and
seeing how patiently they nursed and tended their young
children : how they consulted ever their wants first, then half
supplied their own ; what gentle ministers of hope and faith
the women were ; how the men profited by their example ;
and how very, very seldom even a moment's petulance or
harsh complaint broke out among them : I felt a stronger
love and honour of my kind come glowing on my heart, and
wished to God there had been many Atheists in the better
part of human nature there, to read this simple lesson in
the book of Life.

We left Montreal for New York again, on the thirtieth
of May ; crossing to La Prairie, on the opposite shore of the
St. Lawrence, in a steamboat ; we then took the railroad to
St. John's, which is on the brink of Lake Champlain. Our
last greeting in Canada was from the English officers in the
pleasant barracks at that place (a class of gentlemen who had
made every hour of our visit memorable by their hospitality
and friendship) ; and with " Rule Britannia " sounding in our
ears, soon left it far behind.

But Canada has held, and always will retain, a foremost
place in my remembrance. Few Englishmen are prepared to
find it what it is. Advancing quietly ; old differences settling
down, and being fast forgotten ; public feeling and private
enterprise alike in a sound and wholesome state ; nothing of
flush or fever in its system, but health and vigour throbbing
in its steady pulse : it is full of hope and promise. To me
who had been accustomed to think of it as something left
behind in the strides of advancing society, as something
neglected and forgotten, slumbering and wasting in its sleep

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 21 of 43)