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the demand for labour and the rates of wages ; the busy
quays of Montreal; the vessels taking in their cargoes, and



FAREWELL TO CANADA. 253

discharging them; the amount of shipping in the different
ports; the commerce, roads, and public works, all made to
last ; the respectability and character of the public journals ;
and the amount of rational comfort and happiness which
honest industry may earn: were very great surprises. The
steamboats on the lakes, in their conveniences, cleanliness,
and safety ; in the gentlemanly character and bearing of their
captains ; and in the politeness and perfect comfort of their
social regulations ; are unsurpassed even by the famous Scotch
vessels, deservedly so much esteemed at home. The inns are
usually bad ; because the custom of boarding at hotels is not
so general here as in the States, and the British officers, who
form a large portion of the society of every town, live chiefly
at the regimental messes : but in every other respect, the
traveller in Canada will find as good provision for his comfort
as in any place I know.

There is one American boat the vessel which carried us
on Lake Champlain, from St. John's to Whitehall which
I praise very highly, but no more than it deserves, when I
say that it is superior even to that in which we went from
Queenston to Toronto, or to that in which we travelled from
the latter place to Kingston, or I have no doubt I may add
to any other in the world. This steamboat, which is called
the Burlington, is a perfectly exquisite achievement of neat-
ness, elegance, and order. The decks are drawing-rooms;
the cabins are boudoirs, choicely furnished and adorned with
prints, pictures, and musical instruments; every nook and
corner in the vessel is a perfect curiosity of graceful comfort
and beautiful contrivance. Captain Sherman, her commander,
to whose ingenuity and excellent taste these results are solely
attributable, has bravely and worthily distinguished himself
on more than one trying occasion : not least among them, in
having the moral courage to carry British troops, at a time
(during the Canadian rebellion) when no other conveyance
was open to them. He and his vessel are held in universal
respect, both by his own countrymen and ours; and no man



254 AMERICAN NOTES.

ever enjoyed the popular esteem, who, in his sphere of action,
won and wore it better than this gentleman.

By means of this floating palace we were soon in the United
States again, and called that evening at Burlington ; a pretty
town, where we lay an hour or so. We reached Whitehall,
where we were to disembark, at six next morning ; and might
have done so earlier, but that these steamboats lie by for
some hours in the night, in consequence of the lake becoming
very narrow at that part of the journey, and difficult of
navigation in the dark. Its width is so contracted ft t one
point, indeed, that they are obliged to warp round by means
of a rope.

After breakfasting at Whitehall, we took the stage-coach
for Albany : a large and busy town, where we arrived between
five and six o'clock that afternoon ; after a very hot day's
journey, for we were now in the height of summer again.
At seven we started for New York on board a great North
River steamboat, which was so crowded with passengers that
the upper deck was like the box lobby of a theatre between
the pieces, and the lower one like Tottenham Court Road on
a Satui-day night. But we slept soundly, notwithstanding,
and soon after five o'clock next morning reached New York.

Tarrying here, only that day and night, to recruit after
our late fatigues, we started off once more upon our last
journey in America. We had yet five days to spare before
embarking for England, and I had a great desire to see " the
Shaker Village, 1 ' which is peopled by a religious sect from
whom it takes its name.

To this end, we went up the North River again, as far as
the town of Hudson, and there hired an extra to carry us to
Lebanon, thirty miles distant : and of course another and a
different Lebanon from that village where I slept on the
night of the Prairie trip.

The country through which the road meandered, was rich
and beautiful ; the weather very fine ; and for many miles the
Kaatskill mountains, where Rip Van Winkle and the ghastly



LEBANON. 255

Dutchmen played at ninepins one memorable gusty afternoon,
towered in the blue distance, like stately clouds. At one
point, as we ascended a steep hill, athwart whose base a
railroad, yet constructing, took its course, we came upon an
Irish colony. With means at hand of building decent cabins,
it was wonderful to see how clumsy, rough, and wretched,
its hovels were. The best were poor protection from the
weather; the worst let in the wind and rain through wide
breaches in the roofs of sodden grass, and in the walls of
mud ; some had neither door nor window ; some had nearly
fallen down, and were imperfectly propped up by stakes and
poles ; all were ruinous and filthy. Hideously ugly old women
and very buxom young ones, pigs, dogs, men, children, babies,
pots, kettles, dunghills, vile refuse, rank straw, and standing
water, all wallowing together in an inseparable heap, composed
the furniture of every dark and dirty hut.

Between nine and ten o'clock at night, we arrived at
Lebanon : which is renowned for its warm baths, and for a
great hotel, well adapted, I have no doubt, to the gregarious
taste of those seekers after health or pleasure who repair here,
but inexpressibly comfortless to me. We were shown into
an immense apartment, lighted by two dim candles, called
the drawing-room : from which there was a descent by a
flight of steps, to another vast desert, called the dining-room :
our bed-chambers were among certain long rows of little
white-washed cells, which opened from either side of a dreary
passage ; and were so like rooms in a prison that I half
expected to be locked up when I went to bed, and listened
involuntarily for the turning of the key on the outside.
There need be baths somewhere in the neighbourhood, for
the other washing arrangements were on as limited a scale
as I ever saw, even in America : indeed, these bedrooms were
so very bare of even such common luxuries as chairs, that I
should say they were not provided with enough of anything,
but that I bethink myself of our having been most bountifully
bitten all night.



256 AMERICAN NOTES.

The house is very pleasantly situated, however, and we had
a good breakfast. That done, we went to visit our place of
destination, which was some two miles off, and the way to
which was soon indicated by a finger-post, whereon was
painted, " To the Shaker Village. 1 '

As we rode along, we passed a party of Shakers, who were
at work upon the road ; who wore the broadest of all broad-
brimmed hats ; and were in all visible respects such very
wooden men, that I felt about as much sympathy for them,
and as much interest in them, as if they had been so many
figure-heads of ships. Presently we came to the beginning
of the village, and alighting at the door of a house where
the Shaker manufactures are sold, and which is the head-
quarters of the elders, requested permission to see the Shaker
worship.

Pending the conveyance of this request to some person in
authority, we walked into a grim room, where several grim
hats were hanging on grim pegs, and the time was grimly
told by a grim clock which uttered every tick with a kind
of struggle, as if it broke the grim silence reluctantly, and
under protest. Ranged against the wall were six or eight
stiff high-backed chairs, and they partook so strongly of the
general grimness that one would much rather have sat on
the floor than incurred the smallest obligation to any of
them.

Presently, there stalked into this apartment, a grim old
Shaker, with eyes as hard, and dull, and cold, as the great
round metal buttons on his coat and waistcoat; a sort of
calm goblin. Being informed of our desire, he produced a
newspaper wherein the body of elders, whereof he was a
member, had advertised but a few days before, that in conse-
quence of certain unseemly interruptions which their worship
had received from strangers, their chapel was closed to the
public for the space of one year.

As nothing was to be urged in opposition to this reason-
able arrangement, we requested leave to make some trifling



SHAKER WORSHIP NOT TO BE SEEN. 257

purchases of Shaker goods ; which was grimly conceded. We
accordingly repaired to a store in the same house and on the
opposite side of the passage, where the stock was presided
over by something alive in a russet case, which the elder said
was a woman ; and which I suppose was a woman, though I
should not have suspected it.

On the opposite side of the road was their place of worship :
a cool, clean edifice of wood, with large windows and green
blinds : like a spacious summer-house. As there was no
getting into this place, and nothing was to be done but walk
up and down, and look at it and the other buildings in the
village (which were chiefly of wood, painted a dark red like
English barns, and composed of many stories like English
factories), I have nothing to communicate to the reader,
beyond the scanty results I gleaned the while our purchases
were making.

These people are called Shakers from their peculiar form
of adoration, which consists of a dance, performed by the
men and women of all ages, who arrange themselves for that
purpose in opposite parties : the men first divesting them-
selves of their hats and coats, which they gravely hang
against the wall before they begin ; and tying a ribbon
round their shirt-sleeves, as though they were going to be
bled. They accompany themselves with a droning, humming
noise, and dance until they are quite exhausted, alternately
advancing and retiring in a preposterous sort of trot. The
effect is said to be unspeakably absurd : and if I may
judge from a print of this ceremony which I have in my
possession; and which I am informed by those who have
visited the chapel, is perfectly accurate; it must be infinitely
grotesque.

They are governed by a woman, and her rule is understood
to be absolute, though she has the assistance of a council of
elders. She lives, it is said, in strict seclusion, in certain
rooms above the chapel, and is never shown to profane eyes.
If she at all resemble the lady who presided over the store,

s



258 AMERICAN NOTES.

it is a great charity to keep her as close as possible, and I
cannot too strongly express my perfect concurrence in this,
benevolent proceeding.

All the possessions and revenues of the settlement are
thrown into a common stock, which is managed by the elders.
As they have made converts among people who were well to
do in the world, and are frugal and thrifty, it is understood
that this fund prospers: the more especially as they have
made large purchases of land. Nor is this at Lebanon the
only Shaker settlement: there are, I think, at least, three
others.

They are good farmers, and all their produce is eagerly pur-
chased and highly esteemed. " Shaker seeds, 1 ' " Shaker herbs, 1 '
and " Shaker distilled waters," are commonly announced for
sale in the shops of towns and cities. They are good breeders
of cattle, and are kind and merciful to the brute creation.
Consequently, Shaker beasts seldom fail to find a ready
market.

They eat and drink together, after the Spartan model, at
a great public table. There is no union of the sexes, and
every Shaker, male and female, is devoted to a life of celibacy.
Rumour has been busy upon this theme, but here again I
must refer to the lady of the store, and say, that if many of
the sister Shakers resemble her, I treat all such slander as
bearing on its face the strongest marks of Avild improbability.
But that they take as proselytes, persons so young that they
cannot know their own minds, and cannot possess much
strength of resolution in this or any other respect, I can
assert from my own observation of the extreme juvenility of
certain youthful Shakers whom I saw at work among- the
party on the road.

They are said to be good drivers of bargains, but to be
honest and just in their transactions, and even in horse-
dealing to resist those thievish tendencies which would seem,
for some undiscovered reason, to be almost inseparable from
that branch of traffic. In all matters they hold their own



LEAVING THE SHAKER VILLAGE. 259

course quietly, live in their gloomy silent commonwealth, and
show little desire to interfere with other people.

This is well enough, but nevertheless I cannot, I confess,
incline towards the Shakers ; view them with much favour, or
extend towards them any very lenient construction. I so
abhor, and from my soul detest that bad spirit, no matter
by what class or sect it may be entertained, M'hich would
strip life of its healthful graces, rob youth of its innocent
pleasures, pluck from maturity and age their pleasant orna-
ments, and make existence but a narrow path towards the
grave : that odious spirit which, if it could have had full
scope and sway upon the earth, must have blasted and made
barren the imaginations of the greatest men, and left them,
in their power of raising up enduring images before their
fellow-creatures yet unborn, no better than the beasts : that,
in these very broad-brimmed hats and very sombre coats in
stiff-necked solemn-visaged piety, in short, no matter what
its garb, whether it have cropped hair as in a Shaker village,
or long nails as in a Hindoo temple I recognise the worst
among the enemies of Heaven and Earth, who turn the water
at the marriage feasts of this poor world, not into wine,
but gall. And if there must be people vowed to crush
the harmless fancies and the love of innocent delights and
gaieties, which are a part of human nature : as much a
part of it as any other love or hope that is our common
portion : let them, for me, stand openly revealed among the
ribald and licentious ; the very idiots know that they are not
on the Immortal road, and will despise them, and avoid
them readily.

Leaving the Shaker village with a hearty dislike of the old
Shakers, and a hearty pity for the young ones : tempered by
the strong probability of their running away as they grow
older and wiser, which they not uncommonly do : we returned
to Lebanon, and so to Hudson, by the way we had come
upon the previous day. There, we took the steamboat down
the North River towards New York, but stopped, some four



260 AMERICAN NOTES.

hours' journey short of it, at West Point, where we remained
that night, and all next day, and next night too.

In this beautiful place : the fairest among the fair and
lovely Highlands of the North River : shut in by deep green
heights and ruined forts, and looking down upon the distant
town of Newburgh, along a glittering path of sunlit water,
with here and there a skiff, whose white sail often bends on
some new tack as sudden flaws of wind come down upon her
from the gullies in the hills : hemmed in, besides, all round
with memories of Washington, and events of the revolutionary
war : is the Military School of America.

It could not stand on more appropriate ground, and any
ground more beautiful can hardly be. The course of educa-
tion is severe, but well devised, and manly. Through June,
July, and August, the young men encamp upon the spacious
plain whereon the college stands ; and all the year their
military exercises are performed there, daily. The term of
study at this institution, which the State requires from all
cadets, is four years ; but, whether it be from the rigid nature
of the discipline, or the national impatience of restraint, or
both causes combined, not more than half the number who
begin their studies here, ever remain to finish them.

The number of cadets being about equal to that of the
members of Congress, one is sent here from every Congres-
sional district: its member influencing the selection. Com-
missions in the service are distributed on the same principle.
The dwellings of the various Professors are beautifully situated ;
and there is a most excellent hotel for strangers, though it
has the two drawbacks of being a total abstinence house
(wines and spirits being forbidden to the students), and of
serving the public meals at rather uncomfortable hours : to
wit, breakfast at seven, dinner at one, and supper at sunset.

The beauty and freshness of this calm retreat, in the very
dawn and greenness of summer it was then the beginning
of June were exquisite indeed. Leaving it upon the sixth,
and returning to New York, to embark for England on the



IMAGES OF BEAUTY. 261

succeeding day, I was glad to think that among the last
memorable beauties which had glided past us, and softened
in the bright perspective, were those whose pictures, traced
by no common hand, are fresh in most men's minds ; not
easily to grow old, or fade beneath the dust of Time : the
Kaatskill Mountains, Sleepy Hollow, and the Tappoan Zee.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PASSAGE HOME.

I NEVER had so much interest before, and very likely I shall
never have so much interest again, in the state of the wind,
as on the long looked-for morning of Tuesday the Seventh
of June. Some nautical authority had told me a day or two
previous, "anything with west in it, will do;" so when I
darted out of bed at daylight, and throwing up the window,
was saluted by a lively breeze from the north-west which had
sprung up in the night, it came upon me so freshly, rustling
with so many happy associations, that I conceived upon the
spot a special regard for all airs blowing from that quarter
of the compass, which I shall cherish, I dare say, until my
own wind has breathed its last frail puff, and withdrawn itself
for ever from the mortal calendar.

The pilot had not been slow to take advantage of this
favourable weather, and the ship which yesterday had been
in such a crowded dock that she might have retired from
trade for good and all, for any chance she seemed to have of
going to sea, was now full sixteen miles away. A gallant
sight she was, when we, fast gaining on her in a steamboat,
saw her in the distance riding at anchor: her tall masts
pointing up in graceful lines against the sky, and every
rope and spar expressed in delicate and thread-like outline :
gallant, too, when, we being all aboard, the anchor came up
to the sturdy chorus " Cheerily men, oh cheerily ! " and she



AMUSEMENTS ON BOARD. 263

followed proudly in the towing steamboat's wake : but bravest
and most gallant of all, when the tow-rope being cast adrift,
the canvas fluttered from her masts, and spreading her white
wings she soared away upon her free and solitary course.

In the after cabin we were only fifteen passengers in all,
and the greater part were from Canada, where some of us had
known each other. The night was rough and squally, so were
the next two days, but they flew by quickly, and we were
soon as cheerful and snug a party, with an honest, manly-
hearted captain at our head, as ever came to the resolution
of being mutually agreeable, on land or water.

We breakfasted at eight, lunched at twelve, dined at three,
and took our tea at half-past seven. We had abundance of
amusements, and dinner was not the least among them :
firstly, for its own sake ; secondly, because of its extraordinary
length : its duration, inclusive of all the long pauses between
the courses, being seldom less than two hours and a half;
which was a subject of never-failing entertainment. By way
of beguiling the tediousness of these banquets, a select asso-
ciation was formed at the lower end of the table, below the
mast, to whose distinguished president modesty forbids me to
make any further allusion, which, being a very hilarious and
jovial institution, was (prejudice apart) in high favour with
the rest of the community, and particularly with a black
steward, who lived for three weeks in a broad grin at the
marvellous humour of these incorporated worthies.

Then, we had chess for those who played it, whist, cribbage,
books, backgammon, and shovelboard. In all weathers, fair
or foul, calm or windy, we were every one on deck, walking
up and down in pairs, lying in the boats, leaning over the
side, or chatting in a lazy group together. We had no lack
of music, for one played the accordion, another the violin,
and another (who usually began at six o'clock A.M.) the key-
bugle : the combined effect of which instruments, when they
all played different tunes in different parts of the ship, at
the same time, and within hearing of each other, as they



264 AMERICAN NOTES.

sometimes did (everybody being intensely satisfied with his
own performance), was sublimely hideous.

When all these means of entertainment failed, a sail would
heave in sight : looming, perhaps, the very spirit of a ship,
in the misty distance, or passing us so close that through
our glasses we could see the people on her decks, and easily
make out her name, and whither she was bound. For hours
together we could watch the dolphins and porpoises as they
rolled and leaped and dived around the vessel ; or those small
creatures ever on the wing, the Mother Carey's chickens,
which had borne us company from New York bay, and for a
whole fortnight fluttered about the vessel's stern. For some
days we had a dead calm, or very light winds, during which
the crew amused themselves with fishing, and hooked an
unlucky dolphin, who expired, in all his rainbow colours, on
the deck : an event of such importance in our barren calendar,
that afterwards we dated from the dolphin, and made the day
on which he died, an era.

Besides all this, when we were five or six days out, there
began to be much talk of icebergs, of which wandering islands
an unusual number had been seen by the vessels that had
come into New York a day or two before we left that port,
and of whose dangerous neighbourhood we were warned by
the sudden coldness of the weather, and the sinking of the
mercury in the barometer. While these tokens lasted, a
double look-out was kept, and many dismal tales were
whispered after dark, of ships that had struck upon the ice
and gone down in the night; but the wind obliging us to
hold a southward course, we saw none of them, and the
weather soon grew bright and warm again.

The observation every day at noon, and the subsequent
working of the vessel's course, was, as may be supposed, a
feature in our lives of paramount importance ; nor were
there wanting (as there never are) sagacious doubters of the
captain's calculations, who, so soon as his back was turned,
would, in the absence of compasses, measure the chart with



A SANGUINE AND A DESPONDENT ONE. 265

bits of string, and ends of pocket-handkerchiefs, and points
of snuffers, and clearly prove him to be wrong by an odd
thousand miles or so. It was very edifying to see these
unbelievers shake their heads and frown, and hear them hold
forth strongly upon navigation : not that they knew anything
about it, but that they always mistrusted the captain in calm
weather, or when the wind was adverse. Indeed, the mercury
itself is not so variable as this class of passengers, whom you
will see, when the ship is going nobly through the water,
quite pale with admiration, swearing that the captain beats
all captains ever known, and even hinting at subscriptions for
a piece of plate; and who, next morning, when the breeze
has lulled, and all the sails hang useless in the idle air, shake
their despondent heads again, and say, with screwed-up
lips, they hope that captain is a sailor but they shrewdly
doubt him.

It even became an occupation in the calm, to wonder when
the wind would spring up in the favourable quarter, where, it
was clearly shown by all the rules and precedents, it ought
to have sprung up long ago. The first mate, who whistled
for it zealously, was much respected for his perseverance, and
was regarded even by the unbelievers as a first-rate sailor.
Many gloomy looks would be cast upward through the cabin
skylights at the flapping sails while dinner was in progress;
and some, growing bold in ruefulness, predicted that we
should land about the middle of July. There are always on
board ship, a 'Sanguine One, and a Despondent One. The
latter character carried it hollow at this period of the voyage,
and triumphed over the Sanguine One at every meal, by
inquiring where he supposed the Great Western (which left
New York a week after us) was now : and where he supposed
the ' Cunard ' steam-packet was now : and what he thought
of sailing vessels, as compared with steamships now: and so



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 22 of 43)