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" This day, let no man think

He hath business at his house."

King Henry Fill.

THE warm weather, which was always a
little behind that of the lower counties, had
now set in among the mountains, and the
season had advanced into the first week in July.
" Independence Day,' 1 as the 4th of that
month is termed by the Americans, arrived,
and the wits of Templeton were taxed as
usual, in order that the festival might be cele
brated with the customary intellectual and
moral treat. The morning commenced with
the parade of the two or three uniformed com-



panics of the vicinity ; much gingerbread and
spruce-beer was consumed in the streets ; no
light potations of whiskey were swallowed in
the groceries ; and a great variety of liquors,
some of which bore very ambitious names,
shared the same fate in the taverns.

Mademoiselle Viefville had been told that
this was the great American fete, the national
festival ; and she appeared that morning
decked in gay ribands, and with her bright
animated face covered with smiles for the occa
sion. To her surprise, however, no one seem
ed to respond to her feelings, and as the party
rose from the breakfast-table, she took an op
portunity to ask an explanation of Eve, in a
little " aside."

" Est-ce que je me suis trompee, ma chere ? v
demanded the lively Frenchwoman ; " is not
this the celebration de votre Independance ?"

" You are not mistaken, my dear Mademoi
selle Viefville, and great preparations have
been making to do it honour. I understand
there is to be a military parade, an oration, a
dinner, and fireworks."


" Monsieur votre pere ?"

" Monsieur mon pere is not much given to
rejoicings, and he takes this annual joy much
as a valetudinarian takes his morning draught."

" Et Monsieur Jean Ejfingham ?"

" Is always a philosopher ; you are to ex
pect no antics from him."

" Mais ces jeunes gens ! Monsieur Bragg,
Monsieur Dodge ; meme, Monsieur Powis ?"

" Se rejouissent en Americains. I presume
you are aware that Mr. Powis has declared
himself to be an American."

Mademoiselle Viefville looked towards the
streets, along which divers tall, sombre- looking
countrymen, with faces more lugubrious than
those of the mutes attending a funeral, were
sauntering, with a desperate air of enjoyment,
and she shrugged her shoulders as she muttered
to herself, " Que ces Americains sont droles /"

At a later hour, however, Eve surprised
her father, and indeed most of the Americans
of the party, by proposing that the ladies
should walk out into the street, and witness
the fete.


" My child, this is a strange proposition to
come from a young lady of twenty !" said her

" Why strange, dear sir ? We always
mingled in the village fetes in Europe."

" Certainement" cried the delighted Made
moiselle Viefville ; " c'est de rigueur meme."

" And it is de rigueur here, Mademoiselle
Viefville, for young ladies to keep out of
them," observed John Effingham. " I should
be very sorry to see either of you three ladies
in the streets of Templeton to-day."

" Why so, cousin Jack ? Have we any
thing to fear from the rudeness of our country
men ? I have always understood, on the con
trary, that in no other part of the world is
woman so uniformly treated with respect and
kindness as in this very Republic of ours ;
and yet, by all these ominous faces, I perceive
that it will not do for her to trust herself in
the streets of a village on a festa"

" You are not altogether wrong in what
you now say. Miss Effingham, nor are you
wholly right. Woman, as a whole, is well


treated in America; and yet it will not do
for a lady to mingle in scenes like these, as
ladies may and do mingle with them in Eu

" I have heard this difference accounted
for," said Paul Powis, " by the fact that
women have no legal rank in this country. In
those nations where the station of a lady is
protected by legal ordinances, it is said she
may descend with impunity ; but, in this,
where all are equal before the law, so many
misunderstand the real merits of their position,
that she is obliged to keep aloof from any
collision with those who might be disposed to
mistake their own claims.""

" I wish for no collision, no associating,
Mr. Powis, but simply to pass through the
streets with my cousin and Mademoiselle
Viefville, to enjoy the sight of the rustic
sports, as one would do in France or Italy,
or even in republican Switzerland, if you insist
on a republican example."

" Rustic sports !" repeated Aristobulus,
with a frightened look ; " the people will not


bear to hear their sports called rustic, Miss

" Surely, sir, the people of these mountains
will hardly pretend that their sports are those
of a capital !"

" I merely mean, ma'am, that the term would
be monstrously unpopular ; nor do I see why
sports in a city" Aristobulus was much too
peculiar in his notions to call any place that had
a mayor and alderman a town " should not
be as rustic as those in a village : the contrary
supposition violates the principle of equality."
" And do you decide against us, dear sir?"
Eve added, looking at Mr. Effingham.

" Without stopping to examine causes, my
child, I shall say that I think you had better
all remain at home."

" Voild, Mademoiselle Viefville, une fete
Americaine /"

A shrug of the shoulder was the silent reply.
" Nay, my daughter, you are not entirely
excluded from the festivities ; all gallantry
has not quite deserted the land."

" A young lady shall walk alone with a


young gentleman, shall ride alone with him,
shall drive out alone with him, shall not move
without him dans le monde ; mais she shall not
walk in the crowd, to look at une fete, avec
son ptreF exclaimed Mademoiselle Viefville,
in her imperfect English. " Je desespere,
vraiment, to understand des habitudes Ameri-
caines r

" Well, Mademoiselle, that you may not
think us altogether barbarians, you shall, at
least, have the benefit of the oration "

66 You may well call it the oration, Ned, for
I believe one, or certainly one skeleton, has
served some thousand orators annually, any
time these sixty years."

" Of this skeleton, then, the ladies shall have
the benefit. The procession is about to be form
ed, I hear, and by getting ready immediately,
we shall be just in time to obtain good seats.""

Mademoiselle Viefville was delighted ; for
after trying the theatres, the churches, sundry
balls, the opera, and all the admissible gaieties
of New York, she had reluctantly come to the
conclusion, that America was a very good


country pour iennuyer, and for very little
else; but here was the promise of a novelty.
The three ladies completed their preparations
accordingly, and, attended by all the gentle
men, they made their appearance in the assem
bly at the appointed hour.

The orator, who, as usual, was a lawyer, was
already in possession of the pulpit, one of the
village churches having been selected as the
scene of the ceremonies. He was a young
man who had recently been called to the bar,
it being as much in rule for the legal tyro to
take off the wire-edge of his wit in a Fourth of
July oration, as it was formerly for a Mous-
quetaire to prove his spirit in a duel. That
academy, which formerly was a servant of all
work to the public, having been equally used
for education, balls, preaching, and town-
meetings, had shared the fate of most Ame
rican edifices in wood, lived its hour and
been burned ; and the collection of people,
whom we have formerly had occasion to de
scribe, appears to have also vanished from the
earth, for nothing could be less alike in ex-


terior at least than those who had assembled
under the ministry of Mr. Grant, and their
successors, who were now collected to listen
to the wisdom of Mr. Writ. Such a thing as
a coat of two generations was no longer to be
seen ; the latest fashion, or what was considered
as such, being as rigidly respected by the young
farmer, or the young mechanic, as by those
more openly acknowledged leaders of the public
taste, the law-student and the village shop-boy.
All the red cloaks, too, had long since been laid
aside to give place to imitation merino shawls,
or, in cases of unusual moderation and sobriety,
to mantles of silk. As Eve cast a passing
glance around her, she perceived Tuscan hats,
bonnets of gay colours, and flowers, and dresses
of French chintzes, where fifty years before
would have been seen even men's woollen hats
and homely English calicoes. It is true that
the change among the men was not quite so
striking, for their attire admits of less variety ;
but the black stock had superseded the check
handkerchief and the bandana, gloves had
taken the place of mittens, and the coarse and



clownish shoe of <e cow-hide" was supplanted
by the calf-skin boot.

" Where are your peasants, your rustics,
your milk and dairy maids the people, in
short," whispered Sir George Templemore to
Mrs. Bloomfield, as they took their seats ; " or
is this occasion thought to be too intellectual
for them, and this assembly composed only of

" These are the people, and present a pretty
fair specimen of their general appearance and
deportment. Most of these men are what you
in England would call operatives, and the
women are their wives, daughters, and sisters."

The baronet said nothing at the moment,
but he sat looking around him with a curious
eye for some time, when he again addressed his

" I see the truth of what you say, as regards
the men, for a critical eye can discover the
proofs of their occupations ; but surely you
must be mistaken so far as your own sex are
concerned. There is too much delicacy of form
and feature for the class you have mentioned."


" Nevertheless I have said nought but the

"But look at their hands and feet, dear
Mrs. Bloomfield. There are French gloves
too, or I am mistaken !"

" I will not positively affirm that the French
gloves actually belong to the dairy-maids,
though I have known even this prodigy ; but,
rely on it, you see here the proper female
counterparts of the men, and singularly deli
cate and pretty females they are for persons of
their class. This is what you call democratic
coarseness and vulgarity, Miss Effingham tells
me, in England.""

Sir George smiled ; but, as what it is the
fashion of the country to call " the exercises "
had just then began, he made no other answer.

These " exercises " commenced with instru
mental music, certainly the weakest side of
American civilisation. That which was heard
on the present occasion had three essential
faults, all of which are sufficiently general to be
termed characteristic, in a national point of view.
In the first place, the instruments themselves


were bad ; in the next place, they were assorted
without any regard to harmony ; and in the
last place, their owners did not know how to
use them. As in certain American cities the
word is well applied here she is esteemed the
greatest belle who can contrive to utter her
nursery sentiments in the loudest voice, so in
Templeton was he considered the ablest musi
cian who could give the greatest eclat to a false
note. In a word, clamour was the one thing
needful ; and, as regards time, that great regu
lator of all harmonies, Paul Powis, whispered
to the captain, that the air they had just been
listening to resembled what the sailors call a
" round robin,"" or a particular mode of signing
letters practised by seamen, in which the nicest
observer could not tell which was the begin
ning or which the end.

It required all the Parisian breeding of Ma
demoiselle Viefville to preserve her gravity
during this overture, though she kept her
bright, animated, French-looking eyes roaming
over the assembly with an air of delight, that,
as Mr. Bragg would say, made her very po-


pular. No one else in the party from the Wig
wam, Captain Truck excepted, dared look up,
but each kept his or her eyes riveted on the
floor, as if in silent enjoyment of the harmo
nies. As for the honest old seaman, there was
as much melody in the howling of a gale to his
unsophisticated ears as in anything else. He
saw no great difference, therefore, between this
feat of the Templeton band and the sighings of
old Boreas ; and, to say the truth, our nautical
critic was not very much out of the way.

Of the oration it is scarcely necessary to say
much ; for if human nature is the same in all
ages, and under all circumstances, so is a
Fourth of July oration. There were the usual
allusions to Greece and Rome, between the
republics of which and that of this country
there exists some such affinity as is to be found
between a horse-chestnut and a chestnut-horse ;
or that of mere words and a long catalogue of
national glories, that might very well have suf
ficed for all the republics both of antiquity and
of our own times. But when the orator came to
speak of the American character, and particular-


ly of the intelligence of the nation, he was most
felicitous, and made the most rapid advances
towards popularity. According to his account
of the matter, no other people possessed a tithe
of the knowledge, or a hundredth part of the
honesty and virtue of the very community he
was addressing ; and, after labouring for ten
minutes to convince his hearers that they
already knew everything, he wasted several
more in trying to persuade them to undertake
farther acquisitions of the same nature.

" How much better all this might be made,"
said Paul Powis, as the party returned towards
the Wigwam when the "exercises" were ended,
" by substituting a little plain instruction on
the real nature and obligations of the institu
tions for so much unmeaning rhapsody. No
thing has struck me with more surprise and
pain than to find how few men, in a country
where all depends on the institutions, have
clear notions concerning their own condi

" Certainly this is not the opinion we usually
entertain of ourselves," observed Mrs. Bloom-


field ; " and yet it ought to be. I am far from
underrating the ordinary information of the
country, which, taken at an average, is far
superior to that of almost every other people ;
nor am I one of those who, according to the
popular European notions, fancy the Ameri
cans less gifted than others with intellect.
But there can be but one truth in anything,
and it falls to the lot of very few anywhere to
master it. The Americans, moreover, are a
people of facts and practices, paying but little
attention to principles, and giving themselves
the very minimum of time for investigations
that lie beyond the reach of the common mind,
and it follows that they know little of that
which does not present itself in everyday
transactions. As regards the practice of the
institution, it is governed here, as elsewhere,
by party, and party is never an honest or a
disinterested expounder."

" Are you, then, more than in the common
dilemma," asked Sir George, " or worse off
than your neighbours ?"

" We are worse off than our neighbours, for


the simple reason that it is the intention of the
American system, which has been deliberately
framed, and which is, moreover, the result of a
bargain, to carry out its theory in practice ;
whereas, in countries where the institutions are
the results of time and accidents, improvement
is only obtained by innovations. Party inva
riably assails and weakens power. When power
is in the possession of a few, the many gain by
party ; but when power is the legal right of
the many, the few reap the benefit. Now, as
party has no ally so strong as ignorance and
prejudice, a right understanding of the prin
ciples of legislation is of far more import
ance in a popular government than in any
other. In place of the eternal eulogies on
facts that one hears on all public occasions in
this country, I would substitute some plain
and clear expositions of principles, or indeed I
might say of facts as they are connected with

" Mais la musique, Monsieur," interrupted
Mademoiselle Viefville, in a way so droll as to
raise a general smile, " qu'en pensez-vous ?"


" That it is music, my dear Mademoiselle,
in neither fact nor principle."

"It only proves that a people can be free,
Mademoiselle Viefville," observed Mrs. Bloom-
field, " and enjoy Fourth of July orations,
without having very correct notions of har
mony or of time."

" But do our rejoicings end here, Miss
Effingham ?"

" Not at all. There is still something in
reserve for the day and ' all who honour it.' I
am told the evening, which promises to be
sufficiently sombre, is to terminate with a fete
that is peculiar to Templeton, one which is
called The Fun of Fire.'"

" It is an ominous name, and ought to be a
brilliant ceremony."

As this was uttered the whole party entered
the Wigwam.

The " fun of fire " took place, as a matter
of course, at a later hour. When night had
set in everybody appeared in the main street
of the village ; a part of which, from its width
and form, was particularly well adapted to the


sports of the evening. The females were most
ly at the windows, or on such elevated stands
as favoured their view ; and the party from the
Wigwam occupied a large balcony that crown
ed the piazza of one of the principal inns of
the place.

The sports of the night commenced with
rockets, of which a few that did as much cre
dit to the climate as to the state of the pyrotech
nics of the village were thrown up as soon as
the darkness had become sufficiently dense to
lend them brilliancy. Then followed wheels,
crackers, and serpents, all of the most primi
tive kind, if indeed there be anything primi
tive in such amusements. A balloon or two
succeeded. The " fun of fire " was to close the
rejoicings, and they were certainly worth all
the other sports of that day united, the gin
gerbread and spruce-beer included.

A blazing ball cast from a shop-door was the
signal for the commencement of the " fun." It
was merely a ball of common yarn, or of some
other similar material, saturated with turpen
tine, and it burned with a bright, fierce flame


until consumed. As the first of these fiery me
teors sailed into the street a common shout
from the boys, apprentices, and young men,
proclaimed that the fun was commencing. It
was followed by several more, and in a few
minutes the entire area was one mass of brilli
ancy. The whole of the amusement consisted
in tossing the fire-balls with boldness, and in
avoiding them with dexterity, something like
competition soon entering into the business of
the scene.

The effect was singularly beautiful. Groups

of dark objects became suddenly illuminated ;

and here a portion of the throng might be seen

beneath a brightness like that produced by a

bonfire, while the background was thronged by

persons and faces, who were gliding about in a

darkness that almost swallowed up the human

figure. Suddenly all this would be changed,

the brightness would pass away, and a ball

alighting in a spot that had seemed abandoned

to gloom, it would be found peopled with merry

countenances and active forms. The constant

transition from vivid brightness to deep gloom,


with all the varying gleams of light and shadow,
constituted the most beautiful feature of the
scene, and excited the admiration of all in the

" Mais, c'est charmant /" exclaimed Made
moiselle Viefville, who was enchanted at disco
vering something like gaiety and pleasure
among the " tristes Americains" and who had
never even suspected them of being capable of
so much apparent enjoyment.

" These are the prettiest village sports I
have ever witnessed, 11 said Eve, " though a
little dangerous one would think. There is
something refreshing, as the magazine writers
term it, to find one of these miniature towns of
ours condescending to be gay and happy in a
village fashion. If I were to bring my strong
est objection to American country life, it would
be its ambitious desire to ape the towns, con
verting the ease and abandon of a village into
the formality and stiffness that render children
in the clothes of grown people so absurdly
ludicrous. 11

" What !*' exclaimed John Effingham " do


you fancy it possible to reduce a freeman so
low as to deprive him of his stilts ? No, no,
young lady ; you are now in a country where,
if you have two rows of flounces on your frock,
your maid will make it a point to have three,
by way of maintaining the equilibrium. This
is the noble ambition of liberty."

" Annette's foible is a love of flounces, cousin
Jack ; and you have drawn that image from
your eye instead of your imagination. It is a
French as well as an American ambition, if
ambition it be."

" Let it be drawn whence it may, it is true.
Have you not remarked, Sir George Temple-
more, that the Americans will not even bear
the ascendancy of a capital? Formerly Phi
ladelphia, then the largest town in the coun
try, was the political capital ; but it was too
much for any one community to enjoy the
united consideration that belongs to extent and
politics, and so the honest public went to
work to make a capital that should have no
thing else in its favour besides the naked fact
that it was the seat of government ; and I


think it will be generally allowed that they
have succeeded to admiration. I fancy Mr.
Dodge will admit that it would be quite intole
rable that country should not be town, and
town country."

" This is a land of equal rights, Mr. John
Effingham, and I confess that I see no claims
that New York possesses which do not equally
belong to Templet on."

" Do you hold, sir," inquired Captain Truck,
" that a ship is a brig, and a brig a ship ?"

" The case is different ; Templeton is a town,
is it not, Mr. John Effingham ?"

" A town, Mr. Dodge, but not town. The
difference is essential."

" I do not see it, sir. Now New York, to
my notion, is not a town, but a city"

" Ah ! This is the critical acumen of the
editor ! But you should be indulgent, Mr.
Dodge, to us laymen, who pick up our phrases
by merely wandering about the world, or in
the nursery, perhaps ; while you, of the fa
voured few, by living in the condensation of
a province, obtain a precision and accuracy to
which we can lay no claim."


The darkness prevented the editor of the
" Active Inquirer " from detecting the general
smile, and he remained in happy ignorance
of the feeling that produced it. To say the
truth, not the smallest of the besetting vices
of Mr. Dodge had their foundation in a pro
vincial education, and in provincial notions ;
the invariable tendency of both being to per
suade their subject that he is always right,
while all opposed to him in opinion are wrong.
That well-known line of Pope, in which the
poet asks,

" What can we reason but from what we know ?"
contains the principle of half our foibles and
faults, and perhaps explains fully v that pro
portion of Mr. Dodge's, to say nothing of
those of no small number of his countrymen.
There are limits to the knowledge, and tastes,
and habits of every man. As each is regulated
by the opportunities of the individual, it fol
lows of necessity that no one can have a stand
ard much above his own experience. That an
isolated and remote people should be a pro
vincial people, or, in other words, a people


of narrow and peculiar practices and opinions,
is as unavoidable as that study should make a
scholar; though, in the case of America, the
great reason for astonishment is to be found in
the fact that causes so very obvious should
produce so little effect. When compared with
the bulk of other nations, the Americans,
though so remote and insulated, are scarcely
provincial ; for it is only when the highest
standard of this nation is compared with the
highest standard of others, that we detect the

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperEve Effingham : or, Home (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 12)