James Fenimore Cooper.

Notions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) online

. (page 1 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 1 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

7~ / /D

^ o ope












B l!)4(J L J

Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to vnt:

****** BE IT REMEMBERED, That on the nineteenth day of

*L. S.* July, in the fifty-third year of the independence of the United

****** States of America, A. D. 1828, Cakey, Lea & Carey, of the

said district, have deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right

whereof they claim as Proprietors, in the words following, to wit :

" Notions of the Americans. Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor."

In Conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States,
entitled, " An Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the
copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the Authors and- Proprietors of
such copies during the times therein mentioned." And also to the Act
entitled, " An Act supplementary to an Act, entitled 'An Act for the
Encouragement of Learning, by securing.the copies of Maps, Charts,
and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such copies, during the
times therein mentioned,' and extending the benefits thereof to the axts
of designing, engraving, and etching, historical and other Prints."
D. CALDWELL, Clerk of the

Eastern District of Pennsylvania







Without your aid and kindness these
pages could never have been written. What-
ever other people may think of their merit,
it is quite probable that you and I believe
they contain some truths. We must there-
fore endeavour to keep each other in good
humour, provided they shall happen to be
neglected rather more than our joint opinions
may lead us to think they deserve.

Shortly after my return to the queen of
cities, there was a happy reunion of all the
remaining members of the club. I know you
will be glad to hear, that, with a solitary
exception, this embraced every man whose
name has stood on the roll since its forma-


tion. But, alas ! there is an exception. The
poor Dane has fallen. The worthy professor
trusted himself, for too long a time, in seden-
tary employments in a warm climate. 1 write
it with grief, but he was married at Verona,
about eleven o'clock on the morning of the
16th August last, to the daughter of an Ital-
ian physician. Jules Bethizy and Waller
were both at Florence when he was first
taken, and they flew to his assistance with
the earnestness of a long tried friendship.
But remedies were too late. From the first
moment the symptoms seemed threatening ;
and as the best advice was fortunately so
close at hand, there is reason to think the
malady was perfectly incurable. Bethizy has
some suspicions of foul play, and makes dark
allusions to philters and amulets; but the
father of the fair infection solemnly protests
that the whole is the eflfect of sun and soli-
tude. We have done all that remained to
sorrowing friends. An epithalamium has
been written by the Russian, and it was set
to solemn music by the Abbate. A brass
plate has been let into the back of the faufeuil
of the derelict, containing an appropriate
inscription, and two memento mori are cut in
its sides. A wedding ring has also been


attached to the nose of the portrait, which,
as I have often told you, is always suspended
over the chair of a member.

The question of a successor has been
deeply agitated among us. Nothing but the
exceeding liberality which pervades and col-
ours our meetings could have insured the
result which has grown out of the election.
Yes, my friend, thje empty fauteuil is yours ;
and, as I know you have destroyed the coat
of arms of your European ancestors, I have
caused a design of my ow^n to be emblazoned
in the proper place. It is a constellation of
twenty-four stars, surro.unded by a cloud of
nebidcc with a liberty-cap for a crest, and two
young negroes as supporters. I was obliged
to adopt this equivocal blazonry, in order to
quiet all parties, for the election was not
without a struggle. A great deal was said
about liberality, but I believe you know that
liberality ahvays infers certain reservations.
The Abbate objected a good deal to the
preponderance of the Protestant interest,
and I thought Waller was a little jealous of
having a member who might introduce a
dialect of his mother tongue. But Jules
Bethizy stood by you like a man, and the
Russian swore you were his neighbour, and



that tn you should come. In short, the ques-
tion was carried ; and now the agony is over,
both the Baronet and the Priest put the best
possible face on it.

Come to us, then, dear John, as soon as
you can tear yourself from the delights of
home. We contemplate a great and general
movement during the next three years' re-
cess, and an honourable station shall be
assigned you in the task of peregrination.
There is a good deal of distrust manifested
by some unbelievers in our body concerning
the matter detailed in my letters ; but n'im-
porte, thirty years ago most of the worthy
members did not know the colour of the skin
of the people concerning whom I have writ-
ten. They who live thirty years hence may
live long enough to discover, that what now
seems so marvellous will then be deemed
quite a matter of course. — Adieu.


The writer of these Letters is not without some of the
yearnings of paternity in committing the offspring of his
brain to the world. His chief concern is that the book may
pass as near as possible for what it was intended in the de-
sign, however it may fall short in the execution.

A close and detailed statistical work on the United States
of America, could not keep its place as authority for five
years. What is true this year would the next become liable
to so many explanations, that the curious would soon cease
to consult its pages. The principles of the government, and
the general state of society, are certainly more permanent ;
but the latter varies rapidly in the different stages of a life
that is so progressive. Nothing more has, therefore, been
attempted here, than to give a hasty and general sketch of
most things of interest, and to communicate what is told in
as unpretending and familiar a way as the subjects them-
selves would conveniently allow.

The facts of these volumes are believed to be, in common,
correct. The Author claims no exemption from error ; but
as he has given some thought and a great deal of time to the
subjects on which he has treated, "he hopes that refutation
will not easily attack him in the shape of evidence. His
reasoning — if rapid, discursive, and ill-arranged arguments
can aspire to so high a name — must, of course, depend on its
own value. A great number will certamly condemn it, for it
as certainly opposes the opinions of a vast number of very
honest people in Europe. Still, as he hag no one object but


the good of all his fellow-creatures in view, he hopes no un-
worthy motive will be ascribed to his publication.

A great number of readers will be uidisposed to believe
that the United States of America are of the importance
which the writer does not disguise he has attempted to show
that they are of to the rest of the world. On this subject
there must, probably, remain a diversity of opinion that time
only can decide. As it is quite probable that in this unfor-
tunate dispute there will be many agamst him, the Author
will endeavour to content himself with the consideration that
time is workmg much faster than common on the points that
are most involved in the matter. He is quite satisfied with
the umpire.

There is a much graver offence against the rights of read-
ers than any contained in the opinions of this work. A vast
deal has been printed that should not have been, and much
has been omitted that might have been properly said. But
circumstances allowed of no choice between great and ac-
knowledged imperfections, or total silence. Something of
the extent of this demerit, therefore, must depend on the fact
of whether enough has been told to justify publication at all.
The writer has not treated the public with so little ceremony
as to usher a work on their notice without, at least, believing
a fair proportion of this apology is contained in its pages.
If he deceive himself, it will be his misfortune ; and if he
does not deceive his readers, he shall rejoice.

The circumstances to which allusion has just been made,
involve haste in printing no less than haste in selection.
There are errors of style, and some faults of grammar, that
are perhaps the matual neglect of the author, the copyists,
and the printers. The word " assured " is, for instance, used
for " insured," and adverbs have, in several cases, been con-
verted into adjectives. In one or two instances, negatives
have been introduced where it was not intended to use them.
But they who detect most of these blunders will know how
to make allowances for their existence ; and to those who do


not, it will be a matter of but little interest. The Author
has far less ambition to be thought a fine writer, than to be
thought an accurate observer and a faithful narrator of what
he has witnessed.

It will be seen that much use has been made of the opin-
ions and information of a native American. Without some
such counsellor, the facts of this book could never have been
collected. There is, perhaps, no Christian country on earth
in which a foreigner is so liable to fall into errors as in the
United States of America. The institutions, the state of
society, and even the impulses of the people, are in some
measure new and peculiar. The European, under such cir-
cumstances, has a great deal to unlearn before he can begin
to learn correctly.

America has commonly been viewed in the exceptions
rather than in the rules. This is a common fault with all
travellers, since it at once gratifies their spleen and indulges
their laziness. It is a bad compiiment to human nature, but
not the less true, to say that no young traveller enters a for-
eign country without early commencing the task of invidious
comparison. This is natural enough, certainly, for we in-
stantly miss the things to which we have been accustomed,
and which may owe half their value to use ; and it requires
time and habit to create new attachments. This trait of
character is by no means confined to Europe. The writer
can assure his contemporaries, that few men travel among
foreign nations with a more laudable disdain than the native
of the States of which these volumes treat. He has his joke
and his sneer, and not unfrequently his reason, as well as the
veriest petit-mditre of the Thuilleries, or any exquisite of a
London club-house. Ere long he will begin to make books,
too ; and as he has an unaccommodating manner of separat-
mg the owner from the soil, it is not improbable that he may
find a process by w^hich he will give aU due interest to the
recollections of former ages, while he pays a passing tribute
to this.


The writer has not the smallest doubt that many orthodox
unbelievers will listen to what he has said of America in this
work, with incredulous ears. He invites all such stout ad-
herents to their own preconceived opinions, to submit to a
certaui examination of facts that are perfectly within their
reach. He would propose that they inquire into the state of
America as it existed fifty years ago, and that they then com-
pare it with its present condition. After they have struck a
balance between the two results, they can safely be left to
their own ruminations as to the probability of a people, as
barbarous, as ignorant, and as disorganized, as they have
been accustomed to consider the Americans, being very likely
to work such miracles. When they have honestly come to
a conclusion, it is possible they may be disposed to give some
credit to the contents of the following pages.

It is not pretended that the actual names of the individuals
to whom these letters are addressed are given in the text.
It is hoped that eight or ten single gentlemen can meet once
in three years in a club, and that they can pass the inter-
mediate time in journeying about the world, occasionally
publishing a few ideas on what they have seen, without being
reduced to the necessity of doing so much violence to their
modesty as to call each other unequivocally by their proper
appellations. Had they not been disposed to lives of free
comment and criticism, it is more than probable that they
would have all been married men these years.

One more word on the subject-matter of these pages, and
the wiriter will commit them to the judgment of his readers
without further interruption. In producing a work on the
United States, the truth was to be dealt with fearlessly, or the
task had better be let alone. In such a country, existing facts
are, however, of consequence only as they are likely to affect
the future. It is of little moment to know that so many houses
are in a town, or so many straw beds in such a house, when
premises are at hand to demonstrate clearly, that in a year or
two the roofs of the city will be doubled, and the inmates of


Lhe dwelling will repose on down. The highest compliment
that is, or that can be, paid to the people of the United
States, is paid by writers, who are evidently guilty of their
poUteness under any other state of feeling than that of com-
placency. The Enghshman, for instance (he is quoted, be-
cause the most industrious in the pursuit,) lands in America,
and he immediately commences the work of comparison be-
tween the repubhcs and his own copntry. He is careful
enough to avoid all those topics which might produce an un-
favourable result (and they are sufficiently numerous), but he
instantly seizes on some unfortunate tavern, or highway, or
church, or theatre, or somethmg else of the kind, which he
puts in glaring contrast with, not the worst, nor the middling,
but the best similar object in his own country. Really there
must be something extraordinary in a; people, who, having
had so much to do, and so very short a time to do it in, have
already become the subjects, not only of envy, but of a seem-
ingly formidable rivalry, to one of the oldest and wealthiest
nations of Europe ! It strikes the writer, that, while these
gentlemen are so industriously struggling to prove the exist-
ence of some petty object of spleen, they prove a great moral
truth in favour of America. What should we think of the
boy whose intellect-, and labours, and intelligence, were draAvn
into bold and invidious comparison with those of aged and
experienced men !

The writer has said very little on the subject of the ordi-
nary vices of mankind ; for he has hoped that no one will
read his book, who has yet to learn that they exist every
where. If any one shall suppose that he wishes to paint the
people of America as existing in a state superior to human
passion, free from aU uncharitableness and guile, he takes the
liberty to assure him he will fall into an egregious blunder.
He has not yet met with such an elysium in his travels.

If the bile of any one shall be stirred by the anticipations
in which the writer has iiidulged m favour of the United
States of America, he shall be sorry ; but as he cannot see


how the truth is to be affected, or the fortunes of a great
people materially varied, by the dissatisfaction of this or that
individual, he has thought it safest for his own reputation to
say what he thinks, without taking the pains to ascertain to
how many it may be agreeable, or to how many disagreeable.
He has avoided personalities, and that, as a traveller, is all he
feels bound to do, and hopes he shall always do ; for he is not
of that unpertinent class, who think the world cannot be suf-
ficiently enlightened without invading the sacred precinct? of
private life




Liverpool, England, July 22d, 1824.
Dear Waller,

You are to express no astonishment at the place
where this letter is dated. I confess the engagement
to'meet you under the walls of the Seraglio ; but hear
me, before the sin of forgetfulness shall be too hastily
imputed to my charge. You know the inveterate
peregrinating habits of the club, and can judge, from
your own besetting propensity to change your resi-
dence monthly, how difficult it might prove to resist
the temptation of traversing a soil that is still virgin, so
far as the perambulating feet of the members of our
fraternity are concerned. In a word, I am here,
awaiting the packet for America. Before you get
this letter, the waters of one half of the Atlantic will
roll between us. This resolution, seemingly so sud-
den, has not, however, been taken without much and
mature thought.

Cosmopolites, and searchers of the truth, as we
boast ourselves, who, of all our number, has ever turn-
ed his steps towards a quarter (I had almost written
half) of the globe, where new scenes, a state of so-
ciety without a parallel, even in history, and so much
that is Fresh, both in the phvsical and moral world,
Vol. I. B *


invite our attention? This reproach shall exist no
longer. If resentment against so much apparent
fickleness can refrain the while, read, and you shall
know the reasons why you are left to wander, alone,
through the streets of Pera, and to endure sullen
looks, from haughty Turks, without the promised sup-
port of your infidel companion.

On the road between Moscow and Warsaw, I
encountered a traveller from the states of North
America. He was about to end a long pilgrimage, in
Europe, Asia, and Africa, and to return, eager as
a discharged Swiss, to the haunts of his youth, in
the other hemisphere. He appeared like one who
was wearied with the selfishness, struggles, and fac
titious distinctions of our eastern regions. Truly,
there was something so naif, and yet so instructed —
so much that was intellectual, and withal so simple —
a little that was proud, blended with something phi-
losophical, in the temperament and manner of this
western voyager, that he came over my fancy with
the freshness of those evening breezes, for which you
will be shortly panting, on the shores of the Darda-
nelles. To be serious, he was an educated and a gift-
ed man, with a simplicity of thought, as well as of de-
portment, that acted like a charm on my exhausted
feelings. You are not to suppose that, at fifty, I have
fallen into the errors of five-and-twenty, and, that I
am about to become, again, a convert to thrice-worn-
out opinions, new vamped, under the imposing name
of philosophy. The word has never escaped the lips
of Cadwallader (for so is my new acquaintance call-
ed), even in the gravest of his moods.

An evening, passed in the company of this Ameri-
can, at a miserable post-house on the frontiers of Po-
land, only furnished a zest for the week in which it
was agreed we should travel together. At the end of
that week, my resolution was taken. I had heard so
much to excite curiosity — so much to awaken thought,


in channels entirely new, that nothing short of a voy-
age across the Atlantic can appease my longings.

Neither are you to be too hasty in believing, that
my companion has been soothing my ears with Ara-
bian imagery. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
He is saturnine by nature, and, a Frenchman might
add, taciturn to a fault. From a certain expression
of melancholy, that often overshadows his counte-
nance, I should think he had long been familiar with
regrets, which, from their nature, must be unceasing.
Still, I find great equanimity of temper, and the same
calm, deliberative manner of considering things, as
if he deemed himself already removed from most of
the great and moving interests of the world. Perhaps
these pecuhar and individual qualities, in some mea-
sure, quickened the desire I felt to examine his
country. I would give much, to know his private his-
tory; but I never before associated with one who
was, at the same time, so communicative, and, yet, so

In short, I found this calm, reasoning American so
fresh, so original in his way of treating things, which
long use had rendered, to my imagination, fixed and
unalterable as the laws of nature themselves, and so
direct in the application of all his opinions to the prac-
tices of the world, that I early became alive to the
desire of examining a state of society, which, I am
fond of believing, must have had some influence in
giving birth to so much independence and manliness
of thought

Before we had reached the Rhine, it was arranged
between us, that we should cross the ocean together ;
and Cadwallader promised me his assistance and
advice, in making the preparations that might be
necessary, to render the journey both convenient and

You will readily imagine, that, with the intention
of passing a year or two in the republics of North


America, my curiosity to investigate their history and
institutions has not been suffered to slumber. While
in London, no opportunity of inquiring into the char-
acter of the people, or of supplying myself with mat-
ter of proper preliminary study, was neglected. As I
believed the English must, of necessity, possess a bet-
ter knowledge of their transatlantic kinsmen than any
other people in Europe, I was diligent in storing my
memory with such facts, gleaned from the most ap-
proved authorities, as might aid and direct my inqui-
ries. By dint of extraordinary exertions, I soon suc-
ceeded in collecting a little library of travels, pam-
phlets, and political dissertations. This collection
was scrupulously kept a secret until complete, when,
anxious to impress my companion with a favourable
opinion of my earnestness in the research, an early
opportunity was taken to lay the result before him,
in the shape of a handsome display on the shelves of
a book-case. Cadwallader ran his eye coolly over
the titles, and, after saying a few words in commen-
dation of my zeal, he appeared disposed to leave me
to the quiet enjoyment of my acquisitions. I was
struck with the singular air of indifference, to give it
no harsher term, with which he regarded the fruits of
my hard labour, and was not slow to ascribe it to the
fact, that I had omitted those works of native origin,
which treated on the same subject. In order to re-
move any unfavourable impressions on this point,
something was muttered concerning regrets at not
being able to procure American books at such a dis-
tance from the place where they were printed, with an
intimation, that on our arrival at New- York, my travel-
hng library would of course be completed. Still no sign
of interest was ehcited from the cold eye of my com-
panion. He left me with another compliment to my
industry, which, I am obliged to confess, was pointed
with so much supererogatory courtesy, as to savour a
httle of sarcasm. Nothing daunted, however, by this


silent but intelligible criticism, no time was lost in
turning the new acquisitions to a profitable account.
Our stay in London was unavoidably prolonged to
three weeks, and by the expiration of that time I had
travelled over no small portion of the American ter-
ritory, again and again, on paper, and at rates, too,
that would not have done discredit to the time-saving
authors of the books themselves. In short, the opin-
ions of some six or seven English commentators on
American society and morals, were devoured so very
greedily, as to leave little or no leisure for a proper
digestion of the knowledge they imparted. But, once
possessed of sufficient matter for reflection, a voyage
of three thousand miles will afford abundant leisure
for rumination and digestion.

Our arrival at this place had been so timed, as to
precede the departure of the packet by a few days.
The intervening period has given us an opportunity
to complete the most minute of our arrangements,
among which I have ever kept in view the important
object of acquiring that information which may be use-
ful in my contemplated journey by land. A Liverpool
banker, to whom 1 had early spoken on the subject,
placed in my hands two volumes of travels in America,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 1 of 58)