James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 10 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 10 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


other century.

The effect of this natural and inestimable division
of employment, is in itself enough to produce an im-
pression on the characters of a w^hole people. It
leaves the heart and principles of woman untainted
by the dire temptations of strife with her fellows.
The husband can retire from his own sordid strug-
gles with the world to seek consolation and correc-



106 INFLUENCE OF WOMEN IN SOCIETY.

tion from one who is placed beyond their influence.
The first impressions of the cliild are drawn from the
purest sources known to our nature ; and the son,
even long after lie has been compelled to enter on
the thorny track of the father, preserves the memo-
rial of the pure and unalloyed lessons that he has re-
ceived from the lips, and, wdiat is far better, from the
example of the mother. Though in every picture of
life in which these bright colours are made, the
strongest must be deadened by deep and painful
shadows, I do firmly believe that the undeniable truth
I have just written may be applied with as much, if
not with more justice, to the condition and influence
of the sex in New-England as in any portion of the
globe. I saw every where the utmost possible care
to preserve the females from undue or unwomanly-
employments. If there v^^as a burthen, it was in the
arms or on the shoulders of the man. Even labours
that seem properly to belong to the household, were
often performed by the latter ; and I never heard the
voice of the wife calling on the husband for assistance,
that it was not answered by a ready, manly, and
cheerful compliance. The neatness of the cottage, the
farm-house, and the inn ; the clean, tidy, healthful, and
vigorous look of the children, united to attest the use-
fulness of this system. What renders all this more strik-
ing and more touching, is the circumstance that not
only is labour in so great demand, but, contrary to the
fact in all the rest of Christendom, the women materi-
ally exceed the men in numbers. This seeming depar-
ture from what is almost an established law of nature,
IS owing to the emigration westward. By the census
of 1820, it appears, that in the six States of New-
England there were rather more than thirteen females
to every twelve males over the age of sixteen.

It is vain to say that absence of selfishness, and all
the kinder and best feehngs of man, are no more than
the concomitants of abundance and simplicity, which



INFLUENCE OF GENERAL INTELLIGENCE. 107

in themselves are the fruits of a spare population and
of provincial retirement. If this he so strictly true,
why do not the same qualities prevail in the more
favoured regions of this very continent ? why do not
order, and industry, and enterprise, and all the active
and healthful virtues, abound in Sotlth as in North
America ? why is not the fertile province of Upper
Canada, for instance, as much distinguished for its
advancement in all the useful arts of life as the States
of the neighbouring republic ? and why, under so
many physical disadvantages, are the comparatively
sterile and rocky States of New-England remarkable
for these very qualities amid their own flourishing
and healthful sisters ? It cannot be the religious prin-
ciples they derived from their ancestors, since the
Pennsylvanian and the New-Jerseyman, and even the
peaceful and honest Hollander of New-York, can
claim just as virtuous a descent. It cannot be any
exclusive succession to the principles and habits of
their English ancestors, since, with exceptions too
slight to affect the great body of the nation, this has
been an inheritance common to all. It cannot be
that time has matured their institutions, and given
play and energy to their mental advantages, since
Brazil, and Chili, and Mexico, and many other na-
tions of this continent, date a century older, and
Virginia and New-York, Canada and Louisiana, are
of coeval existence. In short, it cannot even be their
elastic and inciting liberty, for that too is a principle
which has never been suffered to slumber in any of
the vast and varied regions of this great confederation.
We must seek the solution in a cause which is the -
parent of all that is excellent and great in communi-
ties, no less than in individuals. I mean intelligence.
That pitiful and narrow theory which, thank God,
is now getting into disuse in Europe, and which
taught the doctrine that instruction became dangerous
to those who could not push learning to its limits,



108 THE EFFECTS OF GENERAL INTELLIGENCE.

was never in fashion here. The limits of learning !
As if any one couid yet pronounce on the bound-
aries which the Almighty has been pleased to set
between the efforts of our reason and his own om-
niscience. It is true that the wisest men are always
the most truly modest ; for, having outstripped their
competitors in the attainment of human knowledge
they alone can know how much there is necessaril}-
beyond their reach, and how impossible it is for
mortals to attain it. But who could ever yet say he
had taxed his faculties to the utmost. The world
has been amusing itself with assumed axioms on this
subject, when it might have been better employed
in investigating the truth in its more useful and prac-
tical forms. The self-sufficiency of pretenders has
been tortured into an evidence of the danger of em-
piricism in knowledge. As well might the pedantry
and foibles of the student himself be perverted to an
argument against learning, as to say that thought must
be kept in subjection because it sometimes leads to
error. The fruits of knowledge are not to be weighed
by the credit they reflect on this or that searcher
afler truth, but by the influence they produce on the
mass of society. The man, who, from defect of pow-
ers, or from any other adverse circumstance, cannot
assist in the advancement of intelligence, may, not-
withstanding, become the wholesome recipient of
truth ; and the community V\^liich encourages a dis-
semination of the sacred quality, enjoys an incalcu-
lable advantage over all others, inasmuch as each of
its members starts so much nearer to the goal for
**which every people must strive, (and that too through
its individual members,) in order to secure a distin-
guished place in the great competition of nations.

It Is a remarkable fact, that the retired, distant, and
little regarded States of which I am writing, had
matured and were reaping the rare fruits of a sys-
tem of extended general instruction, for quite a cen-



PECULIAR MERIT OF NEW-ENGLAND. 109

tury, when a distinguished advocate for reform (Mr.
Brougham), in the Parhament of your own country,
that country which was then, and is still giving les-
sons to Europe in liberty and government, charmed
the ears of the hberal by visions of a similar plan for
yourselves, which then existed, as it now exists, only
in the w ishes of the truly wise and benevolent. And
yet one hears of the great moral debt that the people
of New owe to the people of Old England! The
common ancestors may have left a goodly inheritance
to their children ; but on this subject, at least, it ap-
pears to me that the emigrant to the western hemi-
sphere has made of his talent ten talents, while his
kinsman, who remained at home, has done little more
than imitate the example of him who met with any
thing but unquahfied approbation.

In reviewing my letter, I see that I have written
warmly, and with a portion of that interest which
the two subjects that have been its themes rarely
fail to inspire. As I know you enter fully into all
my feelings, both for the fair and for general instruc-
tion, (for however lame and defective may have been
the policy of your nation, compared with that of
your kinsmen here, there still exists in England, as
in Denmark, and a few other nations, a high and
noble spirit of emulation,) I shall not recall a single
sentence of that which has escaped my pen. But the
subject must be left, until further opportunity shall
be given to look into the society of New-England in
its large towns.

During the whole of my recent excursion, though
I purposely avoided encountering La Fayette, his
visit has been a constant and inexhaustible topic of
conversation. His journey along the coast has been
like the passage of a brilliant meteor. In every vil-
lage he has been received with modest, but heartfelt
rejoicings, while his entrances into the cities have
been literally triumphant. That there have hcen

Vol. I T.



no NEW-YORK.

some exhibitions of joy which a fastidious taste might
reject, cannot be denied; but you will remember that
the people of this country are left to express their
own sentiments in their own fashion. The surprise
should be, not that the addresses and receptions of
which you will doubtless see some account in Europe,
are characterized by so little, but that they are dis-
tinguished by so much soundness of discrimination,
truth of principle, and propriety of manner. — Adieu.



TO THE BARON VON KEMPERFELT,
Sec. Sec.



New-York, 1824.
I FEEL that a description of this ancient city of the
United Provinces is due to you. In dwelhng on its
admirable position, its growing prosperity, and its
probable grandeur, 1 wish to excite neither your
hopes, nor your regrets. I have seen enough of this
country already, to know, that in losing the New-
Netherlands in their infancy, you only escaped the
increased misfortune of having them wrested from
your power by their own efforts at a more advanced
period, when the struggle might have cost you, like
that which England has borne, and Spain still suf-
fers — an incalculable expenditure of men and money.
You are thrice happy that your dominion in this
quarter of America did not endure long enough to
leave, in its train, any mortifying and exasperating
recollections. The Dutch are still remembered here
with a feeling strongly allied to aiiinity, by thousands
of their descendants, who if, among their more rest-
less and bustling compatriots of the east, they are not
distinguished for the great enterprise which is pecu-



WHAT IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Ill

liar to that energetic population, have ever main-
' tained the highest character for thrift, undeniable
courage, and inflexible probity. These are qualities
vv^hich never fail to create respect, and which, by
some unfortunate construction of the human mind,
as rarely excite envy as emulation.

The name of the town, itself, is far from being
happy. The place stands on a long narrow island,
called Manhattan, a native appellation which should
have been perpetuated through that of the city.
There was a precedent for innovation which might
have been followed to advantage. It is a little sur-
prising that these republicans, who are not guiltless
of sundry absurd changes in their nomenclature of
streets, squares, counties, and towns, should have ne-
glected the opportunity of the Revolution, not only
to deprive the royal family of England of the honour
of giving a name to both their principal State and
principal town, but to restore a word so sonorous,
and which admits of so many happy variations as the
appellation of this island. A " Manhattanese" has cer-
tainly a more poetical sound than a "New-Yorker;"
and there is an euphony in the phrase of " Men of
Manhattan" that the lovers of alliteration may long sigh
in vain to hear equalled by any transposition of the
present unmusical and complex term. Nor would the
adoption of a new name be attended with half of the
evils in the case of a city or a county, as in that of a
street or a market, since the very notoriety and im-
portance of the alteration would serve to apprise all
men of the circumstance. But a century and a half
have confirmed the present title ; and while the city
of the white rose has been mouldering in provincial
quiet, her western god-child has been growing into
an importance that is likely to carry the name to
that distant period when the struggles of the adverse
factions shall be lost in the obscurity of time, or be
matter of vague and remote history.



112 THE BAYS AROUND NEW-YORK.

A nation as commercial and active as this, has
only fairly to elect the position of its favourite marl
to put it on a level with the chief places of the earth.
London and Paris, Vienna, Rome, Carthage, and,
for any thing we know, Pekin and Nankin, can refer
the causes of their greatness to little beside accident
or caprice. The same might be said of hundreds
more of the principal places of antiquity, or of our
own times. But it is only necessary to sit down
with a minute map of the country before you, to
perceive, at a glance, that Nature herself has intend-
ed the island of Manhattan for the site of one of the
greatest commercial towns in the world. The spirit
of its possessors is not likely to balk this intention ,
and it may be truly said, that the agents, both phys-
ical and moral, are in 'the happiest possible unison
to accomplish the mighty plan. Although all de-
scription must fail to give a clear idea of the advan-
tages of such a position, yet, as your imagination
may be somewhat aided by one as imperfect as that
must necessarily be which comes from my pen, it
shall be attempted after my own desultory and irreg-
ular manner.

You must have obtained, through my letters, some
general impression concerning the two great bays
which he between New- York and the ocean. The
former, you will recollect, is known by the name of
"Raritan," and the latter forms what is properly
called the "Harbour." Raritan Bay is an extensive
roadstead, abounding with situations where vessels
may be partially protected from every wind that
blows. It is, in fact, only open to the sea on the
east ; but, by the aid of the low sandy cape I have
mentioned, shelter can be had in it against the hea-
viest gales from that quarter, as it may also be found
in some one of its many anchoring grounds, against
the wind from every other point of the compass.
The harbour is still more secure ; a vessel being en-



HARBOUR, ANCHORAGE, ETC. 113

tirely land-locked, when anchored a mile or two
within the Narrows. Here then are space and
security united to an extraordinary degree ; for, with
the exception of a few well-defined reefs, there is
scarcely a rock in the whole port to endanger a ship,
or even to injure a cable. But the true basins for the
loading and unloading of freights, and for the repairs
and construction of vessels, are in the Hudson river,
and in that narrow arm of the sea which connects
the waters of the bay with those of the sound. The
latter is most occupied at present by the ships en-
gaged in foreign commerce. This strait is near half-
a-mile in width, has abundance of water for any
thing that floats, and possesses a moderately swift,
and a sufficiently accurate current. From the point
of its junction with the bay, to an island, which, by
narrowing its boundaries, increases the velocity of
its tides too much for the convenience of handling
ships at wharfs, the distance cannot be a great deal
less than five miles. The wharfs on Manhattan Island
already extend more than three of these miles. On
the opposite shore (Long Island) there is also a long
range of quays. In the Hudson, it is impossible to
fix limits to the facilities for commerce. As the river
is a mile in width, and possesses great depth, it is
plain that docks or wharfs may be extended as far
as the necessities of the place shall ever require.
The river is navigable for a heavy draught of water
about a hundred miles, and for sloops and lighter
craft some fifty or sixty more.

The time has not yet come for the formation of
massive, permanent quays in the harbour of New-
York. Wood is still too cheap, and labour too dear,
for so heavy an investment of capital. All the wharfs
of New-York are of very simple construction. A
frame-work of hewn logs is filled with loose stone,
and covered with a surface of trodden earth. This
species of quay, if durability be put out of the ques-
L 2



114 YELLOW FEVER BUT LITTLE DREADED.

tion, is perhaps the best in the world. The theory
that wood subject to the action of tides in salt water
may become the origin of disease, is, like a thou-
sand other theories, much easier advanced than
supported. It is very true that the yellow fever has
often existed in the immediate vicinity of some of
these wharfs ; but it is quite as true that there are
miles of similarly constructed quays, in precisely the
same climate, where it has never existed at all. The
Americans appear to trouble themselves very little
on this point, for they are daily constructing great
ranges of these wooden piers, in order to meet the
increasing demands of their trade, while the whole
of the seven miles of water v^hich fronts the city, is
lined with similar constructions, if we except the
public mall, called " the Battery," which is protected
from the waves of the bay by a wall of stone.

The yellow fever is certainly the only drawback
on the otherwise unrivalled commercial position of
New- York ; but the hazard of this disease is greatly
magnified in Europe. The inhabitants of the place
appear to have but little dread on the subject, and
past experience would seem, in a great measure, to
justify their indifference. So far as I can learn, there
never have been but three or four summers when that
fatal malady has committed any very serious ravages
in this latitude. These seasons occurred at the close
of the last, and at the commencement of the present
century. Since the year 1804, there have been but
two autumns when the yellow fever has existed to
any dangerous degree in New-York, and neither of
them proved very fatal, though it is certain that the
arrangements of the city were excessively inconve-
nienced by its appearance. I believe it is admitted
by scientific men, that this dangerous malady, though
it is always characterized by certain infallible symp-
toms, often exhibits itself under forms so very much
modiiied as to render diflerent treatments necessary



FEVER or 1819 AND 1822. 115

in different seasons. The fevers of 1819 and of 1822,
in New- York, were accompanied by circumstances
so singular as to deserve a particular" place in this
letter.

The wharfs of New- York form a succession of little
basins, which are sometimes large enough to admit
thirty or forty sail, though often much smaller. These
irregular docks have obtained the name of " slips.'
One of the former was shown me that was particu-
larly foul and offensive. Around this slip, at the close
of the hot weather in 1819, the yellow fever made its
appearance. A few individuals became its \ ictims be-
fore the existence of the danger was fully established.
The city authorities took prompt and happy meas-
ures for its suppression. The question of contagion
or of non-contagion had long been hotly contested
am.ong the medical men, and a sort of middle course,
between the precautions inculcated by the two
theories, had begun to be practised. So soon as it
was found how far the disease extended, (and its
limits were inconceivably small,) the inhabitants were
all removed, and the streets were fenced, in order
to prevent access to what was proclaimed by au-
thority to be " the infected district."" The sick were
conveyed into other quarters of the town, or to the
country, some dying and others recovering. When
the removal was made in time, or when the disease
did not make its appearance until after the patient
had experienced the benefit of pure air, the malady
was generally more mild, though still often fatal. No
one took the disease by contagion, it being affirmed
that every case that occurred could be distinctly
traced to " the infected district.*" The taint, cor-
ruption, or animalculae in the air, whichever the
cause of the malady might be, gradually spread, until
it was found necessary to extend the limits of " the
infected district" in every direction. I am told that
thousands remained in their dwellings, within mus-



116 INSTANCE OF CONTRACTING THE DISEASE.

ket-shot of this spot dedicated to death, perfectly
satisfied that the enemy could make no inroads on
their security without giving notice of his approach
thi'ough some of those who dwelt nearest to the pro-
scribed region. As the latter, however, acted as a
sort of forlorn hope, a very respectable space was
left around the fences, and, in one or two instances,
especially in 1822, the disease, for want of nearer
subjects, surprised a few who behoved themselves
sufficiently removed from its ravages. In neither
year, however, did a case occur that could not be
distinctly traced to " the infected district," or to a
space that does not exceed one thirtieth part of the
surface of the whole city. The progress of the dis-
ease was exceedingly slow, extending in a circle
around the point whence it appeared to emanate. I
heard several curious and well authenticated cir-
cumstances, that serve to confirm these facts, one of
which I will relate.

A lady of fortune had retired to the country on the
first appearance of the fever. The house she left,
stood a few hundred feet beyond the limits of the
" infected district." Her son had occasion to visit
this dwelling, which he did without scruple, since
the guardians of the city were thought to be on the
alert, and hundreds were still residing between the
house and the known limits of the disease. On the
return of the young gentleman to the country he was
seized with the fever, but happily recovered. The
fortune and connexions of the youth gave notoriety
to his case, and the fences were removed under the
impression that the danger was spreading. After his

recovery, however, Mr. acknowledged that, led

by his curiosity, he had gone to the fence the day he
was in town, where he stood for some time contem-
plating the solitude of the deserted streets. My in-
formant, who could be a little waggish even on this
grave subject, added, that some pretended that the



THEORIES COXCERNIXG THE TEVER. 117

curiosity of the young gentleman was so strong as to
induce him to thrust his head through an opening in
the fence. He, however, gave credit to the story in
its substance.

The malady rarely appears before the last of
August, and has invariably disappeared with the first
frosts, which are commonly felt here in October.
The fever of 1 822 caused much less alarm than that
of 1819, though the infected district was far more
extensive, and occupied a part of the city that was
supposed to be more healthy. But experience had
shown that the disorder has its limits, and that its
march is slow and easily avoided. The merchants
estimate the danger of the fever in this climate at a
very low rate ; and, perhaps, like the plague, or tliose
fatal diseases which have ravaged London, and other
towns in the centre of Europe, it will soon cease to
create uneasiness at all.

I have endeavoured to glean all the interesting
facts in my power concerning this disease, from men
of intelligence, who have not, like the physicians,
enlisted themselves in favour of one or the other of
the conflicting theories of contagion or non-contagion,
importation or non-importation. It appears to be
admitted all round, that the disorder cannot be con-
tracted in a pure atmosphere. If the circumstances
I have heard be true, and from the authority I can-
not doubt their being so, it seems also to be a nearly
inevitable conclusion, that the disease is never gen-
erated in this climate. This, however, is a knotty
point, and one that covers much of the grounds of
disagreement. That a certain degree and concen-
tration of heat is necessary for the appearance of the
yellow fever, is a fact very generally admitted. There
is a common opinion that it has never been known
in New-York, except in summers when the ther-
mometer has stood something above 80 for a given
number of days in succession. And yet the tempera-



118 FACTS CONCERNING THE DISEASE. THEORIES.

ture is often as high, and for similar periods, without
the appearance of the fever. The seeds of the dis-
ease are undoubtedly imported, whether it is ever
generated here or not ; for it has often happened that
labourers who have been employed in vessels from
the West Indies, after the crews had left them, have
sickened and died. These cases must have arisen
from a contaminated air, and not from strict conta-
gion. Indeed there is scarce a summer in which
some case of the fever does not occur at the Laz-
aretto, through vessels from the West Indies, or the
more southern points of the United States. That
the disorder does not extend itself is imputed to the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 10 of 58)