James Fenimore Cooper.

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pureness of the atmosphere at the time being. In a
question in which important facts are liable to so
much qualification, it is necessary, however, to admit
their inferences with great caution. So much must
depend, for instance, on the particular state of the
system of the individual, that each case seems to re-
(v.ui-e a close examint^tion before any very conclusive
reasoning can be grounded on its circumstances.
One of the theories of the disorder, as you probably
know, assumes that it is no more than a high bilious
fever exhibited under a peculiarly malignant form.
All this may be very true, and yet the agent to pro-
duce that malignity, may exist in the atmosphere in
such a condition as to render it capable of transport-
ation, and if I may so express it, of expansion. There
is a vulgar opinion that certain vicious animalculse
are generated in the warmer climates, and when con-
veyed to this latitude, if they meet with a genial
temperature, they thrive and propagate their species
like other people, until growing bold with their num-
bers they wander abroad, are inhaled, and continue
to poison the springs of human existence, until a day
of retribution arrives in the destroying influence oi
a sharp frost. It is certain that the inhabitants oi
New- York, who would have considered their lives


in jeopardy by entering their dwellings one day, take
peaceable possession of them the morning after a
wholesome frost, with entire impunity. I have no
doubt that much of the embarrassment under which
this subject labours, is produced by the near resem-
blance between the fever which is certainly imported,
and that which sometimes originates in the climate ;
though the latter, perhaps, is limited to those cases
in which the patient has a strong predisposition to
the malady. After all, the most exaggerated notions
prevail in Europe concerning the danger of the dis-
ease in this latitude. Nine-tenths of the space cov-
ered by this city never had an original case of yellow
fever in it, and its appearance at all is of rare occur-
rence. Indeed, I am led to believe that New-Yoriv,
owing to its fine situation, is on the whole more
healthy than most large towns. It has also been
told to me, that the deaths by consumption, as re-
ported, are probably greatly magnified beyond the
truth, since the family physician or friend of one who
has died, for instance, by excessive use of ardent
liquors, would not be apt to tell the disreputable
truth, especially as it is not exacted under the obli-
gations of an oath. Though I have as yet seen no
reason to believe that intemperance, particularly
among the native Americans, abounds here more than
in other countries, yet I can readily believe it is very
fatal in its consequeiices in a latitude where the tem-
perature is so high in summer. There are certainly
disorders that are more or less incidental to the cli-
mate, but there are many others of a pernicious char-
acter, that are either relatively innocent, or utterly
unknown. When it is remembered that, compared
with the amount of the whole population, a far greater
number than usual of the inhabitants of this city are
of that reckless and adventurous class that regard
indulgence more than life, and how easy it is to pro-
cure indulgence here, 1 think it will be found by the


official reports, that the city of New-York may claim
a high place among the most salubrious ports of the
world. This impression will be increased, when one
recalls how little has as yet been done towards ob-
taining wholesome water, or to carry off the impuri-
ties of the place by means of drains. Still, as it is,
New-York is far from being a dirty town. It has
certainly degenerated from that wholesome and un-
tiring cleanliness which it may be supposed to haVe
inherited from its first possessors. The houses are
no longer scrubbed externally, nor is it required to
leave one's slippers at its gates, lest the dust of the
roads should sully the brightness of glazed tiles and
glaring bricks. But Paris is foul indeed, and London,
in its more crowded parts, far from being cleanly,
compared to New-York. And yet Jhe commercial
emporium of this nation bears no goodly reputation
in this particular, among the Americans themselves.
IJer sister cities are said to be far more lovely, and
the filth of the town is a subject of daily moanings in
its own journals.

But admitting the evil in its fullest extent, it is but
a trilling blot on the otherwise high pretensions of
the place. Time, and a better regulated poHce, will
serve to remedy much greater evils than this. In
order to view the city in its proper Mght, it must be
considered in connexion with those circumstances
which are fast giving to it the character of the great
mart of the western hemisphere.

By referring to the description already given, you
will find that New- York possesses the advantages of
a capacious and excellent roadstead, a vast harbour,
an unusually extensive natural basin, with two out-
lets to the sea, and a river that, in itself, might con-
tain all the shipping of the earth. By means of the
Sound, and its tributary waters, it has the closest
connexion with the adjoining State of Connecticut ;
and, through the ajacent bays, small vessels penetrate


in almost every direction into that of New-Jersey.
These are the channels by which the town receives
its ordinary daily supplies. Cadwallader pointed
out on the map seven considerable navigable rivers,
exclusive of the noble Hudson, and a vast number
of inlets, creeks, and bays, all of which were within
a hundred miles of this place, and with which daily
and hourly intercourse is held by means of sloops,
or steam-boats. Still these are no more than the
minor and more famihar advantages of New- York,
which, however they may contribute to her con-
venience, become insignihcant when compared to
the more important sources of her prosperity. It is
true that in these Httle conveniences. Nature has
done the work that man would probably have to
perform a century hence, and thereby is the growth
of the town greatly facilitated, but the true springs
of its future grandeur must be described on a far
more magniticent scale.

New-York stands central between the commerce
of the- north and that of the south. It is the first
practicable port, at all seasons of the year, after you
quit the mouth of the Chesapeake, going northward.
It lies in the angle formed by the coast, and where
the courses to Europe, to the West Indies, or to the
Southern Atlantic, can be made direct. The ship
from Virginia, or Louisiana, commonly passes v/ithin
a day's sail of New-York, on its way to Europe, and
the coaster from Boston frequently stops at the
wharfs of this city to deposit part of its freight before
proceeding further south.

Now, one so conversant with the world as yourself,
need not be reminded that in every great commercial
community there is a tendency to create a common
mart, where exchanges can be regulated, loans effect-
ed, cargoes vended in gross, and all other things con-
nected with trade, transacted on a scale commen-

VoL. I. M


surate to the magnitude of the interests involved in
its pursuits. The natural advantages of New-York
had indicated this port to the Americans for that
spot, immediately after the restoration of the peace
in 1783. Previously to that period, the whole pro-
ceedings of the colonies were more or less influenced
by the policy of the mother country. But for a long
time after the independence of the States was ac-
knowledged, the possessors of the island of Manhat-
tan had to contend for supremacy against a powerful
rivalry. Philadelphia, distant less than a hundred
miles, was not only more wealthy and more populous,
but for many years it enjoyed the eclat and advantage
of being the capital of the Union. Boston and Balti-
more are both seaports of extensive connexions, and
of great and enlightened enterprise. Against this
serious competition, however, New-York struggled
with success ; gradually obtaining the superiority in
tonnage and inhabitants, until within a few years,
when opposition silently yielded to the force of cir-
cumstances, and those towns which had so long been
rivals became auxiliaries to her aggrandizement. All
this is perfectly in the natural course of things, though
1 find that a lingering of the ancient jealousy still
tempts many of the merchants of the other towns to
ascribe the ascendancy of New- York to any cause
but the right one. Among other things, the establish-
ment of those numerous lines of packets, to which I
have alluded in a previous letter, is thought to have
had an influence on her progress. It appears to me
that this is mistaking the effect for the cause. If I
am rightly informed, the merchant of Boston already
sends his ship here for freight ; frequently sells his
cargo under the hammer of the New-York auctioneer
to his own neighbour, and buys a new one to send to
to some distant part of the world, without seeing,
from the commencement of the year to its close, the


vessel which is the instrument of transporting; his
wealth to the various quarters of the world. Phila-
delphians have been pointed out to me who are said
to be employed in pursuits of the same nature. The
whole mystery of these transactions rests on a prin-
ciple that is within the compass of any man's under-
standing. Though articles can be and are sometimes
vended by itinerants in its streets, the mat<^;rial wants
of every great town are supplied in the common
market-place. It is easier to tind a purchaser where
much than where little is sold, and it is precisely for
the reason that prices take a wider range in an ex-
tensive than in a limited market, that men congre-
gate there to feed their wan^s or to glut their avarice.
That New-York must, in the absence of any coun-
teracting moral causes, at some day have become
this chosen mart of American commerce, is suffi-
ciently evident by its natural advantages; and that
the hour of this supremacy has arrived is, I think,
apparent by the facts which I have mentioned, sup-
ported as they are by the strong corroboratmg cir-
cumstance, that hundreds are now daily quitting the
other towns to resort to this.

The consequences of its rapid growth, and the
extraordinary medley of which its population is
composed, serve to give something of a peculiar
character to New- York. Cadwallader tells me that,
with perhaps the exception of New-Orleans, it is the
only city in the Union that has not the air of a pro-
vincial town. For my own part, I have found in it
such a melange of customs, nations, society, and
manners, all tempered, without being destroyed, by
the institutions and opinions of the country, that I
despair of conveying a correct idea of either by de-
scription. We shall have more definite data in speak-
ing of its unprecedented growth.

In 1756, the city of New- York contained 13,000
souls; in 1790,33,000: in 1800,60,000; in 1810,


96,000; in 1820, 123,000; and, in 1825, 166,000.^
The latter enumeration is exclusive of Brooklyn, a
flourishing village which has arisen within the last
half dozen years from next to nothing ; which,
from its position and connexion with the city, is in
truth no more than a suburb differently governed ;
and which in itself contains alout 10,000 souls.

By the foregoing statement, you will see that,
while the growth of New- York has been t ather reg-
ular than otherwise, its population has doubled with-
in the last thirty-five years nearly at the rate of once
in fifteen years. Between 1790 and 1800, the com-
parative increase was the greatest. This was prob-
ably owing to the fact that it w^as the moment when
the peculiar situation of the world gave an extraor-
dinary impulse to the American commerce. Betvv^een
1800 and 1820, were felt the effects of a highly
thriving trade, the re-action of embargoes, non-inter-
course and war, and the relative stagnation attendant
on the return of business to its more natural chan-
nels. The extraordinary increase in the last five
years, during a period of ordinary commerce, is, I
think, to be imputed to the accessions obtained by
the silent acquiescence of her rivals in the future
supremacy of this town as the great mart of the na-
tion. To what height, or how long this latter cause
may serve to push the accumulation of New-York
beyond what w^ould be its natural growth, exceeds
my ability to estimate. Though it may receive
checks from the variety of causes which affect all
prosperity, it will probably be some years before the
influence of this revolution in opinion shall entirely
cease ; after which period, the growth of the city
must be more regular, though always in proportion
to the infant vigour of the whole country.

* Jt is supposed to contain about 200,000 at the present moment.


It is a curious calculation, and one in which the
Americans very naturally love to indulge, to estimate
the importance of this place at no very distant day.
If the rate of increase for the last thirty-five years
(or the whole period when the present institutions
of the country have had an influence on its advance-
ment) is to be taken as a guide for the future, the
city of New- York will contain about 900,000 souls
in the year 1860. Prodigious as this estimate may
at first seem, it can be supported by arguments of a
weight and truth of which you are most probably
ignorant. Notwithstanding the buoyant character of
this nation's prosperity, and the well-known fact that
the growth of towns is by no means subject to the
same general laws as that of countries, were it not
for one circumstance, I should scarcely presume to
hazard a calculation which wears the air of extrava-
gance by its very amount, since, by merely adding
another fifteen years, you have the largest town in
Christendom as the reward of your addition. But,
in point of fact, in prder to keep pace with the pro-
gress of things in this extraordinary country, some-
thing like that which elsewhere might be termed ex-
travagance of anticipation becomes absolutely neces-
sary. Although the ideas of my companion are
reasonably regulated by an extensive acquaintance
with the eastern hemisphere, I confess I have been
startled with the entire gravity with which he some-
times speaks of the power of the United States ;
not as an event to alFect the fortunes of future ages,
but as a thing that would be operative in the time of
our own children, dear Baron, had not our egotistical
habits left us without the hope of living in those
w^ho come after us. But when he paused this morn-
ing in our promenade through the Broadway, a noble
street that runs for two miles through the heart of
the place, and pointed out the limits of the city, as
he himself had known them in his boyhood, and then


desired me to look along the fine vista in front, which
I knew was supported by vast masses of buildings
on each of its sides, I felt the force of the reasons
he had for entertaining opinions, that to me had just
before seemed visionary.

The circumstance to which this town is to be in-
debted for most of its future greatness, is the im-
mense and unprecedented range of interior which,
by a bold and noble etfort of policy, has recently
been made tributary to its interests. By examining
the map of the United States, you can easily make
yourself master of all the facts necessary to a perfect
understanding of what I mean. The river Hudson
runs northward from New-York for the distance of
about two hundred miles. It is navigable for large
sloops to Waterford, a place that is situated near the
junction of the Mohawk with the former river, and
at a distance a little exceeding one hundred and fifty
miles from this city. Sixty miles further north brings
one to the head of Lake Champlain, which separates
Vermont from New-York, and 4:ommunicates with
the St. Lawrence by means of a navigable outlet.
By following the route of the Mohawk westward,
you pass directly through the heart of this flourishing
state, until you reach a place called Rome, whence
the country to Lake Erie was found to be perfectly
practicable for water communication. Once in Lake
Erie, it is possible to extend a domestic trade, by
means of those little inland, fresh-water seas, through
a fertile and rapidly growing country, for a distance
of near or quite fifteen hundred miles further. As
if this were not enough. Nature has placed the head
waters of the Mississippi so near the navigable tribu-
taries of the lakes Michigan, Superior, and Erie, that
there is nothing visionary in predicting that artificial
communication will soon bring them into absolute


It IS a matter of dispute with whom the bold idea
of connecting the waters of the lakes with those of
the Hudson originated. The fact will probably never
be known, since the thoughts of one may have been
quickened by those of another, the speculations of
each successor enlarging on those of him who went
before, until the plaint of some Indian that nature had
denied a passage to his canoe from the IMohawk into
a stream of the lesser lakes, has probably given birth
to them all. But there can be no question as to the
individual, who, in a government so particularly cau-
tious of its expenditures, has dared to stake his po-
litical fortunes on the success of the hazardous under-
taking. Mr. Clinton, the present Governor of this
State, is the only highly responsible political man who
can justly lay claim to be the parent of the project.
For many years, I am told, he was persecuted as a
visionary projector, and it was clear that his down-
fall was to be the penalty of failure; though now that
success is certain, or rather realized, there are hun-
dreds ready to depreciate his merits, and not a few
willing to share in all his honours. But these are no
more than the detractions which are known every
where to sully the brightness of a new reputation.
Time will remove them all, since posterity never
fails to restore with interest that portion of fame
vvliich is temporarily abstracted by the envy or the
hostility of contemporaries.

The plan has been to reject the use of all the
rivers, except as feeders, and to make two canals,
one from the Lake Champlain, and the other from
the Lake Erie, which were to meet at the junction
of the Mohawk and the Hudson, whence they are to
proceed to Albany, and issue into the latter river.
The former of these canals is about sixty miles in
length, and the other tliree hundred and fifty. The

128 A CASE.

work was commenced in the year 1817, and is already
nearly completed.*

Really, reflection on this subject 4s likely to de-
range the ideas of the gravest man. Imagine, for
instance, that Africa were a populous and civihzed
region; that Spain were peopled by an active and
enhghtened population ; that their habits were highly
commercial ; and then assume that Gibraltar was not
only one of the most noble, convenient and safe ha
vens of the world, but that, from its central position,
it had secured an ascendancy in European trade.
Remove all serious rivals which chance or industrjp
had raised in the other parts of Europe, to the pros-
perity of this unrivalled mart, placing it already fore-
most among the cities of our hemisphere. Then,
suppose the Mediterranean, with all its tributaries, a
narrow, convenient river, having direct communica-
tion with vast lakes, whose banks were ^peopled by
men of similar educations and opinions, wants and
wishes, governed by the same policy, and subject to
the same general laws, and I commit you to your
own imaginative powers to fancy what the place
would become in the space of a century.

With these views unavoidably before the eye, it is
difficult to descend to the sober reality of existing
things. I can now easily understand the perspective
of American character. It is absolutely necessary to
destroy thouglit, to repress it. I fear we owe a good

*1828. It is now not only finished, but is so eminently suc-
cessful, that it has given rise to a multitude of similar works,
one of which, to connect the waters of the Ohio with Lake Erie,
is already far advanced, and will open an inland water commu-
nication between New-York and New-Orleans, a distance of
more than 2000 miles. The tolls on the Erie canal amounted
the last year (1827) to 850,000 dollars, leaving a large surplus,
after paying the interest on the money borrowed for its construc-
tion, and all charges of repairs, &c. &c.


deal of our exemption from the quality we laugh at,
to the same penetrating faculty of the mind. A
state of things may easily exist, in which it is quire
as pleasant to look back as forward, but here, though
the brief retrospect be so creditable, it absolutely
sinks into insignificance compared with the mighty
future. These people have clearly only to continue
discreet, to be foremost among the nations of the
earth, and that too, most probably, before the discus-
sion as to their future fate shall be forgotten.

WI jle a subject so great is intensely pressing itself
on the mind, as it unavoidably must on that of every
intelligent stranger who has sufficient philanthropy
to regard with steadiness the prosperity of a people
who may so soon be a formidable rival, it is difficult
to descend to those more immaterial and evanescent
customs and appearances that mark the condition of
the present "hour. Still they are of importance as
they may influence the future, and are not without
interest by their peculiarities and national charac-

In construction. New- York embraces every variety
of house, between that of the second-rate English
town-residence, and those temporary wooden tene-
ments that are seen in the skirts of most large cities.
I do not think, however, that those absolutely miser-
able, filthy abodes which are often seen in Europe,
abound here. The houses of the poor are not indeed
large, like those in which families on the continent are
piled on one another for six or seven stories, but they
are rarely old and tottering ; for the growth of the
place, which, by its insular situation, is confined to
one direction, forces them out of existence before
they have haa time to decay. I have been told, and
I think it probable, that there are not five hundred
buildings in New- York, that can date further back
than the peace of '83. A few old Dutch dwellings
yet remain, and can easily be distinguished by tlieir


little bricks, their gables to the street, and those steps
on their battlement walls, which your countrymen are
said to have invented, in order to ascend to regulate
the iron weathercocks at every variation of the tickle

Although poverty has no permanent abode, yet
New- York has its distinct quarters. I think they arc
sufficiently known and understood. Commerce is
gradually taking possession of the whole uf the lower
extremity of the island, though the bay, the battery,
and the charming Broadway, still cause many of the
affluent to depart with reluctance. The fashion of
the place is gradually collecting on the highest and
healthiest point of land, where its votaries may be
equally removed from the bustle of the two rivers
(for the strait is strangely enough called a river),
while other portions are devoted to the labouring
classes, manufacturers, and the thousand pursuits of a

In outward appearance. New- York, but for two
things, would resemble a part of Lor. don that should
include fair proportions of Westminster (without the
great houses and recent improvements), the city, and
Wapping. The points of difference are owing to the
fact that, probably without an exception, the exterior
of all the houses are painted, and that there is scarce
a street in the place which is not more or less lined
with trees. The former fashion, unquestionably de-
rived from your countrymen, gives the town a lively
and cheerful air, for which I was a long time puzzled
to account. At first I imputed it to the brightness of
the atmosphere, which differs but little from that of
Italy ; and then I thought it might be owing to the
general animation and life that pervaded all the prin-
cipal streets. Cadwalladcr explained the causes, and

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 11 of 58)