James Fenimore Cooper.

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added, that the custom was nearly peculiar (with the
exception of wooden buildings) to the towns in the
ancient colony of the United Provinces. The con)


mon practice is to deepen the colour of the bricks by a
red paint, and then to interline them with white ; a
fashion, that scarcely alters their original appearance,
except by imparting a neatness and freshness that are
exceedingly pleasant. But, in many instances, 1 saw
dwellings of a lively cream colour; and there are also
several varieties of stone that seem to be getting much
in use latterly.

The principal edifice is the City Hall, a building in
which the courts are held, the city authorities assem-
ble, and the public offices arc kept. This building is
oddly enough composed of two sorts of stone, which
impairs its simplicity, and gives it a patched and party-
coloured appearance. Neither is its facade in good
taste, being too much in detail, a fault the ancients
were not fond of committing. Notwithstanding these
glaring defects, by aid of its material, a clear white
marble, and the admirable atmosphere, it at first
strikes one more agreeably than many a better edihce.
Its rear is of a deep red, dullish freestone, and in a far
better taste. It is not unlike the facade o{ the Hotel
des Monnaies at Paris ; though not quite so large,
more wrought, and I think something handsomer.

The moment the rear of the City Hall was seen, I
was struck with an impression of the magnificent
efiect which mi^ht be produced by the use of its
material in Gothic architecture. It seems to me to be
the precise colour that good taste would select for the
style, and the stone possesses the advantage of being
easily worked, and is far less fragile than the common
building materials of the vicinity of Paris. While the
modern Gothic is much condemned, every body
appears willing to admit that it is the most imposing
style for churches. I can see no reason why that
w^hich every body likes should not be done ; and
nothing is easier than to omit those horrible images
and excrescences which we should not tolerate in
the finest cathedrals of Europe, if they did not fur-


nish unequivocal evidences of llie humours of the age
in which they were carved.

New-York is rich in churches, if number alone be
considered. I saw more than a dozen in the process
of construction, and there is scarce a street of any
magnitude that does not possess one. There must be
at least a hundred, and there may be many more.
But in a country where the state does not meddle
with religion, one is not to look for much splendour
in its religious edifices. Private munificence cannot
equal the expenditures of a community. Besides, I
am told it is a laudable practice of the rich in this
country, instead of concentrating their efforts to rear
up one magnificent monument of their liberality, to
bestow sufficient to meet the wants of a particular
parish in a style suited to its character, and then to
give, freely, aid to some other congregation of their
faith that may be struggling into existence, perhaps,
in a distant part of the country. Indeed, instances
are said to be frequent, in which affluent men con-
tribute cheerfully and liberally to assist in the erec-
tion of churches of a persuasion different from their
own. You are to recollect that a territory large as a
third of Europe, has to be furnished with places of
worship by a population which does not exceed that
of Prussia, and that too by voluntary contributions.
In estimating what has been done in America in all
things, it is absolutely necessary to do justice, and for
a right understanding of the case, to remember the
time, the means, and the amount that was to be execut-
ed. An honest consideration of these material points
can alone show the true character of the country.
For my own part, when I reflect on the extended
division of the inhabitants, and on the absolute neces-
sity of so much of their efforts being expended in
meeting the first wants of civilized life, I am astonish-
ed to find how much they have done to embellish and
iicprove it Under this view of the subject, though


certainly under no other, even their works of art be-
come highly respectable. There is not much preten-
sion to good taste in a great majority of their public
edifices, nor is there much more ground to claim it
in any other country, so far as modern architecture is
concerned. Most of the churches in New-York are
of brick, and constructed, internally, with direct re-
ference to the comfort of the congregations, who, as
you know, in most Protestant countries, remain when
they once enter the temple. There are, however,
some churches in this city that would make a credit-
able appearance any where among similar modern
constructions ; but it is in the number, rather than
in the elegance of these buildings, that the Americans
have reason to pride themselves.

Whatever you may have heard concerning neglect
of religion on this side of the water, so far as the
portion of the country I have seen is concerned, dis-
beheve. It is the language of malice and not of truth.
So far as the human eye can judge, there is at least as
much respect paid to religion in the northern and
middle States, as in any part of the world I have ever
visited. Were the religion of Europe to be stripped
of its externals, and to lose that deference which the
influence of the state and of the clergy produces,
among a poor who are so dependant ; in short, were
man left to himself, or subject only to the impulses
of public opinion, and the influence of voluntary in-
struction, as here, I am persuaded it would be found
that there is vastly more. There is much cant, and
much abuse of cant, in America, just as elsewhese ;
but 1 have been in numberless churches here-, watched
the people in their ingress and egress ; have examined
the crowd of men no less than of women, that followed
the summons of the parish bell ; and, in fine, have
studied all their habits on those points which the con-
science maybe supposed to influence, and, taking town
and countrv together, I should not know where to turn

Vol. L ' N


to find a population more uniform in their devotions,
more guarded in their discourse, or more consistent
in all their practices. No stronger proof can be given
of the tone of the country in respect to religion than
the fact, that men who wish to stand well in popular
favour are compelled to feign it at least; public
opinion producing, in this way, a far more manifest
effect here than does state policy in our hemisphere.
These remarks are of course only made in reference
to what I have yet seen, but they may serve as a
standard to compare by, when we shall come to
speak of the other portions of the republic.

My paper is exhausted, and I shall refer you to
the colonel, whom I know you are to meet at Pa-
lermo, for a continuation of the subject on some of
those branches in which his nicer tact may find
peculiar sources of interest. — Adieu.




A MAN who has revelled so often on the delicacies
of Very and Robert ; who has so long flourished with
eclat in the saloons of the modern queen of cities ,
who has sickened his taste under the arches of the
Coliseum, or on the heights of the Acropohs, and who
must have often cast a glance at that jewel of archi-
tecture, the Bourse of Paris, as he has hurried into
its din to learn the fate of his last investment in the
three per cents of M. de Villele, may possibly turn
with disdain from a description of the inartificial
beauties of nature, a republican drawing-room, or a


mall in a commercial town of North America. But
jou will remember how often I have passed the bridge
of Lodi in your company, (methinks I hear the whiz-
zing of the bullets now !) how patiently I have listen-
ed to your sonnets on the mien and mind of Sophie,
and how meekly I have seen you discussing the frag-
ments of a pate de foie gras, without so much as
begrudging you a mouthful of the unctuous morsel,
though it were even the last. Presuming on this
often tried, and seemingly inexhaustible patience, I
shall proceed to trespass on your more elevated pur-
suits in the shape of one of my desultory accounts of
the manners and mode of life of the grave burghers
of New- York.

I may say openly to you, what consideration for
the national pride of Kemperfelt may have suppressed
in my letters to him, that very little of its former
usages can now be traced in the ancient capital of
the New-Netherlands. One hears certain sonorous
names in the streets to remind him of the original
colony, it is true, but with these rare memorials of
the fact, and a few angular, sidelong edifices, that
resemble broken fragments of prismatic ice, there is
no other passing evidence of its former existence. I
have elsewhere said that the city of New- York is
composed of inhabitants from all the countries of
Christendom. Beyond a doubt, a very large major-
ity, perhaps nine-tenths, are natives of the United
States ; but it is not probable that one-third who live
here first saw the light on the island of Manhattan.
It is computed that one in three are either natives
of New-England, or are descendants of those who
have emigrated from that portion of the country.
To these must be added the successors of the Dutch,
the English, the French, the Scotch and the Irish,
and not a few who came in their proper persons from
the countries occupied by these several nations. In
die midst of such a melange of customs and people.


it is exceedingly difficult to extract any thing like a
definite general character. Perhaps there is none
that can be §iven, without great allowance, to this
community. Though somewhat softened, a good
deal of that which is distinctive between the puritans
and their brethren of the other States, is said to con-
tinue to exist for a long period after their emigration.
As the former generally go to those points where
they are tempted by interest, in great numbers, it is
probable that they communicate quite as much, or,
considering their active habits, perhaps more, of
character, than they receive. With these warnings,
to take all I say with due allowance, I shall proceed
to my task.

To commence ah origine, I shall speak of the pro-
ducts of nature, which, if endowed with suitable ca-
pabilities, rarely fail of favour in your eyes. I know
no spot of the habitable world to which the culinary
sceptre is so likely to be transferred, when the art
shall begin to decline in your own renowned capital,
as this city. It is difficult to name fish, fowl, or beast
that is not, either in its proper person, or in some
species nearly allied to it, to be obtained in the mar-
kets of New- York. The exceptions that do certainly
occur, are more than balanced by the animals that
are peculiar to the country. Of fish alone, a gentle-
man here, of a spirit not uncongenial to your own,
has named between seventy and eighty varieties, all
of which are edible ; most of which are excellent ;
and some of which it would be the pride of my heart
to see placed within the control of your scientific
skill. Of fowls there is a rare and admirable collec-
tion ! I have had a list nearly, or quite as long as the
catalogue of fishes placed before me, and it would do
your digestive powers good to hear some of the semi-
barbarous epicures of this provincial town expatiate
on the merits of grouse, canvas-backs, brants, plover,
wild turkeys, and all the et cceteras of the collection


In respect to the more vulgar products of regular
agriculture I shall say nothing. They are to be found
here, as elsewhere, with the exception, that, as a
great deal is still left to nature, perfection and variety
in vegetables is not as much attended to as in the vi-
cinity of older and larger places. But of the game I
may speak with confidence ; for, little as I have yet
seen of it, at this particular season, one mouthful is
sufficient to prove that there is a difference between
a partridge and a hen, greater than what is demon-
strated by the simple fact that one sleeps on a roost,
and the other in a tree. That delicious, wild, and
peculiar flavour, that we learned to prize on the
frontiers of Poland, and in the w^oods of Norway, ex-
ists in every thing that ranges the American forest.
They tell me that so very dependent is the animal on
the food it eats for its flavour, that the canvas-back
of the Hudson, which, in the eyes of M. de Buffbn,
would be precisely the same bird as that of the Ches-
apeake, is in truth endowed with another nature ; that
is to say, in all those useful purposes for which a
canvas-back was beyond a doubt created. But these
are still matters of faith with me, though the delicacy
of the plover, the black-fish, the sheep's-head, the
woodcock, and numberless other delightful inhabitants
of these regions, disposes me to believe all I hear.

Of the fruits I can speak of my own knowledge.
The situation of New-York is singularly felicitous in
this respect. In consequence of the great range of
the thermometer, there is scarce a fruit which will
endure the frost that is not found in a state nearly
approaching to perfection. Indeed, either owing to
the freshness of the soil, or the genial influence of the
sun, or to both, there is an extraordinary flavour im-
parted to most of the animal and vegetable food which
I have tasted. Cadwallader reasons on the subject
in this manner, assuming, what I believe to be true,
that most of the meats, no less than the fruits, possess
N 2


this peculiar richness and dehcacy of taste. He says,
that in Europe the value of land is commonly so great,
that the cattle are obliged to crop all the herbage,
whereas, in America, the animal is usually allowed to
make its choice, and that, too, often amid such a de-
licious odour of the white or natural clover of the
country, as might cause even a miserable victim of
the anger of Djezzar Pacha momentarily to forget his
nasal dilapidation. I wish now to be understood as
speaking literally, and not in those terms of exaggera-
tion which are perhaps appropriate to the glories of
a well-ordered banquet. I scarce remember any fra-
grance equal to that I have scented in the midst of a
field of this clover. My companion tells me he was
first made sensible of this peculiarity in the herbage
of his native country, by remarking how comparatively
devoid of scent was a field of buckwheat, by the side
of which he was once walking in the centre of France.
Now, buckwheat in this climate is a plant that exhales
a delicious odour that is often to be scented at the
distance of a quarter of a mile. In short, so far as
my own observation has extended, the sun imparts a
flavour to every grass, plant, or fruit here, that must
be tasted, and tasted with discrimination, in order to be
appreciated. Yet man has done but little to improve
these inestimable advantages. There is no extraordi-
nary show of fruits in the public market-places.
Peaches, cherries, melons, and a few others of ttie
common sorts, it is true, abound ; but the Americans
appear not to be disposed to make much sacrifice of
time, or money, to the cultivation of the rarer sorts.
I cannot close this subject, however, without mak-
ing one remark on the nature of a peculiar difference
that I have noticed between the fruits of this country,
and those of your own capital in particular. A
French peach is juicy, and, when you first bring it in
contact with your palate, sweet, but it leaves behind
it a cold, watery, and almost sour taste. It is for this


reason so often eaten with sugar. An American is
exceedingly apt to laugh if he sees ripe fruit of any
sort eaten with any thing sw^eet. The peaches here
leave behind a warm, rich, and delicious taste, that
I can only liken in its effects to that which you
call the bouquet of a glass of Romanee. You w'ho,
as a Parisian, say so much for, and think so much of,
your gout^ may be disposed to be incredulous when
I tell you these people would positively reject the
best melon that ever appears on your table. There
is a little one to be picked up in the markets here
for a few sous, say twelve at the utmost, that exceeds
any thing, of its kind, that I have ever admitted into
the sanctuary of my mouth. I want terms to describe
it. It is firm, and yet tender; juicy, without a particle
of the cold, watery taste we know, and of an incom-
parable flavour and sweetness. Its equal can only
be found in the Crimea, or the adjacent parts of
Turkey, and perhaps of Persia. The Americans
admit that it is the only melon that can appear on the
table of one who understands the difference between
eating and tasting, and to me it seems to have been
especially created for an epicure. In the gardens of
the gentlemen you find not only a greater variety,
but, a few common fruits excepted, a far better
quality than in the markets. I have tasted a great
many old acquaintances, transplanted from the eastern
to the western hemisphere, and I declare I do not
remember one that has not been benefited by the
change, in flavour, though not always in appearance.
It is a standing joke of Cadwallader to saj his coun-
trymen consult the substance much more than the
shadow, when I venture to qualify my praises by
some remark on externals. I remember, however,
one day he effectually silenced my criticism, by lead-
ing me to a peach-tree that grew in the shade of an
adjacent building. The fruit was beautiful, exceed-
ingly large, and without a blemish. Culling one of


the finest, I bit it, and involuntarily rejected what I
had so incautiously admitted to my mouth. Then
placing a peach which had grown in the open air, in
my hands, my companion pointed significantly to the
sun, and walked on, leaving me to reflect on an ar-
gument that was more potent than a thousand words.

And yet I have met, during my short residence in
America, Europeans who have affected to rail at, or
even to deny the existence of her fruits ! I have always
wished, on such occasions, that I could transport the
products of one of the laboured gardens of our hemi-
sphere into this, and set them to culling without a
knowledge of the transfer. My life on it, their own
palates would contradict their assertions in the first
five minutes.

Indeed, one has only to remember that the United
States extend from forty-five to twenty-five degrees
of latitude, to see that Nature has placed their do-
minions in the very centre of her most favoured re-
gions. There is, too, a peculiarity of climate here,
which is unknown to similar parallels of latitude in
Europe. The apple and the peach are found in per-
fection, side by side ; and in such a perfection too, as,
believe me, dear colonel, you must seek for the equal
of the one in Italy, and that of the other, I scarcely
know where.

Owing to the facility and constancy of intercourse
with the Southern States, the fruits of the tropics are
found here, not quite as fresh, certainly, as when first
culled from the plant itself, but well flavoured, and
in absolute contact with the products of the temperate
zones. Pine-apples, large, rich, golden, and good,
are sold from twelve to twenty-five sous ; delicious
oranges are hawked in the streets much cheaper than
a tolerable apple can be bought in the shops of Paris,
and bannanas, yams, water-melons, &c., are as com-
mon as need be in the markets. It is this extraor-
dinary combination of the effects of different chmates,


the union of heat and cold, and of commercial facil-
ities, added to the rare bounties of Nature, that incHne
me to think the empire of gastronomy will, sooner or
later, be transferred to this spot. At present it must
be confessed that the science is lamentably defective,
and, after all, perhaps, it is in those places where
Nature has been most liberal that man is apt to con-
tent himself, without exerting those efforts of his own,
without which no perfect enjoyment in any branch
of human indulgence can exist.

Passing from the means of gratification possessed
by these people, we will turn our attention, for a
moment, to the manner in which they are improved.
The style of living of all the Americans, in the
Northern States, is essentially English. As might
be expected in a country where labour is compara-
tively high, and the fortunes, though great, still not
often so princely as in the mother country, the upper
classes live in a more simple form, wanting some of
the most refined improvements of high English life,
and yet indulging, under favour of their climate, sit-
uation and great commercial freedom, in perhaps a
greater combination of luxury and comfort than any
other people of the world. In respect of comfort
itself, there is scarce any known in England, that is
not to be found here ; the point of difference is in its
frequency. You are, therefore, to deduct rather in
the amount of English comfort, than in its quality
and you are not to descend far below the refinements
at all, since all the substantial of that comfort which
makes England so remarkable in Europe, are to be
found equally in America. There are points, per-
haps, even in the latter, in which the Englishman
(rarely very much disposed to complacency) w^ould
complain in America; and there are, certainly, others,
on which the American (who has a cast of the fam-
ily likeness) would boldly vent his spleen in England.
I am of opinion the two nations might benefit a good


deal by a critical examination of each other. Indeed,
I think the American has, and does, daily profit by
his observation, though I scarce know whether his
kinsman is yet disposed to admit that he can learn
by the study of a people so new, so remote, and so
little known, as those of the United States.

After you descend below the middle classes in so-
ciety, there is no comparison to be drawn between
the condition of the American and that of the native
of England, or of any other place. I have seen
misery here, it is true, and filth, and squahd, abject
poverty, always in the cities, however; but it is
rare ; that is, rare indeed to what I have been ac-
customed to see in Europe. At first, I confess there
was a feeling of disappointment came over me at
seeing it at all ; but reflection convinced me of the
impossibility of literally bringing all men to a state
in which they might profit by the advantages of their
condition. Cadwallader, also, who has a silent, sig-
nificant manner of conveying truths, has undeceived
me more than once when I have been on the very
threshold of an error. T remember that one day,
while I stood contemplating, in the suburbs of this
city, a scene of misery that one might not have ex-
pected to witness out of Europe, he advanced to the
door of the dreary hovel I gazed at, and asked the in-
habitants how long they had resided in America. The
answer proved that he had not deceived himself as
to the birth-place of its luckless tenants. In this
manner, in more than a dozen instances, he has
proved that his own country has not given birth to
the vice and idleness which here could alone entail
such want. In perhaps as many more instances he
has passed on, shaking his head at my request that he
would examine the causes, admitting frankly that he
saw the subjects were natives. It is astonishing how
accurate his eye is in making this distinction. I do
not know that he has been deceived in a solitary in-


stance. Where misery is so rare, it is a vast deal
to admit, that perhaps half of its objects are the vic-
tims of a different system than that under which it is

There is something exceedingly attractive in the
exhibition of neatness and domestic comfort which
one sees throughout this country. I think the bril
liancy of the climate, the freshness of the paint, and
the exterior ornaments of the houses, contribute to
the charm. There is a species of second-rate, gen-
teel houses, that abound in New-York, into which I
have looked when passing, with the utmost pleasure.
They have, as usual, a story that is half sunk in the
earth, receiving light from an area, and two floors

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 12 of 58)