James Fenimore Cooper.

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above. The tenants of these buildings are chiefly
merchants, or professional men, in moderate circum-
stances, who pay rents of from 300 to 500 dollars a
year. You know that no American, who is at all
comfortable in life, will share his dwelling with an-
other. Each has his own roof, and his own little
yard. These buildings are finished, and exceedingly
well finished too, to the attics ; containing, on the



* Cadwallader related a little anecdote which goes to prove
the danger of hasty conclusions. Shortly after the war, an
English naval captain visited an estate of which he was the
proprietor in the State of New-York. He had occasion to get
his carriage repaired in a village of the interior. My friend
found him railing at the addiction of the Americans to the vice
of intoxication. He had been to three mechanics that morning,
to hasten the work, and two of them were too drunk to execute
his orders. Cadwallader demanded the names of the two de-
linquents; both of whom proved to be countrymen of the captain,
while the only native American was a sober individual. The fact
is, the poor of Europe, when they find themselves transplanted
into the abundance of America, are exceedingly apt to abuse the
advantage. The Scotch, the Swiss, the French, and the Ger-
mans, are said to be the most prudent, and the Irish and the
English the most indiscreet. With the latter it often happens
that the vice we speak of is the actual cause of their emigration.



144 FURNITURE OF HOUSES.

average, six rooms, besides offices, and servants'
apartments. The furniture of these houses is often
elegant, and always neat. Mahogany abounds here,
and is commonly used for all the principal articles,
and very frequently for doors, railings of stairs, &c.
&c. Indeed, the whole world contributes to their
luxury. French clocks, English and Brussels car
pets, curtains from Lyons, and the Indies, alabaste.
from France and Italy, marble of their own, and from
Italy, and, in short, every ornament below the rarest
that is known in every other country in Christendom,
and frequently out of it, is put within the reach of
the American of moderate means, by the facilities of
their trade. In that classical taste which has been so
happily communicated to your French s^tisans, their
own are, without doubt, miserably deficient ; but they
are good imitators, and there is no scarcity of models.
While, in consequence of want of taste or want of
wealth, the Americans possess, in very few instances,
any one of the articles that contribute to the grace
of life in the same perfection as they are known in
some one other country, they enjoy, by means of their
unfettered trade, a combination of the same species
of luxuries, in a less advanced state, that is found no-
where else. They often, nay, almost always, fail in
the particular excellence, but they possess an aggre-
gate of approximate perfection that is unrivalled,
perhaps, even in England ; certainly if we descend
below the very highest classes in the latter country.
But there are hundreds, I believe I might almost say
a thousand, houses in New-York of pretensions alto-
gether superior to those just named. A particular de-
scription of one belonging to a friend of Cadwallader,
by whose favour I was permitted to examine it, may
serve to give you an idea of the whole of its class.
The proprietor is a gentleman of the first society of
the country, and of what is here called an easy for-



DESCRIPTIOX OF A PRIVATE RESIDEXCE. 145

tune, though hundreds of his neighhours enjoj the
goods of this world in a far greater degree than him-
self.

The dwelling of Mr. is on the Broadway,

one of the principal streets, that runs on the height
of land along the centre of the island, for the distance
of about two miles. It is the fashionable mall of the
city, and certainly, for gaiety, the beauty and grace
of the beings who throng it, and, above all, the glo-
rious sun that seems to reign here three days out of
four, it may safely challenge competition with most
if not any of the promenades of the old world. The
house in question occupies, 1 should think, a front of
about thirty-four feet on the Broadway, and extends
into the rear between sixty and seventy more. There
are no additions, the building ascending from the
ground to its attics in the same proportions. The ex-
terior necessarily presents a narrow, ill-arranged fa-
cade, that puts architectural beauty a good deal at
defiance. The most that can be done with such a
front is to abstain from inappropriate ornament, and
to aim at such an effect as shall convey a proper idea
of the more substantial comforts, and of the neatness
that predominate within. The building is of bricks,
painted and lined, as already described, and modestly
ornamented, in a very good taste, w^ith caps, sills,
cornices, &c. &;c. in the dark red freestone of the
country. The house is of four stories ; the lower, or
rez de chaussee^ being half sunk, as is very usual,
below the surface of the ground, and the three upper
possessing elevations w^ell proportioned to the height
of the edifice. The door is at one of the corners of
the front, and is nearly on a level w^ith the wandow^s of
the first floor, which may commence at the distance
of about a dozen feet above the pavement of the
street. To reach this door, it is necessary to mount
a flight of steep, inconvenient steps, also in freestone,
which compensate, in a slight degree, for the pain of

Vol. I. O



146 NEATNESS, INCONVENIENCES, ETC.

the ascent, (neither of us, colonel, is as young now as
the day you crossed the bridge of Lodi,) by their ad-
mirable neatness, and the perfect order of their iron
rails and glittering brass ornaments. The entrance
is into a little vestibule, which may be some twelve
feet long, by eight in width. This apartment is en-
tirely unfurnished, and appears only constructed to
shelter visiters while the servant is approaching to
admit them through the inner door. The general
excellence of the climate, and, perhaps, the customs
of the country, have, as yet, prevented the Americans
from providing a proper place for the reception of the
servants of their guests : they rarely wait, unless
during the short calls, and then it is always in the
street. , As visiters are never announced, and as but
one family occupies the same building, there is little
occasion, unless to assist in unrobing, for a servant to
attend his master, or mistress, within the outer door.
From the vestibule the entrance is into a long, nar-
row, high, and handsome corridor, at the farther ex-
tremity of which are the principal stairs. This cor-
ridor, or passage, as it is called here, is carpeted,
lighted with a handsome lamp, has a table, and a few
chairs ; and, in short, is just as unlike a French cor-
ridor as any thing of the sort can very well be.
From this passage you enter the rooms on the first
floor ; you ascend to the upper, and descend to the
lower story, and you have egress from and ingress to
Uie house hj its front and rear. The first floor is oc-
cupied by two rooms that communicate by double
doors. These apartments are of nearly equal size,
and, subtracting the space occupied by the passage,
and two little china closets, that partially separate
them, they cover the whole area of the house. Each
room is lighted hy two windows ; is sufficiently high ;
has stuccoed ceiling, and cornices in white ; hangings
of fight, airy, French paper ; curtains in silk and in
muslin ; mantel-pieces of carved figures in white



DEFECTS BAD TASTE. 147

marble (Italian in manufacture, I should think ;)
Brussels carpets ; large mirrors •, chairs, sofas, and
tables, in mahogany; chandeliers ; beautiful, neat, and
highly wrought grates in the fire-places of home work ;
candelabras, lustres, Szc. &;c., much as one sees them
all over Europe. In one of the rooms, however, is a
spacious, heavy, ill-looking side-board, in mahogany,
groaning with plate, knife and spoon cases, all hand-
some enough, I allow, but sadly out of place where
they are seen. Here is the first great defect that I
find in the ordering of American dome-tic economy.
The eating, or dining-room, is almost invariably one
of the best in the house. The custom is certainly of
English origin, and takes it rise in the habit of sitting
an hour or two after the cloth is removed, picking
nuts, drinking wine, chatting, yawning, and gazing
about the apartment. The first great improvement
to be made in the household of these people is to sub-
stitute taste for prodigality in their tables ; and the
second, I think, will be to choose an apartment for
their meals, that shall be convenient to the offices,
suited to the habits of the family, plain in its orna-
ments, and removed from the ordinary occupations
of those who are to enjoy it. hi some houses this is
already partially elTected ; but, as a rule, I am per-
suaded that the American guest, who should find him-
self introduced into a salle a manger as plain as that
in which a French duke usually takes his repast
would not think his host a man who sufficiently un
derstood the fitness of things. I have heard it said,
that the occupant of the White House* gives his din-
ners in one of these plain rooms, and that the mean-
ness of Congress is much laughed at because they do
not order one better furnished for him. Certes if Con-
gress never showed a worse taste than this, they might
safely challenge criticism. As the President, or his

* The President of the United States.



1 18 EFFECTS OF CLEAR ATMOSPHERE.

wife, directs these matters, I suppose, however, the
great national council is altogether innocent of the
innovation.

You ascend, by means of the stairs at the end of
the passage, into what is here called the second story,
but which, from the equivocal character of the base-
ment, it is difficult to name correctly. This ascent is
necessarily narrow, crowded, and inconvenient. The
beautiful railings in mahogany and brass, and the ad-
mirable neatness of every part of an American house
of any pretension, would serve to reconcile one to a
thousand defects. As respects this cardinal point, I
think there is little difference between the English
and the Americans, at least, so far as I have yet seen
the latter ; but the glorious sun of this chmate illu-
mines every thing to such a degree, as to lend a
quality of brightness that is rarely known in Britain.
You know that a diamond will hardly glitter in Lon-
don. It must also be remembered that an American
house is kept in this order by the aid of perhaps one
third of the domestics that would be employed in the
mother country.

On the second floor (or perhaps you will get a
better idea if I call it the first) of the house of Mr.

, there is a spacious saloon, which occupies the

whole width of the building, and possesses a corres-
ponding breadth. This apartment, being exclusively
that of the mistress of the mansion, is furnished with
rather more delicacy than those below. The cur-
tains are in bke India damask, the chairs and sofa
of the same coloured silk, and other things are made
to correspond. The library of the husband is on the
same floor, and between the two there is a room used
as a bed-chamber. The third story is appropriated
to the sleeping-rooms of the family ; the attic to the
same purpose for the servants, and the basement
contains a nursery and the usual offices. The whole
building is finished with great neatness, and with a



MANNER OF WORKMANSHIP, ETC. 149

solidity and accuracy of workmanship that it is rare
to meet in Europe, out of England. The doors of the
better rooms are of massive mahogany, and wherever
wood is employed, it is used with great taste and
skill. All the mantel-pieces are marble, all the floors
are carpeted, and all the walls are finished in a firm,
smooth cement.

I have been thus minute in my account, because

in describmg the house of Mr. -, I am persuaded

that 1 convey a general idea of those of all of the
upper classes in the northern section of this country.
There are, certainly, much larger and more pretend-
ing buildings than his in New- York, and many far
richer and more highly wrought ; but this is the hab-
itation of an American in the very best society, who
is in easy circumstances, of extensive and high con-
nexions, and who receives a fair proportion of his
acquaintances. By extending the building a little,
adding something to the richness of the furniture, and
now and then going as far as two or three cabinet
pictures, you will embrace the establishments of the
most affluent ; and by curtailing the whole, perhaps,
to the same degree, you will include an immense
majority of all that part of the community who can
lay claim to belong to the class of les gens comme il
faut. It is here, as elsewhere, a fact that the par-
venus are commonly the most lavish in their expend-
itures, either because money is a novelty, or, what is
more probably the case, because they fmd it necessary
to purchase consideration by its liberal use. We will
now quit this dwelling, in which I am fond of ac-
knowledging that I have been received with the most
kind and polished hospitality, by its execrable flight
of steps, and descend into the street.

The New-Yorkers (how much better is the word
Manhattanese !) cherish tlie clumsy inconvenient en-
trances, I believe, as heir-looms of their Dutch pro-
genitors. They are called "stoops,'' a word of whose
O 2



150 HOUSES ARCHITECTURE.

derivation I am ignorant, though that may be of Hol-
land too, and they are found disfiguring the archi-
tecture, cumbering the side-walks, and endangering
the human neck, attached to the front doors of more
than two thirds of the dwellings of this city. A better
taste is, however, gradually making its way, and
houses with regular basements are seen, in which
the occupants can ascend to their apartments with-
out encountering the dangers that in winter must
frequently equal those of an ascent to the summit of
Mont Blanc.

You will see, by the foregoing description, that the
family of an American gentleman in town, though not
always so conveniently, is on the whole about as well
lodged as the great majority of the similar class in
your own country. The house of Mr. con-
tains, including three capacious saloons, ten consider-
able rooms, besides offices, and servants' chambers.
The deficiency is in the dining-room, in the inconve-
nience of the narrow stairs, and in the bad division
of the principal apartments on the different floors; a
fault that arises from the original construction of the
building. Though the ornaments are in general more
simple, the Americans have in very many things a
great advantage. Profiting by their nearly unshackled
commerce, they import any thing they choose, and
adopt, or reject its use, as fancy dictates. Almost
every article of foreign industry can be purchased
here at a very small advance on the original cost, and
in many instances even cheaper. Competition is so
active, and information so universal, and so rapidly
imparted, that a monopoly can hardly exist for a
week, and a glut is far more common than a scarcity.

You will also see by what I have written, that the
Americans have not yet adopted a style of architec-
ture of their own. Their houses are still essentially
English, though neither the winters nor the summers
of their climate would seem to recommend them,



REASONS FOR THE INTERMEDIATE TASTE. 151

There is, however, something in the opposite charaC'
ters of the two seasons, to render a choice difficult.
A people in whose country the heats of Florence and
the colds of St. Petersburg periodically prevail, may
well hesitate between a marble fountain and a Rus-
sian stove. I am not certain that, considering their
pursuits, and the pecuharity of cHmate, they are very
wrong in their present habits. But I shall for ever
protest against the use of carpets, while the ther-
mometer is at 90*^, nor shall I soon cease to declaim
against those hideous excrescences called "stoops."
Beautiful, fragrant, and cool India mats, are, notwith-
standing, much in use in midsummer, in the better
houses. Still, with all my efforts, 1 have not been
able to find a room to sleep in, that it is not fortified
with a Brussels, or a double English ingrain. The
perspiration stands on my forehead while I write of
them! Another defect in the American establish-
ments is the want of cabinets de toilette. They are
certainly to be found in a few houses, but I have oc-
cupied a bed-room five and twenty feet square, in a
house, otherwise convenient, that had not under its
roof a single apartment of the sort. This is truly a
sad prodigality of room, though space be unquestion-
ably so very desirable in a warm climate.

1 should think about the same proportion of the
mhabitants keep carriages here as in France. But the
ordinary coaches of the stands in New-York are quite ^
as good, and often far better than those xoitures de
remise that one usually gets by the day in Paris.
There is even a still better class of coaches to be or-
dered by the day, or hour, from the stables, which
are much used by the inhabitants. The equipages
of this city, with the exception of liveries, and her-
aldic blazonries, are very much like those of your own
mighty capital. When I first landed, coming as I
did from England, I thought the coaches so exceed-
ingly fight as to be mean; but, too experienced a



152 EQUIPAGES EFFECTS OF HABIT, ETC.

traveller to be precipitate, I waited for the old im-
pressions to lose a little of their influence before an
opinion was formed, and in a short time I came to
see their beauties. Cadwallader told me that when
he first arrived in England, he was amazed at the
clumsiness of the English vehicles, but that time, by
rendering them familiar, soon changed his opinion.
We went together lately to examine a coach from
London, which its owner had abandoned, either in
distaste, or because he found it unsuited to the coun-
try, and really it was calculated to renew all the
original opinions of my friend. I have heard of an
American who carried to England one of the light
vehicles of his country, and after it had arrived, he
was positively ashamed to exhibit it among its pon-
derous rivals, hi this manner do we all become the
subjects of a capricious and varying taste that is mis-
erably dependent on habit; a fact, simple as it is,
which might teach moderation and modesty to all
young travellers, and rather less dogmatism than is
commonly found among some that are older. — Adieu.



TO THE COMTE JULES DE BETHIZY,

Sec. Sec.



New-York,



It may be premature to pretend to speak with any
certainty concerning the true state of ordinary Ame-
rican society. My opinions have already undergone
two or three revolutions on the subject, for it is so
easy, where no acknowledged distinctions prevail, for
a stranger to ghde imperceptibly from one circle to
another, that the impressions they leave are very apt



MANNERS OF AMERICAN SOCIETY. 153

to be confounded. I have never yet conversed with
any declaimer on the had tone of repuhhcan man-
ners (and they are not wanting), who has not been
ready enough to confess this, or that, individual
an eminent exception. Now, it never appears to
enter into the heads of these Chesterfieldian critics,
that the very individuals in question are so many
members of a great class, that very well know how
to marshal themselves in their ordinary intercourse
with each other, although, to a stranger, they may
seem no more than insulated exceptions, floating, as
it were by accident, on the bosom of a motley, and
frequently far from inviting state of society. I think,
however, that it is not difficult to see, at a glance,
that even the best bred people here maintain their
intercourse among each other, under far fewer arti-
ficial forms than are to be found in almost any other
country. Simplicity of deportment is usually the
concomitant of good sense every where ; but, in
America, it is particularly in good taste. It would
be a gratuitous weakness in a people who have boldly
denounced the dominion of courts, to descend to
imitate the cumbrous forms which are perhaps neces-
sary to their existence, and which so insensibly
become disseminated, in mawkish imitations, among
those who hve in their purlieus. Direct in their
thoughts, above the necessity of any systematic coun-
terfeiting, and in almost every instance, secure of the
ordinary means of existence, it is quite in nature that
the American, in his daily communications, should
consult the truth more, and conventional deception
less, than those who are fettered and restrained by the
thousand pressures of a highly artificial state of being.
The boasted refinement of the most polished court
in Europe is, after all, no more than expertness in a
practice, which the Persian, with his semi-barbarous
education, understands better than the veriest courtier
of them all. That rare and lofty coLiitesy, in which



154 LESS ARTIFICIAL THAN IN EUROPE.

the party knows how to respect himself, by sacri-
ficing no principle while he reconciles his companion
to the stern character of his morals by grace of mien
and charity to his weaknesses, is, I think, quite, as
common here as we are wont to find it in Europe.
In respect to those purely conventional forms, that
receive value only from their use, and which are so
highly prized by weak minds, because so completely
within their reach, and which even become familiar
to strong ones from an indisposition to dispute their
sway, are in no great favour here. Perhaps the
circumstance that people of education, fortune, con-
nexions, and, of course, of similar turn of mind, are
so much separated by the pecuharity of the State
governments, into the coteries of twenty capital
towns instead of those of one, is the chief reason that
they are neglected ; for all experience proves that
fashion is a folly which merely needs soil to take deep
root. Indeed I am not sure that this species of exotic
will not, at some future day, luxuriate in America to
a greater degree, than it even thrives in the fertile
regions of the east. It is certain, that in England,
the country most resembling this, fashionable society
is more trammelled by fictitious forms, both of speech
and deportment, than in any other European nation.
Every where else, after certain sacrifices are made to
deception and the self-love of second persons, the
actor is left to play his part at the instigations of
nature ; but in England there is a fashion for drink-
'ng a glass of wine, for pronouncing, and mupro-
nouncing a word, for even perverting its meaning,
for being polite, and what is still more strange, some-
times for being rude and vulgar. Any one who has
lived twenty years, may recall a multitude of changes
that have occurred in the most cherished usages of
w^hat is called good-breeding. Now, there must be
a reason for all this whimsical absurdity. Is it not
owing to the peculiarly vacillating nature of her aris-



INFLUENCE OF FASHION LESS DESPOTIC HERE. 155

tocracy ? In a country where wealth is constantly
bringing new claimants for consideration into the
arena of fashion, (for it is, after all, no more than a
struggle for notoriety, that may be more bloodless,
but is not less bitter than that of the gladiators,) those
who are m its possession contrive all possible means
of distinction between themselves and those who are
about to dispute their ascendancy. Beyond a doubt
what is called high English society, is more repulsive,
artificial and cumbered, and, in short, more absurd
and frequently less graceful than that of any other
European nation. Still the English are a rational,
sound, highly reasoning, manly and enlightened peo-
ple. It is difficult to account for the inconsistency,
but by believing that the struggle for supremacy gives
birth to every species of high-bred folly, among which
is to be numbered no small portion of customs that
w^ould be more honoured in the breach than in the
observance.

If like causes are always to produce like effects,
the day may come when the same reasons shall
induce the American fashionables of two generations
to lead the fashionables of one, a similar wild-goose
chase in quest of the ne plus ultra of elegance. As
the fact now stands, the accessions to the coteries are
so very numerous, and are commonly made with
strides so rapid, that it is as yet, fortunately, more
likely to give distinction to bfe rationally pohte, than
genteelly vulgar.



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 13 of 58)