James Fenimore Cooper.

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neighbour. He was smiling at the feeling of the lady, but soon
gravely turned his eyes in the direction of the boats. lie was ask-
ed which was ahead. He answered, " the Whitehallers I" and
directed the attention to a simple fact to confirm his opinion. The
victors were pulling with so swift and equal a stroke, as to render
their oars (at that distance) imperceptible, whereas there were
moments when the blades of those in the beaten boat could be
distinctly seen. This the young lieutenant described as a " man-
of-war stroke," which, he said, "could never beat a dead ^Miite-
hall-pull, let the rowers come from where they would." The fact
proved that he was right. The English flag was lowered amid
three manful cheers from the goal-boat, which was no other than
the launch of the Hussar. With the exception of a few boys, the
Americans, though secretly much elated, made no answer, and
it was difficult to trace the least change in the countenances of
the spectators. On quitting the Battery, the writer and his friend
met a French gentleman of their acquaintance descending the
Broadway to witness the race. He held up both hands, and
shook his head, by the way of condolence. His error was ex-
plained. " Victors !" he exclaimed, looking around him in ludi-
crous surprise, "I could have sworn by the gravity of every face
I see, that the Englishmen had beaten you half the distance !"
It is no more than fair to add, that something was said of an ac-
cident to the Hussar's boat, of which the writer pretends to know
nothing, but of which he is sure the grave crowd by which he
was surrounded was quite as ignorant as himself.


one is more disposed to admit of the perfect equality
of his fellow-creatares than the native of this country.
By some it has been supposed to be the fruits of the
metaphysical, religious dogmas and stern discipline
that were long taught and practised in so many of the
original colonies. That the religion of the Puritans
and of the Friends left their impressions, is, I think,
beyond a doubt ; for the very pecuharity of manner
to which we have reference, is to be found, in differ-
ent sections of the Union, modified by the absence or
prevalence of their self-mortifying doctrines. Still,
one finds degrees of this same exterior among the
Episcopalians of New-York, the Catholics of Mary-
land, the merchants of the east, the great landed pro-
prietors of the middle States, and the planters of the
south. It is rather tempered than destroyed by the
division of States, of religion, or of habits. It is said
even to begin to exhibit itself among the French of
Louisiana, who are already to be distinguished from
their kinsmen in Europe by greater gravity of eye and
mien. It is even so contagious, that no foreigner can
long dwell wilhin its influence without contracting
more or less of its exterior. It does not arise from
unavoidable care, since no people have less reason to
brood over the calamities of life. There is no Cas-
sius-like discontent to lead the minds of men into plots
and treasons ; for, from the time I entered the coun-
try to the present moment, amidst the utmost latitude
of political discussion, I have not heard even a whis-
per against the great leading principles of the gov-

In despair of ever arriving at the solution of doubts
which so completely baffled, all conjecture and expe-

* The author will add, nor to the hour of his departure. The
United States of America are, perhaps, the only country in
Christendom where political disatlection does not in a greater or
less de^iree prevail.


rience, I threw myself on the greater observation of
Cadwallader for the explanation of a habit which,
the more I reflected, only assumed more of the char-
acter of an enigma. His answer was suliiciently sen-
tentious, though, when pressed upon the subject, he
was not unwilling to support it by reasons that cer-
tainly are rather plausible, if not just. To the question
— " To what do you ascribe the characteristic grave
demeanour of your countrymen?" the reply was,
*' To the simplicity of common sense !" This was
startling, and at first, perhaps, a little offensive ; but
you shall have his reasons in his own words.

" You admit yourself that the peculiarity which
you mention is solely confmed to manner. The host,
the friend, the man 'of business, or the lady in her
drawing-room, who receives you with less empresse-
ment than you have been accustomed to meet else-
where, omits no duty or material act of kindness.
While each seems to enter less into the interests of
your existence, not one of them is selfishly engaged
in the exclusive pursuits of his own.

" V^ iiile the Americans have lived in the centre
of the moral world, their distance from Europe, and
their scattered population, have kept them, as re-
spects association, in comparative retirement. They
have had great leisure for reflection. Even England,
which has so long and so richly supplied us with
food for the mind, labours under a mental disadvan-
tage which is not known here. Her artificial and
aged institutions require the prop of concerted opin-
ions, which, if it be not fatal to change, have at least
acquired an influence that it is thought dangerous to
disturb. In America, no such restraint has ever
been laid on the human mind, unless it might be
through the ordinary operation of passing prejudices.
But those prejudices have always been limited in
their duration, and have never possessed the impor-

VoL. T. Q


tant prerogative of exclusive reverence. Men com»
bated them at will, and generally with impunity.
Even the peculiar maxims of the monarchy came to
us, across the Atlantic, weakened by distance and
obnoxious to criticism. They were assailed, shaken,
and destroyed.

" Thought is the inevitable fruit of a state of being
where the individual is thus permitted to enjoy the
best effects of the highest civilization, with as little as
possible of its disadvantages. I should have said
thought itself was the reason of that gravity you ob-
serve, did 1 not believe it is more true to ascribe it
to the nearest approximate quality in which that
thought is exhibited. When there is much leisure,
and all the other means to reflect on life, apart from
those temptations which hurry us into its vortex, the
mind is not slow to strip it of its gloss, and to arrive
at truths that lie so near the surface. The result has
been, in America, to establish common sense as the
sovereign guide of the public will. In the possession
of this quality, the nation is unrivalled. It tempers
its rehgion, its morals, its politics, and finally, as in
the case in question, its manners. The first is equally
without bigotry or licentiousness ; the second are
generally consistent and sound ; the third are purely
democratic without the slightest approach to disor-
der ; and the last are, as you see them, less attractive
to you, perhaps, because unusual ; but more in con-
sonance with common sense than your own, inas-
much as they fail of an exaggeration which our reason
would condemn. Many nations excel us in the arts,
but none in the truths of human existence. The for-
mer constitute the poetry of life, and they are desir-
able so far as they temper society ; but when they
possess it to the exclusion of still nobler objects, their
dominion is dangerous, and may easily become fatal.
Like all other pursuits in which the imagination


predominates, they have a tendency to diminish the
directness with which reason regards every thing that
appertains to our nature.

"Although there is nothing incompatible between
perfect political freedom and high rational refine-
ment, there is certainly a greater adchction to factitious
complaisance in a despotism than in a republic. The
artificial deference which, in the former, is exacted
by- him who rules, descends through all the gradations
of society, until its tone becomes imparted to an en-
tire nation. I think it will be found, by referring to
Europe, that manners, though certainly modified by
national temperament and other causes, have become
artificial in proportion as the sovereign power has
exercised its influence. Though France, under the
old regime, was not in theory more monarchical than
many of the adjoining countries, the monarch, in fact,
filled a greater space in the public mind. It would
be difficult to find any other nation in which sacrifices
so heavy, indeed, it may be said, so fatal, were daily
and hourly made to appearances, as under the reign
of Louis XIV. They were only the more dangerous,
inasmuch as the great advancement of the nation
made the most gifted men auxiliary to the propagation
of deception. The part which Racine with his piety,
Boileau with his wit, and even Fontaine with his
boasted simplicity, did not disdain to play, humbler
men might well desire to imitate. The consequences
of this factitious tone in manners prevail to the present
day in France, which, notwithstanding her vast im-
provements, has yet a great deal to concede to the
immutable and sacred empire of truth, before either
religion, government, or morals, shall reach that
degree of perfection which each and all may hope to
attain. However agreeable habitual deference to
forms may become, the pleasure is bought too dearly,
when a just knowledge of ourselves, deceptive views
of life, or even of sacred liberty itself, may be the


price. I should cite America as furnishing the very
reverse of this proposition. Here, without pretend-
ing to any infalhbihty of judgment, all matters are
mooted with the most fearless indifference of the
consequences. In the tossings and agitations of the
public opinion, the fine and precious grains of truth
gradually get winnowed from the chaff of empiricism
and interestedness, and, to pursue the figure, literally
become the mental aliment of the nation. After the
mind is thoroughly imbued with healthful moral
truths, it admits the blandishments and exaggerations
of conventional politeness with great distrust, and
not unfrequently with distaste. When the principle
is pushed into extremes, men become Trappists, and
Puritans, and Quakers. Now, in this respect, every
American, taken of course with the necessary allow-
ances, is, more or less, a Puritan. He will not tell
you he is enchanted to see you, when, in truth, he is
perfectly inditferent to the matter; his thoughts are
too direct for so gross a deception. Although he may
not literally mean what he sajs, he means something
much nearer to it than one meets with in what is
called good society any where else.

" The native of New-England has certainly more
of this peculiar exterior than the native of any other
part of our country. This difference is unquestionably
a result of the manners of the Puritans. But you are
right in believing that it is, more or less, to be seen
in the air of most Americans ; perhaps of all, with
the exception of those who have lived from infancy
in what is called the most pohshed, which of itself
implies the most artificial circles.

" A great deal of this exterior is also hereditary.
The Englishman is the man of the coldest aspect in
Europe, when you compare his ordinary tempera-
ment with his deportment. Has not the Englishman
a sounder view of life than any other man in your
hemisphere ? If not, he has been singularly fortunate


in preceding all his competitors in the enjoyment
of its most material advantafi;es.

" France has been proverbial for grace of manner.
But the manners of France are undergoing a sensible
change, under the influence of the new order of
things. Her gentlemen are becoming grave as they
become thoughtful. Any one may fi-bserve, in pass-
ing through French society, the difference between
the two schools. I confess that my taste is for the
modern. I have been so much accustomed to the
simplicity of American manners, as to find something
that is congenial in the well-bred Engli.^h, that is
wanting in the well-bred French deportment, and
precisely for the reason that it is still a little more
natural. So far as this distinction goes, 1 honestly
behcve the Englishman has the advantage. But,-
with honourable exceptions, it will not do to push
English complaisance too far. Perhaps, if we at-
tempt a comparison, I shall be better understood.

" The Englishman and the American have, in a
great degree, a common manner. I do not now
speak of the gentlemen of the two countries, for
much intercourse is rapidly assimilating the class
every where, but of the deportment of the two entire
nations. You will find both cold. There is certainly
no great diflference in the men, though more may be
observed in the women. The English say that our
women are much too cold, and we say that theirs are
artificial without always being graceful. Of course,
I speak of the mass, and not of exceptions in either
case. Our women are, as you see, eminently femi-
nine, in air, conversation, and feeling, and they are
also eminently natural. You may find them cold, for,
to be honest, they find you a little artificial ; but,
with their countrymen, they are frank, sincere, unre-
served and natural, while I challenge the world to
produce finer instances of genuine, shrinking dehcacy,
or of greater feminine propriety.
Q 2


" The French gentleman has certainly one advan-
tage over his island neighbour. He is uniformly
polite ; his conventional habits having apparently
gotten the better of all his native humours. You are
sure, so far as manner is concerned, of finding him
to-morrow as you left him to-day. There may be
some question ©M this point with the Englishman, but
none with the American. Common sense is quite as
equal as good-breeding. The American gentleman
is less graceful than the Frenchman, and may be even
less conventional in his air than the Englishman, but
he is commonly gravely considerate of the feelings.
Yfere he disposed to abuse his situation, his country-
men would not tolerate his airs. I have already told
you that humanity is a distinctive feature of Amer-
ican intercourse. The men of secondary manners
may be more subdued in air than those of Europe,
but it is altogether confined to appeaf ance. No man
is kinder in all his feelings or habits.*

" But this digression is leading me from what you
call the peculiar coldness of the American manner.
The word is not well chosen, since coldness imphes
a want of feeling, and want of feeling cannot exist
where every concession is made to humanity, except
in words and looks. Mr. Hodgson says, he does not
think the habit of which he complains is to be seen
in the better classes of the men, though he appears

* The writer landed in England, on his return to Europe
Curiosity led him to the gallery of the House of Commons. Tho
member on the floor was a stranger to him. A well-dressed
man stood at his elbow, and he ventured to ask him if he knew
who was speaking. " No," was the answer, and it was given
with an elevation and a peculiar sententiousness of voice which
cannot be committed to paper. The writer was induced to
repeat the experiment, simply as an experiment, four times, and
always with the same success, except that in the last instance he
obtained the name, but in a note pitched in the same key. He
is bold to say, that the coldest looking man in America would
have answered in a tone of more '•'' civilisation.''^


unwillingly enough too, to admit, that the females are
not quite so free from the charge. Mr. Hodgson, it
will be remembered, was a bachelor, and he ought
to have known that this is a class of men far less in
demand in America than in England. Without ap-
pearing to make the smallest allowance for the mo-
mentary warmth that is always excited by countrymen
meeting in a foreign land, he puts the seeming cordi-
ality of the wives of certain English soldiers whom
he met at Niagara, in strong contrast with the cola
demeanour of the wives of the thousands of Ameri-
cans whom he had just left. This gentleman does
not pretend that there was actually more of feeling
in the one case than in the other; he seems perfectly
willing to ascribe the difference to its true cause, viz.,
a simple difference in manner. Just to this extent I
admit the justice of his remark, and I have endeav-
oured to give you some reasons for its existence.
One would not gather from the book of Mr. Hodgson,
rational and candid as it is, that the author had ever
seen many countries besides his own ; if he has, he
must be aware that the air and manner of a Prench
paysanne would still be more likely to flatter his self-
complacency than the cordiality of the soldiers '' wives.
It would not be difiicult for you and me to quote still
stronger instances of the extent to which this manner
is carried among different people, and people, too,
who have no very extraordinary reputation either for
morals or civilization.

" I think it will be found, too, on reflection, that
the subdued manner (the word is more just than cold)
of the Americans, is more owing to the simple and
common sense habit they have of viewing things, than
even to rusticity, or indeed to any other cause. It
cannot be the former, since it is to be traced among
those who have passed their lives in the most polished
intercourse in the cities no less than in the country,
and amid elegance as well as rural simplicity. "While


we have very few certainly who devote their leisure
to the exclusive cultivation of the mere refinements
of hfe, there is perhaps a smaller degree of rustic
awkwardness in the country than can be found among
an equal number of the inhabitants of any other
nation. The very quality which keeps down the
superfluous courtesy of the upper, has an agency in
elevating the manners of the lower classes who, con-
sidering their situations, are at all times surprisingly
self-possessed and at their ease. A far more just ob-
jection to the social usages of the Americans, might
be discovered in the rough and hardy manner in which
they support their opinions, than in this absence of
assumed cordiality. The latter, though it may be-
come necessary by indulgence, can, after all, only
impose upon a novice, whereas the former may easily
become offensive, without in the slightest degree ad-
vancing what they urge. But it is so difficult, and
even so dangerous, to say how far courtesy shall
infringe on truth, that one can tolerate a little incon-.
vcnience to favour the latter; and depend on it,
though the practice is often excessively unpleasant in
the individual (and much oftener here than in Eu-
rope), it is a sound, healthful, national failing, that
purchases great good at a small price."

I shall make no comments on the opinions of my
friend. There is, however, one thing that may be
said on the subject which will go to prove the justice
of his theory. There is, at least, nothing conventional
in this coldness of manner of his countrymen. Men
do not admit it as a part of their gentility ; but it has
altogether the air of being either the effect of their
national temperament, or, as Cadwallader would
pxove, of habits that proceed from a reflection so
general and uniform, as to have perfectly acquired
the simplicity and force of nature. I think also that
he has not laid sufficient stress on the effect of repub-
lican institutions and the want of a court : but one


cannot expect so th6rough a democrat to speak with
much reverence of the latter. He has explained that,
by the prevalence of " common sense," he does not
mean that every man in America is wise enough to
discriminate between the substance and the sliadow
of things, but that so many are, as to have given a
tone to the general deportment of the whole : a case
that may very well exist in a reading and instructed



From the hour that we landed in America, to the
present moment, the voices of men, the journals, and
the public bodies, have been occupied in celebrating
the work of national gratitude. The visit of La
Fayette, his ancient services, his appearance, his
sayings, his tact, his recollection of, and meeting with
veterans whom he had known under other and more
adverse circumstances, are the constant themes of
press and tongue. The universal sentiment, and the
various scenes to which it has given birth, have no
failed to elicit many sparks of that sort of feeling
which is creditable to human nature, since it proves
that man, with all his selfishness and depravity, is the
repository of a vast deal that is generous and noble.
Two or three little anecdotes have come to my ears
that may serve to amuse, if not to edify you.

One of the familiar, and certainly not the least
touching manners, chosen by the Americans, to evince
their attachment to La Fayette, who has been well


termed the " natioirs guest,*' is l)y making offerings
of the labours of their own hands, in the shape of a
thousand trifling articles that may affect his personal
comfort, or at least manifest their zeal in its behalf.
Among others, it seems that a hatter had even gone
so far as to send a hat, or hats, to France, as his por-
tion of these little contributions. This kindness was
remembered, and a short time after their arrival,
M. George La Fayette went to the shop of the indi-
vidual, and ordered a supply for himself. The hat
was furnished as a matter of course, with the direct-
ness and simplicity that characterize these people.
The next thing was to demand the bill ; for you will
readily understand that the motive of M. La Fayette,
was to patronize a tradesman who had been so at-
tentive to his father. " I was paid forty years ago
for all the hats I can make for any of the family of
La Fayette," was the answer.

A gentleman, who, from former acquaintance and
his situation in life, is much around the person of the
General, has related another instance of the deep and
nearly fihal interest that is taken in his comfort, by all
classes of the citizens. It is well known that in com-
mon with so many others, the fortune of La Fayette
suffered by the changes in France, no less than by
his own sacrifices. This circumstance had, as usual,
been exaggerated, until an impression has obtained
among many of the less informed, that he is actually
subjected to personal privations. Their ' guest' ap-
peared among the Americans simply clad, in a coat
of black, which was not of a particularly fine fabric,
and with other habiliments equally plain. Now, it
so happens, that the American who is the least above
the labouring classes, habitually wears a finer cloth
than the corresponding classes even in England, with
perhaps an exception in favour of the very highest
in the latter country. This peculiarity in the attire
of La Fayette, struck the eye of a m.echanic, who did


not fail to ascribe it to a want of means. He sought

an opportunity to confer with Colonel , from

whose mouth I have the anecdote, and after a little
embarrassment and circumlocution, explained his ob-
ject. " I see, Colonel , that our friend has not

as good a coat as he ought to wear, and I think he
should be the best dressed man in America. You
know very well that I am nothing but a plain me-
chanic, and that I should not know what to say to a
man like La Fayette in such a case as this ; but you
are a gentleman, and can smooth the thing over as
it should be, and Pll thank you just to get him a suit
of the best, in any way you please, and then the bill
can be given to me, and nothing further shall ever be
said of the matter."

I might fill a volume with similar instances of at-
tachment and affection, with addresses, processions
and ceremonies, which have occurred since the re-
ception of the veteran Frenchman, amongst these
usually quiet and rarely excited people. A brief
description of a fete at w|jich I was present, and
which is, in some measure, connected with my own
movements, must, however, suffice for the present.
I shall describe it both for its peculiar nature, and
because it may serve to give a general idea of the
taste, manners, and appearance of the Americans, in
similar scenes.

At the return of La Fayette from his excursion tc

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 15 of 58)