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Boston, the citizens of New-York determined to en
tertain him in their collective capacity. He had been
feasted by corporate bodies innumerable ; but this
ball was to be given by subscription, and to include
as many of all the different classes of society, as could
well assemble in the place chosen for its celebration.
That spot was the abandoned fortress already men-
tioned by the name of the Castle Garden, as the place
where he landed. The castle, you will remember,
stands on an artificial island, a few hundred iefit from


the promenade, that is called the Battery. The
work itself is a building of dark red freestone, almost
circular, and I should think near two hundred (eet m
diameter. Most of this space is occupied by the area
in the centre, the work itself being little more than a
covered battery, which by subsequent changes has
been transformed into alcoves, and has a fine terrace,
or rather belvidere, around the whole of its summit.
A tall spar was raised in the centre of the area, and
a vast awning was constructed of the sails of a ship
of the line, to cover the whole. The interior side
of this awning was concealed by flags, arranged in
such a manner as to give a soft, airy finish to the
wide vault, and a roof that inclined inwards from
the ramparts for a little distance was covered with
gradins^ like the seats of an amphitheatre. Thus the
interior might be said to be divided into several parts.
There was the great salle, or the area of the garden ;
the immense, low, vaulted, circular corridor, within
the work; the gradins, a little below the belvidere,
supported by pillars, and the belvidere itself, all be-
neath the av>^ning. In addition to these, on the side
of the castle next the city, is a range of apartments,
some of which have been added since the new des-
tination of the building, and are on a scale suited to
its present uses.

Cadwallader procured tickets for us both, and at
ten o'clock we proceeded to the centre of attraction.
Two of the principal streets of the city terminate
near each other directly in face of the castle garden.
The carriages entered the battery (the promenade)
by one, and left it by the other. Temporary fences
were erected to keep the coachmen in the line after
they had arrived on the mall. I can say with truth,
that f never knew a company set down and taken up
with more facility and order. You will recollect
there were six thousand guests, a number that is
rarely exceeded at any European entertainment. The


quiet which prevailed, is a sufficient proof that estab-
lished orders in society are not at all necessary, at
least, for the tranquillity of its ordinary intercourse.
There were no gensd^armes^ though I was told some
police officers were present, and yet I saw no at-
tempts to break the line, or any other instances of
those impertinences, with which coachmen with us
are apt to emulate what they conceive to be the im-
portance of their masters. Indeed, all my experience
goes to show, that the simplest way of destroying the
bickerings and heart-burnings of precedency and
rank, is to destroy their usages altogether. No doubt
human nature is just as active among these republic-
ans, as it is in England or in Germany, and that A.
secretly envies or derides the claims of B. ; but it
would be perfectly absurd in either of the parties to
permit a public exposure of their pretensions, since
the world would be very apt to tell them both, the
distinction you enjoy is only by sufferance, and dig-
nified and quiet behaviour is one requisite for its
possession at all. Thus, you see, however rancorous
may be the rivalry, third parties are at all events
spared the exhibition of its folly. But this truth is
abundantly proved in the saloons of your own fasci-
nating metropolis, where one is daily elbowed by
peers, without being the least conscious of the hon-
ours he is receiving, and where society is kept so
perfectly and so admirably distinct from government.

We alighted at the bridge which connects the island
to the battery. By the aid of awnings, carpets and
other accessories, this passage, over which armed
heels had so often trod, and lumbering wheels rum-
bled with their groaning loads of artillery, was con-
verted into a long, and prettily decorated gallery.
The light was judiciously kept down, so as to give
the entrance a subdued and pleasing, and a strikingly
romantic effect. You caught, in passing, glimpses of
the water, and biOard its quiet v/ashinsi; in dull cou

Vol. [. R


trast to the strains of distant music. Steam-boats
were landing the guests by hundreds, on the narrow
terrace which surrounds the base of the castle, and a
never-ceasing current of gaily dressed and graceful
beings were gliding from out the darkness on either
hand, or along the gallery, towards a flood of light
which was shed through the massive frowning portal
of the fortress, as a sort of beacon to direct our foot-
steps. Such a sight was not likely to fail of its effect
on one as weakly constituted as myself, dear Jules,
and abandoning the pensive and deliberative step
with which I had loitered to contemplate the pecu-
har and pleasing approach to the scene, I hastened
on to plunge at once into its gayest vortex. I know
not whether it was owing to the contrast between
the judicious gloom of the romantic gallery and the
brilliant salle, to the magnitude of that salle, or to
the fact that with European complaisance I had
expected no very imposing exhibition of taste and
splendour among these people, but, certain is it, that,
though far from unaccustomed, as you well know, to
fetes and spectacles, I never entered one whose coup
cfceil produced an effect like this. As we hurried
towards the gate in hundreds, (for two or three steam-
boats had just discharged their living cargoes), I had
been seized with a very natural apprehension, that
the whole was to terminate in one of those well-
dressed throngs in which it would be impossible to
see, hear, converse, dance, or, in short, to be alive
to any other sensations than those of excessive heat,
ennui, and, perhaps, a head-ache. But though so
many poured along the approaches, like water gush-
ing through some narrow passage, the rush, the crowd,
and the inconvenience ceased as you entered the
principal space, like the tumult of that element sub-
siding as it emerges into a broad basin. There were,
probably, five thousand persons in the salle when we
entered, and yet there was abundant room for all the


usual pursuits of such an assembly. Some thirty,
or forty, or fifty, sets of quadrilles were in graceful
motion, hundreds were promenading around the dan-
cers, and, literally, thousands were hanging over them
on the belvidere and among the gradins, looking down
with the complacency of those benignant beings to
whom poets give a habitation in the clouds.

It is, perhaps, not saying much for the self-posses-
sion of two travellers who had passed through so
many similar scenes, but it is, nevertheless, strictly
true, that both Cadwallader and myself, instead of
passing on with suitable deference to the rest of the
guests, came to a dead halt on the threshold of this
scene, and stood, near a minute, gazing around us and
upwards, with wonder. We had, however, the con-
solation to discover that we were not alone in our
underbred surprise, for a hundred pretty exclama-
tions that escaped prettier lips, and the immense
pressure of the crowd at the spot where our steps
had been arrested, apprised us that the sensation was
common to alL Escaping from this throng, we had
leisure to study the details which had produced so
imposing a tout-ensemble.

An immense cloud of flags, composed of all the
colours of the rainbow intermingled, was waving
gently in the upper air, shadowing the area at an
elevation of not less than seventy feet. The enor-
mous spar which supported this canopy of ensigns
had been converted into the shaft of an immense
lustre, whose several parts were composed of entire
chandeliers. From these were streaming the floods
of noon-day light which gave to the centre of the salle
its extraordinary brilliancy, while countless shaded
and coloured lamps shed a fainter and softer glow on
those parts of the scene which taste and contrast
required to be kept down. Directly in front of the
entrance was a double flight of steps (one of half a
dozen which led to the gradins and the belvidere)


Beneath this double flight, a marquee of the dimen-
sions of a small chamber had been arranged for the
particular reception of the guest. It was gaily deco-
rated; containing a supper-table, sofas, a chandelier,
and, in short, all the garniture of a separate room.
The curtains were withdrawn in such a manner, that
any who chose might examine its interior. Opposite
to this again, and directly over the portal, was the
orchestra, appended to the side of the building which
contained the eating apartments, and the ordinary
dwelling of the place.

Shortly after we had entered. La Fayette arrived.
The music changed to a national air, the gay sets
dissolved as by a charm, and the dancers who had
been dispersed over the floor of the salle formed a
lane, whose sides were composed of masses that
might have contained two thousand eager faces each.
Through this gay multitude the old man slowly pass-
ed, giving and receiving the most cordial and affec-
tionate salutations at every step. I had not seen him
since his departure for the east. But though the
freshness of his reception was past, his presence had
lost none of its influence. To me he appeared some
venerable and much respected head of a vast family,
who had come to pass an hour amid their innocent
and gay revels. He was literally like a father among
his children.

The assemblage was composed of every class in
the country, with the exception of those perhaps who
are compelled to seek their livelihood by positive
bodily labour. Still there was no awkwardness ap-
parent, no presumption on the part of the one, nor
any arrogance on that of others. All passed off
simply, harmoniously, and with the utmost seeming

My friend, who is very universally known, was
saluted at every step by some fair one, or some man,
who, to the eye at least, had the port and bearing oi


a gentleman. "Who is that?" I asked him, after he
had paused an instant to speak to a young couple
who were promenading the room together. " That

is young and his bride. He has recently

returned from his travels, to take possession of a fine
estate, which has descended to him from the old
Dutch patricians of our State, and to marry tha
sweet creature on his arm, who has had power
enough to retain her influence after his tour through
Europe, and who, by-the-bye, is a distant cousin of
my own." "And that?" I continued. "A city poli-
tician," returned Cadwallader, smiling. " He is am-
bitious of ruling his ward, though a man of family,
fortune, and education ; and he to whom he has just
spoken is a brazier, and is his rival, and often too with
success. This grave-looking man in black is a state
politician ; and he who is lounging with those ladies
yonder, is one of the meridian of Washington. They
are all connected, and act in concert, and yet each
keeps his proper sphere as accurately as the planets.
Those half dozen fashionable looking young men are
the sons of gentlemen, and he who speaks to them in
passing, is the son of a mechanic who is in their em-
ploy. They are probably brother oflicers in some
militia regiment." "And he to whom you have just
spoken ?" " That is my hatter, and a very good one
he is too. Now that man, in common, no more ex-
pects to associate with me, or to mingle in my ordi-
nary recreations, than I should, to sit at the table ot
the king of France ; and yet he is sensible, discreet,
and in many things well informed. Such a man
would neither overlook an unnecessary slight, nor
would he be apt to presume beyond the mark between
us which his own good sense will be sure to prescribe.
He knows our habits are different, and he feels
that I have the same right to enjoy mine, that he
has to possess his own. You see we are yory good
R2 •


friends, and yet this is probably the first time we
ever met in the same company."

In this manner we passed through the crowd,
until we had gained the terrace. Here we paused, to
take a more deliberate view of what I will not term
an assemblage, for its adjuncts and peculiar features
strictly entitle it to be called a prospect. The vast
extent of the salle lent an air of magic to the whole
scene. Slight, delicate beings* seemed to be floating
beneath us at a distance that reduced their forms to
the imaginary size of fairies ; while the low, softened
music aided in the deception. I never witnessed a
similar effect at any other fete. Even the glimpses
that were here and there caught of the gloomy re-
cesses, in which artillery had formerly frowned, assist-
ed in lending the spectacle a character of its own.
The side curtains of the canopy were raised for the
admission of air, and one had only to turn his eyes
from the dazzling fairy scene within, to look out
upon the broad, placid, star-lit bay, which washed
the foot of the fortress. I lingered on this spot near
an hour, experiencing an unsocial delight that may
seem to savour of the humour of our fraternity, espe-
cially when one remembers the numberless tempta-
tions to descend which were flitting like beings of the
air before my eyes. But a crowd of sensations and
reflections oppressed me.

Again and again I asked myself the question, if
what I saw were true, and if I really were standing
on the continent of Columbus. Could those fair,
graceful creatures be the daughters and wives of the
mechanics and tradesmen of a provincial town in
North America ? Perhaps, dear Bethizy, it was as-

* The delicacy of the American women is rather peculiar. It
struck the writer that the females in common were under the size
of middle Europe, and the men rather over.


sailing me in my weakest part ; but I do not remem-
ber, before or since, ever to have been so alive to
the injustice of our superficial and vague notions of
this country, as while I stood gazing down on some
two or three thousand of its daughters, who were
not only attending, but actually adorning such a
scene as this. Most of them certainly would have
been abashed, perhaps gauche^ if transported into
one of our highly artificial coteries ; but, believe me,
the most laboured refinement of Europe might have
learned, in this identical, motley, republican assem-
blage, that there is a secret charm in nature, which
it may be sometimes dangerous to attempt to super-
sede. It has always appeared to me, that manner in
a woman bears a strict analogy to dress. A degree
of simple, appropriate embellishment serves alike to
adorn the graces of person and of demeanour ; but
the moment a certain line is passed in either, the in-
dividual becomes auxiliary to the addition, instead of
the addition lending, as it should, a grace to the in-
dividual. It is very possible, that, if one woman
wears diamonds, another must do the same thing,
until a saloon shall be filled with the contents of a
jeweller^s shop ; but, after all, this is rather a con-
test between bright stones than bright eyes. What
man has not looked a thousand times, even at beauty,
with indifference, when it has been smothered by
such an unnatural alliance ; but what man has ever
met beauty in its native attractions, without feeling
her power influencing his inmost soul ? I speak with
no dissembled experience when I answer — None !

I think the females of the secondary classes in this
country dress more, and those of the upper, less,
than the corresponding castes in Europe. The
Americans are not an economical people, in one
sense, though instances of dissolute prodigality are
exceedingly rare among them. A young woman of
the middling classes, for instance, seldom gives much


of her thoughts towards the accumulation of a little
dowry ; for the question of what a wife will bring to
the common stock is agitated much less frequently
here than in countries more sophisticated. My com-
panion assures me it is almost unprecedented for a
lover to venture on any inquiries concerning the for-
tune of his fair one, even in any class. Those
equivocal admirers, who find Cupid none the less
attractive for having his dart gilded, are obliged to
make their demonstrations with singular art and cau-
tion, for an American lady would be very apt to dis-
trust the affection that saw her charms through the
medium of an estate. Indeed he mentioned one or
two instances in which the gentlemen had endeav-
oured to stipulate in advance for the dowries of their
brides, and which had not only created a great deal
of scandal in the coteries, but which had invariably
been the means of defeating the matches ; the father,
or the daughter, finding, in each case, something par-
ticularly offensive in the proposition. A lady of re-
puted fortune is a little more certain of matrimony
than her less lucky rival, though popular opinion
must be the gage of her possessions until the lover
can claim a husband's rights j^ unless indeed the
amorous swain should possess, as sometimes hap-
pens, secret and more authentic sources of informa-
tion. From all that I can learn, nothing is more
common, however, than for young men of great ex-
pectations to connect themselves with females, com-
monly of their own condition in life, who are penny-
less ; or, on the other hand, for ladies to give their
persons with one or two hundred thousand dollars,
to men, who have nothing better to recommend them
than education and morals. But this is digressing
from my immediate subject.

The facility with which the fabrics of every coun-
tr}^ in the world are obtained, the absence of care on
the subject of the future, and the inherent elevation


of character which is a natural consequence of edu-
cation, and a consciousness of equal rights, cause all
the secondary classes of this country to assume more
of the exterior of the higher, than it is common to see
with us. The exceptions must be sought among the
very poorest and most depressed members of the com-
munity. The men, who are nowhere so apt at imi-
tation as the other sex, are commonly content with
garments that shall denote the comfort and ease of
their several conditions in life, but the females are
remarkable for a more aspiring ambition. Even in
the country, though rusticity and a more awkward
exterior were as usual to be seen, I looked in vain
for those marked and peculiar characteristics of dress
and air, that we meet in every part of Europe. In
but one instance do I remember to have seen any
number either of men or women, whose habihments
conveyed any idea of provincial costume. The ex-
ception was among the inhabitants of a little Dutch
village, in plain view of this city, who are said to
retain no small portion of the prejudices and ig-
norance of the seventeenth century, and whom
the merry author of the burlesque history of New-
York* accuses of believing they are still subject to
the power of the United Provinces. As respects the
whole of New-England, I saw some attempt at imi-
tating the fashion of the day, in even the humblest
individual, though the essay was frequently made on
a material no more promising than the homely pro-
duct of a household manufacture. In the tov^-ns, the
efforts were, of course, far more successful, and I
should cite the union of individuality of air with con-
formance to custom as a distinguishing feature of the
women of the lower classes here. You will under-
stand me better if I venture on that dangerous ex-
periment, a comparison. A grisette of Paris, for

* Washington Irving.


instance, has a particularly smart and conventional
air, though her attire is as different as possible from
that of an elegante. But the carriage, the demeanour,
and the expressions of one Parisian grisette^ is as
much like those of another as well can be. Now the
fashion of the attire, and not unfrequently the material
of the dress of an American girl of a similar class,
differs from that of the lady only in quality, and per-
haps a little in the air in which it is worn. As you
ascend in the scale of society, the distinctions, always
excepting those delicate shades which can only be
acquired by constant association in the best company,
become less obvious, until it requires the tact of breed-
ing to trace them at all. As I stood regarding the
mixed assembly before me, I had the best possible
illustration of the truth of what I will not call the
levelling, for elevating is a far better word, effects of
the state of society, which has been engendered by the
institutions and the great abundance of this country.
or some three thousand females present, not a sixth
of the whole number, perhaps, belonged to those
classes that, in Europe, are thought to have any claims
to compose the elite of society. And yet so far as
air, attire, grace, or even deportment, were concern-
ed, it must have been a sickly and narrow taste in-
deed that could have taken exceptions. Although so
far removed from what we are accustomed to con-
sider the world, the Americans, in general, have far
less of what is called, in English, the manner of the
' shop ' about them, than their kinsmen of England.
These peculiar features are becoming every day less
striking every where ; but Cadwallader tells me they
never existed in America at all. Few men are so
completely hmited to one profession, or trade, as not
to possess a great many just and accurate ideas on
other subjects ; and though it may be a consequence
that excellence is more rare in particular pursuits, it
is certain that, in manner and in general intelligence,


the nation is greatly a gainer. The effect cf this ele-
vaiion of character (I persist in the term) was abun-
dantly conspicuous at the castle garden fete. Both
men and women deported themselves, and to all ap-
pearances looked quite as well as a far more select
reunion in Europe. TJie distinguishing feature of
American female manners is nature. The fair crea-
tures are extremely graceful if left to exhibit their
blandishments in their own way ; but it is very evi-
dent, that a highly artificial manner in those with
whom they associate, produces a blighting influence
on the ease of even the most polished among them.
They appear to mc to shrink sensitively from profes-
sions and an exaggeration that form no part of their
own politeness ; and between ourselves, if they are
wise, they will retain the unequalled advantage they
now possess in carrying refinement no further than it
can be supported by simplicity and truth. They are
decidedly handsome : a union of beauty in feature and
form, being, I think, more common than in any part
of Europe north of the Adriatic. In general they are
delicate ; a certain feminine air, tone of voice, size and
grace being remarkably frequent. In the northern,
eastern and middle states, which contain much more
than half the whole population of the country, the
women are fair ; though brunettes are not unfrequent,
and just as blondes are admired in France, they are
much esteemed here, especially, as is often the case,
if the hair and eyes happen to correspond. Indeed
it is difficult to imagine any creature more attractive
than an American beauty between the ages of fifteen
and eighteen. There is something in the bloom, deli-
cacy and innocence of one of these young things, that
reminds you of the conceptions which poets and
painters have taken of the angels. I think delicacy
Df air and appearance at that age, though perhaps
jcarcely more enchanting than what one sees in Eng-
land, is even more common here than in the motlier


country, especially when it is recollected how many
more faces necessarily pass before the eye in a given
time in the latter nation than in this. It is often said
that the women of this climate fade earlier than in
the northern countries of Europe, and I confess I was,
at first, inclined to believe the opinion true. That it

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 16 of 58)