James Fenimore Cooper.

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is not true to the extent that is commonly supposed,
1 am, however, convinced by the reasoning of Cad-
wallader, if indeed it be true at all. Perhaps a great
majority of the females marry before the age of
twenty, and it is not an uncommon thing to see them
mothers at sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen. Almost
every American mother nurses her own infant. Tt
is far more common to find them mothers of eight,
or of ten children, at fifty, than mothers of two or
three. Now the human form is not completely de-
veloped in the northern moiety of this Union, earlier
than in France, or in England. These early mar-
riages, which are the fruits of abundance, have an
obvious tendency to impair the powers of the female,
and to produce a premature decay. In addition to
this cause, which is far more general than you may
be disposed to believe, there is something in the cus-
toms of the country which may have a tendency, not
only to assist the ravages of time, but to prevent the
desire to conceal them. There is no doubt that the
animal, as well as the moral man, is far less artificial
here than in Europe. There is thought to be some-
thing deceptive in the use of the ordinary means of
aiding nature, which offends the simple manners of
the nation. Even so common an ornament as rouge
is denied, and no woman dares confess that she uses
it. There is something so particularly soft and deli-
cate in the colour of the young females one sees in the
streets here, that at first I was inclined to give them
credit for the art with which they applied the tints ;
but Cadwallader gravely assured me I was wrong.
He had no doubt that certain individuals did, in secret,


adopt the use of rouge ; but within the whole circuit
of his acquaintance he could not name one whom he
even suspected of the practice. Indeed, several gen-
tlemen have gone so far as to assure me that when a
woman rouged, it is considered in this country, as
prima facie testimony that her character is frail. It
should also be remembered, that when an American
girl marries, she no longer entertains the desire to in-
terest any but her husband. There is perhaps some-
thing in the security of matrimony that is not very
propitious to female blandishments, and one ought to
express no surprise that the wife who is content with
the affections of her husband, should grow a little
indifFerent to the admiration of the rest of the world.
One rarely sees married women foremost in the gay
scenes. They attend, as observant and influencing
members of society, but not as the principal actors.
It is thought that the amusements of the world are
more appropriate to the young, who are neither bur-
thened nor sobered with matrimonial duties, and who
possess an inherent right to look about them in the
morning of life in quest of the partner who is to be
their companion to its close. And yet I could name,
among my acquaintances here, a dozen of the young-
est-locking mothers of large and grown-up families
that I remember ever to have seen.

The freedom of intercourse which is admitted be-
tween the young of the two sexes in America, and
which undeniably is admitted with impunity, is to
me, who have so long been kept sighing in the dis-
tance, perfectly amazing. I have met with self-suf-
ficient critics from our side of the Atlantic, who be-
lieve, or affect to believe, that this intercourse cannot
always be so innocent as is pretended. When ques-
tioned as to the grounds of their doubts, they have
uniformly been founded on the impression that what
could not exist with impunity with us, cannot exist
with impunity here. They might just as well pre-



tend, in opposition to the known fact, that a repub-
lican form of government cannot exist in America,
because it could not well exist in Turkey as the Ot-
toman empire is now constituted. That the confi-
dence of parents is sometimes abused in America, is
probably just as true as it is that their watchfulness
is sometimes deceived in Europe; but the intelligence,
the high spirit, and the sensitiveness of the American
(who must necessarily be a party to any transgressions
of the sort) on the subject of female reputation, is in
itself sufficient proof that the custom is attended with
no general inconvenience. The readiness of the
American gentleman to appeal to arms in defence of
his wounded pride is too well known to be disputed.
The duels of this country are not only more frequent,
but they are infinitely more fatal than those of any
other nation. We will hereafter consider the cause,
and discuss their manner. But no reasonable man
can suppose that a sagacious nation, which is so sen-
sitive on the point of honour, would stupidly allow
their sisters and daughters to be debauched, when
their own personal experience must apprize them of
the danger to which they are exposed. The evil
would necessarily correct itself. The chief reason
why the present customs can exist without abuse, is
no doubt owing to the fact that there is no army, nor
any class of idlers, to waste their time in dissolute
amusements. Something is also due to the deep
moral feeling which pervades the community, and
which influences the exhibition of vice in a thousand
different ways. But having said so much on the sub-
ject, you may expect me to name the extent to which
this freedom of intercourse extends. Under the di-
rection of my friend Cadwallader, I shall endeavour
to acquit myself of the obligation.

You will readily understand that the usages of so-
ciety must always be more or less tempered by the
circles in which, they are exhibited. Among those


families which can claim to belong to the el'de^ the lib-
erty allowed to unmarried females, I am inclined to
think, is much the same as is practised among the upper
classes in England, with this ditTerence, that, as there
is less danger of innovation on rank through fortune-
hunters and fashionable aspirants, so is there less
jealousy of their approaches. A young American
dances, chats, laughs, and is just as happy in the
saloon, as she was a few years before in the nursery.
It is expected that the young men would seek her
out, sit next her, endeavour to amuse her, and. in
short, to make themselves as agreeable as possible.
By the memory of the repentant Benedict, Compte
Jules, but this is a constant and sore temptation to
one who has never before been placed in the jeopardy
of such a contagious atmosphere ! But it is necessary
to understand the tone of conversation that is allowed,
in order to estimate the dangers of this propinquity.
The language of gallantry is never tolerated. A
married woman would conceive it an insult, and a
girl would be exceedingly apt to laugh in her adorer's
face. In order that it should be favourably received,
it is necessary that the former should be prepared to
forget her virtue, and to the latter, whether sincere
or not, it is an absolute requisite that all adulation
should at least wear the semblance of sincerity. But
he who addresses an unmarried female in this lan-
guage, whether it be of passion or only feigned, must
expect to be exposed, and probably disgraced, unles
he should be prepared to support his sincerity by an
offer of his hand. I think I see you tremble at the
magnitude of the penalty ! I do not mean to say that
idle pleasantries, such as are mutually understood to
be no more than pleasantries, are not sometimes tol-
eiated; but an American female is exceedingly apt
to assume a chilling gravity at the slightest trespass
on what she believes, and, between ourselves, rightlv
beheves, to be the dignity of her ^ex. Here, you will


perceive, is a saving custom, and one, too, that it is
exceedingly hazardous to infringe, which diminishes
one half of the ordinary dangers of the free commu-
nication between the young of the two sexes. With-
out doubt, when the youth has once made his choice,
he endeavours to secure an interest in the affections
of the chosen fair, by all those nameless assiduities
and secret sympathies, which, though they appear to
have produced no visible fruits, cannot be unknown
to one of your established susceptibility. These at-
tractions lead to love; and love, in this country, nine-
teen times in twenty, leads to matrimony. But pure,
heartfelt affection, rarely exhibits itself in the lan-
guage of gallantry. The latter is no more than a
mask, which pretenders assume and lay aside at pleas-
ure ; but when the heart is really touched, the tongue
is at best but a miserable interpreter of its emotions.
I have always ascribed our own forlorn condition to
the inability of that mediating member to do jqstice
to the strength of emotions that are seemingly as deep
as they are frequent

There is another peculiarity in American manners
that should be mentioned. You probably know that
in England far more reserve is used, in conversation
with a female, than in most, if not all of the nations
of the continent. As, in all peculiar customs, each
nation prefers its own usage ; and while the English
lady is shocked with the freedom with which the
French lady converses of her personal feelings, ail-
ings, &c., the latter turns the nicety of the former into
ridicule. It would be an invidious office to pretend
to decide between the tastes of such delicate dispu-
tants ; but one manner of considering the subject is
manifestly wrong. The great reserve of the English
ladies has been termed a mauvaise honte, which is
ascribed to their insular situation, and[ to their cir-
cumscribed intercourse with the rest of the world.
And yet it may be well questioned if the ^yat/satme


cannot successfully compete with the elegante^ in this
species of refniement, or whether a datiie des halles
cannot rather more freely discuss her animal functions
than a dame de la cour. This is a manner of dis-
posing of the question that will not abide the test of
investigation, since it is clear that refinement makes
us reserved, and not communicative, on all such to-
pics. Fashion, it is true, may cause even coarseness
to be sometimes tolerated, and, after all, it is no easy
matter to decide where true retinement ends, or sick-
hness of taste commences. Let all this be as it may,
it is certain that the women of America, of all classes,
are much more reserved and guarded in their dis-
course, at least in presence of our sex, than even the
women of the country whence they derive their ori-
gin. Various opinions are entertained on the subject
amongst themselves. The vast majority of the men
like it, because they are used to no other custom.
Many, who have got a taste of European usages, con-
demn it as over-fastidious ; but my friend Cadwalla-
der, who is not ignorant of life in both hemispheres,
worships it, as constituting one of the distinctive and
appropriate charms of the sex. He stoutly maintains,
that the inlluence of woman is more felt and revered
in American society than in any other; and he argues,
with no little plausibility, that it is so because, while
she rarely or never exceeds the natural duties of her
station, she forgets none of those distinctive features
of her sex and character, which, by constantly ap-
pealing to the generosity of man by admitting her
physical weakness, give strength and durability to
her moral ascendancy. I think, at all events, no in-
telligent traveller can journey through this country
without being struck by the singular air of decency
and self-respect which belongs to all its women, and


no honest foreigner can deny the kindness and re-
spect they receive from the men.*

With these restrictions, which cannot be infringed
without violating the rules of received decorum, you
will readily perceive that the free intercourse be-
tween the unmarried is at once deprived of half its
danger. But the upper classes in this country are
far from neglecting many necessary forms. As they
have more to lose by matrimonial connexions than
others, common prudence teaches them the value of
a proper caution. Thus a young lady never goes in
public without the eye of some experienced matron
to watch her movements. She cannot appear at a
play, ball, &c. &c. without a father, or a brother, at
least it is thought far more delicate and proper that
she should have a female guardian. She never
rides nor walks — unless in the most public places,
and then commonly with great reserve — attended by
a single m^i, unless indeed under circustances of a
peculiar nature. In short, she pursues that course
which rigid delicacy would prescribe, without how-

* A conversation once occurred between a French and an
American gentleman on this subject, in presence of the writer.
The former insisted that the Americans did not treat their women
as poUtely as the French, though he did not deny thinking their
treatment substantially kind. "For instance," he said, "you
will not, half the time, give a lady the wall in passing in the
street." "Very true," returned the American, "we carry our
politeness much further; we are humane. There is not a street
in all America without trottoirs, and most of them, as you well
know, are broad and comfortable. It is true, we inherit the
custom from England; but had we not, the necessities of woman
alone would have caused us to adopt some such plan for her re-
lief. We commonly take the right in passing, because it is most
convenient to have a general rule. If any thing, the wall is
neither so safe nor so agreeable as the outer side of the walk."
Now it appears to the writer, that this reply contains the very-
essence of the kindness of man to woman in America. There
is little show in it; but every thing that is considerate and


ever betraying any marked distrust of the intentions
of the other sex. These customs are relaxed a Httle
as you descend in the scale of society ; but it is evi-
dently more because the friends of a girl with ten or
twenty thousand dollars, or of a family in middle
life, have less jealousy of motive than those of one
who is rich, or otherwise of a particularly desirable

I shall close this long and discursive epistle with
one more distinctive custom, that may serve to give
you an idea of the tone and simplicity of this society.
There is something repugnant to the delicacy of
American ideas in permitting a lady to come, in any
manner in contact with the world. A woman of
almost any rank above the labouring classes, is averse
to expose herself to the usual collisions, bargainings,
&c. &c. of ordinary travelling. Thus, the first thing
an American woman requires to commence a jour-
ney, is a suitable male escort; the very thing that
with us would be exceptionable. Nothing is more
common, for instance, when a husband or a brother
hears that a respectable acquaintance is about to
go in the same steam-boat, stage, or on the same
route,* as that in which his w^ife or sister intends
to journey, than to request the former to become
her protector. The request is rarely refused, and
the trust is always considered flattering, and com-
monly sacred. Here you see that the very custom
w^hich in Europe would create scandal, is here re-
sorted to, under favour of good morals and direct-
ness of thought, to avert it. Cadwallader assures me
that he was pained, and even shocked, at meeting
well-bred women running about Europe attended
only by a footman and a maid, and that for a long
time he could not divest himself of the idea, that they
were unfortunate in having lost all those male friends,
w^hose natural duty it Was to stand between their
helplessness and the cold calculating selfishness of


the world. There would be some relief to the ennui
of our desolation, gallant Jules, could our own single-
blessedness take refuge in the innocent delights of
such a servitude ! — Adieu.

Sec. Sec.


There is a secret pleasure in discoursing of the
habits, affections, and influence of the sex, which
invariably leads me astray from all other objects. I
find, on perusing my letter-book, that the temptation
of treating on the usages of the American women,
completely lured me from a recollection of the
fete in which I was happy enough to see so many of
the fair creatures congregated. It is now too late to
leturn to a description of a scene that would require
hours to do it justice, and we must, in consequence,
take our departure abruptly for the interior of the state
of New- York. It had been previously arranged that

Cadwallader and his acquaintance should

take passage in a steam-boat that was destined to
receive La Fayette, and which was to depart, at a
stated hour, from the terrace of the castle garden

It must be confessed that these republicans have
given a princely reception to their venerable guest.
It forms one portion of their plan of hospitality, that
he is to receive every accommodation to which he
is entitled by his rank and services, an^ every facility
of movement possible, without the least pecuniary
cost. At every city, and indeed at every hamlet he


enters, lodgings, table, carriage, and, in short, ail the
arrangements of a well-ordered establishment, are
made at the expense of the citizens. The govern-
ment has nothing further to do with it, than that it
offered him a vessel of war to conduct him to the
country, and that it has issued orders that their an-
cient general should be received with the customary
military honours at the different military and naval es-
tablishments, &LC. that he may choose to visit. Every
thing else is left to the good-will and grateful affection
of the people, and nobly do they press forward to
lay their little offerings on the altar of gratitude. I'he
passage of La Fayette by land is invariably conduct-
ed under an escort of local cavalry, from town to
town, while he never enters a State that he is not re-
ceived either by its governor in person, or some suit-
able representative, who char2;es himself with all that
is necessary to the comfort of the guest during the
time that he is to remain in those particular territo-
ries. The receptions, entertainments, and contribu-
tions of the several towns are made subject to this
general control, and by this means confusion is avoid-
ed, and despatch, an important part where so much
is to be done, is commonly secured.

On the present occasion, La Fayette was to pre-
sent himself in the towns on the banks of the Hud-
son; to examine the great military school at West
Point, and to revisit many of those scenes of peculiar
interest in which he had been an important actor
five and forty years before. A capacious, comfort-
able, and even elegant steam-boat, was appropriated
to his use.* It might readily have transported several

* The luxury of the American steam-boats is peculiar to the
nation. Those"of England are certainly next to them in size,
eh* w, and elegance ; but the writer thinks they cannot be said to
br equal in either. Their number, considering the population
vt'thc country, is amazing. There cannot be leta than fifty, Uiat


hundred souls, and one or two hundred could sleep
beneath the decks with as much comfort as is usually
found in the limited space of any vessel.

A little after midnight we were told it was neces-
sary to depart. Our baggage and servants were
already on board, and following the motions of La
Fayette, who tore himself from a crowd of the fair
and affectionate daughters of America, that seemed in
truth to regard him w^ith eyes of filial affection, we
left the brilliant scene together. The boat was in
readiness, and stepping on her decks from the lower
terrace beneath the walls of the castle, in five minutes
we were making swift progress along the noble river
of the north, as it is often called in this country. For
a few minutes we saw the halo of light which hung
about the scene we had quitted, and heard the soft
sounds of the distant music diffusing themselves on
the water, and then came the gloomier objects of the
sleeping town, with its tall, straight spires, its forests
of masts, and its countless rows of battlement-walls,
and of chimneys, in brick. The whole company,
which consisted of some fifty or sixty, immediately
retired to their births, and in a few minutes the dash-
ing of the wheels against the water, and the dead,
dull movement of the engine, lulled me to sleep.

I was up long before most of the company. La

ply on the waters which communicate with the city of New-
York alone. On the Mississippi and its tributaries, there are
near a hundred, many of which are as large as small frigates.
Of their elegance it may be said that one is now running on the
Hudson, which, besides a profuse expenditure of marble, ma-
hogany, the beautiful bird's-eye maple of the country, and all
the other customary ornaments, has its cabins actually sur-
rounded by compartments painted in landscapes, &;c. &c. by
artists who would occupy higlily creditable situations among
their brethren in Europe. This boat has run from New-York to
Albany, a distance of about one hundred and forty-seven miles,
in eleven hours and a half. Every day, too, is exhibiting im-
provements in machinery and form, as also in luxury and


Fayette was on deck, attended by one or two
foreigners, who, like myself, were anxious to lose
as little as possible of the glorious scenery of this
renowned river, and two or three Americans, who
had reached that time of life when sleep is becoming
less necessary than it was in youth. The night had
been foggy and unusually dark, and we had lost some
time by touching on an oyster-bank that lies in one of
the broadest parts of the river. This delay, however,
though it served to disconcert some of the arrange-
ments of the towns above, was certainly propitious
to our wishes, since it enabled us, who had never
before been on this water, to see more of its delight-
ful landscapes. As I do not intend often to molest
you with descriptions that cannot be considered dis-
tinctive, you will bear with me for a moment while
I make a little digression in favour of the Hudson,
which, after having seen the Rhine, the Rhone, the
Loire, the Seine, the Danube, the Wolga, the Dnieper,
and a hundred others, 1 fearlessly pronounce to em-
brace a greater variety of more noble and more
pleasing natural objects, than any one of them all.

For the first fifty miles from its mouth, the Hudson
is never much less than a mile in width, and, in two
instances, it expands into small lakes of twice that
breadth, running always in a direction a little west of
north. The eye, at first, looks along an endless vista,
that narrows by distance, but which opposes nothing
but distance to the view. The western shore is a
perpendicular rock, weather-worn and venerable,
bearing a little of the appearance of artificial par-
apets, from which word it takes its name. This rock
has a very equal altitude of about five hundred ket
At the foot of this wall of stone, there is, occasionally,
room for the hut of some labourer in the quarries,
which are wrought in its side, and now and then a
house is seen seated on a narrow bottom, that may
furnish subsistence for a few cattle, or, perhaps, a


garden for the occupant. The opposite bank is cul-
tivated to the water, though it is also high, unequal,
and broken. A few villages are seen, white, neat,
and thriving, and of a youthful, vigorous air, as is gene-
rally the case with an Annerican village, while there
is scarcely an eligible site for a dwelling that is not
occppied by a villa, or one of the convenient and
respectable looking farm-houses of the country.
Orchards, cattle, fields of grain, and all the other
signs of a high domestic condition, serve to heighten
the contrast of the opposing banks. This description,
short and imperfect as it is, may serve to give you
some idea of what I should call the first distinctive
division of this extraordinary river. The second
commences at the entrance of the Highlands. These
are a succession of confused and beautifully romantic
mountains, with broken and irregular summits, which
nature had apparently once opposed to the passage

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 17 of 58)