James Fenimore Cooper.

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WTitten by a merchant of this city, of the name of
Hodgson, in which he gave me reason to believe I
should find, mingled with a large portion of good sense,
far more liberality than it was usual to meet in the
w^orks of his countrjTnen when writing on the subject
of their republican relatives. You are not to frown,
dear Waller, when 1 add, that even my own dulness
had already been able to detect, in the contents of
most of my newly acquired treasures, a certain dis-
torted manner of viewing and of portraying things,
which struck me as manifesting a remarkable attach-
ment to caricature. .This amiable peculiarity may
perhaps furnish a sufficiently intelligible clue to the
small favour that the books seemed to enjoy in the


eyes of Cadwallader. Under the expectation that
the work of Mr. Hodgson would afford him pleasure,
I laid it on the table of my companion, and begged
that he would bestow on its perusal a few of those
hours for which I knew he had no very urgent em-

It was morning when he was put in possession of
the book, and the day was purposely permitted to
pass without any interruption from me. Late at night,
1 entered his apartment, and found him occupied in
sealing a note directed to myself. As this letter may
be supposed to contain the sentiments of an intelli-
gent American on a subject which may not be with-
out its interest, I shall freely copy it. It may pos-
sibly contain expressions that are not quite in unison
with the temper of an Englishman ; but you, as a man
of the world, will know how to tolerate independence
of feeling, and are far too wise to neglect any favour-
able opportunity of acquiring information that may,
in the course of events, very speedily become useful.

I may have misconceived your interestin this note ;
still it is curious, as containing the opinions of a per-
fectly disinterested, and certainly an instructed Amer-
ican. It may also serve for a sort of preface to my
own disjointed correspondence, the scattered frag-
ments of which shall be collected at our regular tri-
ennial meeting, when they may possibly serve to en-
liven the gloom of a December day in Paris.*

Forgive me, that I prefer the rising stars of the
Western Constellation to the waning moon of your
Turk. — Adieu.

* See note A, at the end of the volume.




At Sea, August, 1824.

As I know that Sir Edward has given you a meet-
ing at Rome, I shall presume you acquainted with
the change in my plans, no less than with the new
travelling companion with whom accident has made
me acquainted. Of all our associates I could gladly
have chosen you, my dear baron, for a co-adventurer
in this distant excursion. There is so much of the
true maritime spirit in the people I am about to visit,
that your experience and observation would have
proved both useful and pleasant assistants to my
own comparative ignorance. Still, I flatter myself
that a hfe of adventure, and fifty voyages by sea, fur-
nish some few of the qualifications necessary for the
task I have assumed.

Cadwallader took the direction of all our arrange-
ments into his own hands ; and well has he discharged
the trust. But the individual enterprise of the Ameri-
cans has left very little of this nature to be perfonued
by the traveller. Capacious, beautiful, and excellent
ships, sail, on stated days, between many of the Eu-
ropean ports and their own country. This system
of arrangement, so important to commercial interests,
and so creditable to the efforts of a young state, is
said to be extended still further. Lines of packets,
as they are termed, also exist between New- York
and the West Indies, South America, and between
most of the larger havens of their own sea-board.
They are not straitened, filthy, inconvenient vessels,
such as too often aspire to convey passengers in
Europe ; but sliips that are not only commodious to

a degree I could not have anticipated, but even
gorgeous in many of their ornaments and equipments.
The sea, at the best, to those who, hke myself, fail
/)f its true inspiration, is but a desolate and weary
abiding place ; but, as much as possible seems etrect-
ed in this ship towards lulhng one into a forgetfulness
of its disagreeables. Should I venture to hazard a
criticism on so dehcate a subject, it would be to say,
that I do not think the utmost judgment is mani-
fested in the manner and nature of our food. It is
vain to expect the dainties of the land, in any perfec-
tion, when a thousand miles from its numberless
facilities; meats and poultries become meagre and
tasteless at sea, for want of room and exercise ; and
the cookery of a camboose, can never equal that of
a well-ordered and scientific cuisine. There is a sort
of coquetry about most of your profession, which ren-
ders them ambitious of demonstrating their perfect
equality with the occupants of terra firma. Like a
beauty on the decline, they would fain continue the
charms of other days and other scenes, when common
sense, which in these matters is taste, would teach
them that the fitness of things embraces time and
place. In the midst of sea-sickness and nausea, the
stomach is not very craving for old acquaintances,
though it might be tempted by the instigation of
novelties. On this principle, I think, always with
deep and reverential deference, that you sailors,
especially in passages that do not exceed a month,
should endeavour to purchase your culinary renown
by sea-pies and chowders, and other dishes that are
in good nautical keeping, instead of emulating the
savoury properties of roast beef and poulets, in lame
and tasteless imitations. Enough, however, on a sub-
ject that a landsman can never approach, but he is
suspected of an intention of literally taking the " bread
out of your mouths."

At Liverpool I was struck with the number o^


vessels that bore the American ensign. By far the
greater part of the immense trade which exists be-
tween England and the United States, is carried on
from that port ; and it was evident to the senses, (a
fact which inquiry has served to corroborate), that
an undue proportion, or rather disproportion, of that
trade, is conducted under the flag of the latter coun-
try. No political restrictions, to prevent a perfect
reciprocity of commercial rights, being in existence,
this simple circumstance is almost enough, in itself, to
establish the ability of the American, to compete suc-
cessfully with the Englishman, in navigation. As the
subject is replete with interest, and most probably
pregnant with facts that may much sooner than is
now dreamed of, effect a division (if not a transfer) of
the commerce, and consequently of the wealth of the
civilized world, most of my time, during the passage,
has been devoted to its investigation. Cadwallader
is not only well supplied with documents, but he is
rich in knowledge and experience on matters that re-
late to his own country; and, by his aid, there is
some reason to beheve my industry on this occasion,
at least, has not been entirely thrown away. Worth-
less, or not, such as it is I shall offer its results, with
proper humility, to the inspection of your professional
criticism. To you, who are known to indulge in
such flattering views of the future, when allusion is
made to the golden days of De Ruyter and Van
Tromp, the subject may have a charm of its own.

The tendency to the sea, which the American has
manifested since the earliest of the colonial establish-
ments, is, no doubt, to be ascribed originally to the
temper of his ancestors. Nothing can be more ab-
surd, however, than to argue, that although peculiar
circumstances drew him on the ocean, during the
continuance of the late and general hostilities, he will
return to his fertile valleys and vast prairies, cow that
competitors for the profits of commerce and naviga-


tion are arising among the former belligerents. The
argument implies an utter ignorance of history, no
less than of the character and sagacity of a people
who are never tardy to discover their individual in-
terests. It is, notwithstanding, often urged with so
much pertinacity, as to savour much more of the con-
clusions of what we hope for, than of what our reason
would teach us to believe. The fact is, there never
has been a period, since society was first firmly organ-
ized in their country, when the Anglo-Americans have
not possessed a tonnage greater, in proportion to their
population and means, than that of any other people,
some of the small commercial cities, perhaps, alone
excepted. This was true, even previously to their
revolution, when the mother country monopolized all
of trade and industry that the temper of the colonies
would bear, and it is true now, to an extent of which
you have probably no suspicion. The present popu-
lation of the United States may be computed at
I 3,000,000, while the amount of shipping materially
exceeds 1 ,400,000 tons.* Assuming that amount, how-
ever, it gives one ton to every eight and a half of the
inhabitants. The tonnage of the British empire is in
round numbers, 2,500,000. This, divided among the
23,000,000 of the British islands alone, would give
but one ton to every nine of the inhabitants. In this
calculation the vast difference in wealth is forgotten.
But by the British Empire, we are to understand
Canada, the West Indies, and all the vast possessions
which are tributary to the wealth and power of that
great nation. I know not whether the shipping em-
ployed in the East Indies ought to be enumerated in
the amount named. If it is, you will see the dispro
portion in favour of America is enormous. But assum
ing that it is not, it becomes necessary to add several
millions for their other dependencies. There is, how-

* On the 30th Dec. 1826, it had swelled to 1,634,000.


ever, still another point of view in which this com-
parison should, with strict justice, be made. A large
proportion of the people of the United States are so
situated, that in the nature of things they cannot turn
much, if any, of their attention to navigation. If the
slaves and the inhabitants of the new states, where the
establishments are still too-infant, to admit of such a
developement of their resources, be deducted from the
whole amount of the population, it will not leave
more than 7,000,000 of souls in possession of those
districts in which navigation can be supposed at all to
exist. The latter, too, will include all those states
that are called interior, where time has not been given
to effect any thing like a natural division of the em-
ployments of men. The result will show, that the
Americans, relatively considered, are addicted to nav-
igation, as compared with Great Britain, in the pro-
portion of more than seven to five ; nor has tliis com-
mercial, or rather maritime spirit arisen under auspices
so encouraging as is generally imagined.

The navigation laws, adopted by the United States,
so soon as their present constitution went into opera-
tion, are generally know^n. Their effect was to bring
the shipping of the country into instant competition
with that of foreign nations, from the state of tempo-
rary depression into which it had been thrown by the
struggle of the Revolution. From that hour, the
superiority enjoyed by the American, in cheapness
of construction, provisions and naval stores, aided by
the unrivalled activity, and practical knowledge of
the population, put all foreign competition at defiance.
Of 606,000 tons of shipping employed in 1790, in the
foreign trade of the country, not less than 251,000
tons were the property of strangers. In 1794, while
the trade employed 611,000 tons, but 84,000 tons
were owned by foreigners. In 1820 (a year of great
depression) the trade gave occupation to 880,000 tons,
of which no more than 79,000 tons were foreign prop-


ertj. This estimate, however, includes the intercourse
with the least, no less than that with the most maritime
nation. The trade between the United States and
England, which is the most important of all, in respect
of the tonnage it employs, was about three to one, in
favour of the former ; with other countries it varies
according to the maritime character of the people,
but with all and each it is altogether in favour of the
United States.

Now, one would think these simple facts, which
have withstood the tests of colonial policy, and of
pohtical independence; of peace and of war; of a
fair and of a specious neutrality ; of open violence
and of self-imposed restrictions, for more than a cen-
tur}^ might be deemed conclusive of the ability no less
than of the disposition of the Americans to continue
what they now are — a people more maritime in their
habits and pursuits, compared with their numbers,
than any that exist, or who have ever gone before
them. Still there are real or pretended sceptics. It
is contended that a continental nation, possessed of
territories so vast, and which are peopled by so spare
a population, cannot continue in pursuits to which
nature and interest present so many obstacles. The
proposition is somewhat as if one should say, Russia
is a country of extensive territory, that is but thinly
peopled, and so is America. Now, as Russia is not,
neither therefore can America be maritime. Nor are
the arguments by which this singular proposition is
supported, less absurd than the position itself. Not-
withstanding the obstinate, glaring, and long-continued
fact, that the American has and does neglect the tillage
of his virgin forests, in order to seek more congenial
sources of wealth on the ocean, one hears it hotly
contended every day, that this state of things has been
created by adventitious circumstances, and must cease
as the influence of those circumstances ceases, and
that of others shall come into action. You are told


that America has such an interior of fertile plains as
belongs to few nations ; but you are not reminded by
these partisans, that she also possesses such an extent
of coast, such rivers, such bays, and such a number
of spacious and commodious havens, as are the prop-
erty of no other people. If, in reply, you venture to
say that as England, for so long a time the most com-
mercial and maritime nation of the world, is indebted
to her civil and religious liberty for the character of
industry and enterprise that she has so well earned,
so must America, possessing these inestimable bless-
ings in a still greater degree, arrive at a still greater
degree of commercial and maritime prosperity, the
answer is ready. England is an island, and she has
an overflowing population. Java and Japan, Ceylon
and Madagascar, Sicily and Zealand, and hundreds
of others, are just as much islands as Great Britain.
It is therefore clear, something more than a mere
insular situation is necessary to induce a people to
become maritime, since there is a superabundance
of population in all the islands just named. England
herself was not eminently maritime until the reign of
Elizabeth, when the influence of that civil and religi-
ous liberty which has made her what she is, began to
be felt fairly and generally in the realm. So late as
the reign of Henry VII., the "world-seeking Genoese''
was compelled to find a patroness to his mighty enter
prise in the queen of an interior province of the Span
ish Peninsula! Though Turkey in Europe is not
actually washed by the water on every side, still there
are few countries (including Greece) that possess so
many natural advantages for commerce and navigation.
That her flag is not now seen in every sea, is to be
ascribed more to the mental darkness which envelops
her empire, than to the immaterial fact that nature
has forgotten to run a strait between the Euxine
and the Adriatic. France lies on two seas, and has
long cnjoved the advantages of science and great
Vol 1/ C


intelligence ; and yet France, considered with refer-
ence to her civilization and resources, is but a second-
ary power in respect to commerce and navigation.
If she has had fleets, they have not been the healthful
and vigorous offspring of her trade, but were main-
tained, as they were created, by the more sickly
efforts of poHtical care. Does any man believe, were
the Pyrenees and Alps another channel, that the con-
dition of France, in this particular, would be materi-
ally altered? The talents, and science, and enterprise
of France, have hitherto been mainly pressed into the
employment of the government. In whatever they
have arrived at perfection, they have been concen-
trated in order to consolidate the power of the state,
instead of being dispersed to effect that vast accumu-
lation of individual prosperity which constitutes the
real wealth of nations. Precisely as the situation of
England offers an exception to this general rule, just
in that degree has there been a misapplication also
of her advantages. In the one instance, a mighty
aristocracy has been created ; in the other, as mighty
a despotism. The latter country has now become
constitutional ; and though she has to contend against
long and inveterate habits, a national temperament
created by those habits, and many of the obstacles of
what may almost be termed, in this respect, an infant
condition, I think it will be found that she will become
more commercial, and consequently more maritime,
precisely as her institutions become more free. The
secret of all enterprise and enei^y exists in the prin-
ciple of individuality. Wealth does not more infalli-
bly beget wealth, than the right to the exercise of our
faculties begets the desire to use them. The slave is
every where indolent, vicious, and abject ; the free-
man active, moral, and bold. It would seem that is
the best and safest, and, consequently, the wisest gov-
ernment, which is content rather to protect than direct
the national prosperity, since the latter system never


fails to impede the efforts of that individuaUty which
makes men industrious and enterprising. As all ques-
tions of politics are, however, so perfectly practical,
I well know that in deciding on particular govern-
ments, they should ever be considered with direct
reference to the varied conditions into which abuse,
accident, or wisdom, has cast the different communi-
ties of the world. But, if one can be found so favoured
by its physical advantages, so fortified by its moral and
intellectual superiority, as to enable it to leave man to
the freest and noblest exercise of his energies and
will, is it wise, or is it even safe, to deny, merely be-
cause they are vast, the very results which are admit-
ted to be produced, in a lesser degree, by a state of
things in which the same operating causes are found
to exist under more limited modifications ? Herein, as
it appears to me, is to be traced the real motive of
that glaring unwilHngness to allow the natural effects
of the unprecedented liberty of America, which one
must be blind not to see, has taken so deep root in
the feelings of most of our eastern politicians. The
American himself, familiar with the changes and im-
provements of his own time, big with the spirit that
has wrought them, and filled with the noblest and
most manly anticipations for the future, is derided be-
cause he cannot bring his wishes to the level of the
snail-paced and unnatural progress of European soci-
ety. I say unnatural, because power, or necessity,
if you will, has so heavily cumbered it with artificial
restrictions. I have had leisure for some thought,
dear Baron, on this subject. I fear it is a theme that
is disposed of with too little ceremony by most of us
who dwell in the ancient hemisphere. Europe, with
all her boasted intelligence, has not even the merit of
foreseeing results that only become apparent as they
force themselves on her unwilling notice. For one,
I am determined, in my own poor person, to profit as
much as may be by the situation into which I have


oeen accidentally thrown. Notwithstanding that I am
already deeply impressed with the opinion that Ame-
rica is to be the first maritime nation of the earth, it
would be unpardonable ignorance to deny that the
great causes which are likely to induce this division,
if not transfer, of commercial ascendancy, are hable
to many quahfying and counteracting obstacles. Most
of these minor circumstances were either beyond the
investigations of a stranger, or it exceeded my know-
ledge of American history, to estimate the extent of
their influence. With a view to throw as much light
as possible on the inquiry, I have addressed a few
questions to my travelUng companion, and have re-
ceived his answers, which are transcribed for your
benefit. If they are coloured by national partialities,
a man of your age and experience ought to be able
to detect them ; and if, on the other hand, they are
just and reasonable, it is due to ourselves and the
truth, to admit their force. You will at once per-
ceive, that, in putting my queries, I have been gov-
erned by those points which one hears pressed the
most when the European is willing to turn his eyes
from the contemplation of more interesting, because
more familiar, objects, in order to inquire into the new
order of things, that is almost insensibly, though so
rapidly, working a change in the comparative condi-
tions of the different states of Christendom. You will
find my queries, with their answers, inclosed.* Neither
our situations not* inclinations admitted that the one
or the other should be very elaborate.

There is a cry of land, and I must hasten on deck
to revel in the cheerful sight. Adieu.

* See note B, at end of the volume.

( 17)


Sec. &CC.

I THREW aside my pen abruptly, dear Baron, in
order to catch a first view of America. There is
something so imposing in the sound of the word —
continent., that I beheve it had served to lead me into
a delusion, at which a little reflection has induced
me to be the first to smile. My ideas of this remote
and little known moiety of the world, have ever been
so vague and general, that I confess the folly of hav-
ing expected to see the land make its appearance en
masse^ and with a dignity worthy of its imposing
name. The mind has been so long accustomed to
divide the rest of the globe into parts, and to think
of them in their several divisions of countries and
provinces, that one expects to see no more of each,
at a covip (Tml^i than what the sight can embrace.*

* The Americans say, it is a common and absurd blunder of
the European to blend all his images of America in one confused
whole. Thus one talks of the climate of America ! of the soil
of America ! and even of the people and manners of America I
(meaning always the continent too, and not the United States.)
No doubt there are thousands who know better ; but still there
is a good deal of truth in the charge. The writer was frequently
amused, during his voyage, by hearing the passengers (mostly
Americans) relate the ridiculous mistakes that have been made
by Europeans, otherwise well informed, when conversing on the
subject of the transatlantic continent. Countries which lie on
different sides of the equator, are strangely brought into contact,
and people, between whom there is little affinity of manners, re-
ligion, government, language, or, indeed, of any thing else, are
strangely blended in one and the same image. It v/ould seem
to be an every-day occurrence, for Americans to have inquiries
made concerning individuals, estates, or events which exist, or
have had an existence, at some two or three thousand miles from


Now, ridiculous as it may seem, I had, unaccount-
ably, imbibed the impression that America was to ap-
pear, at the first glance, larger to the senses than the
little island I had left behind me. You are at perfect
liberty to make yourself just as merry as you please
at this acknowledgment ; but, if the truth could be
fairly sifted, I have no doubt it would be found that
most European adventurers, who seek these western
regions, have formed expectations of its physical or
moral attributes, quite as extravagant as was my own
unfortunate image of its presence. I have taken the
disappointment as a salutary admonition, that a trav-

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