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twenty-eight guns on her gun-deck, and ten guns on
her quarter-deck and forecastle, was called, in the
English navy, a thirty-eight. In course of time four-
teen guns were placed on the quarter-deck of the
same sort of ship (a little enlarged), and eight ports
were cut in the forecastle, so that she could, and did,
mount fifty guns. Some of them were even pierced

* In the state in which she was seen by Mr. De Roos, or
nearly so.

t No American frigate, or ship of the line, with the exception
of a 64 built for the Greeks, and recently purchased into the ser-
vice, mounts, or has mounted, liuring the last five-and-twenty
years, guns in the waist. The waists (since the last war) have
been pierced for guns, in order that they may be shifted over to
batter a town, or to defend a vessel at anchor, &c. &c. but ham-
mocks are always stowed there as in other vessels of war.


for more. Between the frigates and the ships of the
line was a sort of mongrel class that properly belong-
ed to neither. Thej had the construction of the lat-
ter, though their force was but little superior to the
former. These vessels were called fifties and fortv-
fours. When the Americans first formed their marine
there was little method in its arrangement or classi-
fication. Ships like the English thirty-eights were
commonly called thirty-sixes. But experience had
shown that a larger-sized frigate might be built to
advantage ; and they were not disposed to perpetuate
the mistaken notions of others. They constructed
ships, on one deck, to carry thirty guns below (twen-
ty-four pounders), and twenty-four gims on the quar-
ter-deck and forecastle. But so far from attempting
any deception in the manner of rating, they called
them after the intermediate class already named,
viz., forty-fours. Even the Chesapeake, the smallest
thirty-eight (according to the English method of
rating) ever known in their service, was, for a long
time, through carelessness, or ignorance, termed a
forty -four; because, at first, she actually mounted
forty-four guns ; while the New-York, a larger ship,
though of fewer guns, was called a thirty-six. The
Essex, a proper English thirty-two, was called a
thirty-two ; while the John Adams, and the Adams,
both much inferior vessels, in size and in guns, were
rated the same.

Now all these vessels were sent openly to sea,
were visited freely, and were approved of or con-
demned by the officers of all the navies in the world.
Some nations sneered at what the Americans deemed
an improvement, and some imitated it. Time has
shown that the latter were the wisest.

Deception is a word more unjustly apphed to this
nation than to any on earth. There is scarcely a
secret even pretended to be kept in its vvhole govern-
ment or police. Every year the fullest and most satis-


factory documents, concerning its army, its finances
and every thing else, are published to all who choose
to read them. Their navy-yards and arsenals are
open to every applicant. It is a singular fact that
foreign officers have accused these people of a wish to
practise deception, because they have discovered im-
provements in their navy-yards, while unreservedly
enjoying, themselves, privileges that would, in their
own countries, be denied to an American seaman.
The officers of this country say that they are satisfied
with the manner in which their own marine is con-
ducted. If other people have a reason for changing
their system of classification, let them do it, it is alto-
gether an atTair of their own. The object of rating
at all is to understand the relative size and force of
ships in the same service. It is not a matter of con-
vention between nations. When an officer cap-
tures an enemy, or is captured by one, he is a fool
if he does not state the actual force of his antagonist;
he is only a knave when he conceals, or misrepre-
sents it. Besides, they say, and justly enough, that
the num.ber of guns is no good criterion of the force
of a vessel. An English thirty-two (old rate) and a
thirty-six might, and often did, carry nearly the same
number of guns (from forty to forty-four guns), but
the latter is one-fourth larger, stronger, and heavier,
and, of course, more formidable, than the former.*

That there was great inaccuracy in the rating of
the American ships before and during the last war, is

* A ship carrying eighteen twenty-four pound carronades
and a ship of eighteen thirty-two pound carronades, would btf
rated the same, if the number of guns were to be the only
guide ; whereas, if one should be called a sixteen, and the other
an eighteen, the mind would conceive a sufficiently just idea of
the diiference in force which actually existed. There are so
many considerations that properly enter into the estimate of
force in a vessel, that no one of them all can be safely taken as
a rule.


certain ; but it is just as certain it was oftener against
their reputation than in their favour. They had three
large frigates, and these they honestly called by the
rates of vessels which fifty years since fought in the
line. It must be remembered these three vessels have
been built thirty years. They oftener over than un-
derrated their other frigates. The same was true of
their sloops of war. The Argus, (brig,) for instance,
a vessel a third lighter every way than the regular
eighteen, was rated in that class. The Nautilus,
Vixen, Ferret, &;c., were also overrated.

No nautical man, fit to command a vessel, would
trust to any rate but that of his own judgment. If
any people have got into difficulty by undervaluing
their enemies, it is far more manful to confess their
mistake, than to call improvements, which they are
eager to imitate, by so coarse a term as deception.
In this manner, clever men are, without bounds or
moderation, deceiving the rest of mankind daily.


Sfc. Sfc.


You ask me to write freely on the subject of the
literature and the arts of the United States. The
subjects are so meagre as to render it a task that
would require no small portion of the talents neces
sary to figure in either, in order to render them of
interest. Still, as the request has come in so urgent
a form, I shall endeavour to obhge you.

The Americans have been placed, as respects


moral and intellectual advancement, different from
all other infant nations. Thej have never been w^ith-
out the wants of civilization, nor have they ever
been entirely without the means of a supply. Thus
pictures, and books, and statuary, and every thing
else which appertains to elegant life, have always
been knov^^n to them in an abundance, and of a qual-
ity exactly proportioned to their cost. Books, being
the cheapest, and the nation having great leisure and
prodigious zest for information, are not only the most
common, as you will readily suppose, but they are
probably more common than among any other peo-
ple. I scarcely remember ever to have entered an
American dwelling, however humble, without finding
fewer or more books. As they form the most essen-
tial division of the subject, not only on account of
their greater frequency, but on account of their far
greater importance, I shall give them the first notice
in this letter.

Unlike the progress of the two professions in the
countries of our hemisphere, in America the printer
came into existence before the author. Reprints of
English works gave the first employment to the press.
Then came almanacs, psalm-books, religious tracts,
sermons, journals, political essays, and even rude at-
tempts at poetry. All these preceded the revolution.
The first journal wars established in Boston at the
commencement of the last century. There are sev-
eral original polemical works of great originality and
power that belong to the same period. I do not know
that more learning and talents existed at that early
day in the States of New-England than in Virginia,
Maryland and the Carolinas, but there was certainly
a stronger desire to exhibit them.

The colleges or universities, as they were some
what prematurely called, date yerj far back in the
brief history of the country. There is no stronger
evidence of the intellectual character, or of the judi-


cious ambition of these people, than what this simple
fact furnishes. Harvard College, now the university
of Cambridge — (it better deserves the title at this
day) — was founded in 1638 ; within less than twenty
years after the landing of the first settlers in New-
England ! Yale (in Connecticut) was founded in
1701. Columbia (in the city of New- York) was
founded in 1754. Nassau Hall (in New-Jersey) in
1738; and William and Mary (in Virginia) as far
back as 1691. These are the oldest literary institu-
tions in the United States, and all but the last are in
flourishing conditions to the present hour. The first
has given degrees to about five thousand graduates,
and rarely has less than three hundred and fifty or
four hundred students. Yale is about as well attend-
ed. The others contain from a hundred and fifty to
two hundred under-graduates. But these are not a
moiety of the present colleges, or universities, (as
they all aspire to be called,) existing in the country.
There is no State, except a few of the newest, with-
out at least one, and several have two or three.

Less attention is paid to classical learning here
than in Europe ; and, as the term of residence rarely
exceeds four years, profound scholars are by no
means common. This country possesses neither the
population nor the endowments to maintain a large
class of learned idlers, in order that one man in a
hundred may contribute a mite to the growing stock
of general knowledge. There is a luxury in this ex-'
penditure of animal force, to which the Americans
have not yet attained. The good is far too problem-
atical and remote, and the expense of man too cer-
tain, to be prematurely sought. I have heard, I will
confess, an American legislator quote Horace and
Cicero ; but it is far from being the humour of the
country. I thought the taste of the orator question-
able. A learned quotation is rarely of any use in an
argument, since few men are fools enough not to see


that the application of anj maxim to politics is liable
to a thousand practical objections, and, nine times in
ten, they are evidences of the want of a direct, natu-
ral, and vigorous train of thought. They are the
affectations, but rarely the ebullitions of true talent.
When a man feels strongly, or thinks strongly, or
speaks strongly, he is just as apt to do it in his native
tongue as he is to laugh when he is tickled, or to
weep when in sorrow. The Americans are strong
speakers and acute thinkers, but no great quoters of
the morals and axioms of a heathen age, because
they happen to be recorded in Latin.

The higher branches of learning are certainly on
the advance in this country. The gentlemen of the
middle and southern States, before the revolution,
w^ere very generally educated in Europe, and they
were consequently, in this particular, like our own
people. Those who came into life during the strug-
gle, and shortly after, fared worse. Even the next
generation had little to boast of in the way of instruc-
tion. I find that boys entered the colleges so late as
the commencement of the present century, wdio had
read a part of the Greek Testament, and a few books
of Cicero and Virgil, with perhaps a little of Horace.
But great changes have been made, and are still
making, in the degree of previous qualification.

Still, it would be premature to say that there is
any one of the American universities where classical
knowledge, or even science, is profoundly attained,
even at the present day. Some of the professors push
their studies, for a life, certainly; and you well know,
after all, that little short of a life, and a long one too,
will make any man a good general scholar. In 1 820,
near eight thousand graduates of the twelve oldest
colleges of this country (according to their catalogues)
were then living. Of this number, 1,406 were cler-
gymen. As some of the catalogues consulted were
several years old, this number was of necessity greatly


"within the truth. Between the years 1800 and 1810,
it is found that of 2,792 graduates, four hundred and
fifty-three became clergymen. Here is pretty good
evidence that religion is not neglected in America,
and that its ministers are not, as a matter of course,
absolutely ignorant.

But the effects of the literary institutions of the
United States are somewhat peculiar. Few men
devote their lives to scholarship. The knowledge
that is actually acquired, is perhaps quite sufficient
for the more practical and useful pursuits. Thousands
of young men, who have read the more familiar clas-
sics, who have gone through enough of mathematics
to obtain a sense of their own tastes, and of the value
of precision, who have cultivated belles lettres to a
reasonable extent, and who have been moderately
instructed in the arts of composition, and in the rules
of taste, are given forth to the country to, mingle in
its active employments. I am inclined to believe
that a class of American graduates carries away with
it quite as much general and diversified knowledge,
as a class from one of our own universities. The
excellence in particular branches is commonly want-
ing ; but the deficiency is more than supplied by va-
riety of information. The youth who has passed four
years within the walls of a college, goes into the office
of a lawyer for a few more. The profession of the
law is not subdivided in America. The same man is
counsellor, attorney, and conveyancer. Here the
student gets a general insight into the principles, and
a familiarity with the practice of the law, rather than
an acquaintance with the study as a science. With
this instruction he enters the world as a practitioner.
Instead of existing in a state of dreaming retrospec-
tion, lost in a maze of theories, he is at once turned
loose into the jostlings of the world. If perchance
he encounters an antagonist a little more erudite than
himself, he seizes the natural truth for his =hpot-nn-
VOL. 11. I


chor, and leaves precedent and quaint follies to him
•who has made them his study and delight. No doubt
he often blunders, and is frequently, of necessity, de-
feated. But in the course of this irreverent treatment,
usages and opinions, which are bottomed in no better
foundation than antiquity, and which are as inappli-
cable to the present state of the world, as the present
state of the world is, or ought to be, unfavourable to
all feudal absurdities, come to receive their death-
warrants. In the mean time, by dint of sheer expe-
rience, and by the collision of intellects, the prac-
titioner gets a stock of learning, that is acquired in
the best possible school ; and, what is of far more
importance, the laws themselves get a dress which
brings them within the fashions of the day. This
same man becomes a legislator perhaps, and, if parti-
cularly clever, he is made to take an active part in
the framing of laws that are not to harmonize with
the other parts of an elaborate theory, but which are
intended to make men comfortable and happy. Now,
taken with more or less qualification, this is the his-
tory of thousands in this country, and it is also an im-
portant part of the history of the country itself.

In considering: the course of instruction in the
United States, you are always to cpmmence at the
foundation. The common schools, which so generally
exist, have certainly elevated the population above
that of any other country, and are still elevating it
higher, as they improve and increase in numbers,.
Law is getting every day to be more of a science, but
it is a science that is forming rules better adapted to
the spirit of the age. Medicine is improving, and in
the cities it is, perhaps now, in point of practice,
quite on a level with that of Europe. Indeed, the
well-educated American physician very commonly
enjoys an advantage that is little known in Europe.
After obtaining a degree in his own country, he passes
a few years in London, Edinburgh, Paris, and fre-


quently in Germany, and returns with his gleanings
from their several schools. This is not the case with
one individual, but with many, annually. Indeed,
there is so much of a fashion in it, and the custom is
attended by so many positive advantages, that its
neglect would be a serious obstacle to any very emi-
nent success. Good operators are by no means
scarce, and as surgery and medicine are united in the
same person, there is great judgment in their prac-
tice. Human life is something more valuable in
America than in Europe, and I think a critical atten-
tion to patients more common here than with us,
especially when the sufferer belongs to an inferior
condition in life. The profession is highly respecta-
ble ; and in all parts of the country the better sort of
its practitioners mingle, on terms of perfect equality,
with the higliest classes of society. There are several
physicians in Congress, and a great many in tlie differ-
ent State legislatures.

Of the ministry it is unnecessary to speak. The
clergy are of all denominations, and they are edu-
cated, or not, precisely as they belong to sects which
consider the gift of human knowledge of any impor-
tance. You have already seen how large a propor-
tion of the graduates of some of the colleges enter
the desk.

As respects authorship, there is not much to be
said. Compared to the books that are printed and
read, those of native origin are few indeed. The prin-
cipal reason of this poverty of original writers, is
owing to the circumstance that men are not yet
driven to their wits for bread. The United States are
the first nation that possessed institutions, and, of
course, distinctive opinions of its own, that was ever
dependent on a foreign people for its literature.
Speaking the same language as the English, and long
in the habit of importing their books from the mother
country, the revolution effected no immediate change


m the nature of their studies, or mental amusements.
The works were re-printed, it is true, for the purposes
of economy, but they still continued English. Had
the latter nation used this powerful engine with toler-
able address, I think they would have secured such
an ally in this country as would have rendered their
own decline not only more secure, but as illustrious
as had been their rise. There are many theories en-
tertained as to the effect produced in this country by
the falsehoods and jealous calumnies which have been
undeniably uttered in the mother country, by means
of the press, concerning her republican descendant.
It is my own opinion that, like all other ridiculous
absurdities, they have defeated themselves, and that
they are now more laughed at and derided, even
here, than resented. By all that I can learn, twenty
years ago, the Americans were, perhaps, far too much
disposed to receive the opinions and to adopt the
prejudices of their relatives; whereas, I think it is
very apparent that they are now beginning to receive
them with singular distrust. It is not worth our while
to enter further into this subject, except as it has
had, or is likely to have, an influence on the national

It is quite obvious, that, so far as taste and forms
alone are concerned, the literature of England and
that of America must be fashioned after the same
models. The authors, previously to the revolution,
are common property, and it is quite idle to say that
the American has not just as good a right to claim
Milton, and Shakspeare, and all the old masters of the
language, for his countrymen, as an Englishman. The

* The writer might give, in proof of this opinion, one fact.
He is led to believe that, so lately as within ten years, several
^ English periodical works v/ere re-printed, and much read in
the United States, and that now they patronize their own, while
the toi-nicr arc far less sought, tlioiigh the demand, by means
of the increased population, should have been nearly doubled.
Some of the works are no longer even re-printed.


Americans having continued to cultivate, and to cul-
tivate extensively, an acquaintance with the writers
of the mother country, since the separation, it is
evident they must have kept pace with the trifling
changes of the day. The only peculiarity that can, or
ought to be expected in their literature, is that which
is connected with the promulgation of their distinc-
tive political opinions. They have not been remiss
in this duty, as any one may see, who chooses to ex-
amine their books. But we will devote a few minutes
to a more minute account of the actual condition
of American literature.

The first, and the most important, though cer-
tainly the most familiar branch of this subject, is
connected with the pubHc journals. It is not easy
to say how many newspapers are printed in the
United States. The estimated number varies from six
hundred to a thousand. In the State of New-York
there are more than fifty counties. Now, it is rare
that a county, in a State as old as that of New-York,
(especially in the more northern parts of the coun-
try), does not possess one paper at least. The cities
have many. The smaller towns sometimes have three
or four, and very many of the counties four or five.
There cannot be many less than one hundred and
fifty journals in the State of New- York alone. Penn-
sylvania is said to possess eighty. But we will sup-
pose that these two States publish two hundred jour-
nals. They contain about 3,000,000 of inhabitants.
As the former is an enlightened State, and the latter
rather below the scale of the general intelhgence of
the nation, it may not be a very bad average of the
whole population. This rate would give eight hun-
dred journals for the United States, which is probably
something within the truth. I confess, however, this
manner of equalizing estimates in America, is very
uncertain in general, since a great deal, in such a


question, must depend on the progress of societ)' in
each particular section of the country.

As might be expected, there is nearly every de-
gree of merit to be found in these journals. No one
of them has the benefit of that collected talent which
is so often enlisted in the support of the more im-
portant journals of Europe. There is not often more
than one editor to the best; but he is usually some
man who has seen, in his own person, enough of men
and things to enable him to speak with tolerable dis-
cretion on passing events. The usefulness of the
American journals, however, does not consist in their
giving the tone to the public mind, in politics and
morals, but in imparting facts. It is certain that,
could the journals agree, they might, by their united
efforts, give a powerful inclination to the common
will. But, in point of fact, they do not agree on any
one subject, or set of subjects, except, perhaps, on
those which directly affect their own interests. They,
consequently, counteract, instead of aiding each other,
on ail points of disputed policy; and it is in the bold
and sturdy discussions that follow, that men arrive
at the truth. The occasional union in their own fa-
vour, is a thing too easily seen through to do either
good or harm. So far, then, from the journals suc-
ceeding in leading the public opinion astray, they are
invariably obliged to submit to it. They serve to
keep it alive, by furnishing the means for its expres-
sion, but they rarely do more. Of course, the influ-
ence of each particular press is in proportion to the
constancy and the ability with which it is found tc
support what is thought to be sound principles ; bul
those principles must be in accordance v/ith the pri-
vate opinions of men, or most of their labour is lost.
• The public press in America is rather more decent
than that of England, and less decorous than that of
France. The tone of the nation, and the respect


for private feelings, which are, perhaps, in some
measure, the consequence of a less artificial state of
society, produce the former ; and the liberty, which
is a necessary attendant of fearless discussion, is, I

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 37 of 58)