James Fenimore Cooper.

Notions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) online

. (page 4 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 4 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


something of omission, that was offensive to the es-
tablished superiority of a man of a certain number
of quarterings. Perhaps I was more alive to this
jealous feeling, from knowing that I was in a repub-
lican country, and from the fact, that I had so recently
quitted one where the lower classes bow more, and
th%|higher less, than among any other Christian people.



FORTIFICATIONS. 31

The strokesman of the boat took some interest in
seeing us all properly bestowed. AVith the utmost
coolness he appropriated the best place to Isabel, and
then with the same sang froid intimated that her at-
tendant should occupy the next. Neither was he
ignorant that the object of his care was a domestic,
for he called her " the young woman," while he dis-
tinguished her mistress as "the young lady." I was
a little surprised to see that Cadwallader quietly con-
ceded the place to this Abigail ; for, during the pas-
sage, the distinctions of master and servant always had
been sufficiently observed between all our passengers.
I even ventured to speak to him on the subject, in
German, of which he has a tolerable knowledge.
"Notwithstanding all that the old world has said of
itself on this subject," he coolly answered, "you are
now in the true Paradise of women. They receive,
perhaps, less idolatry, but more manly care here, than
in any country I have visited." Truly, Baron, I begin '
to deem the omens propitious !

After passing at a short distance from the low sandy
point already named, we were fairly within the estu-
ary. This bay is of considerable extent, and is
bounded on the north and on the south by land of
some elevation. It receives a river or two from the
west, and is partially protected from the ocean, on
the east, by a low beach, which terminates in the
point named, and by an island on the opposite side
of the entrance. The mouth is a few miles in width,
possessing several shallow channels, but only one of a
depth sufficient to admit vessels of a heavy draught.
The latter are obliged to pass within musket-shot of
the point. Cape, or Hook^ as it is here called. Thence
to the city, a distance of some six leagues, the naviga-
tion is so intricate as to render a pilot indispensable.

The ruins of an imperfect and insignificant military
work were visible on the cape ; but I was told the
government is seriously occupied in erecting more



32 RARITAN BAY

formidable fortifications, some of which were shortly-
visible. A shoal was pointed out, on which it is con-
templated to construct an immense castle, at a vast
expense, and which, with the other forts built and
building, will make the place impregnable against all
marine attacks. I have been thus diffuse in my de-
tails, dear Baron, because I believe every traveller
has a prescriptive right to prove that he enters all
strange lands with his eyes open ; and, because it is
quite out of my power to say at what moment your
royal master, the good king Yfilliam, may see fit to
send you at the head of a fleet to regain those posses-
sions, of which his ancestors, of the olden time, were
ruthlessly robbed by the cupidity of the piratical
English!

I presume, that renowned navigator, the indefatiga-
ble Hudson, laboured under some such delusion as
myself, when his adventurous bark first steered within
the capes of this estuary. My eyes were constantly
bent towards the west, in expectation of seeing the
spires of a town, rearing themselves from the water
which still bounded the view in that direction. The
boat, however, held its course towards the north,
though nothing was visible there, but an unbroken
outhne of undulating hills. It seems we were only
in an outer harbour, on a magnificent scale, which
takes its name (Raritan Bay) from that of the princi-
pal river it receives from the west. A passage through
the northern range of hills, became visible as we ap-
proached them, and then glimpses of the cheerful
and smilins: scene within were first caudit. This
passage, though near a mile in width, is a strait, com-
pared with the bays within and without, and it is not
improperly termed " the Narrows." Directly in the
mouth of this passage, and a little on its eastern side,
arises a large massive fortress, in stone, washed by the
water on all its sides, and mounting some sixty or sev-
enty pieces of heavy ordnance. The heights on the ad-



TRAIT OF CHARACTER. 33

joining shores, are also crowned with works, though
of a less imposing aspect. The latter are the remains
of the temporary defences of the late war, while the
former constitutes part of the great plan of permanent
defence. Labourers are, however, unceasingly cm-
ployed on the new forts.

The shores, on both hands, were now dotted with
marine villas and farm-houses, and the view was alive
with all the pleasing objects of civilized life. On our
left, a little distance above the passage, a group of
houses came into view, and some tifty sail were seen
anchored in the offing. " That, then, is New- York!"
1 said, with a feeling a little allied to disappointment.
My companion was silent, for his thoughts kept him
dumb, if not deaf. " Gentlemen are apt to think they
get into the heart of America at the first step," very
coolly returned our strokesman ; " we are eight good
miles from Whitehall slip, and that village is the
quarantine ground." This was said without any visi-
ble disrespect, but with an air of self-possession that
proved our Whitehaller thought it a subject on which
long experience had given him a perfect right to be-
stow an opinion. As I felt in no haste to take the
second step into a country where the first had proved
so unreasonably long, I was fain to await the develope-
ment of things, with patience. My companions did
not manifest any disposition to converse. Even the
petite Isabel, though her strong native attachments
had been sufficiently apparent, by her previous dis-
course, was no longer heard. Like our male com-
panion, a sentiment of deep interest in the ensuing
scene, kept her silent. At length the exclamation of
" there they come !" burst from the lips of Cadwalla-
der ; and there they did come, of a certainty, in all
the majesty of a fine aquatic procession, and that too
on a scale of magnificence that was admirably suited
to the surrounding waters, and as an Am.erican would
also probably say, "to the occasion." In order that



bl NEW-YORK HARBOUR.

you may form a better idea of the particular scene,
it is necessary that I should attempt a description of
some of its parts.

The harbour of New-York is formed by a junction
of the Hudson with an arm of the sea. The latter
connects the waters of Raritan Bay with those of a
large sound, which commences a few leagues further
eastward, and which separates, for more than a hun-
dred miles, the state of Connecticut from the long
narrow island of Nassau. The Americans call this
district Long Island, in common parlance ; but I love
to continue those names which perpetuate the recol-
lection of your former dominion. Some six or seven
rivers unite here to pour their waters into a vast basin,
of perhaps sixty or seventy miles in circuit. This
basin is subdivided into two unequal parts by a second
island, which is known by the name of Staten, another
memento of your ancient power. The Narrows is
the connecting passage. The inner bay cannot be
less than twenty miles in circumference. It contains
three or four small islands, and possesses water enough
for all the purposes of navigation, with good anchor-
age in almost every part. The land around it is low,
with the exception of the hills near its entrance, and
certain rocky precipices of a very striking elevation
that on one side line the Hudson, for some miles, com-
mencing a short distance from its mouth.

On the present occasion every thing combined to
lend to a scenery, that is sufficiently pleasing of itself,
its best and fullest effect. The heavens were without
a cloud ; the expanse beneath, supporting such an arch
as would do no discredit to the climate of sunny Italy
herself. The bay stretched as far as eye could reach,
like a mirror, unruffled and shining. The heat was
rather genial than excessive, and, in fine, as our im-
aginative young companion poetically expressed it,
" the very airs were loyal, nor had the climate forgot-
ten to be true to the feehngs of the hour !"



THE SUBDUED MANNER OF THE AMERICANS. 35

It is necessary to have seen something of the ordi-
narily subdued and quiet manner of these people, in
order to enter fully into a just appreciation of the
common feeling, which certainly influenced all who
were with me in the boat. You probably know that
we in Europe are apt to charge the Americans with
being cold of temperament, and httle sensible of lively
impressions of any sort. I have learnt enough t(
know, that in return, they charge us, in gross, with
living in a constant state of exaggeration, and with
affecting sentiments we do not feel. I fear the truth
will be found as much with them as against them. It
is always hazardous to judge of the heart by what the
mouth utters : nor is he any more likely to arrive at
the truth, who believes that every time an European
shows his teeth in a smile, he will do you no harm,
than he is right who thinks the dog that growls will
as infallibly bite. I believe, after all, it must be con-
ceded, that sophistication is not the most favourable
science possible for the cultivation of the passions.
No man is, in common, more imperturbable than the
American savage ; and who is there more terrible in
his anger, or more firm in his attachments ? Let this
be as it may, these republicans certainly exhibit their
ordinary emotions in no very dramatic manner. I had
never before seen Cadwallader so much excited, and
yet his countenance manifested thought, rather than
joy. Determined to probe him a little closer, 1 ven-
tured to inquire into the nature of those ties which
united La Fayette, a foreigner, and a native of a coun-
try that possesses so little in manners and opinions in
common with his own, to a people so very differently
constituted from those among whom he was born and
educated.

" It is then fortunate for mankind," returned Cad-
wallader, " that there exist, in nature, principles which
can remove these obstacles of our own creation.
Though habit and education do place wide and fre-



36 LA FAYETTE.

quently lamentable barriers between the sympathies
of nations, he who has had the address to break
through them, without a sacrifice of any natural duty,
possesses a merit, which, as it places him above the
level of his fellow-creatures, should, and will protect
him from their prejudices. It is no small part of the
glory of La Fayette, that while he has taken such a
hold of our affections as no man probably ever before
possessed in those of a foreign nation, he has never,
for an instant, forgotten that he was a Frenchman.
In order, however, to appreciate the strength and the
reasons of this attachment, as well as the glory it
should reflect on its subject, it is necessary to remem-
ber the causes which first brought our present guest
among us.

" If any man may claim a character for manful and
undeviating adherence to what he has deemed the
right, under circumstances of nearly irresistible tempt-
ation to go wrong, it is La Fayette. His love of lib-
eral principles was even conceived under the most
unfavourable circumstances. The blandishmp,nts of
a sensual, but alluring court, the prejudices of a highly
privileged caste, with youth, wealth, and constitution,
were not auspicious to the discovery of truth. None
but a man who was impelled by high and generous
intentions, could have thrown away a load which
weighs so many gifted minds to the earth. He has
the high merit of being the first French nobleman
who was willing to devote his life and fortune to the
benefit of the inferior classes. Some vapid and self-
sufiicient commentators have chosen to term this
impulse an inordinate and vain ambition. If their
appellation be just, it has been an ambition which has
ever proved itself singularly regardful of others, and
as singularly regardless of self. In the same spirit of
detraction have these declaimers attempted to assail
the virtue they could not imitate, and to depreciate
services, whose very objrct their contracted mind:



AMERICA AND LA FAYETTE. 37

have not the power to comprehend. I shall not speak
of events connected with the revolution in his own
country, for they form no other part of our admiration
of La Fayette, than as they serve to show us how
true and how fearless he has ever been in adhering
to what we, in common, believe to be the right. Had
he been fitted to control that revolution, as it existed
in its worst and most revolting aspects, he would hav
failed in some of those qualities which are necessary
to our esteem.

*' In the remembrance of the connexion between
La Fayette and his own country, the American finds
the purest gratification. It is not enough to say that
other men have devoted themselves to the cause of
human nature, since we seek, in vain, for one who
has done it with so little prospect of future gain, or
at so great hazard of present loss. His detracters
pretend that he was led into our quarrel by that long-
ing for notoriety, which is so common to youth. It is
worthy of remark, that this longing should have been
as peculiarly his own by its commencement as by its
duration. It is exhibited in the man of seventy, under
precisely the same forms that it was first seen in the
youth of nineteen. In this particular, at least, it par-
takes of the immutable quality of truth.

" Separate from all those common principles, which,
in themselves, would unite us to any man, there are
ties of a peculiarly endearing nature between us and
La Fayette. His devotion to our cause was not only
first in point of time, but it has ever been first in all
its moral features. He came to bestow, and not to
receive. While others, who brought little beside
their names, were seeking rank and emoluments, he
sought the field of battle. His first commission had
scarcely received the stamp of official forms, before
it had received the still more honourable seal of his
own blood. A boy in years, a native of a country
towards which VvC had a hereditary dislike, he caused

Vol. I. E



38 INTEREST IN LA FAYETTE

his prudence to be respected among the most prudent
and wary people of the earth. He taught us to for-
get our prejudices : we not only loved him, but we
began to love his nation for his sake. Throughout
the half century of our intercourse, a period more
fraught with eventful changes than any that has pre-
ceded it, nothing has occurred to diminish, or to dis-
turb, this affection. As his devotion to our cause
never wavered, not even in the darkest days of our
adversity, so has our attachment continued steady to
the everlasting obligations of gratitude. Whatever
occurred in the revolutions of the old world, the eye
of America was turned on La Fayette. She watched
his movements with all the solicitude of a tender pa-
rent ; triumphed in his successes ; sympathized in his
reverses ; mourned in his sufferings, but always exulted
in his constancy. The knowledge of passing events
is extended, in our country, to a degree that is else-
where unknowai. We heard of the downfall of thrones ;
of changes in dynasties ; of victories, defeats, rapine,
and war, until curiosity itself was sated with repeti-
tions of the same ruthless events. Secure in our
position, and firm in our prmciples, the political tor-
nadoes, that overturned the most ancient establish-
ments of the old world, sounded in our ears, with no
greater effect than the sighings of our own autumnal
gales. But no event, coupled with the interests of
our friend, was suffered to escape our notice. The
statesman, the yeoman, or the school-boy ; the matron
among her offspring ; the housewife amid her avoca-
tions ; and the beauty in the blaze of her triumph,
forgot alike the passions or interests of the moment,
forgot their apathy in the distresses of a portion of the
world that they believed was wanting in some of its
duty to itself, to suffer at all, and drew near to listen
at the name of La Fayette. I remember the deep,
reverential, I might almost say awful, attention, with
which a school of some sixty children, on a remote



INTEREST IN LA FAYETTE. 39

frontier, listened to the tale of his sufferings in the
castle of Olmutz, as it was recounted to us by the
instructor, who had been a soldier in his youth, and
fought the battles of his country, under the orders of
the ^ young and gallant Frenchman.'' We plotted
among ourselves, the means of his deliverance ; won-
dered that the nation was not in arms to redress his
wrongs, and were animated by a sort of reflection of
his own youthful and generous chivalry. Washington
was then with us, and, as he was said to be exerting
the influence of his powerful name, which, even at
that early day, was beginning to obtain the high as-
cendancy of acknowledged virtue, we consoled our-
selves with the reflection, that he, at least, could never
fail Few Americans, at this hour, enjoy a happier
celebrity than Huger, who, in conjunction with a
brave German, risked hfe and hberty to effect the
release of our benefactor.

"Though subsequent events have tranquillized this
interest in the fortunes of La Fayette, we must become
recreant to our principles, before it can become ex-
tinct. It is now forty years since he was last among
us ; but scarcely an American can enter France with-
out paying the homage of a visit to La Grange. Our
admiration of his disinterestedness, of his sacrifices,
and of his consistency, is just as strong as ever; and,
r confess, I anticipate that the country will receive
him in such a manner as shall prove this attacliment
to the world- But, you are not to expect, in our
people, manifestations of joy similar to those you have
witnessed in Europe. We are neither clamorous nor
exaggerated, in the exhibitions of our feelings. The
prevaihng character of the nation is that of modera-
tion. Still am I persuaded that, in the case of La
Fayette, some of our self-restraint will give way be-
fore the force of affection. We consider ourselves as
the guardians of his fame. They who live a century
hence, may live to know how high a superstructure



40 PREJUDICES AGAINST HIM IN EUROPE.

of renown can be reared, when it is based on the
broad foundations of the gratitude of a people Hke our
own. The decision of common sense to-day, will
become the decision of posterity."

Cadwallader spoke with an earnestness that, at
least, attested the sincerity of his own feelings. I may
have given to his language the stiffness of a written
essay, but I am certain of having preserved all the
ideas, and even most of the words. The humid eyes
of the fair Isabel responded to all he uttered, and
even our Whitehallers bent to their oars, and listened
with charmed ears. вАФ Adieu.



TO THE BARON VON KEMPERFELT,
&c. Sec.



New-York,



I CLOSED my last with the sentiments of my Ameri-
can friend, on the subject of La Fayette. 1 confess
that the time was, when my feelings had not entirely
escaped the prejudice which is so common among
certain people in Europe, on the subject of the cha-
racter of this distinguished individual. The French
Revolution led to so many excesses, that, under a
disgust of its abuses, the world has been a little too
apt to confound persons, in judging of its characters
and events. It is now time, however, to begin to
consider, whether its sacrifices have been made
without a sufficient object. If the consciousness of
civil rights, and the general intelligence which are
beginning to diffuse themselves throughout Christen-
dom, are remembered, it will be generally admitted,
I believe, that France has not suffered in vain. If



A BETTER FEELING GAINING GROUND. 41

any man can be said to have foreseen, and to have
hoped for these very results, on which the kingdom,
no less than the enlightened of all Europe, is begin-
ning to felicitate itself, it really seems to me, it must
be La Fayette. That he failed to stem the torrent
of disorder, was the fault of tlie times, or, perhaps,
the fault of those whose previous abuses had produced
so terrible a re-action. It was fortunate for Napoleon
himself, that his destinies did not call him into the
arena an hour sooner than they did. His life, or his
proscription, would, otherwise, have probably been
the consequence. The man who was so easily spoiled
by prosperity, might readily have sunk under the ex-
traordinary pressure of the first days of the Revolu-
tion. But, as it is my present object to write of Ame-
rica, we will waive all other matter.

Had any of those ancient prejudices still existed, 1
should have been churlish, indeed, not to have partici-
pated, in some degree, in the generous feelings of my
companions. There was so much genuine, undis-
guised, and disinterested gratification expressed in the
manners of them all, that it was impossible to distrust
its sincerity. The welcome of every eye was more
like the look with which friend meets friend, than the
ordinary conventional and artificial greetings of com-
munities. Not a soul of them all, with the exception
of Cadwallader, had ever seen their visiter, and yet
the meanest individual of the party took a manifest
pleasure in his visit. But it is time that I should show
you that this feeling was not confined to the half-
dozen who were in my own boat,

At the exclamation of "there they come," from
Cadwallader, my look had been directed to the inner
bay, and in the direction of the still distant city. The
aquatic procession I saw, was composed principally
of steam-boats. They w ere steering towards the vil-
lage of the Lazaretto, and their decks exhibited solid
masses of human heads. In order to conceive the
E 2



42 PROCESSION OF THE STEAM-BOATS.

beauty of the sight, you are to recall the accessories
described in my last letter, the loveliness of the day,
and it is also necessary to understand something of
the magnitude, appearance, and beauty of an Ameri-
can steam-boat. The latter are often nearly as large
as frigates, are not painted, as commonly in Europe,
a gloomy black, but are of lively and pleasing colours,
without being gaudy, and have frequently species of
vs^ooden canopies, that serve as additional decks, on
which their passengers may walk. The largest of
these boats, when crowded, will contain a thousand
people. There was one, among the present collection,
of great size, that had been constructed to navigata
the ocean, and which was provided with the usual
masts and rigging of a ship. This vessel was manned
by seamen of the public service, and was gaily deco-
rated with a profusion of flags. Our boat reached the
wharf of the Lazaretto, a few minutes after the pro-
cession. One of the largest of the vessels had stopped
at this place, lying with her side to the shore, while
the others were whiriing and sailing around the spot,
giving an air of peculiar life and animation to the
scene. Here I found myself, as it were by a coup de
main, transferred at once from the monotony of a
passage ship, into the bustle and activity of the Ame-
rican world. Probably not less than five thousand
people were collected at this one spot, including all
ages and every condition known to the society of the
country. Though the whole seemed animated by a
common sentiment of pleasure, I did not fail to ob-
serve an air of great and subdued sobriety in the
countenances of almost all around me. As Cadwal-
lader had the address to obtain our admission into the
steam-boat that had come to land, and which was in-
tended to receive La Fayette in person, I was brought
into immediate contact with its occupants. Closer
observation confirmed my more distant impressions.
I found myself in the midst of an orderiy, grave, well-



EXULTATION OF THE FRENCH. 45

dressed, but certainly exulting crowd. It was plain to
see that all orders of men (with a few females) were
here assembled, unless I might except that very infe-
rior class which I already begin to think is not as
usual to be found in this country as in most others. I
heard French spoken, and by the quick, restless eyes,
and elevated heads, of some half-dozen, I could see
that France had her representatives in the throng
and that they deemed the occasion one in which they
had no reason to blush for their country. Indeed I
can scarcely imagine a spectacle more gratifying to a



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 4 of 58)