James Fenimore Cooper.

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Vol. II. C c

302 DUELS.

in Europe. As, however, skill is deemed not only
fair, but necessary, when there is reason to suspect
that either party is inferior to the other in the use of
the weapon, his second takes care to propose some
alteration in the distance, which destroys skill, and
throws the combatants more completely on their
nerves. In some few instances, rifles and muskets
have been used, to produce this equahty, especially
among border men, who have been most used to
these weapons. This, is, clearly, no more than an-
other change like that from the lance and the casque
to the small-sword, and from the small-sword to the
pistol. And still, so completely do we get to be the
slaves of custom, that we shudder at hearing of a
duel with a rifle, while we think nothing of a duel
with a pistol ! Surely the change from the small-
sword to the pistol, was greater than the change from
the pistol to the rifle. For my own part, I wish they
would introduce artillery ; for I feel perfectly con-
vinced, that so long as men can maintain a reputation
for spirit, at a rate so cheap as one hfe in ten or
twelve duels, the barbarous custom will continue. It
will go out of use in something like an explosion of a
magazine. It is a pity that the friends of humanity
had not hit on some less suspicious plan of furthering
tiieir views, than one so very equivocal as that which
teaches us to believe, that this sort of honour can be
maintained at the least possible danger.

With respect to the causes of the frequency of the
American duels, a great deal can be said. The mili-
tary and naval men have fought more duels than they
would otherwise have done, on account of their long
peace. Swords get impatient of quiet, and courage
is a quality so vital to a soldier, that he is often un-
easy until he has had an opportunity of proving its
existence. They are said to be much less frequent
now than formerly ; especially, when the increased
number of the oflicers is remembered.

DUELS. 303

Duels of mere manners are, if any thing, (out of
the two services,) less common here than in Europe.
The Doctors' Commons heals no breaches in the
United States. The offence is rare, but the pistol is
always the proctor. I am inclined to think that the
political institutions of the nation, by bringing men
of different breeding and education, more in contact
than they are found in other countries, give rise to
many duels.

The frequent recurrence of the elections, while
they render the polls more quiet than they would be
under any other system, produce a greater propor-
tion of grave political quarrels than elections do, for
instance, in England. Then the dispersed, secluded
situation of the planters, in the soumern States, has
a tendency to foster morbid sensibility, while their
habits bring them, frequently, into a species of irri-
tating association.

The laws of England, and of most of the States
of this country, are the same on the subject of duels.
To kill a man in any violent rencontre, which can
be readily avoided, is, by the common law, murder.
Nor is it a legal plea, that mere honour was a sutii-
ciently compulsory motive. Now, the same common
sense and directness of thought, which, in some cases,
makes the American refuse to fjght at all, and induces
him, in others, to fight in a reasonably dangerous
manner, produces another difference in the practices
of the mother and child, on this subject. In Eng-
land, when a man is killed in a duel, the survivor is
tried, and all things being found fair, he is acquitted
according to opinion, and not according to law ;
whereas, in America, the direct and unaccom.modating
way these people have of considering matters, pre-
cludes such a result. The law is the same as in
England, but their construction on it would be dif-
ferent. A man", who had killed another in a duel,
would, most probably, be sentenced to be hanged,


and the conventional opinion of society is, therefore,
exhibited in not trying him at all. There is an occa-
sional struggle between the combatants and the non-
combatants to bring some particular case before a
jury ; but the former are always too wise to incur
the risk; they therefore get out of the way. You
may see, in this very fact, a striking difference in the
manner in which thought is exercised in the two

The people of this country have fought many duels
with the English, while they scarcely ever fight with
any other foreigners. This was, perhaps, for many
reasons, to be expected. Their wars were irritating ;
their policy has often been conflicting ; and the citi-
zen of the young nation may have often been too
sensitive, and the subject of the old nation may some-
times have been too exacting;. I know no more of_
the matter than that the people of both nations think
that their own countrymen have been right in these
quarrels, and the foreigners wrong; which is only
another proof that there is no great reason in any
thing that appertains to the practice.

No hospitality, kindness, or courtesy, can exceed
that of most of the planters of the southern States of
this confederation. It was a practice, long in use,
for a stranger to drive up to the door of a dwelling,
of any pretension, and to ask food and lodging for the
night. The custom is not entirely neglected, even
now, though increased travelling, and the greater fre-
quency of inns, have conspired to put a stop to it.
This freedom of intercourse is, clearly, no more than
a natural consequence of simplicity of manners, and
of absence of suspicion. It is even practised in the
northern States. I remember to have seen a country-
house, which had the air of the residence of a man
of fortune, while travelling in the interior of New-
York. Cadwallader demanded its owner's name of
a man by the road side. " It is near dinner-time,"


he then coolly said, "and we shall not fare well in

these woods at the inn ; let us try Mr. 's

table." " Do you know him, then ?" " Not at all ;
I know his family, and he must know mine." Of
course I was anxious to see the result of such an in-
terview. A servant was asked if Mr. . was

at his reiidence? The answer was favourable. We
were ushered into a genteel saloon, where we found
a very gentleman-like man, a well-bred woman, and
two or three charming daughters. " I am Mr. John

Cadwallader, of Cadwallader, in county,"

said my friend, " and I have taken the liberty to pay
my respects to you in passing." Our host held out
both hands, and expressed his satisfaction at the com-
pliment j I was then introduced, and we found the
dinner so abundant, and the v/ines so delicious (to
say nothing of the young ladies) that v/e were in-
duced to stay till next day for a second trial. In fifty
other instances, have gentlemen who had heard of
our presence in their neighbourhoods, ridden miles
to meet us, and to invite us to their dwellings ; and
I do firmly believe, that through Virginia and the
Carolinas, and in several other States, we might have
travelled without spending a sixpence, or eating,
drinking, or sleeping in an inn. Indeed, I am per-
suaded that this hospitality is one reason why the
inns are not better in the southern States, for, out of
the towns, they are generally worse than they are
found to be farther north.

From what I have written, you must have already
gathered that the southern States are to be divided
into two classes of society, or, rather, that in some
instances, one State may, in itself, contain both. I
allude to the material difference which exists between
the small proprietors, who are, to all intents, capital
farmers, with from four, or even from one, to twenty
slaves, and the great planters, who own several hun-
dreds. The former generally grow wheat, corn,


(maize) and all the other articles of a divided hus-
bandry; while the others produce tobacco, rice, cot-
ton, or sugar. Thej are, however, beginning to grow
tobacco in some of the free States, as in Ohio.

But I have not room, or knowledge enough, to en-
ter into the endless details which such a state of so-
ciety, and regions so vast, can produce. ^You will
see some curious accounts of manners and customs
in the " Letters from the South," a book that is as-
cribed to Mr. Paulding, an American writer, who
stands among the highest of his countrymen for talent,
and who, being a gentleman generally known to his
countrymen, has had the best opportunities for observ-
ing their manners in those parts of the country that
he has visited.


S^c. (Sfc.


I ARRIVED here about a fortnight since, in order to

see the town, and to witness a ceremony that took

place yesterday. Before attempting a description of

* the latter, I shall give a brief answer to your question

concerning the movements of your countryman.

During my recent excursions to the south, I fre-
ruently met La Fayette, who has now been in nearly
all, if not in every one, of the twenty-four States of
this Union. So far from the warmth and cordiality
of his reception having in the least abated, he is just
as much the object of affectionate and sincere atten


tion to-day as he was the hour he landed. We were
ill New-York together lately, when there was a con-
stant succession of entertainments in his honour, and
as earnest a desire manifested to press about his per-
son as in the interviews I have so often related.

Among the different public exhibitions got up on
this occasion, there was one which is worthy of be-
ing particularly mentioned, by its singularity. There
is a great deal of wood used in the construction of
most American houses. Until within the last twenty
years a great many in New-York (more especially in
the less pretending quarters of the town) were built
of this material altogether. There are, consequently,
an extraordinary number of fires in that city. Fires
are infmitely more frequent in all parts of A^merica
than in Europe, from this very cause. In a city like
New- York, it is also a consequence of frequent dan-
ger from such an enemy, that there exist admirable
skill and preparation to subdue it. It is often said,
and, from repeated observation I believe it to be true,
that the firemen of New-York are more expert and
adventurous than those of any other town in the
world. When an alarm is given, the citizens, in
general, give themselves no trouble in the matter,
unless chance has placed them in the immediate vi-
cinity of the danger. The cry is sounded by boys
and repeated by the firemen themselves, for a minute
or two, and then a few or more bells, according to
the degree of the danger, ring the alarm. In the
day these frequent cries produce no extraordinary
sensation, but when they break in upon the stillness
and security of the night, I scarcely know a more
startling or disagreeable interruption to one's slum-
bers. There is a defect in this part of the arrange-
ment, though it is difiicult to see how it can be well
remedied under the present system. The firemen
are citizens; chiefly shop-keepers and mechanics,
and they pursue their ordinary employments at all



times, except when required to meet to render aid,
or occasionally for the purpose of disciphne. The
latter is httle needed, however, in a place where
there is so much serious practice.

I remember to have been at one of these fires in
the night. A vast pile of pine boards, which filled
a lot adjoining a row of noble brick houses, was
in flames when I reached the place. ¥/ithin fifty
(eet, on the other side, there stood a small temporary
wooden building. The sheets of the element Hashed
upwards against a battlement of brick, which they
even surmounted, and bending like the tongue of the
serpent, they wound themselves along the cornices
of the adjoining dwelhng. It was too late to save
much of the lumber, and all the attention of the fire-
men was given to the buildings. Engine arrived after
engine, with great rapidity ; and with the most beau-
tiful accuracy, the captain of each machine took his
station in the place he was ordered to occupy. There
might have been two thousand persons collected at
the spot ; but scarcely any other sound was heard
than the whizzing of the streams of water, the strokes
of the engines, and the crackling of the conflagration,
l^ater was thrown from one machine to another, by
means of conducting leathern tubes. One of those,
near which I stood, burst. I followed the man who
was sent on the errand that immediately succeeded
the discovery of the accident. He approached a
carriage loaded with the article he needed, and com-
municated the fact ; " So many feet of hose," said
the person to whom he addressed himself, with per-
fect quiet ; it was supplied, and the damage was re-
paired without the slightest confusion, and without
the least unnecessary delay. From time to time, the
flames were seen kindling on the roof of a small
wooden building, and then the engine nearest the
conflagration directed its stream, for an instant, to
the spot. No rifleman could have sent his deadly


messenger with surer aim, than the water fell upon
the httle torch-hke flame.

The famihes continued in the adjoining houses,
and the proprietor of the building next the lumber,
resolutely refused to open his doors for the removal
of the furniture, though his cornices were frequently
blazing. He was right ; for the steadiness, activity,
and skill of the firemen, soon reduced the glaring
torrent of the elements to a pile of black smouldering

The ceremony to which I alluded in the opening
of this letter, was a review of these firemen by La
Fayette. The engines, with their companies, were
all assembled in the little park (paddock would be a
better name,) in front of the City Hall. These engines
bear some such comparison to the engines of Europe,
as the English mail-coaches, on a birth-day, bear to
the ordinary French diligences in the provinces. No
nobleman's carriage is more glossy, neater, or, con-
sidering their respective objects, of more graceful
form. They are also a little larger than those we
see on our side of the Atlantic, though not in the
least clumsy. When La Fayette had passed in front
of these beautiful and exquisitely neat machines,
they formed themselves in a circle. At a signal the
engines were played, and forty limpid streams shot
upward, toward an imaginary point in the air. It
appeared to me that they all reached that point at
the same instant, and their water uniting, they formed
a jet (Veau that was as remarkable for its conceit as
for its beauty.

But the ceremony yesterday, was of a very differ-
ent description. It was the anniversary of the battle
of Bunker's hill. Fifty years ago, the yeomanry of
New England first met the battalions of England, in
open and deadly conflict. The atTair of Lexington
had occurred a few weeks earlier ; but, though blood
was first drawn in that straggling contest, it neither


produced the important results, nor was it character-
ized by so many striking and memorable incidents as
the alfair on the hill.

In the battle of Bunker's hill, the Americans had
no positive leader. A thousand men, chiefly youths
under the age of five-and-twenty, passed over in the
night from the adjacent country, into the peninsula
of Charlestown. It was intended to occupy a high
conical eminence called Bunker's hill, at the distance
of long cannon-shot from the batteries in the town
of Boston. By some mistake, the working party
advanced much nearer to the enemy, and took pos-
session of a much lower ridge of land, that termin-
ated suddenly at a short distance in their front, quite
near to the shore. The latter hill was, in fact, known
by the name of Breed's.* Here a small redoubt,
flanked by a low entrenchment, was thrown up. The
party who performed this labour, was led by a gen-
tleman of the name of Prescott, who had seen some
service in the colonial wars, and who held the rank
of colonel in the levies of the province of Massa-
chusetts Bay. You will remember that the affair oc-
curred in the summer of 1775, and, as the indepen-
dence of the colonies was not declared until July
1776, the appellation of States was then unknown.

There was an eminent physician in Boston, of the
name of Warren, who had acted a conspicuous part
in all the political measures that preceded the quar-
rel. This person was distinguished for his high moral
intrepidity. As he was a man in the vigour of life,
and of a daring mind, the provincial congress of Mas-
sachusetts had chosen him a major-general in their
levies, only the day before the battle.

General Warren appeared on Breed's hill in the

* Blinker and Breed are the names of two families of New-
England.. Individuals of those names were, or had been, the
owners of the two hills in question.


morning, bearing a musket, though not with any de-
sire to exercise his newly acquired mihtary authority.
Delicacy to his veteran countryman, and perhaps
some incompleteness in the forms of his appointment,
might have forbidden such an assumption of powder.
It is said that Mr. Prescott offered him the command,
and that he declined assuming it. In the course of
the movements that preceded the conflict, General
Putnam, a well-known partisan officer of the adjoin-
ing province of Connecticut, led some small bodies
into the peninsula, over whom, he of course exer-
cised a species of authority. But the chief command,
if it belonged to any one, was the right of Mr. Pres-
cott, who constructed, and who held the half-finished
redoubt. The result of the battle is well known ;
but, unhappily, at its close, Mr. Warren, or as he is
usually called from the nature of his death. General
Warren, fell, by a musket-ball which passed through
his head.

The exceeding merit and unquestionable patriot-
ism, no less than the high rank which this gentleman
was destined by his countrymen to fill, induced them
to consider his loss, and very justly, as the greatest
calamity that befell them on that day. A small, un-
pretending monument, of very perishable materials,
had, therefore, been erected to his memory, on the
precise spot where he fell. But it is now intended
to rear a column in granite, which shall be more
worthy of the great occasion, and more in conformity
with the augmented means of the State, to perpetu-
ate an event which is deemed to be so creditable to
their exertions in the conflict. The ceremony of
yesterday was to lay the corner-stone of this monu-

I shall not pretend to enter into a detail of pro-
ceedings that were alike noble and affecting. Tens
of thousands were on the hill, and Mr. Webster, a
distinguished citizen of Boston, addressed his coun-


trymen from a stand where his words reached the
ears of a mu]titude. I saw La Fayette in the occu-
pancy of a high place, and when the orator spoke of
his particular services, there were a few minutes of
intense and delightful interest. There was also a little
group of gray-headed and tottering veterans, who,
fifty years iDcfore, had risked their lives, or shed their
hlood, on the precise spot where so many people had
now assembled in prosperous and peaceful security.
Altogether it was one of the most interesting ceremo-
nies I ever witnessed, and I regret that my limits ab-
solutely forbid its description. Among other things,
there was an entertainment spread on the hill, of
near or quite four thousand covers.

Boston is a wealthy, a thriving, and decidedly a
picturesque town. It stands on an uneven surface,
and it occupies nearly the whole of a peninsula of
several miles in circuit. Large villages are rising
on the adjoining shores, at the different points where
the numerous bridsres connect the town with what


may be called the main. The population, within a
circumference of twelve miles, must, 1 think, exceed
eighty thousand souls. The harbour is beautiful, and
dotted with islands. It is one of the most secure in
America, and would easily contain five or six hun-
dred sail. But there is no fixing its hmits, as it is
several miles to the open sea, and warehouses might
be erected to advantage on most of the islands, espe-
cially if a few breakwaters were constructed.

One of the best, and the oldest of the universities
of the United States, is within a few miles of Boston.
We visited this institution, as well as that of Yale, in
our journey to this place. We dined in the commons
of the latter, with one of the tutors. I was struck
with one circumstance on this occasion, which, as it
is in striking contrast with what occurs in the univer-
sities of the mother country, I shall mention.

Cadwallader has a kinsman at Yale, who is de-


scended from one of the wealthiest and best known
families of this country. The young man himself,
who is a fine, gentleman-like and manly youth, is
actually in possession (or will be on attaining his
majority) of a fortune that would be deemed very
large in most countries. He dined at a table within
twenty feet of us. During the repast, which was
exceedingly simple and without any beverage but
water and cider, I observed one of the servants
coolly seated by the side of, and in close conference
with, the kinsman of my friend. In a few minutes
the domestic arose to hand the bread to one of the
young gentlemen. In the course of the evening,
when we were at our inn, I ventured to ask the
youth if the servants of the university were permit-
ted to take such liberties. The face of the young
man flushed, and he told me he did not understand

me. I explained. " Oh, that was ; he is a

class-mate: but he waits, during the meals, in order
to pay his board: he is poor, and can do no better."
" And you make a companion of him V " Why not :
is poverty a shame?" I was silenced, and when

had left us, the conversation was renewed

between Cadwallader and myself.

" There is a singular but gross error prevalent in
Europe," said my friend, " on the subject of the in-
fluence of wealth in America. Money is' a positive
good every where, since it buys not only necessaries,
but commands, in a greater or less degree, the re-
spect of those who wish to profit by it. But money
is more within the reach of individuals here than any
where else, at least, a sufiiciency of money to leave
men in the possession of those independent feelings
which belong to nature, arid which must be suppress-
ed by some artificial cause, or they will be found in
every bosom, inasmuch as they depend on the inhe-
rent qualities of pride and will. I think money of
more importance in England, than in any counln- I

Vol. II. D d


have ever visited. It is obviously necessary it should
be so, since, without it, men are reduced to scanty
means of subsistence, and to a straitened and often
miserable economy. I have seen people in England
with incomes of two or three hundred a year, exist-
ing in narrow lodgings, compelled to calculate closely
the amount of their daily consumption, and positively
enjoying no one exclusive advantage ; when men of
the same income, in America, might dwell in houses
of three times their size, better furnished, and sup-
plied in abundance with every necessary of life ; in-
deed, in an abundance that is scarcely known in any
part of Europe. I know this fact from close observa-
tion. People may wish to dispute it ; but the prices
of things are sufficient evidences of its truth. There
is scarcely a necessary of hfe, clothes and some few
manufactured articles excepted, that is not to be had
at about half the cost in America that it can be had
in England. But most of the exceptions are articles
to be purchased rarely: in the articles of luxury,
there is no comparison. It is, therefore, no more
than a natural consequence of such abundance, that
money should be less esteemed than where indul-
gences are dearer. Then our institutions, our habits,
and our opinions, give no artificial importance to
wealth. A man can neither buy preferment in church,
state, army, navy, nor in any thing else, with his dol-
lars. He can give dinners, and he can educate his chil-
dren, and give them manners, and, in this direct and
natural manner, advance his own or their importance ;
but there the benefits of money cease. I do not
mean to say that society is not penetrated in America
by the use of money, for it is to be penetrated every
where by its agency ; but it must be done here ex-

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 54 of 58)