James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 6 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 6 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that part of it which is not peopled. We should
then reject a very large portion of Maine, and a good
deal of land in the northern parts of Vermont and
New-Hampshire, including, perhaps, twenty thousand
square miles. This estimate would leave forty inhab
itants to the square mile. But we will confine our-
selves to Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode
Island ; neither of which, for America, has an unusual
quantity of vacant land. Their surface embraces about
14,000 square miles. The population is not quite a
million. This will give an average of a little less than
seventy to the square mile. Here, then, we have
what may be considered the maximum of the density
of American population on any very extended surface.
There is a fair proportion of town and country, and
a more equal distribution of the labour of society,
between commerce, manufactures, and agriculture,
than perhaps in any other section of the Union. You
are not, however, to suppose that this amount of pop-
ulation is confined to these three states. A great deal
of New- York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and certain
districts in many other states, have attained, or even
exceed, this ratio. Thus the highest comparative rate
of population in this country, estimating it in districts
of any considerable extent, is a little less than that
of the whole kingdom of Denmark, and very mate-
rially exceeding that of Spain.

Still you will scarcely be able to obtain a just idea
of the outward appearance of New-England from a
knowledge of these facts. You must have often ob-
served, in travelling through the most populous coun-
tries of Europe, how few of their people are seen.
France, for instance, only shows the millions with
which she is teeming, in her cities and villages. Nor
are you struck with the populousness of even the



DECEPTIVE APPEARANCE OF POPULATION. 67

latter, unless you happen to enter them on fetes, or
have an opportunity of examining them in the even-
ing, after the labourers have returned from the fieMs.
This is, more or less, true with every other country
in Europe. Even in England, one does not see much
of the population out of the towns, unless at fairs, or
merry-makings. Now I do not remember to have
ever travelled so far through any country which ap-
peared more populous than the parts of New-England
described."^ This peculiarity may be ascribed to sev-
eral causes.

The whole country is subdivided into small free-
holds, which are commonly tilled by their owners.
The average size of these estates is probably less
than a hundred acres. Each, as a general rule, has
its house and*out-houses. These buildings are usually
very near the pubHc roads, and consequently in plain
view of the traveller. The field labour is also com-
monly done at no great distance from the highway.
In addition to these reasons, the Americans are
thought to perform more journeys, and, consequently,
to be more before the eye of their visiters than com-
inon. Cadwallader accounts for the latter circum-
stance in various ways. The greatness of the inter-
mediate distances is the chief of his reasons. But the
mental activity of the people, together with the ab-
sence of want, are thought to have a proportionate
etlect. I hear wonders of the throngs that are seen,
at certain seasons, on the avenues which lead from
tue interior to any of the great markets. My com-
panion assures me he once counted eight hundred
wagons in the distance of forty miles, most of which
were conveying \\heat t3 the city of Albany. On the
same road there were sixty taverns in a distance of as
many miles ; a sufficient proof in itself of the amount
of travelling.

* Part of the North of Italy may, perhui-s, be excepted.



58 APPEARANCE OF COUNTRY.

Now, all this does not at all comport with our
vague European notions of America. We are apt to
imagine it a thinly populated, wooded, and fertile,
though little cultivated region. Thinly populated it
assuredly is, when the whole number of its square
miles is compared to the whole amount of its popula-
tion. But from what I have seen and heard, I feel
persuaded, that an American, who understood his
ground, might conduct a stranger, who knew nothing
of the true numbers of the country, over a territory
which shall greatly exceed France in extent, and
leave the impression on the mind of his guest, that it
was more populous than the latter kingdom. In
hazarding this opinion, however, I except the effect
of the great towns, and of the villages on fete days
and at evenings. In continental Europe the traveller
often feels a sense of loneliness, though surrounded
by millions of human beings. He sees no houses out
of the villages ; he meets few on the highways ; even
the field labourers are half the time removed from
sight, and when he enters a wood, it is usually a
tenantless forest. In the parts of America I have as
yet visited, the very reverse is the case. Unless in
particular instances, houses occurred at very short
intervals ; the highways were not thronged as de-
scribed by Cadwallader, it is true, but I saw more
travellers than is usual in the season of harvest; and
1 scarcely recollect the moment v^hen my eye could
not discover groups of field labourers. Of wood
there was certainly plenty ; but of forests, with the
exception of now and then a mountain, scarcely any.
At the latter fact, no less than at the air of populous-
ness which distinguishes this portion of the country,
I have been greatly surprised. I passed several com-
paratively barren tracts which were sutFered to sus-
tain what wood they might, and I saw ridges of un-
even, broken land, that probably still lay in their
native shades ; but the character of the w^hole dis-



WOOD FERTILITY OF SPOTS, ETC. 59

trict was that of a succession of fields, sprinkled with
houses, and embellished with little groves, that were
reserved for the domestic supply of their respective
owners. Indeed, in some quarters, there actually
appeared less wood than was necessary, when it is
remembered the inhabitants use little other fuel, and
how expensive the transportation of an article so
heavy soon becomes.

I should not describe New-England as a particu-
larly fertile region. A large proportion of its surface,
at least of the part I saw, was rugged and difficult of
tillage, though but little of it was positively sterile.
It is rather a grazing, than a grain country. For the
former, it is well adapted ; the land apparently pro-
ducing rich and sweet grasses in almost every quar-
ter. There were, however, large districts of deep
alluvial soil, where any plant that will thrive in this
climate might be successfully grown. I scarcely re-
member so beautiful a country, or a more fertile
looking one, than some of that I passed along the
borders of the Connecticut." The river bottoms were
loaded with their products, and the adjacent swells
were every where crowned with evidences of the
abundance they had lavished on their possessors, in
the shape of well-stored barns and spacious and com-
fortable dwellings. In this excursion I first saw ex-
tensive and luxuriant fields of that favourite Ameri-
can plant — the maize. It is deemed an infallible test
of the quality of the soil, no less than of the chmate,
throughout most of the Union. Where maize will
not grow, the husbandman is reluctant to dwell. It
furnishes a healthful nourishment for man and beast,
nor is there any useful animal that will not thrive
upon its food. I do not think I passed a solitary farm
that had not more or less maize in cultivation. It is
universally called "corn" joar excellence. As it is
indigenous to the country, sometimes the word
Indian is prefixed. But when an American says



60 MAIZE NEW-ENGLAND VILLAGES.

" corn," he invariably means "maize." It is a splen-
did plant as it grows in this country, surpassing in
appearance any other that appertains to husbandry.
It is said to be still finer and more luxuriant to the
south, but to me, there was great pleasure, as I saw
it here, in gazing at its broad, gracefully curving, dark
green blades, as they waved in the wind. It was in
the tassel, and its ordinary height could not be much
less than eight ieet Many fields must have exceeded
this growth.

New-England may justly glory in its villages !
Notwithstanding the number of detached houses that
are every where seen, villages are far from unfre-
quent, and often contain a population of some two
or three thousand. In space, freshness, an air of
neatness and of comfort, they far exceed any thing I
have ever seen, even in the mother country. With
now and then an exception of some one among them
that possesses a more crowded, commercial, or manu-
facturing population, than common, they all partake
of the same character. I have passed, in one day,
six or seven of these beautiful, tranquil and enviable
looking hamlets, for not one of which have I been
able to recollect an equal in the course of all my
European travelling. They tell me, here, that vil-
lages, or small towns, abound in the newer portions
of the northern and western states, that even eclipse
those of New-England, since they unite, to all the
neatness and space of the latter, the improvements
of a still more modern origin.

In order to bring to your mind's eye a sketch of
New-England scenery, you are to draw upon your
imagination for the following objects. Fancy your-
self on some elevation that will command the view
of a horizon that embraces a dozen miles. The coun-
try within this boundary must be undulating, rising in
bold swells, or occasionally exhibiting a broken, if not
a ragged surface. But these inequalities must be



A NEW-ENGLANP LANDSCAPE. 61

counterbalanced by broad and rich swales of land,
that frequently spread out into lovely little valleys.
If there be a continued range of precipitous heights
in view, let it be clad in the verdure of the forest.
If not, wood must be scattered in profusion over the
landscape, in leafy shadows that cover surfaces of
twenty and thirty acres. Buildings, many white, re-
lieved by Venetian blinds in green, some of the dun
colour of time, and others of a dusky red, must be
seen standing amid orchards, and marking, by their
positions, the courses of the numberless highways.
Here and there, a spire, or often two, may be seen
pointing towards the skies from the centre of a cluster
of roofs. Perhaps a line of blue mountains is to be
traced in the distance, or the course of a river to be
followed by a long succession of fertile meadows.
The whole country is to be subdivided by low stone
walls, or wooden fences, made in various fashions, the
quality of each improving, or deteriorating, as you
approach, or recede from the dwelling of the owner
of the soil. Cattle are to be seen grazing in the fields,
or ruminating beneath the branches of single trees,
that are left for shade in every pasture, and flocks are
to be seen clipping the closer herbage of the hill sides.
In the midst of this picture must man be placed, quiet,
orderly, and industrious. By limiting this rural pic-
ture to greater, or less extensive, scenes of similar
quiet and abundance, or occasionally swelling it out,
until a succession of villages, a wider range of hills,
and some broad valley, through which a third-rate
American river winds its way to the ocean, ^re in-
cluded, your imagination can embrace almost every
variety of landscape I beheld in the course of my
journey.

Concerning the character of the people, you cannot
expect me to write very profoundly on so short an
acquaintance. In order, however, that you may know
Itow to estimate the value of the opinions I shall vcji-

VoL. 1. G



62 INTERCOURSE WITH THE PEOPLE.

ture to give, it is necessary that you should learn the
circumstances under which they have been formed.
Before parting from Cadwallader, I requested he
would give me some brief written directions, not only
of the route I was to pursue, but of the manner in
which I was to regulate my intercourse with the peo-
ple. I extract the substance of his reply, omitting
the line of route he advised, which is already known
to you.

" As respects intercourse with the inhabitants, your
path is perfectly plain. You speak the language with
what we call the intonation of an Englishman. In
America, while there are provincial, or state peculi-
arities, in tone, and even in the pronunciation and
use of certain words, there is no patois. An Ameri-
can may distinguish between the Georgian and the
New-Englandman, but you cannot. In this particular
our ears are very accurate, and while we can, and
do pass for natives every day in England, it is next to
impossible for an Englishman to escape detection in
America. Five out of six of the whole English nation,
let them be educated ever so much, retain something
of the peculiarity of their native county.. The excep-
tions are much fewer than they suppose themselves,
and are chiefly in the very highest circles. But there
is also a slang of society in England, which forms no
part of the true language. Most of those who escape
the patois, adopt something of the slang of the day.
There is also a fashion of intonation in the mother
country which it is often thought vulgar to omit. All
these differences, with many others, which it may be
curious to notice hereafter, mark the Englishman at
once. I think, therefore, you will be mistaken for a
native of some of the less accurate counties of Eng-
land. It will, in consequence, be necessary for you
to be more on your guard against offence than if you
were thought a German, or a Frenchman. The rea-
sons for this caution are perfectly obvious. It is not



ENGLISH TRAVELLERS. 63

because the American is more disposed to seek
grounds of complaint against his English visiter, but
because he has been more accustomed to find them.
All young travellers are, as a matter of course,
grumblers ; but an Englishman is proverbially the
grumbler. It is generally enough for him, that he
meets an usage different from that to which he has
been accustomed, to condemn it. It is positively true,
that an intelligent and highly talented individual of
that country, once complained to me, that' in the
month of January the days were so much shorter in
New- York than in London !* His native propensity
had blinded him to the material fact, that the former
city was in 41^, while the latter lay 10° higher. Now,
the Englishman may grumble any where else Vvith
more impunity than in America. In France, in
Germany, or in Italy, he is not often understood, and
half the time, a Frenchman, in particular, is disposed
to think his country is receiving compliments, instead
of anathemas. But with an American, there can of
course be no such mistake. He not only understands
the sneer, but he knows whence it comes. Though
far from obtrusive on such occasions, it is not rare
for the offended party to retort, whenever the case
will admit of his interference. The consequence has
been, that, as a class, the English travellers now be-
have themselves better in America than in any other
country. But a character has been gained, and it
will require a good deal of time to eradicate it The
servant of the respectable Mr. Hodgson tells his mas-
ter that the people of the inns " are surprised to find
Enghshmen behave so well." But after all, with a



* This mistake is not, in truth, as absurd as it first seems. The
twilight, in high latitudes, serves to eke out the day, so as greatly
to subtract from the amount of total darkness. Had the gentle-
man in question chosen any other part of England than London,
he might have found some pretext for his opinion.



64 NEW-ENGLAND INN-KEEPER.

great deal that is not only absurd, but offensive, there
is something that maj be excused in the discontent
of an Englishman, when travelling in a foreign
country. The wealth of an immense empire has
centered at home, in a comparatively diminutive king-
dom, and he who can command a tolerable propor-
tion of that wealth may purchase a degree of comfort
that is certainly not to be obtained out of it. But
comfort is not the only consequence of those broad
distinctions between the very rich, and the very
poor. It is saying nothing new, to say that the lower
orders of the English, more particularly those who
are brought in immediate contact with the rich, ex-
ceed all other Christians in abject servility to their
superiors. It may be new, but in reflecting on the
causes, you will perceive it is not surprising, that on
the contrary, the common American should be more
natural, and less reserved in his communications with
men above him in the scale of society, than the
peasant of Europe. While the English traveller, there-
fore, is more exacting, the American labourer is less
disposed to be submissive than usual. But ev,ery atten-
tion within the bounds of reason will be shown you,
though it is not thought in reason, in New-England
especially, that one man should assume a tone of con-
firmed superiority over the rest of mankind, merely
because he wears a better coat, or has more money
in his purse. Notwithstanding this stubborn temper
of independence, no man better understands the obH-
gations between him who pays, and him who re-
ceives, than the native of New-England. The inn-
keeper of Old England, and the inn-keeper of New-
England, form the very extremes of their class. The
one is obsequious to the rich, the other unmoved, and
often apparently cold. The first seems to calculate
at a glance, the amount of profit you are likely to
leave behind you ; while his opposite appears only to
calculate in what manner he can most contribute to



HIS CHARACTER AND SITUATION IN LIFE. 65

your comfort, without materially impairing his own.
It IS a mistake, however, that the latter is filled with
a sense of his own imaginary importance. It troubles
him as Httle as the subject does any other possessor
of a certain established rank, since there is no one to
dispute it. He is often a magistrate, the chief of a
battahon of mihtia, or even a member of a state legis-
lature. He is almost always a man of character; for
it is difficult for any other to obtain a license to ex-
ercise the calling. If he has the pride of conscious
superiority, he is not wanting in its principles. He
has often even more : he has frequently a pecuhar
pride in his profession. I have known a publican,
who filled a high and responsible situation in the gov-
ernment of the first state of this confederation, offi-
ciously convey my baggage to a place of security, be-
cause he thought it was his duty to protect my prop-
erty when under his roof. An English inn-keeper
would not have impaired his domestic importance
by such an act. He would have called upon John,
the head-waiter, and John would probably have
bid Thomas Ostler, or Boots, to come to his as-
sistance. In both cases, the work would be done, I
grant you ; but under very different feelings. I pro-
fess to no more knowledge of the boasted English
inn-keeper, than what any one may gain, who has
travelled among them, in every manner, from a seat
on the top of a stage-coach, to one in a post-chaise
and four. But, with the publican of New-England,
I have a long and intimate acquaintance, and I fear-
lessly affirm, that he has been the subject of much
and groundless calumny.

"If servility, an air of empress ement, and a merce-
nary interest in your comforts, form essentials to your
happiness and self-complacency, England, with a full
pocket, against the world. But, if you can be con-
tent to receive consister civility, great kindness, and
a temperate respect, ii which he who serves you
&2



06 DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INN-KEEPERS.

consults his own character no less than yours, and all
at a cheap rate, you will travel not only in New-
England, but throughout most of the United States,
with perfect satisfaction. God protect the wretch,
whom poverty and disease shall attack in an English
inn ! Depend on it, their eulogies have been written
by men who were unaccustomed to want. It is even
a calamity to be obliged to have a saving rega ^d to
the contents of your purse, under the observation of
their mercenary legions ! There seems an intuitive
ability in all that belongs to them, to graduate your
wealth, your importance, and the extent of their own
servility. Now, on the other hand, a certain reason-
ing distinction usually controls the manner in which
the American inn-keeper receives his guests. He pays
greater attention to the gentleman than to the tin-
pedlar, because he knows it is necessary to the habits
of the former, and because he thinks it is no more
than a just return for the greater price he pays. But
he is civil, and even kind, to both alike. He some-
times makes blunders, it is true, for he meets with
characters that are new to him, or is required to de-
cide on distinctions of which he has no idea. A hale,
well-looking, active, and intelligent American, will
scarcely ever submit his personal comforts, or the
hourly control of his movements, to the caprices of
another, by becoming a domestic servant. Neither
would the European, if he could do any thing better.
It is not astonishing, therefore, that a publican, in a
retired quarter of the country, should sometimes be
willing to think that the European servants he sees,
are entitled to eat with their masters, or that he calls
both 'gentlemen.' A striking and national trait in
the American, is a constant and grave regard to the
feelings of others. It is even more peculiar to New-
England, than to any other section of our country.
It is the best and surest fruit of high civilization. Not
that civilization which chisels marble and gilds salons.



ADVICE TO TRAVELLERS. 67

but that which marks the progress of reason, and
which, under certain circumstances, makes men pol-
ished, and, under all, renders them humane. In this
particular, America is, beyond a doubt, the most
civilized nation in the world, inasmuch as the aggre-
gate of her humanity, intelligence and comfort, com-
pared with her numbers, has nothing like an equal.

" From these facts, you may easily glean a know-
ledge of the personal treatmicnt you are likely to re-
ceive in your approaching excursion. There will be
an absence of many of those forms to which you have
been accustomed, but their place will be supplied by
a disinterested kindness, that it may require time to
understand, but which, once properly understood,
can never be supplied by any meretricious substitute.
I never knew an American of healthful feelings, who
did not find moi;e disgust than satisfaction, in the ob-
sequiousness of the English domestics. For myself,
I will avow that the servility, which I can readily
understand may become so necessary by indulgence,
gave me a pain that you will, perhaps, fmd it difficult
to comprehend. I do not say it may not be necessary
in Europe, particularly in England, but 1 do say, thank
God, it is not necessary here.

"It will be prudent, at all times, to treat those who
serve you with great attention to their feelings. An
instance may serve as an example. A few years since,
I was in a boat, on one of our interior waters, accom-
panied by a fine, gentlemanlike, manly, aristocratic
young Englishman. One of the boatmen incommoded
us with his feet 'Go forward, Sir,' said my English
companion, in a tone that would have answered bet-
ter on the Thames, than on the Cayuga. The boat-
man looked a little surprised, and a good deal deter-
mined. There was an evident struggle, between his
pride and his desire not to give otTence to a stranger.
* We have scarcely room here for our feet,' I observed ;
*if you will go forward, we shall be more c%mfort-



68 ADVICE TO TRAVELLERS.

able.' ' Oh ! with all my heart, Sir,' returned the man,
who complied without any further hesitation. The
same individual, if left to his own suggestions, or not
assailed in his pride, would probably have plunged
into the lake for our pleasure, and that, too, without
stopping to consider whether he was to get six-pence
for his ducking. With this single caution you may go
from Maine to Georgia with perfect safety, and, most
of the distance, with sufficient comfort; often with
more even than in England, and, generally, at a price
which, compared with what you receive, is infinitely
below the cheapest rate of travelling in any part of
Europe. It is a ludicrous mistake, that you must treat
every American as your companion in society, but it
is very necessary that he should be treated as your
equal in the eye of God."

I must leave you, for the moment, with this morceau



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 6 of 58)