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colonies excepted. Something of this still remained, but it existed rather
as the exception than as the rule. I then felt, at every turn, that I was
in a foreign country; whereas, now, the idea did not obtrude itself,
unless I was brought in immediate contact with the people.

America, in my time, at least, has always had an active and swift
communication with the rest of the world. As a people, we are, beyond a
question, decidedly provincial; but our provincialism is not exactly one
of external appearance. The men are negligent of dress, for they are much
occupied, have few servants, and clothes are expensive; but the women
dress remarkably near the Parisian _modes_. We have not sufficient
confidence in ourselves to set fashions. All our departures from the
usages of the rest of mankind are results of circumstances, and not of
calculation, - unless, indeed, it be one that is pecuniary. Those whose
interest it is to produce changes cause fashions to travel fast, and there
is not so much difficulty, or more cost, in transporting anything from
Havre to New York, than there is in transporting the same thing from
Calais to London; and far less difficulty in causing a new _mode_ to be
introduced, since, as a young people, we are essentially imitative. An
example or two will better illustrate what I mean.

When I visited London, with a part of my family, in 1823, after passing
near two years on the continent of Europe, Mrs. - - was compelled to
change her dress - at all times simple, but then, as a matter of course,
Parisian - in order not to be the subject of unpleasant observation. She
might have gone in a carriage attired as a Frenchwoman, for they who ride
in England are not much like those who walk; but to walk in the streets,
and look at objects, it was far pleasanter to seem English than to seem
French. Five years later, we took London on our way to America, and even
then something of the same necessity was felt. On reaching home, with
dresses fresh from Paris, the same party was only in the _mode_; with
_toilettes_ a little, and but very little, better arranged, it is true,
but in surprising conformity with those of all around them. On visiting
our own little retired mountain village, these Parisian-made dresses were
scarcely the subject of remark to any but to your _connoisseurs_. My
family struck me as being much less peculiar in the streets of C - - than
they had been, a few months before, in the streets of London. All this
must be explained by the activity of the intercourse between France and
America, and by the greater facility of the Americans in submitting to the
despotism of foreign fashions.

Another fact will show you another side of the subject. While at Paris, a
book of travels in America, written by an Englishman (Mr. Vigne), fell
into my hands. The writer, apparently a well-disposed and sensible man,
states that he was dancing _dos-à-dos_ in a _quadrille_, at New York, when
he found, by the embarrassment of the rest of the set, he had done
something wrong. Some one kindly told him that they no longer danced
_dos-à-dos_. In commenting on this trifling circumstance, the writer
ascribes the whole affair to the false delicacy of our women! Unable to
see the connexion between the cause and the effect, I pointed out the
paragraph to one of my family, who was then in the daily practice of
dancing, and that too in Paris itself, the very court of Terpsichore. She
laughed, and told me that the practice of dancing _dos-à-dos had gone out
at Paris a year or two before_, and that doubtless the newer _mode_ had
reached New York before it reached Mr. Vigne! These are trifles, but they
are the trifles that make up the sum of national peculiarities, ignorance
of which leads us into a thousand fruitless and absurd conjectures. In
this little anecdote we learn the great rapidity with which new fashions
penetrate American usages, and the greater ductility of American society
in visible and tangible things, at least; and the heedless manner with
which even those who write in a good spirit of America, jump to their
conclusions. Had Captain Hall, or Mrs. Trollope, encountered this unlucky
_quadrille_, they would probably have found some clever means of imputing
the _nez-à-nez_ tendencies of our dances to the spirit of democracy! The
latter, for instance, is greatly outraged by the practice of wearing hats
in Congress, and of placing the legs on tables; and, yet, both have been
practised in Parliament from time immemorial! She had never seen her own
Legislature, and having a set of theories cut and dried for Congress,
everything that struck her as novel was referred to one of her
preconceived notions. In this manner are books manufactured, and by such
means are nations made acquainted with each other!

Cowes resembles a toy-town. The houses are tiny; the streets, in the
main, are narrow, and not particularly straight, while everything is
neat as wax. Some new avenues, however, are well planned, and, long ere
this, are probably occupied; and there were several small marine villas
in or near the place. One was shown me that belonged to the Duke of
Norfolk. It had the outward appearance of a medium-sized American
country-house. The bluff King Hall caused another castle to be built
here also, which, I understood, was inhabited at the time by the family
of the Marquis of Anglesey, who was said to be its governor. A part of
the system of the English, government patronage is connected with these
useless castles and nominally fortified places. Salaries are attached to
the governments, and the situations are usually bestowed on military
men. This is a good or a bad regulation, as the patronage is used. In a
nation of extensive military operations it might prove a commendable and
a delicate way of rewarding services; but, as the tendency of mankind is
to defer to intrigue, and to augment power rather than to reward merit,
the probability is, that these places are rarely bestowed, except in the
way of political _quids pro quos_.

I was, with one striking exception, greatly disappointed in the general
appearance of the females that I met in the streets. While strolling in
the skirts of the town, I came across a group of girls and boys, in which
a laughable scene of nautical gallantry was going on. The boys, lads of
fourteen or fifteen, were young sailors, and among the girls, who were of
the same age and class, was one of bewitching beauty. There had been some
very palpable passages of coquetry between the two parties, when one of
the young sailors, a tight lad of thirteen or fourteen, rushed into the
bevy of petticoats, and, borne away by an ecstasy of admiration, but
certainly guided by an excellent taste, he seized the young Venus round
the neck, and dealt out some as hearty smacks as I remember to have heard.
The working of emotion in the face of the girl was a perfect study.
Confusion and shame came first; indignation followed; and, darting out
from among her companions, she dealt her robust young admirer such a
slap in the face, that it sounded like the report of a pocket-pistol.
The blow was well meant, and admirably administered. It left the mark of
every finger on the cheek of the sturdy little fellow. The lad clenched
his fist, seemed much disposed to retort in kind, and ended by telling
his beautiful antagonist that it was very fortunate for her she was not
a boy. But it was the face of the girl herself that drew my attention.
It was like a mirror which reflected every passing thought. When she
gave the blow, it was red with indignation. This feeling instantly gave
way to a kinder sentiment, and her colour softened to a flush of
surprise at the boldness of her own act. Then came a laugh, and a look
about her, as if to inquire if she had been very wrong; the whole
terminating in an expression of regret in the prettiest blue eyes in the
world, which might have satisfied any one that an offence occasioned by
her own sweet face was not unpardonable. The sweetness, the
ingenuousness, the spirit mingled with softness, exhibited in the
countenance of this girl, are, I think, all characteristic of the
English female countenance, when it has not been marble-ized by the
over-wrought polish of high breeding. Similar countenances occur in
America, though, I think, less frequently than here; and I believe them
to be quite peculiar to the Anglo-Saxon race. The workings of such a
countenance are like the play of lights and shades in a southern sky.

From the windows of the inn we had a very good view of a small
castellated dwelling that one of the King's architects had caused to be
erected for himself. The effect of gray towers seen over the tree-tops,
with glimpses of the lawn, visible through vistas in the copses, was
exceedingly pretty; though the indescribable influence of association
prevented us from paying that homage to turrets and walls of the
nineteenth, that we were ready so devotedly to pay to anything of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

We broke bread, for the first time in Europe, that evening, having made
an early and a hurried dinner on board the ship. The Isle of Wight is
celebrated for its butter, and yet we found it difficult to eat it! The
English, and many other European nations, put no salt in their table
butter; and we, who had been accustomed to the American usage, exclaimed
with one voice against its insipidity. A near relation of A - - 's who
once served in the British army, used to relate an anecdote on the
subject of tastes, that is quite in point. A brother officer, who had
gone safely through the celebrated siege of Gibraltar, landed at
Portsmouth, on his return home. Among the other privations of his recent
service, he had been compelled to eat butter whose fragrance scented the
whole Rock. Before retiring for the night, he gave particular orders to
have hot rolls and Isle of Wight butter served for breakfast. The first
mouthful disappointed him, and of course the unlucky waiter suffered.
The latter protested that he had executed the order to the letter. "Then
take away your Isle of Wight butter," growled the officer, "and bring me
some that _has a taste_."

Like him of Gibraltar, we were ready to exclaim, "Take away your Isle of
Wight butter, and bring us some from the good ship Hudson," which, though
not quite as fragrant as that which had obtained its odour in a siege, was
not entirely without a taste. This little event, homely as it may appear,
is connected with the principle that influences the decisions of more than
half of those who visit foreign nations. Usages are condemned because they
are not our own; practices are denounced if their connexion with fitness
is not self-apparent to our inexperience; and men and things are judged by
rules that are of local origin and local application. The moral will be
complete when I add, that we, who were so fastidious about the butter at
Cowes, after an absence of nearly eight years from America, had the salt
regularly worked out of all we ate, for months after our return home,
protesting there was no such thing as good butter in America. Had Mrs. - -
introduced the Philadelphia butter, however, I think her husband must have
succumbed, for I believe it to be the best in the world, not even
excepting that of Leyden.

Towards evening, the Hudson having landed all her passengers, and the most
of those who were in the steerage, went round the eastern point of the
little port, on her way to London.

After taking an early breakfast, we all got into a carriage called a
sociable, which is very like a larger sort of American coaches and went to
Newport, the principal town in the island. The road ran between hedges,
and the scenery was strictly English. Small enclosures, copses, a sward
clipped close as velvet, and trees (of no great size or beauty, however,)
scattered in the fields, with an effect nearly equal to landscape
gardening, were the predominant features. The drought had less influence
on the verdure here than in Dorsetshire. The road was narrow and winding,
the very _beau idéal_ of a highway; for, in this particular, the general
rule obtains that what is agreeable is the least useful. Thanks to the
practical good sense and perseverance of Mr. McAdam, not only the road in
question, but nearly all the roads of Great Britain have been made, within
the last five-and-twenty years, to resemble in appearance, but really to
exceed in solidity and strength, the roads one formerly saw in the grounds
of private gentlemen. These roads are almost flat, and when they have been
properly constructed, the wheel rolls over them as if passing along a bed
of iron. Apart from the levels, which, of course, are not so rigidly
observed, there is not, any very sensible difference between the draught
on a really good McAdamized road and on a railroad. We have a few roads in
America that are nearly as good as most one meets with, but we have
nothing that deserves to be termed a real imitation of the system of Mr.
McAdam.

The distance to Newport was only four or five miles. The town itself, a
borough, but otherwise of little note, lies in a very sweet vale, and is
neat but plain, resembling, in all but its greater appearance of
antiquity and the greater size of its churches, one of our own
provincial towns of the same size. A - - and myself took a fly, and
went, by a very rural road, to Carisbrooke, a distance of about a mile,
in quest of lodgings. Carisbrooke is a mere village, but the whole
valley in this part of the island is so highly cultivated, and so many
pretty cottages meet the eye - not cottages of the poor, but cottages of
the rich - that it has an air of finish and high cultivation that we are
accustomed to see only in the immediate vicinity of large towns, and not
always even there.

On reaching the hamlet of Carisbrooke we found ourselves immediately
beneath the castle. There was a fine old village church, one of those
picturesque rustic edifices which abound in England, a building that time
had warped and twisted in such a way as to leave few parallel lines, or
straight edges, or even regular angles, in any part of it. They told us,
also, that the remains of a ruined priory were at hand. We had often
laughed since at the eagerness and delight with which we hurried off to
look at these venerable objects. It was soon decided, however, that it was
a pleasure too exquisite to be niggardly enjoyed alone, and the carriage
was sent back with orders to bring up the whole party.

While the fly - a Liliputian coach drawn by a single horse, a sort of
diminutive buggy - was absent, we went in quest of the priory. The people
were very civil, and quite readily pointed out the way. We found the ruin
in a farmyard. There was literally nothing but a very small fragment of a
blind wall, but with these materials we went to work with the imagination,
and soon completed the whole edifice. We might even have peopled it, had
not Carisbrooke, with its keep, its gateway, and its ivy-clad ramparts,
lain in full view, inviting us to something less ideal. The church,
too - the rude, old, hump-backed church was already opened, waiting to be
inspected.

The interior of this building was as ancient, in appearance, at least,
and quite as little in harmony with right lines and regular angles, as
its exterior. All the wood-work was of unpainted oak, a colour, however,
that was scarcely dark enough to be rich; a circumstance which, to
American eyes, at least - eyes on whose lenses paint is ever
present - gave it an unfinished look. Had we seen this old building five
years later, we might have thought differently. As for the English oak,
of which one has heard so much, it is no great matter: our own common
oaks are much prettier, and, did we understand their beauty, there would
not be a village church in America that, in this particular, would not
excel the finest English cathedral. I saw nothing in all Europe, of this
nature, that equalled the common oaken doors of the hall at C - - , which
you know so well.

A movement in the church-yard called us out, and we became pained
witnesses of the interment of two of the "unhonoured dead." The air,
manner and conduct of these funerals made a deep impression on us both.
The dead were a woman and a child, but of different families. There were
three or four mourners belonging to each party. Both the bodies were
brought in the same horse-cart, and they were buried by the same
service. The coffins were of coarse wood, stained with black, in a way
to betray poverty. It was literally _le convoi du pauvre_. Deference to
their superiors, and the struggle to maintain appearances - for there was
a semblance of the pomp of woe, even in these extraordinary groups, of
which all were in deep mourning - contrasted strangely with the extreme
poverty of the parties, the niggardly administration of the sacred
offices, and the business-like manner of the whole _transaction_. The
mourners evidently struggled between natural grief and the bewilderment
of their situation. The clergyman was a good-looking young man, in a
dirty surplice. Most probably he was a curate. He read the service in a
strong voice, but without reverence, and as if he were doing it by the
job. In every way short measure was dealt out to the poor mourners. When
the solemn words of "dust to dust, ashes to ashes," were uttered, he
bowed hastily towards each grave - he stood between them - and the
assistants met his wholesale administration of the rites with a
wholesale sympathy.

The ceremony was no sooner over, than the clergyman and his clerk retired
into the church. One or two of the men cast wistful eyes towards the
graves, neither of which was half filled, and reluctantly followed. I
could scarcely believe my senses, and ventured to approach the door. Here
I met such a view as I had never before seen, and hope never to witness
again. On one side of me two men were filling the graves; on the opposite,
two others were actually paying the funeral fees. In one ear was the
hollow sound of the clod on the coffin; in the other the chinking of
silver on the altar! Yea, literally on the altar! We are certainly far
behind this great people in many essential particulars; our manners are
less formed; our civilization is less perfect; but, thanks to the spirit
which led our ancestors into the wilderness! such mockery of the Almighty
and his worship, such a mingling of God and Mammon, never yet disgraced
the temple within the wide reach of the American borders.

We were joined by the whole party before the sods were laid on the graves
of the poor; but some time after the silver had been given for the
consolations of religion. With melancholy reflections we mounted to the
castle. A - - had been educated in opinions peculiarly favourable to
England; but I saw, as we walked mournfully away from the spot, that one
fact like this did more to remove the film from her eyes, than volumes of
reading.

Carisbrooke has been too often described to need many words. Externally,
it is a pile of high battlemented wall, completely buried in ivy, forming
within a large area, that was once subdivided into courts, of which
however, there are, at present, scarcely any remains. We found an old
woman as warder, who occupied a room or two in a sort of cottage that had
been made out of the ruins. The part of the edifice which had been the
prison of Charles I. was a total ruin, resembling any ordinary house,
without roof, floors, or chimneys. The aperture of the window through
which he attempted to escape is still visible. It is in the outer wall,
against which the principal apartments had been erected. The whole work
stands on a high irregular ridge of a rocky hill, the keep being much the
most elevated. We ascended to the sort of bastion which its summit forms,
whence the view was charming. The whole vale, which contains Carisbrooke
and Newport, with a multitude of cottages, villas, farm-houses and
orchards, with meads, lawns and shrubberies, lay in full view, and we had
distant glimpses of the water. The setting of this sweet picture, or the
adjacent hills, was as naked and brown as the vale itself was crowded with
objects and verdant. The Isle of Wight, as a whole, did not strike me as
being either particularly fertile or particularly beautiful, while it
contains certain spots that are eminently both. I have sailed entirely
round it more than once, and, judging from the appearance of its coasts,
and from what was visible in this little excursion, I should think that it
had more than a usual amount of waste treeless land. The sea-views are
fine, as a matter of course, and the air is pure and bracing. It is
consequently much frequented in summer. It were better to call it the
"watering-place," than to call it the "garden" of England.

We had come in quest of a house where the family might be left, for a few
days, while I went up to London. But the whole party was anxious to put
their feet in _bona fide_ old England before they crossed the Channel, and
the plan was changed to meet their wishes. We slept that night at Newport,
therefore, and returned in the morning to Cowes, early enough to get on
board a steam-boat for Southampton. This town lies several miles up an
estuary that receives one or two small streams. There are a few dwellings
on the banks of the latter, that are about the size and of the appearance
of the better sort of country-houses on the Hudson, although more
attention appears to have been generally paid to the grounds. There were
two more of Henry the Eighth's forts; and we caught a glimpse of a fine
ruined Gothic window in passing Netley Abbey.

We landed on the pier at Southampton about one, and found ourselves truly
in England. "Boat, sir, boat?" "Coach, sir, coach?" "London, sir,
London?" - "No; we have need of neither!" - "Thank'ee, sir - thank'ee, sir."
These few words, in one sense, are an epitome of England. They rang in our
ears for the first five minutes after landing. Pressing forward for a
livelihood, a multitude of conveniences, a choice of amusements, and a
trained, but a heartless and unmeaning civility. "No; I do not want a
boat." "Thank'ee, sir." You are just as much "thank'ee" if you do not
employ the man as if you did. You are thanked for condescending to give an
order, for declining, for listening. It is plain to see that such thanks
dwell only on the lips. And yet we so easily get to be sophisticated;
words can be so readily made to supplant things; deference, however
unmeaning, is usually so grateful, that one soon becomes accustomed to all
this, and even begins to complain that he is not imposed on.

We turned into the first clean-looking inn that offered. It was called the
Vine, and though a second-rate house, for Southampton even, we were
sufficiently well served. Everything was neat, and the waiter, an old man
with a powdered bead, was as methodical as a clock, and a most busy
servitor to human wants. He told me he had been twenty-eight years doing
exactly the same things daily, and in precisely the same place. Think of a
man crying "Coming, sir," and setting table, for a whole life, within an
area of forty feet square! Truly, this was not America.

The principal street in Southampton, though making a sweep, is a broad,
clean avenue, that is lined with houses having, with very few exceptions,
bow-windows, as far as an ancient gate, a part of the old defences of the
town. Here the High-street is divided into "Above-bar" and "Below-bar".
The former is much the most modern, and promises to be an exceedingly
pretty place when a little more advanced. "Below-bar" is neat and
agreeable too. The people appeared singularly well dressed, after New
York. The women, though less fashionably attired than our own, taking the
Paris modes for the criterion, were in beautiful English chintzes,
spotlessly neat, and the men all looked as if they had been born with
hat-brushes and clothes-brushes in their hands, and yet every one was in a
sort of seashore _costume_. I saw many men whom my nautical instinct
detected at once to be naval officers, - some of whom must have been
captains, - in round-abouts; but it was quite impossible to criticise
toilettes that were so faultlessly neat, and so perfectly well arranged.

We ordered dinner, and sallied forth in quest of lodgings. Southampton is
said to be peculiar for "long passages, bow-windows, and old maids." I can
vouch that it merits the two first distinctions. The season had scarcely
commenced, and we had little difficulty in obtaining rooms, the bow-window
and long passage included. These lodgings comprise one or more



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 3 of 29)