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A Year's Residence in the United States of America: Vol 2
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MANNERS, CUSTOMS, AND CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE.
342. ALL these are, generally speaking, the same as those of the people of England. The French call this people Les Anglo-Americains; and, indeed, what are they else? Of the manners and customs somewhat peculiar to America I have said so much, here and there, in former Chapters, that I can hardly say any thing new here upon these matters. But, as society is naturally a great thing with a gentleman, who thinks of coming hither with his wife and children, I will endeavour to describe the society that he will find here. To give general descriptions is not so satisfactory as it is to deal a little in particular instances; to tell of what one has seen and experienced. This is what I shall do; and, in this Chapter I wish to be regarded as addressing myself to a most worthy and public-spirited gentleman of moderate fortune, in Lancashire, who, with a large family, now balances whether he shall come, or stay.
343. Now, then, my dear Sir, this people contains very few persons very much raised in men's estimation, above the general mass; for, though there are some men of immense fortunes, their wealth does very little indeed in the way of purchasing even the outward signs of respect; and, as to adulation, it is not to be purchased with love or money. Men, be they what they may, are generally called by their two names, without any thing prefixed or added. I am one of the greatest men in this country at present; for people in general call me "Cobbett," though the Quakers provokingly persevere in putting the William before it, and my old friends in Pennsylvania, use even the word Billy, which, in the very sound of the letters, is an antidote to every thing like thirst for distinction.
344. Fielding, in one of his romances, observes, that there are but few cases, in which a husband can be justified in availing himself of the right which the law gives him to bestow manual chastisement upon his wife, and that one of these, he thinks, is, when any pretensions to superiority of blood make their appearance in her language and conduct. They have a better cure for this malady here; namely; silent, but, ineffable contempt.
345. It is supposed, in England, that this equality of estimation must beget a general coarseness and rudeness of behaviour. Never was there a greater mistake. No man likes to be treated with disrespect; and, when he finds that he can obtain respect only by treating others with respect, he will use that only means. When he finds that neither haughtiness nor wealth will bring him a civil word, he becomes civil himself; and, I repeat it again and again, this is a country of universal civility.
346. The causes of hypocrisy are the fear of loss and the hope of gain. Men crawl to those, whom, in their hearts, they despise, because they fear the effects of their ill-will and hope to gain by their good-will. The circumstances of all ranks are so easy here, that there is no cause for hypocrisy; and the thing is not of so fascinating a nature, that men should love it for its own sake.
347. The boasting of wealth, and the endeavouring to disguise poverty, these two acts, so painful to contemplate, are almost total strangers in this country; for, no man can gain adulation or respect by his wealth, and no man dreads the effects of poverty, because no man sees any dreadful effects arising from poverty.
348. That anxious eagerness to get on, which is seldom unaccompanied with some degree of envy of more successful neighbours, and which has its foundation first in a dread of future want, and next in a desire to obtain distinction by means of wealth; this anxious eagerness, so unamiable in itself, and so unpleasant an inmate of the breast, so great a sourer of the temper, is a stranger to America, where accidents and losses, which would drive an Englishman half mad, produce but very little agitation.
349. From the absence of so many causes of uneasiness, of envy, of jealousy, of rivalship, and of mutual dislike, society, that is to say, the intercourse between man and man, and family and family, becomes easy and pleasant; while the universal plenty is the cause of universal hospitality. I know, and have ever known, but little of the people in the cities and towns in America; but, the difference between them and the people in the country can only be such as is found in all other countries. As to the manner of living in the country, I was, the other day, at a gentleman's house, and I asked the lady for her bill of fare for the year. I saw fourteen fat hogs, weighing about twenty score a piece, which were to come into the house the next Monday; for here they slaughter them all in one day. This led me to ask, "Why, in God's name, what do you eat in a year?" The Bill of fare was this, for this present year: about this same quantity of hog-meat; four beeves; and forty-six fat sheep! Besides the sucking pigs (of which we had then one on the table), besides lambs, and besides the produce of seventy hen fowls, not to mention good parcels of geese, ducks and turkeys, but, not to forget a garden of three quarters of an acre and the butter of ten cows, not one ounce of which is ever sold! What do you think of that? Why, you will say, this must be some great overgrown farmer, that has swallowed up half the country; or some nabob sort of merchant. Not at all. He has only one hundred and fifty four acres of land, (all he consumes is of the produce of this land), and he lives in the same house that his English-born grandfather lived in.
350. When the hogs are killed, the house is full of work. The sides are salted down as pork. The hams are smoked. The lean meats are made into sausages, of which, in this family, they make about two hundred weight. These latter, with broiled fish, eggs, dried beef, dried mutton, slices of ham, tongue, bread, butter, cheese, short cakes, buckwheat cakes, sweet meats of various sorts, and many other things, make up the breakfast fare of the year, and, a dish of beef steakes is frequently added.
351. When one sees this sort of living, with the houses full of good beds, ready for the guests as well as the family to sleep in, we cannot help perceiving, that this is that "English Hospitality" of which we have read so much; but, which Boroughmongers' taxes and pawns have long since driven out of England. This American way of life puts one in mind of FORTESCUE'S fine description of the happy state of the English, produced by their good laws, which kept every man's property sacred, even from the grasp of the king. "Every in habitant is at his Liberty fully to use and enjoy whatever his Farm produceth, the Fruits of the Earth, the Increase of his Flock, and the like: All the Improvements he makes, whether by his own proper Industry, or of those he retains in his Service, are his own to use and enjoy without the Lett, Interruption, or Denial of any: If he be in any wise injured, or oppressed, he shall have his Amends and Satisfaction against the party offending: Hence it is, that the Inhabitants are Rich in Gold, Silver, and in all the Necessaries and Conveniences of Life. They drink no Water, unless at certain Times, upon a Religious Score, and by Way of doing Penance. They are fed, in great Abundance, with all sorts of Flesh and Fish, of which they have Plenty every where; they are cloathed throughout in good Woollens; their Bedding and other Furniture in their Houses are of Wool, and that in great Store: They are also well provided with all other Sorts of Household Goods, and necessary Implements for Husbandry: Every one, according to his Rank, hath all Things which conduce to make Life easy and happy. They are not sued at Law but before the Ordinary Judges, where they are treated with Mercy and Justice, according to the Laws of the Land; neither are they impleaded in Point of Property, or arraigned for any Capital Crime, how heinous soever, but before the King's Judges, and according to the Laws of the Land. These are the Advantages consequent from that Political Mixt Government which obtains in England—"
352. This passage, which was first pointed out to me by SIR FRANCIS BURDETT, describes the state of England four hundred years ago; and this, with the polish of modern times added, is now the state of the Americans. Their forefathers brought the "English Hospitality" with them; for, when they left the country, the infernal Boroughmonger Funding system had not begun. The STUARTS were religious and prerogative tyrants; but they were not, like their successors, the Boroughmongers, taxing, plundering tyrants. Their quarrels with their subjects were about mere words: with the Boroughmongers it is a question of purses and strong-boxes, of goods and chattels, lands and tenements. "Confiscation" is their word; and you must submit, be hanged, or flee. They take away men's property at their pleasure, without any appeal to any tribunal. They appoint Commissioners to seize what they choose. There is, in fact, no law of property left. The Bishop-begotten and hell-born system of Funding has stripped England of every vestige of what was her ancient character. Her hospitality along with her freedom have crossed the Atlantic; and here they are to shame our ruffian tyrants, if they were sensible of shame, and to give shelter to those who may be disposed to deal them distant blows.
353. It is not with a little bit of dry toast, so neatly put in a rack; a bit of butter so round and small; a little milk pot so pretty and so empty; an egg for you, the host and hostess not liking eggs. It is not with looks that seem to say, "don't eat too much, for the tax-gatherer is coming." It is not thus that you are received in America. You are not much asked, not much pressed, to eat and drink; but, such an abundance is spread before you, and so hearty and so cordial is your reception, that you instantly lose all restraint, and are tempted to feast whether you be hungry or not. And, though the manner and style are widely different in different houses, the abundance every where prevails. This is the strength of the government: a happy people: and no government ought to have any other strength.
354. But, you may say, perhaps, that plenty, however great, is not all that is wanted. Very true: for the mind is of more account than the carcass. But, here is mind too. These repasts, amongst people of any figure, come forth under the superintendance of industrious and accomplished housewifes, or their daughters, who all read a great deal, and in whom that gentle treatment from parents and husbands, which arises from an absence of racking anxiety, has created an habitual, and even an hereditary good humour. These ladies can converse with you upon almost any subject, and the ease and gracefulness of their behaviour are surpassed by those of none of even our best-tempered English women. They fade at an earlier age than in England; but, till then, they are as beautiful as the women in Cornwall, which contains, to my thinking, the prettiest women in our country. However, young or old, blooming or fading, well or ill, rich or poor, they still preserve their good humour.
"But, since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl'd, or uncurl'd, since locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man must die a maid;
What, then, remains, but well our pow'r to use,
And keep good humour still, whate'er we lose?
And, trust me, Dear, good-humour can prevail,
When flights and fits, and screams and scolding fail."
355. This beautiful passage, from the most beautiful of poets, which ought to be fastened in large print upon every lady's dressing table, the American women, of all ranks, seem to have by heart. Even amongst the very lowest of the people, you seldom hear of that torment, which the old proverb makes the twin of a smoky house.
356. There are very few really ignorant men in America of native growth. Every farmer is more or less of a reader. There is no brogue, no provincial dialect. No class like that which the French call peasantry, and which degrading appellation the miscreant spawn of the Funds have, of late years, applied to the whole mass of the most useful of the people in England, those who do the work and fight the battles. And, as to the men, who would naturally form your acquaintances, they, I know from experience, are as kind, frank, and sensible men as are, on the general run, to be found in England, even with the power of selection. They are all well-informed; modest without shyness; always free to communicate what they know, and never ashamed to acknowledge that they have yet to learn. You never hear them boast of their possessions, and you never hear them complaining of their wants. They have all been readers from their youth up; and there are few subjects upon which they cannot converse with you, whether of a political or scientific nature. At any rate, they always hear with patience. I do not know that I ever heard a native American interrupt another man while he was speaking. Their sedateness and coolness, the deliberate manner in which they say and do every thing, and the slowness and reserve with which they express their assent; these are very wrongly estimated, when they are taken for marks of a want of feeling. It must be a tale of woe indeed, that will bring a tear from an American's eye; but any trumped up story will send his hand to his pocket, as the ambassadors from the beggars of France, Italy and Germany can fully testify.
357. However, you will not, for a long while, know what to do for want of the quick responses of the English tongue, and the decided tone of the English expression. The loud voice; the hard squeeze by the hand; the instant assent or dissent; the clamorous joy; the bitter wailing; the ardent friendship; the deadly enmity; the love that makes people kill themselves; the hatred that makes them kill others. All these belong to the characters of Englishmen, in whose minds and hearts every feeling exists in the extreme. To decide the question, which character is. upon the whole, best, the American or the English, we must appeal to some third party. But, it is no matter: we cannot change our natures. For my part, who can, in nothing, think or act by halves, I must belie my very nature, if I said that I did not like the character of my own countrymen best. We all like our own parents and children better than other people's parents and children; not because they are better, but because they are ours; because they belong to us and we to them, and because we must resemble each other. There are some Americans that I like full as well as I do any man in England; but, if, nation against nation, I put the question home to my heart, it instantly decides in favour of my countrymen.
358. You must not be offended if you find people here take but little interest in the concerns of England. Why should they? BOLTON F——R cannot hire spies to entrap them. As matter of curiosity, they may contemplate such works as those of FLETCHER; but, they cannot feel much upon the subject; and they are not insincere enough to express much.
359. There is one thing in the Americans, which, though its proper place was further back, I have reserved, or rather kept back, to the last moment. It has presented itself several times; but I have turned from the thought, as men do from thinking of any mortal disease that is at work in their frame. It is not covetousness; it is not niggardliness; it is not in sincerity; it is not enviousness; it is not cowardice, above all things: it is DRINKING. Aye, and that too, amongst but too many men, who, one would think, would loath it. You ran go into hardly any man's house, without being asked to drink wine, or spirits, even in the morning. They are quick at meals, are little eaters, seem to care little about what they eat, and never talk about it. This, which arises out of the universal abundance of good and even fine eatables, is very amiable. You are here disgusted with none of those eaters by reputation that are found, especially amongst the Parsons, in England: fellows that unbutton at it. Nor do the Americans sit and tope much after dinner, and talk on till they get into nonsense and smut, which last is a sure mark of a silly and, pretty generally, even of abase mind. But, they tipple; and the infernal spirits they tipple too! The scenes that I witnessed at Harrisburgh I shall never forget. I almost wished (God forgive me!) that there were Boroughmongers here to tax these drinkers: they would soon reduce them to a moderate dose. Any nation that feels itself uneasy with its fulness of good things, has only to resort to an application of Boroughmongers. These are by no means nice feeders or of contracted throat: they will suck down any thing from the poor man's pot of beer to the rich man's lands and tenements.
360. The Americans preserve their gravity and quietness and good-humour even in their drink; and so much the worse. It were far better for them to be as noisy and quarrelsome as the English drunkards; for then the odiousness of the vice would be more visible, and the vice itself might become less frequent. Few vices want an apology, and drinking has not only its apologies but its praises; for, besides the appellation of "generous wine" and the numerous songs, some in very elegant and witty language, from the pens of debauched men of talents, drinking is said to be necessary, in certain cases at least, to raise the spirits, and to keep out cold. Never was any thing more false. Whatever intoxicates must enfeeble in the end, and whatever enfeebles must chill. It is very well known, in the Northern countries, that, if the cold be such as to produce danger of frost-biting, you must take care not to drink strong liquors.
361. To see this beastly vice in young men is shocking. At one of the taverns at Harrisburgh there were several as fine young men as I ever saw. Well-dressed, well educated, polite, and every thing but sober. What a Squalid, drooping, sickly set they looked in the morning!
362. Even little boys at, or under, twelve years of age, go into stores, and tip off their drams! I never struck a child, in anger, in my life, that I recollect; but, if I were so unfortunate as to have a son to do this, he having had an example to the contrary in me, I would, if all other means of reclaiming him failed, whip him like a dog, or, which would be better, make him an out-cast from my family.
363. However, I must not be understood as meaning, that this tippling is universal amongst gentlemen; and, God be thanked, the women of any figure in life do by no means give into the practice; but, abhor it as much as well-bred women in England, who, in general, no more think of drinking strong liquors, than they do of drinking poison.
364. I shall be told, that men in the harvest field must have something to drink. To be sure, where perspiration almost instantly carries off the drink, the latter does not remain so long to burn the liver, or whatever else it does burn. But, I much question the utility even here; and I think, that, in the long run, a water-drinker would beat a spirit drinker at any thing, provided both had plenty of good food. And, besides, beer, which does not burn, at any rate, is within every one's reach in America, if he will but take the trouble to brew it.
365. A man, at Botley, whom I was very severely reproaching for getting drunk and lying in the road, whose name was JAMES ISAACS, and who was, by the by, one of the hardest workers I ever knew, said, in answer, "Why, now, Sir, NOAH and LOT were two very good men, you know, and yet they loved a drop of drink." "Yes, you drunken fool," replied I, "but you do not read that Isaac ever got drunk and rolled about the road." I could not help thinking, however, that the BIBLE SOCIETIES, with the wise Emperor Alexander and the Holy Alliance at their head, might as well (to say nothing about the cant of the thing) leave the Bible to work its own way. I had seen ISAACS dead drunk, lying stretched by my front gate, against the public highway; and, if he had followed the example of NOAH, he would not have endeavoured to excuse himself in the modest manner that he did, but would have affixed an everlasting curse on me and my children to all generations.
366. The soldiers, in the regiment that I belonged to, many of whom served in the American war, had a saying, that the Quakers used the word tired in place of the word drunk. Whether any of them do ever get tired themselves, I know not; but, at any rate they most resolutely set their faces against the common use of spirits. They forbid their members to retail them; and, in case of disobedience, they disown them.
367. However, there is no remedy but the introduction of beer, and, I am very happy to know, that beer is, every day, becoming more and more fashionable. At Bristol in Pennsylvania, I was pleased to see excellent beer in clean and nice pewter pots. Beer does not kill. It does not eat out the vitals and take the colour from the cheek. It will make men "tired" indeed, by midnight; but it does not make them half dead in the morning. We call wine the juice of the grape, and such it is with a proportion of ardent spirits, equal, in Portugal wine, to a fifth of the wine; and, therefore, when a man has taken down a bottle of Port or of Madeira, he has nearly half a pint of ardent spirits in him. And yet how many foolish mothers give their children Port wine to strengthen them! I never like your wine-physicians, though they are great favourites with but too many patients. BONIFACE, in the Beaux Stratagem, says that he has eaten his ale, drunk his ale, worked upon his ale, and slept upon his ale, for forty years, and that he has grown fatter and fatter; but, that his wife (God rest her soul!) would not take it pure: she would adulterate it with brandy; till, at last, finding that the poor woman was never well, he put a tub of her favourite by her bedside, which, in a short time, brought her "a happy release" from this state of probation," and carried her off into the "the world of spirits." Whether Boniface meant this as a pun, I do not know; for, really, if I am to judge from the practice of many of the vagrant fanatics, I must believe, that, when they rave about the spirit's entering them, they mean that which goes out of a glass down their throat. Priests may make what they will of their devil; they may make him a reptile with a forked tongue, or a beast with a cloven hoof; they may, like Milton, dress him out with seraphic wings; or like Saint Francis, they may give him horns and tail: but, I say that the devil, who is the strongest tempter, and who produces the most mischief in the world, approaches us in the shape of liquid, not melted brimstone, but wine, gin, brandy, rum, and whiskey. One comfort is, however, that this devil, of whose existence we can have no doubt, who is visible and even tangible, we can, if we will, without the aid of priests, or, rather, in spite of them, easily and safely set at defiance. There are many wrong things which men do against the general and natural bent of their minds. Fraud, theft, and even murder, are frequently, and most frequently, the offspring of want. In these cases, it is a choice of evils; crime or hunger. But, drinking to excess is a man's own act; an evil deliberately sought after; an act of violence committed against reason and against nature; and that, too, without the smallest temptation, except from that vicious appetite, which he himself has voluntarily created.
368. You, my dear Sir, stand in need of no such lectures as this, and the same is, I hope, the case with the far greater part of my readers; but, if it tend, in the smallest degree, to check the fearful growth of this tree of unmixed evil; if it should make the bottle less cherished even in one small circle; nay, if it keep but one young man in the world in the paths of sobriety, how could my time have been better bestowed?