North America, by Anthony Trollope

Buffalo to New York.

We had now before us only two points of interest before we should reach New York — the Falls of Trenton, and West Point on the Hudson River. We were too late in the year to get up to Lake George, which lies in the State of New York north of Albany, and is, in fact, the southern continuation of Lake Champlain. Lake George, I know, is very lovely, and I would fain have seen it; but visitors to it must have some hotel accommodation, and the hotel was closed when we were near enough to visit it. I was in its close neighborhood three years since, in June; but then the hotel was not yet opened. A visitor to Lake George must be very exact in his time. July and August are the months — with, perhaps, the grace of a week in September.

The hotel at Trenton was also closed, as I was told. But even if there were no hotel at Trenton, it can be visited without difficulty. It is within a carriage drive of Utica, and there is, moreover, a direct railway from Utica, with a station at the Trenton Falls. Utica is a town on the line of railway from Buffalo to New York via Albany, and is like all the other towns we had visited. There are broad streets, and avenues of trees, and large shops, and excellent houses. A general air of fat prosperity pervades them all, and is strong at Utica as elsewhere.

I remember to have been told, thirty years ago, that a traveler might go far and wide in search of the picturesque without finding a spot more romantic in its loveliness than Trenton Falls. The name of the river is Canada Creek West; but as that is hardly euphonious, the course of the water which forms the falls has been called after the town or parish. This course is nearly two miles in length; and along the space of this two miles it is impossible to say where the greatest beauty exists. To see Trenton aright, one must be careful not to have too much water. A sufficiency is no doubt desirable; and it may be that at the close of summer, before any of the autumnal rains have fallen, there may occasionally be an insufficiency. But if there be too much, the passage up the rocks along the river is impossible. The way on which the tourist should walk becomes the bed of the stream, and the great charm of the place cannot be enjoyed. That charm consists in descending into the ravine of the river, down amid the rocks through which it has cut its channel, and in walking up the bed against the stream, in climbing the sides of the various falls, and sticking close to the river till an envious block is reached which comes sheer down into the water and prevents farther progress. This is nearly two miles above the steps by which the descent is made; and not a foot of this distance but is wildly beautiful. When the river is very low there is a pathway even beyond that block; but when this is the case there can hardly be enough of water to make the fall satisfactory.

There is no one special cataract at Trenton which is in itself either wonderful or pre-eminently beautiful. It is the position, form, color, and rapidity of the river which gives the charm. It runs through a deep ravine, at the bottom of which the water has cut for itself a channel through the rocks, the sides of which rise sometimes with the sharpness of the walls of a stone sarcophagus. They are rounded, too, toward the bed as I have seen the bottom of a sarcophagus. Along the side of the right bank of the river there is a passage which, when the freshets come, is altogether covered. This passage is sometimes very narrow; but in the narrowest parts an iron chain is affixed into the rock. It is slippery and wet; and it is well for ladies, when visiting the place, to be provided with outside India-rubber shoes, which keep a hold upon the stone. If I remember rightly, there are two actual cataracts — one not far above the steps by which the descent is made into the channel, and the other close under a summer-house, near to which the visitors reascend into the wood. But these cataracts, though by no means despicable as cataracts, leave comparatively a slight impression. They tumble down with sufficient violence and the usual fantastic disposition of their forces; but simply as cataracts within a day’s journey of Niagara, they would be nothing. Up beyond the summer-house the passage along the river can be continued for another mile; but it is rough, and the climbing in some places rather difficult for ladies. Every man, however, who has the use of his legs should do it; for the succession of rapids, and the twistings of the channels, and the forms of the rocks are as wild and beautiful as the imagination can desire. The banks of the river are closely wooded on each side; and though this circumstance does not at first seem to add much to the beauty, seeing that the ravine is so deep that the absence of wood above would hardly be noticed, still there are broken clefts ever and anon through which the colors of the foliage show themselves, and straggling boughs and rough roots break through the rocks here and there, and add to the wildness and charm of the whole.

The walk back from the summer-house through the wood is very lovely; but it would be a disappointing walk to visitors who had been prevented by a flood in the river from coming up the channel, for it indicates plainly how requisite it is that the river should be seen from below and not from above. The best view of the larger fall itself is that seen from the wood. And here again I would point out that any male visitor should walk the channel of the river up and down. The descent is too slippery and difficult for bipeds laden with petticoats. We found a small hotel open at Trenton, at which we got a comfortable dinner, and then in the evening were driven back to Utica.

Albany is the capital of the State of New York, and our road from Trenton to West Point lay through that town; but these political State capitals have no interest in themselves. The State legislature was not sitting; and we went on, merely remarking that the manner in which the railway cars are made to run backward and forward through the crowded streets of the town must cause a frequent loss of human life. One is led to suppose that children in Albany can hardly have a chance of coming to maturity. Such accidents do not become the subject of long-continued and strong comment in the States as they do with us; but nevertheless I should have thought that such a state of things as we saw there would have given rise to some remark on the part of the philanthropists. I cannot myself say that I saw anybody killed, and therefore should not be justified in making more than this passing remark on the subject.

When first the Americans of the Northern States began to talk much of their country, their claims as to fine scenery were confined to Niagara and the Hudson River. Of Niagara I have spoken; and all the world has acknowledged that no claim made on that head can be regarded as exaggerated. As to the Hudson I am not prepared to say so much generally, though there is one spot upon it which cannot be beaten for sweetness. I have been up and down the Hudson by water, and confess that the entire river is pretty. But there is much of it that is not pre-eminently pretty among rivers. As a whole, it cannot be named with the Upper Mississippi, with the Rhine, with the Moselle, or with the Upper Rhone. The palisades just out of New York are pretty, and the whole passage through the mountains from West Point up to Catskill and Hudson is interesting. But the glory of the Hudson is at West Point itself; and thither on this occasion we went direct by railway, and there we remained for two days. The Catskill Mountains should be seen by a detour from off the river. We did not visit them, because here again the hotel was closed. I will leave them, therefore, for the new hand book which Mr. Murray will soon bring out.

Of West Point there is something to be said independently of its scenery. It is the Sandhurst of the States. Here is their military school, from which officers are drafted to their regiments, and the tuition for military purposes is, I imagine, of a high order. It must of course be borne in mind that West Point, even as at present arranged, is fitted to the wants of the old army, and not to that of the army now required. It can go but a little way to supply officers for 500,000 men; but would do much toward supplying them for 40,000. At the time of my visit to West Point the regular army of the Northern States had not even then swelled itself to the latter number.

I found that there were 220 students at West Point; that about forty graduate every year, each of whom receives a commission in the army; that about 120 pupils are admitted every year; and that in the course of every year about eighty either resign, or are called upon to leave on account of some deficiency, or fail in their final examination. The result is simply this, that one-third of those who enter succeeds, and that two-thirds fail. The number of failures seemed to me to be terribly large — so large as to give great ground of hesitation to a parent in accepting a nomination for the college. I especially inquired into the particulars of these dismissals and resignations, and was assured that the majority of them take place in the first year of the pupilage. It is soon seen whether or no a lad has the mental and physical capacities necessary for the education and future life required of him, and care is taken that those shall be removed early as to whom it may be determined that the necessary capacity is clearly wanting. If this is done — and I do not doubt it — the evil is much mitigated. The effect otherwise would be very injurious. The lads remain till they are perhaps one and twenty, and have then acquired aptitudes for military life, but no other aptitudes. At that age the education cannot be commenced anew, and, moreover, at that age the disgrace of failure is very injurious. The period of education used to be five years, but has now been reduced to four. This was done in order that a double class might be graduated in 1861 to supply the wants of the war. I believe it is considered that but for such necessity as that, the fifth year of education can be ill spared.

The discipline, to our English ideas, is very strict. In the first place no kind of beer, wine, or spirits is allowed at West Point. The law upon this point may be said to be very vehement, for it debars even the visitors at the hotel from the solace of a glass of beer. The hotel is within the bounds of the college, and as the lads might become purchasers at the bar, there is no bar allowed. Any breach of this law leads to instant expulsion; or, I should say rather, any detection of such breach. The officer who showed us over the college assured me that the presence of a glass of wine in a young man’s room would secure his exclusion, even though there should be no evidence that he had tasted it. He was very firm as to this; but a little bird of West Point, whose information, though not official or probably accurate in words, seemed to me to be worthy of reliance in general, told me that eyes were wont to wink when such glasses of wine made themselves unnecessarily visible. Let us fancy an English mess of young men from seventeen to twenty-one, at which a mug of beer would be felony and a glass of wine high treason! But the whole management of the young with the Americans differs much from that in vogue with us. We do not require so much at so early an age, either in knowledge, in morals, or even in manliness. In America, if a lad be under control, as at West Point, he is called upon for an amount of labor and a degree of conduct which would be considered quite transcendental and out of the question in England. But if he be not under control, if at the age of eighteen he be living at home, or be from his circumstances exempt from professorial power, he is a full-fledged man, with his pipe apparatus and his bar acquaintances.

And then I was told, at West Point, how needful and yet how painful it was that all should be removed who were in any way deficient in credit to the establishment. “Our rules are very exact,” my informant told me; “but the carrying out of our rules is a task not always very easy.” As to this also I had already heard something from that little bird of West Point; but of course I wisely assented to my informant, remarking that discipline in such an establishment was essentially necessary. The little bird had told me that discipline at West Point had been rendered terribly difficult by political interference. “A young man will be dismissed by the unanimous voice of the board, and will be sent away. And then, after a week or two, he will be sent back, with an order from Washington that another trial shall be given him. The lad will march back into the college with all the honors of a victory, and will be conscious of a triumph over the superintendent and his officers.” “And is that common?” I asked. “Not at the present moment,” I was told. “But it was common before the war. While Mr. Buchanan, and Mr. Pierce, and Mr. Polk were Presidents, no officer or board of officers then at West Point was able to dismiss a lad whose father was a Southerner, and who had friends among the government.”

Not only was this true of West Point, but the same allegation is true as to all matters of patronage throughout the United States. During the three or four last presidencies, and I believe back to the time of Jackson, there has been an organized system of dishonesty in the management of all beneficial places under the control of the government. I doubt whether any despotic court of Europe has been so corrupt in the distribution of places — that is, in the selection of public officers — as has been the assemblage of statesmen at Washington. And this is the evil which the country is now expiating with its blood and treasure. It has allowed its knaves to stand in the high places; and now it finds that knavish works have brought about evil results. But of this I shall be constrained to say something further hereafter.

We went into all the schools of the college, and made ourselves fully aware that the amount of learning imparted was far above our comprehension. It always occurs to me, in looking through the new schools of the present day, that I ought to be thankful to persons who know so much for condescending to speak to me at all in plain English. I said a word to the gentleman who was with me about horses, seeing a lot of lads going to their riding lesson. But he was down upon me, and crushed me instantly beneath the weight of my own ignorance. He walked me up to the image of a horse, which he took to pieces, bit by bit, taking off skin, muscle, flesh, nerves, and bones, till the animal was a heap of atoms, and assured me that the anatomy of the horse throughout was one of the necessary studies of the place. We afterward went to see the riding. The horses themselves were poor enough. This was accounted for by the fact that such of them as had been found fit for military service had been taken for the use of the army.

There is a gallery in the college in which are hung sketches and pictures by former students. I was greatly struck with the merit of many of these. There were some copies from well-known works of art of very high excellence, when the age is taken into account of those by whom they were done. I don’t know how far the art of drawing, as taught generally, and with no special tendency to military instruction, may be necessary for military training; but if it be necessary I should imagine that more is done in that direction at West Point than at Sandhurst. I found, however, that much of that in the gallery, which was good, had been done by lads who had not obtained their degree, and who had shown an aptitude for drawing, but had not shown any aptitude for other pursuits necessary to their intended career.

And then we were taken to the chapel, and there saw, displayed as trophies, two of our own dear old English flags. I have seen many a banner hung up in token of past victory, and many a flag taken on the field of battle mouldering by degrees into dust on some chapel’s wall — but they have not been the flags of England. Till this day I had never seen our own colors in any position but one of self-assertion and independent power. From the tone used by the gentleman who showed them to me, I could gather that he would have passed them by, had he not foreseen that he could not do so without my notice. “I don’t know that we are right to put them there,” he said. “Quite right,” was my reply, “as long as the world does such things.” In private life it is vulgar to triumph over one’s friends, and malicious to triumph over one’s enemies. We have not got so far yet in public life, but I hope we are advancing toward it. In the mean time I did not begrudge the Americans our two flags. If we keep flags and cannons taken from our enemies, and show them about as signs of our own prowess after those enemies have become friends, why should not others do so as regards us? It clearly would not be well for the world that we should always beat other nations and never be beaten. I did not begrudge that chapel our two flags. But, nevertheless, the sight of them made me sick in the stomach and uncomfortable. As an Englishman I do not want to be ascendant over any one. But it makes me very ill when any one tries to be ascendant over me. I wish we could send back with our compliments all the trophies that we hold, carriage paid, and get back in return those two flags, and any other flag or two of our own that may be doing similar duty about the world. I take it that the parcel sent away would be somewhat more bulky than that which would reach us in return.

The discipline at West Point seemed, as I have said, to be very severe; but it seemed also that that severity could not in all cases be maintained. The hours of study also were long, being nearly continuous throughout the day. “English lads of that age could not do it,” I said; thus confessing that English lads must have in them less power of sustained work than those of America. “They must do it here,” said my informant, “or else leave us.” And then he took us off to one of the young gentlemen’s quarters, in order that we might see the nature of their rooms. We found the young gentleman fast asleep on his bed, and felt uncommonly grieved that we should have thus intruded on him. As the hour was one of those allocated by my informant in the distribution of the day to private study, I could not but take the present occupation of the embryo warrior as an indication that the amount of labor required might be occasionally too much even for an American youth. “The heat makes one so uncommonly drowsy,” said the young man. I was not the least surprised at the exclamation. The air of the apartment had been warmed up to such a pitch by the hot-pipe apparatus of the building that prolonged life to me would, I should have thought, be out of the question in such an atmosphere. “Do you always have it as hot as this?” I asked. The young man swore that it was so, and with considerable energy expressed his opinion that all his health, and spirits, and vitality were being baked out of him. He seemed to have a strong opinion on the matter, for which I respected him; but it had never occurred to him, and did not then occur to him, that anything could be done to moderate that deathly flow of hot air which came up to him from the neighboring infernal regions. He was pale in the face, and all the lads there were pale. American lads and lasses are all pale. Men at thirty and women at twenty-five have had all semblance of youth baked out of them. Infants even are not rosy, and the only shades known on the cheeks of children are those composed of brown, yellow, and white. All this comes of those damnable hot-air pipes with which every tenement in America is infested. “We cannot do without them,” they say. “Our cold is so intense that we must heat our houses throughout. Open fire-places in a few rooms would not keep our toes and fingers from the frost.” There is much in this. The assertion is no doubt true, and thereby a great difficulty is created. It is no doubt quite within the power of American ingenuity to moderate the heat of these stoves, and to produce such an atmosphere as may be most conducive to health. In hospitals no doubt this will be done; perhaps is done at present — though even in hospitals I have thought the air hotter than it should be. But hot-air drinking is like dram-drinking. There is the machine within the house capable of supplying any quantity, and those who consume it unconsciously increase their draughts, and take their drains stronger and stronger, till a breath of fresh air is felt to be a blast direct from Boreas.

West Point is at all points a military colony, and, as such, belongs exclusively to the Federal government as separate from the government of any individual State. It is the purchased property of the United States as a whole, and is devoted to the necessities of a military college. No man could take a house there, or succeed in getting even permanent lodgings, unless he belonged to or were employed by the establishment. There is no intercourse by road between West Point and other towns or villages on the river side, and any such intercourse even by water is looked upon with jealousy by the authorities. The wish is that West Point should be isolated and kept apart for military instruction to the exclusion of all other purposes whatever — especially love-making purposes. The coming over from the other side of the water of young ladies by the ferry is regarded as a great hinderance. They will come, and then the military students will talk to them. We all know to what such talking leads! A lad when I was there had been tempted to get out of barracks in plain clothes, in order that he might call on a young lady at the hotel; and was in consequence obliged to abandon his commission and retire from the Academy. Will that young lady ever again sleep quietly in her bed? I should hope not. An opinion was expressed to me that there should be no hotel in such a place — that there should be no ferry, no roads, no means by which the attention of the students should be distracted — that these military Rasselases should live in a happy military valley from which might be excluded both strong drinks and female charms — those two poisons from which youthful military ardor is supposed to suffer so much.

It always seems to me that such training begins at the wrong end. I will not say that nothing should be done to keep lads of eighteen from strong drinks. I will not even say that there should not be some line of moderation with reference to feminine allurements. But, as a rule, the restraint should come from the sense, good feeling, and education of him who is restrained. There is no embargo on the beer-shops either at Harrow or at Oxford — and certainly none upon the young ladies. Occasional damage may accrue from habits early depraved, or a heart too early and too easily susceptible; but the injury so done is not, I think, equal to that inflicted by a Draconian code of morals, which will probably be evaded, and will certainly create a desire for its evasion.

Nevertheless, I feel assured that West Point, taken as a whole, is an excellent military academy, and that young men have gone forth from it, and will go forth from it, fit for officers as far as training can make men fit. The fault, if fault there be, is that which is to be found in so many of the institutions of the United States, and is one so allied to a virtue, that no foreigner has a right to wonder that it is regarded in the light of a virtue by all Americans. There has been an attempt to make the place too perfect. In the desire to have the establishment self-sufficient at all points, more has been attempted than human nature can achieve. The lad is taken to West Point, and it is presumed that from the moment of his reception he shall expend every energy of his mind and body in making himself a soldier. At fifteen he is not to be a boy, at twenty he is not to be a young man. He is to be a gentleman, a soldier, and an officer. I believe that those who leave the college for the army are gentlemen, soldiers, and officers, and, therefore, the result is good. But they are also young men; and it seems that they have become so, not in accordance with their training, but in spite of it.

But I have another complaint to make against the authorities of West Point, which they will not be able to answer so easily as that already preferred. What right can they have to take the very prettiest spot on the Hudson — the prettiest spot on the continent — one of the prettiest spots which Nature, with all her vagaries, ever formed — and shut it up from all the world for purposes of war? Would not any plain, however ugly, do for military exercises? Cannot broadsword, goose-step, and double-quick time be instilled into young hands and legs in any field of thirty, forty, or fifty acres? I wonder whether these lads appreciate the fact that they are studying fourteen hours a day amid the sweetest river, rock, and mountain scenery that the imagination can conceive. Of course it will be said, that the world at large is not excluded from West Point, that the ferry to the place is open, and that there is even a hotel there, closed against no man or woman who will consent to become a teetotaller for the period of his visit. I must admit that this is so; but still one feels that one is only admitted as a guest. I want to go and live at West Point, and why should I be prevented? The government had a right to buy it of course, but government should not buy up the prettiest spots on a country’s surface. If I were an American, I should make a grievance of this; but Americans will suffer things from their government which no Englishmen would endure.

It is one of the peculiarities of West Point that everything there is in good taste. The point itself consists of a bluff of land so formed that the River Hudson is forced to run round three sides of it. It is consequently a peninsula; and as the surrounding country is mountainous on both sides of the river, it may be imagined that the site is good. The views both up and down the river are lovely, and the mountains behind break themselves so as to make the landscape perfect. But this is not all. At West Point there is much of buildings, much of military arrangement in the way of cannons, forts, and artillery yards. All these things are so contrived as to group themselves well into pictures. There is no picture of architectural grandeur; but everything stands well and where it should stand, and the eye is not hurt at any spot. I regard West Point as a delightful place, and was much gratified by the kindness I received there.

From West Point we went direct to new York.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43