North America, by Anthony Trollope

Newport — Rhode Island.

We — the we consisting of my wife and myself — left Liverpool for Boston on the 24th August, 1861, in the Arabia, one of Cunard’s North American mail packets. We had determined that my wife should return alone at the beginning of winter, when I intended to go to a part of the country in which, under the existing circumstances of the war, a lady might not feel herself altogether comfortable. I proposed staying in America over the winter, and returning in the spring; and this programme I have carried out with sufficient exactness.

The Arabia touched at Halifax; and as the touch extended from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. we had an opportunity of seeing a good deal of that colony; not quite sufficient to justify me at this critical age in writing a chapter of travels in Nova Scotia, but enough perhaps to warrant a paragraph. It chanced that a cousin of mine was then in command of the troops there, so that we saw the fort with all the honors. A dinner on shore was, I think, a greater treat to us even than this. We also inspected sundry specimens of the gold which is now being found for the first time in Nova Scotia, as to the glory and probable profits of which the Nova Scotians seemed to be fully alive. But still, I think the dinner on shore took rank with us as the most memorable and meritorious of all that we did and saw at Halifax. At seven o’clock on the morning but one after that we were landed at Boston.

At Boston I found friends ready to receive us with open arms, though they were friends we had never known before. I own that I felt myself burdened with much nervous anxiety at my first introduction to men and women in Boston. I knew what the feeling there was with reference to England, and I knew also how impossible it is for an Englishman to hold his tongue and submit to dispraise of England. As for going among a people whose whole minds were filled with affairs of the war, and saying nothing about the war, I knew that no resolution to such an effect could be carried out. If one could not trust one’s self to speak, one should have stayed at home in England. I will here state that I always did speak out openly what I thought and felt, and that though I encountered very strong — sometimes almost fierce — opposition, I never was subjected to anything that was personally disagreeable to me.

In September we did not stay above a week in Boston, having been fairly driven out of it by the musquitoes. I had been told that I should find nobody in Boston whom I cared to see, as everybody was habitually out of town during the heat of the latter summer and early autumn; but this was not so. The war and attendant turmoils of war had made the season of vacation shorter than usual, and most of those for whom I asked were back at their posts. I know no place at which an Englishman may drop down suddenly among a pleasanter circle of acquaintance, or find himself with a more clever set of men, than he can do at Boston. I confess that in this respect I think that but few towns are at present more fortunately circumstanced than the capital of the Bay State, as Massachusetts is called, and that very few towns make a better use of their advantages. Boston has a right to be proud of what it has done for the world of letters. It is proud; but I have not found that its pride was carried too far.

Boston is not in itself a fine city, but it is a very pleasant city. They say that the harbor is very grand and very beautiful. It certainly is not so fine as that of Portland, in a nautical point of view, and as certainly it is not as beautiful. It is the entrance from the sea into Boston of which people say so much; but I did not think it quite worthy of all I had heard. In such matters, however, much depends on the peculiar light in which scenery is seen. An evening light is generally the best for all landscapes; and I did not see the entrance to Boston harbor by an evening light. It was not the beauty of the harbor of which I thought the most, but of the tea which had been sunk there, and of all that came of that successful speculation. Few towns now standing have a right to be more proud of their antecedents than Boston.

But as I have said, it is not specially interesting to the eye; what new town, or even what simply adult town, can be so? There is an Atheneum, and a State Hall, and a fashionable street — Beacon Street, very like Piccadilly as it runs along the Green Park — and there is the Green Park opposite to this Piccadilly, called Boston Common. Beacon Street and Boston Common are very pleasant. Excellent houses there are, and large churches, and enormous hotels; but of such things as these a man can write nothing that is worth the reading. The traveler who desires to tell his experience of North America must write of people rather than of things.

As I have said, I found myself instantly involved in discussions on American politics and the bearing of England upon those politics. “What do you think, you in England — what do you believe will be the upshot of this war?” That was the question always asked in those or other words. “Secession, certainly,” I always said, but not speaking quite with that abruptness. “And you believe, then, that the South will beat the North?” I explained that I personally had never so thought, and that I did not believe that to be the general idea. Men’s opinions in England, however, were too divided to enable me to say that there was any prevailing conviction on the matter. My own impression was, and is, that the North will, in a military point of view, have the best of the contest — will beat the South; but that the Northerners will not prevent secession, let their success be what it may. Should the North prevail after a two years’ conflict, the North will not admit the South to an equal participation of good things with themselves, even though each separate rebellious State should return suppliant, like a prodigal son, kneeling on the floor of Congress, each with a separate rope of humiliation round its neck. Such was my idea as expressed then, and I do not know that I have since had much cause to change it.

“We will never give it up,” one gentleman said to me — and, indeed, many have said the same —“till the whole territory is again united from the Bay to the Gulf. It is impossible that we should allow of two nationalities within those limits.” “And do you think it possible,” I asked, “that you should receive back into your bosom this people which you now hate with so deep a hatred, and receive them again into your arms as brothers on equal terms? Is it in accordance with experience that a conquered people should be so treated, and that, too, a people whose every habit of life is at variance with the habits of their presumed conquerors? When you have flogged them into a return of fraternal affection, are they to keep their slaves or are they to abolish them?” “No,” said my friend, “it may not be practicable to put those rebellious States at once on an equality with ourselves. For a time they will probably be treated as the Territories are now treated.” (The Territories are vast outlying districts belonging to the Union, but not as yet endowed with State governments or a participation in the United States Congress.) “For a time they must, perhaps, lose their full privileges; but the Union will be anxious to readmit them at the earliest possible period.” “And as to the slaves?” I asked again. “Let them emigrate to Liberia — back to their own country.” I could not say that I thought much of the solution of the difficulty. It would, I suggested, overtask even the energy of America to send out an emigration of four million souls, to provide for their wants in a new and uncultivated country, and to provide, after that, for the terrible gap made in the labor market of the Southern States. “The Israelites went back from bondage,” said my friend. But a way was opened for them by a miracle across the sea, and food was sent to them from heaven, and they had among them a Moses for a leader, and a Joshua to fight their battles. I could not but express my fear that the days of such immigrations were over. This plan of sending back the negroes to Africa did not reach me only from one or from two mouths, and it was suggested by men whose opinions respecting their country have weight at home and are entitled to weight abroad. I mention this merely to show how insurmountable would be the difficulty of preventing secession, let which side win that may.

“We will never abandon the right to the mouth of the Mississippi.” That, in all such arguments, is a strong point with men of the Northern States — perhaps the point to which they all return with the greatest firmness. It is that on which Mr. Everett insists in the last paragraph of the oration which he made in New York on the 4th of July, 1861. “The Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers,” he says, “with their hundred tributaries, give to the great central basin of our continent its character and destiny. The outlet of this system lies between the States of Tennessee and Missouri, of Mississippi and Arkansas, and through the State of Louisiana. The ancient province so called, the proudest monument of the mighty monarch whose name it bears, passed from the jurisdiction of France to that of Spain in 1763. Spain coveted it — not that she might fill it with prosperous colonies and rising States, but that it might stretch as a broad waste barrier, infested with warlike tribes, between the Anglo-American power and the silver mines of Mexico. With the independence of the United States the fear of a still more dangerous neighbor grew upon Spain; and, in the insane expectation of checking the progress of the Union westward, she threatened, and at times attempted, to close the mouth of the Mississippi on the rapidly-increasing trade of the West. The bare suggestion of such a policy roused the population upon the banks of the Ohio, then inconsiderable, as one man. Their confidence in Washington scarcely restrained them from rushing to the seizure of New Orleans, when the treaty of San Lorenzo El Real, in 1795, stipulated for them a precarious right of navigating the noble river to the sea, with a right of deposit at New Orleans. This subject was for years the turning-point of the politics of the West; and it was perfectly well understood that, sooner or later, she would be content with nothing less than the sovereign control of the mighty stream from its head-spring to its outlet in the Gulf. AND THAT IS AS TRUE NOW AS IT WAS THEN.”

This is well put. It describes with force the desires, ambition, and necessities of a great nation, and it tells with historical truth the story of the success of that nation. It was a great thing done when the purchase of the whole of Louisiana was completed by the United States — that cession by France, however, having been made at the instance of Napoleon, and not in consequence of any demand made by the States. The district then called Louisiana included the present State of that name and the States of Missouri and Arkansas — included also the right to possess, if not the absolute possession of all that enormous expanse of country running from thence back to the Pacific: a huge amount of territory, of which the most fertile portion is watered by the Mississippi and its vast tributaries. That river and those tributaries are navigable through the whole center of the American continent up to Wisconsin and Minnesota. To the United States the navigation of the Mississippi was, we may say, indispensable; and to the States, when no longer united, the navigation will be equally indispensable. But the days are gone when any country such as Spain was can interfere to stop the highways of the world with the all but avowed intention of arresting the progress of civilization. It may be that the North and the South can never again be friends as the component parts of one nation. Such, I take it, is the belief of all politicians in Europe, and of many of those who live across the water. But as separate nations they may yet live together in amity, and share between them the great water-ways which God has given them for their enrichment. The Rhine is free to Prussia and to Holland. The Danube is not closed against Austria. It will be said that the Danube has in fact been closed against Austria, in spite of treaties to the contrary. But the faults of bad and weak governments are made known as cautions to the world, and not as facts to copy. The free use of the waters of a common river between two nations is an affair for treaty; and it has not yet come to that that treaties must necessarily be null and void through the falseness of politicians.

“And what will England do for cotton? Is it not the fact that Lord John Russell, with his professed neutrality, intends to express sympathy with the South — intends to pave the way for the advent of Southern cotton?” “You ought to love us,” so say men in Boston, “because we have been with you in heart and spirit for long, long years. But your trade has eaten into your souls, and you love American cotton better than American loyalty and American fellowship.” This I found to be unfair, and in what politest language I could use I said so. I had not any special knowledge of the minds of English statesmen on this matter; but I knew as well as Americans could do what our statesmen had said and done respecting it. That cotton, if it came from the South, would be made very welcome in Liverpool, of course I knew. If private enterprise could bring it, it might be brought. But the very declaration made by Lord John Russell was the surest pledge that England, as a nation, would not interfere even to supply her own wants. It may easily be imagined what eager words all this would bring about; but I never found that eager words led to feelings which were personally hostile.

All the world has heard of Newport, in Rhode Island, as being the Brighton, and Tenby, and Scarborough of New England. And the glory of Newport is by no means confined to New England, but is shared by New York and Washington, and in ordinary years by the extreme South. It is the habit of Americans to go to some watering-place every summer — that is, to some place either of sea water or of inland waters. This is done much in England, more in Ireland than in England, but I think more in the States than even in Ireland. But of all such summer haunts, Newport is supposed to be in many ways the most captivating. In the first place, it is certainly the most fashionable, and, in the next place, it is said to be the most beautiful. We decided on going to Newport — led thither by the latter reputation rather than the former. As we were still in the early part of September, we expected to find the place full, but in this we were disappointed — disappointed, I say, rather than gratified, although a crowded house at such a place is certainly a nuisance. But a house which is prepared to make up six hundred beds, and which is called on to make up only twenty-five, becomes, after awhile, somewhat melancholy. The natural depression of the landlord communicates itself to his servants, and from the servants it descends to the twenty-five guests, who wander about the long passages and deserted balconies like the ghosts of those of the summer visitors, who cannot rest quietly in their graves at home.

In England we know nothing of hotels prepared for six hundred visitors, all of whom are expected to live in common. Domestic architects would be frightened at the dimensions which are needed, and at the number of apartments which are required to be clustered under one roof. We went to the Ocean Hotel at Newport, and fancied, as we first entered the hall under a veranda as high as the house, and made our way into the passage, that we had been taken to a well-arranged barrack. “Have you rooms?” I asked, as a man always does ask on first reaching his inn. “Rooms enough,” the clerk said; “we have only fifty here.” But that fifty dwindled down to twenty-five during the next day or two.

We were a melancholy set, the ladies appearing to be afflicted in this way worse than the gentlemen, on account of their enforced abstinence from tobacco. What can twelve ladies do scattered about a drawing-room, so called, intended for the accommodation of two hundred? The drawing-room at the Ocean Hotel, Newport, is not as big as Westminster Hall, but would, I should think, make a very good House of Commons for the British nation. Fancy the feelings of a lady when she walks into such a room, intending to spend her evening there, and finds six or seven other ladies located on various sofas at terrible distances, all strangers to her. She has come to Newport probably to enjoy herself; and as, in accordance with the customs of the place, she has dined at two, she has nothing before her for the evening but the society of that huge, furnished cavern. Her husband, if she have one, or her father, or her lover, has probably entered the room with her. But a man has never the courage to endure such a position long. He sidles out with some muttered excuse, and seeks solace with a cigar. The lady, after half an hour of contemplation, creeps silently near some companion in the desert, and suggests in a whisper that Newport does not seem to be very full at present.

We stayed there for a week, and were very melancholy; but in our melancholy we still talked of the war. Americans are said to be given to bragging, and it is a sin of which I cannot altogether acquit them. But I have constantly been surprised at hearing the Northern men speak of their own military achievements with anything but self-praise. “We’ve been whipped, sir; and we shall be whipped again before we’ve done; uncommon well whipped we shall be.” “We began cowardly, and were afraid to send our own regiments through one of our own cities.” This alluded to a demand that had been made on the Government that troops going to Washington should not be sent through Baltimore, because of the strong feeling for rebellion which was known to exist in that city. President Lincoln complied with this request, thinking it well to avoid a collision between the mob and the soldiers. “We began cowardly, and now we’re going on cowardly, and darn’t attack them. Well; when we’ve been whipped often enough, then we shall learn the trade.” Now all this — and I heard much of such a nature — could not be called boasting. But yet with it all there was a substratum of confidence. I have heard Northern gentlemen complaining of the President, complaining of all his ministers, one after another, complaining of the contractors who were robbing the army, of the commanders who did not know how to command the army, and of the army itself, which did not know how to obey; but I do not remember that I have discussed the matter with any Northerner who would admit a doubt as to ultimate success.

We were certainly rather melancholy at Newport, and the empty house may perhaps have given its tone to the discussions on the war. I confess that I could not stand the drawing-room — the ladies’ drawing-room, as such like rooms are always called at the hotels — and that I basely deserted my wife. I could not stand it either here or elsewhere, and it seemed to me that other husbands — ay, and even lovers — were as hard pressed as myself. I protest that there is no spot on the earth’s surface so dear to me as my own drawing-room, or rather my wife’s drawing-room, at home; that I am not a man given hugely to clubs, but one rather rejoicing in the rustle of petticoats. I like to have women in the same room with me. But at these hotels I found myself driven away — propelled as it were by some unknown force — to absent myself from the feminine haunts. Anything was more palatable than them, even “liquoring up” at a nasty bar, or smoking in a comfortless reading-room among a deluge of American newspapers. And I protest also — hoping as I do so that I may say much in this book to prove the truth of such protestation — that this comes from no fault of the American women. They are as lovely as our own women. Taken generally, they are better instructed, though perhaps not better educated. They are seldom troubled with mauvaise honte; I do not say it in irony, but begging that the words may be taken at their proper meaning. They can always talk, and very often can talk well. But when assembled together in these vast, cavernous, would-be luxurious, but in truth horribly comfortless hotel drawing-rooms, they are unapproachable. I have seen lovers, whom I have known to be lovers, unable to remain five minutes in the same cavern with their beloved ones.

And then the music! There is always a piano in a hotel drawing-room, on which, of course, some one of the forlorn ladies is generally employed. I do not suppose that these pianos are in fact, as a rule, louder and harsher, more violent and less musical, than other instruments of the kind. They seem to be so, but that, I take it, arises from the exceptional mental depression of those who have to listen to them. Then the ladies, or probably some one lady, will sing, and as she hears her own voice ring and echo through the lofty corners and round the empty walls, she is surprised at her own force, and with increased efforts sings louder and still louder. She is tempted to fancy that she is suddenly gifted with some power of vocal melody unknown to her before, and, filled with the glory of her own performance, shouts till the whole house rings. At such moments she at least is happy, if no one else is so. Looking at the general sadness of her position, who can grudge her such happiness?

And then the children — babies, I should say if I were speaking of English bairns of their age; but seeing that they are Americans, I hardly dare to call them children. The actual age of these perfectly-civilized and highly-educated beings may be from three to four. One will often see five or six such seated at the long dinner-table of the hotel, breakfasting and dining with their elders, and going through the ceremony with all the gravity, and more than all the decorum, of their grandfathers. When I was three years old I had not yet, as I imagine, been promoted beyond a silver spoon of my own wherewith to eat my bread and milk in the nursery; and I feel assured that I was under the immediate care of a nursemaid, as I gobbled up my minced mutton mixed with potatoes and gravy. But at hotel life in the States the adult infant lisps to the waiter for everything at table, handles his fish with epicurean delicacy, is choice in his selection of pickles, very particular that his beef-steak at breakfast shall be hot, and is instant in his demand for fresh ice in his water. But perhaps his, or in this case her, retreat from the room when the meal is over, is the chef-d’oeuvre of the whole performance. The little, precocious, full-blown beauty of four signifies that she has completed her meal — or is “through” her dinner, as she would express it — by carefully extricating herself from the napkin which has been tucked around her. Then the waiter, ever attentive to her movements, draws back the chair on which she is seated, and the young lady glides to the floor. A little girl in Old England would scramble down, but little girls in New England never scramble. Her father and mother, who are no more than her chief ministers, walk before her out of the saloon, and then she — swims after them. But swimming is not the proper word. Fishes, in making their way through the water, assist, or rather impede, their motion with no dorsal wriggle. No animal taught to move directly by its Creator adopts a gait so useless, and at the same time so graceless. Many women, having received their lessons in walking from a less eligible instructor, do move in this way, and such women this unfortunate little lady has been instructed to copy. The peculiar step to which I allude is to be seen often on the boulevards in Paris. It is to be seen more often in second-rate French towns, and among fourth-rate French women. Of all signs in women betokening vulgarity, bad taste, and aptitude to bad morals, it is the surest. And this is the gait of going which American mothers — some American mothers I should say — love to teach their daughters! As a comedy at a hotel it is very delightful, but in private life I should object to it.

To me Newport could never be a place charming by reason of its own charms. That it is a very pleasant place when it is full of people and the people are in spirits and happy, I do not doubt. But then the visitors would bring, as far as I am concerned, the pleasantness with them. The coast is not fine. To those who know the best portions of the coast of Wales or Cornwall — or better still, the western coast of Ireland, of Clare and Kerry for instance — it would not be in any way remarkable. It is by no means equal to Dieppe or Biarritz, and not to be talked of in the same breath with Spezzia. The hotels, too, are all built away from the sea; so that one cannot sit and watch the play of the waves from one’s windows. Nor are there pleasant rambling paths down among the rocks, and from one short strand to another. There is excellent bathing for those who like bathing on shelving sand. I don’t. The spot is about half a mile from the hotels, and to this the bathers are carried in omnibuses. Till one o’clock ladies bathe, which operation, however, does not at all militate against the bathing of men, but rather necessitates it as regards those men who have ladies with them. For here ladies and gentlemen bathe in decorous dresses, and are very polite to each other. I must say that I think the ladies have the best of it. My idea of sea bathing, for my own gratification, is not compatible with a full suit of clothing. I own that my tastes are vulgar, and perhaps indecent; but I love to jump into the deep, clear sea from off a rock, and I love to be hampered by no outward impediments as I do so. For ordinary bathers, for all ladies, and for men less savage in their instincts than I am, the bathing at Newport is very good.

The private houses — villa residences as they would be termed by an auctioneer in England — are excellent. Many of them are, in fact, large mansions, and are surrounded with grounds which, as the shrubs grow up, will be very beautiful. Some have large, well-kept lawns, stretching down to the rocks, and these, to my taste, give the charm to Newport. They extend about two miles along the coast. Should my lot have made me a citizen of the United States, I should have had no objection to become the possessor of one of these “villa residences;” but I do not think that I should have “gone in” for hotel life at Newport.

We hired saddle-horses, and rode out nearly the length of the island. It was all very well, but there was little in it remarkable either as regards cultivation or scenery. We found nothing that it would be possible either to describe or remember. The Americans of the United States have had time to build and populate vast cities, but they have not yet had time to surround themselves with pretty scenery. Outlying grand scenery is given by nature; but the prettiness of home scenery is a work of art. It comes from the thorough draining of land, from the planting and subsequent thinning of trees, from the controlling of waters, and constant use of minute patches of broken land. In another hundred years or so, Rhode Island may be, perhaps, as pretty as the Isle of Wight. The horses which we got were not good. They were unhandy and badly mouthed, and that which my wife rode was altogether ignorant of the art of walking. We hired them from an Englishman who had established himself at New York as a riding-master for ladies, and who had come to Newport for the season on the same business. He complained to me with much bitterness of the saddle-horses which came in his way — of course thinking that it was the special business of a country to produce saddle-horses, as I think it the special business of a country to produce pens, ink, and paper of good quality. According to him, riding has not yet become an American art, and hence the awkwardness of American horses. “Lord bless you, sir! they don’t give an animal a chance of a mouth.” In this he alluded only, I presume, to saddle-horses. I know nothing of the trotting horses, but I should imagine that a fine mouth must be an essential requisite for a trotting match in harness. As regards riding at Newport, we were not tempted to repeat the experiment. The number of carriages which we saw there — remembering as I did that the place was comparatively empty — and their general smartness, surprised me very much. It seemed that every lady, with a house of her own, had also her own carriage. These carriages were always open, and the law of the land imperatively demands that the occupants shall cover their knees with a worked worsted apron of brilliant colors. These aprons at first I confess seemed tawdry; but the eye soon becomes used to bright colors, in carriage aprons as well as in architecture, and I soon learned to like them.

Rhode Island, as the State is usually called, is the smallest State in the Union. I may perhaps best show its disparity to other States by saying that New York extends about two hundred and fifty miles from north to south, and the same distance from east to west; whereas the State called Rhode Island is about forty miles long by twenty broad, independently of certain small islands. It would, in fact, not form a considerable addition if added on to many of the other States. Nevertheless, it has all the same powers of self-government as are possessed by such nationalities as the States of New York and Pennsylvania, and sends two Senators to the Senate at Washington, as do those enormous States. Small as the State is, Rhode Island itself forms but a small portion of it. The authorized and proper name of the State is Providence Plantation and Rhode Island. Roger Williams was the first founder of the colony, and he established himself on the mainland at a spot which he called Providence. Here now stands the City of Providence, the chief town of the State; and a thriving, comfortable town it seems to be, full of banks, fed by railways and steamers, and going ahead quite as quickly as Roger Williams could in his fondest hopes have desired.

Rhode Island, as I have said, has all the attributes of government in common with her stouter and more famous sisters. She has a governor, and an upper house and a lower house of legislature; and she is somewhat fantastic in the use of these constitutional powers, for she calls on them to sit now in one town and now in another. Providence is the capital of the State; but the Rhode Island parliament sits sometimes at Providence and sometimes at Newport. At stated times also it has to collect itself at Bristol, and at other stated times at Kingston, and at others at East Greenwich. Of all legislative assemblies it is the most peripatetic. Universal suffrage does not absolutely prevail in this State, a certain property qualification being necessary to confer a right to vote even for the State representatives. I should think it would be well for all parties if the whole State could be swallowed up by Massachusetts or by Connecticut, either of which lie conveniently for the feat; but I presume that any suggestion of such a nature would be regarded as treason by the men of Providence Plantation.

We returned back to Boston by Attleborough, a town at which, in ordinary times, the whole population is supported by the jewelers’ trade. It is a place with a specialty, upon which specialty it has thriven well and become a town. But the specialty is one ill adapted for times of war and we were assured that the trade was for the present at an end. What man could now-a-days buy jewels, or even what woman, seeing that everything would be required for the war? I do not say that such abstinence from luxury has been begotten altogether by a feeling of patriotism. The direct taxes which all Americans will now be called on to pay, have had and will have much to do with such abstinence. In the mean time the poor jewelers of Attleborough have gone altogether to the wall.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/north/chapter2.html

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