The Englishwoman in America, by Isabella Bird

Chapter 17.

The cemetery — Its beauties — The “Potter’s Field” — The graves of children — Monumental eccentricities — Arrival of emigrants — Their reception — Poor dwellings — The dangerous class — The elections — The riots — Characteristics of the streets — Journey to Boston — The sights of Boston — Longfellow — Cambridge university.

It may seem a sudden transition from society to a cemetery, and yet it is not an unnatural one, for many of the citizens of New York carry their magnificence as far as possible to the grave with them, and pile their wealth above their heads in superb mausoleums or costly statues. The Père la Chaise of the city is the Greenwood Cemetery, near Brooklyn on Long Island. I saw it on the finest and coldest of November days, when a piercing east wind was denuding the trees of their last scarlet honours. After encountering more than the usual crush in Broadway, for we were rather more than an hour in driving three miles in a stage, we crossed the Brooklyn Ferry in one of those palace ferry-boats, where the spacious rooms for passengers are heated by steam-pipes, and the charge is only one cent, or a fraction less than a halfpenny. It was a beautiful day; there was not a cloud upon the sky; the waves of the Sound and of the North River were crisped and foam-tipped, and dashed noisily upon the white pebbly beach. Brooklyn, Jersey, and Hoboken rose from the water, with their green fields and avenues of villas; white, smokeless steamers were passing and repassing; large anchored ships tossed upon the waves; and New York, that compound of trees, buildings, masts, and spires, rose in the rear, without so much as a single cloud of smoke hovering over it.

A railway runs from Brooklyn to the cemetery, with the cars drawn by horses, and the dead of New York are conveniently carried to this last resting-place. The entrance is handsome, and the numerous walls and carriage-drives are laid with fine gravel, and beautifully swept. We drove to see the most interesting objects, and the coachman seemed to take a peculiar pride in pointing them out. This noble burying-ground has some prettily diversified hill and dale scenery, and is six miles round. The timber is very fine, and throughout art has only been required as an assistance to nature. To this cemetery most of the dead of New York are carried, and after “life’s fitful fever,” in its most exaggerated form, sleep in appropriate silence. Already several thousand dead have been placed here in places of sepulture varying in appearance from the most splendid and ornate to the simplest and most obscure. There are family mausoleums, gloomy and sepulchral looking, in the Grecian style; family burying-grounds neatly enclosed by iron or bronze railings, where white marble crosses mark the graves; there are tombs with epitaphs, and tombs with statues; there are simple cenotaphs and monumental slabs, and nameless graves marked by numbers only.

One very remarkable feature of this cemetery is the “Potter’s Field,” a plot containing several acres of ground, where strangers are buried. This is already occupied to a great extent. The graves are placed in rows close together, with numbers on a small iron plate to denote each. Here the shipwrecked, the pestilence-stricken, the penniless, and friendless are buried; and though such a spot cannot fail to provoke sad musings, the people of New York do not suffer any appearances of neglect to accumulate round the last resting-place of those who died unfriended and alone. Another feature, not to be met with in England, strikes the stranger at first with ludicrous images, though in reality it has more of the pathetic. In one part of this cemetery there are several hundred graves of children, and these, with most others of children of the poorer class, have toys in glass cases placed upon them. There are playthings of many kinds, woolly dogs and lambs, and little wooden houses, toys which must be associated in the parents’ minds with those who made their homes glad, but who have gone into the grave before them. One cannot but think of the bright eyes dim, the merry laugh and infantine prattle silent, the little hands, once so active in playful mischief, stiff and cold; all brought so to mind by the sight of those toys. There is a fearful amount of mortality among children at New York, and in several instances four or five buried in one grave told with mournful suggestiveness of the silence and desolation of once happy hearths.

There are a few very remarkable and somewhat fantastic monuments. There is a beautiful one in white marble to the memory of a sea-captain’s wife, with an exact likeness of himself, in the attitude of taking an observation, on the top. An inscription to himself is likewise upon it, leaving only the date of his death to be added. It is said that, when this poor man returns from a voyage, he spends one whole day in the tomb, lamenting his bereavement.

There is a superb monument, erected by a fireman’s company to the memory of one of their brethren, who lost his life while nobly rescuing an infant from a burning dwelling. His statue is on the top, with an infant in his arms, and the implements of his profession lie below. But by far the most extraordinary, and certainly one of the lions of New York, is to a young lady who was killed in coming home from a ball. The carriage-horses ran away, she jumped out, and was crushed under the wheels. She stands under a marble canopy supported by angels, and is represented in her ball-dress, with a mantle thrown over it. This monument has numerous pillars and representations of celestial beings, and is said to have cost about 6000l. Several of the marble mausoleums cost from 4000l. to 5000l. Yet all the powerful, the wealthy, and the poor have descended to the dust from whence they sprung; and here, as everywhere else, nothing can disguise the fact that man, the feeble sport of passion and infirmity, can only claim for his inheritance at last the gloom of a silent grave, where he must sleep with the dust of his fathers. I observed only one verse of Scripture on a tombstone, and it contained the appropriate prayer, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

Having seen the emigrants bid adieu to the Old World, in the flurry of grief, hope, and excitement, I was curious to see what difference a five-weeks’ voyage would have produced in them, and in what condition they would land upon the shores of America. In a city where emigrants land at the rate of a thousand a-day, I was not long of finding an opportunity. I witnessed the debarkation upon the shore of the New World of between 600 and 700 English emigrants, who had just arrived from Liverpool. If they looked tearful, flurried, and anxious when they left Liverpool, they looked tearful, pallid, dirty, and squalid when they reached New York. The necessary discomforts which such a number of persons must experience when huddled together in a close, damp, and ill-ventilated steerage, with very little change of clothing, and an allowance of water insufficient for the purposes of cleanliness, had been increased in this instance by the presence of cholera on board of the ship.

The wharfs at New York are necessarily dirty, and are a scene of indescribable bustle from morning to night, with ships arriving and sailing, ships loading and unloading, and emigrants pouring into the town in an almost incessant stream. They look as if no existing power could bring order out of such a chaos. In this crowd, on the shores of a strange land, the emigrants found themselves. Many were deplorably emaciated, others looked vacant and stupified. Some were ill, and some were penniless; but poverty and sickness are among the best recommendations which an emigrant can bring with him, for they place him under the immediate notice of those estimable and overworked men, the Emigration Commissioners, whose humanity is above all praise. These find him an asylum in the Emigrants’ Hospital, on Ward’s Island, and despatch him from thence in health, with advice and assistance for his future career. If he be in health, and have a few dollars in his pocket, he becomes the instantaneous prey of emigrant runners, sharpers, and keepers of groggeries; but of this more will be said hereafter.

A great many of these immigrants were evidently from country districts, and some from Ireland; there were a few Germans among them, and these appeared the least affected by the discomforts of the voyage, and by the novel and rather bewildering position in which they found themselves. They probably would feel more at home on first landing at New York than any of the others, for the lower part of the city is to a great extent inhabited by Germans, and at that time there were about 2000 houses where their favourite beverage, lager-beer, could be procured.

The goods and chattels of the Irish appeared to consist principally of numerous red-haired, unruly children, and ragged-looking bundles tied round with rope. The Germans were generally ruddy and stout, and took as much care of their substantial-looking, well-corded, heavy chests as though they contained gold. The English appeared pale and debilitated, and sat helpless and weary-looking on their large blue boxes. Here they found themselves in the chaotic confusion of this million-peopled city, not knowing whither to betake themselves, and bewildered by cries of “Cheap hacks!” “All aboard!” “Come to the cheapest house in all the world!” and invitations of a similar description. There were lodging-touters of every grade of dishonesty, and men with large placards were hurrying among the crowd, offering “palace” steamboats and “lightning express” trains, to whirl them at nominal rates to the Elysian Fields of the Far West. It is stated that six-tenths of these emigrants are attacked by fever soon after their arrival in the New World, but the provision for the sick is commensurate with the wealth and benevolence of New York.

Before leaving the city I was desirous to see some of the dwellings of the poor; I was therefore taken to what was termed a poor quarter. One house which I visited was approached from an entry, and contained ten rooms, which were let to different individuals and families. On the lowest floor was an old Irish widow, who had a cataract in one eye, and, being without any means of supporting herself, subsisted upon a small allowance made to her by her son, who was a carter. She was clean, but poorly dressed, and the room was scantily furnished. Except those who are rendered poor by their idleness and vices, it might have been difficult to find a poorer person in the city, I was told. Much sympathy was expressed for her, and for those who, like her, lived in this poor quarter. Yet the room was tolerably large, lofty, and airy, and had a window of the ordinary size of those in English dwelling-houses. For this room she paid four dollars or 16s. per month, a very high rent. It was such a room as in London many a respectable clerk, with an income of 150l. a year, would think himself fortunate in possessing.

I could not enter into the feelings of the benevolent people of New York when they sympathised with the denizens of this locality. I only wished that these generous people could have seen the dens in which thousands of our English poor live, with little light and less water, huddled together, without respect to sex or numbers, in small, ill-ventilated rooms. Yet New York has a district called the Five Points, fertile in crime, fever, and misery, which would scarcely yield the palm for vice and squalor to St. Giles’s in London, or the Saltmarket in Glasgow. A collection of dwellings called the Mud Huts, where many coloured people reside, is also an unpleasing feature connected with the city. But with abundant employment, high wages, and charities on a princely scale for those who from accidental circumstances may occasionally require assistance, there is no excuse for the squalid wretchedness in which a considerable number of persons have chosen to sink themselves.

It is a fact that no Golden Age exists on the other side of the water; that vice and crime have their penalties in America as well as in Europe; and that some of the worst features of the Old World are reproduced in the New. With all the desire that we may possess to take a sanguine view of things, there is something peculiarly hopeless about the condition of this class at New York, which in such a favourable state of society, and at such an early period of American history, has sunk so very low. The existence of a “dangerous class” at New York is now no longer denied. One person in seven of the whole population came under the notice of the authorities, either in the ranks of criminals or paupers, in 1852; and it is stated that last year the numbers reached an alarming magnitude, threatening danger to the peace of society. This is scarcely surprising when we take into consideration the numbers of persons who land in this city who have been expatriated for their vices, who are flying from the vengeance of outraged law, or who expect in the New World to be able to do evil without fear of punishment.

There are the idle and the visionary, who expect to eat without working; penniless demagogues, unprincipled adventurers, and the renegade outpourings of all Christendom; together with those who are enervated and demoralised by sickness and evil associates on board ship. I could not help thinking, as I saw many of the newly-arrived emigrants saunter helplessly into the groggeries, that, after spending their money, they would remain at New York, and help to swell the numbers of this class. These people live by their wits, and lose the little they have in drink. This life is worth very little to them; and in spite of Bible and Tract societies, and church missions, they know very little of the life to come; consequently they are ready for any mischief, and will imperil their existence for a small bribe. Many or most of them are Irish Roman Catholics, who, having obtained the franchise in many instances by making false affidavits, consider themselves at liberty to use the club also.

I was at New York at the time of the elections, and those of 1854 were attended with unusual excitement, owing to the red-hot strife between the Irish Roman Catholics and the “Know-nothings.” This society, established with the object of changing the naturalisation laws, and curbing the power of popery, had at this period obtained a very large share of the public attention, as much from the mystery which attended it as from the principles which it avowed. To the minds of all there was something attractive in a secret organisation, unknown oaths, and nocturnal meetings; and the success which had attended the efforts of the Know-nothings in Massachusetts, and others of the States, led many to watch with deep interest the result of the elections for the Empire State. Their candidates were not elected, but the avowed contest between Protestantism and Popery led to considerable loss of life. Very little notice of the riots on this occasion has been taken by the English journalists, though the local papers varied in their accounts of the numbers of killed and wounded from 45 to 700! It was known that an émeute was expected, therefore I was not surprised, one evening early in November, to hear the alarm-bells ringing in all directions throughout the city. It was stated that a Know-nothing assemblage of about 10,000 persons had been held in the Park, and that, in dispersing, they had been fired upon by some Irishmen called the Brigade. This was the commencement of a sanguinary struggle for the preservation of order. For three days a dropping fire of musketry was continually to be heard in New York and Williamsburgh, and reports of great loss of life on both sides were circulated. It was stated that the hospital received 170 wounded men, and that many more were carried off by their friends. The military were called out, and, as it was five days before quiet was restored, it is to be supposed that many lives were lost. I saw two dead bodies myself; and in one street or alley by the Five Points, both the side walks and the roadway were slippery with blood. Yet very little sensation was excited in the upper part of the town; people went out and came in as usual; business was not interrupted; and to questions upon the subject the reply was frequently made, “Oh, it’s only an election riot,” showing how painfully common such disturbances had become.

There are many objects of interest in New York and its neighbourhood, among others, the Croton aqueduct, a work worthy of a great people. It cost about 5,000,000l. sterling, and by it about 60,000,000 gallons of water are daily conveyed into the city. Then there are the prisons on Blackwell’s Island, the lunatic asylums, the orphan asylums, the docks, and many other things; but I willingly leave these untouched, as they have been described by other writers. In concluding this brief and incomplete account of New York, I may be allowed to refer to the preface of this work, and repeat that any descriptions which I have given of things or society are merely “sketches,” and, as such, are liable to the errors which always attend upon hasty observation.

New York, with its novel, varied, and ever-changing features, is calculated to leave a very marked impression on a stranger’s mind. In one part one can suppose it to be a negro town; in another, a German city; while a strange dreamy resemblance to Liverpool pervades the whole. In it there is little repose for the mind, and less for the eye, except on the Sabbath-day, which is very well observed, considering the widely-differing creeds and nationalities of the inhabitants. The streets are alive with business, retail and wholesale, and present an aspect of universal bustle. Flags are to be seen in every direction, the tall masts of ships appear above the houses; large square pieces of calico, with names in scarlet or black letters upon them, hang across the streets, to denote the whereabouts of some popular candidate or “puffing” storekeeper; and hosts of omnibuses, hacks, drays, and railway cars at full speed, ringing bells, terrify unaccustomed foot-passengers. There are stores of the magnitude of bazaars, “daguerrean galleries” by hundreds, crowded groggeries and subterranean oyster-saloons, huge hotels, coffee-houses, and places of amusement; while the pavements present men of every land and colour, red, black, yellow, and white, in every variety of costume and beard, and ladies, beautiful and ugly, richly dressed. Then there are mud huts, and palatial residences, and streets of stately dwelling-houses, shaded by avenues of ilanthus-trees; waggons discharging goods across the pavements; shops above and cellars below; railway whistles and steamboat bells, telegraph-wires, eight and ten to a post, all converging towards Wall Street — the Lombard Street of New York; militia regiments in many-coloured uniforms, marching in and out of the city all day; groups of emigrants bewildered and amazed, emaciated with dysentery and sea-sickness, looking in at the shop-windows; representatives of every nation under heaven, speaking in all earth’s Babel languages; and as if to render this ceaseless pageant of business, gaiety, and change, as far removed from monotony as possible, the quick toll of the fire alarm-bells may be daily heard, and the huge engines, with their burnished equipments and well-trained companies, may be seen to dash at full speed along the streets to the scene of some brilliant conflagration. New York is calculated to present as imposing an appearance to an Englishman as its antiquated namesake does to an American, with its age, silence, stateliness, and decay.

The Indian summer had come and gone, and bright frosty weather had succeeded it, when I left this city, in which I had received kindness and hospitality which I can never forget. Mr. Amy, the kind friend who had first welcomed me to the States, was my travelling companion, and at his house near Boston, in the midst of a happy family-circle, I spent the short remnant of my time before returning to England.

We left New York just as the sun was setting, frosty and red, and ere we had reached Newhaven it was one of the finest winter evenings that I had ever seen. The moisture upon the windows of the cars froze into innumerable fairy shapes; the crescent moon and a thousand stars shone brilliantly from a deep blue sky; auroras flashed and meteors flamed, and, as the fitful light glittered on many rushing gurgling streams, I had but to remember how very beautiful New England was, to give form and distinctness to the numerous shapes which we were hurrying past. I was recalling the sunny south to mind, with its vineyards and magnolia groves, and the many scenes of beauty that I had witnessed in America, with all the genial kindness which I had experienced from many who but a few months ago were strangers, when a tipsy Scotch fiddler broke in upon my reveries by an attempt to play ‘Yankee Doodle.’ It is curious how such a thing can instantly change the nature of the thoughts. I remembered speculations, ‘cute notions, guesses, and calculations; “All aboard,” and “Go ahead,” and “Pile on, skipper;” sharp eager faces, diversities of beards, duellists, pickpockets, and every species of adventurer.

Such recollections were not out of place in Connecticut, the centre and soul of what we denominate Yankeeism. This state has one of the most celebrated educational establishments in the States, Yale College at Newhaven, or the City of Elms, famous for its toleration of an annual fight between the citizens and the students, at a nocturnal fête in celebration of the burial of Euclid. The phraseology and some of the moral characteristics of Connecticut are quite peculiar. It is remarkable for learning, the useful arts, successful and energetic merchants and farmers; the mythical Sam Slick, the prince of pedlars; and his living equal, Barnum, the prince of showmen. A love of good order and a pervading religious sentiment appear to accompany great simplicity of manners in its rural population, though the Southerners, jealous of the virtues of these New Englanders, charge upon them the manufacture of wooden nutmegs. This state supplies the world with wooden clocks, for which the inhabitants of our colonies appear to have a peculiar fancy, though at home they are called “Yankee clocks what won’t go.” I have seen pedlars with curiously constructed waggons toiling along even among the Canadian clearings, who are stated to belong to a race “raised” in Connecticut. They are extremely amusing individuals, and it is impossible to resist making an investment in their goods, as their importunities are urged in such ludicrous phraseology. The pedlar can accommodate you with everything, from a clock or bible to a pennyworth of pins, and takes rags, rabbit and squirrel skins, at two cents each, in payment. His knowledge of “soft sawder and human natur” is as great as that of Sam Slick, his inimitable representative; and many a shoeless Irish girl is induced to change a dollar for some trumpery ornament, by his artful compliments to her personal attractions. He seems at home everywhere; talks politics, guesses your needs, cracks a joke, or condoles with you on your misfortunes with an elongated face. He always contrives to drop in at dinner or tea time, for which he always apologises, but in distant settlements the apologetic formulary might be left alone, for the visit of the cosmopolitan pedlar is ever welcome, even though he leaves you a few dollars poorer. There is some fear of the extinction of the race, as railways are now bringing the most distant localities within reach of resplendent stores with plate-glass windows.

It wanted six hours to dawn when we reached Boston; and the ashes of an extinguished fire in the cheerless waiting-room at the depôt gave an idea of even greater cold than really existed. We drove through the silent streets of Boston, and out into the country, in an open carriage, with the thermometer many degrees below the freezing-point, yet the dryness of the atmosphere prevented any feeling of cold. The air was pure, still, and perfectly elastic; a fitful aurora lighted our way, and the iron hoofs of the fast-trotting ponies rattled cheerily along the frozen ground. I almost regretted the termination of the drive, even though the pleasant villa of —— and a room lighted by a blazing wood fire, awaited me.

The weather was perfectly delightful. Cloudless and golden the sun set at night; cloudless and rosy he rose in the morning; sharp and defined in outline the leafless trees rose against the piercing blue of the sky; the frozen ground rang to every footstep; thin patches of snow diversified the landscape; and the healthful air braced even invalid nerves. Boston is a very fine city, and the whole of it, spread out as a panorama, can be seen from several neighbouring eminences. The rosy flush of a winter dawn had scarcely left the sky when I saw the town from Dorchester Heights. Below lay the city, an aggregate of handsome streets lined with trees, stately public buildings, and church-spires, with the lofty State House crowning the whole. Bright blue water and forests of masts appeared to intersect the town; green, wooded, swelling elevations, dotted over with white villa residences, environed it in every direction; blue hills rose far in the distance; while to the right the bright waters of Massachusett’s bay, enlivened by the white sails of ships and pilot-boats, completed this attractive panorama.

Boston is built on a collection of peninsulas; and as certain shipowners possess wharfs far up in the town, to which their ships must find their way, the virtue of patience is frequently inculcated by a long detention at drawbridges, while heavily-laden vessels are slowly warped through the openings. The equanimity of the American character surprised me here, as it often had before; for, while I was devising various means of saving time, by taking various circuitous routes, about 100 détenus submitted to the delay without evincing any symptoms of impatience. Part of Boston is built on ground reclaimed from the sea, and the active inhabitants continually keep encroaching on the water for building purposes.

This fine city appeared to greater advantage on my second visit, after seeing New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, and other of the American towns. In them their progress is evidenced by a ceaseless building up and pulling down, the consequences of which are heaps of rubbish and unsightly hoardings covered with bills and advertisements, giving to the towns thus circumstanced an unfinished, mobile, or temporary look. This is still further increased where many of the houses are of wood, and can be moved without being taken to pieces. I was riding through an American town one afternoon, when, to my surprise, I had to turn off upon the side walk, to avoid a house which was coming down the street, drawn by ten horses, and assisted by as many men with levers. My horse was so perfectly unconcerned at what was such a novel spectacle to me, that I supposed he was used to these migratory dwellings.

Boston has nothing of all this. Stately, substantial, and handsome, it looks as if it had been begun and completed in a day. There is a most pleasing air of respectability about the large stone and brick houses; the stores are spacious and very handsome; and the public buildings are durably and tastefully built. Scientific institutions, music halls, and the splendid stores possessed by the booksellers and philosophical instrument makers, proclaim the literary and refined tastes of the inhabitants, which have earned for their city the name of the “American Athens.” There is an air of repose about Boston; here, if anywhere, one would suppose that large fortunes were realised and enjoyed. The sleek horses do not appear to be hurried over the pavements; there are few placards, and fewer puffs; the very carts are built rather to carry weight than for speed. Yet no place which I visited looked more thriving than Boston. Its streets are literally crammed with vehicles, and the side walks are thronged with passengers, but these latter are principally New Englanders, of respectable appearance. These walks are bordered by acacia and elm trees, which seem to flourish in the most crowded thoroughfares, and, besides protecting both men and horses from the intense heat, their greenness, which they retain till the fall, is most refreshing to the eye. There are a great many private carriages to be seen, as well as people on horseback. The dwelling-houses have plate-glass windows and bright green jalousies; the side walks are of granite, and the whole has an English air. The common, or rather the park, at Boston, is the finest public promenade that I ever saw, about fifty acres in extent, and ornamented with avenues of very fine trees. This slopes to the south, and the highest part of the slope is crowned by the State House and the handsomest private residences in the city. Boston is very clean and orderly, and smoking is not permitted in the streets. There is a highly aristocratic air about it, and those who look for objects of historical interest will not be disappointed. There is the old Faneuil Hall, which once echoed to the stormy arguments and spirit-stirring harangues of the leaders of the Revolution. A few antiquated, many-gabled houses, remain in its neighbourhood, each associated with some tradition dear to the Americans. Then there is a dark-coloured stone church, which still in common parlance bears the name of King’s Chapel. It is fitted with high pews of dark varnished oak, and the English liturgy, slightly altered, is still used as the form of worship. Then there is the Old South Meeting house, where the inhabitants remonstrated with the governor for bringing in the king’s troops; and, lastly, Griffin’s Wharf, where, under the impulse of the stern concentrated will of the New England character, the “Sons of Liberty” boarded the English ships, and slowly and deliberately threw the tea which they contained into the water of the harbour.

I visited the Bunker’s Hill monument, and was content to take on trust the statement of the beauty of the view from the summit, as the monument, which is 221 feet in height, is ascended by a very steep staircase. Neither did I deny the statement made by the patriotic Americans who were with me, that the British forces were defeated in that place, not feeling at all sure that the national pride of our historians had not led them to tell a tale more flattering than true; for

“Some say that we won,

And some say that they won,

And some say that none won at a’, man.”

We visited the naval yard at Charlestown, and the Ohio, an old seventy-four, now used as a receiving-ship. There was a very manifest difference between the two sides of the main-deck of this vessel; one was scrupulously clean, the other by no means so; and, on inquiring the reason, I was told that the clean side was reserved for strangers! Although this yard scarcely deserves the name of an arsenal, being the smallest of all which America possesses, the numerous guns and the piles of cannon-balls show that she is not unprepared for aggressive or defensive war.

The Merchants’ Exchange, where every change in the weather at New Orleans is known in a few minutes; the Post–Office, with its innumerable letter-boxes and endless bustle; the Tremont Hall, one of the finest music-halls in the world; the water-works, the Athenaeum, and the libraries, are all worthy of a visit.

There is a museum, which we visited in the evening, but it is not creditable to the taste of the inhabitants of this fine city. There are multitudes of casts and fossils, and stuffed beasts and birds, and monsters, and a steam-engine modelled in glass, which works beautifully; but all these things are to hide the real character of this institution, and appeared to be passed unnoticed by a large number of respectable-looking people who were thronging into a theatre at the back — a very gloomy-looking edifice, with high pews. A placard announced that Dickens’ ‘Hard Times,’ which it appears from this has been dramatised, was about to be acted. The plays are said to be highly moral, but in the melodrama religion and buffoonery are often intermingled; and I confess that I did not approve of this mode of solacing the consciences of those who object to ordinary theatricals, for the principle involved remains the same.

The National Theatre is considered so admirably adapted for seeing, hearing, and accommodation, that it is frequently visited by European architects. An American friend took me to see it in the evening, when none are admitted but those who are going to remain for the performance. This being the rule, the doorkeeper politely opposed our entrance; but on my companion stating that I was a stranger, he instantly admitted us, and pointed out the best position for seeing the edifice. The theatre, which has four tiers of boxes, was handsome in the extreme, and brilliantly lighted; but I thought it calculated to produce the same effect of dizziness and headache, as those who frequent our House of Peers experience from the glare and redundant decoration.

This was one among the many instances where the name of stranger produced a magic effect. It appeared as if doors which would not open to anything else, yielded at once to a request urged in that sacred name. This was the case at the Mount Auburn Cemetery, where the gatekeeper permitted us as strangers to drive round in a carriage, which is contrary to rule, and on no occasion would those who so courteously obliged us accept of any gratuity.

There is some rivalry on the part of the people of Boston and New York with regard to the beauty of their cemeteries. Many travellers have pronounced the cemetery of Mount Auburn to be the loveliest in the world; but both it and that of Greenwood are so beautiful, that it is needless to “hint a fault or hesitate a dislike” with regard to either. Mount Auburn has verdant slopes, and deep wild dells, and lakes shaded by forest-trees of great size and beauty; and so silent is it, far removed from the din of cities, that it seems as if a single footstep would disturb the sleep of the dead. Here the neglectfulness and dreariness of the outer aspect of the grave are completely done away with, and the dead lie peacefully under ground carpeted with flowers, and shaded by trees. The simplicity of the monuments is very beautiful; that to Spurzheim has merely his name upon the tablet. Fulton, Channing, and other eminent men are buried here.

New York is celebrated for frequent and mysterious conflagrations; so are all the American cities in a less degree. This is very surprising to English people, many of whom scarcely know a fire-engine by sight. Boston, though its substantial erections of brick and stone present great obstacles to the progress of the devouring element, frequently displays these unwished-for illuminations, and has some very well organized fire companies. These companies, which are voluntary associations, are one of the important features of the States. The Quakers had the credit of originating them. Being men of peace, they could not bear arms in defence of their country, and exchanged militia service for the task of extinguishing all the fires caused by the wilfulness or carelessness of their fellow-citizens. This has been no easy task in cities built of wood, which in that dry climate, when ignited, burns like pine-knots. Even now, fires occur in a very unaccountable manner. At New York my slumbers were, frequently disturbed by the quick-tolling bell, announcing the number of the district where a fire had broken out. These fire companies have regular organizations, and their members enjoy several immunities, one of which I think is, that they are not compelled to serve as jurymen.

They are principally composed of young men, some of them the wilder members of the first families in the cities.

Their dresses are suitable and picturesque, and, with the brilliant painting and highly-polished brasses of their large engines, they form one of the most imposing parts of the annual pageant of the “Glorious Fourth.” The fireman who first reaches the scene of action is captain for the night, and this honour is so much coveted, as to lead them often to wait, ready equipped, during the winter nights, that they may be able to start forth at the first sound of the bell. There is sufficient dangerous adventure, and enough of thrilling incident, to give the occupation a charm in the eyes of the eager youth of the cities. They like it far better than playing at soldiers, and are popular in every city. As their gay and glittering processions pass along the streets, acclamations greet their progress, and enthusiastic ladies shower flowers upon their heads. They are generous, courageous, and ever ready in the hour of danger. But there is a dark side to this picture. They are said to be the foci of political encroachment and intrigue, and to be the centre of the restless and turbulent spirits of all classes. So powerful and dangerous have they become in many instances, that it has been recently stated in an American paper, that one of the largest and most respectable cities in the Union has found it necessary to suppress them.

The Blind Asylum is one of the noblest charitable institutions of Boston. It is in a magnificent situation, overlooking all the beauties of Massachusett’s Bay. It is principally interesting as being the residence of Laura Bridgman, the deaf and blind mute, whose history has interested so many in England. I had not an opportunity of visiting this asylum till the morning of the day on which I sailed for Europe, and had no opportunity of conversing with this interesting girl, as she was just leaving for the country. I saw her preceptor, Dr. Howe, whose untiring exertions on her behalf she has so wonderfully rewarded. He is a very lively, energetic man, and is now devoting himself to the improvement of the condition of idiots, in which already he has been extremely successful.

Laura is an elegant-looking girl, and her features, formerly so vacant, are now animated and full of varying expression. She dresses herself with great care and neatness, and her fair hair is also braided by herself. There is nothing but what is pleasing in her appearance, as her eyes are covered with small green shades. She is about twenty-three, and is not so cheerful as she formerly was, perhaps because her health is not good, or possibly that she feels more keenly the deprivations under which she labours. She is very active in her movements, and fabricates numerous useful and ornamental articles, which she disposes of for her mother’s benefit. She is very useful among the other pupils, and is well informed with regard to various branches of useful knowledge. She is completely matter-of-fact in all her ideas, as Dr. Howe studiously avoids all imagery and illustration in his instructions, in order not to embarrass her mind by complex images. It is to be regretted that she has very few ideas on the subject of religion.

One of the most interesting places to me in the vicinity of Boston was the abode of General Washington. It became his residence in 1775, and here he lived while the struggle for freedom was going on in the neighbourhood.

It is one of the largest villas in the vicinity of Boston, and has side verandahs resting on wooden pillars, and a large garden in front. Some very venerable elms adjoin the house, and the grounds are laid out in the fashion which prevailed at that period. The room where Washington penned his famous despatches is still held sacred by the Americans. Their veneration for this renowned champion of independence has something almost idolatrous about it. It is very fortunate that the greatest character in American history should be also the best. Christian, patriot, legislator, and soldier, he deserved his mother’s proud boast, “I know that wherever George Washington is, he is doing his duty.” His character needed no lapse of years to shed a glory round it; the envy of contemporary writers left it stainless, and succeeding historians, with their pens dipped in gall, have not been able to sully the lustre of a name which is one of the greatest which that or any age has produced.

This mansion has, however, an added interest, from being the residence of the poet Longfellow. In addition to his celebrity as a poet, he is one of the most elegant scholars which America has produced, and, until recently, held the professorship of modern languages at the neighbouring university of Cambridge. It would be out of place here to criticise his poetry. Although it is very unequal and occasionally fantastic, and though in one of his greatest poems the English language appears to dance in chains in the hexameter, many of his shorter pieces well upwards from the heart, in a manner which is likely to ensure durable fame for their author. The truth, energy, and earnestness of his ‘Psalm of Life’ and ‘Goblet of Life,’ have urged many forward in the fight, to whom the ponderous sublimity of Milton is a dead language, and the metaphysical lyrics of Tennyson are unintelligible. It appeared to me, from what I heard, that his fame is even greater in England than in his own country, where it is in some danger of being eclipsed by that of Bryant and Lowell. He is extremely courteous to strangers, and having kindly offered, through a friend, to show me Cambridge University, I had an opportunity of making his acquaintance.

I have been frequently asked to describe his personal appearance, and disappointment has frequently been expressed at the portrait which truth compels me to give of him. He is neither tall, black-haired, nor pale; he neither raises his eyes habitually to heaven, nor turns down his shirt-collar. He does not wear a look of melancholy resignation, neither does he live in love-gilded poverty, in a cottage embosomed in roses. On the contrary, he is about the middle height, and is by no means thin. He has handsome features, merry blue eyes, and a ruddy complexion; he lives in a large mansion, luxuriously furnished; and, besides having a large fortune, is the father of six blooming children. In short, his appearance might be considered jovial, were it not so extremely gentlemanly.

Mr. Longfellow met us at the door, with that urbanity which is so agreeable a feature in his character, and, on being shown into a very handsome library, we were introduced to Mrs. Longfellow, a lady of dignified appearance and graceful manner. She is well known as the Mary of Hyperion; and after a due degree of indignation with the author of that graceful and poetical book, she rewarded his constancy and devotion with her hand. The library was panelled in the old style, and a large collection of books was arranged in recesses in the wall: but the apartment evidently served the purposes of library and boudoir, for there were numerous evidences of female taste and occupation. Those who think that American children are all precocious little men and women would have been surprised to see the door boisterously thrown open by a little blooming boy, who scrambled mirthfully upon his father’s knee, as though used to be there, and asked him to whittle a stick for him.

It is not often that the conversation of an author is equal in its way to his writings, therefore I expected in Mr. Longfellow’s case the disappointment which I did not meet with. He touched lightly on various subjects, and embellished each with the ease and grace of an accomplished scholar, and, doubtless in kindly compliment to an English visitor, related several agreeable reminiscences of acquaintanceships formed with some of our literati during a brief visit to England. He spoke with much taste and feeling of European antiquities, and of the absence of them in the New World, together with the effect produced by the latter upon the American character. He said that nothing could give him greater pleasure than a second visit to Europe, but that there were “six obstacles in the way of its taking place.”

With him as a very able cicerone I had the pleasure of visiting Cambridge University, which reminded me more of England than anything I saw in America; indeed there are features in which it is not unlike its English name sake. It has no Newtonian or Miltonian shades, but in another century the names of those who fill a living age with lustre will have their memorials among its academic groves. There are several halls of dark stone or red brick, of venerable appearance, and there are avenues of stately elms. The library is a fine Gothic edifice, and contains some valuable manuscripts and illuminated editions of old works. There was a small copy of the four evangelists, written in characters resembling print, but so small that it cannot be read without a magnifying glass. This volume was the labour of a lifetime, and the transcriber completed his useless task upon his deathbed. While Mr. Longfellow was showing me some autographs of American patriots, I remarked that as I was showing some in a Canadian city, a gentleman standing by, on seeing the signature of the Protector, asked, in the most innocent ignorance, who Oliver Cromwell was? A lady answered that he was a successful rebel in the olden time! “If you are asked the question a second time,” observed the poet, who doubtless fully appreciates the greatness of Cromwell, “say that he was an eminent brewer.”

Altogether there is very much both of interest and beauty in Boston and its environs; and I was repeatedly told that I should have found the society more agreeable than that of New York. With the exception of visits paid to the houses of Longfellow and the late Mr. Abbott Lawrence, I did not see any of the inhabitants of Boston, as I only spent three days in the neighbourhood; but at Mr. Amy’s house I saw what is agreeable in any country, more especially in a land of transition and change — a happy American home. The people of this western Athens pride themselves upon the intellectual society and the number of eminent men which they possess, among whom may be named Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell, Dana, and Summer. One of these at least is of the transcendental school. I very much regretted that I had not more time to devote to a city so rich in various objects of interest; but the northern winter had already begun, and howling winds and angry seas warned me that it was time to join my friends at Halifax, who were desirous to cross the “vexed Atlantic” before the weather became yet more boisterous.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52