From New York we returned to Boston by Hartford, the capital or one of the capitals of Connecticut. This proud little State is composed of two old provinces, of which Hartford and New Haven were the two metropolitan towns. Indeed, there was a third colony, called Saybrook, which was joined to Hartford. As neither of the two could, of course, give way, when Hartford and New Haven were made into one, the houses of legislature and the seat of government are changed about year by year. Connecticut is a very proud little State, and has a pleasant legend of its own stanchness in the old colonial days. In 1662 the colonies were united, and a charter was given to them by Charles II. But some years later, in 1686, when the bad days of James II. had come, this charter was considered to be too liberal, and order was given that it should be suspended. One Sir Edmund Andross had been appointed governor of all New England, and sent word from Boston to Connecticut that the charter itself should be given up to him. This the men of Connecticut refused to do. Whereupon Sir Edmund with a military following presented himself at their Assembly, declared their governing powers to be dissolved, and, after much palaver, caused the charter itself to be laid upon the table before him. The discussion had been long, having lasted through the day into the night, and the room had been lighted with candles. On a sudden each light disappeared, and Sir Edmund with his followers were in the dark. As a matter of course, when the light was restored the charter was gone; and Sir Edmund, the governor-general, was baffled, as all governors-general and all Sir Edmunds always are in such cases. The charter was gone, a gallant Captain Wadsworth having carried it off and hidden it in an oak-tree. The charter was renewed when William III. came to the throne, and now hangs triumphantly in the State House at Hartford. The charter oak has, alas! succumbed to the weather, but was standing a few years since. The men of Hartford are very proud of their charter, and regard it as the parent of their existing liberties quite as much as though no national revolution of their own had intervened.
And, indeed, the Northern States of the Union — especially those of New England — refer all their liberties to the old charters which they held from the mother country. They rebelled, as they themselves would seem to say, and set themselves up as a separate people, not because the mother country had refused to them by law sufficient liberty and sufficient self-control, but because the mother country infringed the liberties and powers of self-control which she herself had given. The mother country, so these States declare, had acted the part of Sir Edmund Andross — had endeavored to take away their charters. So they also put out the lights, and took themselves to an oak-tree of their own — which is still standing, though winds from the infernal regions are now battering its branches. Long may it stand!
Whether the mother country did or did not infringe the charters she had given, I will not here inquire. As to the nature of those alleged infringements, are they not written down to the number of twenty-seven in the Declaration of Independence? They mostly begin with He. “He” has done this, and “He” has done that. The “He” is poor George III., whose twenty-seven mortal sins against his Transatlantic colonies are thus recapitulated. It would avail nothing to argue now whether those deeds were sins or virtues, nor would it have availed then. The child had grown up and was strong, and chose to go alone into the world. The young bird was fledged, and flew away. Poor George III. with his cackling was certainly not efficacious in restraining such a flight. But it is gratifying to see how this new people, when they had it in their power to change all their laws, to throw themselves upon any Utopian theory that the folly of a wild philanthropy could devise, to discard as abominable every vestige of English rule and English power — it is gratifying to see that, when they could have done all this, they did not do so, but preferred to cling to things English. Their old colonial limits were still to be the borders of their States. Their old charters were still to be regarded as the sources from whence their State powers had come. The old laws were to remain in force. The precedents of the English courts were to be held as legal precedents in the courts of the new nation, and are now so held. It was still to be England, but England without a king making his last struggle for political power. This was the idea of the people and this was their feeling; and that idea has been carried out and that feeling has remained.
In the constitution of the State of New York nothing is said about the religion of the people. It was regarded as a subject with which the constitution had no concern whatever. But as soon as we come among the stricter people of New England, we find that the constitution-makers have not been able absolutely to ignore the subject. In Connecticut it is enjoined that, as it is the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with their consciences, no person shall be by law compelled to join or be classed with any religious association. The line of argument is hardly logical, the conclusion not being in accordance with or hanging on the first of the two premises. But nevertheless the meaning is clear. In a free country no man shall be made to worship after any special fashion; but it is decreed by the constitution that every man is bound by duty to worship after some fashion. The article then goes on to say how they who do worship are to be taxed for the support of their peculiar church. I am not quite clear whether the New Yorkers have not managed this difficulty with greater success. When we come to the Old Bay State — to Massachusetts — we find the Christian religion spoken of in the constitution as that which in some one of its forms should receive the adherence of every good citizen.
Hartford is a pleasant little town, with English-looking houses, and an English-looking country around it. Here, as everywhere through the States, one is struck by the size and comfort of the residences. I sojourned there at the house of a friend, and could find no limit to the number of spacious sitting-rooms which it contained. The modest dining-room and drawing-room which suffice with us for men of seven or eight hundred a year would be regarded as very mean accommodation by persons of similar incomes in the States.
I found that Hartford was all alive with trade, and that wages were high, because there are there two factories for the manufacture of arms. Colt’s pistols come from Hartford, as also do Sharpe’s rifles. Wherever arms can be prepared, or gunpowder; where clothes or blankets fit for soldiers can be made, or tents or standards, or things appertaining in any way to warfare, there trade was still brisk. No being is more costly in his requirements than a soldier, and no soldier so costly as the American. He must eat and drink of the best, and have good boots and warm bedding, and good shelter. There were during the Christmas of 1861 above half a million of soldiers so to be provided — the President, in his message made in December to Congress, declared the number to be above six hundred thousand — and therefore in such places as Hartford trade was very brisk. I went over the rifle factory, and was shown everything, but I do not know that I brought away much with me that was worth any reader’s attention. The best of rifles, I have no doubt, were being made with the greatest rapidity, and all were sent to the army as soon as finished. I saw some murderous-looking weapons, with swords attached to them instead of bayonets, but have since been told by soldiers that the old-fashioned bayonet is thought to be more serviceable.
Immediately on my arrival in Boston I heard that Mr. Emerson was going to lecture at the Tremont Hall on the subject of the war, and I resolved to go and hear him. I was acquainted with Mr. Emerson, and by reputation knew him well. Among us in England he is regarded as transcendental and perhaps even as mystic in his philosophy. His “Representative Men” is the work by which he is best known on our side of the water, and I have heard some readers declare that they could not quite understand Mr. Emerson’s “Representative Men.” For myself, I confess that I had broken down over some portions of that book. Since I had become acquainted with him I had read others of his writings, especially his book on England, and had found that he improved greatly on acquaintance. I think that he has confined his mysticism to the book above named. In conversation he is very clear, and by no means above the small practical things of the world. He would, I fancy, know as well what interest he ought to receive for his money as though he were no philosopher, and I am inclined to think that if he held land he would make his hay while the sun shone, as might any common farmer. Before I had met Mr. Emerson, when my idea of him was formed simply on the “Representative Men,” I should have thought that a lecture from him on the war would have taken his hearers all among the clouds. As it was, I still had my doubts, and was inclined to fear that a subject which could only be handled usefully at such a time before a large audience by a combination of common sense, high principles, and eloquence, would hardly be safe in Mr. Emerson’s hands. I did not doubt the high principles, but feared much that there would be a lack of common sense. So many have talked on that subject, and have shown so great a lack of common sense! As to the eloquence, that might be there or might not.
Mr. Emerson is a Massachusetts man, very well known in Boston, and a great crowd was collected to hear him. I suppose there were some three thousand persons in the room. I confess that when he took his place before us my prejudices were against him. The matter in hand required no philosophy. It required common sense, and the very best of common sense. It demanded that he should be impassioned, for of what interest can any address be on a matter of public politics without passion? But it demanded that the passion should be winnowed, and free from all rodomontade. I fancied what might be said on such a subject as to that overlauded star-spangled banner, and how the star-spangled flag would look when wrapped in a mist of mystic Platonism.
But from the beginning to the end there was nothing mystic — no Platonism; and, if I remember rightly, the star-spangled banner was altogether omitted. To the national eagle he did allude. “Your American eagle,” he said, “is very well. Protect it here and abroad. But beware of the American peacock.” He gave an account of the war from the beginning, showing how it had arisen, and how it had been conducted; and he did so with admirable simplicity and truth. He thought the North were right about the war; and as I thought so also, I was not called upon to disagree with him. He was terse and perspicuous in his sentences, practical in his advice, and, above all things, true in what he said to his audience of themselves. They who know America will understand how hard it is for a public man in the States to practice such truth in his addresses. Fluid compliments and high-flown national eulogium are expected. In this instance none were forthcoming. The North had risen with patriotism to make this effort, and it was now warned that in doing so it was simply doing its national duty. And then came the subject of slavery. I had been told that Mr. Emerson was an abolitionist, and knew that I must disagree with him on that head, if on no other. To me it has always seemed that to mix up the question of general abolition with this war must be the work of a man too ignorant to understand the real subject of the war, or too false to his country to regard it. Throughout the whole lecture I was waiting for Mr. Emerson’s abolition doctrine, but no abolition doctrine came. The words abolition and compensation were mentioned, and then there was an end of the subject. If Mr. Emerson be an abolitionist, he expressed his views very mildly on that occasion. On the whole, the lecture was excellent, and that little advice about the peacock was in itself worth an hour’s attention.
That practice of lecturing is “quite an institution” in the States. So it is in England, my readers will say. But in England it is done in a different way, with a different object, and with much less of result. With us, if I am not mistaken, lectures are mostly given gratuitously by the lecturer. They are got up here and there with some philanthropical object, and in the hope that an hour at the disposal of young men and women may be rescued from idleness. The subjects chosen are social, literary, philanthropic, romantic, geographical, scientific, religious — anything rather than political. The lecture-rooms are not usually filled to overflowing, and there is often a question whether the real good achieved is worth the trouble taken. The most popular lectures are given by big people, whose presence is likely to be attractive; and the whole thing, I fear we must confess, is not pre-eminently successful. In the Northern States of America the matter stands on a very different footing. Lectures there are more popular than either theaters or concerts. Enormous halls are built for them. Tickets for long courses are taken with avidity. Very large sums are paid to popular lecturers, so that the profession is lucrative — more so, I am given to understand, than is the cognate profession of literature. The whole thing is done in great style. Music is introduced. The lecturer stands on a large raised platform, on which sit around him the bald and hoary-headed and superlatively wise. Ladies come in large numbers, especially those who aspire to soar above the frivolities of the world. Politics is the subject most popular, and most general. The men and women of Boston could no more do without their lectures than those of Paris could without their theaters. It is the decorous diversion of the best ordered of her citizens. The fast young men go to clubs, and the fast young women to dances, as fast young men and women do in other places that are wicked; but lecturing is the favorite diversion of the steady-minded Bostonian. After all, I do not know that the result is very good. It does not seem that much will be gained by such lectures on either side of the Atlantic — except that respectable killing of an evening which might otherwise be killed less respectably. It is but an industrious idleness, an attempt at a royal road to information, that habit of attending lectures. Let any man or woman say what he has brought away from any such attendance. It is attractive, that idea of being studious without any of the labor of study; but I fear it is illusive. If an evening can be so passed without ennui, I believe that that may be regarded as the best result to be gained. But then it so often happens that the evening is not passed without ennui! Of course in saying this, I am not alluding to lectures given in special places as a course of special study. Medical lectures are, or may be, a necessary part of medical education. As many as two or three thousand often attend these popular lectures in Boston, but I do not know whether on that account the popular subjects are much better understood. Nevertheless I resolved to hear more, hoping that I might in that way teach myself to understand what were the popular politics in New England. Whether or no I may have learned this in any other way, I do not perhaps know; but at any rate I did not learn it in this way.
The next lecture which I attended was also given in the Tremont Hall, and on this occasion also the subject of the war was to be treated. The special treachery of the rebels was, I think, the matter to be taken in hand. On this occasion also the room was full, and my hopes of a pleasant hour ran high. For some fifteen minutes I listened, and I am bound to say that the gentleman discoursed in excellent English. He was master of that wonderful fluency which is peculiarly the gift of an American. He went on from one sentence to another with rhythmic tones and unerring pronunciation. He never faltered, never repeated his words, never fell into those vile half-muttered hems and haws by which an Englishman in such a position so generally betrays his timidity. But during the whole time of my remaining in the room he did not give expression to a single thought. He went on from one soft platitude to another, and uttered words from which I would defy any one of his audience to carry away with them anything. And yet it seemed to me that his audience was satisfied. I was not satisfied, and managed to escape out of the room.
The next lecturer to whom I listened was Mr. Everett. Mr. Everett’s reputation as an orator is very great, and I was especially anxious to hear him. I had long since known that his power of delivery was very marvelous; that his tones, elocution, and action were all great; and that he was able to command the minds and sympathies of his audience in a remarkable manner. His subject also was the war — or rather the causes of the war and its qualification. Had the North given to the South cause of provocation? Had the South been fair and honest in its dealings to the North? Had any compromise been possible by which the war might have been avoided, and the rights and dignity of the North preserved? Seeing that Mr. Everett is a Northern man and was lecturing to a Boston audience, one knew well how these questions would be answered, but the manner of the answering would be everything. This lecture was given at Roxbury, one of the suburbs of Boston. So I went out to Roxbury with a party, and found myself honored by being placed on the platform among the bald-headed ones and the superlatively wise. This privilege is naturally gratifying, but it entails on him who is so gratified the inconvenience of sitting at the lecturer’s back, whereas it is, perhaps, better for the listener to be before his face.
I could not but be amused by one little scenic incident. When we all went upon the platform, some one proposed that the clergymen should lead the way out of the little waiting-room in which we bald-headed ones and superlatively wise were assembled. But to this the manager of the affair demurred. He wanted the clergymen for a purpose, he said. And so the profane ones led the way, and the clergymen, of whom there might be some six or seven, clustered in around the lecturer at last. Early in his discourse, Mr. Everett told us what it was that the country needed at this period of her trial. Patriotism, courage, the bravery of the men, the good wishes of the women, the self-denial of all —“and,” continued the lecturer, turning to his immediate neighbors, “the prayers of these holy men whom I see around me.” It had not been for nothing that the clergymen were detained.
Mr. Everett lectures without any book or paper before him, and continues from first to last as though the words came from him on the spur of the moment. It is known, however, that it is his practice to prepare his orations with great care and commit them entirely to memory, as does an actor. Indeed, he repeats the same lecture over and over again, I am told, without the change of a word or of an action. I did not like Mr. Everett’s lecture. I did not like what he said, or the seeming spirit in which it was framed. But I am bound to admit that his power of oratory is very wonderful. Those among his countrymen who have criticised his manner in my hearing, have said that he is too florid, that there is an affectation in the motion of his hands, and that the intended pathos of his voice sometimes approaches too near the precipice over which the fall is so deep and rapid, and at the bottom of which lies absolute ridicule. Judging for myself, I did not find it so. My position for seeing was not good, but my ear was not offended. Critics also should bear in mind that an orator does not speak chiefly to them or for their approval. He who writes, or speaks, or sings for thousands, must write, speak, or sing as those thousands would have him. That to a dainty connoisseur will be false music, which to the general ear shall be accounted as the perfection of harmony. An eloquence altogether suited to the fastidious and hypercritical, would probably fail to carry off the hearts and interest the sympathies of the young and eager. As regards manners, tone, and choice of words I think that the oratory of Mr. Everett places him very high. His skill in his work is perfect. He never falls back upon a word. He never repeats himself. His voice is always perfectly under command. As for hesitation or timidity, the days for those failings have long passed by with him. When he makes a point, he makes it well, and drives it home to the intelligence of every one before him. Even that appeal to the holy men around him sounded well — or would have done so had I not been present at that little arrangement in the anteroom. On the audience at large it was manifestly effective.
But nevertheless the lecture gave me but a poor idea of Mr. Everett as a politician, though it made me regard him highly as an orator. It was impossible not to perceive that he was anxious to utter the sentiments of the audience rather than his own; that he was making himself an echo, a powerful and harmonious echo of what he conceived to be public opinion in Boston at that moment; that he was neither leading nor teaching the people before him, but allowing himself to be led by them, so that he might best play his present part for their delectation. He was neither bold nor honest, as Emerson had been, and I could not but feel that every tyro of a politician before him would thus recognize his want of boldness and of honesty. As a statesman, or as a critic of statecraft, and of other statesmen, he is wanting in backbone. For many years Mr. Everett has been not even inimical to Southern politics and Southern courses, nor was he among those who, during the last eight years previous to Mr. Lincoln’s election, fought the battle for Northern principles. I do not say that on this account he is now false to advocate the war. But he cannot carry men with him when, at his age, he advocates it by arguments opposed to the tenor of his long political life. His abuse of the South and of Southern ideas was as virulent as might be that of a young lad now beginning his political career, or of one who had through life advocated abolition principles. He heaped reproaches on poor Virginia, whose position as the chief of the border States has given to her hardly the possibility of avoiding a Scylla of ruin on the one side, or a Charybdis of rebellion on the other. When he spoke as he did of Virginia, ridiculing the idea of her sacred soil, even I, Englishman as I am, could not but think of Washington, of Jefferson, of Randolph, and of Madison. He should not have spoken of Virginia as he did speak; for no man could have known better Virginia’s difficulties. But Virginia was at a discount in Boston, and Mr. Everett was speaking to a Boston audience. And then he referred to England and to Europe. Mr. Everett has been minister to England, and knows the people. He is a student of history, and must, I think, know that England’s career has not been unhappy or unprosperous. But England also was at a discount in Boston, and Mr. Everett was speaking to a Boston audience. They are sending us their advice across the water, said Mr. Everett. And what is their advice to us? That we should come down from the high place we have built for ourselves, and be even as they are. They screech at us from the low depths in which they are wallowng in their misery, and call on us to join them in their wretchedness. I am not quoting Mr. Everett’s very words, for I have not them by me; but I am not making them stronger, nor so strong as he made them. As I thought of Mr. Everett’s reputation, and of his years of study, of his long political life and unsurpassed sources of information, I could not but grieve heartily when I heard such words fall from him. I could not but ask myself whether it were impossible that under the present circumstances of her constitution this great nation of America should produce an honest, high-minded statesman. When Lincoln and Hamlin, the existing President and Vice-President of the States, were in 1860 as yet but the candidates of the Republican party, Bell and Everett also were the candidates of the old Whig, conservative party. Their express theory was this — that the question of slavery should not be touched. Their purpose was to crush agitation and restore harmony by an impartial balance between the North and South: a fine purpose — the finest of all purposes, had it been practicable. But such a course of compromise was now at a discount in Boston, and Mr. Everett was speaking to a Boston audience. As an orator, Mr. Everett’s excellence is, I think, not to be questioned; but as a politician I cannot give him a high rank.
After that I heard Mr. Wendell Phillips. Of him, too, as an orator, all the world of Massachusetts speaks with great admiration, and I have no doubt so speaks with justice. He is, however, known as the hottest and most impassioned advocate of abolition. Not many months since the cause of abolition, as advocated by him, was so unpopular in Boston, that Mr. Phillips was compelled to address his audience surrounded by a guard of policemen. Of this gentleman I may at any rate say that he is consistent, devoted, and disinterested. He is an abolitionist by profession, and seeks to find in every turn of the tide of politics some stream on which he may bring himself nearer to his object. In the old days, previous to the selection of Mr. Lincoln, in days so old that they are now nearly eighteen months past, Mr. Phillips was an anti-Union man. He advocated strongly the disseverance of the Union, so that the country to which he belonged might have hands clean from the taint of slavery. He had probably acknowledged to himself that while the North and South were bound together no hope existed of emancipation, but that if the North stood alone the South would become too weak to foster and keep alive the “social institution.” In which, if such were his opinions, I am inclined to agree with him. But now he is all for the Union, thinking that a victorious North can compel the immediate emancipation of Southern slaves. As to which I beg to say that I am bold to differ from Mr. Phillips altogether.
It soon became evident to me that Mr. Phillips was unwell, and lecturing at a disadvantage. His manner was clearly that of an accustomed orator, but his voice was weak, and he was not up to the effect which he attempted to make. His hearers were impatient, repeatedly calling upon him to speak out, and on that account I tried hard to feel kindly toward him and his lecture. But I must confess that I failed. To me it seemed that the doctrine he preached was one of rapine, bloodshed, and social destruction. He would call upon the government and upon Congress to enfranchise the slaves at once — now during the war — so that the Southern power might be destroyed by a concurrence of misfortunes. And he would do so at once, on the spur of the moment, fearing lest the South should be before him, and themselves emancipate their own bondsmen. I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so blood-thirsty as a professed philanthropist; and that when the philanthropist’s ardor lies negroward, it then assumes the deepest die of venom and blood-thirstiness. There are four millions of slaves in the Southern States, none of whom have any capacity for self-maintenance or self-control. Four millions of slaves, with the necessities of children, with the passions of men, and the ignorance of savages! And Mr. Phillips would emancipate these at a blow; would, were it possible for him to do so, set them loose upon the soil to tear their masters, destroy each other, and make such a hell upon the earth as has never even yet come from the uncontrolled passions and unsatisfied wants of men. But Congress cannot do this. All the members of Congress put together cannot, according to the Constitution of the United States, emancipate a single slave in South Carolina; not if they were all unanimous. No emancipation in a slave State can come otherwise than by the legislative enactment of that State. But it was then thought that in this coming winter of 1860-61 the action of Congress might be set aside. The North possessed an enormous army under the control of the President. The South was in rebellion, and the President could pronounce, and the army perhaps enforce, the confiscation of all property held in slaves. If any who held them were not disloyal, the question of compensation might be settled afterward. How those four million slaves should live, and how white men should live among them, in some States or parts of States not equal to the blacks in number — as to that Mr. Phillips did not give us his opinion.
And Mr. Phillips also could not keep his tongue away from the abominations of Englishmen and the miraculous powers of his own countrymen. It was on this occasion that he told us more than once how Yankees carried brains in their fingers, whereas “common people”— alluding by that name to Europeans — had them only, if at all, inside their brain-pans. And then he informed us that Lord Palmerston had always hated America. Among the Radicals there might be one or two who understood and valued the institutions of America, but it was a well-known fact that Lord Palmerston was hostile to the country. Nothing but hidden enmity — enmity hidden or not hidden — could be expected from England. That the people of Boston, or of Massachusetts, or of the North generally, should feel sore against England, is to me intelligible. I know how the minds of men are moved in masses to certain feelings and that it ever must be so. Men in common talk are not bound to weigh their words, to think, and speculate on their results, and be sure of the premises on which their thoughts are founded. But it is different with a man who rises before two or three thousand of his countrymen to teach and instruct them. After that I heard no more political lectures in Boston.
Of course I visited Bunker Hill, and went to Lexington and Concord. From the top of the monument on Bunker Hill there is a fine view of Boston harbor, and seen from thence the harbor is picturesque. The mouth is crowded with islands and jutting necks and promontories; and though the shores are in no place rich enough to make the scenery grand, the general effect is good. The monument, however, is so constructed that one can hardly get a view through the windows at the top of it, and there is no outside gallery round it. Immediately below the monument is a marble figure of Major Warren, who fell there — not from the top of the monument, as some one was led to believe when informed that on that spot the major had fallen. Bunker Hill, which is little more than a mound, is at Charlestown — a dull, populous, respectable, and very unattractive suburb of Boston.
Bunker Hill has obtained a considerable name, and is accounted great in the annals of American history. In England we have all heard of Bunker Hill, and some of us dislike the sound as much as Frenchmen do that of Waterloo. In the States men talk of Bunker Hill as we may, perhaps, talk of Agincourt and such favorite fields. But, after all, little was done at Bunker Hill, and, as far as I can learn, no victory was gained there by either party. The road from Boston to the town of Concord, on which stands the village of Lexington, is the true scene of the earliest and greatest deeds of the men of Boston. The monument at Bunker Hill stands high and commands attention, while those at Lexington and Concord are very lowly and command no attention. But it is of that road and what was done on it that Massachusetts should be proud. When the colonists first began to feel that they were oppressed, and a half resolve was made to resist that oppression by force, they began to collect a few arms and some gunpowder at Concord, a small town about eighteen miles from Boston. Of this preparation the English governor received tidings, and determined to send a party of soldiers to seize the arms. This he endeavored to do secretly; but he was too closely watched, and word was sent down over the waters by which Boston was then surrounded that the colonists might be prepared for the soldiers. At that time Boston Neck, as it was, and is still called, was the only connection between the town and the main-land, and the road over Boston Neck did not lead to Concord. Boats therefore were necessarily used, and there was some difficulty in getting the soldiers to the nearest point. They made their way, however, to the road, and continued their route as far as Lexington without interruption. Here, however, they were attacked, and the first blood of that war was shed. They shot three or four of the — rebels, I suppose I should in strict language call them, and then proceeded on to Concord. But at Concord they were stopped and repulsed, and along the road back from Concord to Lexington they were driven with slaughter and dismay. And thus the rebellion was commenced which led to the establishment of a people which, let us Englishmen say and think what we may of them at this present moment, has made itself one of the five great nations of the earth, and has enabled us to boast that the two out of the five who enjoy the greatest liberty and the widest prosperity speak the English language and are known by English names. For all that has come and is like to come, I say again, long may that honor remain. I could not but feel that that road from Boston to Concord deserves a name in the world’s history greater, perhaps, than has yet been given to it.
Concord is at present to be noted as the residence of Mr. Emerson and of Mr. Hawthorne, two of those many men of letters of whose presence Boston and its neighborhood have reason to be proud. Of Mr. Emerson I have already spoken. The author of the “Scarlet Letter” I regard as certainly the first of American novelists. I know what men will say of Mr. Cooper — and I also am an admirer of Cooper’s novels. But I cannot think that Mr. Cooper’s powers were equal to those of Mr. Hawthorne, though his mode of thought may have been more genial, and his choice of subjects more attractive in their day. In point of imagination, which, after all, is the novelist’s greatest gift, I hardly know any living author who can he accounted superior to Mr. Hawthorne.
Very much has, undoubtedly, been done in Boston to carry out that theory of Colonel Newcome’s — Emollit mores, by which the Colonel meant to signify his opinion that a competent knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, with a taste for enjoying those accomplishments, goes very far toward the making of a man, and will by no means mar a gentleman. In Boston nearly every man, woman, and child has had his or her manners so far softened; and though they may still occasionally be somewhat rough to the outer touch, the inward effect is plainly visible. With us, especially among our agricultural population, the absence of that inner softening is as visible.
I went to see a public library in the city, which, if not founded by Mr. Bates, whose name is so well known in London as connected with the house of Messrs. Baring, has been greatly enriched by him. It is by his money that it has been enabled to do its work. In this library there is a certain number of thousands of volumes — a great many volumes, as there are in most public libraries. There are books of all classes, from ponderous unreadable folios, of which learned men know the title-pages, down to the lightest literature. Novels are by no means eschewed — are rather, if I understood aright, considered as one of the staples of the library. From this library any book, excepting such rare volumes as in all libraries are considered holy, is given out to any inhabitant of Boston, without any payment, on presentation of a simple request on a prepared form. In point of fact, it is a gratuitous circulating library open to all Boston, rich or poor, young or old. The books seemed in general to be confided to young children, who came as messengers from their fathers and mothers, or brothers and sisters. No question whatever is asked, if the applicant is known or the place of his residence undoubted. If there be no such knowledge, or there be any doubt as to the residence, the applicant is questioned, the object being to confine the use of the library to the bona fide inhabitants of the city. Practically the books are given to those who ask for them, whoever they may be. Boston contains over 200,000 inhabitants, and all those 200,000 are entitled to them. Some twenty men and women are kept employed from morning till night in carrying on this circulating library; and there is, moreover, attached to the establishment a large reading-room supplied with papers and magazines, open to the public of Boston on the same terms.
Of course I asked whether a great many of the books were not lost, stolen, and destroyed; and of course I was told that there were no losses, no thefts, and no destruction. As to thefts, the librarian did not seem to think that any instance of such an occurrence could be found. Among the poorer classes, a book might sometimes be lost when they were changing their lodgings; but anything so lost was more than replaced by the fines. A book is taken out for a week, and if not brought back at the end of that week — when the loan can be renewed if the reader wishes — a fine, I think of two cents, is incurred. The children, when too late with the books, bring in the two cents as a matter of course, and the sum so collected fully replaces all losses. It was all couleur de rose; the librarianesses looked very pretty and learned, and, if I remember aright, mostly wore spectacles; the head librarian was enthusiastic; the nice, instructive books were properly dogs-eared; my own productions were in enormous demand; the call for books over the counter was brisk; and the reading-room was full of readers.
It has, I dare say, occurred to other travelers to remark that the proceedings at such institutions, when visited by them on their travels, are always rose colored. It is natural that the bright side should be shown to the visitor. It may be that many books are called for and returned unread; that many of those taken out are so taken by persons who ought to pay for their novels at circulating libraries; that the librarian and librarianesses get very tired of their long hours of attendance, for I found that they were very long; and that many idlers warm themselves in that reading-room. Nevertheless the fact remains — the library is public to all the men and women in Boston, and books are given out without payment to all who may choose to ask for them. Why should not the great Mr. Mudie emulate Mr. Bates, and open a library in London on the same system?
The librarian took me into one special room, of which he himself kept the key, to show me a present which the library had received from the English government. The room was filled with volumes of two sizes, all bound alike, containing descriptions and drawings of all the patents taken out in England. According to this librarian, such a work would be invaluable as to American patents; but he conceived that the subject had become too confused to render any such an undertaking possible. “I never allow a single volume to be used for a moment without the presence of myself or one of my assistants,” said the librarian; and then he explained to me, when I asked him why he was so particular, that the drawings would, as a matter of course, be cut out and stolen if he omitted his care. “But they may be copied,” I said. “Yes; but if Jones merely copies one, Smith may come after him and copy it also. Jones will probably desire to hinder Smith from having any evidence of such a patent.” As to the ordinary borrowing and returning of books, the poorest laborer’s child in Boston might be trusted as honest; but when a question of trade came up — of commercial competition — then the librarian was bound to bethink himself that his countrymen are very smart. “I hope,” said the librarian, “you will let them know in England how grateful we are for their present.” And I hereby execute that librarian’s commission.
I shall always look back to social life in Boston with great pleasure. I met there many men and women whom to know is a distinction, and with whom to be intimate is a great delight. It was a Puritan city, in which strict old Roundhead sentiments and laws used to prevail; but now-a-days ginger is hot in the mouth there, and, in spite of the war, there were cakes and ale. There was a law passed in Massachusetts in the old days that any girl should be fined and imprisoned who allowed a young man to kiss her. That law has now, I think, fallen into abeyance, and such matters are regulated in Boston much as they are in other large towns farther eastward. It still, I conceive, calls itself a Puritan city; but it has divested its Puritanism of austerity, and clings rather to the politics and public bearing of its old fathers than to their social manners and pristine severity of intercourse. The young girls are, no doubt, much more comfortable under the new dispensation — and the elderly men also, as I fancy. Sunday, as regards the outer streets, is sabbatical. But Sunday evenings within doors I always found to be what my friends in that country call “quite a good time.” It is not the thing in Boston to smoke in the streets during the day; but the wisest, the sagest, and the most holy — even those holy men whom the lecturer saw around him — seldom refuse a cigar in the dining-room as soon as the ladies have gone. Perhaps even the wicked weed would make its appearance before that sad eclipse, thereby postponing or perhaps absolutely annihilating the melancholy period of widowhood to both parties, and would light itself under the very eyes of those who in sterner cities will lend no countenance to such lightings. Ah me, it was very pleasant! I confess I like this abandonment of the stricter rules of the more decorous world. I fear that there is within me an aptitude to the milder debaucheries which makes such deviations pleasant. I like to drink and I like to smoke, but I do not like to turn women out of the room. Then comes the question whether one can have all that one likes together. In some small circles in New England I found people simple enough to fancy that they could. In Massachusetts the Maine liquor law is still the law of the land, but, like that other law to which I have alluded, it has fallen very much out of use. At any rate, it had not reached the houses of the gentlemen with whom I had the pleasure of making acquaintance. But here I must guard myself from being misunderstood. I saw but one drunken man through all New England, and he was very respectable. He was, however, so uncommonly drunk that he might be allowed to count for two or three. The Puritans of Boston are, of course, simple in their habits and simple in their expenses. Champagne and canvas-back ducks I found to be the provisions most in vogue among those who desired to adhere closely to the manner of their forefathers. Upon the whole, I found the ways of life which had been brought over in the “Mayflower” from the stern sects of England, and preserved through the revolutionary war for liberty, to be very pleasant ways; and I made up my mind that a Yankee Puritan can be an uncommonly pleasant fellow. I wish that some of them did not dine so early; for when a man sits down at half-past two, that keeping up of the after-dinner recreations till bedtime becomes hard work.
In Boston the houses are very spacious and excellent, and they are always furnished with those luxuries which it is so difficult to introduce into an old house. They have hot and cold water pipes into every room, and baths attached to the bedchambers. It is not only that comfort is increased by such arrangements, but that much labor is saved. In an old English house it will occupy a servant the best part of the day to carry water up and down for a large family. Everything also is spacious, commodious, and well lighted. I certainly think that in house-building the Americans have gone beyond us, for even our new houses are not commodious as are theirs. One practice which they have in their cities would hardly suit our limited London spaces. When the body of the house is built, they throw out the dining-room behind. It stands alone, as it were, with no other chamber above it, and removed from the rest of the house. It is consequently behind the double drawing-rooms which form the ground floor, and is approached from them and also from the back of the hall. The second entrance to the dining-room is thus near the top of the kitchen stairs, which no doubt is its proper position. The whole of the upper part of the house is thus kept for the private uses of the family. To me this plan of building recommended itself as being very commodious.
I found the spirit for the war quite as hot at Boston now (in November) if not hotter than it was when I was there ten weeks earlier; and I found also, to my grief, that the feeling against England was as strong. I can easily understand how difficult it must have been, and still must be, to Englishmen at home to understand this, and see how it has come to pass. It has not arisen, as I think, from the old jealousy of England. It has not sprung from that source which for years has induced certain newspapers, especially the New York Herald, to vilify England. I do not think that the men of New England have ever been, as regards this matter, in the same boat with the New York Herald. But when this war between the North and South first broke out, even before there was as yet a war, the Northern men had taught themselves to expect what they called British sympathy, meaning British encouragement. They regarded, and properly regarded, the action of the South as a rebellion, and said among themselves that so staid and conservative a nation as Great Britain would surely countenance them in quelling rebels. If not, should it come to pass that Great Britain should show no such countenance and sympathy for Northern law, if Great Britain did not respond to her friend as she was expected to respond, then it would appear that cotton was king, at least in British eyes. The war did come, and Great Britain regarded the two parties as belligerents, standing, as far as she was concerned, on equal grounds. This it was that first gave rise to that fretful anger against England which has gone so far toward ruining the Northern cause. We know how such passions are swelled by being ventilated, and how they are communicated from mind to mind till they become national. Politicians — American politicians I here mean — have their own future careers ever before their eyes, and are driven to make capital where they can. Hence it is that such men as Mr. Seward in the cabinet, and Mr. Everett out of it, can reconcile it to themselves to speak as they have done of England. It was but the other day that Mr. Everett spoke, in one of his orations, of the hope that still existed that the flag of the United States might still float over the whole continent of North America. What would he say of an English statesman who should speak of putting up the Union Jack on the State House in Boston? Such words tell for the moment on the hearers, and help to gain some slight popularity; but they tell for more than a moment on those who read them and remember them.
And then came the capture of Messrs. Slidell and Mason. I was at Boston when those men were taken out of the “Trent” by the “San Jacinto,” and brought to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. Captain Wilkes was the officer who had made the capture, and he immediately was recognized as a hero. He was invited to banquets and feted. Speeches were made to him as speeches are commonly made to high officers who come home, after many perils, victorious from the wars. His health was drunk with great applause, and thanks were voted to him by one of the Houses of Congress. It was said that a sword was to be given to him, but I do not think that the gift was consummated. Should it not have been a policeman’s truncheon? Had he at the best done any thing beyond a policeman’s work? Of Captain Wilkes no one would complain for doing policeman’s duty. If his country were satisfied with the manner in which he did it, England, if she quarreled at all, would not quarrel with him. It may now and again become the duty of a brave officer to do work of so low a caliber. It is a pity that an ambitious sailor should find himself told off for so mean a task, but the world would know that it is not his fault. No one could blame Captain Wilkes for acting policeman on the seas. But who ever before heard of giving a man glory for achievements so little glorious? How Captain Wilkes must have blushed when those speeches were made to him, when that talk about the sword came up, when the thanks arrived to him from Congress! An officer receives his country’s thanks when he has been in great peril, and has borne himself gallantly through his danger; when he has endured the brunt of war, and come through it with victory; when he has exposed himself on behalf of his country and singed his epaulets with an enemy’s fire. Captain Wilkes tapped a merchantman on the shoulder in the high seas, and told him that his passengers were wanted. In doing this he showed no lack of spirit, for it might be his duty; but where was his spirit when he submitted to be thanked for such work?
And then there arose a clamor of justification among the lawyers; judges and ex-judges flew to Wheaton, Phillimore, and Lord Stowell. Before twenty-four hours were over, every man and every woman in Boston were armed with precedents. Then there was the burning of the “Caroline.” England had improperly burned the “Caroline” on Lake Erie, or rather in one of the American ports on Lake Erie, and had then begged pardon. If the States had been wrong, they would beg pardon; but whether wrong or right, they would not give up Slidell and Mason. But the lawyers soon waxed stronger. The men were manifestly ambassadors, and as such contraband of war. Wilkes was quite right, only he should have seized the vessel also. He was quite right, for though Slidell and Mason might not be ambassadors, they were undoubtedly carrying dispatches. In a few hours there began to be a doubt whether the men could be ambassadors, because if called ambassadors, then the power that sent the embassy must be presumed to be recognized. That Captain Wilkes had taken no dispatches, was true; but the captain suggested a way out of this difficulty by declaring that he had regarded the two men themselves as an incarnated embodiment of dispatches. At any rate, they were clearly contraband of war. They were going to do an injury to the North. It was pretty to hear the charming women of Boston, as they became learned in the law of nations: “Wheaton is quite clear about it,” one young girl said to me. It was the first I had ever heard of Wheaton, and so far was obliged to knock under. All the world, ladies and lawyers, expressed the utmost confidence in the justice of the seizure; but it was clear that all the world was in a state of the profoundest nervous anxiety on the subject. To me it seemed to be the most suicidal act that any party in a life-and-death struggle ever committed. All Americans on both sides had felt, from the beginning of the war, that any assistance given by England to one or the other would turn the scale. The government of Mr. Lincoln must have learned by this time that England was at least true in her neutrality; that no desire for cotton would compel her to give aid to the South as long as she herself was not ill treated by the North. But it seemed as though Mr. Seward, the President’s Prime Minister, had no better work on hand than that of showing in every way his indifference as to courtesy with England. Insults offered to England would, he seemed to think, strengthen his hands. He would let England know that he did not care for her. When our minister, Lord Lyons, appealed to him regarding the suspension of the habeas corpus, Mr. Seward not only answered him with insolence, but instantly published his answer in the papers. He instituted a system of passports, especially constructed so as to incommode Englishmen proceeding from the States across the Atlantic. He resolved to make every Englishman in America feel himself in some way punished, because England had not assisted the North. And now came the arrest of Slidell and Mason out of an English mail steamer, and Mr. Seward took care to let it be understood that, happen what might, those two men should not be given up.
Nothing during all this time astonished me so much as the estimation in which Mr. Seward was then held by his own party. It is, perhaps, the worst defect in the constitution of the States, that no incapacity on the part of a minister, no amount of condemnation expressed against him by the people or by Congress, can put him out of office during the term of the existing Presidency. The President can dismiss him; but it generally happens that the President is brought in on a “platform” which has already nominated for him his cabinet as thoroughly as they have nominated him. Mr. Seward ran Mr. Lincoln very hard for the position of candidate for the Presidency on the Republican interest. On the second voting of the Republican delegates at the Convention at Chicago, Mr. Seward polled 184 to Mr. Lincoln’s 181. But as a clear half of the total number of votes was necessary — that is, 233 out of 465 — there was necessarily a third polling, and Mr. Lincoln won the day. On that occasion Mr. Chase and Mr. Cameron, both of whom became members of Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet, were also candidates for the White House on the Republican side. I mention this here to show that though the President can in fact dismiss his ministers, he is in a great manner bound to them, and that a minister in Mr. Seward’s position is hardly to be dismissed. But from the 1st of November, 1861, till the day on which I left the States, I do not think that I heard a good word spoken of Mr. Seward as a minister, even by one of his own party. The Radical or Abolitionist Republicans all abused him. The Conservative or Anti-abolition Republicans, to whose party he would consider himself as belonging, spoke of him as a mistake. He had been prominent as Senator from New York, and had been Governor of the State of New York, but had none of the aptitudes of a statesman. He was there, and it was a pity. He was not so bad as Mr. Cameron, the Minister for War; that was the best his own party could say for him, even in his own State of New York. As to the Democrats, their language respecting him was as harsh as any that I have heard used toward the Southern leaders. He seemed to have no friends, no one who trusted him; and yet he was the President’s chief minister, and seemed to have in his own hands the power of mismanaging all foreign relations as he pleased. But, in truth, the States of America, great as they are, and much as they have done, have not produced statesmen. That theory of governing by the little men rather than by the great has not been found to answer, and such follies as those of Mr. Seward have been the consequence.
At Boston, and indeed elsewhere, I found that there was even then — at the time of the capture of these two men — no true conception of the neutrality of England with reference to the two parties. When any argument was made, showing that England, who had carried these messengers from the South, would undoubtedly have also carried messengers from the North, the answer always was —“But the Southerners are all rebels. Will England regard us who are by treaty her friend, as she does a people that is in rebellion against its own government?” That was the old story over again, and as it was a very long story, it was hardly of use to go back through all its details. But the fact was that unless there had been such absolute neutrality — such equality between the parties in the eyes of England — even Captain Wilkes would not have thought of stopping the “Trent,” or the government at Washington of justifying such a proceeding. And it must be remembered that the government at Washington had justified that proceeding. The Secretary of the Navy had distinctly done so in his official report; and that report had been submitted to the President and published by his order. It was because England was neutral between the North and South that Captain Wilkes claimed to have the right of seizing those two men. It had been the President’s intention, some month or so before this affair, to send Mr. Everett and other gentlemen over to England with objects as regards the North similar to those which had caused the sending of Slidell and Mason with reference to the South. What would Mr. Everett have thought had he been refused a passage from Dover to Calais, because the carrying of him would have been toward the South a breach of neutrality? It would never have occurred to him that he could become subject to such stoppage. How should we have been abused for Southern sympathies had we so acted! We, forsooth, who carry passengers about the world, from China and Australia, round to Chili and Peru, who have the charge of the world’s passengers and letters, and as a nation incur out of our pocket annually loss of some half million of pounds sterling for the privilege of doing so, are to inquire the business of every American traveler before we let him on board, and be stopped in our work if we take anybody on one side whose journeyings may be conceived by the other side to be to them prejudicial! Not on such terms will Englishmen be willing to spread civilization across the ocean! I do not pretend to understand Wheaton and Phillimore, or even to have read a single word of any international law. I have refused to read any such, knowing that it would only confuse and mislead me. But I have my common sense to guide me. Two men living in one street, quarrel and shy brickbats at each other, and make the whole street very uncomfortable. Not only is no one to interfere with them, but they are to have the privilege of deciding that their brickbats have the right of way, rather than the ordinary intercourse of the neighborhood! If that be national law, national law must be changed. It might do for some centuries back, but it cannot do now. Up to this period my sympathies had been with the North. I thought, and still think, that the North had no alternative, that the war had been forced upon them, and that they had gone about their work with patriotic energy. But this stopping of an English mail steamer was too much for me.
What will they do in England? was now the question. But for any knowledge as to that I had to wait till I reached Washington.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55