Literature — Extracts — Fine Arts — Education
The character of the American literature is, generally speaking, pretty justly appreciated in Europe. The immense exhalation of periodical trash, which penetrates into every cot and corner of the country, and which is greedily sucked in by all ranks, is unquestionably one great cause of its inferiority. Where newspapers are the principal vehicles of the wit and wisdom of a people, the higher graces of composition can hardly be looked for.
That there are many among them who can write well, is most certain; but it is at least equally so, that they have little encouragement to exercise the power in any manner more dignified than becoming the editor of a newspaper or a magazine. As far as I could judge, their best writers are far from being the most popular. The general taste is decidedly bad; this is obvious, not only from the mass of slip-slop poured forth by the daily and weekly press, but from the inflated tone of eulogy in which their insect authors are lauded.
To an American writer, I should think it must be a flattering distinction to escape the admiration of the newspapers. Few persons of taste, I imagine, would like such notice as the following, which I copied from a New York paper, where it followed the advertisement of a partnership volume of poems by a Mr, and Mrs. Brooks; but of such, are their literary notices chiefly composed.
“The lovers of impassioned and classical numbers may promise themselves much gratification from the muse of Brooks, while the many-stringed harp of his lady, the Norna of the Courier Harp, which none but she can touch, has a chord for every heart.”
Another obvious cause of inferiority in the national literature, is the very slight acquaintance with the best models of composition, which is thought necessary for persons called well educated. There may be reason for deprecating the lavish expense of time bestowed in England on the acquirement of Latin and Greek, and it may be doubtful whether the power of composing in these languages with correctness and facility, be worth all the labour it costs; but as long as letters shall be left on the earth, the utility of a perfect familiarity with the exquisite models of antiquity, cannot be doubted. I think I run no risk of contradiction, when I say that an extremely small proportion of the higher classes in America possess this familiar acquaintance with the classics. It is vain to suppose that translations may suffice. Noble as are the thoughts the ancients have left us, their power of expression is infinitely more important as a study to modern writers; and this no translation can furnish. Nor did it appear to me that their intimacy with modern literature was such as to assist them much in the formation of style. What they class as modern literature seems to include little beyond the English publications of the day.
To speak of Chaucer, or even Spenser, as a modern, appears to them inexpressibly ridiculous; and all the rich and varied eloquence of Italy, from Dante to Monti, is about as much known to them, as the Welsh effusions of Urien and Modred, to us.
Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, &c., were read by the old federalists, but now they seem known more as naughty words, than as great names. I am much mistaken if a hundred untravelled Americans could be found, who have read Boileau or Le Fontaine. Still fewer are acquainted with that delightful host of French female writers, whose memoirs and letters sparkle in every page with unequalled felicity of style. The literature of Spain and Portugal is no better known, and as for “the wits of Queen Anne’s day,” they are laid en masse upon a shelf, in some score of very old-fashioned houses, together with Sherlock and Taylor, as much too antiquated to suit the immensely rapid progress of mind which distinguishes America.
The most perfect examples of English writing, either of our own, or of any former day, have assuredly not been produced by the imitation of any particular style; but the Fairy Queen would hardly have been written, if the Orlando had not; nor would Milton have been the perfect poet he was, had Virgil and Tasso been unknown to him. It is not that the scholar mimics in writing the phrases he has read, but that he can neither think, feel, nor express himself as he might have done, had his mental companionship been of a lower order.
They are great novel readers, but the market is chiefly furnished by England. They have, however, a few very good native novels. Mr. Flint’s Francis Berrian is delightful. There is a vigor and freshness in his writing that is exactly in accordance with what one looks for, in the literature of a new country; and yet, strange to say, it is exactly what is most wanting in that of America. It appeared to me that the style of their imaginative compositions was almost always affected, and inflated. Even in treating their great national subject of romance, the Indians, they are seldom either powerful or original. A few well known general features, moral and physical, are presented over and over again in all their Indian stories, till in reading them you lose all sense of individual character. Mr. Flint’s History of the Mississippi Valley is a work of great interest, and information, and will, I hope, in time find its way to England, where I think it is much more likely to be appreciated than in America.
Dr. Channing is a writer too well known in England to require my testimony to his great ability. As a preacher he has, perhaps, hardly a rival any where. This gentleman is an Unitarian, and I was informed by several persons well acquainted with the literary character of the country, that nearly all their distinguished men were of this persuasion.
Mr. Pierpoint is a very eloquent preacher, and a sweet poet. His works are not so well known among us as .they ought to be. Mr. Everett has written some beautiful lines, and if I may judge from the specimens of his speeches, as preserved in the volumes intitled “Eloquence of the United States,” I should say that he shone more as a poet than an orator. But American fame has decided otherwise.
Mr. M. Flint, of Louisiana, has published a volume of poems which ought to be naturalised here. Mr. Hallock, of New York, has much facility of versification, and is greatly in fashion as a drawing-room poet, but I think he has somewhat too much respect for himself, and too little for his readers.
It is, I think, Mr. Bryant who ranks highest as the poet of the Union. This is too lofty an eminence for me to attack; besides, “I am of another parish,” and therefore, perhaps, no very fair judge.
From miscellaneous poetry I made a great many extracts, but upon returning to them for transcription I thought that ill-nature and dulness, (‘oh ill-matched pair!’) would be more served by their insertion, than wholesome criticism.
The massive Fredoniad of Dr. Emmons, in forty cantos, I never read; but as I did not meet a single native who had, I hope this want of poetical enterprise will be excused.
They have very few native tragedies; not more than half a dozen I believe, and those of very recent date. It would be ungenerous to fall heavily upon these; the attempt alone, nearly the most arduous a poet can make, is of itself honourable: and the success at least equal to that in any other department of literature.
Mr. Paulding is a popular writer of novels; some of his productions have been recently republished in England. Miss Sedgwick is also well known among us; her “Hope Leslie” is a beautiful story. Mr. Washington Irving and Mr. Cooper have so decidedly chosen another field, whereon to reap their laurels, that it is hardly necessary to name them here.
I am not, of course, competent to form any opinion of their scientific works; but some papers which I read almost accidentally, appeared to me to be written with great clearness, and neatness of definition.
It appears extraordinary that a people who loudly declare their respect for science, should be entirely without observatories. Neither at their seats of learning, nor in their cities, does any thing of the kind exist; nor did I in any direction hear of individuals, given to the study of astronomy.
I had not the pleasure of making any acquaintance with Mr. Bowditch, of Boston, but I know that this gentleman ranks very high as a mathematician in the estimation of the scientific world of Europe.
Jefferson’s posthumous works were very generally circulated whilst I was in America. They are a mighty mass of mischief. He wrote with more perspicuity than he thought, and his hot-headed democracy has done a fearful injury to his country. Hollow and unsound as his doctrines are, they are but too palatable to a people, each individual of whom would rather derive his importance from believing that none are above him, than from the consciousness that in his station he makes part of a noble whole. The social system of Mr. Jefferson, if carried into effect, would make of mankind an unamalgamated mass of grating atoms, where the darling “I’m as good as you,” would soon take place of the law and the Gospel. As it is, his principles, though happily not fully put in action, have yet produced most lamentable results. The assumption of equality, however empty, is sufficient to tincture the manners of the poor with brutal insolence, and subjects the rich to the paltry expediency of sanctioning the falsehood, however deep their conviction that it is such. It cannot, I think, be denied that the great men of America attain to power and to fame, by eternally uttering what they know to be untrue. American citizens are not equal. Did Washington feel them to be so, when his word outweighed (so happily for them) the votes of thousands? Did Franklin think that all were equal when he shouldered his way from the printing press to the cabinet? True, he looked back in high good humour, and with his kindest smile told the poor devils whom he left behind, that they were all his equals; but Franklin did not speak the truth, and he knew it. The great, the immortal Jefferson himself, he who when past the three score years and ten, still taught young females to obey his nod, and so became the father of unnumbered generations of groaning slaves, what was his matin and his vesper hymn? “All men are born free and equal.” Did the venerable father of the gang believe it? Or did he too purchase his immortality by a lie?
From the five heavy volumes of the “Eloquence of the United States,” I made a few extracts, which I give more for the sake of their political interest, than for any purpose of literary criticism.
Mr. Hancock (one of those venerated men who signed the act of independence), in speaking of England, thus expresses himself: “But if I was possessed of the gift of prophecy, I dare not (except by Divine command) unfold the leaves on which the destiny of that once powerful kingdom is inscribed.” It is impossible not to regret that Mr. Hancock should thus have let “I dare not, wait upon I would.” It would have been exceedingly edifying to have known beforehand all the terrible things the republic was about to do for us.
This prophetic orator spoke the modest, yet awful words, above quoted, nearly sixty years ago; in these latter days men are become bolder, for in a modern 4th of July oration, Mr. Rush, without waiting, I think, for Divine command, gives the following amiable portrait of the British character.
“In looking at Britain, we see a harshness of individual character in the general view of it, which is perceived and acknowledged by all Europe; a spirit of unbecoming censure as regards all customs and institutions not their own; a ferocity in some of their characteristics of national manners, pervading their very pastimes, which no other modern people are endued with the blunted sensibility to bear; an universal self-assumed superiority, not innocently manifesting itself in speculative sentiments among themselves, but unamiably indulged when with foreigners, of whatever description, in their own country, or when they themselves are the temporary sojourners in a foreign country; a code of criminal law that forgets to feel for human frailty, that sports with human misfortune, that has shed more blood in deliberate judicial severity for two centuries past, constantly increasing, too, in its sanguinary hue, than has ever been sanctioned by the jurisprudence of any ancient or modern nation, civilized and refined like herself; the merciless whippings in her army, peculiar to herself alone, the conspicuous commission and freest acknowledgment of vice in the upper classes; the overweening distinctions shown to opulence and birth, so destructive of a sound moral sentiment in the nation, so baffling to virtue. These are some of the traits that rise up to a contemplation of the inhabitants of this isle.”
Where is the alchymy that can extract from Captain Hall’s work one thousandth part of the ill-will contained in this one passage? Yet America has resounded from shore to shore with execrations against his barbarous calumnies.
But now we will listen to another tone. Let us see how Americans can praise. Mr. Everett, in a recent 4th of July oration, speaks thus:—
“We are authorised to assert, that the era of our independence dates the establishment of the only perfect organization of government.” Again, “Our government is in its theory perfect, and in its operation it is perfect also. Thus we have solved the great problem in human affairs.” And again, “A frame of government perfect in its principles has been brought down from the airy regions of Utopia, and has found a local habitation and a name in our country.”
Among my miscellaneous reading, I got hold of an American publication giving a detailed, and, indeed, an official account of the capture of Washington by the British, in 1814. An event so long past, and of so little ultimate importance, is, perhaps, hardly worth alluding to; but there are some passages in the official documents which I thought very amusing.
At the very moment of receiving the attack of the British on the heights of Bladensburgh, there seems to have been a most curious puzzle among the American generals, as to where they were to be stationed, and what they were to do. It is stated that the British threw themselves forward in open order, advancing singly. The American general (Winden) goes on in his narrative to describe what followed, thus:
“Our advanced riflemen now began to fire, and continued it for half a dozen rounds, when I observed them to run back to an orchard. They halted there, and seemed for a moment about returning to their original position, but in a few moments entirely broke and retired to the left of Stansburg’s line. The advanced artillery immediately followed the riflemen.
“The first three or four rockets fired by the enemy were much above the heads of Stansburg’s line; but the rockets having taken a more horizontal direction, an universal flight of the centre and left of this brigade was the consequence. The 5th regiment and the artillery still remained, and I hoped would prevent the enemy’s approach, but they advancing singly, their fire annoyed the 5th considerably, when I ordered it to retire, to put it out of the reach of the enemy. This order was, however, immediately countermanded, from an aversion to retire before the necessity became stronger, and from a hope that the enemy would issue in a body, and enable us to act upon him on terms of equality. But the enemy’s fire beginning to annoy the 5th still more, by wounding several of them, and a strong column passing up the road, and deploying on its left, I ordered them to retire; their retreat became a flight of absolute and total disorder.”
Of Beall’s regiment, the general gives the following succinct account — “It gave one or two ineffectual fires and fled.”
In another place he says, piteously, — “The cavalry would do any thing but charge.”
General Armstrong’s gentle and metaphysical account of the business was, that — “Without all doubt the determining cause of our disasters is to be found in the love of life.”
This affair at Washington, which in its result was certainly advantageous to America, inasmuch as it caused the present beautiful capitol to be built in the place of the one we burnt, was, nevertheless, considered as a national calamity at the time. In a volume of miscellaneous poems I met with one, written with the patriotic purpose of cheering the country under it; one triplet struck me as rather alarming for us, however soothing to America.
“Supposing George’s house at Kew
Were burnt, as we intend to do,
Would that be burning England too?”
I think I have before mentioned that no work of mere pleasantry has hitherto been found to answer; but a recent attempt of the kind as been made, with what success cannot as yet be decided. The editors are comedians belonging to the Boston company, and it is entitled “The American Comic Annual.” It is accompanied by etchings, somewhat in the manner, but by no means with the spirit of Cruikshank’s. Among the pleasantries of this lively volume are some biting attacks upon us, particularly upon our utter incapacity of speaking English. We really must engage a few American professors, or we shall lose all trace of classic purity in our language. As a specimen, and rather a favourable one, of the work, I transcribed an extract from a little piece, entitled, “Sayings and Doings, a Fragment of a Farce.” One of the personages of this farce is an English gentleman, a Captain Mandaville, and among many speeches of the same kind, I selected the following. Collins’s Ode is the subject of conversation.
“A— r, A— a — a it stroiks me that that you manetion his the hode about hangger and ope and orror and revenge you know. I’ve eard Mrs. Sitdowns hencored in it at Common Garden and Doory Lane in the ight of her poplarity you know. By the boye, hall the hactin in Amareka is werry orrid. You’re honely in the hinfancy of the istoryonic hart you know; your performers never haspirate the haitch in sich vords for instance as hink and hoats, and leave out the w in wice wanity you know; and make nothink of homittin the k in somethink.”
There is much more in the same style, but, perhaps, this may suffice. I have given this passage chiefly because it affords an example of the manner in which the generality of Americans are accustomed to speak of English pronunciation and phraseology.
It must be remembered, however, here and every where, that this phrase, “the Americans,” does not include the instructed and travelled portion of the community.
It would be absurd to swell my little volumes with extracts in proof of the veracity of their contents, but having spoken of the taste of their lighter works, and also of the general tone of manners, I cannot forbear inserting a page from an American annual (The Token), which purports to give a scene from fashionable life. It is part of a dialogue between a young lady of the “highest standing” and her “tutor,” who is moreover her lover, though not yet acknowledged.
“And so you wo’nt tell me,” said she, “what has come over you, and why you look as grave and sensible as a Dictionary, when, by general consent, even mine, ‘motley’s the only wear?’”
‘“Am I so grave, Miss Blair?”
‘“Are you so grave, Miss Blair? One would think I had not got my lesson today. Pray, sir, has the black ox trod upon your toe since we parted?”
‘Philip tried to laugh, but he did not succeed; he bit his lip and was silent.
‘“I am under orders to entertain you, Mr. Blondel, and if my poor brain can be made to gird this fairy isle, I shall certainly be obedient. So I begin with playing the leech. What ails you, sir?”
‘“Miss Blair!” he was going to remonstrate.
‘“Miss Blair! Now, pity. I’m a quack! for whip me, if I know whether Miss Blair is a fever or an ague. How did you catch it, sir?”
‘“Really, Miss Blair — ”
‘“Nay, I see you don’t like doctoring; I give over, and now I’ll be sensible. It’s a fine day, Mr. Blondel.”
‘“A pleasant lane, this, to walk in, if one’s company were agreeable.”
‘“Does Mr. Skefton stay long?” asked Philip, abruptly.
‘“No one knows,”
‘“Indeed! are you so ignorant?”
‘“And why does your wisdom ask that question?”’
In no society in the world can the advantage of travel be so conspicuous as in America, in other countries a tone of unpretending simplicity can more than compensate for the absence of enlarged views or accurate observation; but this tone is not to be found in America, or if it be, it is only among those who, having looked at that insignificant portion of the world not included in the Union, have learnt to know how much is still unknown within the mighty part which is. For the rest, they all declare, and do in truth believe, that they only, among the sons of men, have wit and wisdom, and that one of their exclusive privileges is that of speaking English elegantly. There are two reasons for this latter persuasion; the one is, that the great majority have never heard any English but their own, except from the very lowest of the Irish; and the other, that those who have chanced to find themselves in the society of the few educated English who have visited America, have discovered that there is a marked difference between their phrases and accents and those to which they have been accustomed, whereupon they have, of course, decided that no Englishman can speak English.
The reviews of America contain some good clear-headed articles; but I sought in vain for the playful vivacity and the keenly-cutting satire, whose sharp edge, however painful to the patient, is of such high utility in lopping off the excrescences of bad taste, and levelling to its native clay the heavy growth of dulness. Still less could I find any trace of that graceful familiarity of learned allusion and general knowledge which mark the best European reviews, and which make one feel in such perfectly good company while perusing them. But this is a tone not to be found either in the writings or conversation of Americans; as distant from pedantry as from ignorance, it is not learning itself, but the effect of it; and so pervading and subtle is its influence that it may be traced in the festive halls and gay drawing-rooms of Europe as certainly as in the cloistered library or student’s closet; it is, perhaps, the last finish of highly-finished society.
A late American Quarterly has an article on a work of Dr. Von Schmidt Phiseldek, from which I made an extract, as a curious sample of the dreams they love to batten on.
Dr. Von Phiseldek (not Fiddlestick), who is not only a doctor of philosophy, but a knight of Dannebrog to boot, has never been in America, but he has written a prophecy, showing that the United States must and will govern the whole world, because they are so very big, and have so much uncultivated territory; he prophesies that an union will take place between North and South America, which will give a death-blow to Europe, at no distant period; though he modestly adds that he does not pretend to designate the precise period at which this will take place. This Danish prophecy, as may be imagined, enchants the reviewer. He exhorts all people to read Dr. Phiseldek’s book, because “nothing but good can come of such contemplations of the future, and because it is eminently calculated to awaken the most lofty anticipations of the destiny which awaits them, and will serve to impress upon the nation the necessity of being prepared for such high destiny.” In another place the reviewer bursts out, “America, young as she is, has become already the beacon, the patriarch of the struggling nations of the world;” and afterwards adds, It would be departing from the natural order of things, and the ordinary operations of the great scheme of Providence, it would be shutting our ears to the voice of experience, and our eyes to the inevitable connexion of causes and their effects, were we to reject the extreme probability, not to say moral certainty, that the old world is destined to receive its influences in future from the new.” There are twenty pages of this article, but I will only give one passage more; it is an instance of the sort of reasoning by which American citizens persuade themselves that the glory of Europe is, in reality, her reproach. “Wrapped up in a sense of his superiority, the European reclines at home, shining in his borrowed plumes, derived from the product of every corner of the earth, and the industry of every portion of its inhabitants, with which his own natural resources would never have invested him, he continues revelling in enjoyments which nature has denied him.”
The American Quarterly deservedly holds the highest place in their periodical literature, and, therefore, may be fairly quoted as striking the keynote for the chorus of public opinion. Surely it is nationality rather than patriotism which leads it thus to speak in scorn of the successful efforts of enlightened nations to win from every corner of the earth the riches which nature has scattered over it.
The incorrectness of the press is very great; they make strange work in the reprints of French and Italian; and the Latin, I suspect, does not fare much better: I believe they do not often meddle with Greek.
With regard to the fine arts, their paintings, I think, are quite as good, or rather better, than might be expected from the patronage they receive; the wonder is that any man can be found with courage enough to devote himself to a profession in which he has so little chance of finding a maintenance. The trade of a carpenter opens an infinitely better prospect; and this is so well known, that nothing but a genuine passion for the art could beguile any one to pursue it. The entire absence of every means of improvement, and effectual study, is unquestionably the cause why those who manifest this devotion cannot advance farther. I heard of one young artist, whose circumstances did not permit his going to Europe, but who being nevertheless determined that his studies should, as nearly as possible, resemble those of the European academies, was about to commence drawing the human figure, for which purpose he had provided himself with a thin silk dress, in which to clothe his models, as no one of any station, he said, could be found who would submit to sit as a model without clothing.
It was at Alexandria that I saw what I consider as the best picture by an American artist that I met with. The subject was Hagar and Ishmael. It had recently arrived from Rome, where the painter, a young man of the name of Chapman, had been studying for three years. His mother told me that he was twenty-two years of age, and passionately devoted to the art; should he, on returning to his country, receive sufficient encouragement to keep his ardour and his industry alive, I think I shall hear of him again.
Much is said about the universal diffusion of education in America, and a vast deal of genuine admiration is felt and expressed at the progress of mind throughout the Union. They believe themselves in all sincerity to have surpassed, to be surpassing, and to be about to surpass, the whole earth in the intellectual race. I am aware that not a single word can be said, hinting a different opinion, which will not bring down a transatlantic anathema on my head; yet the subject is too interesting to be omitted. Before I left England I remember listening, with much admiration, to an eloquent friend, who deprecated our system of public education, as confining the various and excursive faculties of our children to one beaten path, paying little or no attention to the peculiar powers of the individual.
This objection is extremely plausible, but doubts of its intrinsic value must, I think, occur to every one who has marked the result of a different system throughout the United States.
From every enquiry I could make, and I took much pains to obtain accurate information, it appeared that much is attempted, but very little beyond reading, writing, and bookkeeping, is thoroughly acquired. Were we to read a prospectus of the system pursued in any of our public schools and that of a first-rate seminary in America, we should be struck by the confined scholastic routine of the former, when compared to the varied and expansive scope of the latter; but let the examination go a little farther, and I believe it will be found that the old fashioned school discipline of England has produced something higher, and deeper too, than that which roars so loud, and thunders in the index.
They will not afford to let their young men study till two or three and twenty, and it is therefore declared, ex cathedra Americana, to be unnecessary. At sixteen, often much earlier, education ends, and money-making begins; the idea that more learning is necessary than can be acquired by that time, is generally ridiculed as obsolete monkish bigotry; added to which, if the seniors willed a more prolonged discipline, the juniors would refuse submission. When the money-getting begins, leisure ceases, and all of lore which can be acquired afterwards, is picked up from novels, magazines, and newspapers.
At what time can the taste be formed? How can a correct and polished style, even of speaking, be acquired? or when can the fruit of the two thousand years of past thinking be added to the native growth of American intellect? These are the tools, if I may so express myself, which our elaborate system of school discipline puts into the hands of our scholars; possessed of these, they may use them in whatever direction they please afterwards, they can never be an incumbrance.
No people appear more anxious to excite admiration and receive applause than the Americans, yet none take so little trouble, or make so few sacrifices to obtain it. This may answer among themselves, but it will not with the rest of the world; individual sacrifices must be made, and national economy enlarged, before America can compete with the old world in taste, learning, and liberality.
The reception of General Lafayette is the one single instance in which the national pride has overcome the national thrift; and this was clearly referrible to the one single feeling of enthusiasm of which they appear capable, namely, the triumph of their successful struggle for national independence. But though this feeling will be universally acknowledged as a worthy and lawful source of triumph and of pride, it will not serve to trade upon for ever, as a fund of glory and high station among the nations. Their fathers were colonists; they fought stoutly, and became an independent people. Success and admiration, even the admiration of those whose yoke they had broken, cheered them while living, still sheds a glory round their remote and untitled sepulchres, and will illumine the page of their history for ever.
Their children inherit the independence; they inherit too the honour of being the sons of brave fathers; but this will not give them the reputation at which they aim, of being scholars and gentlemen, nor will it enable them to sit down for evermore to talk of their glory, while they drink mint julap and chew tobacco, swearing by the beard of Jupiter (or some other oath) that they are very graceful, and agreeable, and, moreover abusing every body who does not cry out Amen!
To doubt that talent and mental power of every kind exist in America would be absurd; why should it not? But in taste and learning they are woefully deficient; and it is this which renders them incapable of graduating a scale by which to measure themselves. Hence arises that over weening complacency and self-esteem, both national and individual, which at once renders them so extremely obnoxious to ridicule, and so peculiarly restive under it.
If they will scorn the process by which other nations have become what they avowedly intend to be, they must rest satisfied with the praise and admiration they receive from each other; and turning a deaf ear to the criticism of the old world, consent to be their own prodigious great reward.”
Alexandria has its churches, chapels, and conventicles as abundantly, in proportion to its size, as any city in the Union. I visited most of them, and in the Episcopal and Catholic heard the services performed quietly and reverently.
The best sermon, however, that I listened to, was in a Methodist church, from the mouth of a Piquot Indian. It was impossible not be touched by the simple sincerity of this poor man. He gave a picture frightfully eloquent of the decay of his people under the united influence of the avarice and intemperance of the white men. He described the effect of the religious feeling which had recently found its way among them as most salutary. The purity of his moral feeling, and the sincerity of his sympathy with his forest brethren, made it unquestionable that he must be the most valuable priest who could officiate for them. His English was very correct, and his pronunciation but slightly tinctured by native accent.
While we were still in the neighbourhood of Washington, a most violent and unprecedented schism occurred in the cabinet. The four secretaries of State all resigned, leaving General Jackson to manage the queer little state barge alone.
Innumerable contradictory statements appeared upon this occasion in the papers, and many a cigar was thrown aside, ere half consumed, that the disinterested politician might give breath to his cogitations on this extraordinary event; but not all the eloquence of all the smokers, nor even the ultradiplomatic expositions which appeared from the seceding secretaries themselves, could throw any light on the mysterious business. It produced, however, the only tolerable caricature I ever saw in the country. It represents the President seated alone in his cabinet, wearing a look of much discomfiture, and making great exertions to detain one of four rats, who are running off, by placing his foot on the tail. The rats’ heads bear a very sufficient resemblance to the four ex-ministers. General Jackson, it seems, had requested Mr. Van Buren, the Secretary of State, to remain in office till his place was supplied; this gave occasion to a bon mot from his son, who, being asked when his father would be in New York, replied, “When the President takes off his foot.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55