BORDER AND BASTILLE.
BY GEORGE A. LAWRENCE
THE AUTHOR OF "GUY LIVINGSTONE"
New York: W. I. POOLEY & CO., Harpers' Building, Franklin Square.
WYNKOOP, HALLENBECK & THOMAS, PRINTERS, No. 113 Fulton Street, New York.
When, late in last autumn, I determined to start for the Confederate States as soon as necessary preparations could be completed, I had listened, not only to my own curiosity, impelling me at least to see one campaign of a war, the like of which this world has never known, but also to the suggestions of those who thought that I might find materials there for a book that would interest many here in England. My intention, from the first, was to serve as a volunteer-aide in the staff of the army in Virginia, so long as I should find either pen-work or handiwork to do. The South might easily have gained a more efficient recruit; but a more earnest adherent it would have been hard to find. I do not attempt to disguise the fact that my predilections were thoroughly settled long before I left England; indeed, it is the consciousness of a strong partisan spirit at my heart which has made me strive so hard, not only to state facts as accurately as possible, but to abstain from coloring them with involuntary prejudice.
To say nothing of my being afterwards backed by the powerful Secessionist interest at Baltimore, the introductory letters furnished me by Colonel Dudley Mann and Mr. Slidell, addressed to the most influential personages—civil and military—in the Confederacy, from President Davis downwards, were such as could hardly have failed to secure me the position I desired, though they benevolently over estimated the qualifications of the bearer. To the first of these gentlemen I am indebted for much kindness and valuable advice; to the second I am personally unknown; and I am glad to have this opportunity of acknowledging his ready courtesy. It was Colonel Mann who counseled my going through the Northern States, instead of attempting to run the blockade from Nassau or Bermuda, as I had originally intended. In spite of the events, I am so certain that the advice was sound and wise, that I do not repent—scarcely regret—having followed it.
I need not particularize the precaution taken to insure the safe delivery of these credentials: it is sufficient to state that they were never submitted to Federal inspection; nor had I ever, at any time, in my possession, a single document which could vitiate my claim to the rights of a neutral and civilian. Even Mr. Seward did not pretend to refuse liberty of unexpressed sympathy with either side to an utter foreigner. While I was a free agent in the Northern States, I was careful to indulge in no other.
Since my return, I hear that some one has been kind enough to insinuate that I might have succeeded better if I had been more careful to prosecute my journey South with vigor at any risk; or if I had been less imprudent in parading my object while in Baltimore. I prefer to meet the first of these assertions by a simple record of facts, and by the most unqualified denial that it is possible to give to any falsehood, written or spoken. As to the second—really quite as unfounded—it may be well to say, that before I had been a full fortnight in America, I was "posted" in the literary column of "Willis' Home Journal." I could not quarrel with the terms in which the intelligence—avowedly copied from an English paper—was couched. The writer seemed to know rather more about my intentions—if not of my antecedents—than I knew myself; but I can honestly say that the halo of romance with which he was pleased to surround a very practical purpose, did not however compensate me for the inconvenient publicity. This paragraph soon found its way into other journals, and at last confronted me—to my infinite disgust—in the "Baltimore Clipper," a bitter Unionist organ.
Perhaps this will answer sufficiently the accusation of "parade," for even had we been disposed to indulge in an "alarum and flourish of trumpets," the sensation-mongers would have anticipated the absurdity. Besides this, my movements were not in anywise interfered with up to the moment of my arrest, when we were miles beyond all Federal pickets. My captors, of course, had never heard of my existence till we met. It is more than probable that the report just referred to did greatly complicate my position when I was actually in confinement; but here my person—not my plans—suffered, and here, the real mischief of that very involuntary publicity began and ended.
After my plans were finally arranged, I had an interview with the editorial powers of the Morning Post; there it was settled that I should communicate to that journal as constantly as circumstances would permit, any interesting matter or incidents that fell in my way, in consideration of which was voted a liberal supplement of the sinews of war; but it was clearly understood that my movements and line of action were to be absolutely untrammeled. I could not have entered into any contract that in any way interfered with the primary object I had in view. I had no intention of commencing such correspondence before I had actually crossed the southern frontier, so that one letter from Baltimore—afterwards quoted—was the solitary contribution I was able to furnish.
I have said thus much, because I wish any one who may be interested on the point to know clearly on what footing I stood at starting: for the general public, of course, the subject cannot have the slightest interest.
Of all compositions, I suppose, a personal narrative is the most wearying to the writer, if not to the reader; egotistical talk may be pleasant enough, but, commit it to paper, the fault carries its own punishment. The recurrence of that everlasting first pronoun becomes a real stumbling-block to one at last. Yet there is no evading it, unless you cast your story into a curt, succinct diary; to carry this off effectively, requires a succession of incidents, more varied and important than befell me.
A failure—absolute and complete—however brought about, is a fair mark for mockery, if not for censure. Perhaps, however, I may hope that some of my readers, in charity, if not in justice, will believe that I have honestly tried to avoid over-coloring details of personal adventure, and that no word here is set down in willful insincerity or malice, though all are written by one whose enmity to all purely republican institutions will endure to his life's end.
CHAPTER I. A Foul Start
CHAPTER II. Congressia
CHAPTER III. Capua
CHAPTER IV. Friends in Council
CHAPTER V. The Ford
CHAPTER VI. The Ferry
CHAPTER VII. Fallen Across the Threshold
CHAPTER VIII. The Road to Avernus
CHAPTER IX. Caged Birds
CHAPTER X. Dark Days
CHAPTER XI. Homeward Bound
CHAPTER XII. A Popular Armament
CHAPTER XIII. The Debatable Ground
CHAPTER XIV. Slavery and the War
BORDER AND BASTILLE
A FOUL START.
Looking back on an experience of many lands and seas, I cannot recall a single scene more utterly dreary and desolate than that which awaited us, the outward-bound, in the early morning of the 20th of last December. The same sullen neutral tint pervaded and possessed everything—the leaden sky—the bleak, brown shores over against us—the dull graystone work lining the quays—the foul yellow water—shading one into the other, till the division-lines became hard to discern. Even where the fierce gust swept off the crests of the river wavelets, boiling and breaking angrily, there was scant contrast of color in the dusky spray, or murky foam.
The chafing Mersey tried in vain to make himself heard. All other sounds—a voice, for instance, two yards from your ear—were drowned by the trumpet of the strong northwester. All through the past night, we listened to that note of war; we could feel the railway carriages trembling and quivering, as if shaken by some rude giant's hand, when they halted at any exposed station; and, this morning, the pilots shake their wise, grizzled beads, and hint at worse weather yet in the offing. For forty-eight hours the storm-signals had never been lowered, nor changed, except to intimate the shifting of a point or two in the current of the gale, and few vessels, if any, had been found rash enough to slight "the admiral's" warning.
It had been gravely discussed, we heard afterwards, by the owners and captain of "The Asia," whether she should venture to sea that day; finally, the question was left to the latter to decide. There are as nice points of honor, and as much jealous regard for professional credit in the merchant service as in any other. Only once, since the line was started, has a "Cunarder" been kept in port by wind or weather—this was the commander's first trip across the Atlantic since his promotion; you may guess which way the balance turned.
We waited on the landing-stage one long cold hour. The huge square structure, ordinarily steady and solid as the mainland itself, was pitching and rolling not much less "lively" than a Dutch galliot in a sea-way; and the tug that was to take us on board parted three hawsers before she could make fast alongside. It was hard to keep one's footing on the shaking, slippery bridge, but in ten minutes all staggered or tumbled, as choice or chance directed, on to the deck of the little steamer. I was looking for a dry corner, when an American passenger made room for me very courteously, and I begun to talk to him—about the weather, of course. It was a keen, intellectual face, pleasant withal, and kindly, and in its habitual expression not devoid of genial humor. But, at that moment, it was possessed by an unutterable misery. No wonder.
"I was ill the whole way over from America," he said, "and then we started with bright weather and a fair wind."
I was much attracted by the voice, betraying scarcely any Transatlantic accent: it was quiet and calm in tone, like that of any brave man on his way to encounter some irresistible pain or woe; but saddened by an agony of anticipation, he presaged, only too truly, "the burden of the atmosphere and the wrath to come."
Another struggle and scramble—and we are on board, at last. It is some comfort to exchange that wretched little wet tug for the deck of the Asia; though a trifle unsteady even now, she oscillates after the sober and stately fashion befitting a mighty "liner." Half an hour sees the end of the long stream of mail-bags, and the huge bales of newspapers shipped; then the moorings are cast loose; there rises the faintest echo of a cheer—who could be enthusiastic on such a morning?—the vast wheels turn slowly and sullenly, as if hating the hard work before them; and we are fairly off.
The waves and weather grew rapidly wilder; as we neared blue water, just after passing the light, we saw a large ship driving helplessly and—the sailors said—hopelessly, among the breakers of the North Sands. She had tried to run in without a pilot, and ours seemed to think her fate the justest of judgments; but to disinterested and unprofessional spectators the sight was very sad, and somewhat discouraging. So with omen and augury, as well as the wind dead against us.
"The Sword went out to sea."
All that day and night "The Asia" staggered and weltered on through the yeasty channel waves, breaking in her passengers rather roughly for a conflict with vaster billows. Thirteen hours of hard steaming barely brought us abreast of Holyhead. The gale moderated towards morning, and we ran along the Irish coast under a blue sky, making Queenstown shortly after sundown.
By this time I had become acquainted with my cabin-mate, in which respect I was singularly fortunate. M. —— was a thorough Parisian, and a favorable specimen of his class. Small of stature, and slender of proportion—a very important point where space is so limited—low-voiced, and sparing of violent expletives or gestures, delicately neat in his person and apparel, one could hardly have selected a more amiable colleague under circumstances of some difficulty. I can aver that he conducted himself always with a perfect modesty and decorum: he would preserve his equilibrium miraculously, when his perpendicular had been lost long ago: he never fell upon me but once (sleeping on a sofa, I was exposed defenselessly to all such contingencies), and then lightly as thistle-down. On the rare occasions when the mal-de-mer proved too much for his valiant self-assertion, he yielded to an overruling fate without groan or complaint: folding the scanty coverlet around him, he would subside gradually into his berth, composing his little limbs as gracefully as Caesar. His courtesy was invincible and untiring: he was anxious to defer and conform even to my insular prejudices. Discovering that I was in the habit of daily immersing in cold water—a feat not to be accomplished without much toil, trouble, and abrasion of the cuticle—he thought it necessary to simulate a like performance, though nothing would have tempted him to incur such needless danger. His endeavors to mislead me on this point, without actually committing himself, were ingenious and wily in the extreme. Sitting in the saloon at the most incongruous hours of day and night, he would exclaim, "J'ai l'idee de prendre bientot mon bain!" or he would speak with a shiver of recollection of the imaginary plunge taken that morning. I don't think I should ever have been deluded, even if my curiosity had not led me to question the steward; but never, by word or look, did I impugn the reality of that Barmecide bath. To his other accomplishments, M. —— added a very pretty talent for piquet; the match was even enough, though, to be interesting, at almost nominal stakes, and so we got pleasantly through many hours—dark, wet, or boisterous.
We were not a numerous company—only thirty-three in all. Few amateurs travel at this inclement season. I knew only one other Englishman on board, an officer in the Rifle Brigade, returning to Canada from sick-leave. Among the Americans was Cyrus Field, the energetic promoter of the Atlantic Telegraph, then making (I think he said) his thirtieth transit within five years. He was certainly entitled to the freedom of the ocean, if intimate acquaintance with every fathom of its depth and breadth could establish a claim. It rather surprised me, afterwards, to see such science and experience yield so easily to the common weakness of seafaring humanity. Mr. Field told me that throughout the fearful weather to which the Niagara and Agamemnon were exposed, on their first attempt to lay down the cable, he never once felt a sensation of nausea; the body had not time to suffer till the mind was relieved from its heavy, anxious strain.
For three days after leaving Queenstown, the west winds met us, steady and strong; but it was not till the afternoon of Christmas day that the sea began to "get up" in earnest, and the weather to portend a gale. Then, the Atlantic seemed determined to prove that report had not exaggerated the hardships of a winter passage. It blew harder and harder all Friday, and after a brief lull on Saturday—as though gathering breath for the final onset—the storm fairly reached its height, and then slowly abated, leaving us substantial tokens of its visit in the shape of shattered boats, and the ruin of all our port bulwarks forward of the deck-house. I fancy there was nothing extraordinary in the tempest; and, in a stout ship, with plenty of sea room, there is probably little real danger; but about the intense discomfort there could be no question. I speak with no undue bitterness, for of nausea, in any shape, I know of little or nothing, but—oh, mine enemy!—if I could feel certain you were well out in the Atlantic, experiencing, for just one week, the weather that fell to our lot, I would abate much of my animosity, purely from satiation of revenge.
Unless absolutely prostrated by illness, the voyager, of course, has a ravenous appetite; such being the case, what can be more exasperating than having to grapple with a sort of dioramic dinner, where the dishes represent a series of dissolving views—mutton and beef of mature age, leaping about with a playfulness only becoming living lambs and calves—while the proverb of "cup and lip" becomes a truism from perpetual illustration? Neither is it agreeable, after falling into an uncertain doze, to feel dampness mingling strangely with your dreams, and to awake to find yourself, as it were, an island in a little salt lake formed by distillation through invisible crevices.
"Oh, laith, laith were our gude Scot lords To wet their cork-heeled shoon,"
says the grand old ballad; so, I suppose, it is nothing "unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman" to hold such midnight irrigation in utter abhorrence.
On one of these occasions I abandoned a post no longer tenable, and went into the small saloon close by, to seek a dry spot whereon to finish the night, I found it occupied by a ghastly man, with long, wild gray hair, and a white face—striding staggeringly up and down—moaning to himself in a harsh, hollow voice, "No rest; I can't rest." He never spoke any other words, and never ceased repeating these, while I remained to hear him. Instantly there came back to my memory a horrible German tale, read and forgotten fifteen years ago, of a certain old and unjust steward, Daniel by name, who, having murdered his master by casting him down an oubliettes, ever haunted the fatal tower, first as a sleep-walker, then as a restless ghost—moaning and gibbering to himself, and tearing at a walled-up door with bleeding hands. The train of thought thereby suggested was so very sombre, that I preferred returning to my cabin, and climbing into an unfurnished berth, to spending more minutes in that weird company. I never made the man out satisfactorily afterwards. It is possible that he was one of the few who scarcely showed on deck, till we were in sight of land; but rather, I believe, like other visions and voices of the night, he changed past recognition under the garish light of day.
Then come the noisy nuisances, extending through all the diapason of sound. One—the most annoying—to which the ear never becomes callous by use, is the incessant crash, not only alongside, but overhead. At intervals—more frequent, of course, after our bulwarks were swept away—the green water came tumbling on board by tons; and, being unable to escape quickly enough by the after-scuppers, surged backwards and forwards with every roll of the vessel, as if it meant to keep you down and bury you forever. Lying in my berth, I could feel the heavy seas smite the strong ship one cruel blow after another on her bows or beam, till at last she would seem to stop altogether, and, dropping her head, like a glutton in the P. R., would take her punishment sullenly, without an effort at rising or resistance. Nevertheless, I stand by "The Asia," as a right good boat for rough weather, though she is not a flyer, and sometimes could hardly do more than hold her own. Eighty-one knots in the twenty-four hours was all the encouragement the log could give one day.
I liked our commander exceedingly. He had just left the Mediterranean station, and there still abode with him a certain languid levantine softness of voice and manner; when he came in to dinner, out of the wild weather, the moral contrast with the turmoil outside was quite refreshing. Report speaks highly of Captain Grace's seamanship; and I believe in him far more implicitly than I should in one of those hoarse and blusterous Tritons, who think roughness and readiness inseparable, and talk to you as if they were hailing a consort.
The library on board was not extensive, consisting (with the exception of "The Newcomes") chiefly of religious works of the Nonconformist school, and tales, which have long ago passed into surplus stock, or been withdrawn from general circulation. But there was one invaluable novel, which I shall always remember gratefully. I never got quite through it, but I read enough to be enabled to affirm, that its principles are unexceptionable, its style grammatically faultless, and its purpose sustained (ah, how pitilessly!) from first to last. The few amatory scenes are conducted with the most rigid propriety; and when there occurs a lover's quarrel, the parties hurl high moral truths at each other, instead of idle reproaches. But it is mainly as a soporific, that I would recommend "Silwood:" on four different occasions, under most trying circumstances it succeeded perfectly and promptly with me, for which relief—unintentional, perchance—I tender much thanks to the unknown author, and wish "more power to his arm."
Quite crippled for the time being by rheumatism, I was in bad form for clambering about the sloping, slippery planks; nevertheless I did contrive to crawl up to the hurricane-deck just before sundown, about the crisis of the gale. I confess to being disappointed in the "rollers:" it may be that their vast breadth and volume takes off from their apparent height, but I scarcely thought it reached Dr. Scoresby's standard—from 26 to 30 feet, if I remember right, from trough to crest. One realizes thoroughly the abysmal character of the turbulent chaos, and there is a sensation of infiniteness around and below you not devoid of grandeur; but as an exhibition of the puissance of angry water, I do not think the mid-ocean tempest equal to the storm which brings the thunder of the surf full on the granite bulwarks of Western Ireland.
It must be owned, that the conversational powers of our small society were limited. Very often some selfishness mingled with my sincere compassion for the prostrated sufferings of my Philadelphian friend of the tug-boat; for whenever his weary aching head would allow of the exertion, he could talk on almost any subject, fluently and well. He was returning from a long visit to Paris, and a rapid tour through Germany and Southern Europe. Most of the countries, that he had been compelled to hurry over, I had loitered through in days past, and I ought to have been shamed by the contrast in our recollections—his, so clear and systematical—mine, so vague and dim. An intellectual American travelling through strange lands does certainly look at nature, animate and inanimate, after a practical business-like fashion peculiar to his race; but it would be unfair to infer that such minds are, necessarily, unappreciative. At all events, that concentrative, synthetical power, that takes in surrounding objects at a single glance, and retains them in a tolerably distinct classification, is rather enviable, even as a mental accomplishment.
We did not speak much about the troubles beyond sea, and the Philadelphian was rather reserved as to his proclivities. My impression is, that his sympathy tended rather southward (all his early life had been spent in Alabama), but he declined to commit himself much, nor do I believe that he was a violent partisan either way. On one point he was very decided: Falkland himself could not have wished more devoutly for the termination of a fatal civil war—fatal, he said, to the interests, present and future, of both the combatant powers—ruinous to every class, with two exceptions; the adventurers who, having little to lose, gained, by joining the ranks of either army, a social position to which they could not otherwise have aspired; and the speculators, who, directly or indirectly, fairly or unfairly, made gains vast and unholy, such as wreckers are wont to gather in time of tempest and general disaster. He scarcely alluded to the corruption and peculation prevalent in all high places, diluted in its downward percolation till sutlers and horse-thieves would strive in vain to emulate the fraudulent audacity of their superiors. It was well he spared me then, for soon after landing, my eyes and ears grew weary with the repetition of all these ignoble details. To illustrate how heavily the taxes were already beginning to weigh on the non-militant part of the population, my informant proved to me by very clear figures that, if he individually could secure permanent exemption from such burdens by the absolute sacrifice of one-tenth of his whole property, real and personal, the commutation, would be decidedly advantageous to him. True, he represented a class whose incomes exceeded a certain standard, and therefore suffered rather more heavily; but the same calculation, with very slight alterations, applied to all other subordinate ones.
Grave and mild of speech was the Philadelphian philosopher, without a trace of dogmatism or self-assertion in his tone; nevertheless, I judged him to be a man of mark somewhere, and I afterwards heard that, albeit not a violent or prominent politician, he had great honor in his own country.
Strong head-winds and a heavy sea baffled us till we had cleared the longitude of Cape Race; then the weather softened, the breeze veered round till it blew on our quarter, and we had clear sky above us all the way in. We sighted the first pilot-boat on the afternoon of January 3d, and, as she came sweeping down athwart us, with her broad, white wings full spread, our glasses soon made out the winning number of the sweepstakes, "22." It was long past dinner hour when the beautiful little schooner rounded to, under our lee, but all appetite just then was merged in a craving for latest intelligence.
It was a caricaturist's study—the crowd of keen, anxious faces round the gangway—as the pilot came aboard. He was a stout man, of agricultural exterior, looking as if he were in the habit of ploughing anything rather than the deep sea; but it is the fashion of his guild to eschew the nautical as much as possible in their attire. The "anxious inquirers" got little satisfaction from him—he seemed taciturn by nature, if not sullen—and they came back to where the rest of us stood on the hurricane deck, muttering discontentedly, "Gold at 46. No news." It seemed very odd—such a complete stagnation of affairs, military and civil—but we went to dinner in spite of our disappointment. Before we rose from table the truth began to ooze out. One or two New York papers, that had slipped on board with the pilot, were more communicative than he would or could be.
Thousands of corpses, the full tale of which will never be known till the day of judgment, lying rolled in blood, with a handful of earth raked over them under the fatal Fredericksburg heights; the finest army in Federaldom hurled back upon its intrenchments; nothing but darkness covering a disastrous, if not shameful defeat; the papers crowded with dreary funeral notices, showing how, to every great city of the North, from hospital and battle-ground, the slain are being gathered in, to be buried among their own people; a wail of widows and orphans and mothers, from homestead, hamlet, and town, overpowering with its simple energy, the bombastic war-notes and false stage-thunder of the press; rumors of a terrible battle in the far West, where, after three days' hard fighting, Rosecrans barely holds his own, and yet "there are no news!"
It is an excellent quality in a soldier not to know when he is beaten, but whether blind obstinacy will succeed when it influences the rulers and destinies of a great nation, is more than questionable. Pondering these things, I remembered how, four thousand years ago, a stiff-necked generation were brought to their senses and on their knees. It was on the morning after the visit of the Dark Angel, when Egypt awoke, and found not a house in which there was not one dead. If such fearful waste of life goes on here, with no decisive or final advantage on either side attained, that ancient curse may not be long in recurring.
I rose when the sun ought to have risen, on the following morning, intending to admire the famous harbor which Americans love to compare with the Neapolitan Bay. But long before we reached the Narrows,
"A blinding mist came up and hid the land As far as eye could see."
Very soon we were buried in fog, dense and Cimmerian, as ever brooded over our own Thames or the Righi panorama. More and more slowly the paddles turned, till they stopped altogether. It was dangerous to advance, ever so cautiously, when the keenest sight could not pierce half a ship's length ahead. So there we lay at anchor for weary hours, listening to the church-bells chiming drowsily through the heavy air, till an enterprising tug ventured out for the mails, and sent another for the relief of the passengers.
The custom-house officers were not troublesome, and I was soon at the Brevoort House, the Parisian Pylades still faithfully following my fortunes. I was far from entreating him to leave me; landing utterly alone in a strange land, one does not lightly cast aside companionship. For reasons easily understood, I had declined to avail myself of many proffered letters of introduction to New Yorkers.
That lonely feeling did not last long: the first object which caught my eye on the steps of the Brevoort House was an honest English face—a face I have known, and liked right well, these dozen years and more. There stood "the Colonel" (any Ch. Ch. or Rifle Brigade man will recognize the sobriquet), beaming upon the world in general with the placid cheerfulness that no changes of time or place or fortune seem able to alter, looking just as comfortable and thoroughly "at home" as he did, steering Horniblow to victory at Brixworth. I had heard that my old friend was on his way to England to join the Staff College, but had never reckoned on such a successful "nick" as this. By my faith, my turns of luck beyond the Atlantic were not so frequent as to excuse forgetfulness, when they did befall.
So I had aid and abetment in performing the little lionization which is obligatory on a visitor to New York; for the "Colonel's" comrade, my fellow-voyager of the Asia, came to the same hotel.
Assisted by the Parisian, we made trial of the esculents peculiar to the country—gombo soup, sweet potatoes, terrapins, and canvas-backs—with much solemnity and satisfaction, agreeing, that fame had spoken truth for once, in extolling the two last-named delicacies. We went to the Opera, and there, in a brilliant salle of white and gold, spoilt, however, by the incongruity of bonnets mingling everywhere with full evening toilettes, assisted at a massacre—unmusical and melancholy—of "Lucrezia." We drove out through the crude, unfinished Central Park to Harlem lane, whither the trotters are wont to resort, and saw several teams looking very much like work (though no celebrities), almost all of the lean, rather ragged form which characterizes, more or less, all American-bred "fast horses." The ground was too hard frozen to allow of anything beyond gentle exercise; but even at quarter-speed, that wonderful hind-action was very remarkable. Watching those clean, sinewy pasterns shoot forward—well outside of the fore hoof-track—straight and swift as Mace's arm in an "upper-cut," you marvel no longer at the mile-time which hitherto has seemed barely credible.
Perhaps this same bitter weather may account for our disappointment in the brilliancy of Broadway. Several careful reviews of the sunny side failed to detect anything dangerously attractive in beauty, equipage, or attire. It is probable that most of the lionnes had laid them down in their delicate dens, waiting for a more clement season, to renew external depredations; though sometimes you could just catch a glimpse of bright eyes and a little pink nose peering over dark fur wrappings, as a brougham or barouche, carefully closed, swept quickly by. We visited Barnum, of course. I think a conversational and communicative Albino was the most note-worthy curiosity in the Museum, chiefly, from his intense appreciation of the imposture of the whole concern, originated and directed by the King of Humbugdom.
The sanguine popular mind was unusually depressed just then. The President's emancipatory proclamation had recently issued, and seemed to adapt itself, with wonderful elasticity, to the discontents of all parties; not comprehensive enough for the ultra-Abolitionists, it was stigmatized by the Democrats as unconstitutional and oppressive; while moderate politicians agreed that, beyond irritating feelings already bitter enough, it would be practically invalid as an offensive measure. We shall see, hereafter, how these prognostications were justified.
But the first word in all men's mouths, for a day or two at least after my arrival, was—Monitor. That same gale which had buffeted the Asia so rudely on the high seas, had raged yet more savagely shorewards: the Merrimac's antagonist, like a drowning paladin of the mail-clad days, had sunk under her mighty armor, and now, with half her crew in their iron coffin, lay at rest in the crowded burial-ground on which Cape Hatteras looks down. Great discouragement and consternation—greater than has often been caused by the loss of any single vessel—fell upon all the North when the news came in. Ever since her famous duel, which the Federals never would allow was a drawn battle, they had elevated the Monitor into a national champion, and prophesied weeping in the South if she and their batteries should meet: few then dared to insinuate a doubt about Charleston's certain fall, when once the leaguer was fairly mustered for assault. Grave doubts were now expressed as to the seaworthiness of all the new iron-clads, though their advocates could point to a sister of the unhappy Monitor, which had survived a great part of the same storm. That they all must be more unsafe in really rough weather than the crankiest of our old "coffin brigs," seems quite ascertained now: the fact of their being unable to make headway through a heavy sea unless towed by a consort, speaks for itself. The immediate cause of the Monitor's foundering (according to Captain Worden's account, which my informant had from his own lips) was a leak sprung, where her protruding stern-armour, coming down flat on the waves with every plunge of the vessel, became loosened from the main hull; but, for some time before this was discovered, she seems to have spent more minutes under than above the water, and nothing alive could have stood unlashed for a second on her deck. So great was the public disappointment, that the tribe of false prophets—whose cry of "Go up to Ramoth Gilead, and prosper," deafens us here, not less, usually in defeat than in success—did for awhile abate their blatancy; while Ericsson—most confident of projectors—spake softly, below his breath, as he suggested faint excuse and encouragement.
The news from the West—hourly improving, and more clearly confirmed—were hardly welcomed, as they deserved, and scarcely counter-balanced the naval disaster. It was not long, however, before Rosecrans the Invincible came in for his full share of credit—perhaps not more than he merited. Few other Federal commanders can claim that epithet; and, though some people persisted in considering Murfreesburg a Pyrrhic victory, it is certain that he held his ground manfully, and eventually advanced, where defeat, or even a retrograde movement, would have been simply ruin.
On the fifth day our small company were scattered—each going his own way, east, north, and south—while the Parisian abode in New York still.
Of two lines to Philadelphia I selected the longest, wishing to see the harbor, down which a steamer takes passengers as far as Amboy; but the Powers of the Air were unpropitious again: it never ceased blowing, from the moment we went on board a very unpleasant substitute for the regular passage-boat, till we landed on the railway pier. My first experience of American travel was not attractive. The crazy old craft puffed and snorted furiously, but failed to persuade any one that she was doing eight miles an hour; the grime of many years lay thick on her dusky timbers—dust under cover, and mud where the wet swept in, and her close, dark cabins were stifling enough to make you, after five minutes of vapor-bathing, plunge eagerly into the bitter weather outside. Indeed, there was not much to see, for the track lies on the inner and uglier side of Staten Island. The last few miles lead through marshes, with nothing taller growing than reeds and osiers.
For an hour or so after leaving Amboy, you look out on a country thickly populated, well cultivated, and trimly fenced, bearing a strong resemblance to parts of our own eastern counties. We passed through one wood, in height of trees, sweep of ground, color of soil, and build of boundary-fence, so exactly like a certain cover in Norfolk similarly bisected by the rail, that I could have picked out the precise spot where, many a time and oft, I have waited for the "rocketers." But the character of the landscape soon changed; loose, sprawling "zigzags" usurped the place of neat squared posts and rails; the stunted woodland stretched farther afield, with rarer breaks of clearing; and the low hill-ranges, behind which the watery sun soon absconded, looked drearily bare in the distance.
It was pleasant, from the ferry boat, which was our last change, to meet the lights of Philadelphia, gleaming out on the broad dark Susquehanna.
I can say little of that staid, opulent, intensely respectable city—not even if the imputation of dullness, cast upon her by the more mercurial South, be a slander; for the few hours of my stay there were spent almost entirely with my Asiatic friend, whose invitations and inducements to a longer sojourn were very hard to resist. But I was impatient to get on (as men will be who cannot see their arm's-length into the future), and at midnight I started again for Washington.
My recollections of that journey are the reverse of roseate. The atmosphere of the cars—windows hermetic, and stoves red-hot—made one look back regretfully on the milder inferno of the passage-boat; the acrid apple-odor was more pungently nauseating; and the abomination of expectoration less carefully dissembled. Besides this, I was afflicted by another nuisance, purely private and personal.
Whether there be any such thing as love at first sight or no, is a question—grave or gay, as you choose to discuss it—but, that instinctive antipathies exist, is most certain. I was the victim of one of such that night. Waiting for change in the ticket-office, my eye lighted on a dark man, of African appearance, standing unpleasantly near, and for a second or two I could not get rid of a horrible fascination, compelling me to stare. I say "dark man" advisedly, for it would have been hard to guess at his original color, unless his cast of feature had not given a line. Now, I have seen Irish squatters in their cabins, London outcasts in their penny lodgings, and beggars of Southern Europe in their nameless dens; but the conviction flashed upon me (and it has never since passed away), that I was then gazing on a dirtier specimen of healthy humanity than I had ever yet foregathered with. I believe that all the rains of heaven beating on his brow would not have altered its dinginess by a shade, nor penetrated one of the earthy layers that had thickened there; a thunder-shower must have glanced off, as water will do from tough, hardened clay. Rough patches of hair, scanty and straggling, like the vegetation of waste, barren lands, grew all over his cheeks and chin (a negro with an ample, honest beard is an anomaly), and a huge bush of wool—unkempt, I dare swear, from earliest infancy—seemed to repel the ruins of a nondescript hat. Whether he was really uglier than his fellows I cannot remember—I was so absorbed in contemplating and realizing his surpassing squalor—but the expression of the uncouth face (if it had any whatsoever) was, I think, neither ferocious nor sullen. There is generally a "colored car" attached to every train; for you will find the tender-hearted Abolitionist, in despite of his African sympathies, when it is a question of personal contact or association, quite as earnest in keeping those "innocent blacknesses" aloof, as the haughtiest Southerner. On the present occasion there was no such distinction of races. I do not think the contraband was conscious of the effect produced by his lordly presence; it was probably simple accident which brought him so often in my neighborhood; but, wherever I moved through the crowded cars, seeking for a seat, the loose shambling limbs and dull vacant eyes seemed impelled to follow. At last I lost my bete noire, and found a place close to the door with nothing but a low pile of logs in my front. I was tired, and soon began to doze; but I woke up with a start and a shudder, as a haunted man might do, becoming aware, in sleep, of the approach of some horrible thing. There he sat, on the logs close to my feet, in a heavy stertorous slumber, his huge head rocking to and fro, and his features hideously contorted, as he growled and gibbered to himself in an unknown tongue, like some dreaming Caliban. I arose and fled away swiftly from the face of my "brother," and, finding no other available resting-place, did battle on the outside platform with the keen night wind.
I am indebted, however, to that honest contraband for a curious sight, which I should have otherwise missed—the crossing of the Gunpowder River. There, the train rushes, on a single track, over three-quarters of a mile of tremulous trestle-work, without an apology for a side-rail, so that you look straight down into the dark water, over which you seem wafted with no visible support beneath. The effect is sufficiently startling, especially seen as I saw it, under a bright, capricious moon. From Baltimore, the cars were less crowded, and I encountered my dusky tormentor no more.
If there is much in first impressions, I was not likely to be enchanted with Washington.
The snow, just then beginning to melt, lay inches deep on the half-frozen soil; everything looked unnaturally and unutterably dreary in the bleak leaden dawn-light; and, as I drove down Pennsylvania avenue (after rejection at the lodgings to which I had been recommended), the first object that caught my eye was a huge placard:
EMBALMING OF THE DEAD.
These ghastly advertisements are not unfrequent in that part of the city, and I was informed that the advertisers occasionally do a very brisk business.
After waiting for two hours in the hall of the Metropolitan, like a client in some patrician antechamber, they did accord me a tolerable room on the sublimest story.
I called that same afternoon on Lord Lyons, to whom I brought an introductory letter. I have to thank the British Legation for much courteous kindness, and for two very pleasant evenings, on the first of which I was the guest of the chief, on the second, of his secretaries. Here will (if I ever leave it behind me) begin and end my agreeable reminiscences of Washington. I disliked it cordially at first sight; I was thoroughly bored before I had got through my stay of seventy hours; I utterly abominate and execrate the city
From turret to foundation-stone,
at this moment, as I catch a narrow glimpse of its outskirts through the rusty window-bars of the Old Capitol. Should the Southern Mazeppas, whose banners have already floated in sight of Arlington Heights, ever work their will here, I could name one Briton whose composure will not be ruffled by compassion at hearing the news. If there is anything in presentiments, surely one of these whispered warnings thus early in my pilgrimage, though I was deafer than the adder just then.
There was in Washington, of course, the usual crowd—official, political, and mercantile—with a vast supplement of hangers-on and aspirants, that always follows the meeting of Congress; and, besides, the influx never ceased of all officers who could get leave—of many who could not—from the Army of the Potomac. Speaking impartially—for I scarcely interchanged four words with an American during my stay—I thought the military element the most repulsive.
It would be unfair to cavil at the absence of a martial bearing in men, who, having followed other professions all their lives, so lately and suddenly took up that of arms. In this singular war, whole regiments have been sent into action (as at Antietam) without even an hour's practice in file-firing, and have stood their ground, too, manfully, though helplessly, the merest food for cannon. So it is not strange if the lawyers, merchants, clerks, stock-brokers, bar-keepers, and newspaper editors, who officer the volunteer corps, should laugh at "setting-up" preliminaries to scorn, and consider a few days of rough battalion-drill a satisfactory qualification for efficient service in the field.
In spite of these disadvantages, it is indisputable that the Yankee will fight right stubbornly, after his own fashion, though rarely with the dash and fire of the Southerner. Considering the raw and heterogeneous materials out of which the huge armies of the North have been formed, the individual instances of personal cowardice are creditably rare. Even in the cases of disorderly retreats, I believe discipline rather than pluck to have been wanting. Martinets and formalists would certainly be out of place here, and some of the technicalities of the art of war may well be dispensed with; nevertheless, all these palliations do not alter my unfavorable impression of the Federal officer on furlough.
Once out of the camp, and among familiar scenes again, the recent centurion falls back, swiftly and easily, into the slovenly habits and careless demeanor that were natural to him before he was called to command; his uniform begins to look like a masquerade dress hired for the occasion; of the hard and, perhaps, gallant service of months past, there is soon no other evidence, than an unnecessary loudness of speech, and a readiness to seize on any occasion to bluster or blaspheme. A friend of mine once remarked (by way of excuse for being detected in the most eccentric deshabille) that "the British dragoon, under any circumstances, was a respectable and elevating sight." I do not think the most amiable stranger would be inclined to concede as much to an officer of Federal volunteers, encountering that warrior in his native bar or oyster saloon. On the whole, I prefer the real Zouave en tapageur, to his Transatlantic imitator: the former at least swaggers professionally.
It would hardly be honest to take the "loafers" of Washington as fair representatives of their order: there are, no doubt, better—if not braver—soldiers in the front; and perhaps even the queer specimens then before me might look decent, if not dignified, under the earnest light of battle.
But wherever I was brought in contact with portions of the Federal army (I never saw a whole regiment in review order), I was forcibly struck with the entire absence of the "smartness" which distinguishes our own and much of the Continental soldiery. While I was at Washington, there were three squadrons of regular cavalry encamped in the centre of the city. These troops were especially on home-service—guard-mounting, orderly duty, &c.—with no field or picket work whatever. There was no more excuse for slovenliness than might have been allowed to a regiment in huts at Aldershott or Shorncliffe. I wish that the critical eye of the present Cavalry Inspector-General could inspect that encampment; if he preserved his wonted courteous calmness, it would be a very Victory of Suffering: the effect upon his predecessor would be instantly fatal.
The arms looked tolerably clean and serviceable; but bridle-bits, bosses, spurs, and accoutrements were crusted with rust and grime; boots, buttons, and clothing were innocent of the brush as the horses' coats of the curry-comb. The most careful grooming could not have made the generality of these animals look anything but ragged and weedy—rather dear at the Government price of 115-120 dollars,—and their housings were not calculated to set them off to advantage. The saddle—a modification of the Mexican principle of raw-hide stretched over a wooden frame—carries little metal-work; it is lighter, I think, than ours, and more abruptly peaked, but not uncomfortable; being thrown well off the spine and withers, there is little danger of sore backs with ordinary care in settling the cloth or blanket. The heavy clog of wood and leather, closed in front, and only admitting the fore-part of the foot, which serves as a stirrup, is unsightly in the extreme; its advantages are said to be, protection from the weather, and the impossibility of the rider's entanglement: but the sole has no grip whatever, and rising to give full effect to a sabre-cut would be out of the question. Besides a halter, a single rein, attached to rather a clumsy bit, is the usual trooper's equipment: to this is attached the inevitable ring-martingale, without which few Federal cavaliers, civil or military, would consider themselves safe.
I cannot conceive such an anomaly as a thorough Yankee horseman. Given—one, or a span of trotters, to be yoked after the neatest fashion, and to be driven gradually and scientifically up to top-speed—the Northerner is quite at home, and can give you a wrinkle or two worth keeping. But this habit of hauling at horses, who often go as much on the bit as on the traces, is destructive to "hands." If the late lamented Assheton Smith were compelled to witness the equitation here, he would suffer almost as much as Macaulay in the purgatory which Canon Sidney imagined for the historian. I have discussed that Martingale-question with several good judges and breeders of American blood-stock, but I never could get them quite to agree in the absurdity of tying down a colt's head for the rest of his natural life, without regard to his peculiar propensities—star-gazing, boring, or neutral. The custom, of course, never could prevail where men were in the habit of crossing a country; but an American horse is scarcely ever put at anything beyond the ruins of a rail fence, and there are few, north of the Potomac, that I should like to ride at four feet of stiff timber. It is very different in the South, where many men from infancy pass their out-door life in the saddle: from what I have heard, Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia—to say nothing of the wild Texan rangers—could show riders who, when the first strangeness had worn off, would hold their own tolerable in England, over a fair hunting country, in any ordinary run.
On the outbreak of the war, volunteers enlisted in the Federal cavalry, who—far from being able to manage a horse—could not bridle one without assistance; and a conscript, who could keep his saddle through an entire day, without "taking a voluntary," was considered by his fellows as a credit to the regiment, and almost an accomplished dragoon. Such a thing as a military riding-school has, I believe, never been thought of, away from West Point; the drill is simply that of mounted infantry. Things are better now than they were; a Federal cavalryman can at least sit saddle-fast, to receive and return a sabre-cut; there have been some sharp skirmishes of late, and, allowing for exaggeration, Averill's encounter with Fitzhugh Lee brought out real work on both sides.
Looking at that squalid encampment, it was easy to realize all one had heard of the mortality among the horses in the Army of the Potomac, where no natural causes could justify it. Unless some sympathy exists between the two—unless the trooper takes some pride or interest in the animal he rides beyond that of being conveyed safely from point to point—it is vain to expect that the comforts of the latter will be greatly cared for. General orders are powerless here, and the personal supervision of the officers—even if "stables" were as carefully attended as in our own service—would only touch the surface of the evil. That utter absence of esprit du corps and soldierly self-respect, has cost the Federal treasury many millions; nor will the drain ever cease till "re-mounts" shall be no more needed.
The foregoing remarks apply exclusively to the tenue of the privates and non-commissioned officers; those of superior rank that I met were tolerably correct, both in dress and equipment; several, indeed, were mounted on really powerful chargers, and rode them not amiss, though with a seat as unprofessional as can be conceived.
The military loungers certainly monopolize all the leisure of Washington—by day at least; for, if all tales are true, the legislators, in the evening and small hours, are wont to unbend somewhat freely from their labors; and the Senate acts wisely, in not risking through a night session the little dignity it has left to lose. But, with few exceptions, every civic face meets you with the same anxious, worried look of unsatisfied craving; there is hunger in all the restless, eager eyes, and the thin, impatient lips work nervously, as if scarcely able to repress the cry which the children of the horse-leech have uttered since the beginning of time. It is easy to understand this, when you remember that, at such a season, there gathers here, besides the legion of politicians and partisans, and the mighty army of contractors, a vaster host of persons interested in the private bills submitted to Congress, and of candidates for the numerous places of preferment which are being vacated and created daily. Before the smallest of these has lain open for an hour, there will be scores of shrill claimants wrangling over it, summoned from the four winds of heaven by the unerring instinct of the Rapacidae.
Every one of any official or political standing can either influence or dispose of a certain amount of patronage; to such, life must sometimes be made a heavy burden. Human nature shrinks from the contemplation of what each successive President must be doomed to undergo. His nerves ought to be of iron, and his conscience of brass, or a Gold Coast Governorship might prove a less dangerous dignity. The character best fitted for the post would be such an one as Gallio, the tranquil cynic of Antioch.
Marking, and hearing these things, I thoroughly appreciated an anecdote told me on board the Asia. At Mobile, in 1849, the Philadelphian met President Polk, then on his way home from Washington, his term having just expired. He took up office—a cheery, sanguine man, quite as healthy as the generality of his compatriots at forty-five; he laid it down—a helpless invalid, shattered in body and mind, past hope of revival. My informant, who knew him well, was much shocked at the change, but tried to console the ex-President, by speaking of the important measures that made his administration one of the most eventful since that of Washington; hinting that such grave responsibility and continual excitement might well account for exhaustion and reaction. The sick man shook his head drearily, and put the implied compliment aside: he was past such vanities then.
"You're wrong," he said. "It isn't Oregon, or Mexico, or Texas, but the office-hunters that have brought me—where I am."
In that answer there was the simple solemnity, that attaches to the lightest words of the dying. Sixty days later the speaker was "sleeping down in Tennessee," never more to be vexed by the clamor of the cormorants, or waked by the clients keeping watch at his door. Nor was he a solitary victim. General Taylor did not live to see half his duty done, and the atmosphere of the White House, in one month, proved fatal to Harrison.
To a disinterested spectator—especially if he chance to be of indolent temperament—there is something very irritating in the ceaseless crowd, and hurry, and din. From early morning till long past midnight, you might search in vain, through any one of the principal hotels, for a quiet nook to write or read in, unless it were found in your own chamber, where the appliances of comfort are more than limited. All private sitting-rooms are instantly engaged at fabulous prices, and, in the public parlors the feminine element reigns with no divided sway. It is difficult to appreciate even newspaper "leader," with a prattle and titter around, wherein mingle tunes, not quite so low and sweet as the voice of Cordelia. Those energetic civilians never seem at rest or at ease; they snatch their frequent drinks, upstanding and covered, as if they were just a minute behindhand for some appointment, and bolt their food, as if dinner were a necessary medicinal evil.
Soothe to say, the edibles do not deserve much better treatment: the whole commissariat arrangements in the hotels is supremely uncomfortable. The guests feed separately, but no dinner can be served in the public rooms after five, P. M.. You can choose to any extent, from a sufficiently ample, though very simple, carte; but your repast arrives en masse, no matter into how many courses it ought naturally to be divided, and is set down before you in uncovered dishes. Of course, when you arrive at the last, it retains scarcely a memory of the fire. I saw some of the indigenes obviate the inconvenience, by taking fish, flesh, and fowl on their plate at one and the same time, consuming the impromptu "olla" with a rapid impartial voracity; but so bold an innovation on old-world customs would hardly suit a stranger. All liquors are rather high in price and lower in quality than one would expect, considering the place and season; but the sum charged for unstinted board and a tolerable bed (from two to two and a half dollars per diem), is reasonable enough, especially during the present depreciation of the currency.
Out-door scenes were not much more attractive. The three-months' reign of Jupiter Pluvius, which has made this spring evilly notorious, had just begun in earnest. In the main avenues, on either side of the rail-track of the cars, the mud was a trifle deeper than that of a cross-lane, in winter, in the Warwickshire clays. To traverse the by-streets comfortably, you require rather a clever animal over a country, and especially good in "dirt;" they are intersected by frequent brooks, much wider and deeper than that celebrated one which tested the prowess of "le bonhomme Briggs." There are rough stepping-stones at some of the crossings, and the passage of these, after nightfall, resembles greatly that of a "shaking" bog, where the traveler has to leap from tussock to moss-hag with agile audacity; the consequences of a false step being, in both cases, about the same. I began to think, regretfully of certain rugged continental paves execrated in days gone by; they, at least, had a firm bottom, more or less remote.
The public buildings of Washington do not attempt architectural display: with scarcely an exception, they are severely simple and square. But there is a certain grandeur in the masses of white marble, which is everywhere lavishly employed, and the Capitol stands right well—alone, on the crest of a low, abrupt slope, with nothing to intercept the view from its terraces, seaward, and up the valley of the Potomac. The effect will probably be better when wind and weather shall have slightly toned down the sheen of the fresh-hewn stones, so dazzling now as almost to tire the eye.
I lingered some time in the stranger galleries of Congress, but—"a plague on both their Houses"—there was no question of stirring interest before either. I had hoped to see at least one Representative committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms; but, on that day, the hardly-worked official had rest from his labors. Only a few hours later, an irascible Senator (from Delaware, I think) created a temporary excitement by defying first his political opponent, and then generally all powers that be, eventually displaying the revolver, which is the ratio ultima, of so many Transatlantic debates. I heard some "tall talking," enforced by much energy of gesture and resonance of tone; but not a period veiling on eloquence. The speakers generally seemed to have studied in the simple school of the "stump" or the tavern, and, when at a loss for an argument, would introduce a diatribe against the South, or a declaration of fidelity to the Union, very much as they might have proposed a toast or sentiment, supremely disregardful of such trifles as relevancy or connection. The retort—more or less courteous—seemed much favored by these honest rhetoricians, and appreciated by the galleries, who at such times applauded sympathetically, in despite of menace or intercession of Vice-President or Speaker. Nobody, indeed, took much notice of either of these two dignitaries; and they appeared perfectly reconciled to their position. You would not often find orators and audience understand one another more thoroughly; the easy freedom of the whole concern was quite festive in its informality.
Having secured a portion of my English letters (one or more were retained for the recreation, and, I hope, improvement of the post-official mind), nothing detained me in Washington beyond the fourth morning. I turned northwards the more cheerfully, because it involved escape from a certain chamber-maiden, to whose authority I was subjected at the Metropolitan—the most austere tyrant that ever oppressed a traveler. That grim White Woman might have paired with the Ancient Mariner—she was so deep-voiced, and gaunt, and wan. On the few occasions when I ventured to summon her, she would "hold me with her glittering eye" till I quailed visibly beneath it, utterly scorning and rejecting some mild attempts at conciliation. I am certain she suspected me of meditating some black private or public treachery; and I know there was joy in that granite heart when circumstances brought me, at last, in my innocence, before the bar of her offended country. On that fourth morning, however, the mood of Sycorax seemed to change; there was a ghastly gayety in her manner, and on her rigid lips an Homeric smile, more terrible than a frown. Then I pondered within myself—"If her hate be heavy to bear, what—what—would her love be?" The unutterable horror of the idea gave me courage that I might otherwise have lacked, to confess my intentions of absconding. But I avow that the liberality of the parting largesse is to be attributed to the meanest motives—of personal fear.
On the railway platform, shaking the mud of Washington from my drenched boots, I purposed never to return thither. But I reckoned without my future hosts, MM. Seward and Stanton, who, though I have trespassed on their hospitality, now for some weeks, seem still loth to let me go.
The southward approach to Baltimore is very well managed. The railroad makes an abrupt curve, as it sweeps round the marshy woodlands through which the Patapsco opens into the bay; so that you have a fair view of the entire city, swelling always upwards from the water's edge, on a cluster of low, irregular hills, to the summit of Mount Vernon. From that highest point soars skyward a white, glistening pillar crowned by Washington's statue. I have seldom seen a monument better placed, and it is worthy of its advantages. The figure retains much of the strength and grace for which in life it was renowned, and, if ever features were created, worthy of the deftest sculptor and the purest marble, such, surely, was the birthright of that noble, serene face.
No one, that has sojourned in Washington, can be ten minutes in Baltimore without being aware of a great and refreshing change. You leave the hurry and bustle of traffic behind at the railway station, and are never subjected to such nuisances till you return thither. Even in the exclusively commercial squares of the city there reigns comparative leisure, for, except in the establishments of government contractors, or others directly connected with the supply of the army, business is by no means brisk just now. You may pass through Baltimore street, the main artery bisecting the town from east to west, at any hour, without encountering a denser or busier throng than you would meet in Regent street, any afternoon out of the season, and, about the usual promenade time, the proportion of fair flancuses, to the meaner masculine herd, would be nearly the same.
I betook myself to Guy's hotel, which had been recommended to me as quiet and comfortable: for many people it would have been too quiet. The black waiters carried the science of "taking things easy" to a rare perfection; they were thoroughly polite, and even kindly in manner, and never dreamed of objecting to any practicable order, but—as for carrying it out within any specified time—altra cosa. After a few vain attempts and futile remonstrances, the prudent and philosophical guest would recognize resignedly the absolute impossibility of obtaining breakfast, however simple, under forty-five minutes from the moment of commanding the same; indeed that was very good time, and I positively aver that I have waited longer for eggs, tea, and toast. I never tried abuse or reproach, for I chanced, early in my stay, to be present when an impatient traveler voided the vials of his wrath on the head of the chief attendant: insisting, with many strange oaths, on his right to obtain cooked food, of some sort, within the half-hour.
Years ago, I was amused, at the Gaietes, by a common-place scene enough of stage-temptation. Madelon, driven into her last intrenchments by the sophistries of the wily aristocrat, objected timidly, "Mais, Monseigneur, j'aime mon mari." For a moment the Marquis was surprised, and seemed to reflect. Then he said, "Tiens—tu aimes ton mari? C'est bizarre: mais—apres tout—ce n'est pas defendu." As he spoke, he smiled upon his simple vassal—evidently wavering between amusement and compassion.
With just such a smile—allowing for the exaggeration of the African physiognomy—did "Leonoro" contemplate his victim, and me, the bystander, and then sauntered slowly from the room, without uttering one word. It was a great moral lesson, and I profited by it. But, in truth, there was little to complain of; the quarters were clean and comfortable, and one got, in time, as much as any reasonable man could desire. The arrangements are on the European system, i.e., there are no fixed hours for meals, which are ordered from the carte, and no fixed charge for board. I should have remained there permanently, had it not been for one objection, which eventually overcame my aversion to change. The basement story of the house was occupied by a bar and oyster saloon; the pungent testaceous odors, mounting from those lower regions, gave the offended nostrils no respite or rest; in a few minutes, a robust appetite, albeit watered by cunning bitters, would wither, like a flower in the fume of sulphur. Half-a-dozen before dinner, have always satiated my own desire for these mollusks; before many days were over, I utterly abominated the name of the species; familiarity only made the nuisance more intolerable, and I fled at last, fairly ostracised. How the habitues stood it was a mystery, till I recognized the fact, that there is no accident of pleasure or pain to which humanity is liable, no antecedent of rest or exertion, no untimeliness of hour or incongruity of place, which will render an apple or an oyster inopportune to an American bourgeois.
My first visit in Baltimore was to the British Consul, to whom I brought credentials from a member of the Washington Legation. I shall not easily forget the many courtesies, for which I have never adequately thanked Mr. Bernal: few English travelers leave Baltimore, without carrying away grateful recollections of his pleasant house in Franklin street, and without having received some kindness, social or substantial, from the fair hands which dispense its hospitalities so gently and gracefully.
On that same evening my name was entered as an honorary member of the Maryland Club. It would be absurd to compare this institution with the palaces of our own metropolis; but, in all respects, it may fairly rank with the best class of yacht clubs. You find there, besides the ordinary writing and reading accommodation, a pleasant lounge from early afternoon to early morning; a fair French cook, pitilessly monotonous in his carte; a good steady rubber at limited points; and a perfect billiard-room. In this last apartment it is well worth while to linger, sometimes, for half an hour, to watch the play, if the "Chief" chances to be there. I have never seen an amateur to compare with this great artist, for certainty and power of cue. A short time before my arrival, at the carom game, on a table without pockets, he scored 1,015 on one break. I heard this from a dozen eye-witnesses.
I went through many introductions that evening; and, in the next fortnight, received ample and daily proofs of the proverbial hospitality of Baltimore. There are residents—praisers of the time gone by, who cease not to lament the convivial decadence of the city; but such deficiency is by no means apparent to a stranger.
If gourmandize be the favorite failing in these parts, there is surely some excuse for the sinners. Probably no one tract on earth, of the same extent, can boast of so many delicacies peculiar to itself, as the shores of the Chesapeake. Of these, the most remarkable is the "terrapin": it is about the size of a common land tortoise, and haunts the shallow waters of the bay and the salt marshes around. They say he was a bold man who first ate an oyster; a much more undaunted experimentalist was the first taster of the terrapin. I strongly advise no one to look at the live animal, till he has thoroughly learnt to like the savory meat; then he will be enabled to laugh all qualms and scruples to scorn. Comparisons have been drawn between the terrapin and the turtle—very absurdly; for, beyond the fact of both being testudines, there is not a point of resemblance. Individually, I prefer the tiny "diamond-back" to his gigantic congener, as more delicate and less cloying to the palate. Then there is the superb "canvas-back,"—peerless among water-fowl—never eaten in perfection out of sight of the sandbanks where he plucks the wild sea-celery; and, in their due season, "soft crabs," and "bay mackerel." Last of all, there are oysters (well worth the name!) of every shape, color, and size. They assert that the "cherrystones" are superior to our own Colchester natives in flavor: for reasons before stated, I cared not to contest the point.
A dinner based upon these materials, with a saddle of five-year-old mutton from the Eastern Shore, as the main piece de resistance, might have satisfied the defunct Earl Dudley, of fastidious memory. The wines deserve a separate paragraph.
For generations past, there has prevailed a great rivalry and emulation amongst the Amphitryons of Baltimore. They seem to have taken as much pride in their cellars, as a Briton might do in his racing or hunting stables—bestowing the same elaborate care on their construction and management. The prices given for rare brands appear fabulous, even to those who have heard at home, three or four "commissioners" at an auction, with plenipotentiary powers, disputing the favorite bin of some deceased Dean or Don. But when you consider, what the lost interest on capital lying dormant for seventy years will amount to, the apparent extravagance of cost is easily accounted for.
That is no uncommon age for Madeira. No European palate can form an idea of this wonderful wine; for, when in mature perfection, it is utterly ruined by transport beyond the seas. The vintages of Portugal and Hungary are thin and tame beside the puissant liquor that, after half a century's subjection to southern suns, enters slowly on its prime, with abated fire, but undiminished strength. Drink it then, and you will own, that from the juice of no other grape can be drawn such subtlety of flavor, such delicacy of fragrance, passing the perfume of flowers. Climate of course is the first consideration. I believe Baltimore and Savannah limit, northward and southward, the region wherein the maturing process can be thoroughly perfected.
Those pleasant banquets began early, about 5 P. M., and were indefinitely prolonged; for cigars are not supposed to interfere with the proper appreciation of Madeira, and the revelers here cherish the honest old English custom of chanting over their liquor. Closing my eyes now, so as to shut out the dingy drab walls of this my prison-chamber, I can call up one of those cheery scenes quite distinctly: I can hear the "Chief's" voice close at my ear, trolling forth the traditional West Point ditty of "Benny Havens," or the rude sea-ballad, full of quaint pathos:—
'Twas a Friday morning when we set sail;
then—deeper and fuller tones, rolling out Barry Cornwall's sonorous verses of "King Death." It is good to look back on hours like these, though I doubt if the ill-cooked meats, whereof I hope soon to partake—not unthankfully—will be improved by the memory.
In spite of this large hospitality, instances even of individual excess are comparatively rare. I have seen more aberration of intellect and convivial eccentricity after a Greenwich dinner, or a heavy "guest-night," than was displayed at any one of these Baltimore entertainments: a stranger endowed with a fair constitution, abstaining from morning drinks, and paying attention to the Irishman's paternal advice—"Keep your back from the fire, and don't mix your liquors"—may take his place, with comfort and confidence.
But my social recollections of Baltimore are by no means exclusively bacchanalian. British stock, lamentably at a discount in other parts of the Union, is, perhaps, a trifle above par here. The popularity of our representatives—masculine and feminine—may have something to do with this; at any rate, the avenues of the best and pleasantest circles are easily opened to any Englishman of warranted position and name.
If a traveler were to enter a drawing-room here, expecting to be surprised at every turn by some incongruity of speech or demeanor, such as book-makers have attributed to our American cousins, he would not fill a page of his mental note-book. I had no such prejudices to be disappointed. After experience of society in many lands, I begin to think that well-bred and educated people speak and behave after much the same fashion all the world over. Few Baltimorean voices are free from a perceptible accent; it is more marked in the gentler sex, but rarely so strong as to be disagreeable. The ear is never offended by the New England twang, or Connecticut drawl, and some tones rang true as silver.
You hear, of course, occasional peculiarities of expression, and words somewhat distorted from our Anglican meaning, but these are not much more frequent or strange than provincial idioms at home. I was only once fairly puzzled in this wise.
It was at a public "assembly." I had just been presented to the
Queen rose of a rosebud garden of girls,
a very gazelle, too, for litheness and grace; the music of the Sirene had begun, and my arm had encircled my partner's willowy waist; when I felt her hang back, and saw on her fair face a distressed look of penitence and perplexity: "I'm so sorry," she murmured, "but I can't dance loose." Perfectly vague as to her meaning, I assured her that she should be guided after as serree a fashion as she chose; but this evidently did not touch the difficulty. By the merest chance, I observed that all the cavaliers put themselves, as it were, in position, their left hand locked in the right of their valseuse, before making a start, omitting the preliminary paces that get you well into the swing. It was all plain sailing then, and swift sailing, too; the rest of the performance was completed with perfect unanimity, much to my own satisfaction, and, I trust, not to the discontent of my fairy-footed charge.
The freedom and independent self-reliance of the Baltimorean demoiselles is very remarkable. At home they receive and entertain their own friends, of either sex, quite naturally, and—taking their walks abroad, or returning from an evening party—trust themselves unhesitatingly to the escort of a single cavalier. Yet, you would scarcely find a solitary imitation of the "fast girls" who have been giving our own ethical writers so much uneasiness of late. It speaks well for the tone of society, where such a state of things can prevail without fear and without reproach. Though Baltimore breeds gossips, numerous and garrulous as is the wont of provincial cities, I never heard a slander or a suspicion leveled against the most intrepid of those innocent Unas.
From the morale one must needs pass to the personel. On the appearance of a debutante, they say, the first question in Boston is, "Is she clever?" In New York, "Is she wealthy?" In Philadelphia, "Is she well-born?" In Baltimore, "Is she beautiful?" And, for many years past, common report has conceded the Golden Apple to the Monumental city. I think the distinction has been fairly won.
The small, delicate features, the long, liquid, iridescent eyes, the sweet, indolent morbidezza, that make southern beauty so perilously fascinating, are not uncommon here, and are often united to a clearness and brilliancy of complexion scarcely to be found nearer the tropics. The Upper Ten Thousand by no means monopolize these personal advantages. At the hour of "dress parade" you cannot walk five steps without encountering a face well worthy of a second look. Occasionally, too, you catch a provokingly brief glimpse of a high, slender instep, and an ankle modeled to match it. The fashion of Balmorals and kilted kirtles prevails not here; and maids and matrons are absurdly reluctant to submit their pedal perfections to the passing critic. Even on a day when it is a question of Mud v. Modesty, you may escort an intimate acquaintance for an hour, and depart, doubting as to the color of her hosen. But, conceding the justice of Baltimore's claim, and the constant recurrence of a more than stata pulchritudo—I am bound to confess that, with a single exception, I saw nothing approaching supreme perfection of form or feature.
The exception was a very remarkable one.
I write these words, as reverently as if I were drawing the portrait of the fair Austrian Empress, or any other crowned beauty: indeed, I always looked on that face, simply as a wonderful picture, and so I remember it now. I have never seen a countenance more faultlessly lovely. The pose of the small head, and the sweep of the neck, resembled the miniatures of Giulia Grisi in her youth, but the lines were more delicately drawn, and the contour more refined; the broad open forehead, the brows firmly arched, without an approach to heaviness, the thin chiselled nostril and perfect mouth, cast in the softest feminine mould, reminded you of the First Napoleon. Quick mobility of expression would have been inharmonious there. With all its purity of outline, the face was not severe or coldly statuesque—only superbly serene, not lightly to be ruffled by any sudden revulsion of feeling; a face, of which you never realized the perfect glory till the pink-coral tint flushed faintly through the clear pale cheeks, while the lift of the long trailing lashes revealed the magnificent eyes, lighting up, slowly and surely, to the full of their stormy splendor. It chanced, that the lady was a vehement Unionist, and "rose," very freely, on the subject of the war. Sincere in her honest patriotism, I doubt if she ever guessed at the real object of her opponent in the arguments which not unfrequently arose. If there be any indiscretion in this pen-and-ink sketch from nature, I should bitterly regret the involuntary error, though its subject, to the world in general, remains nameless as Lenore.
There is another peculiarity of Baltimore society, which a stranger will only perceive when he has passed withinside its porches. It is divided, not only into sets, but, as it were, into clans. Several of the leading families, generally belonging to the territorial aristocracy (let the word stand) that took root in the State at, or soon after, its settlement, have so intermarried, as to create the most curious net of cousinship, the meshes of which are yearly becoming more intricate and numerous. Yet there are no especial indications of exclusiveness or spirit of clique; rather it is the homely feeling of kinsmanship, which makes the intercourse of relations more familiar and unceremonious, than that of intimate acquaintances or friends.
Cadets from many powerful houses in all the three kingdoms, were among the early colonists of Maryland. It is good to mark, how gallantly the "old blood" hold its own, even here; how, the descendants of soldiers and statesmen have already attained the pride of place that their ancestors won at home centuries ago, by a like valiance of sword, tongue, or pen. Take one family, for instance, with whose members I was fortunate enough to be especially intimate.
For generations past, the Howards have been men of mark in Maryland. Wherever hard or famous work was to be done, in field or senate, one, at least, of the name was sure to be found in the front. The present head of the family sustains right well the reputations of the worthies who went before him. A staunch friend and an uncompromising adversary—valuing political honesty no more lightly than private honor—liberal and unsuspicious to a fault in his social relations—very frank and simple in speech—in manner always courteous and cordial—it would be hard to find, in Europe, an apter representative of the ancient regime. I believe, that those who really know General Howard, will not consider this sketch a flattery or an exaggeration. He was a candidate for the Governorship at the last election, and so powerful was his acknowledged personal prestige, that, in despite of overt intimidation and secret influences, which made a free voting an absurdity, the Black Republicans exulted over his withdrawal as an important victory.
Though ordinary business is so slack in Baltimore just at present, almost every male resident, not engaged in law or physic, has, or supposes himself to have, something to do. Instances of absolute idleness are very rare. So, by ten, A. M., all the men betake themselves to their offices, and there busy themselves about their affairs, after a fashion, energetic or desultory, till after two o'clock. The dinner hour varies from three to half-past five. Post-prandial labor is generally declined; wisely, too, for few American digestions will bear trifling with; though Nature must have gifted some of my acquaintance with a marvellous internal mechanism. How, otherwise, could they stand a long unbroken course of free living, with such infinitesimal correctives of exercise? The evening is spent after each man's fancy—at the club, or at one of the many houses where a familiar is certain to meet a welcome, and more or less of pleasant company. The entertainments are often more extensive and formal, embracing, of course, music, and such are invariably wound up by a supper. I have heard certain of our seniors grow quite pathetic over the abolition of those social, if unsalubrious, repasts. I wonder at such regrets no longer, if I cannot share them. There is surely an hilarious informality about these media-nochi that attaches to no antecedent feast; the freedom of a picnic, without its manifold inconveniences: as the witching hour draws nearer, the "brightest eyes that ever have shone" glitter yet more gloriously, till in their nearer and dearer splendor a Chaldean would forget the stars; and the "sweetest lips that ever were kissed" sip the creaming Verzenay, or savor the delicate "olio," with a keener honesty of zest. The supper-tables are almost always adorned by some of the pretty, quaint conceits of an artist, whose fame extends far beyond Baltimore. Mr. Hermann's ice-imitations of all fruits and flowers, are marvellously vivid and natural: I have never seen them equalled by any continental glaciers.
I have lingered, perhaps, too long over too trifling details; and yet, I wish I had done my subject more justice. Be it remembered, that I visited Baltimore at a season of unusual social depression. I do not speak of the stagnation in commerce, and the ruin of Southern interests and possessions, from which many have suffered heavy pecuniary loss: the effects of the war come home to the fair city yet more sharply. For months past the best part of her jeunesse doree have been fighting—as only the daintily born and bred can fight, at bitter need—in the van of Southern armies.
Every fresh rumor of battle adds to the crowd of pale, anxious faces, and every bulletin lengthens the list of mourners. There are few families, Federal or Secessionist, who have not relatives—none that have not dear friends—exposed to hourly peril, from disease, if not from lead or steel. The suspense felt in England during the Crimean or Indian wars, cannot be compared to that which many here are forced to endure. We knew, at least, where our soldiers were, and heard often how they fared: their sickness, wounds, and deaths were all recorded. But the scenes of this war's vast theatre are so often shifted, and communication with the remoter parts of the Southwest is so uncertain, that months will elapse without a line of tidings from the absent; the grass has grown and withered again, over many graves, before the weary hearts at home knew that the time was past, for waiting, and watching, and prayers.
The last season in New York, they say, has been the gayest known for many years. The nouveaux riches have been spending their ill or well gotten gains right royally. But the temptations to exuberant festivity are few indeed in Baltimore, just now: with all that they have to endure and fear, it speaks well for the hardihood of her citizens, that they can maintain even a chastened cheerfulness.
FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.
I may not deny that I found the places in which my lines were just then cast exceedingly pleasant: if no serious purpose had been before me I could have been contented to sojourn there till spring had waned. But it is some satisfaction now to be able to think and say—I do say it, in perfect honesty and sincerity—that I did not lose sight of my journey's main object for one single day from first to last. Indeed I should have felt far more impatient of delay had it not been for the continuance of foul weather, and recurrence of heavy storms, which made armies no less than individuals, impotent to act or move. On the morning following my arrival, I took counsel with one who was, perhaps, better able to advise me as to my future course than any one then resident in Baltimore: certainly none could have been more heartily willing to help, both in word and deed. I owe to that man much more than a debt of ordinary hospitality. To say that his courtesy and cordiality were marked, where benevolence to a stranger is the rule, would very faintly express the personal trouble he undertook and the personal risk he incurred in his efforts to facilitate and further my purposes. Up to this moment I do not believe that he has grudged one whit of all this, much as he may have chafed at all having proved unavailing. I am right sorry that prudence forbids my chronicling here a name which will always stand high on my muster-roll of friends; but the memory of almost any Englishman who has visited Baltimore will fill up the blank that I must leave perforce.
It seemed that there was a choice of two routes into Secessia. The first—in many respects the easiest, and far the most traveled—lay through the lower counties of Maryland: the narrow peninsula on which Leonardstown is situated forming the starting point, whence the blockade-runner took to cross the Lower Potomac—there, from four to eight miles wide. It was necessary to run the gauntlet of several gun-boats and smaller craft; but traffic at that particular time was carried on with tolerable regularity, and captures, though not unfrequent, were, so far, exceptions to a rule. On the land route, before reaching the point of embarkation, lay the chief difficulties. A horseman traveling with saddle-bags, became at once a suspicious personage, liable everywhere to jealous scrutiny. The main roads were already becoming so cut up as to be traversed only with great toil and difficulty by ordinary vehicles, while the cross roads were simply impassable by wheels. The principal turnpikes still hard enough to carry a "stage," e. g., that from Washington to Leonardstown, were more carefully guarded, and picketed at certain points, especially bridges. At any one of these points, a search might be apprehended, and anything beyond the simplest necessaries was liable to seizure as contraband of war; personal arrest might possibly follow, but the Federal outposts were said to content themselves, as a rule, with confiscation and appropriation, unless any documents of a compromising nature were found. Such a course was obviously pleasanter for all parties, than sending in prisoners—with their effects. Now it so chanced, that in the modest—not to say scanty—outfit, which I thought it worth while to bring out from home, was a certain pair of riding boots, by which I set especial store. They were such as many of our field-officers now in Canada are in the habit of wearing—coming high up on the thigh, perfectly water-proof, but very light, and pliant as a glove. I saw nothing of American manufacture to compare with them. Some of my duck-shooting acquaintance at Baltimore were never weary of admiring their fair proportions; nor did my sage counselor, before alluded to, refuse his warm approbation; but he urged very strongly the hazard of my wearing them on my way to the Lower Potomac—to carry or transmit them otherwise was simply impossible. Nevertheless, neither Bombastes nor Dalgetty could have clung more obstinately to this favorite chaussure than did I to mine. I knew that in the South, where an ordinary pair of cavalry boots commands readily seventy dollars or more, they could not be matched, and I had not