THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN AMERICA
BY ISABELLA LUCY BIRD
FOREWORD AND NOTES BY ANDREW HILL CLARK
Prefatory and explanatory—The voyage out—The sentimental—The actual —The oblivious—The medley—Practical joking—An unwelcome companion— American patriotism—The first view—The departure.
An inhospitable reception—Halifax and the Blue Noses—The heat— Disappointed expectations—The great departed—What the Blue Noses might be—What the coach was not—Nova Scotia and its capabilities—The roads and their annoyances—A tea dinner—A night journey and a Highland cabin —A nautical catastrophe—A joyful reunion.
Popular ignorance—The garden island—Summer and winter contrasted—A wooden capital—Island politics, and their consequences—Gossip—"Blowin- time"—Religion and the clergy—The servant nuisance—Colonial society—An evening party—An island premier—Agrarian outrage—A visit to the Indians—The pipe of peace—An Indian coquette—Country hospitality—A missionary—A novel mode of lobster-fishing—Uncivilised life—Far away in the woods—Starvation and dishonesty—An old Highlander and a Highland welcome—Hopes for the future.
From St. George's Cross to the Stars and Stripes—Unpunctuality— Incompetence—A wretched night—Colonial curiosity—The fashions—A night in a buffalo robe—A stage journey—A queer character—Politics— Chemistry—Mathematics—Rotten bridges—A midnight arrival—Colonial ignorance—Yankee conceit—What ten-horse power chaps can do—The pestilence—The city on the rock—New Brunswick—Steamboat peculiarities —Going ahead in the eating line—A storm—Stepping ashore.
First experiences of American freedom—The "striped pig" and "Dusty Ben" —A country mouse—What the cars are like—Beauties of New England—The land of apples—A Mammoth hotel—The rusty inkstand exiled—Eloquent eyes —Alone in a crowd.
A suspected bill—A friend in need—All aboard for the Western cars— The wings of the wind—American politeness—A loquacious conductor— Three minutes for refreshments—A conversation on politics—A confession—The emigrant car—Beauties of the woods—A forest on fire— Dangers of the cars—The Queen City of the West.
The Queen City continued—Its beauties—Its inhabitants, human and equine—An American church—Where chairs and bedsteads come from—Pigs and pork—A peep into Kentucky—Popular opinions respecting slavery— The curse of America.
The hickory stick—Chawing up ruins—A forest scene—A curious questioner —Hard and soft shells—Dangers of a ferry—The western prairies— Nocturnal detention—The Wild West and the Father of Rivers—Breakfast in a shed—What is an alligator?—Physiognomy, and its uses—The ladies' parlour—A Chicago hotel, its inmates and its horrors—A water-drinking people—The Prairie City—Progress of the West.
A vexatious incident—John Bull enraged—Woman's rights—Alligators become hosses—A popular host—Military display—A mirth-provoking gun —Grave reminiscences—Attractions of the fair—Past and present—A floating palace—Black companions—A black baby—Externals of Buffalo— The flag of England.
The Place of Council—Its progress and its people—English hearts— "Sebastopol is taken"—Squibs and crackers—A ship on her beam-ends— Selfishness—A mongrel city—A Scot—Constancy rewarded—Monetary difficulties—Detention on a bridge—A Canadian homestead—Life in the clearings—The bush on fire—A word on farming—The "bee" and its produce —Eccentricities of Mr. Haldimands—A ride on a troop-horse—Scotch patriotism—An English church—The servant nuisance—Richard Cobden.
"I've seen nothing"—A disappointment—Incongruities—Hotel gaieties and "doing Niagara"—Irish drosky-drivers—"The Hell of Waters"—Beauties of Niagara—The picnic party—The white canoe—A cold shower-bath—"The Thunder of Waters"—A magic word—"The Whirlpool"—Story of "Bloody Run"— Yankee opinions of English ladies—A metamorphosis—The nigger guide—A terrible situation—Termination Rock—Impressions of Niagara—Juvenile precocity—A midnight journey—Street adventures in Hamilton.
A scene at starting—That dear little Harry—The old lady and the race —Running the Rapids—An aside—Snow and discomfort—A new country—An extemporised ball—Adventure with a madman—Shooting the cataract— First appearance of Montreal—Its characteristics—Quebec in a fog— "Muffins"—Quebec gaieties—The pestilence—Restlessness—St. Louis and St. Roch—The shady side—Dark dens—External characteristics—Lord Elgin—Mistaking a senator.
The House of Commons—Canadian gallantry—The constitution—Mr. Hincks— The ex-rebel—Parties and leaders—A street row—Repeated disappointments —The "habitans"—Their houses and their virtues—A stationary people— Progress and its effects—Montmorenci—The natural staircase—The Indian summer—Lorette—The old people—Beauties of Quebec—The John Munn—Fear and its consequences—A gloomy journey.
Concluding remarks on Canada—Territory—Climate—Capabilities—Railways and canals—Advantages for emigrants—Notices of emigration—Government— The franchise—Revenue—Population—Religion—Education—The press— Literature—Observations in conclusion.
Preliminary remarks on re-entering the States—Americanisms—A little slang—Liquoring up—Eccentricities in dress—A 'cute chap down east— Conversation on eating—A Kentucky gal—Lake Champlain—Delaval's—A noisy serenade—Albany—Beauties of the Hudson—The Empire City.
Position of New York—Externals of the city—Conveyances— Maladministration—The stores—The hotels—Curiosities of the hospital— Ragged schools—The bad book—Monster schools—Amusements and oyster saloons—Monstrosities——A restaurant—Dwelling-houses—Equipages— Palaces—Dress—Figures—Manners—Education—Domestic habits—The ladies— The gentlemen—Society—Receptions—Anti-English feeling—Autographs—The buckram Englishman.
The cemetery—Its beauties—The "Potter's Field"—The graves of children— Monumental eccentricities—Arrival of emigrants—Their reception—Poor dwellings—The dangerous class—The elections—The riots—Characteristics of the streets—Journey to Boston—The sights of Boston—Longfellow— Cambridge University.
Origin of the Constitution—The Executive—Congress—Local Legislatures— The army and navy—Justice—Slavery—Political corruption—The foreign element—Absence of principle—Associations—The Know-nothings—The press and its power—Religion—The church—The clergy.
General remarks continued—The common schools—Their defect—Difficulties —Management of the schools—The free academy—Hallways—Telegraphs— Poverty—Literature—Advantages for emigrants—Difficulties of emigrants— Peace or war—Concluding observations.
The America—A gloomy departure—An ugly night—Morning at Halifax—Our new passengers—Babies—Captain Leitch—A day at sea—Clippers and steamers—A storm—An Atlantic moonlight—Unpleasant sensations—A gale— Inkermann—Conclusion.
THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN AMERICA. [Footnote: It is necessary to state that this volume is not by the Authoress of the 'Englishwoman in Russia.']
Prefatory and explanatory—The voyage out—The sentimental—The actual— The oblivious—The medley—Practical joking—An unwelcome companion— American patriotism—The first view—The departure.
As a general dislike of prefaces is unmistakeably evidenced by their uncut leaves, and as unknown readers could scarcely be induced to read a book by the most cogent representations of an unknown author, and as apologies for "rushing into print" are too trite and insincere to have any effect, I will merely prefix a few explanatory remarks to my first chapter.
Circumstances which it is unnecessary to dwell upon led me across the Atlantic with some relatives; and on my return, I was requested by numerous friends to give an account of my travels. As this volume has been written with a view to their gratification, there is far more of personal narrative than is likely to interest the general reader.
With respect to the people of the United States, I have given those impressions which as a traveller I formed; if they are more favourable than those of some of my predecessors, the difference may arise from my having taken out many excellent introductions, which afforded me greater facilities of seeing the best society in the States than are usually possessed by those who travel merely to see the country.
Where I have offered any opinions upon the effect produced by the institutions of America, or upon any great national question, I have done so with extreme diffidence, giving impressions rather than conclusions, feeling the great injustice of drawing general inferences from partial premises, as well as the impossibility of rightly estimating cause and effect during a brief residence in the United States. I have endeavoured to give a faithful picture of what I saw and heard, avoiding the beaten track as much as possible, and dwelling principally on those things in which I knew that my friends were most interested.
Previously to visiting the United States, I had read most of the American travels which had been published; yet from experience I can say that even those who read most on the Americans know little of them, from the disposition which leads travellers to seize and dwell upon the ludicrous points which continually present themselves.
We know that there is a vast continent across the Atlantic, first discovered by a Genoese sailing under the Spanish flag, and that for many years past it has swallowed up thousands of the hardiest of our population. Although our feelings are not particularly fraternal, we give the people inhabiting this continent the national cognomen of "Brother Jonathan," while we name individuals "Yankees." We know that they are famous for smoking, spitting, "gouging," and bowie-knives—for monster hotels, steamboat explosions, railway collisions, and repudiated debts. It is believed also that this nation is renowned for keeping three millions of Africans in slavery—for wooden nutmegs, paper money, and "fillibuster" expeditions—for carrying out nationally and individually the maxim
"That they may take who have the power, And they may keep who can."
I went to the States with that amount of prejudice which seems the birthright of every English person, but I found that, under the knowledge of the Americans which can be attained by a traveller mixing in society in every grade, these prejudices gradually melted away. I found much which is worthy of commendation, even of imitation: that there is much which is very reprehensible, is not to be wondered at in a country which for years has been made a "cave of Adullam"—a refuge for those who have "left their country for their country's good"—a receptacle for the barbarous, the degraded, and the vicious of all other nations. It must never be forgotten that the noble, the learned, and the wealthy have shrunk from the United States; her broad lands have been peopled to a great extent by those whose stalwart arms have been their only possession.
Is it surprising, considering these antecedents, that much of arrogance, coarseness, and vulgarity should be met with? Is it not rather surprising, that a traveller should meet with so little to annoy—so few obvious departures from the rules of propriety?
An Englishman bears with patience any ridicule which foreigners cast upon him. John Bull never laughs so loudly as when he laughs at himself; but the Americans are nationally sensitive, and cannot endure that good- humoured raillery which jests at their weaknesses and foibles. Hence candid and even favourable statements of the truth by English travellers are received with a perfect outcry by the Americans; and the phrases, "shameful misstatements," "violation of the rights of hospitality," &c., are on every lip.
Most assuredly that spirit of envious rivalry and depreciating criticism in which many English travellers have written, is greatly to be deprecated, no less than the tone of servile adulation which some writers have adopted; but our American neighbours must recollect that they provoked both the virulent spirit and the hostile caricature by the way in which some of their most popular writers of travels have led an ungenerous onslaught against our institutions and people, and the bitter tone in which their newspaper press, headed by the Tribune, indulges towards the British nation.
Having made these few remarks, I must state that at the time of my visit to the States I had no intention of recording my "experiences" in print; and as my notes taken at the time were few and meagre, and have been elaborated from memory, some inaccuracies have occurred which it will not take a keen eye to detect. These must be set down to want of correct information rather than to wilful misrepresentation. The statistical information given is taken from works compiled by the Americans themselves. The few matters on which I write which did not come under my own observation, I learned from trustworthy persons who have been long resident in the country.
Of Canada it is scarcely necessary to speak here. Perhaps an English writer may be inclined to adopt too eulogistic a tone in speaking of that noble and loyal colony, in which British institutions are undergoing a Transatlantic trial, and where a free people is protected by British laws. There are, doubtless, some English readers who will be interested in the brief notices which I have given of its people, its society, and its astonishing capabilities. [Footnote: I must here record my grateful acknowledgments to a gentleman in a prominent public position in Canada, who has furnished me with much valuable information which I should not otherwise have obtained.]
The notes from which this volume is taken were written in the lands of which it treats: they have been amplified and corrected in the genial atmosphere of an English home. I will not offer hackneyed apologies for its very numerous faults and deficiencies; but will conclude these tedious but necessary introductory remarks with the sincere hope that my readers may receive one hundredth part of the pleasure from the perusal of this volume which I experienced among the scenes and people of which it is too imperfect a record.
* * * * *
Although bi-weekly steamers ply between England and the States, and many mercantile men cross the Atlantic twice annually on business, and think nothing of it, the voyage seems an important event when undertaken for the first time. Friends living in inland counties, and those who have been sea-sick in crossing the straits of Dover, exaggerate the dangers and discomforts of ocean travelling, and shake their heads knowingly about fogs and icebergs.
Then there are a certain number of boxes to be packed, and a very uncertain number of things to fill them, while clothing has to be provided suitable to a tropical summer, and a winter within the arctic circle. But a variety of minor arrangements, and even an indefinite number of leave- takings, cannot be indefinitely prolonged; and at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning in 1854, I found myself with my friends on the landing- stage at Liverpool.
Whatever sentimental feelings one might be inclined to indulge in on leaving the shores of England were usefully and instantaneously annihilated by the discomfort and crush in the Satellite steam-tender, in which the passengers were conveyed, helplessly huddled together like a flock of sheep, to the Canada, an 1850-ton paddle-wheel steamer of the Cunard line, which was moored in the centre of the Mersey.
An investigation into the state-rooms, and the recital of disappointed expectations consequent on the discovery of their very small dimensions, the rescue of "regulation" portmanteaus from sailors who were running off with them, and the indulgence of that errant curiosity which glances at everything and rests on nothing, occupied the time before the arrival of the mail-boat with about two tons of letters and newspapers, which were consigned to the mail-room with incredible rapidity.
Then friends were abruptly dismissed—two guns were fired—the lashings were cast off—the stars and stripes flaunted gaily from the 'fore—the captain and pilot took their places on the paddle-boxes—the bell rang— our huge paddle-wheels revolved, and, to use the words in which the same event was chronicled by the daily press, "The Cunard royal mail steamer Canada, Captain Stone, left the Mersey this morning for Boston and Halifax, conveying the usual mails; with one hundred and sixty-eight passengers, and a large cargo on freight."
It was an auspiciously commenced voyage as far as appearances went. The summer sun shone brightly—the waves of the Mersey were crisp and foam- capped—and the fields of England had never worn a brighter green. The fleet of merchant-ships through which we passed was not without an interest. There were timber-ships, huge and square-sided, unmistakeably from Quebec or Miramichi—green high-sterned Dutch galliots—American ships with long black hulls and tall raking masts—and those far-famed "Black Ball" clippers, the Marco Polo and the Champion of the Seas,— in short, the ships of all nations, with their marked and distinguishing peculiarities. But the most interesting object of all was the screw troop- ship Himalaya, which was embarking the Scots Greys for the Crimea—that regiment which has since earned so glorious but fatal a celebrity on the bloody field of Balaklava.
It is to be supposed that to those who were crossing the Atlantic for the first time to the western hemisphere there was some degree of excitement, and that regret was among the feelings with which they saw the coast of England become a faint cloud on the horizon; but soon oblivion stole over the intellects of most of the passengers, leaving one absorbing feeling of disgust, first to the viands, next to those who could partake of them, and lastly to everything connected with the sea. Fortunately this state of things only lasted for two days, as the weather was very calm, and we ran with studding-sails set before a fair wind as far as the Nova Scotian coast.
The genius of Idleness presided over us all. There were five ample meals every day, and people ate, and walked till they could eat again; while some, extended on sofas, slept over odd volumes of novels from the ship's library, and others played at chess, cards, or backgammon from morning to night. Some of the more active spirits played "shuffle-boards," which kept the deck in an uproar; while others enjoyed the dolce far niente in their berths, except when the bell summoned to meals. There were weather- wise people, who smoked round the funnel all day, and prophesied foul winds every night; and pertinacious querists, who asked the captain every hour or two when we should reach Halifax. Some betted on the "run," and others on the time of reaching port; in short, every expedient was resorted to by which time could be killed.
We had about twenty English passengers; the rest were Canadians, Americans, Jews, Germans, Dutch, French, Californians, Spaniards, and Bavarians. Strict equality was preserved in this heterogeneous assembly. An Irish pork-merchant was seated at dinner next a Jew, who regarded the pig in toto as an abomination—a lady, a scion of a ducal family, found herself next to a French cook going out to a San Franciscan eating-house— an officer, going out to high command at Halifax, was seated next a rough Californian, who wore "nuggets" of gold for buttons; and there were contrasts even stronger than these. The most conspicuous of our fellow- voyagers was the editor of an American paper, who was writing a series of clever but scurrilous articles on England, from materials gleaned in a three weeks' tour!
Some of the Americans were very fond of practical jokes, but these were rather of a stupid description. There was a Spanish gentleman who used to promenade the deck with a dignity worthy of the Cid Rodrigo, addressing everybody he met with the question, "Parlez-vous Franais, Monsieur?" and at the end of the voyage his stock of English only amounted to "Dice? Sixpence." One day at dinner this gentleman requested a French-speaking Californian to tell him how to ask for du pain in English. "My donkeys," was the prompt reply, and the joke was winked down the table, while the Spaniard was hammering away at "My donkeys" till he got the pronunciation perfect. The waiter came round, and the unhappy man, in confident but mellifluous tones, pointing to the bread, asked for "My donkeys."
Comic drinking-songs, and satires on the English, the latter to the tune of 'Yankee Doodle,' were sung in the saloon in the evenings round large bowls of punch, and had the effect of keeping many of the ladies on deck, when a refuge from the cold and spray would have been desirable; but with this exception the conduct of the passengers on the whole was marked by far more propriety than could have been expected from so mixed a company. If the captain had been more of a disciplinarian, even this annoyance might have been avoided.
I had the misfortune of having for my companion in my state-room an Englishwoman who had resided for some years at New York, and who combined in herself the disagreeable qualities of both nations. She was in a frequent state of intoxication, and kept gin, brandy, and beer in her berth. Whether sober or not, she was equally voluble; and as her language was not only inelegant, but replete with coarseness and profanity, the annoyance was almost insupportable. She was a professed atheist, and as such justly an object of commiseration, the weakness of her unbelief being clearly manifested by the frequency with which she denied the existence of a God.
On one day, as I was reading my Bible, she exclaimed with a profane expression, "I wish you'd pitch that book overboard, it's enough to sink the ship;" the contradiction implied in the words showing the weakness of her atheism, which, while it promises a man the impunity of non-existence, and degrades him to desire it, very frequently seduces him to live as an infidel, but to die a terrified and despairing believer.
It was a very uneventful voyage. The foul winds prophesied never blew, the icebergs kept far away to the northward, the excitement of flight from Russian privateers was exchanged for the sight of one harmless merchantman; even the fogs off Newfoundland turned out complete myths.
On the seventh day out the bets on the hour of our arrival at Halifax increased in number and magnitude, and a lottery was started; on the eighth we passed Cape Race, and spoke the steamer Asia; our rigging was tightened, and our railings polished; and in nine days and five hours from Liverpool we landed on the shores of the New World. The day previous to our landing was a Sunday, and I was pleased to observe the decorum which pervaded the ship. Service was conducted with propriety in the morning; a large proportion of the passengers read their Bibles or other religious books; punch, chess, and cards were banished from the saloon; and though we had almost as many creeds as nationalities, and some had no creed at all, yet those who might ridicule the observance of the Sabbath themselves, avoided any proceedings calculated to shock what they might term the prejudices of others.
On the next day we had a slight head wind for the first time; most of the passengers were sea-sick, and those who were not so were promenading the wet, sooty deck in the rain, in a uniform of oilskin coats and caps. The sea and sky were both of a leaden colour; and as there was nothing to enliven the prospect but the gambols of some very uncouth-looking porpoises, I was lying half asleep on a settee, when I was roused by the voice of a kind-hearted Yankee skipper, saying, "Come, get up; there's a glorious country and no mistake; a great country, a progressive country, the greatest country under the sun." The honest sailor was rubbing his hands with delight as he spoke, his broad, open countenance beaming with a perfect glow of satisfaction. I looked in the direction indicated by his finger, and beheld, not the lofty pinnacled cliffs of the "Pilgrim Fathers," but a low gloomy coast, looming through a mist.
I already began to appreciate the hearty enthusiasm with which Americans always speak of their country, designated as it is by us by the names "National vanity," and "Boastfulness." This esprit du pays, although it is sometimes carried to a ridiculous extent, is greatly to be preferred to the abusive manner in which an Englishman accustoms himself to speak of the glorious country to which he appears to feel it a disgrace to belong. It does one good to hear an American discourse on America, his panegyric generally concluding with the words, "We're the greatest people on the face of the earth."
At dusk, after steaming during the whole day along the low green coast of Nova Scotia, we were just outside the heads of Halifax harbour, and the setting sun was bathing the low, pine-clad hills of America in floods of purple light. A pilot came off to offer his services, but was rejected, and to my delight he hailed in a pure English accent, which sounded like a friendly welcome. The captain took his place on the paddle-box, and our speed was slackened. Two guns were fired, and their echoes rolled for many a mile among the low, purple hills, from which a soft, fragrant scent of pines was borne to us on the evening breeze, reminding me of the far- distant mountains of Scotland. The tiny waves rippled towards us like diamonds, the moon and stars shone brilliantly from a summer sky, and the white smoke from our guns floated away in silver clouds.
People were tumbling over each other in their haste, and making impossible demands, each one being anxious to have his luggage produced first, though the said luggage might be at the bottom of the hold; babies, as babies always do, persisted in crying just at the wrong time; articles essential to the toilet were missing, and sixpences or half-sovereigns had found their way into impossible crevices. Invitations were given, cards exchanged, elderly ladies unthinkingly promised to make errant expeditions to visit agreeable acquaintances in California, and by the time the last words had been spoken we were safely moored at Cunard's wharf.
The evening gun boomed from the citadel. I heard the well-known British bugle; I saw the familiar scarlet of our troops; the voices which vociferated were English; the physiognomies had the Anglo-Saxon cast and complexion; and on the shores of the western hemisphere I felt myself at home. Yet, as I sprang from the boat, and set my foot for the first time on American soil, I was vexed that these familiar sights and sounds should deprive me of the pleasurable feeling of excitement which I had expected to experience under such novel circumstances.
An inhospitable reception—Halifax and the Blue Noses—The heat— Disappointed expectations—The great departed—What the Blue Noses might be—What the coach was not—Nova Scotia and its capabilities—The roads and their annoyances—A tea dinner—A night journey and a Highland cabin— A nautical catastrophe—A joyful reunion.
The Cunard steamers are powerful, punctual, and safe, their cuisine excellent, their arrangements admirable, till they reach Halifax, which is usually the destination of many of the passengers. I will suppose that the voyage has been propitious, and our guns have thundered forth the announcement that the news of the Old World has reached the New; that the stewards have been fee'd and the captain complimented; and that we have parted on the best possible terms with the Company, the ship, and our fellow-passengers. The steamer generally remains for two or three hours at Halifax to coal, and unship a portion of her cargo, and there is a very natural desire on the part of the passengers to leave what to many is at best a floating prison, and set foot on firm ground, even for an hour. Those who, like ourselves, land at Halifax for the interior, are anxious to obtain rooms at the hotel, and all who have nothing else to do hurry to the ice-shop, where the luxury of a tumbler of raspberry-cream ice can be obtained for threepence. Besides the hurried rush of those who with these varied objects in view leave the steamer, there are crowds of incomers in the shape of porters, visitors, and coalheavers, and passengers for the States, who prefer the comfort and known punctuality of the Royal Mail steamers to the delay, danger, and uncertainty of the intercolonial route, though the expense of the former is nearly double. There are the friends of the passengers, and numbers of persons who seem particularly well acquainted with the purser, who bring fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and lobsters.
From this description it may be imagined that there is a motley and considerable crowd; but it will scarcely be imagined that there is only one regulation, which is, that no persons may enter or depart till the mail-bags have been landed. The wharf is small and at night unlighted, and the scene which ensued on our landing about eight o'clock in the evening reminded me, not by contrast, but resemblance, of descriptions which travellers give of the disembarkation at Alexandria. Directly that the board was laid from the Canada to the wharf a rush both in and out took place, in which I was separated from my relations, and should have fallen had not a friend, used to the scene of disorder, come to my assistance.
The wharf was dirty, unlighted, and under repair, covered with heaps and full of holes. My friend was carrying three parcels, when three or four men made a rush at us, seized them from him, and were only compelled to relinquish them by some sharp physical arguments. A large gateway, lighted by one feeble oil-lamp at the head of the wharf, was then opened, and the crowd pent up behind it came pouring down the sloping road. There was a simultaneous rush of trucks, hand-carts, waggons, and cars, their horses at full trot or canter, two of them rushing against the gravel-heap on which I was standing, where they were upset. Struggling, shouting, beating, and scuffling, the drivers all forced their way upon the wharf, regardless of cries from the ladies and threats from the gentlemen, for all the passengers had landed and were fighting their way to an ice-shop. Porters were scuffling with each other for the possession of portmanteaus, wheels were locked, and drivers were vehemently expostulating in the rich brogue of Erin; people were jostling each other in their haste, or diving into the dimly-lighted custom-house, and it must have been fully half an hour before we had extricated ourselves from this chaos of mismanagement and disorder, by scrambling over gravel-heaps and piles of timber, into the dirty, unlighted streets of Halifax.
Dirty they were then, though the weather was very dry, for oyster-shells, fish heads and bones, potato-skins, and cabbage-stalks littered the roads; but dirty was a word which does not give the faintest description of the almost impassable state in which I found them, when I waded through them ankle-deep in mud some months afterwards.
We took apartments for two days at the Waverley House, a most comfortless place, yet the best inn at Halifax. Three hours after we landed, the Canada fired her guns, and steamed off to Boston; and as I saw her coloured lights disappear round the heads of the harbour, I did not feel the slightest regret at having taken leave of her for ever. We remained for two days at Halifax, and saw the little which was worth seeing in the Nova-Scotian capital. I was disappointed to find the description of the lassitude and want of enterprise of the Nova-Scotians, given by Judge Halliburton, so painfully correct. Halifax possesses one of the deepest and most commodious harbours in the world, and is so safe that ships need no other guide into it than their charts. There are several small fortified islands at its mouth, which assist in its defence without impeding the navigation. These formidable forts protect the entrance, and defend the largest naval depot which we possess in North America. The town itself, which contains about 25,000 people, is on a small peninsula, and stands on a slope rising from the water's edge to the citadel, which is heavily armed, and amply sufficient for every purpose of defence. There are very great natural advantages in the neighbourhood, lime, coal, slate, and minerals being abundant, added to which Halifax is the nearest port to Europe.
Yet it must be confessed that the Nova-Scotians are far behind, not only their neighbours in the States, but their fellow-subjects in Canada and New Brunswick. There are capacious wharfs and roomy warehouses, yet one laments over the absence of everything like trade and business. With the finest harbour in North America, with a country abounding in minerals, and coasts swarming with fish, the Nova-Scotians appear to have expunged the word progress from their dictionary—still live in shingle houses, in streets without side walks, rear long-legged ponies, and talk largely about railroads, which they seem as if they would never complete, because they trust more to the House of Assembly than to their own energies. Consequently their astute and enterprising neighbours the Yankees, the acute speculators of Massachusetts and Connecticut, have seized upon the traffic which they have allowed to escape them, and have diverted it to the thriving town of Portland in Maine. The day after we landed was one of intense heat, the thermometer stood at 93 in the shade. The rays of a summer sun scorched the shingle roof of our hotel, and, penetrating the thin plank walls, made the interior of the house perfectly unbearable. There were neither sunshades nor Venetian blinds, and not a tree to shade the square white wooden house from an almost tropical heat. When I came into the parlour I found Colonel H—— stretched on the sofa, almost expiring with heat, my cousin standing panting before the window in his shirtsleeves, and his little boy lying moaning on the hearthrug, with his shoes off, and his complexion like that of a Red Indian. One of our party had been promenading the broiling streets of Halifax without his coat! A gentleman from one of the Channel Islands, of unsophisticated manners and excellent disposition, who had landed with us en route to a town on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had fancied our North American colonies for ever "locked in regions of thick-ribbed ice," and consequently was abundantly provided with warm clothing of every description. With this he was prepared to face a thermometer at twenty degrees below zero.
But when he found a torrid sun, and the thermometer at 93 in the shade, his courage failed him, and, with all his preconceived ideas overthrown by the burning experience of one day, despair seized on him, and his expressions of horror and astonishment were coupled with lamentations over the green fertility of Jersey. The colonel was obliged to report himself at head-quarters in his full uniform, which was evidently tight and hot; and after changing his apparel three times in the day, apparently without being a gainer, he went out to make certain meteorological inquiries, among others if 93 were a common temperature.
The conclusion he arrived at was, that the "climate alternates between the heat of India and the cold of Lapland."
We braved the heat at noonday in a stroll through the town, for, from the perfect dryness of the atmosphere, it is not of an oppressive nature. I saw few whites in the streets at this hour. There were a great many Indians lying by the door-steps, having disposed of their baskets, besoms, and raspberries, by the sale of which they make a scanty livelihood. The men, with their jet-black hair, rich complexions, and dark liquid brown eyes, were almost invariably handsome; and the women, whose beauty departs before they are twenty, were something in the "Meg Merrilies" style.
When the French first colonised this country, they called it "Acadie." The tribes of the Mic-Mac Indians peopled its forests, and, among the dark woods which then surrounded Halifax, they worshipped the Great Spirit, and hunted the moose-deer. Their birch-bark wigwams peeped from among the trees, their squaws urged their light canoes over the broad deep harbour, and their wise men spoke to them of the "happy hunting grounds." The French destroyed them not, and gave them a corrupted form of Christianity, inciting their passions against the English by telling them that they were the people who had crucified the Saviour. Better had it been for them if battle or pestilence had swept them at once away.
The Mic-Macs were a fierce and warlike people, too proud to mingle with an alien race—too restless and active to conform to the settled habits of civilization. Too proud to avail themselves of its advantages, they learned its vices, and, as the snow-wreaths in spring, they melted away before the poisonous "fire-water," and the deadly curse of the white man's wars. They had welcomed the "pale faces" to the "land of the setting sun," and withered up before them, smitten by their crimes.
Almost destitute of tradition, their history involved in obscurity, their broad lands filled with their unknown and nameless graves, these mighty races have passed away; they could not pass into slavery, therefore they must die.
At some future day a mighty voice may ask of those who have thus wronged the Indian, "Where is now thy brother?" It is true that frequently we arrived too late to save them as a race from degradation and dispersion; but as they heavily tottered along to their last home, under the burden of the woes which contact with civilization ever entails upon the aborigines, we might have spoken to them the tidings of "peace on earth and good will to men"—of a Saviour "who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through his gospel." Far away amid the thunders of Niagara, surrounded by a perpetual rainbow, Iris Island contains almost the only known burying-place of the race of red men. Probably the simple Indians who buried their dead in a place of such difficult access, and sacred to the Great Spirit, did so from a wish that none might ever disturb their ashes. None can tell how long those interred there have slept their last long sleep, but the ruthless hands of the white men have profaned the last resting-place of the departed race.
There were also numerous blacks in the streets, and, if I might judge from the brilliant colours and good quality of their clothing, they must gain a pretty good living by their industry. A large number of these blacks and their parents were carried away from the States by one of our admirals in the war of 1812, and landed at Halifax.
The capital of Nova Scotia looks like a town of cards, nearly all the buildings being of wood. There are wooden houses, wooden churches, wooden wharfs, wooden slates, and, if there are side walks, they are of wood also. I was pleased at a distance with the appearance of two churches, one of them a Gothic edifice, but on nearer inspection I found them to be of wood, and took refuge in the substantial masonry of the really handsome Province Building and Government House. We went up to the citadel, which crowns the hill, and is composed of an agglomeration of granite walls, fosses, and casemates, mounds, ditches, barracks, and water-tanks.
If I was pleased with the familiar uniforms of the artillerymen who lounged about the barracks, I was far more so with the view from the citadel. It was a soft summer evening, and, seen through the transparent atmosphere, everything looked unnaturally near. The large town of Halifax sloped down to a lake-like harbour, about two miles wide, dotted with islands; and ranges of picturesque country spangled with white cottages lay on the other side. The lake or firth reminded me of the Gareloch, and boats were sailing about in all directions before the evening breeze. From tangled coppices of birch and fir proceeded the tinkle of the bells of numerous cows, and, mingled with the hum of the city, the strains of a military band rose from the streets to our ears.
With so many natural advantages, and such capabilities for improvement, I cannot but regret the unhappy quarrels and maladministration which threaten to leave the noble colony of Nova Scotia an incubus and excrescence on her flourishing and progressive neighbours, Canada and New Brunswick. From the talk about railways, steamers, and the House of Assembly, it is pleasant to turn to the one thing which has been really done, namely, the establishment of an electric telegraph line to St. John, and thence to the States. By means of this system of wires, which is rough and inexpensive to a degree which in England we should scarcely believe, the news brought by the English mail steamer is known at Boston, New York, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and all the great American cities, before it has had time to reach the environs of Halifax itself.
The telegraph costs about 20l. per mile, and the wires are generally supported on the undressed stems of pines, but are often carried from tree to tree along miserable roads, or through the deep recesses of the forests.
The stores in Halifax are pretty good, all manufactured articles being sold at an advance on English prices. Books alone are cheap and abundant, being the American editions of pirated English works.
On the morning when we left Halifax I was awakened by the roll of the British drum and the stirring strains of the Highland bagpipe. Ready equipped for the tedious journey before us, from Halifax to Pictou in the north of the colony, I was at the inn-door at six, watching the fruitless attempts of the men to pile our mountain of luggage on the coach.
Do not let the word coach conjure up a vision of "the good old times," a dashing mail with a well-groomed team of active bays, harness all "spick and span," a gentlemanly-looking coachman, and a guard in military scarlet, the whole affair rattling along the road at a pace of ten miles an hour.
The vehicle in which we performed a journey of 120 miles in 20 hours deserves a description. It consisted of a huge coach-body, slung upon two thick leather straps; the sides were open, and the places where windows ought to have been were screened by heavy curtains of tarnished moose-deer hide. Inside were four cross-seats, intended to accommodate twelve persons, who were very imperfectly sheltered from the weather. Behind was a large rack for luggage, and at the back of the driving-seat was a bench which held three persons. The stage was painted scarlet, but looked as if it had not been washed for a year. The team of six strong white horses was driven by a Yankee, remarkable only for his silence. About a ton of luggage was packed on and behind the stage, and two open portmanteaus were left behind without the slightest risk to their contents.
Twelve people and a baby were with some difficulty stowed in the stage, and the few interstices were filled up with baskets, bundles, and packages. The coachman whipped his horses, and we rattled down the uneven streets of Halifax to a steam ferry-boat, which conveyed the stage across to Dartmouth, and was so well arranged that the six horses had not to alter their positions.
Our road lay for many miles over a barren, rocky, undulating country, covered with var and spruce trees, with an undergrowth of raspberry, wild rhododendron, and alder. We passed a chain of lakes extending for sixteen miles, their length varying from one to three miles, and their shores covered with forests of gloomy pine. People are very apt to say that Nova Scotia is sterile and barren, because they have not penetrated into the interior. It is certainly rather difficult of access, but I was by no means sorry that my route lay through it. The coast of Nova Scotia is barren, and bears a very distinct resemblance to the east of Scotland. The climate, though severe in winter and very foggy, is favourable both to health and vegetation. The peach and grape ripen in the open air, and the cultivation of corn and potatoes amply repays the cultivator. A great part of the country is still covered with wood, evidently a second growth, for, wherever the trees of the fir tribe are cut down or destroyed by fire, hard-wood trees spring up.
So among the maple, the American elm, and the purple-blossomed sumach, the huge scorched and leafless stems of pines would throw up their giant arms as if to tell of some former conflagration. In clearings among these woods, slopes of ground are to be seen covered with crops of oats and maize, varied with potatoes and pumpkins. Wherever the ground is unusually poor on the surface, mineral treasures abound. There are beds of coal of vast thickness; iron in various forms is in profusion, and the supply of gypsum is inexhaustible. Many parts of the country are very suitable for cattle-rearing, and there are "water privileges" without end in the shape of numerous rivers. I have seldom seen finer country in the colonies than the large tract of cleared undulating land about Truro, and I am told that it is far exceeded by that in the neighbourhood of Windsor. Wherever apple-trees were planted they seemed to flourish, and the size and flavour of their fruit evidences a short, hot summer. While the interior of the country is so fertile, and is susceptible of a high degree of improvement, it is scarcely fair in the Nova-Scotians to account for their backwardness by pointing strangers to their sterile and iron-bound coast. But they are a moral, hardy, and loyal people; none of our colonial fellow-subjects are more attached to the British crown, or more ready to take up arms in its defence.
I was greatly pleased with much that I heard, and with the little I saw of the Nova-Scotians. They seemed temperate, sturdy, and independent, and the specimens we had of them in the stage were civil, agreeable, and intelligent.
After passing the pretty little village of Dartmouth, we came upon some wigwams of birch-bark among the trees. Some squaws, with papooses strapped upon their backs, stared vacantly at us as we passed, and one little barefooted Indian, with a lack of apparel which showed his finely moulded form to the best advantage, ran by the side of the coach for two or three miles, bribed by coppers which were occasionally thrown to him.
A dreary stage of eighteen miles brought us to Shultze's, a road-side inn by a very pretty lake, where we were told the "coach breakfasted." Whether Transatlantic coaches can perform this, to us, unknown feat, I cannot pretend to say, but we breakfasted. A very coarse repast was prepared for us, consisting of stewed salt veal, country cheese, rancid salt butter, fried eggs, and barley bread; but we were too hungry to find fault either with it, or with the charge made for it, which equalled that at a London hotel. Our Yankee coachman, a man of monosyllables, sat next to me, and I was pleased to see that he regaled himself on tea instead of spirits.
We packed ourselves into the stage again with great difficulty, and how the forty-eight limbs fared was shown by the painful sensations experienced for several succeeding days. All the passengers, however, were in perfectly good humour, and amused each other during the eleven hours spent in this painful way. At an average speed of six miles an hour we travelled over roads of various descriptions, plank, corduroy, and sand; up long heavy hills, and through swamps swarming with mosquitoes.
Every one has heard of corduroy roads, but how few have experienced their miseries! They are generally used for traversing swampy ground, and are formed of small pine-trees deprived of their branches, which are laid across the track alongside each other. The wear and tear of travelling soon separates these, leaving gaps between; and when, added to this, one trunk rots away, and another sinks down into the swamp, and another tilts up, you may imagine such a jolting as only leather springs could bear. On the very worst roads, filled with deep holes, or covered with small granite boulders, the stage only swings on the straps. Ordinary springs, besides dislocating the joints of the passengers, would be wrenched and broken after a few miles travelling.
Even as we were, faces sometimes came into rather close proximity to each other and to the side railings, and heads sustained very unpleasant collisions. The amiable man who was so disappointed with the American climate suffered very much from the journey. He said he had thought a French diligence the climax of discomfort, but a "stage was misery, oh torture!" Each time that we had rather a worse jolt than usual the poor man groaned, which always drew forth a chorus of laughter, to which he submitted most good-humouredly. Occasionally he would ask the time, when some one would point maliciously to his watch, remarking, "Twelve hours more," or "Fifteen hours more," when he would look up with an expression of despair. The bridges wore a very un-English feature. Over the small streams or brooks they consisted of three pines covered with planks, without any parapet—with sometimes a plank out, and sometimes a hole in the middle. Over large streams they were wooden erections of a most peculiar kind, with high parapets; their insecurity being evidenced by the notice, "Walk your horses, according to law,"—a notice generally disregarded by our coachman, as he trotted his horses over the shaking and rattling fabric.
We passed several small streams, and one of a large size, the Shubenacadie, a wide, slow, muddy river, flowing through willows and hedges, like the rivers in the fen districts of England. At the mouth of the Shubenacadie the tides rise and fall forty feet.
In Nova Scotia the animals seemed to be more carefully lodged than the people. Wherever we changed horses, we drove into a lofty shed, opening into a large stable with a boarded floor scrupulously clean, generally containing twenty horses. The rigour of the climate in winter necessitates such careful provision for the support of animal life. The coachman went into the stable and chose his team, which was brought out, and then a scene of kicking, biting, and screaming ensued, ended by the most furious kickers being put to the wheel; and after a certain amount of talking, and settling the mail-bags, the ponderous vehicle moved off again, the leaders always rearing for the first few yards.
For sixty miles we were passing through woods, the trees sometimes burned and charred for several miles, and the ground all blackened round them. We saw very few clearings, and those there were consisted merely of a few acres of land, separated from the forest by rude "snake-fences." Stumps of trees blackened by fire stood up among the oat-crops; but though they look extremely untidy, they are an unavoidable evil for two or three years, till the large roots decay.
Eleven hours passed by not at all wearisomely to me, though my cousins and their children suffered much from cramp and fatigue, and at five, after an ascent of three hours, we began to descend towards a large tract of cultivated undulating country, in the centre of which is situated a large settlement called Truro. There, at a wretched hostelry, we stopped to dine, but the meal by no means answered to our English ideas of dinner. A cup of tea was placed by each plate; and after the company, principally consisting of agricultural settlers, had made a substantial meal of mutton, and the potatoes for which the country is famous, they solaced themselves with this beverage. No intoxicating liquor was placed upon the table, [Footnote: I write merely of what fell under my own observation, for there has been so much spirit-drinking in Nova Scotia, that the legislature has deemed it expedient to introduce the "Maine Law," with its stringent and somewhat arbitrary provisions.] and I observed the same temperate habits at the inns in New Brunswick, the city of St. John not excepted. It was a great pleasure to me to find that the intemperance so notoriously prevalent among a similar class in England was so completely discouraged in Nova Scotia. The tea was not tempting to an English palate; it was stewed, and sweetened with molasses.
While we were waiting for a fresh stage and horses, several waggons came up, laden with lawyers, storekeepers, and ship-carpenters, who with their families were flying from the cholera at St. John, New Brunswick.
I enjoyed the next fifty miles exceedingly, as I travelled outside on the driving-seat, with plenty of room to expatiate. The coachman was a very intelligent settler, pressed into the service, because Jengro, the French Canadian driver, had indulged in a fit of intoxication in opposition to a temperance meeting held at Truro the evening before.
Our driver had not tasted spirits for thirty years, and finds that a cup of hot tea at the end of a cold journey is a better stimulant than a glass of grog.
It was just six o'clock when we left Truro; the shades of evening were closing round us, and our road lay over fifty miles of nearly uninhabited country; but there was so much to learn and hear, that we kept up an animated and unflagging conversation hour after hour. The last cleared land was passed by seven, and we entered the forest, beginning a long and tedious ascent of eight miles. At a post-house in the wood we changed horses, and put on some lanterns, not for the purpose of assisting ourselves, but to guide the boy-driver of a waggon or "extra," who, having the responsibility of conducting four horses, came clattering close behind us. The road was hilly, and often ran along the very edge of steep declivities, and our driver, who did not know it well, and was besides a cautious man, drove at a most moderate pace.
Not so the youthful Jehu of the light vehicle behind. He came desperately on, cracking his whip, shouting "G'lang, Gee'p," rattling down hill, and galloping up, and whirling round corners, in spite of the warning "Steady, whoa!" addressed to him by our careful escort. Once the rattling behind entirely ceased, and we stopped, our driver being anxious for the safety of his own team, as well as for the nine passengers who were committed on a dark night to the care of a boy of thirteen. The waggon soon came clattering on again, and remained in disagreeably close proximity to us till we arrived at Pictou.
At ten o'clock, after another long ascent, we stopped to water the horses, and get some refreshment, at a shanty kept by an old Highland woman, well known as "_Nancy Stuart of the Mountain._" Here two or three of us got off, and a comfortable meal was soon provided, consisting of tea, milk, oat-cake, butter, and cranberry and raspberry jam. This meal we shared with some handsome, gloomy-looking, bonneted Highlanders, and some large ugly dogs. The room was picturesque enough, with blackened rafters, deer and cow horns hung round it, and a cheerful log fire. After tea I spoke to Nancy in her native tongue, which so delighted her, that I could not induce her to accept anything for my meal. On finding that I knew her birthplace in the Highlands, she became quite talkative, and on wishing her good bye with the words "_Oiche mhaith dhuibh; Beannachd luibh!" [Footnote: Good night; blessings be with you.] she gave my hand a true Highland grasp with both of hers; a grasp bringing back visions of home and friends, and "the bonnie North countrie."
A wild drive we had from this place to Pictou. The road lay through forests which might have been sown at the beginning of time. Huge hemlocks threw high their giant arms, and from between their dark stems gleamed the bark of the silver birch. Elm, beech, and maple flourished; I missed alone the oak of England.
The solemn silence of these pathless roads was broken only by the note of the distant bull-frog; meteors fell in streams of fire, the crescent moon occasionally gleamed behind clouds from which the lightning flashed almost continually, and the absence of any familiar faces made me realize at length that I was a stranger in a strange land.
After the subject of the colony had been exhausted, I amused the coachman with anecdotes of the supernatural—stories of ghosts, wraiths, apparitions, and second sight; but he professed himself a disbeliever, and I thought I had failed to make any impression on him, till at last he started at the crackling of a twig, and the gleaming whiteness of a silver birch. He would have liked the stories better, he confessed at length, if the night had not been quite so dark.
The silence of the forest was so solemn, that, remembering the last of the Mohicans, we should not have been the least surprised if an Indian war- whoop had burst upon our startled ears.
We were travelling over the possessions of the Red men. Nothing more formidable occurred than the finding of three tipsy men laid upon the road; and our coachman had to alight and remove them before the vehicle could proceed.
We reached Pictou at a quarter past two on a very chilly starlight morning, and by means of the rude telegraph, which runs along the road, comfortable rooms had been taken for us at an inn of average cleanliness.
Here we met with a storekeeper from Prince Edward Island, and he told us that the parents of my cousins, whom we were about to visit, knew nothing whatever of our intended arrival, and supposed their children to be in Germany.
As a colonial dinner is an aggregate of dinner and tea, so a colonial breakfast is a curious complication of breakfast and dinner, combining, I think, the advantages of both. It is only an extension of the Highland breakfast; fish of several sorts, meat, eggs, and potatoes, buckwheat fritters and Johnny cake, being served with the tea and coffee.
Pictou may be a flourishing town some day: it has extensive coal-mines; one seam of coal is said to be thirty feet thick. At present it is a most insignificant place, and the water of the harbour is very shallow. The distance from Pictou to Charlotte Town, Prince Edward Island, is sixty miles, and by this route, through Nova Scotia and across Northumberland Strait, the English mail is transmitted once a fortnight.
A fearful catastrophe happened to the _Fairy Queen, a small mail steamer plying between these ports, not long ago. By some carelessness, she sprang a leak and sank; the captain and crew escaping to Pictou in the ship's boats, which were large enough to have saved all the passengers. Here they arrived, and related the story of the wreck, in the hope that no human voice would ever tell of their barbarity and cowardice. Several perished with the ill-fated vessel, among whom were Dr. Mackenzie, a promising young officer, and two young ladies, one of whom was coming to England to be married. A few of the passengers floated off on the upper deck and reached the land in safety, to bear a terrible testimony to the inhumanity which had left their companions to perish. A voice from the dead could not have struck greater horror into the heart of the craven captain than did that of those whom he never expected to meet till the sea should give up her dead. The captain was committed for manslaughter, but escaped the punishment due to his offence, though popular indignation was strongly excited against him. We were told to be on board the _Lady le Marchant_ by twelve o'clock, and endured four hours' detention on her broiling deck, without any more substantial sustenance than was afforded to us by some pine-apples. We were five hours in crossing Northumberland Strait—five hours of the greatest possible discomfort. We had a head-wind and a rough chopping sea, which caused the little steamer to pitch unmercifully. After gaining a distant view of Cape Breton Island, I lay down on a mattress on deck, in spite of the persecutions of an animated friend, who kindly endeavoured to rouse me to take a first view of Prince Edward Island.
When at last, in the comparative calmness of the entrance to Charlotte Town harbour, I stood up to look about me, I could not help admiring the peaceful beauty of the scene. Far in the distance were the sterile cliffs of Nova Scotia and the tumbling surges of the Atlantic, while on three sides we were surrounded by land so low that the trees upon it seemed almost growing out of the water. The soil was the rich red of Devonshire, the trees were of a brilliant green, and sylvan lawns ran up amongst them. The light canoes of the aborigines glided gracefully on the water, or lay high and dry on the beach; and two or three miles ahead the spires and houses of the capital of the island lent additional cheerfulness to the prospect.
We were speedily moored at the wharf, and my cousins, after an absence of eight years, were anxiously looking round for some familiar faces among the throng on the shore. They had purposely avoided giving any intimation to their parents of their intended arrival, lest anything should occur to prevent the visit; therefore they were entirely unexpected. But, led by the true instinct of natural affection, they were speedily recognised by those of their relatives who were on the wharf, and many a joyful meeting followed which must amply have compensated for the dreary separation of years.
It was in an old-English looking, red brick mansion, encircled by plantations of thriving firs—warmly welcomed by relations whom I had never seen, for the sake of those who had been my long-tried friends— surrounded by hearts rejoicing in the blessings of unexpected re-union, and by faces radiant with affection and happiness—that I spent my first evening in the "Garden of British America."
Popular ignorance—The garden island—Summer and winter contrasted—A wooden capital—Island politics, and their consequences—Gossip—"Blowin- time"—Religion and the clergy—The servant nuisance—Colonial society—An evening party—An island premier—Agrarian outrage—A visit to the Indians—The pipe of peace—An Indian coquette—Country hospitality—A missionary—A novel mode of lobster-fishing—Uncivilised life—Far away in the woods—Starvation and dishonesty—An old Highlander and a Highland welcome—Hopes for the future.
I was showing a collection of autographs to a gentleman at a party in a well-known Canadian city, when the volume opened upon the majestic signature of Cromwell. I paused as I pointed to it, expecting a burst of enthusiasm. "Who is Cromwell?" he asked; an ignorance which I should have believed counterfeit had it not been too painfully and obviously genuine.
A yeoman friend in England, on being told that I had arrived safely at Boston, after encountering great danger in a gale, "reckoned that it was somewhere down in Lincolnshire."
With these instances of ignorance, and many more which I could name, fresh in my recollection, I am not at all surprised that few persons should be acquainted with the locality of a spot of earth so comparatively obscure as Prince Edward Island. When I named my destination to my friends prior to my departure from England, it was supposed by some that I was going to the Pacific, and by others that I was going to the north-west coast of America, while one or two, on consulting their maps, found no such island indicated in the part of the ocean where I described it to be placed.
Now, Prince Edward Island is the abode of seventy thousand human beings. It had a garrison, though now the loyalty of its inhabitants is considered a sufficient protection. It has a Governor, a House of Assembly, a Legislative Council, and a Constitution. It has a wooden Government House, and a stone Province Building. It has a town of six thousand people, and an extensive shipbuilding trade, and, lastly, it has a prime minister. As it has not been tourist-ridden, like Canada or the States, and is a terra incognita to many who are tolerably familiar with the rest of our North American possessions, I must briefly describe it, though I am neither writing a guide-book nor an emigrant's directory.
This island was discovered by Sebastian Cabot in 1497, and more than two centuries afterwards received the name of St. John, by which it is still designated in old maps. It received the name of Prince Edward Island in compliment to the illustrious father of our Queen, who bestowed great attention upon it. It has been the arena of numerous conflicts during the endless wars between the French and English. Its aboriginal inhabitants have here, as in other places, melted away before the whites. About three hundred remain, earning a scanty living by shooting and fishing, and profess the Romish faith.
This island is 140 miles in length, and at its widest part 34 in breadth. It is intersected by creeks; every part of its coast is indented by the fierce flood of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and no part of it is more than nine miles distant from some arm of the sea. It bears the name throughout the British provinces of the "Garden of British America." That this title has been justly bestowed, none who have ever visited it in summer will deny.
While Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the banks of the St. Lawrence are brown, even where most fertile, this island is clothed in brilliant green. I suppose that the most elevated land in it is less than 400 feet above the level of the sea; there is not a rock in any part of it, and the stones which may be very occasionally picked up in the recesses of the forest cause much speculation in the minds of the curious and scientific. The features of this country are as soft as the soil. The land is everywhere gently undulating, and, while anything like a hill is unknown, it has been difficult to find a piece of ground sufficiently level for a cricket-field. The north shore is extremely pretty; it has small villages, green clearings, fine harbours, with the trees growing down to the water's edge, and shady streams.
The land is very suitable for agricultural purposes, as also for the rearing of sheep; but the island is totally destitute of mineral wealth. It is highly favoured in climate. The intense heat of a North American summer is here tempered by a cool sea-breeze; fogs are almost unknown, and the air is dry and bracing. Instances of longevity are very common; fever and consumption are seldom met with, and the cholera has never visited its shores. Wages are high, and employment abundant; land is cheap and tolerably productive; but though a competence may always be obtained, I never heard of any one becoming rich through agricultural pursuits. Shipbuilding is the great trade of the island, and the most profitable one. Everywhere, even twenty miles inland, and up among the woods, ships may be seen in course of construction. These vessels are sold in England and in the neighbouring colonies; but year by year, as its trade increases, the island requires a greater number for its own use.
In summer, the island is a very agreeable residence; the sandy roads are passable, and it has a bi-weekly communication with the neighbouring continent. Shooting and fishing may be enjoyed in abundance, and the Indians are always ready to lend assistance in these sports. Bears, which used to be a great attraction to the more adventurous class of sportsmen, are, however, rapidly disappearing.
In winter, I cannot conceive a more dull, cheerless, and desolate place than Prince Edward Island. About the beginning of December steam communication with the continent ceases, and those who are leaving the island hurry their departure. Large stocks of fuel are laid in, the harbour is deserted by the shipping, and all out-door occupations gradually cease. Before Christmas the frost commences, the snow frequently lies six feet deep, and soon the harbours and the adjacent ocean freeze, and the island is literally "locked in regions of thick-ribbed ice" for six long months. Once a fortnight during the winter an ice-boat crosses Northumberland Strait, at great hazard, where it is only nine miles wide, conveying the English mail; but sometimes all the circumstances are not favourable, and the letters are delayed for a month—the poor islanders being locked meanwhile in their icebound prison, ignorant of the events which may be convulsing the world. Charlotte Town, the capital of the island and the seat of government, is very prettily situated on a capacious harbour, which was defended by several heavy guns. It is a town of shingles, but looks very well from the sea. With the exception of Quebec, it is considered the prettiest town in British America; but while Quebec is a city built on a rock, Charlotte Town closely borders upon a marsh, and its drainage has been very much neglected.
There are several commons in the town, the grass of which is of a peculiarly brilliant green, and, as these are surrounded by houses, they give it a cheerful appearance. The houses are small, and the stores by no means pretentious. The streets are unlighted, and destitute of side walks; there is not an attempt at paving, and the grips across them are something fearful. "Hold on" is a caution as frequently given as absolutely necessary. I have travelled over miles of corduroy road in a springless waggon, and in a lumber waggon, drawn by oxen, where there was no road at all, but I never experienced anything like the merciless joint-dislocating jolting which I met with in Charlotte Town. This island metropolis has two or three weekly papers of opposite sides in politics, which vie with each other in gross personalities and scurrilous abuse.
The colony has "responsible government," a Governor, a Legislative Council, and a House of Assembly, and storms in politics are not at all unfrequent. The members of the Lower House are elected by nearly universal suffrage, and it is considered necessary that the "Premier" should have a majority in it. This House is said to be on a par with Irish poor-law guardian meetings for low personalities and vehement vituperation.
The genius of Discord must look complacently on this land. Politics have been a fruitful source of quarrels, misrepresentation, alienation, and division. The opposition parties are locally designated "snatchers" and "snarlers," and no love is lost between the two. It is broadly affirmed that half the people on the island do not speak to the other half. And, worse than all, religious differences have been brought up as engines wherewith to wreak political animosities. I never saw a community in which people appeared to hate each other so cordially. The flimsy veil of etiquette does not conceal the pointed sneer, the malicious innuendo, the malignant backbiting, and the unfounded slander. Some of the forms of society are observed in the island—that extreme of civilisation vulgarly called "cutting" is common; morning calls are punctiliously paid and returned, and there are occasional balls and tea-parties. Quebec is described as being the hottest and coldest town in the world, Paris the gayest, London the richest; but I should think that Charlotte Town may bear away the palm for being the most gossiping.
There is a general and daily flitting about of its inhabitants after news of their neighbours—all that is said and done within a three-mile circle is reported, and, of course, a great deal of what has neither been said nor done. There are certain people whose business it is to make mischief, and mischief-making is a calling in which it does not require much wit to be successful.
The inhabitants are a sturdy race, more than one-half of them being of Scotch descent. They are prevented from attaining settled business-like habits by the long winter, which puts a stop to all out-door employment. This period, when amusement is the only thing thought of, is called in the colonies "blowin-time." All the country is covered with snow, and the inhabitants have nothing to do but sleigh about, play ball on the ice, drive the young ladies to quilting frolics and snow picnics, drink brandy- and-water, and play at whist for sixpenny points.
The further you go from Charlotte Town, the more primitive and hospitable the people become; they warmly welcome a stranger, and seem happy, moral, and contented. This island is the only place in the New World where I met with any who believed in the supernatural. One evening I had been telling some very harmless ghost stories to a party by moonlight, and one of my auditors, a very clever girl, fancied during the night that she saw something stirring in her bed-room. In the idea that the ghost would attack her head rather than her feet, she tied up her feet in her bonnet- de-nuit, put them upon the pillow, and her head under the quilt—a novel way of cheating a spiritual visitant.
There are numerous religious denominations in the colony, all enjoying the same privileges, or the absence of any. I am not acquainted with the number belonging to each, but would suppose the Roman Catholics to be the most dominant, from the way in which their church towers over the whole town. There are about eleven Episcopalian clergymen, overworked and underpaid. Most of these are under the entire control of the Bishop of Nova Scotia, and are removable at his will and pleasure. This will Bishop Binney exercises in a very capricious and arbitrary manner.
Some of these clergymen are very excellent and laborious men. I may particularise Dr. Jenkins, for many years chief minister of Charlotte Town, whose piety, learning, and Christian spirit would render him an ornament to the Church of England in any locality. Even among the clergy, some things might seem rather peculiar to a person fresh from England. A clergyman coming to a pause in his sermon, one of his auditors from the floor called up "Propitiation;" the preacher thanked him, took the word, and went on with his discourse.
The difficulty of procuring servants, which is felt from the Government House downwards, is one of the great objections to this colony. The few there are know nothing of any individual department of work,—for instance, there are neither cooks nor housemaids, they are strictly "helps"—the mistress being expected to take more than her fair share of the work. They come in and go out when they please, and, if anything dissatisfies them, they ask for their wages, and depart the same day, in the certainty that their labour will command a higher price in the United States. It is not an uncommon thing for a gentleman to be obliged to do the work of gardener, errand-boy, and groom. A servant left at an hour's notice, saying, "she had never been so insulted before," because her master requested her to put on shoes when she waited at table; and a gentleman was obliged to lie in bed because his servant had taken all his shirts to the wash, and had left them while she went to a "frolic" with her lover.
The upper class of society in the island is rather exclusive, but it is difficult to say what qualification entitles a man to be received into "society." The entree at Government House is not sufficient; but a uniform is powerful, and wealth is omnipotent. The present governor, Mr. Dominick Daly, is a man of great suavity of manner. He has a large amount of finesse, which is needful in a colony where people like the supposition that they govern themselves, but where it is absolutely necessary that a firm hand should hold the reins. The island is prospering under its new form of "responsible government;" its revenue is increasing; it is out of debt; and Mr. Daly, whose tenure of power has been very short, will without doubt considerably develop its resources. Mrs. Daly is an invalid, but her kindness makes her deservedly popular, together with her amiable and affable daughters, the elder of whom is one of the most beautiful girls whom I saw in the colonies.
I remained six weeks in this island, being detained by the cholera, which was ravaging Canada and the States. I spent the greater part of this time at the house of Captain Swabey, a near relation of my father's, at whose house I received every hospitality and kindness. Captain Swabey is one of the most influential inhabitants of the island, as, since the withdrawal of the troops, the direction of its defences has been intrusted to him, in consideration of his long experience in active service. He served in the land forces which assisted Nelson at the siege of Copenhagen. He afterwards served with distinction through the Peninsular war, and, after receiving a ball in the knee at Vittoria, closed his military career at the battle of Waterloo. It is not a little singular that Mr. Hensley, another of the principal inhabitants, and a near neighbour of Captain Swabey's, fought at Copenhagen under Lord Nelson, where part of his cheek- bone was shot away.
While I was there, the governor gave his first party, to which, as a necessary matter of etiquette, all who had left cards at Government House were invited. I was told that I should not see such a curious mixture anywhere else, either in the States or in the colonies. There were about a hundred and fifty persons present, including all the officers of the garrison and customs, and the members of the government. The "prime minister," the Hon. George Coles, whose name is already well known in the colonies, was there in all the novel glories of office and "red-tapeism."
I cannot say that this gentleman looked at all careworn; indeed the cares of office, even in England, have ceased to be onerous, if one may judge from the ease with which a premier of seventy performs upon the parliamentary stage; but Mr. Coles looked particularly the reverse. He is justified in his complacent appearance, for he has a majority in the house, a requisite scarcely deemed essential in England, and the finances of the colony are flourishing under his administration. He is a self-made and self-educated man, and by his own energy, industry, and perseverance, has raised himself to the position which he now holds; and if his manners have not all the finish of polite society, and if he does sometimes say "Me and the governor," his energy is not less to be admired.
Another member of the government appeared in a yellow waistcoat and brown frock-coat; but where there were a great many persons of an inferior class it was only surprising that there should be so few inaccuracies either in dress or deportment. There were some very pretty women, and almost all were dressed with simplicity and good taste. The island does not afford a band, but a pianist and violinist played most perseveringly, and the amusements were kept up with untiring spirit till four in the morning.
The governor and his family behaved most affably to their guests, and I was glad to observe that in such a very mixed company not the slightest vulgarity of manner was perceptible.
It may be remarked, however, that society is not on so safe a footing as in England. Such things as duels, but of a very bloodless nature, have been known: people occasionally horsewhip and kick each other; and if a gentleman indulges in the pastime of breaking the windows of another gentleman, he receives a bullet for his pains. Some time ago, a gentleman connected with a noble family in Scotland, emigrated to the island with a large number of his countrymen, to whom he promised advantageous arrangements with regard to land. He was known by the name of Tracadie. After his tenants had made a large outlay upon their farms, Tracadie did not fulfil his agreements, and the dissatisfaction soon broke forth into open outrage. Conspiracies were formed against him, his cows and carts were destroyed, and night after night the country was lighted by the flames of his barns and mills. At length he gave loaded muskets to some of his farm-boys, telling them to shoot any one they saw upon his premises after dusk. The same evening he went into his orchard, and was standing with his watch in his hand waiting to set it by the evening gun, when the boys fired, and he fell severely wounded. When he recovered from this, he was riding out one evening, when he was shot through the hat and hip by men on each side of the road, and fell weltering in blood. So detested was he, that several persons passed by without rendering him any assistance. At length one of his own tenantry, coming by, took him into Charlotte Town in a cart, but was obliged shortly afterwards to leave the island, to escape from the vengeance which would have overtaken the succourer of a tyrant. Tracadie was shot at five or six different times. Shortly after my arrival in the island, he went to place his daughter in a convent at Quebec, and died there of the cholera.
One day, with a party of youthful friends, I crossed the Hillsboro' Creek, to visit the Indians. We had a large heavy boat, with cumbrous oars, very ill balanced, and a most inefficient crew, two of them being boys either very idle or very ignorant, and, as they kept tumbling backwards over the thwarts, one gentleman and I were left to do all the work. On our way we came upon an Indian in a bark canoe, and spent much of our strength in an ineffectual race with him, succeeding in nothing but in getting aground. We had very great difficulty in landing, and two pretty squaws indulged in hearty laughter at our numerous failures.
After scrambling through a wood, we came upon an Indian village, consisting of fifteen wigwams. These are made of poles, tied together at the upper end, and are thatched with large pieces of birch-bark. A hole is always left at the top to let out the smoke, and the whole space occupied by this primitive dwelling is not larger than a large circular dining- table. Large fierce dogs, and uncouth, terrified-looking, lank-haired children, very scantily clothed, abounded by these abodes. We went into one, crawling through an aperture in the bark. A fire was burning in the middle, over which was suspended a kettle of fish. The wigwam was full of men and squaws, and babies, or "papooses," tightly strapped into little trays of wood. Some were waking, others sleeping, but none were employed, though in several of the camps I saw the materials for baskets and bead- work. The eyes of all were magnificent, and the young women very handsome, their dark complexions and splendid hair being in many instances set off by a scarlet handkerchief thrown loosely round the head.
We braved the ferocity of numerous dogs, and looked into eight of these abodes; Mr. Kenjins, from the kind use he makes of his medical knowledge, being a great favourite with the Indians, particularly with the young squaws, who seemed thoroughly to understand all the arts of coquetry. We were going into one wigwam when a surly old man opposed our entrance, holding out a calabash, vociferous voices from the interior calling out, "Ninepence, ninepence!" The memory of Uncas and Magua rose before me, and I sighed over the degeneracy of the race. These people are mendicant and loquacious. When you go in, they begin a list of things which they want—blankets, powder, tobacco, &c.; always concluding with, "Tea, for God's sake!" for they have renounced the worship of the Great Spirit for a corrupted form of Christianity.
We were received in one camp by two very handsome squaws, mother and daughter, who spoke broken English, and were very neat and clean. The floor was thickly strewn with the young shoots of the var, and we sat down with them for half an hour. The younger squaw, a girl of sixteen, was very handsome and coquettish. She had a beautiful cap, worked in beads, which she would not put on at the request of any of the ladies; but directly Mr. Kenjins hinted a wish to that effect, she placed it coquettishly on her head, and certainly looked most bewitching. Though only sixteen, she had been married two years, and had recently lost her twins. Mr. Kenjins asked her the meaning of an Indian phrase. She replied in broken English, "What one little boy say to one little girl: I love you." "I suppose your husband said so to you before you were married?" "Yes, and he say so now," she replied, and both she and her mother laughed long and uncontrollably. These Indians retain few of their ancient characteristics, except their dark complexions and their comfortless nomade way of living. They are not represented in the Legislative Assembly.
Very different are the Indians of Central America, the fierce Sioux, Comanches, and Blackfeet. In Canada West I saw a race differing in appearance from the Mohawks and Mic-Macs, and retaining to a certain extent their ancient customs. Among these tribes I entered a wigwam, and was received in sullen silence. I seated myself on the floor with about eight Indians; still not a word was spoken. A short pipe was then lighted and offered to me. I took, as previously directed, a few whiffs of the fragrant weed, and then the pipe was passed round the circle, after which the oldest man present began to speak. [Footnote: "Why has our white sister visited the wigwams of her red brethren?" was the salutation with which they broke silence—a question rather difficult to answer.] This pipe is the celebrated calumet, or pipe of peace, and it is considered even among the fiercest tribes as a sacred obligation. A week before I left Prince Edward Island I went for a tour of five days in the north-west of the island with Mr. and Miss Kenjins. This was a delightful change, an uninterrupted stream of novelty and enjoyment. It was a relief from Charlotte Town, with its gossiping morning calls, its malicious stories, its political puerilities, its endless discussions on servants, turnips, and plovers; it was a bound into a region of genuine kindness and primitive hospitality.
We left Charlotte Town early on a brilliant morning, in a light waggon, suitably attired for "roughing it in the bush." Our wardrobes, a draught- board, and a number of books (which we never read), were packed into a carpetbag of most diminutive proportions. We took large buffalo robes with us, in case we should not be able to procure a better shelter for the night than a barn. We were for the time being perfectly congenial, and determined on thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We sang, and rowed, and fished, and laughed, and made others laugh, and were perfectly happy, never knowing and scarcely caring where we should obtain shelter for the night. Our first day's dinner was some cold meat and bread, eaten in a wood, our horse eating his oats by our side; and we made drinking-cups, in Indian fashion, of birch-tree bark—cups of Tantalus, properly speaking, for very little of the water reached our lips. While engaged in drawing some from a stream, the branch on which I leaned gave way, and I fell into the water, a mishap which amused my companions so much that they could not help me out.
After a journey of thirty miles our further course was stopped by a wide river, with low wooded hills and promontories, but there was no ferry- boat, so, putting up our horse in a settler's barn, we sat on the beach till a cranky, leaky boat, covered with fish-scales, was with some difficulty launched, and a man took us across the beautiful stream. This kindly individual came for us again the next morning, and would accept nothing but our thanks for his trouble. The settler in whose barn we had left our horse fed him well with oats, and was equally generous. The people in this part of the island are principally emigrants from the north of Scotland, who thus carry Highland hospitality with them to their distant homes. After a long walk through a wood, we came upon a little church, with a small house near it, and craved a night's hospitality. The church was one of those strongholds of religion and loyalty which I rejoice to see in the colonies. There, Sabbath after Sabbath, the inhabitants of this peaceful locality worship in the pure faith of their forefathers: here, when "life's fitful fever" is over, they sleep in the hallowed ground around these sacred walls. Nor could a more peaceful resting-place be desired: from the graveyard one could catch distant glimpses of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and tall pine-trees flung their dark shadows over the low green graves.
Leaving our friends in the house, we went down to a small creek running up into the woods, the most formidable "longer fences" not intercepting our progress. After some ineffectual attempts to gain possession of a log- canoe, we launched a leaky boat, and went out towards the sea. The purple beams of the setting sun fell upon the dark pine woods, and lay in long lines upon the calm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was a glorious evening, and the scene was among the fairest which I saw in the New World. On our return we found our host, the missionary, returned from his walk of twenty-two miles, and a repast of tea, wheaten scones, raspberries, and cream, awaited us. This good man left England twenty-five years ago, and lived for twenty in one of the most desolate parts of Newfoundland. Yet he has retained his vivid interest in England, and kept us up till a late hour talking over its church and people. Contented in his isolated position, which is not without its severe hardships, this good missionary pursues his useful course unnoticed by the world as it bustles along; his sole earthly wish seems to be that he may return to England to die.
The next morning at seven we left his humble home, where such hospitality had awaited us, and he accompanied us to the river. He returned to his honourable work—I shortly afterwards went to the United States—another of the party is with the Turkish army in the Crimea—and the youngest is married in a distant land. For several hours we passed through lovely scenery, on one of the loveliest mornings I ever saw. We stopped at the hut of an old Highland woman, who was "terribly glad" to see us, and gave us some milk; and we came up with a sturdy little barefooted urchin of eight years old, carrying a basket. "What's your name?" we asked. "Mr. Crazier," was the bold and complacent reply.
At noon we reached St. Eleanor's, rather a large village, where we met with great hospitality for two days at the house of a keeper of a small store, who had married the lively and accomplished daughter of an English clergyman. The two Irish servant-girls were ill, but she said she should be delighted to receive us if we would help her to do the household work. The same afternoon we drove to the house of a shipbuilder at a little hamlet called Greenshore, and went out lobster-fishing in his beautiful boat. The way of fishing for these creatures was a novel one to me, but so easy that a mere novice may be very successful. We tied sinks to mackerel, and let them down in six fathoms water. We gently raised them now and then, and, if we felt anything pulling the bait, raised it slowly up. Gently, gently, or the fish suspects foul play; but soon, just under the surface, I saw an immense lobster, and one of the gentlemen caught it by the tail and threw it into the boat. We fished for an hour, and caught fifteen of these esteemed creatures, which we took to the house in a wheelbarrow. At night we drove to St. Eleanor's, taking some of our spoil with us, and immediately adjourned to the kitchen, a large, unfinished place built of logs, with a clay floor and huge smoke-stained rafters. We sat by a large stove in the centre, and looked as if we had never known civilised life. Miss Kenjins and I sat on either side of the fireplace in broad-brimmed straw hats, Mrs. Maccallummore in front, warming the feet of the unhappy baby, who bad been a passive spectator of the fishing; the three gentlemen stood round in easy attitudes, these, be it remembered, holding glasses of brandy and water; and the two invalid servants stood behind, occasionally uttering suppressed shrieks as Mr. Oppe took one out of a heap of lobsters and threw it into a caldron of boiling water on the stove. This strange scene was illuminated by a blazing pine-knot. Mr. Kenjins laughingly reminded me of the elegant drawing-room in which he last saw me in England—"Look on this picture and on that."