Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/America seventy years ago: an imaginary tour
AMERICA SEVENTY YEARS AGO.
AN IMAGINARY TOUR.
It is 179—, and we have just arrived from England. We may have long had a desire to see foreign countries. We may have incautiously toasted the French Revolution, and pointed out the errors of the British Constitution, at some meeting in celebration of the Burning of the Bastille, under the presidency of Doctors Priestley or Kippis, and have thereby incurred the odium of the powers that be. No,—we are simply inflamed by an insane hope of retrieving our damaged fortunes in the land of liberty on the other side of the Atlantic. Having turned our available property into cash, we invested it in American six per cents. and shares in the National Bank. We were assured that we should net something handsome. Alas! there comes a time when we realise at a loss of fifteen per cent.!
We paid the captain of an American two-master, called at that time a “senam,” or “snow,” no less than thirty guineas, with a promise of further remuneration in case of a long voyage, for our passage. And such a passage! Six weeks of knocking about in a lumber-ship, ill suited for passengers, of whom there were four besides ourselves. Our curmudgeon of a captain proved himself so bad a purveyor that, at the end of the first week, we were reduced to “ship’s allowance,” salt beef, pork, and biscuit.
One morning there is a cry of “A sail astern!” and, sure enough, a vessel under press of canvas is in chase of us. A gun is fired—we take no notice; a second drops a shot close in our wake—we hoist American colours. Our pursuer displays the British ensign, but we have seen through our telescope a greasy cap of liberty at the masthead. Presently the English flag is lowered, and replaced by the French tricolor. She is a French sans-culotte privateer; and, as she comes within hailing distance, we see that the crew are literally sans-culottes! Four of these worthies come off to overhaul us, headed by a squat, tawny, and savage-looking Frenchman, about four feet and a half high. A blue coat, with red facings and enormous “liberty-and-equality” buttons, covers his back. A coarse and dirty red cloth kilt envelopes his aldermanic paunch, descending scarcely to his knees. In his belt are a pair of melo-dramatic-looking pistols, at his waist dangles a gigantic sabre, fit only for a horse trooper, and on his hydrocephalic-looking head is a portentous cocked hat, with a plume of feathers enough for three or four. We would fain laugh, but it is no laughing matter. Everybody’s luggage is ransacked; and in ours is found the counterpart of the lease of our ancestral mansion to a wealthy parvenu (between ourselves, he is quite as good as we are, only he has more of this world’s goods). “In the thirtieth year of the reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Third,” reads the French captain; “Diable! it is a commission from old George.” We explain to the best of our ability; and after numerous apologies and fraternal hugs, the sans-culottes let us go harmless; nay, they actually man their yards, and give us three cheers!
Adverse winds, heavy seas, Newfoundland fogs, and loss of reckoning, varied by the amusement of forcing our skipper to disgorge five pounds of passage-money to each, have filled up the rest of our time until we tread terra firma once more. Such is the train of events which enables us to say “We have just arrived from England.”
A crowd is gathered on the wharf to see us land. A mingled mass of wealth and poverty. They cry in chorus, “What news from England?” So eagerly curious are they, and so evidently ready to swallow anything, that we cannot resist a mild joke at their expense. “More than fifty thousand men,” say we, “rose in London the morning before we sailed!” Ha! ha! Three cheers! The Republic of Great Britain is inaugurated at last! Any misfortune to Old England was joyfully greeted then, as now, by our loving American cousins. “What then? What did they do then?” is shouted from a score of throats. “That night they went to bed again!” A very mild joke; yet it might have caused us to be roughly handled. Fortunately, if a Yankee is fool enough to let himself be taken in, he will bear it with at least the appearance of good humour; merely making a mental note of the fact for his future guidance, either to play the trick off on somebody else, or to avoid it himself.
Questions assail us on all sides; for unbounded curiosity about other people’s business has ever been a national trait in the American character. We have not been many days in New England,—for it was to Boston that chance and the “snow” took us, and we are now making the best of our way to New York—when we fancy a pretty little cottage which we are told is to let, on the Connecticut river. We knock at the door: it is opened by a woman.
“Pray what is the rent of this house?” we inquire, with our politest manner.
“And where be you from?” is the reply.
“Pray, madam, is this house to be let?”
“Be you from New York or Boston?”
The house is half way between those two towns. We become impatient.
“Will you be kind enough, madam, to say what is the price demanded for this little place?”
Still no answer; only a question: “Pray what may you be?” We turn away in disgust.
The next day is Sunday; and in Connecticut the Sabbath is most rigidly kept. We have unfortunately arrived at a miserable tavern on Saturday evening, and there, until Monday morning, are we obliged to remain. The stage is not allowed to run on the Lord’s day. There is little use in pushing along on horseback, even if the requisite animal could be obtained. You would be stopped as you passed the first meeting-house where service was going on, and, being forcibly dismounted, would be compelled to listen to whatever doctrine might chance to be in process of expounding.
Let us take a walk by the river-side. A concourse of people attracts our attention. We join the crowd, and find that the process of baptism by immersion is going on. It is freezing hard! The ice has been cleared away for some twenty yards in every direction, but a fatigue party of believers has been told off to keep the hallowed water from freezing with poles and staves. A few moments would suffice to coat it with ice again. To test the faith of proselytes, the coldest days are chosen for these ceremonies, and the services are intentionally prolonged. Intense faith is supposed to make the day mild and the water of summer temperature. The minister at last finishes his exhortation, and the penitents are led forth. This is the order of procession:—Members of the meeting already baptised lead the way, two and two; then the priest, singing loudly in honour of St. John the Baptist; then twelve novices of both sexes, hand in hand, clad in long gowns. As they approach the stream the already immersed members file off to right and left along the margin, and the minister, without slackening his pace, walks steadily nearly breast-high into the freezing stream. His singing dies away in short short gasps as the water rises above his hips. His fanatical disciples, with a resolution worthy of a better cause, follow him. When the pastor recovers his breath, he devotes a few minutes to a solemn exhortation on baptism; then, seizing the nearest devotee, he entirely immerses him or her, as the case may be, with the dexterity of a practised bathing-man. Another short prayer is followed by another immersion, until all are gasping, coughing, and wiping the water out of their eyes. They have spent about ten minutes in the icy stream!
We listen to the remarks of the bystanders, who, although evidently not of the Baptist persuasion, do not treat the performance with the ridicule we expected. We are told that these fanatics, notwithstanding the severity of the season, will not take cold. We should have anticipated that these duckings would have been frequently attended with fatal results. A dry humourist at our elbow calculates they are, sometimes. There is a merry twinkle in his eye as he relates the following story of a public baptism by immersion:—
“It was just such a day as this, now a many years ago, that Parson Dearborn lost one of his lambs in this here stream, only a few miles lower down. They’d broke the ice, and Dearborn was up to his waist in the middle of the hole. The stream was so strong he’d much ado to keep on his legs. The first as come to be ducked was old Mar’m Bigelow, but when the parson had let her down into the water he lost his hold, and away she went under the ice. Now, Parson Dearborn was not a man to be put out, so, says he, quite calm, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord: come another of you, my children.’ But no more would come. I reckon they all lost their faith,—anyhow they made tracks.”
“And what became of Mrs. Bigelow?” we inquire, with horror.
“Wal, I calculate nothing was seen of Mar’m Bigelow for a fortnight, when a fishing-boat picked her up in Long Island Sound.”
Poor Mrs. Bigelow! it was a consolation to hear that she was picked up, and did not go to feed the lobsters for which the Sound is famous. Apropos of lobsters, our humorous friend has another story to tell us. It is to be feared that our power of swallow must have appeared very large. We ought to see the lobsters caught in the Bay of Fundy, ought we? Yes, it was not uncommon to take them fifty or sixty pounds in weight, so that a dozen hungry men could easily sup off a single lobster, and leave enough fragments to satisfy somebody else! A sense of greenness pervades us: how otherwise should any one attempt so to impose?
This will never do. We want facts—our own experience, and not that of others. For instance, we know that we pay fourpence per mile currency (threepence sterling of our money) for our seat in the New York mail-coach, and that we are only allowed fourteen pounds of luggage. We also know that there are no turnpikes, and that we are not expected to give any fees to drivers. Ha! this is better. These dry facts restore us. Travellers see quite enough strange things with their own eyes without borrowing from friends or chance acquaintances.
The women in the country towns do not wear caps, and many of them have their hair plaited at full length down their backs like a queue, giving them a Swiss appearance not at all becoming in our eyes. Here is an American officer,—the first we have seen. His dress consists of a blue coat of superfine cloth, with scarlet facings and cuffs, and a buff cashmere waistcoat and breeches. A fine, handsome fellow, whose dress suits him right well. At Hartford a very reverend-looking old gentleman gets in, who more than fills the only vacant seat of our eight-inside. He had on a tremendous full-bottomed wig of the last century (the seventeenth, not the eighteenth, bear in mind), and fills us with mingled feelings of reverence and the ridiculous. We learn that he is Deacon Bishop, an elder of the Presbyterian church at Newhaven. A reserved and silent man, yet, when he does speak, he displays an amiability and intelligence not at all in accordance with his primitive dress and appearance.
The universal topic of conversation in this country is politics. Since we have set foot in the United States we find newspapers in every village. Our chance acquaintances are mostly people of uncouth manners, and without the least education beyond instruction in reading and writing, but their opinions are generally just and sensible. The majority speak well of General Washington, but all show an utter indifference on the subject of his resignation. “He is old, and men cannot last for ever;” such is the general remark. Less importance is attached to the choice of his sucessor than we should have expected. “John Adams,” said a tavern-keeping colonel named Beverley, “is a good man; Jefferson is also a good man; we cannot fail to find good men in America.” When we stop at an inn, it appears somewhat strange to European eyes to see the coachman eat at the same table as the passengers; but it would appear equally strange to the Americans to see the coachman eating by himself. Generally speaking, he is the best informed as to general news on the coach; he is always a great politician, and frequently names his horses after the President and Vice-President, and if he has a horse that wants the whip he will name him after some man that he dislikes, so as to have the pleasure of flogging him in fancy. By-the-bye, our coachman for the last stage is a colonel! On our arrival at Newhaven the coach stops at a very good tavern, where we dine sumptuously for half a dollar, or two-and-threepence sterling. The servants who wait are seated, as is customary, except while they are serving us, and the landlord attends with his hat on his head.
Newhaven to New York by water. Distance ninety-four miles. Packets three times a week. We pay two dollars and a half for our berth, and sail at four p.m., arriving at New York in twelve hours. We have the Chief Justice of the United States among the passengers. An unpretending gentleman, whom some young men treat with marked disrespect, although, considering he can sit in judgment on the President, he may be regarded as the first person in the States. In our note-book we find the following sentence, apropos of this: “Americans always affect, if they do not really feel, contempt for their seniors and all persons in office.”
When we hear the captain call out that we are passing Hell Gates, we start out of bed, and go on deck to see this famous eddy. It is nothing to those who know the passage of these dangerous rocks; and we think it very like shooting London Bridge. But stay: it is all very well to underrate the dangers of Hell Gates, when you pass them in a vessel of light draught and under favourable conditions. Lord Howe settled an annuity of fifty pounds a-year on a negro pilot who brought the Experiment, a frigate of fifty guns, successfully through this passage, thereby reinforcing his little fleet most seasonably. One of our fellow-passengers told us that when the Experiment was in the most critical part of the boiling channel, Sir James Wallace, the captain, gave some orders on the quarter-deck; which, in the negro pilot’s opinion, interfered with the duties of his office. He touched Sir James gently on the shoulder, and said:
“Massa, you no peak here.”
Sir James felt the force of Sambo’s remonstrance, and interfered no more.
Travellers who visit England are not satisfied until they have been to London; those who go to France, hurry to Paris without delay; so we, having touched American soil, permit no rest to the soles of our feet until we have visited Philadelphia. We care not for Boston or New York; the former is the Bristol, the latter the Liverpool, of the newly United States. Philadelphia is the London, the seat of government, the metropolis where you may meet President Washington any day in the streets, and see Jefferson tie the bridle of his horse to the railings of the State House.
Business, however, compels us to stay at New York a few days. And who do we meet? What sights do we see? Genet, the late ambassador from sans-culotte France, is staying at the same lodgings, near the battery, and so is young Mr. Mr. Joseph Priestley, waiting the arrival of his father, the well-known Dr. Priestley. M. Genet is on the eve of marrying the daughter of General Clinton, Governor of the State of New York; and, being a Girondist, he dare not return to France, but talks of becoming a naturalised citizen of the States. One day at dinner, a Mr. Priam told us that, in the neighbourhood of Worcester, Connecticut, when their apple-trees grow old and decayed, it was customary to strip off the bark from them, and then a new bark, smooth and healthy, would be produced, and they would bear with fresh vigour. This diverted M. Genet extremely: he was too polite to say that he doubted Mr. Priam’s statement; but, laughing merrily, he declared that, now the long-lost method of restoring youth had been again happily discovered, he would adapt it to man, and when he was old he would himself undergo the operation, and publish the recipe for the benefit of mankind.
Breakfast with General Gates, the hero of Saratoga, and a call from Chancellor Livingston, are two of the noteworthy incidents of our short stay in New York. By-the-bye, there was one sight that we shall not easily forget. We were getting up in the morning; a noise of drums and fifes attracted us to the window, and, behold! on the other side of the Governor’s house, a large body of people, with flags flying, and marching two and two towards the water-side. What can this be? Not another case of baptism by immersion, surely? We are in a country which has no standing army; no sound of drum has invaded our ears since we quitted England: what means this military music? Hurrying down stairs, the mystery is soon explained. It is a procession of young tradesmen going in boats to Governor’s Island, to give the State a day’s work at the fortifications for strengthening the entrance to New York Harbour. This day, it was the whole trade of carpenters and joiners; the masons went on another day; a third day was appropriated to the “grocers, coopers, schoolmasters, and barbers,”—a strange medley! The day before we left New York, the attorneys and all people connected with the law started with mattock and shovel on this patriotic duty. Young Mr. Priestley had joined in one of these working parties, and said it was one of the most cheerful days he ever spent.
Onwards at last to the metropolis! We pay five dollars at the office in Broadway for our place in the waggon. It is cheaper to go to Philadelphia by way of Amboy, but we want to see “the Jerseys.” The next morning finds us ready with our luggage at the office at nine o’clock.
“I say, stranger, you don’t suppose the stage starts from here, do you?”
We had supposed so, but are soon undeceived. With sardonic smile the hard-featured Yankee informs us that we must cross the Hudson to Paulu’s Hook, in the State of New Jersey, where we should find the stage waiting. Indignation is a word that but feebly expresses our feelings on the occasion. To our jaundiced eye the Hudson appears a couple of leagues in breadth, but it is only two miles and a half across. No matter, we are an hour and a half in passing, owing to the heavy rain which has swollen the stream, and we have to pay our own ferryage.
A miserable place is Paulu’s Hook,—the Jersey city of the future,—supported by travellers, all the New York stages and horses for going South being kept there. That clumsy and uncomfortable machine, the American stage waggon, cannot be passed over without some attempt at a description. We have already allowed one opportunity to go by: we must not let another. If one of them, horses, harness, and driver, could be brought to London, it would prove a lucrative exhibition. The one into which we have just scrambled, “The Industry” by name, is calculated to hold twelve persons, who all sit on cross benches with their faces towards the horses. The front seat holds three, one of whom is the driver. Door there is none, so the passengers get in over the front wheels, and sprawl across the driver’s seat. The hind places are most in request, since they allow you to rest your shaken frame against the back of the waggon. Women are generally indulged with it, and if they happen to be late, it is a strange sight to see them scramble over the intermediate men. The waggon is open at the sides, but has a roof supported by props, and is provided with curtains which can be buttoned down or rolled up, as the weather is wet or dry. The inside of the vehicle is crowded with trunks and parcels, which not only cramp but bruise our legs. We are very sorry for a gentlemanly Frenchman, whose politeness is severely tested by the inconveniences he suffers. The driver tells us that he is a poor French duke, who has been ruined by the Revolution.
One of our travelling companions is a West of England clothier, a dry and precise man sometimes, but seldom given to exaggeration. We are discussing musquitoes, which trouble us not a little during the first nine miles to Newark, for the country is very marshy. The clothier, with much gravity, refers to his notes, which are to be published on his return to England, and tells us how certain musquitoes continued sucking his blood on one occasion till they swelled to four times their ordinary size, when they absolutely fell off and burst from their fulness!
The distance to Trenton, sixty-six miles, will not be accomplished before night, and all that time the driver will continue to curse and swear as he is doing now. Terrible thought! Nay, he gets worse as the day wears on, and reaches his climax during the last half dozen miles, when the road is at its worst, and the obstructive stumps of trees most numerous. By this time another of our fellow-travellers had joined our conversation. This is an agreeable young Irishman, whose name, he tells us, is Weld. Alarmed at the disturbed state of his native island, he has come to look at America with the view of making it his permanent abode. Like the clothier, he is collecting notes for a book when he returns to Europe. He is communicative, and, after a sense of rolls and jolts such as no vehicle in the Old World could possibly have survived, he tells us we should try the roads in Maryland, which are incomparably the worst in the Union. “So bad are they,” says he, “that while going from Elkton to the Susquehannah ferry, the driver frequently had to call to the passengers in the stage to lean out of the carriage, first at one side, and then at the other, to prevent being overturned in the ruts. ‘Now, gentlemen, to the right!’ and out went the passengers’ bodies halfway on that side. ‘Now, gentlemen, to the left!’ and the other side of the waggon was duly ballasted.”
Stopping at Trenton all night, we start at six the next morning, and are not deposited safely at the Franklin’s Head, in North-Second-street, Philadelphia, until 2 p.m., albeit the distance is only thirty miles. Little do we imagine that, half a century later, railroad cars will be running almost along the same route, and that our successors of the nineteenth century will be able to make, with ease and comfort in three hours, a journey that has cost us the best part of two days.
An embassy from the Cherokee and Creek Indians had arrived a few days before us. Two of these worthies, rejoicing, as we are told, in the names of Flamingo and Double-head, paraded the streets with great dignity, followed by a crowd of little boys. Our weak-minded clothier acquaintance introduced himself to these savages, telling them that he was a subject of the great King George, on the other side of the great waters, and that he wished to smoke a calumet with them, and to beg a belt of wampum. After a few preliminary grunts, that noble savage Flamingo, tall and stout withal, replied, rising to a climax of yells, and flourishing his tomahawk. The interpreter explained, to the clothier’s horror and dismay, that the pale-face was to understand, among other trifling and irrelevant matters, that he, Flamingo, had, in his lifetime, shed enough blood to swim in! No more talk of calumets or wampum belts; our mild friend had ceased to have any other feelings towards the noble savages save those of terror and disgust.
Let us take up a newspaper, for there is no lack of them. What is this?—“Died in Salem, Mass., Master James Verry, aged twelve, a promising youth, whose early death is supposed to have been brought on by excessive smoking of segars.” Gracious goodness!—what juvenile depravity! Here is an opportunity for some dignified but cutting criticism of a republican state of society: “One of the greatest evils of a republican form of government is”—but there are so many evils, and of such magnitude, that we are not quite prepared yet to single out any particular one. The edge has gone from the sharpness of our disgust, by the time we have had that chat with Taylor the segar-maker at Alexandria, near Washington. While conversing with the father, we observe the son, an infant not four years old, smoking a large segar made of the strongest tobacco! The father exultingly tells us that the child contracted the habit a year ago, and that he now smokes three or four daily, which he cries for if not kept regularly supplied! Yet is the child fat and healthy.
Here is a book, lately published (1789), “The American Geography,” by Jedediah Morse, D.D. We open it casually at “North Carolina,” and read as follows:—“The delicate and entertaining diversion, with propriety called gouging, is thus performed. When two boxers are worried (wearied?) with fighting and bruising each other, they come, as it is called, to close quarters, and each endeavours to twist his forefingers in the ear-locks of his antagonist. When these are fast clinched, the thumbs are extended each way to the nose, and the eyes gently turned out of their sockets. The victor, for his expertness, receives shouts of applause from the sportive throng, while his poor eyeless antagonist is laughed at for his misfortune.” The italics are not ours, but are used by that “sportive” Doctor of Divinity, Jedediah Morse, to add zest to his description. We do not believe Morse: we think he is exaggerating; yet there comes a time when, passing with other travellers through the State of Georgia, we find two combatants, as Morse describes, fast clinched by the hair, and their thumbs endeavouring to force a passage into each other’s eyes, while several of the bystanders are betting upon the first eye to be turned out of its socket. For some time the combatants avoid the thumb-stroke with dexterity. At length they fall to the ground, and in an instant the uppermost springs up with his antagonist’s eye in his hand! The exulting crowd applaud, while we, sick with horror, gallop away with all speed from the infernal scene.
Let us turn to more agreeable incidents. We must not forget that we are still at Philadelphia, where we find that the great heat of the city but ill suits our enfeebled frame. The poor French duke, whose acquaintance we had made, in the stage, advises us to try country air for a few weeks. We will do as he suggests. This same duke is a thorough gentleman, and completely disarms all our preconceived British prejudices against Frenchmen. He has been reduced from princely affluence to a condition which, by comparison, is almost poverty. But he rarely makes any allusion to former days. On one occasion he described to us a singular rencontre he had with an alderman of Newhaven. The duke had, some years before, been made a citizen of that city, and when he passed through, as we have, on his way to New York, he did not neglect to call and thank the mayor and municipality for the honour they had done him. Among the aldermen he recognised one who had last seen him at the head of his table in his French chateau, when he had kindly accorded permission to the worthy alderman and his party to view his house and grounds. We learned from a mutual friend that, when the Revolution drove this duke, who inherited an historical name, from France, he fled to England, and resided for some time at Bury St. Edmunds. While there, an old maiden lady died and left him a moderate fortune, which would have been of great service to him in his very straitened circumstances, but he found out her relations, and restored the money to them, reserving to himself one shilling as a souvenir!
In the course of our excursion into the country we have to cross a ferry,—no very uncommon occurrence in the States. We have bought a carriage, and are travelling, by easy stages, along a route but little used. This ferry belongs to General Washington. Being unprovided with smaller coin, we are compelled to offer the ferryman a gold moidore in payment of this unforeseen charge. He refuses to take it, and, on our inquiring his reason, he replies: “I’ve no weights to weigh it with, and when I take it to the general, he’ll weigh it, and if it shouldn’t be weight, he’ll not only make me lose the difference, but he’ll be angry with me.” After much persuasion, and on our offering to lose threepence on its value, the ferryman consents to take it. A few days later we return by the same route, when, to our astonishment, the ferryman presents us with three halfpence wrapped up in a piece of paper. It seemed that he had taken it to the general, who, on weighing it, found it was not weight to the value of three halfpence; so the great man himself had put the balance of our threepence in paper, with strict injunctions to the ferryman to return it to us, if we returned that way, as he felt almost certain we must.
This quaint example of the general’s exact and methodical habits amuse us greatly, and we mentioned it to the keeper of the tavern where we lodge the same evening. “Wal, yes, I calculate our Gin’ral Washington is about as reg’lar in his habits as any man you ever heerd on. He weighs or counts everything as is bought at Mount Vernon. He is quite as partic’lar about payin’ as receivin’. He and his man breakfasted here one mornin’, and I charged three-and-ninepence for the gin’ral. and only three shillings for the man; but the gin’ral, he says to me, ‘I make no doubt my man has eaten as much as I have, and I shall thank you to charge us both the same.’” We have been told before that it was the general’s custom, when he travelled, to pay as much for his servants’ meals as for his own.
We have not yet seen President Washington, but on our return to Philadelphia we have the honour not only of an interview with him, but, on presenting our letters of introduction, of an invitation to breakfast. He is tall and thin, but erect; rather of an engaging than a dignified presence. A mild, friendly man, very thoughtful and slow in speech, which makes some to think him reserved. His temperate life makes him bear his years well, though he is past sixty. We mark a certain anxiety in his countenance, the natural result of his many cares. His behaviour to us is so kind and courteous that we shall ever revere his name.
Mrs. Washington herself makes tea and coffee for us. On the table are two small plates of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread and butter, &c., but no broiled fish, as is the general custom. Next to Mrs. Washington sits her grand-daughter, Miss Custiss, a very pleasing young lady of about sixteen, and her brother, George Washington Custis, about two years older. There is but little appearance of form, one negro servant only attending, and he has no livery: a silver urn for hot water is the only article of expense on the table. Mrs. Washington appears somewhat older than the President, though we understand they were both born in the same year. She is short in stature, rather stout, and very simply clad, wearing a very plain cap, with her grey hair closely turned up under it. Mrs. Washington holds levees every Wednesday and Saturday at Philadelphia, during the sitting of Congress. On these occasions the ladies are seated in great form round the apartment, and have tea and coffee served to them. The President has a reception once a week, between the hours of three and four in the afternoon. If we attend one of these receptions, which we undoubtedly shall do, we shall find him in court dress, as well as the foreign ministers, always excepting the envoy from the French Republic, who makes a point of going in what, to say the best of it, is an absolute dishabille!
As we leave the General’s we meet our friend the clothier at the corner of Second Street. He tells us he has been, the previous evening, to the New Theatre, where he has seen Mrs. Inchbald’s play, “Every One has his Fault,” with the farce of “No Song, no Supper.” “Mrs. Whitlock, sister to Mrs. Siddons, is the chief actress,” says he, “and the theatre is as elegant, convenient, and large as Covent Garden. I could have fancied myself in England again, the dress and appearance of the company, the actors, and the scenery were so English. The ladies wore the same small bonnets, some of chequered straw, and others had their hair full-dressed, without caps, just as in England. The gentlemen, too, had round hats, high collars to their coats, quite in the ‘mode’; yes, some of them even wore coats of silk striped!” The tailor-like enthusiasm of our friend is very funny, but we remember his trade, and excuse him. His brilliant description, however, determines us to see for ourselves what an American theatre is like. Circumstances compel us to defer our visit for a week or two, when we see the Philadelphia company in the Baltimore theatre. Perhaps we are unfortunate, for great is our disappointment. It may be that one person sees with a democratic eye, while the optic of another is tinged with aristocracy.
We are early in our places in the pit, the back row of which is taken up by a number of very well-dressed boys. These urchins set up a violent clamour, beating with sticks, stamping with their feet, and shrieking loudly for “Yankee Doodle” and “Jefferson’s March,” just as if they had been in the gallery. This juvenile spirit of liberty seems to please the occupiers of the boxes. The stench of tobacco smoke, the fumes of various intoxicating drinks, and the shouts of these youths would be sufficient, but, as if to complete our disgust, a critical-minded buffoon, noisy and coarse-tongued, makes comments, close behind us, in a voice louder than that of the performers. Often do we entreat him to be silent, but in vain; we are reminded that we are in the land of liberty! A London audience would have turned him out. Should we attempt to do so, the whole pit would interfere in his behalf. The play is “Coriolanus;” and, after loading with abuse the “supers” who swell the processions, enact the part of “plebs,” and crowd generally about the stage, when Coriolanus falls a sacrifice to the swords of Tullus Aufidius and the Volscian Chiefs, our buffoon roars out with many oaths,—“That’s not fair; three to one is two much; let him get up again and have a fair chance; one at a time, I say!”
Such are a few of the actual experiences to be met with in the newly United States during the last five years of the eighteenth century.