Roughing it in the Bush/Chapter XIII
Some men, like greedy monsters of the deep,
Still prey upon their kind;—their hungry maws
Engulph their victims like the rav'nous shark
That day and night untiring plies around
The foamy bubbling wake of some great ship;
And when the hapless mariner aloft
Hath lost his hold, and down he falls
Amidst the gurgling waters on her lee,
Then, quick as thought, the ruthless felon-jaws
Close on his form;—the sea is stain'd with blood—
One sharp wild shriek is heard—and all is still!
The lion, tiger, alligator, shark—
The wily fox, the bright enamelled snake—
All seek their prey by force or stratagem;
But when—their hunger sated—languor creeps
Around their frames, they quickly sink to rest.
Not so with man—HE never hath enough;
He feeds on all alike; and, wild or tame,
He's but a cannibal. He burns, destroys,
And scatters death to sate his morbid lust
For empty fame. But when the love of gain
Hath struck its roots in his vile, sordid heart,—
Each gen'rous impulse chill'd,—like vampire, now,
He sucks the life-blood of his friends or foes
Until he viler grows than savage beast.
And when, at length, stretch'd on his bed of death,
And powerless, friendless, o'er his clammy brow
The dark'ning shades descend, strong to the last
His avarice lives; and while he feebly plucks
His wretched coverlet, he gasps for breath,
And thinks he gathers gold!
I had a letter of introduction to a gentleman of large property, at C—, who, knowing that I wished to purchase a farm, very kindly drove me out to several lots of land in the immediate neighbourhood. He showed me seven or eight very eligible lots of cleared land, some of them with good houses and orchards; but somehow or other, on inquiry, I found they all belonged to himself, and, moreover, the prices were beyond my limited means. For one farm he asked 1000 pounds; for another, 1500 pounds, and so on. After inquiring in other quarters, I saw I had no chance of getting a farm in that neighbourhood for the price I could afford to pay down, which was only about 300 pounds. After satisfying myself as to this fact, I thought it the wiser course at once to undeceive my very obliging friend, whose attentions were obviously nicely adjusted to the estimate he had formed in his own mind of my pecuniary resources.
On communicating this discouraging fact, my friend's countenance instantly assumed a cold and stony expression, and I almost expected that he would have stopped his horses and set me down, to walk with other poor men. As may well be supposed, I was never afterwards honoured with a seat in his carriage. He saw just what I was worth, and I saw what his friendship was worth; and thus our brief acquaintance terminated.
Having thus let the cat out of the bag, when I might, according to the usual way of the world, have sported for awhile in borrowed plumage, and rejoiced in the reputation of being in more prosperous circumstances without fear of detection, I determined to pursue the same course, and make use of the little insight I had obtained into the ways of the land-jobbers of Canada, to procure a cleared farm on more reasonable terms.
It is not uncommon for the land speculators to sell a farm to a respectable settler at an unusually low price, in order to give a character to a neighbourhood where they hold other lands, and thus to use him as a decoy duck for friends or countrymen.
There was very noted character at C—, Mr. Q—, a great land-jobber, who did a large business in this way on his own account, besides getting through a great deal of dirty work for other more respectable speculators, who did not wish to drink at taverns and appear personally in such matters. To Mr. Q— I applied, and effected a purchase of a farm of one hundred and fifty acres, about fifty of which were cleared, for 300 pounds, as I shall mention more particularly in the sequel. In the meantime, the character of this distinguished individual was—for he was long gone to give an account of his misdeeds in the other world—so remarkable, that I must endeavour to describe it for the edification of the reader. Q— kept a shop, or store, in C—; but he left the principal management of this establishment to his clerks; while, taking advantage of the influx of emigrants, he pursued, with unrivalled success, the profitable business of land-jobbing.
In his store, before taking to this business, he had been accustomed for many years to retail goods to the farmers at high prices, on the usual long credit system. He had thus got a number of farmers deeply in his debt, and, in many cases, in preference to suing them, had taken mortgages on their farms. By this means, instead of merely recovering the money owing to him by the usual process of law, he was enabled, by threatening to foreclose the mortgages, to compel them to sell their farms nearly on his own terms, whenever an opportunity occurred to re-sell them advantageously to new comers. Thus, besides making thirty or forty per cent. on his goods, he often realised more than a hundred per cent. on his land speculations.
In a new country, where there is no great competition in mercantile business, and money is scarce, the power and profits of store-keepers are very great. Mr. Q— was one of the most grasping of this class. His heart was case-hardened, and his conscience, like gum, elastic; it would readily stretch, on the shortest notice, to any required extent, while his well-tutored countenance betrayed no indication of what was passing in his mind. But I must not forget to give a sketch of the appearance, or outward man, of this highly-gifted individual.
He was about the middle size, thin and limber, and somewhat loose in his lower joints, like most of the native Canadians and Yankees. He had a slight stoop in his shoulders, and his long, thin neck was continually stretched out before him, while his restless little cunning eyes were roaming about in search of prey. His face, when well watched, was an index to his selfish and unfeeling soul. Complexion he had none, except that sempiternally enduring red-and-tawny mixture which is acquired by exposure and hard drinking. His cheeks and the corners of his eyes were marked by an infinity of curved lines, and, like most avaricious and deceitful men, he had a long, crooked chin, and that peculiar prominent and slightly aquiline nose which, by people observant of such indications, has been called "the rogue's nose." But how shall I describe his eye—that small hole through which you can see an honest man's heart? Q—'s eye was like no other eye I had ever seen. His face and mouth could assume a good-natured expression, and smile; but his eye was still the same—it never smiled, but remained cold, hard, dry, and inscrutable. If it had any expression at all, it was an unhappy one. Such were the impressions created by his appearance, when the observer was unobserved by him; for he had the art of concealing the worst traits of his character in an extraordinary degree, and when he suspected that the curious hieroglyphics which Nature had stamped on his visage were too closely scanned, he knew well how to divert the investigator's attention to some other object.
He was a humorist, besides, in his way, because he found that jokes and fun admirably served his turn. They helped to throw people off their guard, and to conceal his hang-dog look.
He had a hard head, as well as hard heart, and could stand any quantity of drink. His drinking, however, like everything else about him, had a motive; and, instead of trying to appear sober, like other drunkards, he rather wished to appear a little elevated. In addition to his other acquirements, Q— was a most accomplished gambler. In short, no virtuous man, who employs every passing moment of his short life in doing good to his fellow-creatures, could be more devoted and energetic in his endeavours to serve God and mankind, than Q— was in his endeavours to ease them of their spare cash.
He possessed a great deal of that free-and-easy address and tact which distinguish the Canadians; and, in addition to the current coin of vulgar flattery which is found so useful in all countries, his quick eye could discover the high-minded gentleman by a kind of instinct, which did not seem quite natural to his sordid character, and, knowing that such men are not to be taken by vulgar adulation, he could address them with deferential respect; against which no minds are entirely secure. Thus he wriggled himself into their good graces. After a while the unfavourable impression occasioned by his sinister countenance would become more faint, while his well-feigned kindness and apparent indulgence to his numerous debtors would tell greatly in his favour.
My first impression of this man was pretty nearly such as I have described; and, though I suspected and shunned him, I was sure to meet him at every turn. At length this unfavourable feeling wore off in some degree, and finding him in the best society of the place, I began to think that his countenance belied him, and I reproached myself for my ungenerous suspicions.
Feeling a certain security in the smallness of my available capital, I did not hesitate in applying to Mr. Q— to sell me a farm, particularly as I was aware of his anxiety to induce me to settle near C—, for the reasons already stated. I told him that 300 pounds was the very largest sum I could give for a farm, and that, if I could not get one for that price, I should join my friends in the backwoods.
Q—, after scratching his head, and considering for a few minutes, told me that he knew a farm which he could sell me for that price, particularly as he wished to get rid of a set of Yankee rascals who prevented emigrants from settling in that neighbourhood. We afterwards found that there was but too good reason for the character he gave of some of our neighbours.
Q— held a mortgage for 150 pounds on a farm belonging to a certain Yankee settler, named Joe H—, as security for a debt incurred for goods at his store, in C—. The idea instantly struck Q— that he would compel Joe H— to sell him his farm, by threatening to foreclose the mortgage. I drove out with Mr. Q— next day to see the farm in question. It was situated in a pretty retired valley, surrounded by hills, about eight miles from C—, and about a mile from the great road leading to Toronto. There was an extensive orchard upon the farm, and two log houses, and a large frame-barn. A considerable portion of the cleared land was light and sandy; and the uncleared part of the farm, situated on the flat, rocky summit of a high hill, was reserved for "a sugar bush," and for supplying fuel. On the whole, I was pleased with the farm, which was certainly cheap at the price of 300 pounds; and I therefore at once closed the bargain with Mr. Q—.
At that time I had not the slightest idea but that the farm actually belonged to the land-jobber; and I am to this day unable to tell by what means he succeeded in getting Mr. H— to part with his property.
The father of Joe H— had cleared the farm, and while the soil was new it gave good crops; but as the rich surface, or "black muck," as it is called, became exhausted by continual cropping, nothing but a poor, meagre soil remained.
The early settlers were wretched farmers; they never ploughed deep enough, and never thought of manuring the land. After working the land for several years, they would let it lie waste for three or four years without sowing grass-seeds, and then plough it up again for wheat. The greater part of the hay raised on these farms was sold in the towns, and the cattle were fed during the long severe winter on wheat-straw. The natural result of this poor nourishment was, that their cattle continually degenerated, and great numbers died every spring of a disease called the "hollow horn," which appears to be peculiar to this country. When the lands became sterile, from this exhausting treatment, they were called "worn-out farms;" and the owners generally sold them to new settlers from the old country, and with the money they received, bought a larger quantity of wild lands, to provide for their sons; by whom the same improvident process was recommenced.
These early settlers were, in fact, only fit for pioneers to a more thrifty class of settlers.
Joe H—, or "Uncle Joe," as the country people call any acquaintance, after a fashion borrowed, no doubt, from the Dutch settlers of the State of New York, was, neither by his habits nor industry, likely to become more prosperous than his neighbours of the same thoughtless class. His father had worked hard in his time, and Uncle Joe thought he had a good right to enjoy himself. The nearest village was only five miles from his place, and he was never without some excuse for going thither every two or three days. His horse wanted shoeing, or his plough or waggon wanted "to be fixed" by the blacksmith or carpenter. As a matter of course, he came home "pretty high;" for he was in the constant habit of pouring a half-tumbler of whiskey down his throat, standing bolt upright at the bar of the tavern, after which he would drink about the same quantity of cold water to wash it down. These habits together with bad farming, and a lazy, slovenly helpmate, in a few years made Joe as poor as he could desire to be; and at last he was compelled to sell his farm to Mr. Q—.
After we had got settled down on this farm, I had often occasion to drive into C—, for the purpose of buying groceries and other necessaries, as we then thought them, at the store of Mr. Q—. On these occasions I always took up my quarters, for the time, at the tavern of our worthy Yankee friend, Mr. S—. As I drove up to the door, I generally found S— walking about briskly on the boarded platform, or "stoop," in front of the house, welcoming his guests in his own peculiar free-and-easy style, looking after their horses, and seeing that his people were attentive to their duties. I think I see him now before me with his thin, erect, lathy figure, his snub nose, and puckered-up face, wriggling and twisting himself about, in his desire to please his customers.
On stopping in front of the tavern, shortly after our settlement on the farm, Mr. S— stepped up to me, in the most familiar manner imaginable, holding out his hand quite condescendingly,—"Ah, Mister Moodie, ha-a-w do you do?—and ha-a-w's the old woman?"
At first I could not conceive whom he meant by this very homely appellation; and I very simply asked him what person he alluded to, as I had no old woman in my establishment.
"Why, YOUR old woman, to be sure—your missus—Mrs. Moodie, I guess. You don't quite understand our language yet."
"O! now I understand you; she's quite well, I thank you; and how is our friend Mrs. S—?" I replied, laying a slight emphasis on the MRS., by way of a gentle hint for his future guidance.
"Mrs. S—, I guess she's smart, pret-ty CON-siderable. She'll be right glad to see you, for you're pretty considerable of a favour-ITE with her, I tell you; but now tell me what you will drink?—for it's my treat."
As he said these words, he strutted into the tavern before me, throwing his head and shoulders back, and rising on his tiptoes at every step.
Mrs. S— had been a very handsome woman, and still retained much of her good looks. She was a most exemplary housewife and manager. I was often astonished to witness the incessant toil she had to ensure in attending to the wants of such a numerous household.
She had plenty of Irish "helps" in the kitchen; but they knew as much of cookery as they did of astronomy, and poor Mrs. S—'s hands, as well as her head, were in constant requisition.
She had two very pretty daughters, whom she would not suffer to do any rough work which would spoil their soft white hands. Mrs. S—, no doubt, foresaw that she could not expect to keep such fair creatures long in such a marrying country as Canada, and, according to the common caution of divines, she held these blessings with a loose hand.
There was one sweet little girl, whom I had often seen in her father's arms, with her soft dark eyes, and her long auburn ringlets hanging in wild profusion over his shoulders.
"I guess she likes pa, SOME," Mr. S— would say when I remarked her fondness for him.
This little fairy had a natural genius for music, and though she was only four years old, she would sit for an hour at a time at the door of our room to hear me play on the flute, and would afterwards sing all the airs she picked up, with the sweetest voice in the world.
Humble as the calling of a tavern-keeper may be considered in England, it is looked upon in the United States, where Mrs. S— was "raised," as extremely respectable; and I have never met with women, in any class of society elsewhere, who possessed more of the good-feeling and unobtrusive manners which should belong to ladies than in the family of this worthy tavern-keeper.
When I contrast their genuine kindness and humanity with the haughty, arrogant airs assumed by some ladies of a higher standing in society from England who sojourned in their house at the same time with ourselves—when I remember their insolent way of giving their orders to Mrs. S—, and their still more wounding condescension—I confess I cannot but feel ashamed of my countrywomen. All these patronising airs, I doubt not, were assumed purposely to impress the minds of those worthy people with an idea of their vast superiority. I have sometimes, I confess, been a little annoyed with the familiarity of the Americans, Canadians as well as Yankees; but I must say that experience has taught me to blame myself at least as much as them. If, instead of sending our youthful aristocracy to the continent of Europe, to treat the natives with contempt and increase the unpopularity of the British abroad, while their stock of native arrogance is augmented by the cringing complaisance of those who only bow to their superiority in wealth, they were sent to the United States, or even to Canada, they would receive a lesson or two which would be of infinite service to them; some of their most repulsive prejudices and peculiarities would soon be rubbed off by the rough towel of democracy.
It is curious to observe the remarkable diversity in the accounts given by recent emigrants to this country of their treatment, and of the manners and character of the people in the United States and in Canada. Some meet with constant kindness, others with nothing but rudeness and brutality. Of course there is truth in both accounts; but strangers from an aristocratical country do not usually make sufficient allowance for the habits and prejudices of a people of a land, in which, from the comparatively equal distribution of property, and the certain prosperity attendant on industry, the whole constitution of society is necessarily democratical, irrespectively of political institutions. Those who go to such a country with the notion that they will carry everything before them by means of pretence and assumption, will find themselves grievously deceived. To use a homely illustration, it is just as irrational to expect to force a large body through a small aperture. In both cases they will meet with unyielding resistance.
When a poor and industrious mechanic, farmer, or labourer comes here without pretensions of any kind, no such complaints are to be heard. He is treated with respect, and every one seems willing to help him forward. If in after-years the manners of such a settler should grow in importance with his prosperity—which is rarely the case—his pretensions would be much more readily tolerated than those of any unknown or untried individual in a higher class of society.
The North Americans generally are much more disposed to value people according to the estimate they form of their industry, and other qualities which more directly lead to the acquisition of property, and to the benefit of the community, than for their present and actual wealth. While they pay a certain mock homage to a wealthy immigrant, when they have a motive in doing so, they secretly are more inclined to look on him as a well-fledged goose who has come to America to be plucked. In truth, many of them are so dexterous in this operation that the unfortunate victim is often stripped naked before he is aware that he has lost a feather.
There seems to be a fatality attending riches imported into Canada. They are sure to make to themselves wings and flee away, while wealth is no less certain to adhere to the poor and industrious settler. The great fault of the Canadian character is an unwillingness to admit the just claims of education and talent, however unpretending, to some share of consideration. In this respect the Americans of the United States are greatly superior to the Canadians, because they are better educated and their country longer settled. These genuine Republicans, when their theory of the original and natural equality among them is once cheerfully admitted, are ever ready to show respect to MENTAL superiority, whether natural or acquired.
My evenings on visiting C— were usually spent at Mr. S—'s tavern, where I was often much amused with the variety of characters who were there assembled, and who, from the free-and-easy familiarity of the colonial manners, had little chance of concealing their peculiarities from an attentive observer.
Mr Q—, of course, was always to be found there, drinking, smoking cigars, and cracking jokes. To a casual observer he appeared to be a regular boon companion without an object but that of enjoying the passing hour. Among his numerous accomplishments, he had learnt a number of sleight-of-hand tricks from the travelling conjurors who visit the country, and are generally willing to sell their secrets singly, at a regulated price. This seemed a curious investment for Q—, but he knew how to turn everything to account. By such means he was enabled to contribute to the amusement of the company, and thus became a kind of favourite. If he could not manage to sell a lot of land to an immigrant or speculator, he would carelessly propose to some of the company to have a game at whist or loo, to pass the time away; and he never failed to conjure most of their money into his pockets.
At this time a new character made his appearance at C—, at Mr. B—, an English farmer of the true yeoman breed. He was a short-legged, long-bodied, corpulent little man. He wore a brown coat, with ample skirts, and a vast expanse of vest, with drab-coloured small-clothes and gaiters. B— was a jolly, good-natured looking man, with an easy blunt manner which might easily pass for honesty.
Q— had sold him a lot of wild land in some out-of-the-way township, by making Mr. B— believe that he could sell it again very soon, with a handsome profit. Of course his bargain was not a good one. He soon found from its situation that the land was quite unsaleable, there being no settlements in the neighbourhood. Instead of expressing any resentment, he fairly acknowledged that Q— was his master at a bargain, and gave him full credit for his address and cunning, and quite resolved in his own mind to profit by the lesson he had received.
Now, with all their natural acuteness and habitual dexterity in such matters, the Canadians have one weak point; they are too ready to believe that Englishmen are made of money. All that an emigrant has to do to acquire the reputation of having money, is to seem quite easy, and free from care or anxiety for the future, and to maintain a certain degree of reserve in talking of his private affairs. Mr. B— perfectly understood how to play his cards with the land-jobber; and his fat, jolly physiognomy, and rustic, provincial manners and accent, greatly assisted him in the deception.
Every day Q— drove him out to look at different farms. B— talked carelessly of buying some large "block" of land, that would have cost him some 3000 or 4000 pounds, providing he could only find the kind of soil he particularly liked for farming purposes. As he seemed to be in no hurry in making his selection, Q— determined to make him useful, in the meantime, in promoting his views with respect to others. He therefore puffed Mr. B— up to everybody as a Norfolk farmer of large capital, and always appealed to him to confirm the character he gave of any farm he wished to sell to a new comer. B—, on his side, was not slow in playing into Q—'s hand on these occasions, and without being at all suspected of collusion.
In the evening, Mr. B— would walk into the public room of the tavern, apparently fatigued with his exertions through the day; fling himself carelessly on a sofa, and unbutton his gaiters and the knees of his small-clothes. He took little notice of anybody unless he was spoken to, and his whole demeanour seemed to say, as plainly as words, "I care for nobody, nobody cares for me." This was just the kind of man for Q—. He instantly saw that he would be an invaluable ally and coadjutor, without seeming to be so. When B— made his appearance in the evening, Q— was seldom at the tavern, for his time had not yet come. In the meanwhile, B— was sure to be drawn gradually into conversation by some emigrants, who, seeing that he was a practical farmer, would be desirous of getting his opinion respecting certain farms which they thought of purchasing. There was such an appearance of blunt simplicity of character about him, that most of these inquirers thought he was forgetting his own interest in telling them so much as he did. In the course of conversation, he would mention several farms he had been looking at with the intention of purchasing, and he would particularly mention some one of them as possessing extraordinary advantages, but which had some one disadvantage which rendered it ineligible for him; such as being too small, a circumstance which, in all probability, would recommend it to another description of settler.
It is hard to say whether Q— was or was not deceived by B—; but though he used him for the present as a decoy, he no doubt expected ultimately to sell him some of his farms, with a very handsome profit. B—, however whose means were probably extremely small, fought shy of buying; and after looking at a number of farms, he told Q— that, on mature reflection, he thought he could employ his capital more profitably by renting a number of farms, and working them in the English manner, which he felt certain would answer admirably in Canada, instead of sinking his capital at once in the purchase of lands. Q— was fairly caught; and B— hired some six or seven farms from him, which he worked for some time, no doubt greatly to his own advantage, for he neither paid rent nor wages.
Occasionally, other land-speculators would drop into the tavern, when a curious game would be played between Q— and them. Once of the speculators would ask another if he did not own some land in a particular part of the country, as he had bought some lots in the same quarter, without seeing them, and would like to know if they were good. The other would answer in the affirmative, and pretend to desire to purchase the lots mentioned. The former, in his turn, would pretend reluctance, and make a similar offer of buying. All this cunning manoeuvring would be continued for a time, in the hope of inducing some third party or stranger to make an offer for the land, which would be accepted. It often happened that some other person, who had hitherto taken no part in the course of these conversations, and who appeared to have no personal interest in the matter, would quietly inform the stranger that he knew the land in question, and that it was all of the very best quality.
It would be endless to describe all the little artifices practised by these speculators to induce persons to purchase from them.
Besides a few of these unprincipled traders in land, some of whom are found in most of the towns, there are a large number of land-speculators who own both wild and improved farms in all parts of the colony who do not descend to these discreditable arts, but wait quietly until their lands become valuable by the progress of improvement in their neighbourhood, when they readily find purchasers—or, rather, the purchasers find them out, and obtain their lands at reasonable prices.
In 1832, when we came to Canada, a great speculation was carried on in the lands of the U.E. (or United Empire) Loyalists. The sons and daughters of these loyalists, who had fled to Canada from the United States at the time of the revolutionary war, were entitled to free grants of lots of wild land. Besides these, few free grants of land were made by the British Government, except those made to half-pay officers of the army and navy, and of course there was a rapid rise in their value.
Almost all the persons entitled to such grants had settled in the eastern part of the Upper Province, and as the large emigration which had commenced to Canada had chiefly flowed into the more western part of the colony, they were, in general, ignorant of the increased value of their lands, and were ready to sell them for a mere trifle. They were bought by the speculators at from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 9d. per acre, and often for much less, and were sold again, with an enormous profit, at from 5s. to 20s., and sometimes even 40s. per acre, according to their situation.
As to personally examining these lands, it was a thing never thought of, for their price was so low that it was almost impossible to lose by the purchase. The supply of U.E. Loyalists' lands, or claims for land, for a long time seemed to be almost inexhaustible; for the loyal refugees appear to have been prolific beyond all precedent, and most of those who held office at the capital of the province, or who could command a small capital, became speculators and throve prodigiously. Many persons, during the early days of the colony, were thus enriched, without risk or labour, from the inexhaustible "quivers" of the U.E. Loyalists.
Though the bulk of the speculators bought lands at haphazard, certain parties who found favour at the government offices managed to secure the best lands which were for sale or location, before they were exposed to fair competition at the periodical public sales in the different districts. Thus a large portion of the wild lands in the colony were and are still held: the absentee proprietors profiting from the increased value given to their property by the improvements of the actual settlers, while they contribute little or nothing to the cultivation of the country. The progress of the colony has thus been retarded, and its best interests sacrificed, to gratify the insatiable cupidity of a clique who boasted the exclusive possession of all the loyalty in the country; and every independent man who dared to raise his voice against such abuses was branded as a Republican.
Mr. Q— dealt largely in these "U.E. Rights," as they were called, and so great was the emigration in 1832 that the lands he bought at 2s. 6d. per acre he could readily sell again to emigrants and Canadians at from 5s. to 15s. per acre, according to situation and the description of purchasers he met with. I have stated that the speculators generally buy lands at hap-hazard. By this I mean as to the quality of the lands. All colonists accustomed to observe the progress of settlement, and the local advantages which hasten improvement, acquire a peculiar sagacity in such matters. Unfortunately for many old countrymen, they are generally entirely destitute of this kind of knowledge, which is only acquired by long observation and experience in colonies.
The knowledge of the causes which promote the rapid settlement of a new country, and of those in general which lead to the improvement of the physical condition of mankind may be compared to the knowledge of a language. The inhabitant of a civilised and long-settled country may speak and write his own language with the greatest purity, but very few ever reflect on the amount of thought, metaphor, and ingenuity which has been expended by their less civilised ancestors in bringing that language to perfection. The barbarian first feels the disadvantage of a limited means of communicating his ideas, and with great labour and ingenuity devises the means, from time to time, to remedy the imperfections of his language. He is compelled to analyse and study it in its first elements, and to augment the modes of expression in order to keep pace with the increasing number of his wants and ideas.
A colony bears the same relation to an old-settled country that a grammar does to a language. In a colony, society is seen in its first elements, the country itself is in its rudest and simplest form. The colonist knows them in this primitive state, and watches their progress step by step. In this manner he acquires an intimate knowledge of the philosophy of improvement, which is almost unattainable by an individual who has lived from his childhood in a highly complex and artificial state of society, where everything around him was formed and arranged long before he came into the world; he sees the effects, the causes existed long before his time. His place in society—his portion of the wealth of the country—his prejudices—his religion itself, if he has any, are all more or less hereditary. He is in some measure a mere machine, or rather a part of one. He is a creature of education, rather than of original thought.
The colonist has to create—he has to draw on his own stock of ideas, and to rouse up all his latent energies to meet all his wants in his new position. Thus his thinking principle is strengthened, and he is more energetic. When a moderate share of education is added to these advantages—for they are advantages in one sense—he becomes a superior being.
I have indulged in these reflections, with manifest risk of being thought somewhat prosy by my more lively readers, in order to guard my countrymen, English, Scotch, and Irish, against a kind of presumption which is exceedingly common among them when they come to Canada—of fancying that they are as capable of forming correct opinions on local matters as the Canadians themselves. It is always somewhat humbling to our self-love to be compelled to confess what may be considered an error of judgment, but my desire to guard future settlers against similar mistakes overpowers my reluctance to own that I fell into the common error of many of my countrymen, of purchasing wild land, on speculation, with a very inadequate capital. This was one of the chief causes of much suffering, in which for many years my family became involved; but through which, supported by trust in Providence, and the energy of a devoted partner, I continued by her aid to struggle, until when least expected, the light of hope at length dawned upon us.
In reflecting on this error—for error and imprudence it was, even though the result had been fortunate—I have still this poor comfort, that there was not one in a hundred of persons similarly situated but fell into the same mistake, of trusting too much to present appearances, without sufficient experience in the country.
I had, as I have already stated, about 300 pounds when I arrived in Canada. This sum was really advantageously invested in a cleared farm, which possessed an intrinsic and not a merely speculative value. Afterwards a small legacy of about 700 pounds fell into my hands, and had I contented myself with this farm, and purchased two adjoining cleared farms containing two hundred acres of land of the finest quality which were sold far below their value by the thriftless owners, I should have done well, or at all events have invested my money profitably. But the temptation to buy wild land at 5s. an acre, which was expected to double in value in a few months, with the example of many instances of similar speculation proving successful which came under my notice, proved irresistible.
In 1832 emigration was just at its height, and a great number of emigrants, several of whom were of the higher class, and possessed of considerable capital, were directed to the town of C—, in the rear of which extensive tracts of land were offered to settlers at the provincial government sales. Had this extensive emigration continued, I should have been enabled to double my capital, by selling my wild lands to settlers; but, unfortunately, the prevalence of cholera during that year, and other causes, gave such a serious check to emigration to Canada that it has never been renewed to the same extent since that time. Besides the chance of a check to emigration generally, the influx of strangers is often extremely capricious in the direction it takes, flowing one year into one particular locality, and afterwards into another. Both these results, neither of which was foreseen by any one, unfortunately for me, ensued just at that time. It seemed natural that emigrants should flow into a fertile tract of land, and emigration was confidently expected steadily to increase; these were our anticipations, but neither of them was realised. Were it suitable to the character of these sketches, I would enter into the subject of emigration and the progress of improvement in Canada, respecting which my judgment has been matured by experience and observation; but such considerations would be out of place in volumes like the present, and I shall therefore proceed with my narrative.
I had obtained my cleared farm on easy terms, and, in so far as the probability of procuring a comfortable subsistence was concerned, we had no reason to complain; but comfort and happiness do not depend entirely on a sufficiency of the necessaries of life. Some of our neighbours were far from being agreeable to us. Being fresh from England, it could hardly be expected that we could at once accommodate ourselves to the obtrusive familiarity of persons who had no conception of any differences in taste or manners arising from education and habits acquired in a more refined state of society. I allude more particularly to some rude and demoralised American farmers from the United States, who lived in our immediate neighbourhood. Our neighbours from the same country were worthy, industrious people; but, on the whole, the evil greatly predominated over the good amongst them.
At a few miles' distance from our farm, we had some intelligent English neighbours, of a higher class; but they were always so busily occupied with their farming operations that they had little leisure or inclination for that sort of easy intercourse to which we had been accustomed. If we called in the forenoon, we generally found our neighbour hard at work in the fields, and his wife over head and ears in her domestic occupations. We had to ring the bell repeatedly before we could gain admittance, to allow her time to change her ordinary dress. Long before this could be effected, or we could enter the door, sundry reconnoitring parties of the children would peep at us round the corners of the house, and then scamper off to make their reports.
It seems strange that sensible people should not at once see the necessity of accommodating their habits to their situation and circumstances, and receive their friends without appearing to be ashamed of their employments. This absurdity, however, is happily confined to the would-be-genteel people in the country, who visit in the towns, and occasionally are ambitious enough to give large parties to the aristocracy of the towns. The others, who do not pretend to vie with the townspeople in such follies, are a great deal more easy and natural in their manners, and more truly independent and hospitable.
Now that we are better acquainted with the country, we much prefer the conversation of the intelligent and unpretending class of farmers, who, though their education has been limited, often possess a rich fund of strong commonsense and liberality of sentiment, and not unfrequently great observation and originality of mind. At the period I refer to, a number of the American settlers from the United States, who composed a considerable part of the population, regarded British settlers with an intense feeling of dislike, and found a pleasure in annoying and insulting them when any occasion offered. They did not understand us, nor did we them, and they generally mistook the reserve which is common with the British towards strangers for pride and superciliousness.
"You Britishers are too superstitious," one of them told me on a particular occasion.
It was some time before I found out what he meant by the term "superstitious," and that it was generally used by them for "supercilious."
New settlers of the lower classes were then in the habit of imitating their rudeness and familiarity, which they mistook for independence. To a certain extent, this feeling still exists amongst the working class from Europe, but they have learnt to keep it within prudent bounds for their own sakes; and the higher class have learnt to moderate their pretensions, which will not be tolerated here, where labourers are less dependent on them for employment. The character of both classes, in fact, has been altered very much for the better, and a better and healthier feeling exists between them—much more so, indeed, than in England.
The labouring class come to this country, too often with the idea that the higher class are their tyrants and oppressors; and, with a feeling akin to revenge, they are often inclined to make their employers in Canada suffer in their turn. This feeling is the effect of certain depressing causes, often remote and beyond the reach of legislation, but no less real on that account; and just in proportion to the degree of poverty and servility which exists among the labouring class in the particular part of the United Kingdom from which they come, will be the reaction here. When emigrants have been some years settled in Canada, they find out their particular and just position, as well as their duties and interests, and then they begin to feel truly happy. The fermentation arising from the strange mixture of discordant elements and feelings gradually subsides, but until this takes place, the state of society is anything but agreeable or satisfactory.
Such was its state at C—, in 1832; and to us it was distasteful, that though averse, for various reasons, to commence a new settlement, we began to listen to the persuasions of our friends, who were settled in the township of D—, about forty miles from C—, and who were naturally anxious to induce us to settle among them.
Mrs. Moodie's brother, S—, had recently formed a settlement in that township, and just before our arrival in Canada had been joined by an old brother officer and countryman of mine, Mr. T—, who was married to Mrs. Moodie's sister. The latter, who like myself, was a half-pay officer, had purchased a lot of wild land, close to the farm occupied by S—.
Mr. S— S— had emigrated to Canada while quite a youth, and was thoroughly acquainted with the backwoods, and with the use of the felling-axe, which he wielded with all the ease and dexterity of a native.
I had already paid some flying visits to the backwoods and found the state of society, though rude and rough, more congenial to our European tastes and habits, for several gentlemen of liberal education were settled in the neighbourhood, among whom there was a constant interchange of visits and good offices. All these gentlemen had recently arrived from England, Ireland, or Scotland, and all the labouring class were also fresh from the old country and consequently very little change had taken place in the manners or feelings of either class. There we felt we could enjoy the society of those who could sympathise with our tastes and prejudices, and who, from inclination as well as necessity, were inclined to assist each other in their farming operations.
There is no situation in which men feel more the necessity of mutual assistance than in clearing land.
Alone, a man may fell the trees on a considerable extent of woodland; but without the assistance of two or three others, he cannot pile up the logs previous to burning. Common labours and common difficulties, as among comrades during a campaign, produce a social unity of feeling among backwoods-men. There is, moreover, a peculiar charm in the excitement of improving a wilderness for the benefit of children and posterity; there is in it, also, that consciousness of usefulness which forms so essential an ingredient in true happiness. Every tree that falls beneath the axe opens a wider prospect, and encourages the settler to persevere in his efforts to attain independence.
Mr. S— had secured for me a portion of the military grant of four hundred acres, which I was entitled to as a half-pay officer, in his immediate neighbourhood. Though this portion amounted to only sixty acres, it was so far advantageous to me as being in a settled part of the country. I bought a clergy reserve of two hundred acres, in the rear of the sixty acres for 1 pound per acre, for which immediately afterwards I was offered 2 pounds per acre, for at that period there was such an influx of settlers into that locality that lands had risen rapidly to a fictitious price. I had also purchased one hundred acres more for 1 pound 10s. per acre, from a private individual; this also was considered cheap at the time.
These lots, forming altogether a compact farm of three hundred and sixty acres, were situated on the sloping banks of a beautiful lake, or, rather, expansion of the river Otonabee, about half-a-mile wide, and studded with woody islets. From this lake I afterwards procured many a good meal for my little family, when all other means of obtaining food had failed us. I thus secured a tract of land which was amply sufficient for the comfortable subsistence of a family, had matters gone well with me.
It should be distinctly borne in mind by the reader, that uncleared land in a remote situation from markets possesses, properly speaking, no intrinsic value, like cleared land, for a great deal of labour or money must be expended before it can be made to produce anything to sell. My half-pay, which amounted to about 100 pounds per annum of Canadian currency, was sufficient to keep us supplied with food, and to pay for clearing a certain extent of land, say ten acres every year, for wheat, which is immediately afterwards sown with grass-seeds to supply hay for the cattle during winter. Unfortunately, at this period, a great change took place in my circumstances, which it was impossible for the most prudent or cautious to have foreseen.
An intimation from the War-office appeared in all the newspapers, calling on half-pay officers either to sell their commissions or to hold themselves in readiness to join some regiment. This was a hard alternative, as many of these officers were situated; for a great many of them had been tempted to emigrate to Canada by the grants of land which were offered them by government, and had expended all their means in improving these grants, which were invariably given to them in remote situations, where they were worse than worthless to any class of settlers but those who could command sufficient labour in their own families to make the necessary clearings and improvements.
Rather than sell my commission, I would at once have made up my mind to join a regiment in any part of the world; but, when I came to think of the matter, I recollected that the expense of an outfit, and of removing my family—to say nothing of sacrificing my property in the colony—would render it utterly impossible for me to accept this unpleasant alternative after being my own master for eighteen years, and after effectually getting rid of all the habits which render a military life attractive to a young man. Under these circumstances, I too hastily determined to sell out of the army. This, of course, was easily managed. I expected to get about 600 pounds for my commission; and, before the transaction was concluded, I was inquiring anxiously for some mode of investing the proceeds, as to yield a yearly income.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, I made a bargain with Mr. Q— for twenty-five shares, of 25 pounds each, in a fine steamer, which had just been built at C—, and which was expected to pay at least twenty-five per cent. to the shareholders. This amount of stock Q— offered me for the proceeds of my commission, whatever amount it might be sold for; offering at the same time to return all he should receive above 600 pounds sterling. As I had nothing but his word for this part of the agreement, he did not recollect it when he obtained 700 pounds, which was 100 pounds more than I expected.
Some boats on Lake Ontario, while the great emigration lasted, and there was less competition, yielded more than thirty per cent.; and there seemed then no reason to doubt that the new boat would be equally profitable.
It is possible that Q— foresaw what actually happened; or, more probably, he thought he could employ his money better in land speculations. As soon as the steamer began to run, a quarrel took place between the shareholders who resided at C—, where she was built, and those who lived at the capital of the Upper Province—York, as it was then called. The consequence was that she remained idle a long time, and at last she came under the entire control of the shareholders at York, who managed the boat as they liked, and to suit their own interests. Afterwards, though the boat continued to be profitably employed, somehow or other all her earnings were consumed in repairs, &c., and for several years I never received a penny for my shares. At last the steamer was sold, and I only received about a fourth part of my original stock. This, as may be supposed, was a bitter disappointment to me; for I had every reason to think that I had not only invested my money well, but very profitably, judging from the profits of the other boats on the lake. Had I received the proceeds of my commission, and bought bank stock in the colony—which then and still yields eight per cent.—my 700 pounds sterling, equal to 840 pounds currency, would have given me 60 pounds per annum, which, with my own labour, would have kept my family tolerably well, have helped to pay servants, and have saved us all much privation and harassing anxiety.
Having thus supplied the painful details of a transaction, a knowledge of which was necessary to explain many circumstances in our situation, otherwise unintelligible, I shall proceed with my narrative.
The government did not carry out its intention with respect to half-pay officers in the colonies; but many officers, like myself, had already sold their commissions, under the apprehension of being compelled to accept this hard alternative. I was suddenly thrown on my own resources, to support a helpless and increasing family, without any regular income. I had this consolation, however, under my misfortune, that I had acted from the best motives, and without the most remote idea that I was risking the comfort and happiness of those depending upon me. I found very soon, that I had been too precipitate, as people often are in extraordinary positions; though, had the result been more fortunate, most people would have commended my prudence and foresight. We determined, however, to bear up manfully against our ill-fortune, and trust to that Providence which never deserts those who do not forget their own duties in trying circumstances.
It is curious how, on such occasions, some stray stanzas which hang about the outskirts of the memory, will suddenly come to our aid. Thus, I often caught myself humming over some of the verses of that excellent moral song "The Pilot," and repeating, with a peculiar emphasis, the concluding lines of each stanza,
"Fear not! but trust in Providence,
Wherever thou may'st be."
Such songs do good; and a peculiar blessing seems to attend every composition, in prose or verse, which inculcates good moral sentiments, or tends to strengthen our virtuous resolutions. This fine song, I feel assured, will live embalmed in the memory of mankind long after the sickly, affected, and unnatural ditties of its author have gone to their merited oblivion. Sometimes, however, in spite of my good resolutions, when left alone, the dark clouds of despondency would close around me, and I could not help contrasting the happy past in our life with my gloomy anticipations of the future. Sleep, which should bring comfort and refreshment, often only aggravated my painful regrets, by recalling scenes which had nearly escaped my waking memory. In such a mood the following verses were written:—
OH, LET ME SLEEP!Edit
Oh, let me sleep! nor wake to sadness
The heart that, sleeping, dreams of gladness;
For sleep is death, without the pain—
Then wake me not to life again.
Oh, let me sleep! nor break the spell
That soothes the captive in his cell;
That bursts his chains, and sets him free,
To revel in his liberty.
Loved scenes, array'd in tenderest hue,
Now rise in beauty to my view;
And long-lost friends around me stand,
Or, smiling, grasp my willing hand.
Again I seek my island home;
Along the silent bays I roam,
Or, seated on the rocky shore,
I hear the angry surges roar.
And oh, how sweet the music seems
I've heard amid my blissful dreams!
But of the sadly pleasing strains,
Nought save the thrilling sense remains.
Those sounds so loved in scenes so dear,
Still—still they murmur in my ear:
But sleep alone can bless the sight
With forms that face with morning's light.