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Voyage to England

1842.—I embarked for England on the 18th of August, on board a small schooner of sixty tons, deeply laden with fish and oil. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the accommodations the craft afforded were of the meanest kind; but the inconveniences weighed lightly in the scales, when compared with the anticipated delight of visiting one's native land. We had a very fine passage; a steady fair breeze carried us across the broad Atlantic in a fortnight. The green hills of Cornwall came in view on the 1st of September, and I had the satisfaction of treading the soil of England early on the 3d.

I remained a few days at Plymouth, to feast my eyes on scenery such as I had long been a stranger to; scenery, I may say, unrivalled by any I had ever beheld at home or abroad. What spot in the world, in fact, can present such varied charms, as the summit of Mount Edgecumb? where the most refined taste, aided by the amplest means, has been employed for a thousand years in beautifying the glorious landscape. To me, just arrived from Ungava, the beauties of the scene were undoubtedly heightened by the contrast; and one short visit to Mount Edgecumb effaced from my mind the dreary prospect of bleak rocks, snow banks, and icebergs, with which it had been so long and so sadly familiar, and inspired it with a rapture and delight to which it had long been a stranger. Yet this terrestrial paradise, I am informed, belongs to a noble lord, who is a miserable invalid. Alas, for poor humanity! neither wealth nor grandeur preserve their possessors from the ills that flesh is heir to: and this nobleman may, perhaps, envy the lot of the humblest individual that visits his enchanting domain.

Bidding adieu to Plymouth, and its delightful environs, I set out for London on the 11th of September. The desire of home, however, now urged me forward; so that even the wonders of this wonderful city could not detain me. Passing over the uninteresting incidents of steamboat and railroad traveling, I arrived on the 20th of September at the spot from which I had started twenty-three years before. The meeting of a mother with an only son, after so long an absence, need not be described, nor the feelings the well-known scenes of youthful sports and youthful joys gave rise to. These scenes were still the same, as far as the hand of Nature was concerned: there stood the lofty Benmore, casting his somber shades over the glassy surface of Lochba, as in the days of yore; there were also the same heath covered hills and wooded dells, well stocked with sheep and cattle; but the human inhabitants of the woods and dells where were they? far distant from their much loved native land in the wilds of America, or toiling for a miserable existence in the crowded cities of the Lowlands, a sad change! The bleating of sheep, and lowing of cattle, for the glad voices of a numerous population, happy and contented with their lot, loyal to their sovereign, and devotedly attached to their chiefs! But loyalty and attachment are but fancies, which, in these utilitarian and trading days, are flat and unprofitable; yet the aristocratical manufacturers of beef and mutton may live to feel the truth of the lines of Goldsmith:

"But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied."

I remained about six weeks in my native country, and set out for London, where I arrived early in November, "the beginning of the gay season;" but it appeared to me the reverse. The city was shrouded in a cloud of condensed smoke and fog, that shut out the light of heaven. During three whole days the obscurity was so great that the steamboats were prevented from plying on the Thames, and the gas lights were seen glimmering through the windows at noon-day. How applicable is the description of the Roman historian to the Rome of our day: "Caput orbis terrarum, urbis magnificentiam augebant fora, templa, porticas, aqućductus, theatra, horti denique, et ejus generis alia, ad quć vel lecta animus stupet." My time was too limited, however, and the weather too unfavourable, to admit of my seeing all the "lions;" but who would think of leaving London without visiting that wonderful work the Tunnel, that lasting monument of the genius of a Brunell, and of the wealth and enterprise of British merchants!

A Cockney may well boast of his great city, its wealth, its vast population, and its magnificent buildings; but with regard to the Thames, of which he is equally proud, he that has seen the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the McKenzie, and many others, compared to which the Thames is but a rivulet, may be excused if he cannot view its not very limpid waters with the same extravagant admiration as the Londoner, who calls the Serpentine a river, and dignifies a pond of a few roods in extent with the name of a lake. Yet there is one feature about the Thames, of which he can scarcely be too proud, and which is unparalleled perhaps in the world, the often-noticed "forest of masts," extending farther than the eye can reach, and suggesting,—not the silence and solitude of the forests with which I have been familiar, but the countless population, the wealth, and the grandeur of Britain; and the might and the majesty of civilized and industrious man.

I took leave of London on the 12th of September, and set out for Liverpool by railroad, and reached it in six hours. I had sufficient time to visit its docks, crowded by the ships of every nation; its warehouses containing the produce of every clime; and, though last, not least in my estimation, the splendid monument erected to the memory of Nelson. No monument of stone or brass is necessary to perpetuate our hero's fame; he lives in the heart of every true Briton, and will ever live, till British oak and British prowess shall cease to "rule the waves."

I embarked on the 15th of December on board a sailing-packet bound for New York. These vessels are so punctual to the hour of sailing advertised, that, if the wind proves contrary, and blows fresh, they are towed out to sea by steamboats. This proved to be our case, and we kept tacking about in the "chops" of the Channel for six days, when a fair wind sprung up that soon carried us out of sight of England. England! great and glorious country, adieu! I shall probably never see thee more; but in quitting thy white-cliffed shores, I quit not my ardent attachment and veneration for thee;—and now for thy eldest daughter beyond the ocean!

To me, who had spent so much of my lifetime in solitude, the tedium of the voyage so much complained of was gaiety itself; with three fellow-passengers besides the captain, the time passed very agreeably. On board these floating palaces a passenger, in fact, finds everything that can contribute to his comfort; the best of accommodation, the best of fare, and the best of attendance; so that there is nothing wanting but stability, to make him fancy himself in a first-class hotel on shore.

The weather proved extremely favorable throughout the passage; not an incident occurred worthy of notice; and on the 17th of January, 1843, I landed safely at New York, and thus found myself for the first time in a foreign land; and, since fate has so decreed, among a foreign people. Yes! they are foreigners, if being called by another name, and living under a different form of government can make them so; yet in language, in laws, in religion, and in blood, we are the same. Their ancestors brought abroad with them the same sentiments of regard and attachment to their native land as we feel; they rejoiced in the prosperity of Britain; felt proud of her victories, and grieved at her misfortunes. Alas, how different the feelings of the present race! Britain may, in fact, reckon the Americans of the present day her most inveterate foes; those who are of our own kindred, and whom therefore we might expect to stand by us in our hour of need, regard us with more envy and hatred than the "hereditary foes" with whom we have been for centuries engaged in mortal strife.

In resisting the arbitrary acts of a misguided government, the American people only proved themselves possessed of the same noble spirit that procured for their English progenitors the confirmation of Magna Charta, and that hurled a tyrant from his throne. The heroes of the American revolution nobly fought and conquered; they entered the arena with fearful odds against them; they continued the struggle under every disadvantage, save the sacredness of their cause; and finally won the prize for which they contended. Of that prize the Americans of the present day have undisputed possession; and nothing can be more certain than that the Britons of the present day have no wish to deprive them of it even if they could. What cause, then, can there be for still cherishing those feelings of animosity which the unhappy disruption gave rise to? If our fathers quarreled, cannot we be friends? But are not the British themselves to blame, in some measure, for the continuance of these irritated feelings? The mercenary pens of prejudiced, narrow-minded individuals contribute daily to add fuel to the flame. Our "Diaries," and our "Notes," replete with offensive remarks, are, from the cheapness of publication, disseminated through the length and breadth of the Union, and are in everybody's hands; and those foolish remarks are supposed to be the sentiments of the British nation; when they are in fact only the sentiments of individuals whose opinions are little valued at home, and ought to be less valued abroad.

Circumstances taken into consideration, I think it very unfair to draw comparisons between the social condition of young America, just become a distinct nation, and of old England, whose empire has lasted a thousand years. The American people are still too much occupied with the necessaries of life to devote much of their time to its elegancies; they are still engaged in the pursuits that ultimately ensure wealth and real independence. Those results attained, what is there to prevent the American gentleman from becoming as polished and accomplished as his cousin in Britain? Can it be supposed, with the least shadow of reason, that the short period that has elapsed since the Revolution can have been sufficient to produce that alteration in the character and manners of the Americans, which our travelers love to exercise their wit upon? It is impossible. The Americans "guessed," and "calculated," and "speculated," while they were British subjects, just as they do now; nor have they learned to chew, and spit, and smoke tobacco since the 4th of July, 1782.

As to the peculiar phrases the Americans use in conversation, I am convinced that their forefathers brought the greater part of them from Britain, as many of those phrases are to be found in the works of old English authors still extant. The English language as spoken in America, is elegance itself, compared to the provincial dialects of Britain, or even to the vile slang one hears in the streets of London. This is a fact that every unprejudiced person who has traveled in America must admit.

It appears Americans find leisure, of late years, to travel and take notes, as well as their transatlantic brethren; and, in return for the polite attentions of our travelers, describe England and Englishmen in the bitter language of recrimination and retort; and thus the enmity between the mother and daughter is kept alive and perpetuated. A publication of this kind fell lately into my hands, entitled, "The Glory and Shame of England." The writer, said to be a Christian minister, with the malignity of baser minds, sinks and keeps in the background her "glories," and brings into relief and dwells upon her shameful parts; representing in the most somber colors the misery of the "squalid" population of our cities. Would to God there were not so much truth in the picture! His reverence, however, seems to have lost sight of the clergyman; and in gratifying his resentment against England, and in his zeal to kindle the same unchristian feeling in the breasts of his countrymen, has not hesitated to sacrifice the truth;—and he a clergyman, whose office it is to "proclaim peace on earth, and good-will to men!"

That there is much misery and wretchedness in England, none can deny; but will not the well-informed philanthropist consider it rather as our misfortune than our reproach? consisting mainly, as that mass of wretchedness does, of those ills which neither "kings nor laws can cause or cure." What plan would this philanthropic divine recommend to remove those evils, which, while he affects to deplore, he yet glories over? Strip the nobility and land-owners of their possessions convert our monarchy into a republic—and the church into a "meetin ouse?"

These reforms effected, would the people of England be permanently benefited by them? Supposing the whole arable soil of England were divided in equal portions among its crowded inhabitants, (passing by the injustice of robbing the present proprietors of their lawful possessions—many of them acquired by the same hard labor or skill by which an artisan gains his weekly wages,) would the equality of property long continue? Would not the sloth, improvidence, and imprudence, that ever distinguish a great proportion of mankind; and the industry, foresight, and ambition that characterize others, soon bring many of the equal lots into one, thus forming a great estate, the property of an individual,—when matters would just be at the point where his reverence found them? And then, of course, would follow another "equitable adjustment," to relieve the wants of the poor, whose progenitors had squandered their patrimony. Or, admitting that the lots remained in possession of the families to whom they were originally granted, would the produce be equal to the maintenance of their numerous descendants, when the property became divided and subdivided into fifty or a hundred shares?

The present proprietors of the soil of England have, undoubtedly, large incomes; but what becomes of those incomes? Do they not flow back into the hands of the merchants, tradesmen, servants, &c. the greater proportion, at least; for the sums expended by our tourists on the continent form so inconsiderable a portion of those incomes, as not to be worth mentioning. The same may be said of the alleged wealth of the clergy; for (admitting the allegation) it all flows back into the channels whence it issued; and, although neither belonging to the Church of England, nor approving of her forms of government, I do not think that her downfall would improve the temporal condition of the people. If we wish to remain a Christian nation, we cannot dispense with the services of the clergy; and in order that those services may be efficient, they must be maintained in independence and respectability.

As to a republican form of government, that experiment has been already tried in England, and failed; it may be tried again with no better success. The circumstances in which the American people found themselves after the Revolution, rendered the adoption of republican institutions both safe and beneficial. They had learned by experience that the remote position of their country secured their independence from the ambitious projects of any power in Europe; while they had nothing to fear from any power in America. Thus situated, any form of government, consistent with the due maintenance of good order at home, answered their purpose. The nascent republic might, at the period in question, have adopted as its motto, "Liberty and Equality," with the utmost propriety; for all enjoyed equal liberty, and nearly equal fortunes. Experience, however, shows that liberty and equality cannot long exist under any form of government; industry procures wealth, wealth induces ambition, and ambition sighs after distinction and power.

While America feels secure from the aggression of her neighbors, Great Britain is surrounded by powerful states, some of whom afford her daily proofs of their envy of her greatness and their hatred of her power; and only want the ability, not the will, to annihilate both. Those states are, for the most part, ruled by absolute or despotic governments, who can call fleets and armies into action without losing a moment in debating the justice or injustice, policy or impolicy, of their movements. With such neighbors as these, would the Messenger of Peace recommend the "Britishers" to adopt a form of government which would necessitate them to debate and consult while their enemies were acting; and to remit to the people to discuss the question of peace or war, when they should be enlisting and drilling them?

Columbia, happy land! the broad Atlantic intervenes between thee and the envy or hatred of Europe; thy wide domain, presenting millions of acres of untenanted land, stands open to the industry and enterprise of thy citizens. How thankful, then, ought they to be for the blessings they enjoy, compared with the condition of their brethren "beyond the water," confined as they are to the narrow limits of their sea-girt isle, whose soil is no longer sufficient for the support of its over-crowded inhabitants, and surrounded by hostile nations, who have long since pronounced the sentence, "Delenda est Britannia!"

"Boz" has already told his countrymen all that is worth telling about New York, and something more. What the "Dickens" brought him to the "Five Points?" Did he never visit Wapping with the same views, whatever they might be? If he did, did he observe nothing in that sink of filth and wickedness equal to the scenes that shocked him so much in the outskirts of New York? One just arrived from England finds little in this city to excite wonder or admiration, unless it be the extraordinary width of some of the streets. Were those streets kept clean, and the liberty of the pigs a little restrained, the citizens might well boast of their superiority to most of the streets of our British cities; and as their taste improves, everything unsightly will be removed.

Nature has done much for New York: she possesses one of the finest harbors in the world; her climate is pleasant and salubrious; and one of the noblest rivers of America gives her the command of the commercial resources of a country which equals in extent nearly all Europe. New York will undoubtedly become one of the first cities in the world; in commerce, in wealth, in population, she has advanced at a prodigious rate within the last fifty years, and her progress is not likely to be arrested.

The aqueduct that supplies the town with water, pure, wholesome, and abundant, is well worth the notice of a stranger. This stupendous work was executed at a cost of nine millions of dollars, and conveys the water from a distance of forty miles! the genius of the engineer and the power of money overcoming every obstacle. The two great reservoirs, near the city, present splendid specimens of that kind of architecture. Happening in company to express my opinion of this work, as reflecting the highest credit on the enterprise of the citizens, a gentleman present, evidently an American, in reply to the compliment, observed, "It is very much to their advantage, no doubt, and it will also be much to their credit, if they pay the debt they incurred in constructing it." The fact is, that this and many other public works in the United States, have been executed by British capital. Would to heaven that our sympathizing friends, who are so jealous in regard to the honor of America, where a few thousand acres of worthless land are concerned, were equally jealous in regard to it when, under the newly-invented name of repudiation, the honor of their country is tarnished by a vast system of unblushing robbery! Would to heaven that their sympathies were extended to the thousands who are involved in misery and ruin by this audacious system of national perfidy!

If the art or ingenuity of the good citizens of New York has not produced very many objects worthy of admiration, the faces of their lovely fair make ample amends for it. Among the crowds of charmers who throng the fashionable promenade of Broadway, scarcely an ordinary face is to be seen. I, in fact, saw more pretty faces there in one hour than in all my tour in Britain.

I landed in New York without any prejudice against the Americans, and I now take leave of their commercial capital with feelings of esteem and regret. In the society I frequented I neither saw nor heard anything unworthy of, or unbecoming the descendants of Britons. Some little peculiarities, the natural result of circumstances, I certainly noticed; some differences also in their social life; but I shall leave it to those who are disposed to find fault to criticize these matters.

Notes of a Twenty-Five Years Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory, 1849


Notes on Hudson Bay Territory


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