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Chapter 12

LETTER XII.


The Cathedral of Cologne.—The eleven thousand Virgins.—The Skulls Of the Magi—House in which Rubens was born.—Want of Cleanliness in Cologne.—Journey resumed.—The Drachenfels.—Romantic Legend.—A Convent converted into an Inn.—Its Solitude.—A Night in it.—A Storm.—A Nocturnal Adventure.—Grim Figures.—An Apparition.—The Mystery dissolved.—Palace of the Kings of Australia.—Banks of the Rhine.—Coblentz.—Floating Bridges.—Departure from Coblentz.—Castle of the Ritterstein.—Visit to it.—Its Furniture,—The Ritter Saal—Tower of the Castle.—Anachronisms.


Dear ——,

I do not know by what dignitary of the ancient electorate the hotel in which we lodged was erected, but it was a spacious building, with fine lofty rooms and a respectable garden. As the language of a country is influenced by its habits, and in America everything is so much reduced to the standard of the useful that little of the graceful has yet been produced, it may be well to remind you that this word "garden," signifies pleasure-grounds in Europe. It way even be questioned if the garden of Eden was merely a potager.

After breakfasting we began to deliberate as to our future movements. Here we were at Cologne, in Prussia, with the wide world before us, uncertain whither to proceed. It was soon decided, however, that a first duty was to look again at the unfinished cathedral, that wonder of Gothic architecture; to make a pilgrimage to the house in which Rubens was born; to pay a visit to the eleven thousand virgins, and to buy some Cologne water: after which it would be time enough to determine where we should sleep.

The first visit was to the bones. These relics are let into the walls of the church that contains them, and are visible through a sort of pigeon-holes which are glazed. There is one chapel in particular, that is altogether decorated with the bones arranged in this manner, the effect being very much like that of an apothecary's shop. Some of the virgins are honoured with hollow wooden or silver busts, lids in the tops of which being opened, the true skull is seen within. These relics are not as formidable, therefore, as one would be apt to infer the bones of eleven thousand virgins might be, the grinning portion of the skulls being uniformly veiled for propriety's sake. I thought it a miracle in itself to behold the bones of all these virgins, but, as if they were insufficient, the cicerone very coolly pointed out to us the jar that had held the water which was converted into wine by the Saviour at the marriage of Cana! It was Asiatic in form, and may have held both water and wine in its day.

The cathedral is an extraordinary structure. Five hundred years have gone by, and there it is less than half finished. One of the towers is not forty feet high, while the other may be two hundred. The crane, which is renewed from time to time, though a stone has not been raised in years, is on the latter. The choir, or rather the end chapel that usually stands in rear of the choir, is perfect, and a most beautiful thing it is. The long narrow windows, that are near a hundred feet in height, are exquisitely painted, creating the peculiar cathedral atmosphere, that ingenious invention of some poet to render solemn architecture imaginative and glorious. We could not dispense with looking at the skulls of the Magi, which are kept in an exceedingly rich reliquary or shrine. They are all three crowned, as well as being masked like the virgins. There is much jewellery, though the crowns had a strong glow of tinsel about them, instead of the mild lustre of the true things. Rubens, as you know, was of gentle birth, and the house in which he was born is just such a habitation as you would suppose might have been inhabited by a better sort of burgher. It is said that Mary of Medicis, the wife of Henry IV, died in this building, and tradition, which is usually a little ambitious of effect, has it that she died in the very room in which Rubens was born. The building is now a public-house.

I do not know that there is a necessary connection between foul smells and Cologne water, but this place is the dirtiest and most offensive we have yet seen, or rather smelt, in Europe. It would really seem that people wish to drive their visitors into the purchase of their great antidote. Disagreeable as it was, we continued to flaner through the streets until near noon, visiting, among other things, the floating bridge, where we once more enjoyed the sight of the blue waters of the Rhine glancing beneath our feet.

Like true flaneurs, we permitted chance to direct our steps, and at twelve, tired with foul smells and heat, we entered the carriage, threaded the half-moons, abbatis and grassy mounds again, and issued into the pure air of the unfenced fields, on the broad plain that stretches for miles towards the east, or in the direction of Bonn. The day was sultry, and we fully enjoyed the transition. In this part of Germany the postilions are no laggards, and we trotted merrily across the wide plain, reaching Bonn long before it was time to refresh ourselves. The horses were changed, and we proceeded immediately. As we left the town I thought the students, who were gasping at the windows of their lodgings, envied us the pleasure of motion Having so lately accompanied me over this road; I shall merely touch upon such points as were omitted before, and keep you acquainted with our movements.

The afternoon was lovely, when, passing the conical and castle-crowned steep of Godisberg, we approached the hills, where the road for the first time runs on the immediate borders of the stream. Opposite to us were the Seven mountains, topped by the ruins of the Drachenfels, crag and masonry wearing the appearance of having mouldered together under the slow action of centuries; and, a little in advance, the castle of Rolandseck peered above the wooded rocks on our own side of the river. Two low islands divided the stream, and on one of them stood the capacious buildings of a convent. Every one at all familiar with the traditions of the Rhine, has heard the story of the crusader, who, returning from the wars, found his betrothed a nun in this asylum. It would seem that lies were as rife before the art of printing had been pressed into their service, or newspapers known, as they are to-day, for she had been taught to think him dead or inconstant; it was much the same to her. The castle which overlooked the island was built for his abode, and here the legend is prudently silent. Although one is not bound to believe all he hears; we are all charmed with the images which such tales create, especially when, as in this case, they are aided by visible and tangible objects in the shape of good stone walls. As we trotted along under the brow of the mountain that upholds the ruins of the castle of Charlemagne's nephew, my eye rested musingly on the silent pile of the convent. "That convent," I called out to the postilion, "is still inhabited?" "Ja, mein Herr, es ist ein gasthaus." An inn!—the thing was soon explained. The convent, a community of Benedictines, had been suppressed some fifteen or twenty years, and the buildings had been converted into one of your sentimental taverns. With the closest scrutiny I could not detect a soul near the spot, for junketing in a ruin is my special aversion. A hamlet stood on the bank at no great distance above the island; the postilion grinned when I asked if it would be possible to get horses to this place in the morning, for it saved him a trot all the way to Oberwinter. He promised to send word in the course of the night to the relay above, and the whole affair was arranged in live minutes. The carriage was housed and left under the care of François on the main land, a night sack thrown into a skiff, and in ten minutes we were afloat on the Rhine. Our little bark whirled about in the eddies, and soon touched the upper point of the island.

We found convent, gasthaus, and sentiment, without any pre-occupants. There was not a soul on the island, but the innkeeper, his wife, a child, a cook, a crone who did all sorts of work, and three Prussian soldiers, who were billeted on the house, part of a detachment that we had seen scattered along the road, all the way from Bonn. I do not know which were the most gladdened by the meeting, ourselves or the good people of the place; we at finding anything like retirement in Europe, and they at seeing anything like guests. The man regretted that we had come so late, for a large party had just left him; and we felicitated ourselves that we had not come any sooner, for precisely the same reason. As soon as he comprehended our tastes, he very frankly admitted that every room in the convent was empty. "There is no one, but these, on the island. Not a living being, herr graf" for these people have made a count of me, whether or not. Here then were near two hundred acres, environed by the Rhine, prettily disposed in wood and meadow, absolutely at our mercy. You can readily imagine, with what avidity a party of young Parisiennes profited by their liberty, while I proceeded forthwith to inspect the ladder, and then to inspect the cloisters. Sooth to say, sentiment had a good deal to do with two of the courses of a dinner at Nonnenswerth, for so is the island called. The buildings were spacious, and far from mean; and it was a pleasant thing to promenade in cloisters that had so lately been trodden by holy nuns, and see your dinner preparing in a convent kitchen. I could do no less than open a bottle of "Liebfraumilch" in such a place, but it proved to be a near neighbour to bonny-clabber.

As the evening closed we took possession of our rooms. Our parlour had been that of the lady abbess, and A—— had her bed-chamber. These were spacious rooms and well furnished. The girls were put into the cells, where girls ought never to be put. Jetty had another near them, and, these dispositions made, I sallied forth alone, in quest of a sensation.

The intense heat of the day had engendered a gust. The thunder was muttering among the "seven mountains," and occasionally a flash of lightning illumined the pitchy darkness of the night. I walked out into the grounds, where the wind was fiercely howling through the trees. A new flash illumined the hills, and I distinctly saw the naked rock of the Drachenfels, with the broken tower tottering on the half-ruined crag, looked fearful and supernatural. By watching a minute, another flash exposed Rolandseck, looking down upon me with melancholy solicitude. Big drops began to patter on the leaves, and, still bent on sensations, I entered the buildings.

The cloisters were gloomy, but I looked into the vast, smoked, and cavern-like kitchen, where the household were consuming the fragments of our dinner. A light shone from the door of a low cell, in a remote corner of the cloisters, and I stole silently to it, secretly hoping it would prove to be a supernatural glimmering above some grave. The three Prussians were eating their cheese-parings and bread, by the light of a tallow candle, seated on a stone floor. It was short work to squeeze all the poetry out of this group.

The storm thickened, and I mounted to the gallery, or the corridor above the cloisters, which communicated with our own rooms. Here I paced back and forth, a moment, in obscurity, until, by means of a flash, I discovered a door, at one extremity of the passage. Bent on adventure, I pushed and it opened. As there were only moments when anything could be seen, I proceeded in utter darkness, using great caution not to fall through a trap. Had it been my happy fortune to be a foundling, who had got his reading and writing "by nature," I should have expected to return from the adventure a Herzog,[25] at least, if not an Erz-Herzog[26] Perhaps, by some inexplicable miracle of romance, I might have come forth the lawful issue of Roland and the nun!

As it was, I looked for no more than sensations, of which the hour promised to be fruitful. I had not been a minute in the unknown region, before I found that, if it were not the abode of troubled spirits, it at least was worthy to be so. You will remember that I am not now dealing in fiction, but truth, and that, unlike those who "read when they sing, and sing when they read," I endeavour to be imaginative in poetry and literal in my facts. I am now dealing strictly with the latter, which I expect will greatly enhance the interest of this adventure.

After taking half-a-dozen steps with extreme caution, I paused a moment, for the whole air appeared to be filled by a clatter, as if ten thousand bats' wings were striking against glass. This was evidently within the convent, while, without, the wind howled even louder than ever. My hand rested on something, I knew not what. At first I did not even know whether I was in the open air, or not, for I felt the wind, saw large spaces of dim light, and yet could distinguish that something like a vault impended over my head. Presently a vivid flash of lightning removed all doubt. It flickered, seemed extinguished, and flared up again, in a way to let me get some distinct ideas of the locus in quo. I had clearly blundered into the convent chapel; not upon its pavement, which was on a level with the cloisters below, but into an open gallery, that communicated with the apartments of the nuns, and my hand was on the chair of the lady abbess, the only one that remained. The dim light came from the high arched windows, and the bats' wings were small broken panes rattling in the gale. But I was not alone. By the transient light I saw several grim figures, some kneeling, others with outstretched arms, bloody and seared, and one appeared to be in the confessional. At the sight of these infernal spectres, for they came and went with the successive flashes of the lightning, by a droll chain of ideas, I caught myself shouting, rather than singing—"Ship ahoy! ship ahoy!—what cheer, what cheer?" in a voice loud as the winds. At last, here was a sensation! Half-a-dozen flashes rendered me familiar with the diabolical-looking forms, and as I now knew where to look for them, even their grim countenances were getting to be familiar. At this moment, when I was about to address them in prose, the door by which I had entered the gallery opened slowly, and the withered face of an old woman appeared in a flash. The thunder came next, and the face vanished—"Ship ahoy! ship ahoy!—what cheer, what cheer?" There was another pause—the door once more opened, and the face re-appeared. I gave a deep and loud groan; if you ask me why, I can only say, because it seemed to be wanting to the general effect of the scene and place. The door slammed, the face vanished, and I was alone again with the demons. By this time the gust was over I groped my way out of the gallery, stole through the corridor into my own room, and went to bed. I ought to have had exciting dreams, especially after the Liebfraumilch, but, contrary to all rule, I slept like a postilion in a cock-loft, or a midshipman in the middle watch.

The next morning at breakfast, A—— had a melancholy tale to relate; how the poor old crone, who has already been mentioned, had been frightened by the gust—how she stole to the chapel to mutter a prayer—how she opened the door of the gallery—how she heard strange sounds, and particularly certain groans—how she had dropped the candle—how the door had blown to, and she, miserable woman, had stolen to the bed of her (A——'s) maid, whom she had implored to give her shelter and protection for the night! We went in a body to look at the chapel, after breakfast, and it was admitted all round, that it was well suited to produce a sensation, in a thunder-storm, of a dark night, and that it was no wonder Jetty's bed-fellow had been frightened. But now everything was calm and peaceful. The glass hung in fragments about the leaden sashes; the chair and prière-dieu of the lady abbess had altogether an innocent and comfortable air, and the images, of which there were several, as horrible as a bungling workman and a bloody imagination could produce, though of a suffering appearance, were really insensible to pain. While we were making this reconnoissance a bugle sounded on the main, and looking out, we saw the Oberwinter postilion coming round the nearest bend in the river. On this hint, we took our leave of the island, not forgetting to apply a little of the universal salve to the bruised spirit of the old woman whose dread of thunder had caused her to pass so comfortless a night.

The day was before us, and we went leisurely up the stream, determined to profit by events. The old castles crowned every height, as you know, and as we had the carriage filled with maps and books, we enjoyed every foot of this remarkable road. At Andernach we stopped to examine the ruins of the palace of the Kings of Austrasia, of whom you have heard before. The remains are considerable, and some parts of the walls would still admit of being restored. The palace has outlasted not only the kingdom, but almost its history. This edifice was partly built of a reddish freestone, very like that which is so much used in New York, a material that abounds on the Rhine.

Between Andernach and Coblentz the road passes over a broad plain, at some little distance from the river, though the latter is usually in sight. It may give you some idea of its breadth, if I tell you that as we approached Neuwied, it became a disputed point in the carriage, whether the stream flowed between us and the town, or not. Still the Rhine is a mighty river, and even imposing, when one contemplates its steady flow, and remembers its great length. It is particularly low at present, and is less beautiful than last year, the colours of the water being more common-place than usual.

It was still early, though we had loitered a good deal by the way, to study views and examine ruins, when we drew near the fort-environed town of Coblentz. The bridge across the Moselle was soon passed, and we again found ourselves in this important station. The territory opposite the city belongs to the duchy of Nassau, but enough has been ceded to the King of Prussia to enable him to erect the celebrated Ehrenbreitstein, which is one of the strongest forts in the world, occupying the summit of a rocky height, whose base is washed by the Rhine, and whose outworks are pushed to all the neighbouring eminences. The position of Coblentz, at the junction of the Rhine and the Moselle, the latter of which penetrates into the ancient electorate of Treves, now belonging to Prussia, may render it an important station to that power, but it does not strike me as military. The enemy that can seize any one of its numerous outworks, or forts, must essentially command the place. As at Genoa, it seems to me that too much has been attempted to succeed.

Last night we had a convent that was a parallelogram of six hundred feet by three hundred, all to ourselves; while this night we were crowded into a small and uncomfortable inn that was overflowing with people. The house was noisy and echoish, and not inappropriately called the "Three Swiss."

We crossed the river by the bridge of boats, and ascended the opposite hill to enjoy the view. There was another island up the stream, with a ruined convent, but unhappily it was not an inn. The Rhine is a frontier for much of its course, washing the shores of France, Darmstadt, Bavaria, Baden, Nassau, Prussia, &c., &c., for a long distance, and permanent bridges are avoided in most places. The floating bridges, being constructed of platforms laid on boats, that are united by clamps, can be taken apart, and withdrawn, to either shore, in an hour or two.

We quitted Coblentz at ten, and now began in truth to enter the fine scenery of the Rhine. The mountains, or rather hills, for they scarcely deserve the former name, close upon the river, a short distance below the town, and from that moment, with very immaterial exceptions, the road follows the windings of the stream, keeping generally within a few yards of the water. The departures from this rule are not more than sufficient to break the monotony of a perfectly uniform scene. I have nothing new to tell you of the ruined castles—the villages and towns that crowd the narrow strand—the even and well-kept roads—the vine-covered hills—and the beautiful sinuosities of this great artery of Europe. To write any thing new or interesting of this well-beaten path, one must linger days among the ruins, explore the valleys, and dive into the local traditions. We enjoyed the passage, as a matter of course, but it was little varied, until we drew near the frontier of Prussia, when a castle, that stood beetling on a crag, immediately above the road, caught my eye. The building, unlike most of its sister edifices, appeared to be in good order; smoke actually arose from a beacon-grate that thrust itself out from an advanced tower, which was nearly in a perpendicular line above us, and the glazed windows and other appliances denoted a perfect and actual residence. As usual, the postilion was questioned. I understood him to say that the place was called the Ritterstein, but the name is of little moment. It was a castle of the middle ages, a real hold of the Rhine, which had been purchased by a brother of the King of Prussia, who is now the governor of the Rhenish provinces. This prince had caused the building to be restored, rigidly adhering to the ancient style of architecture, and to be furnished according to the usages of the middle ages, and baronial comfort; what was more, if the prince were not in his hold, as probably would prove not to be the case, strangers were permitted to visit it! Here was an unexpected pleasure, and we hastened to alight, admiring the governor of Rhenish provinces, his taste, and his liberality, with all our hearts.

If you remember the satisfaction with which we visited the little hunting-tower of the poor Prince de Condé in 1827, a building whose chief merit was its outward form and the fact that it had been built by the Queen Blanche, you can form some notion of the zeal with which we toiled up the steep ascent, on the present occasion. The path was good, tasteful, and sinuous; but the buildings stood on crags that were almost perpendicular on three of their sides, and at an elevation of near, or perhaps quite, two hundred feet above the road.

We were greeted, on reaching the gate, not by a warder, but by the growl and bark of a ferocious mastiff, who would have been more in keeping at his post near a henroost, than at the portal of a princely castle. One "half-groom, half-seneschal," and who was withal a little drunk, however, soon came forth to receive us, and, after an exhortation to the dog in a Dutch that was not quite as sonorous as the growl of the animal, he very civilly offered to do the honours of the place.

We entered by a small drawbridge, but the buildings stand so near the brow of an impending rock, as to induce me to think this bridge has been made for effect, rather than to renew the original design. A good deal of the old wall remains, especially in the towers, which are mostly round, and all that has been done with the exterior, has been to fill the gaps, and to re-attach the balconies and the external staircases, which are of iron. I can no more give you a clear idea of the irregular form of this edifice with the pen, than you would obtain of the intricate tracery of Gothic architecture, having never seen a Gothic edifice, or studied a treatise on the style, by the same means. You will understand the difficulty when you are told that this castle is built on crags, whose broken summits are its foundations, and give it its form. The court is narrow and inconvenient, carriages never approaching it, but several pretty little terraces in front answer most of the purposes of courts, and command lovely glimpses of the Rhine, in both directions. These terraces, like the towers and walls, were placed just where there was room, and the total absence of regularity forms one of the charms of the place.

In the interior, the ancient arrangement has been studiously respected. The furniture is more than imitation, for we were told that much of it had been taken from the royal collections of Berlin. By royal, you are not to suppose, however, that there are any attempts at royal state, but merely that the old castles of the barons and counts, whose diminutive territories have contributed to rear the modern state of Prussia, have been ransacked for this end.

The Ritter Saal, or Knight's Hall, though not large, is a curious room; indeed it is the only one in the entire edifice that can be called a good room, at all. The fire-place is huge,—so much so, that I walked into it with ease, and altogether in the ancient style. There is a good deal of curious armour hung up in this room, and it has many other quaint and rare objects. The chandelier was a circle formed by uniting buck's horns, which were fitted with lamps. There was almost too much good taste about this for feudal times, and I suspect it of being one of our modern embellishments; a material picture of the past, like a poem by Scott. There may have been some anachronisms in the furniture, but we all use furniture of different ages, when we are not reduced to the fidgety condition of mere gentility.

In one corner of the Bitter Saal there stood an ancient vessel to hold water, and beneath it was a porcelain trough to catch the drippings. The water was obtained by turning a cock. The chairs, tables, settees, &c. were all of oak. The coverings of the chairs, i. e. backs and bottoms, were richly embroidered in golden thread, the work of different royal personages. The designs were armorial bearings.

All the stairs were quaint and remarkable, and, in one instance, we encircled the exterior of a tower, by one of them, at a giddy elevation of near three hundred feet above the river, the tower itself being placed on the uttermost verge of the precipice. From this tower the grate of the beacon thrust itself forward, and as it still smoked, I inquired the reason. We were told that the wad of a small piece of artillery, that had been fired as a signal to the steam-boat, had lodged in the grate, where it was still burning. The signal had been given to enable the Prince and his family to embark, for they had not left the place an hour when we arrived. Tempora mutantur since the inhabitants of such a hold can go from Bingen to Coblentz to dine in a steamer.

We saw the bed-rooms. The Prince slept on an inner camp bedstead, but the ladies occupied bunks let into the walls, as in the olden time. The rooms were small, the Bitter Saal excepted, and low, though there were a good many of them. One or two were a little too much modernized, perhaps, though, on the whole, the keeping was surprisingly good. A severe critic might possibly have objected to a few anachronisms in this romaunt, but this in a fault that Prince Frederic shares in common with Shakspeare and Sir Walter Scott.

I cannot recall a more delightful hour than that we passed in examining this curiosity, which was like handling and feeding, and playing with a living cameleopard, after having seen a dozen that were stuffed.



In reference to the controversy touching the expenses of the American Government alluded to in page 37, of this volume, the following particulars may not be uninteresting.

Early in the day, the party who conducted the controversy for the other side began to make frequent allusions to certain Americans—"plusieurs honorables Américains" was the favourite expression—who, he alleged, had furnished him with information that went to corroborate the truth of his positions, and, as a matter of course, to invalidate the truth of ours. Secret information reached me, also, that a part, at least, of our own legation was busy for the other side. At one period, M. Perier, the Premier of France, publicly cited the name of the minister, himself, at the tribune, as having given an opinion against those who conducted the controversy on the side of the American system, and in favour of our opponents. I understand Mr. Rives declares that M. Perier had no authority either for using his name, or for attributing such sentiments to him; although the statement, as yet, stands uncontradicted before the world. You will probably be startled, when I tell you, that this is the third instance, within a few months, in which the public agents of America have been openly quoted as giving evidence against the action of the American system. The two other cases occurred in the British parliament, and, in one of them, as in this of Mr. Rives, the agent was quoted by name! It is not in my power to say whether these gentlemen have or have not been wrongfully quoted; but all cannot be right, when they are quoted at all. Figure to yourself, for a moment, what would be the effect of a member of congress quoting the minister of a foreign government, at Washington, as giving an opinion against a material feature of the polity he represented, and the disclaimers and discussions, not to say quarrels, that would succeed. How is it, that the representatives of exclusion are so much more faithful to the interests of their principals, than the representatives of liberal institutions?

Some will tell you that the condition of Europe is critical; that our own relations with certain countries are delicate, and that it is expedient to temporize. In the first place, judging from my own observations, I do not believe there is any of the much-talked-of temporizing spirit about all this compliance, but that in most of the cases in which the agents of the government disown the distinguishing principles of the institutions (and these cases have got to be so numerous as to attract general attention, and to become the subject of sneering newspaper comments) it is "out of the fulness of the heart that the mouth speaketh." But, allowing that the first position is true, and that these gentlemen actually acquiesce for the sake of quiet, and with a view to advance what they conceive to be the interests of America, I shall maintain that the course is to the last degree impolitic and unworthy. Our motto is to "ask nothing but what is right, and to submit to nothing that is wrong." Apart from the sound morality of this sentiment, the wisdom of Solomon could not better express the true policy of a nation situated like our own. It can hardly be pretended, that the "right" for which we ask ought to be purchased at the disgraceful price of abandoning the truth. This would be truly bargaining away a better right for another of less value. These gentlemen of expedients may beat their brains as much as they please, they will never invent any means so simple, and so sure of attaining the great ends included in the political maxim just quoted, as by adhering to the plain, direct dictates of common honesty. Each trifling temporary advantage they may gain, will certainly and speedily be met by some contingent disadvantage, that will render them losers by the exchange.[27]

To return to France and the controversy on finance, our opponents had at length the indiscretion to publish a document that they said had been furnished them by some of their "honorables Américains" and by which they attempted to prove some one of their various positions; for by this time they had taken a great many, scarcely any two of which agreed. I have no doubt that this document, in the present instance, did come from "Americans," though it originally came from Captain Basil Hall. This gentleman had appended to his travels, a table, which purported to contain an arranged statement of the cost of the state governments. You will form some idea of the value of this table, as a political and statistical document, by an exposure of one or two of its more prominent errors. Taking, for instance, our own state; the receipts from the property of the state, such as its canal, common school, literature, and other funds, necessarily passing through the treasury, the sum total is made to figure against us, as the annual charge of government; which, by these means, is swelled to five times the real amount. Every one knows that the receipts of the canals alone, the moment that the conditions of the loans effected to construct them shall admit of their application, will be more than sufficient to meet the entire charges of the state government twice over; but, by this mystified statement, we are made to appear the poorer for every dollar of properly we possess! And yet this is the nature of the evidence that some of our people furnished to the writers on the French side of this question; a side that, by their own showing, was the side of monarchy?

But this is not all. A citizen has been found willing, under his own name, to espouse the argument of the French writers. Of the validity of the statements presented by this gentleman (Mr. Leavitt Harris, of New Jersey), or of the force of his reasoning, I shall say nothing here, for his letter and our answers will sufficiently speak for themselves. The administration party, however, have thought the statements of Mr. Harris of sufficient importance to be published in a separate number of their literary organ, La Revue Britannique, and to dwell upon it in all their political organs, as the production of an American who has been intrusted by his government with high diplomatic missions, and who, consequently, is better authority than an unhonoured citizen like myself, who have no claims to attention beyond those I can assemble in my argument.[28] The odds, as you will perceive, are greatly against me; for, in these countries, the public know little of the details of government, and it gives a high sanction to testimony of this nature to be able to say it comes from one, who is, or has been, connected with an administration. Standing as I do, therefore, contradicted by the alleged opinion (true or false) of Mr. Rives, and by this statement of Mr. Harris, you will readily conceive that my situation here is not of the most pleasant nature. Unsalaried and untrusted by my own Government, opposed, in appearance at least, by its agents, I am thrown, for the vindication of truth, completely on my own resources, so far as any American succour has been furnished; and am reduced to the narrow consolation of making this simple record of the facts, which, possibly, at some future day, may answer the purpose of an humble protest in favour of the right.

This controversy has, at least, served to remove the mask from this Government, on the subject of its disposition towards America and her institutions. To that pretended feeling I have never been even momentarily a dupe; but, failing of arguments—for no talents or ingenuity, after all, can make the wrong the right—most of the writers on the other side of the question have endeavoured to enliven their logic with abuse. I do not remember anything, in the palmy days of the Quarterly Review, that more completely descended to low and childish vituperation than some of the recent attacks on America. Much of what has been written is unmitigated fraud, that has been meant to produce an impression on the public mind, careless of any other object than the end; but much also, I think, has really been imagined to be true, while it is, in fact, the offspring of the prejudices that studied misrepresentation has so deeply implanted in the opinions of Europe. As we are not immaculate, of course, a greater portion of their charges is true than one could wish. Some of the allegations are so absurd, that it may amuse you to hear them. The French consider the Sabbath as a day of recreation, and after going to mass (a duty, by the way, that few besides women discharge in Paris), the rest of the time is devoted to dancing and other amusements. With a view to act on the rooted opinions of the nation, on this subject, the American practice of running a chain across the street in front of the churches, to prevent the rattling of the carriages from disturbing the worship (a practice, by the way, that is quite as much European as it is American, and which has never even been very general among us), has been so represented as to induce the French to believe that our streets are in chains, and that even walking, or using a horse, or any vehicle of a Sunday, is a prohibited thing. In addition to a variety of similar absurdities, we are boldly charged with most of the grosser vices, and, in some instances, intimations have been given that our moral condition is the natural consequence of our descent from convicted felons!

To the American, who is a little prone to pride himself on being derived from a stock of peculiar moral purity, this imputation on his origin sounds extraordinary, and is apt to excite indignation. I dare say you are not prepared to learn, that it was a common, perhaps the prevalent opinion of Europe, that our states were settled by convicts. That this, until very lately, was the prevalent opinion of Europe, I entertain no doubt, though I think the few last years have produced some change in this respect; more of the popular attention most probably having been attracted to us, within this period, than during the two centuries that preceded it. You will smile to hear, that the common works of fiction have been the material agents in producing the change; information that has been introduced through the medium of amusement, making its way where the graver labours of the historian have never been able to penetrate. Courier, the cleverest political writer France has produced, perhaps in any age, and a staunch republican, says, it would be quite as unjust to reproach the modern Romans with being descended from ravishers and robbers, as it is to reproach the Americans with being descended from convicts. He wishes to remove the stigma from his political brethren, but the idea of denying the imputation does not appear to have entered his mind. Jefferson, also, alludes to the subject in some of his letters, apparently, in answer to a philosophical inquiry from one of his friends. He estimates the whole number of persons transported to the American colonies, under sentence from the courts, at about two thousand; and, taking into consideration their habits, he was of opinion, half a century ago, that their descendants did not probably exceed the original stock. I do not know where Mr. Jefferson obtained his data for this estimate, but he did not show his ordinary acuteness in ascribing the reason why the convicts left few or no issue. Women were by far too much in request in America, during the first century or two of its political existence, to admit of the probability of men so openly stamped with infamy from obtaining wives, and I think there existed a physical inability for the propagation of the stock, since very few women were transported at any time. Within the last few months, two instances have occurred in the Chamber of Deputies, of members quoting the example of America, in enforcing their arguments in favour of the possibility of forming respectable communities by the transportation of criminals!

I had no intention of quoting any part of the controversy on finance, but, on reflection, it may serve a good purpose to give one or two extracts from the letter of Mr. Harris. In order that this may be done fairly, both as it respects the point at issue and the parties concerned, it will be necessary to make a brief preliminary explanation. M. Sauliner, the principal writer of the other side, had made it a charge against our system, that nearly all the public money was derived from the customs, which he assumed was a bad mode of obtaining revenue. Let this be as it might, my answer, was, that, as between France and America, there was no essential variance of system, the only difference lying in the fact that the one got all the revenue it could in this manner, and that the other got all it wanted. I added, a tax on exports excepted, that all the usual means of raising revenue known to other nations were available, at need, to the government of the United-States. To this latter opinion Mr. Harris took exceptions, saying, in effect, that the administration of Mr. Adams, the father, had been broken down by resorting to excises, stamp-acts, and direct taxation; and that since his unfortunate experiment, no administration in America had dreamed, even in time of war, of resorting to a mode of obtaining revenue which was so offensive as to produce the revolution of 1776! Of course Mr. Harris was reminded, that the stamp-act, of which the colonists complained, was repealed many years before the epoch of 1776; that the revolution proceeded from a denial of the right in parliament to tax the colonies at all, and not from any particular imposition; and that excises and a stamp-act had all been resorted to, in the war of 1812, without overturning the administration of Mr. Madison, or weakening that of his successor. But of what avail was a statement of this kind, in opposition to the allegations of one who appeared before Europe in the character of an American diplomate? Mr. Harris enjoyed the double advantage of giving his testimony as one in the confidence of both the French and the American governments—an advantage that a quotation from the statute-books themselves could not overcome.

Mr. Harris disposed of one knotty point in this controversy with so much ingenuity, that it deserves to be more generally known. Our adversaries had brought the accusation of luxury against the American government, inasmuch as it was said to furnish both a town and a country palace for the President—a degree of magnificence little suspected in France. This point was not treated as a matter of any importance by us, though General Lafayette had slightly and playfully alluded to it, once or twice. The words of Mr. Harris shall speak for themselves: "Le Général Lafayette paraît surtout avoir été frappé de l'erreur dans laquelle est tombé l'auteur de la Revue, à l'égard de la belle maison de campagne dont il a doté la présidence; et c'est peut-être là ce qui l'a porté à faire appel à M. le Général Bernard et à M. Cooper."

"L'erreur de l'auteur de la Revue, au sujet de la maison de campagne du président, est de très peu d'importance. Personne ne sait mieux que le Général Lafayette que la résidence affectée par la nation à son president, dans le District de Columbia, est située de manière à jouir des avantages de la ville et de la campagne."

Here you perceive the intellectual finesse with which we have had to contend. We are charged with the undue luxury of supporting a town and country house for a public functionary; and, disproving the fact, our opponents turn upon us, with a pernicious subtlety, and show, to such a condensing point has the effeminate spirit reached among us, that we have compressed the essence of two such establishments into one! Mr. Harris might have carried out his argument, and shown also that to such a pass of self-indulgence have we reached, that Washington itself is so "situated as to enjoy the advantages of both town and country!"

I have reason to think Mr. Harris gained a great advantage over us by this tour de logique. I had, however, a little better luck with another paragraph of his letter. In pages 22 and 23 of this important document, is the following; the state alluded to being Pennsylvania, and the money mentioned the cost of the canals; which Mr. Harris includes in the cost of government, charging, by the way, not only the interest on the loans as an annual burden, but the loans themselves. I translate the text, the letter having appeared in French:—"The greater part of this sum, about twenty-two millions of dollars, has been expended during the last twelve years—that is to say, while the population was half or two-thirds less than it is to-day, offering an average of not more than 800,000 souls, (the present population of Pennsylvania being 1,350,161:) It follows, that each inhabitant has been taxed about two and a half dollars, annually, for internal improvements during this period."

I think, under ordinary circumstances, and as against a logician who did not appear supported by the confidence and favour of the government of the United States of America, I might have got along with this quotation, by showing, that 800,000 is neither the half of, nor two-thirds less than 1,350,161; that Pennsylvania, so far from trebling, or even doubling her population in twelve years, had not doubled it in twenty; that Pennsylvania, at the commencement of the twelve years named, had actually a population more than twenty-five per cent. greater than that which Mr. Harris gives as the average of a period, during which he affirms that this population has, at least, doubled; and by also showing that money borrowed and invested in public works, which are expected to return an ample revenue, cannot be presented as an annual charge against the citizen until he is called on to pay it.

Having said so much about the part that Mr. Harris has had in this controversy, I owe it to truth to add, that his course has, at least, the merit of frankness, and that he is just so much the more to be commended than that portion of our ex-agents and actual agents who have taken the same side of the question, covertly.

I have dwelt on this subject at some length, because I think it is connected, not only with the truth, but with the character, of America. I have already told you the startling manner in which I was addressed by one of the first men in England, on the subject of the tone of our foreign agents; and since that time, occasions have multiplied, to learn the mortifying extent to which this unfavourable opinion of their sincerity has spread. If the United States has neither sufficient force nor sufficient dignity to maintain its interests abroad, without making these sacrifices of opinion and principle, we are in a worse condition than I had believed; but you will require no logic from me, to understand the effect that must be, and is produced, by this contradiction between the language that is studiously used—used to nauseous affectation—at home, and so much of the language that is used by too many of the agents abroad.

I very well know that the government of the Union guarantees neither the civil nor religious liberty of the citizen, except as against its own action; that any state may create an establishment, or a close hereditary aristocracy, to-morrow, if it please, the general provision that its polity must be that of a republic, meaning no more than that there should not be an hereditary monarchy; and that is quite within the limits of constitutional possibilities, that the base of the national representation should be either purely aristocratical, purely democratical, or a mixture of both. But in leaving this option to the states, the constitution has, in no manner, impaired the force of facts. The states have made their election, and, apart from the anomaly of a slave population, the fundamental feature of the general government is democratic. Now, it is indisputably the privilege of the citizen to express the opinions of government that he may happen to entertain. The system supposes consultation and choice, and it would be mockery to maintain that either can exist without entire freedom of thought and speech. If any man prefer a monarchy to the present polity of the nation, it is his indefeasible right to declare his opinion, and to be exempt from persecution and reproach. He who meets such a declaration in any other manner than by a free admission of the right, does not feel the nature of the institutions under which he lives, for the constitution, in its spirit, everywhere recognises the principle. But One, greater than the constitution of America, in divine ordinances, everywhere denies the right of a man to profess one thing and to mean another. There is an implied pledge given by every public agent that he will not misrepresent what he knows to be the popular sentiment at home, and which popular sentiment, directly or indirectly, has clothed his language with the authority it carries in foreign countries; and there is every obligation of faith, fidelity, delicacy, and discretion, that he should do no discredit to that which he knows to be a distinguishing and vital principle with his constituents. As respects our agents in Europe, I believe little is hazarded in saying, that too many have done injury to the cause of liberty. I have heard this so often from various quarters of the highest respectability,[29] it has been so frequently affirmed in public here, and I have witnessed so much myself, that, perhaps, the subject presents itself with more force to me, on the spot, than it will to you, who can only look at it through the medium of distance and testimony. I make no objection to a rigid neutrality in the strife of opinions that is going on here, but I call for the self-denial of concealing all predilections in favour of the government of one or of the few; and should any minister of despotism, or political exclusion, presume to cite an American agent as being of his way of thinking, all motives of forbearance would seem to disappear, and, if really an American in more than pretension, it appears to me the time would be come to vindicate the truth with the frankness and energy of a freeman.




James Fenimore Cooper

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