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Consular Experiences


The Consulate of the United States, in my day, was located in Washington
Buildings (a shabby and smoke-stained edifice of four stories high, thus
illustriously named in honor of our national establishment), at the lower
corner of Brunswick Street, contiguous to the Gorec Arcade, and in the
neighborhood of scone of the oldest docks. This was by no means a polite
or elegant portion of England's great commercial city, nor were the
apartments of the American official so splendid as to indicate the
assumption of much consular pomp on his part. A narrow and ill-lighted
staircase gave access to an equally narrow and ill-lighted passageway on
the first floor, at the extremity of which, surmounting a door-frame,
appeared an exceedingly stiff pictorial representation of the Goose and
Gridiron, according to the English idea of those ever-to-be-honored
symbols. The staircase and passageway were often thronged, of a morning,
with a set of beggarly and piratical-looking scoundrels (I do no wrong to
our own countrymen in styling them so, for not one in twenty was a
genuine American), purporting to belong to our mercantile marine, and
chiefly composed of Liverpool Blackballers and the scum of every maritime
nation on earth; such being the seamen by whose assistance we then
disputed the navigation of the world with England. These specimens of a
most unfortunate class of people were shipwrecked crews in quest of bed,
board, and clothing, invalids asking permits for the hospital, bruised
and bloody wretches complaining of ill-treatment by their officers,
drunkards, desperadoes, vagabonds, and cheats, perplexingly intermingled
with an uncertain proportion of reasonably honest men. All of them (save
here and there a poor devil of a kidnapped landsman in his shoregoing
rags) wore red flannel shirts, in which they had sweltered or shivered
throughout the voyage, and all required consular assistance in one form
or another.

Any respectable visitor, if he could make up his mind to elbow a passage
among these sea-monsters, was admitted into an outer office, where he
found more of the same species, explaining their respective wants or
grievances to the Vice-Consul and clerks, while their shipmates awaited
their turn outside the door. Passing through this exterior court, the
stranger was ushered into an inner privacy, where sat the Consul himself,
ready to give personal attention to such peculiarly difficult and more
important cases as might demand the exercise of (what we will courteously
suppose to be) his own higher judicial or administrative sagacity.

It was an apartment of very moderate size, painted in imitation of oak,
and duskily lighted by two windows looking across a by-street at the
rough brick-side of an immense cotton warehouse, a plainer and uglier
structure than ever was built in America. On the walls of the room hung
a large map of the United States (as they were, twenty years ago, but
seem little likely to be, twenty years hence), and a similar one of Great
Britain, with its territory so provokingly compact, that we may expect it
to sink sooner than sunder. Farther adornments were some rude engravings
of our naval victories in the War of 1812, together with the Tennessee
State House, and a Hudson River steamer, and a colored, life-size
lithograph of General Taylor, with an honest hideousness of aspect,
occupying the place of honor above the mantel-piece. On the top of a
bookcase stood a fierce and terrible bust of General Jackson, pilloried
in a military collar which rose above his ears, and frowning forth
immitigably at any Englishman who might happen to cross the threshold. I
am afraid, however, that the truculence of the old General's expression
was utterly thrown away on this stolid and obdurate race of men; for,
when they occasionally inquired whom this work of art represented, I was
mortified to find that the younger ones had never heard of the battle of
New Orleans, and that their elders had either forgotten it altogether, or
contrived to misremember, and twist it wrong end foremost into something
like an English victory. They have caught from the old Romans (whom they
resemble in so many other characteristics) this excellent method of
keeping the national glory intact by sweeping all defeats and
humiliations clean out of their memory. Nevertheless, my patriotism
forbade me to take down either the bust, or the pictures, both because it
seemed no more than right that an American Consulate (being a little
patch of our nationality imbedded into the soil and institutions of
England) should fairly represent the American taste in the fine arts, and
because these decorations reminded me so delightfully of an old-fashioned
American barber's shop.

One truly English object was a barometer hanging on the wall, generally
indicating one or another degree of disagreeable weather, and so seldom
pointing to Fair, that I began to consider that portion of its circle as
made superfluously. The deep chimney, with its grate of bituminous coal,
was English too, as was also the chill temperature that sometimes called
for a fire at midsummer, and the foggy or smoky atmosphere which often,
between November and March, compelled me to set the gas aflame at
noonday. I am not aware of omitting anything important in the above
descriptive inventory, unless it be some book-shelves filled with octavo
volumes of the American Statutes, and a good many pigeon-holes stuffed
with dusty communications from former Secretaries of State, and other
official documents of similar value, constituting part of the archives of
the Consulate, which I might have done my successor a favor by flinging
into the coal-grate. Yes; there was one other article demanding
prominent notice: the consular copy of the New Testament, bound in black
morocco, and greasy, I fear, with a daily succession of perjured kisses;
at least, I can hardly hope that all the ten thousand oaths, administered
by me between two breaths, to all sorts of people and on all manner of
worldly business, were reckoned by the swearer as if taken at his soul's
peril.

Such, in short, was the dusky and stifled chamber in which I spent
wearily a considerable portion of more than four good years of my
existence. At first, to be quite frank with the reader, I looked upon it
as not altogether fit to be tenanted by the commercial representative of
so great and prosperous a country as the United States then were; and I
should speedily have transferred my headquarters to airier and loftier
apartments, except for the prudent consideration that my government would
have left me thus to support its dignity at my own personal expense.
Besides, a long line of distinguished predecessors, of whom the latest is
now a gallant general under the Union banner, had found the locality good
enough for them; it might certainly be tolerated, therefore, by an
individual so little ambitious of external magnificence as myself. So I
settled quietly down, striking some of my roots into such soil as I could
find, adapting myself to circumstances, and with so much success, that,
though from first to last I hated the very sight of the little room, I
should yet have felt a singular kind of reluctance in changing it for a
better.

Hither, in the course of my incumbency, came a great variety of visitors,
principally Americans, but including almost every other nationality on
earth, especially the distressed and downfallen ones like those of Poland
and Hungary. Italian bandits (for so they looked), proscribed
conspirators from Old Spain, Spanish-Americans, Cubans who processed to
have stood by Lopez and narrowly escaped his fate, scarred French
soldiers of the Second Republic,--in a word, all sufferers, or pretended
ones, in the cause of Liberty, all people homeless in the widest sense,
those who never had a country or had lost it, those whom their native
land had impatiently flung off for planning a better system of things
than they were born to,--a multitude of these and, doubtless, an equal
number of jail-birds, outwardly of the same feather, sought the American
Consulate, in hopes of at least a bit of bread, and, perhaps, to beg a
passage to the blessed shores of Freedom. In most cases there was
nothing, and in any case distressingly little, to be done for them;
neither was I of a proselyting disposition, nor desired to make my
Consulate a nucleus for the vagrant discontents of other lands. And yet
it was a proud thought, a forcible appeal to the sympathies of an
American, that these unfortunates claimed the privileges of citizenship
in our Republic on the strength of the very same noble misdemeanors that
had rendered them outlaws to their native despotisms. So I gave them
what small help I could. Methinks the true patriots and martyr-spirits
of the whole world should have been conscious of a pang near the heart,
when a deadly blow was aimed at the vitality of a country which they have
felt to be their own in the last resort.

As for my countrymen, I grew better acquainted with many of our national
characteristics during those four years than in all my preceding life.
Whether brought more strikingly out by the contrast with English manners,
or that my Yankee friends assumed an extra peculiarity from a sense of
defiant patriotism, so it was that their tones, sentiments, and behavior,
even their figures and cast of countenance, all seemed chiselled in
sharper angles than ever I had imagined them to be at home. It impressed
me with an odd idea of having somehow lost the property of my own person,
when I occasionally heard one of them speaking of me as "my Consul"!
They often came to the Consulate in parties of half a dozen or more, on
no business whatever, but merely to subject their public servant to a
rigid examination, and see how he was getting on with his duties. These
interviews were rather formidable, being characterized by a certain
stiffness which I felt to be sufficiently irksome at the moment, though
it looks laughable enough in the retrospect. It is my firm belief that
these fellow-citizens, possessing a native tendency to organization,
generally halted outside of the door to elect a speaker, chairman, or
moderator, and thus approached me with all the formalities of a
deputation from the American people. After salutations on both sides,--
abrupt, awful, and severe on their part, and deprecatory on mine,--and
the national ceremony of shaking hands being duly gone through with, the
interview proceeded by a series of calm and well-considered questions or
remarks from the spokesman (no other of the guests vouchsafing to utter a
word), and diplomatic responses from the Consul, who sometimes found the
investigation a little more searching than he liked. I flatter myself,
however, that, by much practice, I attained considerable skill in this
kind of intercourse, the art of which lies in passing off commonplaces
for new and valuable truths, and talking trash and emptiness in such a
way that a pretty acute auditor might mistake it for something solid. If
there be any better method of dealing with such junctures,--when talk is
to be created out of nothing, and within the scope of several minds at
once, so that you cannot apply yourself to your interlocutor's
individuality,--I have not learned it.

Sitting, as it were, in the gateway between the Old World and the New,
where the steamers and packets landed the greater part of our wandering
countrymen, and received them again when their wanderings were done, I
saw that no people on earth have such vagabond habits as ourselves. The
Continental races never travel at all if they can help it; nor does an
Englishman ever think of stirring abroad, unless he has the money to
spare, or proposes to himself some definite advantage from the journey;
but it seemed to me that nothing was more common than for a young
American deliberately to spend all his resources in an aesthetic
peregrination about Europe, returning with pockets nearly empty to begin
the world in earnest. It happened, indeed, much oftener than was at all
agreeable to myself, that their funds held out just long enough to bring
them to the door of my Consulate, where they entered as if with an
undeniable right to its shelter and protection, and required at my hands
to be sent home again. In my first simplicity,--finding them gentlemanly
in manners, passably educated, and only tempted a little beyond their
means by a laudable desire of improving and refining themselves, or,
perhaps for the sake of getting better artistic instruction in music,
painting, or sculpture than our country could supply,--I sometimes took
charge of them on my private responsibility, since our government gives
itself no trouble about its stray children, except the seafaring class.
But, after a few such experiments, discovering that none of these
estimable and ingenuous young men, however trustworthy they might appear,
ever dreamed of reimbursing the Consul, I deemed it expedient to take
another course with them. Applying myself to some friendly shipmaster, I
engaged homeward passages on their behalf, with the understanding that
they were to make themselves serviceable on shipboard; and I remember
several very pathetic appeals from painters and musicians, touching the
damage which their artistic fingers were likely to incur from handling
the ropes. But my observation of so many heavier troubles left me very
little tenderness for their finger-ends. In time I grew to be reasonably
hard-hearted, though it never was quite possible to leave a countryman
with no shelter save an English poorhouse, when, as he invariably
averred, he had only to set foot on his native soil to be possessed of
ample funds. It was my ultimate conclusion, however, that American
ingenuity may be pretty safely left to itself, and that, one way or
another, a Yankee vagabond is certain to turn up at his own threshold, if
he has any, without help of a Consul, and perhaps be taught a lesson of
foresight that may profit him hereafter.

Among these stray Americans, I met with no other case so remarkable as
that of an old man, who was in the habit of visiting me once in a few
months, and soberly affirmed that he had been wandering about England
more than a quarter of a century (precisely twenty-seven years, I think),
and all the while doing his utmost to get home again. Herman Melville,
in his excellent novel or biography of "Israel Potter," has an idea
somewhat similar to this. The individual now in question was a mild and
patient, but very ragged and pitiable old fellow, shabby beyond
description, lean and hungry-looking, but with a large and somewhat red
nose. He made no complaint of his ill-fortune, but only repeated in a
quiet voice, with a pathos of which he was himself evidently unconscious,
"I want to get home to Ninety-second Street, Philadelphia." He described
himself as a printer by trade, and said that he had come over when he was
a younger man, in the hope of bettering himself, and for the sake of
seeing the Old Country, but had never since been rich enough to pay his
homeward passage. His manner and accent did not quite convince me that
he was an American, and I told him so; but he steadfastly affirmed, "Sir,
I was born and have lived in Ninety-second Street, Philadelphia," and
then went on to describe some public edifices and other local objects
with which he used to be familiar, adding, with a simplicity that touched
me very closely, "Sir, I had rather be there than here!" Though I still
manifested a lingering doubt, he took no offence, replying with the
same mild depression as at first, and insisting again and again on
Ninety-second Street. Up to the time when I saw him, he still got a
little occasional job-work at his trade, but subsisted mainly on such
charity as he met with in his wanderings, shifting from place to place
continually, and asking assistance to convey him to his native land.
Possibly he was an impostor, one of the multitudinous shapes of English
vagabondism, and told his falsehood with such powerful simplicity,
because, by many repetitions, he had convinced himself of its truth. But
if, as I believe, the tale was fact, how very strange and sad was this
old man's fate! Homeless on a foreign shore, looking always towards his
country, coming again and again to the point whence so many were setting
sail for it,--so many who would soon tread in Ninety-second Street,--
losing, in this long series of years, some of the distinctive
characteristics of an American, and at last dying and surrendering his
clay to be a portion of the soil whence he could not escape in his
lifetime.

He appeared to see that he had moved me, but did not attempt to press his
advantage with any new argument, or any varied form of entreaty. He had
but scanty and scattered thoughts in his gray head, and in the intervals
of those, like the refrain of an old ballad, came in the monotonous
burden of his appeal, "If I could only find myself in Ninety-second
Street, Philadelphia!" But even his desire of getting home had ceased to
be an ardent one (if, indeed, it had not always partaken of the dreamy
sluggishness of his character), although it remained his only locomotive
impulse, and perhaps the sole principle of life that kept his blood from
actual torpor.

The poor old fellow's story seemed to me almost as worthy of being
chanted in immortal song as that of Odysseus or Evangeline. I took his
case into deep consideration, but dared not incur the moral
responsibility of sending him across the sea, at his age, after so many
years of exile, when the very tradition of him had passed away, to find
his friends dead, or forgetful, or irretrievably vanished, and the whole
country become more truly a foreign land to him than England was now,--
and even Ninety-second Street, in the weedlike decay and growth of our
localities, made over anew and grown unrecognizable by his old eyes.
That street, so patiently longed for, had transferred itself to the New
Jerusalem, and he must seek it there, contenting his slow heart,
meanwhile, with the smoke-begrimed thoroughfares of English towns,
or the green country lanes and by-paths with which his wanderings had
made him familiar; for doubtless he had a beaten track and was the
"long-remembered beggar" now, with food and a roughly hospitable greeting
ready for him at many a farm-house door, and his choice of lodging under
a score of haystacks. In America, nothing awaited him but that worst
form of disappointment which comes under the guise of a long-cherished
and late-accomplished purpose, and then a year or two of dry and barren
sojourn in an almshouse, and death among strangers at last, where he had
imagined a circle of familiar faces. So I contented myself with giving
him alms, which he thankfully accepted, and went away with bent shoulders
and an aspect of gentle forlornness; returning upon his orbit, however,
after a few months, to tell the same sad and quiet story of his abode in
England for more than twenty-seven years, in all which time he had been
endeavoring, and still endeavored as patiently as ever, to find his way
home to Ninety-second Street, Philadelphia.

I recollect another case, of a more ridiculous order, but still with a
foolish kind of pathos entangled in it, which impresses me now more
forcibly than it did at the moment. One day, a queer, stupid,
good-natured, fat-faced individual came into my private room, dressed in
a sky-blue, cut-away coat and mixed trousers, both garments worn and
shabby, and rather too small for his overgrown bulk. After a little
preliminary talk, he turned out to be a country shopkeeper (from
Connecticut, I think), who had left a flourishing business, and come over
to England purposely and solely to have an interview with the Queen.
Some years before he had named his two children, one for her Majesty and
the other for Prince Albert, and had transmitted photographs of the
little people, as well as of his wife and himself, to the illustrious
godmother. The Queen had gratefully acknowledged the favor in a letter
under the hand of her private secretary. Now, the shopkeeper, like a
great many other Americans, had long cherished a fantastic notion that he
was one of the rightful heirs of a rich English estate; and on the
strength of her Majesty's letter and the hopes of royal patronage which
it inspired, he had shut up his little country-store and come over to
claim his inheritance. On the voyage, a German fellow-passenger had
relieved him of his money on pretence of getting it favorably exchanged,
and had disappeared immediately on the ship's arrival; so that the poor
fellow was compelled to pawn all his clothes, except the remarkably
shabby ones in which I beheld him, and in which (as he himself hinted,
with a melancholy, yet good-natured smile) he did not look altogether fit
to see the Queen. I agreed with him that the bobtailed coat and mixed
trousers constituted a very odd-looking court-dress, and suggested that
it was doubtless his present purpose to get back to Connecticut as fast
as possible. But no! The resolve to see the Queen was as strong in him
as ever; and it was marvellous the pertinacity with which he clung to it
amid raggedness and starvation, and the earnestness of his supplication
that I would supply him with funds for a suitable appearance at Windsor
Castle.

I never had so satisfactory a perception of a complete booby before in my
life; and it caused me to feel kindly towards him, and yet impatient and
exasperated on behalf of common-sense, which could not possibly tolerate
that such an unimaginable donkey should exist. I laid his absurdity
before him in the very plainest terms, but without either exciting his
anger or shaking his resolution. "O my dear man," quoth he, with
good-natured, placid, simple, and tearful stubbornness, "if you could but
enter into my feelings and see the matter from beginning to end as I see
it!" To confess the truth, I have since felt that I was hard-hearted to
the poor simpleton, and that there was more weight in his remonstrance
than I chose to be sensible of, at the time; for, like many men who have
been in the habit of making playthings or tools of their imagination and
sensibility, I was too rigidly tenacious of what was reasonable in the
affairs of real life. And even absurdity has its rights, when, as in
this case, it has absorbed a human being's entire nature and purposes. I
ought to have transmitted him to Mr. Buchanan, in London, who, being a
good-natured old gentleman, and anxious, just then, to gratify the
universal Yankee nation, might, for the joke's sake, have got him
admittance to the Queen, who had fairly laid herself open to his visit,
and has received hundreds of our countrymen on infinitely slighter
grounds. But I was inexorable, being turned to flint by the insufferable
proximity of a fool, and refused to interfere with his business in any
way except to procure him a passage home. I can see his face of mild,
ridiculous despair, at this moment, and appreciate, better than I could
then, how awfully cruel he must have felt my obduracy to be. For years
and years, the idea of an interview with Queen Victoria had haunted his
poor foolish mind; and now, when he really stood on English ground, and
the palace-door was hanging ajar for him, he was expected to turn brick,
a penniless and bamboozled simpleton, merely because an iron-hearted
consul refused to lend him thirty shillings (so low had his demand
ultimately sunk) to buy a second-class ticket on the rail for London!

He visited the Consulate several times afterwards, subsisting on a
pittance that I allowed him in the hope of gradually starving him back to
Connecticut, assailing me with the old petition at every opportunity,
looking shabbier at every visit, but still thoroughly good-tempered,
mildly stubborn, and smiling through his tears, not without a perception
of the ludicrousness of his own position. Finally, he disappeared
altogether, and whither he had wandered, and whether he ever saw the
Queen, or wasted quite away in the endeavor, I never knew; but I remember
unfolding the "Times," about that period, with a daily dread of reading
an account of a ragged Yankee's attempt to steal into Buckingham Palace,
and how he smiled tearfully at his captors and besought them to introduce
him to her Majesty. I submit to Mr. Secretary Seward that he ought to
make diplomatic remonstrances to the British Ministry, and require them
to take such order that the Queen shall not any longer bewilder the wits
of our poor compatriots by responding to their epistles and thanking them
for their photographs.

One circumstance in the foregoing incident--I mean the unhappy
storekeeper's notion of establishing his claim to an English estate--was
common to a great many other applications, personal or by letter, with
which I was favored by my countrymen. The cause of this peculiar
insanity lies deep in the Anglo-American heart. After all these bloody
wars and vindictive animosities, we have still an unspeakable yearning
towards England. When our forefathers left the old home, they pulled up
many of their roots, but trailed along with them others, which were never
snapt asunder by the tug of such a lengthening distance, nor have been
torn out of the original soil by the violence of subsequent struggles,
nor severed by the edge of the sword. Even so late as these days, they
remain entangled with our heart-strings, and might often have influenced
our national cause like the tiller-ropes of a ship, if the rough gripe of
England had been capable of managing so sensitive a kind of machinery.
It has required nothing less than the boorishness, the stolidity, the
self-sufficiency, the contemptuous jealousy, the half-sagacity,
invariably blind of one eye and often distorted of the other, that
characterize this strange people, to compel us to be a great nation in
our own right, instead of continuing virtually, if not in name, a
province of their small island. What pains did they take to shake us
off, and have ever since taken to keep us wide apart from them! It might
seem their folly, but was really their fate, or, rather, the Providence
of God, who has doubtless a work for us to do, in which the massive
materiality of the English character would have been too ponderous a
dead-weight upon our progress. And, besides, if England had been wise
enough to twine our new vigor round about her ancient strength, her power
would have been too firmly established ever to yield, in its due season,
to the otherwise immutable law of imperial vicissitude. The earth might
then have beheld the intolerable spectacle of a sovereignty and
institutions, imperfect, but indestructible.

Nationally, there has ceased to be any peril of so inauspicious and yet
outwardly attractive an amalgamation. But as an individual, the American
is often conscious of the deep-rooted sympathies that belong more fitly
to times gone by, and feels a blind pathetic tendency to wander back
again, which makes itself evident in such wild dreams as I have alluded
to above, about English inheritances. A mere coincidence of names (the
Yankee one, perhaps, having been assumed by legislative permission), a
supposititious pedigree, a silver mug on which an anciently engraved
coat-of-arms has been half scrubbed out, a seal with an uncertain crest,
an old yellow letter or document in faded ink, the more scantily legible
the better,--rubbish of this kind, found in a neglected drawer, has been
potent enough to turn the brain of many an honest Republican, especially
if assisted by an advertisement for lost heirs, cut out of a British
newspaper. There is no estimating or believing, till we come into a
position to know it, what foolery lurks latent in the breasts of very
sensible people. Remembering such sober extravagances, I should not be
at all surprised to find that I am myself guilty of some unsuspected
absurdity, that may appear to me the most substantial trait in my
character.

I might fill many pages with instances of this diseased American appetite
for English soil. A respectable-looking woman, well advanced in life, of
sour aspect, exceedingly homely, but decidedly New-Englandish in figure
and manners, came to my office with a great bundle of documents, at the
very first glimpse of which I apprehended something terrible. Nor was I
mistaken. The bundle contained evidences of her indubitable claim to the
site on which Castle Street, the Town Hall, the Exchange, and all the
principal business part of Liverpool have long been situated; and with
considerable peremptoriness, the good lady signified her expectation that
I should take charge of her suit, and prosecute it to judgment; not,
however, on the equitable condition of receiving half the value of the
property recovered (which, in case of complete success, would have made
both of us ten or twenty fold millionaires), but without recompense or
reimbursement of legal expenses, solely as an incident of my official
duty. Another time came two ladies, bearing a letter of emphatic
introduction from his Excellency the Governor of their native State, who
testified in most satisfactory terms to their social respectability.
They were claimants of a great estate in Cheshire, and announced
themselves as blood-relatives of Queen Victoria,--a point, however, which
they deemed it expedient to keep in the background until their
territorial rights should be established, apprehending that the Lord High
Chancellor might otherwise be less likely to come to a fair decision in
respect to them, from a probable disinclination to admit new members into
the royal kin. Upon my honor, I imagine that they had an eye to the
possibility of the eventual succession of one or both of them to the
crown of Great Britain through superiority of title over the Brunswick
line; although, being maiden ladies, like their predecessor Elizabeth,
they could hardly have hoped to establish a lasting dynasty upon the
throne. It proves, I trust, a certain disinterestedness on my part,
that, encountering them thus in the dawn of their fortunes, I forbore to
put in a plea for a future dukedom.

Another visitor of the same class was a gentleman of refined manners,
handsome figure, and remarkably intellectual aspect. Like many men of an
adventurous cast, he had so quiet a deportment, and such an apparent
disinclination to general sociability, that you would have fancied him
moving always along some peaceful and secluded walk of life. Yet,
literally from his first hour, he had been tossed upon the surges of a
most varied and tumultuous existence, having been born at sea, of
American parentage, but on board of a Spanish vessel, and spending many
of the subsequent years in voyages, travels, and outlandish incidents and
vicissitudes, which, methought, had hardly been paralleled since the days
of Gulliver or De Foe. When his dignified reserve was overcome, he had
the faculty of narrating these adventures with wonderful eloquence,
working up his descriptive sketches with such intuitive perception of the
picturesque points that the whole was thrown forward with a positively
illusive effect, like matters of your own visual experience. In fact,
they were so admirably done that I could never more than half believe
them, because the genuine affairs of life are not apt to transact
themselves so artistically. Many of his scenes were laid in the East,
and among those seldom-visited archipelagoes of the Indian Ocean, so that
there was an Oriental fragrance breathing through his talk and an odor of
the Spice Islands still lingering in his garments. He had much to say of
the delightful qualities of the Malay pirates, who, indeed, carry on a
predatory warfare against the ships of all civilized nations, and cut
every Christian throat among their prisoners; but (except for deeds of
that character, which are the rule and habit of their life, and matter of
religion and conscience with them) they are a gentle-natured people, of
primitive innocence and integrity.

But his best story was about a race of men (if men they were) who seemed
so fully to realize Swift's wicked fable of the Yahoos, that my friend
was much exercised with psychological speculations whether or no they had
any souls. They dwelt in the wilds of Ceylon, like other savage beasts,
hairy, and spotted with tufts of fur, filthy, shameless, weaponless
(though warlike in their individual bent), tool-less, houseless,
language-less, except for a few guttural sounds, hideously dissonant,
whereby they held some rudest kind of communication among themselves.
They lacked both memory and foresight, and were wholly destitute of
government, social institutions, or law or rulership of any description,
except the immediate tyranny of the strongest; radically untamable,
moreover, save that the people of the country managed to subject a few of
the less ferocious and stupid ones to outdoor servitude among their other
cattle. They were beastly in almost all their attributes, and that to
such a degree that the observer, losing sight of any link betwixt them
and manhood, could generally witness their brutalities without greater
horror than at those of some disagreeable quadruped in a menagerie. And
yet, at times, comparing what were the lowest general traits in his own
race with what was highest in these abominable monsters, he found a
ghastly similitude that half compelled him to recognize them as human
brethren.

After these Gulliverian researches, my agreeable acquaintance had fallen
under the ban of the Dutch government, and had suffered (this, at least,
being matter of fact) nearly two years' imprisonment, with confiscation
of a large amount of property, for which Mr. Belmont, our minister at the
Hague, had just made a peremptory demand of reimbursement and damages.
Meanwhile, since arriving in England on his way to the United States, he
had been providentially led to inquire into the circumstances of his
birth on shipboard, and had discovered that not himself alone, but
another baby, had come into the world during the same voyage of the
prolific vessel, and that there were almost irrefragable reasons for
believing that these two children had been assigned to the wrong mothers.
Many reminiscences of his early days confirmed him in the idea that his
nominal parents were aware of the exchange. The family to which he felt
authorized to attribute his lineage was that of a nobleman, in the
picture-gallery of whose country-seat (whence, if I mistake not, our
adventurous friend had just returned) he had discovered a portrait
bearing a striking resemblance to himself. As soon as he should have
reported the outrageous action of the Dutch government to President
Pierce and the Secretary of State, and recovered the confiscated
property, he purposed to return to England and establish his claim to the
nobleman's title and estate.

I had accepted his Oriental fantasies (which, indeed, to do him justice,
have been recorded by scientific societies among the genuine phenomena of
natural history), not as matters of indubitable credence, but as
allowable specimens of an imaginative traveller's vivid coloring and rich
embroidery on the coarse texture and dull neutral tints of truth. The
English romance was among the latest communications that he intrusted to
my private ear; and as soon as I heard the first chapter,--so wonderfully
akin to what I might have wrought out of my own head, not unpractised in
such figments,--I began to repent having made myself responsible for the
future nobleman's passage homeward in the next Collins steamer.
Nevertheless, should his English rent-roll fall a little behindhand, his
Dutch claim for a hundred thousand dollars was certainly in the hands of
our government, and might at least be valuable to the extent of thirty
pounds, which I had engaged to pay on his behalf. But I have reason to
fear that his Dutch riches turned out to be Dutch gilt, or fairy gold,
and his English country-seat a mere castle in the air,--which I
exceedingly regret, for he was a delightful companion and a very
gentlemanly man.

A Consul, in his position of universal responsibility, the general
adviser and helper, sometimes finds himself compelled to assume the
guardianship of personages who, in their own sphere, are supposed capable
of superintending the highest interests of whole communities. An elderly
Irishman, a naturalized citizen, once put the desire and expectation of
all our penniless vagabonds into a very suitable phrase, by pathetically
entreating me to be a "father to him"; and, simple as I sit scribbling
here, I have acted a father's part, not only by scores of such unthrifty
old children as himself, but by a progeny of far loftier pretensions. It
may be well for persons who are conscious of any radical weakness in
their character, any besetting sin, any unlawful propensity, any
unhallowed impulse, which (while surrounded with the manifold restraints
that protect a man from that treacherous and lifelong enemy, his lower
self, in the circle of society where he is at home) they may have
succeeded in keeping under the lock and key of strictest propriety,--it
may be well for them, before seeking the perilous freedom of a distant
land, released from the watchful eyes of neighborhoods and coteries,
lightened of that wearisome burden, an immaculate name, and blissfully
obscure after years of local prominence,--it may be well for such
individuals to know that when they set foot on a foreign shore, the
long-imprisoned Evil, scenting a wild license in the unaccustomed
atmosphere, is apt to grow riotous in its iron cage. It rattles the
rusty barriers with gigantic turbulence, and if there be an infirm joint
anywhere in the framework, it breaks madly forth, compressing the
mischief of a lifetime into a little space.

A parcel of letters had been accumulating at the Consulate for two or
three weeks, directed to a certain Doctor of Divinity, who had left
America by a sailing-packet and was still upon the sea. In due time, the
vessel arrived, and the reverend Doctor paid me a visit. He was a
fine-looking middle-aged gentleman, a perfect model of clerical
propriety, scholar-like, yet with the air of a man of the world rather
than a student, though overspread with the graceful sanctity of a popular
metropolitan divine, a part of whose duty it might be to exemplify the
natural accordance between Christianity and good-breeding. He seemed a
little excited, as an American is apt to be on first arriving in England,
but conversed with intelligence as well as animation, making himself so
agreeable that his visit stood out in considerable relief from the
monotony of my daily commonplace. As I learned from authentic sources,
he was somewhat distinguished in his own region for fervor and eloquence
in the pulpit, but was now compelled to relinquish it temporarily for the
purpose of renovating his impaired health by an extensive tour in Europe.
Promising to dine with me, he took up his bundle of letters and went
away.

The Doctor, however, failed to make his appearance at dinner-time, or to
apologize the next day for his absence; and in the course of a day or two
more, I forgot all about him, concluding that he must have set forth on
his Continental travels, the plan of which he had sketched out at our
interview. But, by and by, I received a call from the master of the
vessel in which he had arrived. He was in some alarm about his
passenger, whose luggage remained on shipboard, but of whom nothing had
been heard or seen since the moment of his departure from the Consulate.
We conferred together, the captain and I, about the expediency of setting
the police on the traces (if any were to be found) of our vanished
friend; but it struck me that the good captain was singularly reticent,
and that there was something a little mysterious in a few points that he
hinted at rather than expressed; so that, scrutinizing the affair
carefully, I surmised that the intimacy of life on shipboard might have
taught him more about the reverend gentleman than, for some reason or
other, he deemed it prudent to reveal. At home, in our native country, I
would have looked to the Doctor's personal safety and left his reputation
to take care of itself, knowing that the good fame of a thousand saintly
clergymen would amply dazzle out any lamentable spot on a single
brother's character. But in scornful and invidious England, on the idea
that the credit of the sacred office was measurably intrusted to my
discretion, I could not endure, for the sake of American Doctors of
Divinity generally, that this particular Doctor should cut an ignoble
figure in the police reports of the English newspapers, except at the
last necessity. The clerical body, I flatter myself, will acknowledge
that I acted on their own principle. Besides, it was now too late; the
mischief and violence, if any had been impending, were not of a kind
which it requires the better part of a week to perpetrate; and to sum up
the entire matter, I felt certain, from a good deal of somewhat similar
experience, that, if the missing Doctor still breathed this vital air, he
would turn up at the Consulate as soon as his money should be stolen or
spent.

Precisely a week after this reverend person's disappearance, there came
to my office a tall, middle-aged gentleman in a blue military surtout,
braided at the seams, but out at elbows, and as shabby as if the wearer
had been bivouacking in it throughout a Crimean campaign. It was
buttoned up to the very chin, except where three or four of the buttons
were lost; nor was there any glimpse of a white shirt-collar illuminating
the rusty black cravat. A grisly mustache was just beginning to roughen
the stranger's upper lip. He looked disreputable to the last degree, but
still had a ruined air of good society glimmering about him, like a few
specks of polish on a swordblade that has lain corroding in a mud-puddle.
I took him to be some American marine officer, of dissipated habits, or
perhaps a cashiered British major, stumbling into the wrong quarters
through the unrectified bewilderment of last night's debauch. He greeted
me, however, with polite familiarity, as though we had been previously
acquainted; whereupon I drew coldly back (as sensible people naturally
do, whether from strangers or former friends, when too evidently at odds
with fortune) and requested to know who my visitor might be, and what was
his business at the Consulate. "Am I then so changed?" he exclaimed with
a vast depth of tragic intonation; and after a little blind and
bewildered talk, behold! the truth flashed upon me. It was the Doctor of
Divinity! If I had meditated a scene or a coup de theatre, I could not
have contrived a more effectual one than by this simple and genuine
difficulty of recognition. The poor Divine must have felt that he had
lost his personal identity through the misadventures of one little week.
And, to say the truth, he did look as if, like Job, on account of his
especial sanctity, he had been delivered over to the direst temptations
of Satan, and proving weaker than the man of Uz, the Arch Enemy had been
empowered to drag him through Tophet, transforming him, in the process,
from the most decorous of metropolitan clergymen into the rowdiest and
dirtiest of disbanded officers. I never fathomed the mystery of his
military costume, but conjectured that a lurking sense of fitness had
induced him to exchange his clerical garments for this habit of a sinner;
nor can I tell precisely into what pitfall, not more of vice than
terrible calamity, he had precipitated himself,--being more than
satisfied to know that the outcasts of society can sink no lower than
this poor, desecrated wretch had sunk.

The opportunity, I presume, does not often happen to a layman, of
administering moral and religious reproof to a Doctor of Divinity; but
finding the occasion thrust upon me, and the hereditary Puritan waxing
strong in my breast, I deemed it a matter of conscience not to let it
pass entirely unimproved. The truth is, I was unspeakably shocked and
disgusted. Not, however, that I was then to learn that clergymen are
made of the same flesh and blood as other people, and perhaps lack one
small safeguard which the rest of us possess, because they are aware of
their own peccability, and therefore cannot look up to the clerical class
for the proof of the possibility of a pure life on earth, with such
reverential confidence as we are prone to do. But I remembered the
innocent faith of my boyhood, and the good old silver-headed clergyman,
who seemed to me as much a saint then on earth as he is now in heaven,
and partly for whose sake, through all these darkening years, I retain a
devout, though not intact nor unwavering respect for the entire
fraternity. What a hideous wrong, therefore, had the backslider
inflicted on his brethren, and still more on me, who much needed whatever
fragments of broken reverence (broken, not as concerned religion, but its
earthly institutions and professors) it might yet be possible to patch
into a sacred image! Should all pulpits and communion-tables have
thenceforth a stain upon them, and the guilty one go unrebuked for it?
So I spoke to the unhappy man as I never thought myself warranted in
speaking to any other mortal, hitting him hard, doing my utmost to find
out his vulnerable part, and prick him into the depths of it. And not
without more effect than I had dreamed of, or desired!

No doubt, the novelty of the Doctor's reversed position, thus standing up
to receive such a fulmination as the clergy have heretofore arrogated the
exclusive right of inflicting, might give additional weight and sting to
the words which I found utterance for. But there was another reason
(which, had I in the least suspected it, would have closed my lips at
once) for his feeling morbidly sensitive to the cruel rebuke that I
administered. The unfortunate man had come to me, laboring under one of
the consequences of his riotous outbreak, in the shape of delirium
tremens; he bore a hell within the compass of his own breast, all the
torments of which blazed up with tenfold inveteracy when I thus took upon
myself the Devil's office of stirring up the red-hot embers. His
emotions, as well as the external movement and expression of them by
voice, countenance, and gesture, were terribly exaggerated by the
tremendous vibration of nerves resulting from the disease. It was the
deepest tragedy I ever witnessed. I know sufficiently, from that one
experience, how a condemned soul would manifest its agonies; and for the
future, if I have anything to do with sinners, I mean to operate upon
them through sympathy, and not rebuke. What had I to do with rebuking
him? The disease, long latent in his heart, had shown itself in a
frightful eruption on the surface of his life. That was all! Is it a
thing to scold the sufferer for?

To conclude this wretched story, the poor Doctor of Divinity, having been
robbed of all his money in this little airing beyond the limits of
propriety, was easily persuaded to give up the intended tour and return
to his bereaved flock, who, very probably, were thereafter conscious of
an increased unction in his soul-stirring eloquence, without suspecting
the awful depths into which their pastor had dived in quest of it. His
voice is now silent. I leave it to members of his own profession to
decide whether it was better for him thus to sin outright, and so to be
let into the miserable secret what manner of man he was, or to have gone
through life outwardly unspotted, making the first discovery of his
latent evil at the judgment-seat. It has occurred to me that his dire
calamity, as both he and I regarded it, might have been the only method
by which precisely such a man as himself, and so situated, could be
redeemed. He has learned, ere now, how that matter stood.

For a man, with a natural tendency to meddle with other people's
business, there could not possibly be a more congenial sphere than the
Liverpool Consulate. For myself, I had never been in the habit of
feeling that I could sufficiently comprehend any particular conjunction
of circumstances with human character, to justify me in thrusting in my
awkward agency among the intricate and unintelligible machinery of
Providence. I have always hated to give advice, especially when there is
a prospect of its being taken. It is only one-eyed people who love to
advise, or have any spontaneous promptitude of action. When a man opens
both his eyes, he generally sees about as many reasons for acting in any
one way as in any other, and quite as many for acting in neither; and is
therefore likely to leave his friends to regulate their own conduct, and
also to remain quiet as regards his especial affairs till necessity shall
prick him onward. Nevertheless, the world and individuals flourish upon
a constant succession of blunders. The secret of English practical
success lies in their characteristic faculty of shutting one eye, whereby
they get so distinct and decided a view of what immediately concerns them
that they go stumbling towards it over a hundred insurmountable
obstacles, and achieve a magnificent triumph without ever being aware of
half its difficulties. If General McClellan could but have shut his left
eye, the right one would long ago have guided us into Richmond.
Meanwhile, I have strayed far away from the Consulate, where, as I was
about to say, I was compelled, in spite of my disinclination, to impart
both advice and assistance in multifarious affairs that did not
personally concern me, and presume that I effected about as little
mischief as other men in similar contingencies. The duties of the office
carried me to prisons, police-courts, hospitals, lunatic asylums,
coroner's inquests, death-beds, funerals, and brought me in contact with
insane people, criminals, ruined speculators, wild adventurers,
diplomatists, brother-consuls, and all manner of simpletons and
unfortunates, in greater number and variety than I had ever dreamed of as
pertaining to America; in addition to whom there was an equivalent
multitude of English rogues, dexterously counterfeiting the genuine
Yankee article. It required great discrimination not to be taken in by
these last-mentioned scoundrels; for they knew how to imitate our
national traits, had been at great pains to instruct themselves as
regarded American localities, and were not readily to be caught by a
cross-examination as to the topographical features, public institutions,
or prominent inhabitants of the places where they pretended to belong.
The best shibboleth I ever hit upon lay in the pronunciation of the word
"been," which the English invariably make to rhyme with "green," and we
Northerners, at least (in accordance, I think, with the custom of
Shakespeare's time), universally pronounce "bin."

All the matters that I have been treating of, however, were merely
incidental, and quite distinct from the real business of the office. A
great part of the wear and tear of mind and temper resulted from the bad
relations between the seamen and officers of American ships. Scarcely a
morning passed, but that some sailor came to show the marks of his
ill-usage on shipboard. Often, it was a whole crew of them, each with
his broken head or livid bruise, and all testifying with one voice to a
constant series of savage outrages during the voyage; or, it might be,
they laid an accusation of actual murder, perpetrated by the first or
second officers with many blows of steel-knuckles, a rope's end, or a
marline-spike, or by the captain, in the twinkling of an eye, with a shot
of his pistol. Taking the seamen's view of the case, you would suppose
that the gibbet was hungry for the murderers. Listening to the captain's
defence, you would seem to discover that he and his officers were the
humanest of mortals, but were driven to a wholesome severity by the
mutinous conduct of the crew, who, moreover, had themselves slain their
comrade in the drunken riot and confusion of the first day or two after
they were shipped. Looked at judicially, there appeared to be no right
side to the matter, nor any right side possible in so thoroughly vicious
a system as that of the American mercantile marine. The Consul could do
little, except to take depositions, hold forth the greasy Testament to be
profaned anew with perjured kisses, and, in a few instances of murder or
manslaughter, carry the case before an English magistrate, who generally
decided that the evidence was too contradictory to authorize the
transmission of the accused for trial in America. The newspapers all
over England contained paragraphs, inveighing against the cruelties of
American shipmasters. The British Parliament took up the matter (for
nobody is so humane as John Bull, when his benevolent propensities are to
be gratified by finding fault with his neighbor), and caused Lord John
Russell to remonstrate with our government on the outrages for which it
was responsible before the world, and which it failed to prevent or
punish. The American Secretary of State, old General Cass, responded,
with perfectly astounding ignorance of the subject, to the effect that
the statements of outrages had probably been exaggerated, that the
present laws of the United States were quite adequate to deal with them,
and that the interference of the British Minister was uncalled for.

The truth is, that the state of affairs was really very horrible, and
could be met by no laws at that time (or I presume now) in existence. I
once thought of writing a pamphlet on the subject, but quitted the
Consulate before finding time to effect my purpose; and all that phase of
my life immediately assumed so dreamlike a consistency that I despaired
of making it seem solid or tangible to the public. And now it looks
distant and dim, like troubles of a century ago. The origin of the evil
lay in the character of the seamen, scarcely any of whom were American,
but the offscourings and refuse of all the seaports of the world, such
stuff as piracy is made of, together with a considerable intermixture of
returning emigrants, and a sprinkling of absolutely kidnapped American
citizens. Even with such material, the ships were very inadequately
manned. The shipmaster found himself upon the deep, with a vast
responsibility of property and human life upon his hands, and no means of
salvation except by compelling his inefficient and demoralized crew to
heavier exertions than could reasonably be required of the same number of
able seamen. By law he had been intrusted with no discretion of
judicious punishment, he therefore habitually left the whole matter of
discipline to his irresponsible mates, men often of scarcely a superior
quality to the crew. Hence ensued a great mass of petty outrages,
unjustifiable assaults, shameful indignities, and nameless cruelty,
demoralizing alike to the perpetrators and the sufferers; these
enormities fell into the ocean between the two countries, and could be
punished in neither. Many miserable stories come back upon my memory as
I write; wrongs that were immense, but for which nobody could be held
responsible, and which, indeed, the closer yon looked into them, the more
they lost the aspect of wilful misdoing and assumed that of an inevitable
calamity. It was the fault of a system, the misfortune of an individual.
Be that as it may, however, there will be no possibility of dealing
effectually with these troubles as long as we deem it inconsistent with
our national dignity or interests to allow the English courts, under such
restrictions as may seem fit, a jurisdiction over offences perpetrated on
board our vessels in mid-ocean.

In such a life as this, the American shipmaster develops himself into a
man of iron energies, dauntless courage, and inexhaustible resource, at
the expense, it must be acknowledged, of some of the higher and gentler
traits which might do him excellent service in maintaining his authority.
The class has deteriorated of late years on account of the narrower field
of selection, owing chiefly to the diminution of that excellent body of
respectably educated New England seamen, from the flower of whom the
officers used to be recruited. Yet I found them, in many cases, very
agreeable and intelligent companions, with less nonsense about them than
landsmen usually have, eschewers of fine-spun theories, delighting in
square and tangible ideas, but occasionally infested with prejudices that
stuck to their brains like barnacles to a ship's bottom. I never could
flatter myself that I was a general favorite with them. One or two,
perhaps, even now, would scarcely meet me on amicable terms. Endowed
universally with a great pertinacity of will, they especially disliked
the interference of a consul with their management on shipboard;
notwithstanding which I thrust in my very limited authority at every
available opening, and did the utmost that lay in my power, though with
lamentably small effect, towards enforcing a better kind of discipline.
They thought, no doubt (and on plausible grounds enough, but scarcely
appreciating just that one little grain of hard New England sense, oddly
thrown in among the flimsier composition of the Consul's character), that
he, a landsman, a bookman, and, as people said of him, a fanciful
recluse, could not possibly understand anything of the difficulties or
the necessities of a shipmaster's position. But their cold regards were
rather acceptable than otherwise, for it is exceedingly awkward to assume
a judicial austerity in the morning towards a man with whom you have been
hobnobbing over night.

With the technical details of the business of that great Consulate (for
great it then was, though now, I fear, wofully fallen off, and perhaps
never to be revived in anything like its former extent), I did not much
interfere. They could safely be left to the treatment of two as
faithful, upright, and competent subordinates, both Englishmen, as ever a
man was fortunate enough to meet with, in a line of life altogether new
and strange to him. I had come over with instructions to supply both
their places with Americans, but, possessing a happy faculty of knowing
my own interest and the public's, I quietly kept hold of them, being
little inclined to open the consular doors to a spy of the State
Department or an intriguer for my own office. The venerable Vice-Consul,
Mr. Pearce, had witnessed the successive arrivals of a score of newly
appointed Consuls, shadowy and short-lived dignitaries, and carried his
reminiscences back to the epoch of Consul Maury, who was appointed by
Washington, and has acquired almost the grandeur of a mythical personage
in the annals of the Consulate. The principal clerk, Mr. Wilding, who
has since succeeded to the Vice-Consulship, was a man of English
integrity,--not that the English are more honest than ourselves, but only
there is a certain sturdy reliableness common among them, which we do not
quite so invariably manifest in just these subordinate positions,--of
English integrity, combined with American acuteness of intellect,
quick-wittedness, and diversity of talent. It seemed an immense pity
that he should wear out his life at a desk, without a step in advance
from year's end to year's end, when, had it been his luck to be born on
our side of the water, his bright faculties and clear probity would have
insured him eminent success in whatever path he night adopt. Meanwhile,
it would have been a sore mischance to me, had any better fortune on his
part deprived me of Mr. Wilding's services.

A fair amount of common-sense, some acquaintance with the United States
Statutes, an insight into character, a tact of management, a general
knowledge of the world, and a reasonable but not too inveterately decided
preference for his own will and judgment over those of interested
people,--these natural attributes and moderate acquirements will enable a
consul to perform many of his duties respectably, but not to dispense
with a great variety of other qualifications, only attainable by long
experience. Yet, I think, few consuls are so well accomplished. An
appointment of whatever grade, in the diplomatic or consular service of
America, is too often what the English call a "job"; that is to say, it
is made on private and personal grounds, without a paramount eye to the
public good or the gentleman's especial fitness for the position. It is
not too much to say (of course allowing for a brilliant exception here
and there), that an American never is thoroughly qualified for a foreign
post, nor has time to make himself so, before the revolution of the
political wheel discards him from his office. Our country wrongs itself
by permitting such a system of unsuitable appointments, and, still more,
of removals for no cause, just when the incumbent might be beginning to
ripen into usefulness. Mere ignorance of official detail is of
comparatively small moment; though it is considered indispensable, I
presume, that a man in any private capacity shall be thoroughly
acquainted with the machinery and operation of his business, and shall
not necessarily lose his position on having attained such knowledge. But
there are so many more important things to be thought of, in the
qualifications of a foreign resident, that his technical dexterity or
clumsiness is hardly worth mentioning.

One great part of a consul's duty, for example, should consist in
building up for himself a recognized position in the society where he
resides, so that his local influence might be felt in behalf of his own
country, and, so far as they are compatible (as they generally are to the
utmost extent), for the interests of both nations. The foreign city
should know that it has a permanent inhabitant and a hearty well-wisher
in him. There are many conjunctures (and one of them is now upon us)
where a long-established, honored, and trusted American citizen, holding
a public position under our government in such a town as Liverpool, might
go far towards swaying and directing the sympathies of the inhabitants.
He might throw his own weight into the balance against mischief makers;
he might have set his foot on the first little spark of malignant
purpose, which the next wind may blow into a national war. But we
wilfully give up all advantages of this kind. The position is totally
beyond the attainment of an American; there to-day, bristling all over
with the porcupine quills of our Republic, and gone to-morrow, just as he
is becoming sensible of the broader and more generous patriotism which
might almost amalgamate with that of England, without losing an atom of
its native force and flavor. In the changes that appear to await us, and
some of which, at least, can hardly fail to be for good, let us hope for
a reform in this matter.

For myself, as the gentle reader would spare me the trouble of saying, I
was not at all the kind of man to grow into such an ideal Consul as I
have here suggested. I never in my life desired to be burdened with
public influence. I disliked my office from the first, and never came
into any good accordance with it. Its dignity, so far as it had any, was
an encumbrance; the attentions it drew upon me (such as invitations to
Mayor's banquets and public celebrations of all kinds, where, to my
horror, I found myself expected to stand up and speak) were--as I may say
without incivility or ingratitude, because there is nothing personal in
that sort of hospitality--a bore. The official business was irksome, and
often painful. There was nothing pleasant about the whole affair, except
the emoluments; and even those, never too bountifully reaped, were
diminished by more than half in the second or third year of my
incumbency. All this being true, I was quite prepared, in advance of the
inauguration of Mr. Buchanan, to send in my resignation. When my
successor arrived, I drew the long, delightful breath which first made me
thoroughly sensible what an unnatural life I had been leading, and
compelled me to admire myself for having battled with it so sturdily.
The newcomer proved to be a very genial and agreeable gentleman, an
F. F. V., and, as he pleasantly acknowledged, a Southern Fire Eater,
--an announcement to which I responded, with similar good-humor and
self-complacency, by parading my descent from an ancient line of
Massachusetts Puritans. Since our brief acquaintanceship, my fire-eating
friend has had ample opportunities to banquet on his favorite diet, hot
and hot, in the Confederate service. For myself, as soon as I was out of
office, the retrospect began to look unreal. I could scarcely believe
that it was I,--that figure whom they called a Consul,--but a sort of
Double Ganger, who had been permitted to assume my aspect, under which he
went through his shadowy duties with a tolerable show of efficiency,
while my real self had lain, as regarded my proper mode of being and
acting, in a state of suspended animation.

The same sense of illusion still pursues me. There is some mistake in
this matter. I have been writing about another man's consular
experiences, with which, through some mysterious medium of transmitted
ideas, I find myself intimately acquainted, but in which I cannot
possibly have had a personal interest. Is it not a dream altogether?
The figure of that poor Doctor of Divinity looks wonderfully lifelike; so
do those of the Oriental adventurer with the visionary coronet above his
brow, and the moonstruck visitor of the Queen, and the poor old wanderer,
seeking his native country through English highways and by-ways for
almost thirty years; and so would a hundred others that I might summon up
with similar distinctness. But were they more than shadows? Surely, I
think not. Nor are these present pages a bit of intrusive autobiography.
Let not the reader wrong me by supposing it. I never should have written
with half such unreserve, had it been a portion of this life congenial
with my nature, which I am living now, instead of a series of incidents
and characters entirely apart from my own concerns, and on which the
qualities personally proper to me could have had no bearing. Almost the
only real incidents, as I see them now, were the visits of a young
English friend, a scholar and a literary amateur, between whom and myself
there sprung up an affectionate, and, I trust, not transitory regard. He
used to come and sit or stand by my fireside, talking vivaciously and
eloquently with me about literature and life, his own national
characteristics and mine, with such kindly endurance of the many rough
republicanisms wherewith I assailed him, and such frank and amiable
assertion of all sorts of English prejudices and mistakes, that I
understood his countrymen infinitely the better for him, and was almost
prepared to love the intensest Englishman of them all, for his sake. It
would gratify my cherished remembrance of this dear friend, if I could
manage, without offending him, or letting the public know it, to
introduce his name upon my page. Bright was the illumination of my dusky
little apartment, as often as he made his appearance there!

The English sketches which I have been offering to the public comprise a
few of the more external and therefore more readily manageable things
that I took note of, in many escapes from the imprisonment of my consular
servitude. Liverpool, though not very delightful as a place of
residence, is a most convenient and admirable point to get away from.
London is only five hours off by the fast train. Chester, the most
curious town in England, with its encompassing wall, its ancient rows,
and its venerable cathedral, is close at hand. North Wales, with all its
hills and ponds, its noble sea-scenery, its multitude of gray castles and
strange old villages, may be glanced at in a summer day or two. The
lakes and mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland may be reached before
dinner-time. The haunted and legendary Isle of Man, a little kingdom by
itself, lies within the scope of an afternoon's voyage. Edinburgh or
Glasgow are attainable over night, and Loch Lomond betimes in the
morning. Visiting these famous localities, and a great many others, I
hope that I do not compromise my American patriotism by acknowledging
that I was often conscious of a fervent hereditary attachment to the
native soil of our forefathers, and felt it to be our own Old Home.


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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