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MISREPRESENTATIONS OF TRAVELLERS.
cess in this country; or, from a very slight and superficial view of what they did not understand, and under the guidance of that self-sufficient malignity, which is the inseparable concomitant of dulness and ignorance, and measuring every thing they saw here by the habits and manners of the people in their own country, and resolutely condemning whatsoever differed from the standard to which they themselves had been accustomed; without ever once reflecting upon the very different states of society which must necessarily take place in an old, long-established, and fully peopled country, and in one which Jabours under all the peculiar circumstances of national infancy-a thin and a scattered population over an immense extent of territory. The unfinished condition of its social habits, the fluctuation of its political institutions, the uncertainty of its popular movements, have taken upon themselves to represent these United States as cursed with a barren and inhospitable soil ; an ungenial and dreary clime; a government full of weakness, fraud, and violence; a people made up and compounded of the sweepings and refuse of Europe-"the taint of anarchy, and the blast of crime," — fickle and turbulent in their politics, rude and coarse in their behaviour, and steeped in all the vulgar brutality of vice and faction.
Gilbert Imlay, and M. St. John de Crevecoeur, author of “ The American Farmer," and of pretended “ Travels in Upper Pennsylvania and the State of New York,” have exceedingly exaggerated the excellencies of the United States, by representing them as the abode of more than all the perfection of innocence, happiness, plenty, learning, and wisdom, than can be allotted to human beings to enjoy. A far greater number of writers, however, have outraged decency, by loading the American people with abuse and calumny. Among the vilest and silliest of these, are Parkinson, an English farmer; Ashe, a soi-disant military officer; and one Jansen, a non-descript.
These writers, as appears from their own confession, never herded with any other companions than the
lower classes of society in the union, such as stagedrivers, masters of sloops, keepers of ale-houses, low mechanics, retail tradesmen, and labouring peasants. It is not, indeed, pretended by any of the advocates of American character and claims, that among these classes of the community can be discovered any very great refinement of breeding, or any very extensive information, or any very profound reflection.
Another set of travellers in this country have come hither with letters of introduction to some very respectable gentlemen in the United States ; and, in consequence, have been received into their families, and the families of their friends and acquaintance; and, in every instance, have been treated with hospitality and kindness. These men have gone away to Europe, and published anecdotes of private families, have given to the world accounts of mere domestic incidents, such as could only have been imparted in the moments of unsuspecting confidence; and the relation of which can serve no other purpose than to sadden the heart of those who have been betrayed, and stamp, in characters of lasting infamy, the baseness of the being who could thus drag into painful notice individuals wishing to pass their lives in the privacy of cultivated retirement, occasionally diversified by the more select intercourse of the social circle.
On the height of this bad eminence stand the Marquis de Chastilleux, and the Duke de la Rouchefuucault Laincourt, who have repaid the kindness of American hospitality, by descanting on the vulgarity of American manners, and by detailing to the world occurrences and . conversations which they could never have known, had they not, unfortunately, been mistaken for gentlemen by those whose civilities and confidence they thus abused. But, surely, private individuals, who do not obtrude themselves upon the public, but rather shun the eye of vulgar observation, are not fit subjects for a traveller's merriment, or satire. . In a world, bursting with vice and folly, there are always knaves and coxcombs, in sufficient number, to exhaust all the powers
MISREPRESENTATIONS OF TRAVELLERS. of ridicule and invective; and these are the only legitimate objects, against which the laugh of the wit, and the declamation of the moralist, ought to be directed.
The well-known poet, Mr, Thomas Moore, when quite a young man, published a book, made up of prose and verse, in which he, very unmercifully, abused and misrepresented the people of this country. Some little time since, however, he addressed a letter to-Mr. John E. Hall, the editor of the Port-Folio, in Philadelphia, in which he expresses his deep repentance for having slandered America, and swings into the opposite extreme of unmeasured praise, representing it, now, as the only land where freedom, and happiness, and so forth, are to be found. .
It would, indeed, be superfluous to descant upon the credulity of Mr. Weld, who, in enumerating the perilous wild beasts of this country, gravely asserts, and, as he says, upon the authority of General Washington, that the moschetto of the United States is so terrible in its attacks as to bite through the thickest boot. Now, the moschetto, which is a species of gnat, is no more troublesome or offensive here than the gnats are in the fens of Lincolnshire, or the lowlands of Essex, in England. Besides, General Washington merely told Mr. Weld, that the moschetto will bite through the thickest stocking, above the boot-top, when there is any space between the boot and the knee-band. But Mr. Weld has substituted the word boot for stocking; and thus, very reasonably, alarmed all cautious people with a tale of terror, respecting the dreadful ravages of the moschetto tribe of North America upon the human body.
Ştill more insufferable would it be to dwell upon the meagre, miserable trash, that is occasionally foisted into the Monthly Magazine, of London, under the signature of a little obstetrical Quixote, at Alexandria, in the district of Columbia; and, by a singular misnomer,
Information as to the United States.” But the character of M. Brissot de Warville, the leader of the Gironde revolutionary faction in France, is $oo notorious to permit his observations on the United
States to be passed over in silence. In a printed book of his, on the commerce of this country, he very profusely praises the Americans, and calls himself a Quaker. Brissot had led a very wandering life, and had written an incredible number of books on politics, none of which were over-wise. He had been a subaltern in the police, under the old French monarchy, and had been sent to London on some service, in the line of his vocation, by the lieutenant of police in Paris. The revolution in France, of course, raised him to the level of his merit, and he became the doer of a newspaper, an office of high importance in all revolutionary societies. He was, however, a better disorganizer than philosopher : for, in a manuscript volume of his, now, or lately in the city of Philadelphia, in the hands of some elderly Friends, or Quakers, to whom he sent it for the express purpose of being published in this country (a step which his more prudent correspondents declined), he solemnly maintains that the character of the American people can always be known, infallibly, by the course of the rivers throughout the union.
For instance, says this profound observer of men and things, when he illustrates this notable proposition, “ in the Northern and Eastern States, the rivers are violent and irregular in their progress, and so is the character of the inabitants of these States.”- Alas! for the people of New England, who have always, hitherto, been deemed the most sober, orderly, steady, and persevering in their habits and manners of all the Americans !.“ In the Middle States,” continues Brissot, “the rivers are strong and majestic, and so are the people. In the Southern departments, as Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, the rivers are muddy, slow, ebbing, and flowing capriciously; and, accordingly, the people on these states are dull, stagnant, and fickle."
This consolatory mode of determining the national character of a people was never equalled, but once, in the annals of philosophism. An obscure madman, called William Gilbert, in the year 1797, published, in London, a poem, entitled “The Hurricane, a theoso
MISREPRESENTATIONS OF TRAVELLERS.
phical and western eclogue ; to which is subjoined, a solitary effusion in a summer's evening.” In the notes appended to this solitary effusion, Mr. Gilbert assures us (I quote his own words), “ First, that all countries have a specific mind, or determinable principle. This character may be traced, with as much satisfaction, in the vegetable as in the animal productions. Thus, strength, with its attributes, namely, asperity, &c. is the character, or mind of England Her leading productions are the oak, peppermint, sloes, crabs, and sour cherries. All elegance, all polish is superinduced ; and primarily, from France, of which they [Query, who ?] are natives. Secondly, that a country is subdued when its mind, or life, (its prince, according to Daniel,) or its genius, according to the modern easterns, or its principle, according to Europeans, is either suppressed or destroyed, or chymically combined with that of a foreign country, in a form that leaves the foreign property predominant, and not till then. And this cannot ensue but upon suicide, upon a previous abandonment, on the part of a nation, of its own principle. For when the Creator made every thing very good, he also made it tenable on the one hand, and on the other complete ; consequently, without the necessity, without the desire of encroaching; and also without the capability, except under the penalty of surrendering, with its own complete roundness, its own tenability.'
“Thus,” continues Mr. Gilbert," I arrive at a primary law of nature, that every one must fall into the pit that he digs for others, either before or after, or without success. Thirdly, that in the European subju-, gation of America, the American mind or_life, only suffered under a powerful affusion of the European ; and that, as the solution proceeds, it acquires a stronger and stronger tincture of the subject, till, at length, that which was first subdued, assumes an absolute, unexpugnable predominancy, and a final; inasmuch as the contest is between the two last parts of the world, and there is no prospective umpire to refer to; but it must þe decided by the possession of first principles, or the