Toronto And The Transit
Behold us again in Toronto at Macdonald's Hotel; and, as we shall have to visit this rising city frequently, we shall say very little more about it at present, but embark as speedily as possible on board the Transit, and steam over to Niagara.
The Transit, a celebrated packet, now getting old, and commanded by a son of its well-known owner, Captain Richardson, starts always in summer at eight a.m. punctually, and makes her voyage by half-past eleven, at which hour, on the 5th day of July, we once more touched the shore of Newark, or Niagara Town, at the Dock Company's wharf, which we found had been greatly damaged in the spring of the year by a most extraordinary ice phenomenon.
At the breaking-up of the frost, the ice in the river Niagara, which came down the river, packed near its mouth, and dammed it up so high at Queenston, seven miles above and close to the narrows, that the upper surface of the fields of ice was thirty feet above the level of the river, there a quarter of a mile broad or more. The consequence was, that every wharf and every building under this level was destroyed and crushed. Every edifice on the banks, and among others a strong stone barrack, full of soldiers, was stormed by the frost-king, during the darkness of an awful night, and the front wall fairly breached and borne down by the advancing masses of ice. The soldiers had barely time to escape from the crashing and rending walls; and their cooking-house, a detached building, some yards from the barrack and higher up the bank, was turned over, as if it had been a small boat.
In the memory of man, such a scene had never occurred before, and probably never will again; and I have been told, by those who beheld it, that a more solemn display of natural power and irresistible might has seldom been witnessed than that of the gradual grinding, heaving passage of one great floe, or field, of thick-ribbed ice over the other, until that summit was gained which could not be exceeded.
Then came the disruption, the roar, the rush, the fury, the foam, the groaning thunder, and the river flood; the plunge and the struggle between the solid and the liquid waters.
Truly, the thundering water was well named by the Indian of old—NE AW GAR AW is very Greek sounding.
Newark, or, as it is now called, Niagara, but, as it should be named, Simcoe, is still a pretty, well laid-out town; and, although it has scarcely had a new house built in it for many years past, is on the whole a very respectable place, and the capital of the district of Niagara, celebrated for its apple, peach, and cherry orchards.
It has a good-looking church, and the living is a rectory. A Roman Catholic church stands close to the English, and a handsome Scots church is at the other end of the town. There is an ugly jail and Court-House about a mile in the country, and an excellent market, where every thing is cheap and good.
Barracks for the Royal Canadian Rifle regiment stand on a large plain. Old Fort George, the scene of former battling, is in total ruin; and Fort Mississagua, with its square tower, looks frowningly at Fort Niagara, on the American side of the estuary of the Great River. I never see these rival batteries, for it is too magniloquent to style them fortresses, but they picture to my mind England and the United States.
Mississagua looks careless and confident, with a little bit of a flag—the flag, however, of a thousand years, displayed, only on Sundays and holidays, on a staff which looks something like that which the king-making Warwick tied his heraldic bear to.
The antiquity and warlike renown of England sit equally and visibly impressed on the crest of the miserable Mississagua as on that of Gibraltar.
Fort Niagara, an old French Indian stockade, modernized by the American engineers from time to time, half-lighthouse, half-fortification, glaring with whitewashed walls, that may be seen almost at Toronto, with a flag-staff towering to the skies, and a flag which would cover the deck of a first-rate, displayed from morn to night, speaks of the new nation, whose pretensions must ever be put in plain view, and constantly tell the tale that America is a second edition of the best work of English industry and of British valour—a second edition interwoven, however, with foreign matter, with French fierté without French politesse, with German mysticism without German learning, with the restless and rabid democracy of the whole world without the salutary check of venerable laws, and with that strange mixture of freedom and slavery, of tolerance and intolerance, which distinguishes America of the nineteenth century.
But it is, nevertheless, a most extraordinary spectacle, to contemplate the rise and progress of the union in so short a period since the declaration of independence.
An Irish gentleman, apparently a clergyman, last year favoured the public with the result of an extensive tour in Canada and the United States, in Letters from America.
He starts in his preface with these remarkable expressions, which must be well considered and analyzed, because they are the deliberate convictions of an observant and well-informed man, who had, moreover, singular opportunities of reflecting upon the people he had so long travelled amongst.
He says that In energy, perseverance, enterprise, sagacity, activity, and varied resources the Americans infinitely surpass the British; that he never met with a stupid American. That our American children surpass us not only in our good, but in our evil peculiarities. This I cannot understand; for, surely, if we have peculiarities, which there is no denying, they must by all the rules of logic be limited to ourselves.
But the writer observes, in a paragraph too long for quotation, that they exceed us in materialism and in utilitarianism; that we, a nation of shopkeepers, as Napoleon styled the English, were outdone in the worship of Mammon by them; that we have rejected too much the higher branches of art and science, and the cultivation of the æsthetic faculty—what an abominable word æsthetic is! it always puts me in mind of asthmatic, for it is broken-winded learning.
Is it not common, says he, in modern England to reject authorities both in Church and State, to look with contempt on the humbler and more peculiarly christian virtues of contentment and submission, and to cultivate the intellectual at the expense of the moral part of our nature? If these and other dangerous tendencies of a similar nature are at work among ourselves, as they undoubtedly are, it is useful and interesting to observe them in fuller operation and more unchecked luxuriance in America.
Now, it is very satisfactory, that the Americans, a race of yesterday, who have had no opportunity as yet of coping with the deep research and master-minds of Europe, should in half a century have leaped into such a position in the civilized world as to have exceeded the Englishman in all the most useful relations of life, as well as in all its darker and more dangerous features; very satisfactory indeed that the mixed race peopling the United States should be better and worse than that nation to which the world, by universal consent, has yielded the palm of superiority in all the arts and in all the sciences of modern acquirement.
Wherein do the Americans exceed the sons of Britain? In history, in policy, in poetry, in mathematics, in music, in painting, or in any of the gifts of the Muses? Are they more renowned in the dreadful art of war? or in the mild virtues of peace? Is the fame of America a wonder and a terror to the four quarters of the globe?—We may fearlessly reply in the negative. The outer barbarian knows the American but as another kind of Englishman. It will yet take him some centuries to distinguish between the original and the offspring.
It is, in short, as untenable as an axiom in policy or history, that the American exceeds the Briton in the development of mind, as it is that the American exceeds the Briton in the development of the baser qualities of our nature.
When the insatiate thirst for dollars, dollars, dollars, has subsided, then the American may justly rear his head as an aspirant for historic fame. His land has never yet produced a Shakespeare, a Johnson, a Milton, a Spenser, a Newton, a Bacon, a Locke, a Coke, or a Rennie. The utmost America has yet achieved is a very faint imitation of the least renowned of our great writers, Walter Scott.
In diplomacy I deny also the palm. For although India is a case in point, like as Texas, yet even there we have never first planted a population with the express purpose of ejecting the lawful government, but have conquered where conquest was not only hailed by the enslaved people but was a positive benefit, by the introduction of mild and equitable laws instead of brutal and bloody despotisms. We have not snatched from a weak republic, whose principles had been expressly formed on our own model, that which poverty alone obliged it to relinquish. If the writer, who appears to be an excellent man and a good christian, had lived for several years on the borders of the eagerly desired Canada, I very much doubt whether he would have seen such a couleur de rose in the transactions of the mighty commonwealth, where the rulers are the ruled, and where education, intellect, integrity, innocence, and wealth must all alike bow before the Juggernaut of an unattainable perfection of equality.
If Bill Johnson, the mail robber and smuggler, is as good as William Pitt or any other William of superior mind, why then the sooner the millennium of democracy arrives the better. It is unfortunate for the present generation—what it will be for the next no man can pretend to say—that this debasing principle is gaining ground not only in Canada but in England. A reflecting mind has no objection to the creed that all men were created equal; but history, sacred and profane, plainly shows that mind as well as matter is afterwards, for the wisest of purposes, very differently developed.
Does the meanest white American, the sweeper of Broadway, if there be such a citizen, believe in this perfection of equality amongst men as a fundamental axiom of the rights of man? Place a black sweeper of crossings in juxtaposition, and the question will very soon solve itself. Why, the free and enlightened citizens will not even permit their black or coloured brethren to worship their common Creator in the same pew with themselves—it is horror, it is degradation! And yet there is a universal outcry about sacred liberty and equality all over the Union. The angels weep to witness the tricks of men placed in a little brief authority. Can such a state of things last as that, where the Irish labourer is treated as an inferior being in the scale of creation, and the Negro, or the offspring of the Negro and the white, is branded with the stigma of servile? It cannot—it will not. Either let democracy assume its true and legitimate features, or let it cease—for the re-action will be a fearful one, as dread and as horribly diabolical as that which the folly of the aristocracy of old France brought on that devoted land.
I have said, and I repeat it, that a residence on the borders of Canada and the United States for some time will cure a reflecting mind of many long cherished notions concerning the relative merits of a limited monarchy and of a crude democracy.
The man who views the border people of the United States with calm observation will soon come to the conclusion that a state of government, if it may be so called, where the commonest ruffian asserts privileges which the most educated and refined mind never dreams of, is not an enviable order of things.
In the first fury of a war with England, who were the promoters? the mob on the borders. Who hoped for a new sympathy demonstration, in order to annex Canada? the people of the Western States, who, far removed from the possibility of invasion, valiantly resolve to carry fire and sword among their unoffending brethren.
The intelligence and the wealth of the United States are passive; they are physically weak, and therefore succumb to the dictation of the rude masses. And what keeps up this singular action, but the constantly-recurring elections, the incessant balloting and voting, the necessity which every man feels hourly of saving his substance or his life from the devouring rapacity of those who think that all should be equal!
If the government, acutely sensible that war is an evil which must cripple its resources, is unwilling to engage in it, both from principle and from patriotism, it must yield if the mob wills it, or forfeit the sweets of office and of power. Hence, few men enter upon the cares of public life in the States now-a-days who are of that frame of mind which considers personal expediency as worthy of deep reflection. What would Washington have said to such a system?
The batteries or fortalices of Niagara and of Mississagua have led to a digression quite unintentional and unforeseen, which must terminate for the present with a different view from that of the author of the Letters above-mentioned: and let us hope fervently that the New World has not yet arrived at such a consummation as that of surpassing the vices and crimes of the Old, as we are certain it has not yet achieved such a moral victory as that of outrunning it in the race of scientific or mechanic fame. England is no more in her dotage than America is in her nonage. The former, without vanity or want of verity be it spoken, is as pre-eminent as the latter is honestly and creditably aspiring.
The writer above quoted says their ships sail better, and are manned with fewer hands. We grant that no nation excels the United States in ship-building, and that they build vessels expressly for sailing; but for one English ship lost on the ocean, there are three of the venturous Americans; for one steam-vessel that explodes, and hurls its hundreds to destruction, in England or Canada, there are twenty Americans.
In England, the cautious, the slow and the sure plan prevails; in America, the go-ahead, reckless, dollar-making principle prevails; and so it is through every other concern of life. A hundred ways of worshipping the Creator, after the christian form, exist in America, where half a dozen suffice in England.
Time is money in America; the meals are hurried over, relaxations necessary to the enjoyment of existence forbidden—and what for? to make money. To what end? to spend it faster than it is made, and then to begin again. You have only a faint shadow of the immense wealth realized in England by that of the merchant or the shopkeeper in the States. Capital there is constantly in a rapid consumption; and as the people engaged in the feverish excitement of acquiring it are in the latter country, from their habits, shortlived, so the opposite fact exhibits itself in England. There are no Rothschilds, no railway kings in America. Time and the man will not admit of it. John Jacob Astor is an exception to this fact.
On landing at Niagara, the difference of climate between it and Toronto is at once perceived. Here you are on sandy, there on clayey soil. Here all is heat, there moisture. I tried hard for several seasons to bring the peach to perfection at Toronto, only thirty-six miles from Niagara, without success; at Niagara it grows freely, and almost spontaneously, as well as the quince. The fields and the gardens of Niagara are a fortnight or more in advance of those of Toronto. Strange that the passage of the westerly winds across Ontario should make such a difference!
Niagara is a grand racing-stand, where all the loafers of the neighbouring republic congregate in the autumn; I was unfortunately present at the last races, and never desire to repeat my visit at that season. Blacklegs and whitelegs prevail; and the next morning the course was strewed with the bodies of drunken vagabonds. It appears to me very strange that the gentry of the neighbourhood suffer a very small modicum of ephemeral newspaper notoriety to get the better of their good sense. The patronage of such a racecourse as that of Niagara, so far from being an honour, is the reverse. It is too near the frontier to be even decently respectable; nor is the course itself a good one, for the sand is too deep. Many a young gentleman of Toronto, who thinks that he copies the aristocracy of England by patronizing the turf, finds out to his own loss and sorrow that it would have been much better to have had his racing qualifications exhibited nearer his own door; and there cannot possibly be a greater colonial mistake committed than to fancy that grooms, stable-boys, and blacklegs, are now the advisers and companions of our juvenile nobility.—That day has passed!
It is very unfortunate that very false ideas exist in some of the colonies of the manners and customs of high life in England. The grown-up people often fancy that cold reserve, and an assumption of great state, indicate high birth and breeding. The younger branches seem frequently to think that there is no such thing at home as the period of adolescence; consequently, you often see a pert young master deliver his unasked opinion and behave before his seniors and superiors as though he wanted to intimate that he was wiser in his generation than they.
In crossing to Niagara, we had a specimen of the precocious colonist of 1845. The table of the captain of the boat, like that of his respected father, was good and decorously conducted, and there were several ladies and some most respectable travelled Americans at dinner. A very young gentleman, who boasted how much he had lost at the races, how much they had gambled, and how much they drank of champagne the night before—champagne, by the by, is thought a very aristocratic drink among psuedo-great men, although it is common as ditch-water in the United States—engrossed the whole conversation of the dinner-table, picked his teeth, took up the room of two, called the waiter fifty times, and ended by ordering the cheese to be placed on the table before the pies and puddings were removed. The company present rose before the dessert appeared, thoroughly disgusted; and I afterwards saw this would-be man peeping into the windows of the ladies'-cabin, and performing a thousand other antic tricks, cigar in mouth, for which he would in England have met with his deserts.
The precociousness of Transatlantic children is not confined to the United States—it is equally and unpleasantly visible in Canada.
The Americans who travel, I can safely say, are not guilty of these monstrous absurdities. I have crossed the Atlantic more than once with boys of from seventeen to twenty, who have left college to make the grand tour, without ever observing any thing to find fault with. The American youth is observant, and soon discovers that attempting to do the character of men before his time in the society of English strangers invariably lowers instead of raising an interest.
There is a good caricature of this in an American book, I forget its title, written some time ago, to show the simplicity, gullibility, and vindictivness of our Trollopean travellers. It is a boy of sixteen, or thereabouts, cigar in the corner of his mouth, hat cocked on three curls, and all the modern etceteras of a complete youth, saying to his father, Here, take my boots, old fellow, and clean them. The father looks a little amazed, upon which the manikin ejaculates, Why don't you take them? what's the use of having a father?
There will be a railway smash in this, as well as in the locomotive mania. Republicanism towards elders and parents is unnatural; the child and the man were not born equal.
I remember reading in a voluminous account of the terrors of the French revolution a remarkable passage:—servants denounced masters, debtors denounced creditors, women denounced husbands, children denounced parents, youth denounced protecting age; gratitude was unknown; a favour conferred led to the guillotine: but never, never in that awful period, in that reign of the vilest passions of our nature over reason, was there one instance, one single instance, of a parent denouncing its child.
It is not a good sign when extreme youth pretends to have discovered the true laws of the universe, when the son is wiser than the father, or when immature reason usurps the functions of the ripened faculties.
I have put this together because I hear hourly parents deprecating the system of education in the greatest city of Western Canada; because I hear and see children of fourteen swaggering about the streets with all the consequence of unfledged men, smoking cigars, frequenting tavern-bars and billiard-rooms, and no doubt led by such unbridled license into deeper mysteries and excesses; because I hear clergymen lament that boys of that age lose their health by excesses too difficult of belief to fancy true. Surely a salutary check in time may be applied to such an evil.
But liberty and equality, as I said before, are extending on both sides of the Atlantic: and in their train come these evils, simply because liberty and equality are as much misunderstood as real republicanism and limited monarchy are.
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