CHAPTER XV. Preliminary remarks on re-entering the States - Americanisms - A little slang - Liquoring up - Eccentricities in dress - A 'cute chap down east - Conversation on eating - A Kentucky gal - Lake Champlain - Delaval's - A noisy serenade - Albany
It has been truly observed that a reliable book on the United States yet remains to be written. The writer of such a volume must neither be a tourist nor a temporary resident. He must spend years, in the different States, nicely estimating the different characteristics of each, as well as the broadly-marked shades of difference between East, West, and South. He must trace the effect of Republican principles upon the various races which form this vast community; and, while analysing the prosperity of the country, he must carefully distinguish between the real, the fictitious, and the speculative. In England we speak of America as "Brother Jonathan" in the singular number, without any fraternal feeling however, and consider it as one nation, possessing uniform distinguishing characteristics. I saw less difference between Edinburgh and Boston, than between Boston and Chicago; the dark-haired Celts of the west of Scotland, and the stirring artisans of our manufacturing cities, have more in common than the descendants of the Puritans in New England, and the reckless, lawless inhabitants of the newly-settled territories west of the Mississippi. It must not be forgotten that the thirty-two States of which the Union is composed, may be considered in some degree as separate countries, each possessing its governor and assembly, and framing, to a considerable extent, its own laws. Beyond the voice which each State possesses in the Congress and Senate at Washington, there is apparently little to bind this vast community together; there is no national form of religion, or state endowed church; Unitarianism may be the prevailing faith in one State. Presbyterianism in another, and Universalism in a third; while between the Northern and Southern States there is as wide a difference as between England and Russia - a difference stamped on the very soil itself, and which, in the opinion of some, threatens a disseverance of the Union.
Other causes also produce highly distinctive features in the inhabitants. In the long-settled districts bordering upon the Atlantic, all the accompaniments and appliances of civilisation may be met with, and a comparatively stationary, refined, and intellectual condition of society. Travel for forty hours to the westward, and everything is in a transition state: there are rough roads and unfinished railroads; foundations of cities laid in soil scarcely cleared from the forest; splendid hotels within sound of the hunter's rifle and the lumberer's axe; while the elements of society are more chaotic than the features of the country. Every year a tide of emigration rolls westward, not from Europe only, but from the crowded eastern cities, forming a tangled web of races, manners, and religions which the hasty observer cannot attempt to disentangle. Yet there are many external features of uniformity which the traveller cannot fail to lay hold of, and which go under the general name of Americanisms. These are peculiarities of dress, manners, and phraseology, and, to some extent, of opinion, and may be partly produced by the locomotive life which the American leads, and the way in which all classes are brought into contact in travelling. These peculiarities are not to be found among the highest or the highly-educated classes, but they force themselves upon the tourist to a remarkable, and frequently to a repulsive, extent; and it is safer for him to narrate facts and comment upon externals, though in doing so he presents a very partial and superficial view of the people, than to present his readers with general inferences drawn from partial premises, or with conclusions based upon imperfect, and often erroneous, data.
An entire revolution had been effected in my way of looking at things since I landed on the shores of the New World. I had ceased to look for vestiges of the past, or for relics of ancient magnificence, and, in place of these, I now contemplated vast resources in a state of progressive and almost feverish development, and, having become accustomed to a general absence of the picturesque, had learned to look at the practical and the utilitarian with a high degree of interest and pleasure. The change from the lethargy and feudalism of Lower Canada and the gaiety of Quebec, to the activity of the New England population, was very startling. It was not less so from the reposeful manners and gentlemanly appearance of the English Canadians, and the vivacity and politeness of the French, to Yankee dress, twang, and peculiarities.