TUESDAY, December 26.
The Pie Ho is a magnificent ship, and we are delighted at getting under the auspices of a French cook once more, after the experiences we have had in Chinese cookery. No doubt about the preeminence of the French in regard to human food. Whoever sends the raw material, the French send the cooks. The table d'hote, now common in England at the hotels, and the French service found in private houses, all so very different from the practice even since I began to revisit England, show how rapidly the world is bowing to the French cuisine.
We are scudding along before the monsoon, the temperature that of June, an agreeable change from Hong Kong, where the nights have been chilly. We are out of the region of cold weather now for the remainder of our travels. We reached Saigon, the capital of the French settlement in Cochin China, at six this morning, after sailing forty miles up a branch of the Cambodia. Lower Cochin China belongs to France, and is under the rule of a colonial governor, French troops being scattered through the provinces. It is a low-lying district, celebrated only for growing more rice than any other part of the world. Our ship took on large quantities of it for France, but this is exceptional, the scarcity of freights being everywhere so great that steamers are glad to get anything to carry. The Saigonites are the lowest specimens of humanity we have yet seen - miserable, sickly-looking creatures, and without the faintest regard for cleanliness. Their long, coarse black hair hangs over their shoulders in thick, tangled masses which apparently have never known a comb. Every one chews the betel-nut without intermission, young and old alike, and this so discolors the teeth and mouth as to render them extremely disgusting. We drove about the town for a few hours, but it was so hot we were compelled to return to the ship. This is the God-forsaken-looking region about which France is now disputing with China. I cannot but wish that every deputy had been with me during the few days of my visit, that he might see what kind of a land and what sort of human beings his country expected to derive credit from by superintending.
What I have said previous to the foregoing paragraph was written on the spot, and therefore I cannot be accused of being prejudiced by the recent action of France, which has caused me, as its well-wisher, much sincere regret. Any power acquired by France over this portion of the world can be but illusory - wholly so. The importance even of Saigon is so small that it offers no inducement to any of the regular steamers to call as they pass. The French line alone visits it under a subvention from the home government. A few poor French people manage to exist after a fashion by trading with the ignorant natives, and a few soldiers and a ship-of-war give some semblance of French authority. But just as certain as the sun shines, should any considerable commerce arise in Cochin China, the English will absorb nine-tenths of it, and this by a law from which there is no escape.
When the French people forced the government to withdraw from Egypt they gave us reason to hope that Herbert Spencer's law, which creates pacific principles in proportion that power is held by the masses, had received a significant vindication. Let us hope the republican element will ere long put its veto upon foolish interference in Tonquin.
The night we spent at Saigon the French governor gave a grand ball, five hundred invitations; but out of all this number how many ladies, think you? Society here musters but thirty-five, mammas and grandmammas included, and only three young ladies. Think of it, ye belles of Cresson, Newport and Saratoga (Cresson first, Mr. Printer, is quite correct)! fifteen officers in dazzling uniforms for every lady!
We have on board several English merchants and one American, who are taking a run home for a visit. The latter regrets that his countrymen should be induced to drink green tea abominations, and I console him by stating that a reform is surely near at hand. These gentlemen agree that the American cotton goods are taking the market and driving the adulterated English goods out. The trade is increasing so fast that it was welcome intelligence for them to be advised by the last mail that another large mill in Massachusetts was being altered to make exclusively Chinese goods. I congratulate my friend Edward Atkinson upon this result. But is this new business to be permanent? I think not. The day is far distant, I hope, when either labor or capital in America will have to be content with the return obtained in a populous country like Britain; and unless we have superior natural advantages we cannot hope to compete with her. In cotton manufacture for the East we have not any advantage, as I find that the cheapest way of reaching China from New York is to ship via London. England can bring the raw cotton from New Orleans or New York, and send the manufactured goods to market for certainly not more than the cost of transportation from the American mills to market, and therefore England can retain that trade whenever she adopts the latest improvements in mode of manufacture; and this she is as certain to do as the sun shines, and probably to improve upon them.
* * * * *