Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

ranks. It was a matter of regret to me, here and on many subsequent occasions, to see men bound for three years to serve as common soldiers, who were so manifestly fitted for a better and more useful life. To me it is always a source of sorrow to see a man enlisted. I feel that the individual recruit is doing badly with himself-carrying himself and the strength and intelligence which belongs to him to a bad market. I know that there must be soldiers; but as to every separate soldier I regret that he should be one of them. And the higher is the class from which such soldiers are drawn, the greater the intelligence of the men so to be employed, the deeper with me is that feeling of regret.

But this strikes one much less in an old country than in a country that is new. In the old countries population is thick, and food sometimes scarce. Men can be spared, and any employment may be serviceable, even though that employment be in itself so unproductive as that of fighting battles or preparing for them. But in the western States of America every arm that can guide a plough is of incalculable value. Minnesota was admitted as a State about three years before this time, and its whole population is not much above 150,000. Of this number perhaps 40,000 may be working men. And now this infant State with its huge territory and scanty population is called upon to send its heart's blood out to the war.

And it has sent its heart's best blood. Forth they camefine, stalwart, well-grown fellows, looking to my eye as though they had as yet but faintly recognised the necessary severity of military discipline. To them hitherto the war had seemed to be an arena on which each might do-something for his country, which that country would recognise. To themselves as yet--and to me also—they were a band of heroes, to be reduced by the compressing power of military discipline to the lower level, but more necessary position of a regiment of soldiers. Ah me! how terrible to them has been the breaking up of that delusion! When a poor yokel in England is enlisted with a shilling and a promise of unlimited beer and glory, one pities and if possible would save him. But with him the mode of life to which he goes may not be much inferior to that he leaves. It may be that for him soldiering is the best trade possible in his circumstances. It may keep him from the hen-roosts, and perhaps from his neighbours' pantries; and discipline may be good for him. Population is thick with us, and there are many whom it may be well to collect and make available under the strictest surveillance. But of these men whom I saw entering

on their career upon the banks of the Mississippi, many were fathers of families, many were owners of lands, many were educated men capable of high aspirations, -all were serviceable members of their State. There were probably there not three or four of whom it would be well that the State should be rid. As soldiers fit, or capable of being made fit for the duties

they had undertaken, I could find but one fault with them. Their average age was too high. There were men among them with grizzled beards, and many who had counted thirty, thirty-five, and forty years. They had, I believe, devoted themselves with a true spirit of patriotism. No doubt each had some ulterior hope as to himself, -as has every mortal patriot. Regulus when he returned hopeless to Carthage, trusted that some Horace would tell his story. Each of these men from Minnesota looked probably forward to his reward; but the reward desired

was of a high class. The first great misery to be endured by these regiments will be the military lesson of obedience which they must learn before they can be of any service. It always seemed to me when I came near them that they had not as yet recognized the necessary austerity of an officer's duty. Their idea of a captain was the stage idea of a leader of dramatic banditti, a man to be followed and obeyed as a leader, but to be obeyed with that free and easy obedience which is accorded to the reigning chief of the forty thieves. “Wa’ll Captain," I have heard a private

, say to his officer, as he sat on one seat in a railway-car with his feet

upon the back of another. And the captain has looked as though he did not like it. The captain did not like it, but the poor private was being fast carried to that destiny which he would like still less. From the first I have had faith in the northern army; but from the first I have felt that the suffering to be endured by these free and independent volunteers would be very great. A man to be available as a private soldier must be compressed and belted in till he be a machine.

As soon as the men had left the vessel we walked over the side of it and took possession. “I am afraid your cabin won't be ready for a quarter of an hour," said the clerk. body of men as hat will leave some dirt after them.” I assured him of course that our expectations under such circumstances were very limited, and that I was fully aware that the boat and the boat's company were taken up with matters of greater moment than the carriage of ordinary passengers. But to this he demurred altogether. “The regiments were very little to them, but occasioned much trouble. Everything, how

a

6. Such a

[ocr errors]

ever, should be square in fifteen minutes.” At the expiration of the time named the key of our state-room was given to us, and we found the appurtenances as clean as though no soldier had ever put his foot upon the vessel.

From La Crosse to St. Paul, the distance up the river is something over 200 miles, and from St. Paul down to Dubuque, in Iowa, to which we went on our return, the distance is 450 miles. We were therefore for a considerable time on board these boats; more so than such a journey may generally make necessary, as we were delayed at first by the soldiers, and afterwards by accidents, such as the breaking of a paddle-wheel, and other causes to which navigation on the Upper Mississippi seems to be liable. On the whole we slept on board four nights, and lived on board as many days. I cannot say that the life was comfortable, though I do not know that it could be made more so by any care on the part of the boat-owners.

My first complaint would be against the great heat of the cabins. The Americans as a rule live in an atmosphere which is almost unbearable by an Englishman. To this cause, I am convinced, is to be attributed their thin faces, their pale skins, their unenergetic temperament,-unenergetic as regards physical motion, -and their early old age. The winters are long and cold in America, and mechanical ingenuity is far extended. These two facts together have created a system of stoves, hot-air pipes, steam chambers, and heating apparatus, so extensive that from autumn till the end of spring all inhabited rooms are filled with the atmosphere of a hot oven. An Englishman fancies that he is to be baked, and for a while finds it almost impossible to exist in the air prepared for him. How the heat is engendered on board the river steamers I do not know, but it is engendered to so great a degree that the sitting-cabins are unendurable. The patient is therefore driven out at all hours into the outside balconies of the boat, or on to the top roof,—for it is a roof rather than a deck,--and there as he passes through the air at the rate of twenty miles an hour, finds himself chilled to the very bones. That is my first complaint. But as the boats are made for Americans, and as Americans like hot air, I do not put it forward with any idea that a change ought to be effected. My second complaint is equally unreasonable, and is quite as incapable of a remedy as the first. Nine-tenths of the travellers carry children with them. They are not tourists engaged on pleasure excursions, but men and women intent on the business of life. They are moving up and down, looking for fortune, and in search of new homes. Of course they carry with them

all their household gods. Do not let any critic say that I grudge these young travellers their right to locomotion. Neither their right to locomotion is grudged by me, nor any of those privileges which are accorded in America to the rising generation. The habits of their country and the choice of their parents give to them full dominion over all hours and over all places, and it would ill become a foreigner to make such habits and such choice a ground of serious complaint. But nevertheless the uncontrolled energies of twenty children round one's legs do not convey comfort or happiness, when the passing events are producing noise and storm rather than peace and sunshine. I

I must protest that American babies are an unhappy race. They eat and drink just as they please; they are never punished; they are never banished, snubbed, and kept in the back ground as children are kept with us; and yet they are wretched and uncomfortable. My heart has bled for them as I have heard them squalling by the hour together in agonies of discontent and dyspepsia. Can it be, I wonder, that children are happier when they are made to obey orders and are sent to bed at six o'clock, than when allowed to regulate their own conduct; that bread and milk is more favorable to laughter and soft childish

ways

than beef-steaks and pickles three times a day; that an occasional whipping, even, will conduce to rosy cheeks ? It is an idea which I should never dare to broach to an American mother; but I must confess that after my travels on the western continent my opinions have a tendency in that direction. Beef-steaks and pickles certainly produce smart little

. men and women. Let that be taken for granted. But rosy laughter and winning childish ways are, I fancy, the produce of bread and milk. But there was a third reason why travelling on these boats was not as pleasant as I had expected. I could not get my fellow-travellers to talk to me. It must be understood that our fellow-travellers were not generally of that class which we Englishmen, in our pride, designate as gentlemen and ladies. They were people, as I have said, in search of new homes and new fortunes. But I protest that as such they would have been in those parts much more agreeable as companions to me that any gentlemen or any ladies, if only they would have talked to me. I do not accuse them of any incivility. If addressed, they answered me. If application was made by me for any special information, trouble was taken to give it me. But I found no aptitude, no wish for conversation; nay, even a disinclination to converse. In the western States I do not think that I was ever addressed first by an American

sitting next to me at table. Indeed I never held any conversation at a public table in the West. I have sat in the same room with men for hours, and have not had a word spoken to me. I have done my very best to break through this ice, and have always failed. A western American man is not a talking man. He will sit for hours over a stove with his cigar in his mouth, and his hat over his eyes, chewing the cud of reflection. A dozen will sit together in the same way, and there shall not be a dozen words spoken between them in an hour. With the women one's chance of conversation is still worse. It seemed as though the cares of the world had been too much for them, and that all talking excepting as to business,-demands for instance on the servants for pickles for their children,—had gone by the board. They were generally hard, dry, and melancholy. I am speaking of course of aged females,—from five and twenty perhaps to thirty, who had long since given up the amusements and levities of life. I very soon abandoned any attempt at drawing a word from these ancient mothers of families; but not the less did I ponder in my mind over the circumstances of their lives. Had things gone with them so sadly, was the struggle for independence so hard, that all the softness of existence had been trodden out of them? In the cities too it was much the same. It seemed to me that a future mother of a family in those parts had left all laughter behind her when she put out her finger for the wedding ring.

For these reasons I must say that life on board these steamboats was not as pleasant as I had hoped to find it, but for our discomfort in this respect we found great atonement in the scenery through which we passed. I protest that of all the river scenery that I know, that of the Upper Mississippi is by far the finest and the most continued. One thinks of course of the Rhine; but, according to my idea of beauty, the Rhine is nothing to the Upper Mississippi. For miles upon miles, for hundreds of miles, the course of the river runs through low hills, which are there called bluffs. These bluffs rise in every imaginable form, looking sometimes like large straggling unwieldy castles, and then throwing themselves into sloping lawns which stretch back away from the river till the eye is lost in their twists and turnings. Landscape beauty, as I take it, consists mainly in four attributes : in water, in broken land, in scattered timber,-timber scattered as opposed to continuous forest timber,--and in the accident of colour. In all these particulars the banks of the Upper Mississippi can hardly be beaten. There are no high mountains; but high mountains

« PředchozíPokračovat »