« PreviousContinue »
to bring the subject home to ourselves, and attempt to show what chances we have of being distinguished for oratory, and whether our institutions are favourable or not for that object. We may recur to this on a future occasion.
ART. III.—Lettres sur l'Amérique du Nord, par Michel
CHEVALIER, avec une carte des Etats-Unis d'Amérique.
Paris : 1836. Letters upon North America, by MICHAEL CHEVALIER, with
a map of the United States.
It is worthy of remark that the work of De Tocqueville on the United States has been translated into several languages, and circulated through various nations of Europe, whilst in the country of which it speaks it has not been republished, though the admirable version made in England is ready at hand. What is the inference to be drawn from this? Is it that the work is unworthy of our notice as feeble or erroneous ? No; for it is undeniably the ablest, most philosophical, and most correct, that has been written upon the subject ? Is it that we are heedless as to what is said about us by foreigners ? Let this be answered by the editions of your Halls, your Hamiltons, your Trollopes, your Kembles, multiplied ad infinitum and ad nauseam, and penetrating to every corner of the land. Is it that our reading public is too small to authorize publishers to issue many works? Any one whose pursuits bring him into contact with the press, will be perfectly sure that such is not the case, when, before he has read the title-page of one book, his attention is called to another. What then is the cause of the singular circumstance alluded to? It is unfortunately obvious enough to one who considers the character of the productions which alone find favour with the community. The book is literally too good. "He's not too wicked but too just to live.” It is too instructive, too well fitted to make the reader think and learn. Were it only calculated to amuse a leisure hour; were it well spiced with slander and misrepresentation, or sugared all over with blarney ; did it not contain a single idea by which a really just and profound appreciation of our institutions was evinced, and a beneficial feeling of pride or regret might be awakened, there is scarce a bookseller's window in the land that would not have its advertisement displayed with VOL. XXI.- NO. 42.
all the attractions of variegated type and magnificent puffs. So we go. Now is not this a melancholy truth? And are not melancholy consequences to be apprehended from it for the people? "Drink beer, think beer,” said a wise man-read trash, think trash, aye, and act trash, say experience and common sense.
For the same reason that “Democracy in America” found no introduction here, are these “ Letters on North America,” now before us, likely to be known here only in their foreign dress. We wonder, however, that they have not been translated ere this in England, as, with the exception of De Tocqueville's work, they are beyond question the best effusions concerning our country that have appeared. In some respects, indeed, Mr. Chevalier has the advantage of his compatriot. If not so profound and elaborate, he seems to have studied with equal zeal the nature of our institutions, and to have entered as successfully into their spirit and scope, whilst he writes in a more popular style, and often with a fuller knowledge of details, arising from a longer residence and more varied opportunities. He is also a more decided admirer of them—more disposed, from, we suspect, previous republican hankerings, to look upon them and us with a kindly eye. His friendliness is certainly unquestionable, though it does not in general lead him to extenuate any more than to set down in malice. On the whole, we think he has exhibited as much impartiality, and fallen into as few mistakes, either of fact or opinion, as is possible for a stranger whose sojourn is of limited duration ; and no one can read his book without deriving a great deal of entertainment and profit, and forming a high idea of its writer's intelligence, knowledge, and dispositions.
Mr. Chevalier arrived in this country at the period when the war against the bank of the United States was raging in all its violence, and several of his first and best letters are devoted to that subject. They manifest a perfect appreciation of the character of the extraordinary contest, showing him to have studied it with the interest it was so well calculated to awaken, and with an adequate comprehension of our banking system in particular, as well as of the general principles involved in the
He was infinitely surprised, as well he might be, at the spectacle he beheld ; and truly remarks, in more than one place, that had such proceedings been witnessed in a monarchical nation of Europe, those who are eager to establish every where a republican form of government, without regard to the condition of the country, or to the wealth and intelligence, the character and customs, of the people, would have seized upon them as a text against the monarchical system. “Unfolding the picture of an unexampled commercial prosperity all at once arrested by a caprice of power, they would demonstrate that
such is one of the inevitable consequences of the opposition of a dynastic interest to that of the nation. They would prove, by geometrical syllogisms, how completely it is the essence of monarchy to place authority in unskilful and imprudent hands, which, in order to gratify a feeling of personal vengeance, would not hesitate to endanger the welfare of millions. They would raise an outcry of a 'camarilla,' which, according to them, is one of the distinctive attributes of royalty. Unhappily for this theory, it is belied by what I have now before my eyes in the most flourishing republic that has ever existed."
Qur author had good reason to be convinced that ignorance or contempt of the true interests of the country is not the exclusive appanage of royalty, and that it is not alone in monarchies that a mountebank may be found in the place where a mathematician is required." The official papers which have emanated from the executive upon the subject of the bank, are, as far as their exhibition of administrative science and knowledge of the springs of public prosperity is concerned, about upon a par with the acts of the Spanish government." As to the camarilla—“never have I heard aught of the kind so much spoken of as since my arrival in the United States. It is here called the kitchen, and, admitting only the fourth of what the opposition say about it, it is difficult not to believe that the influence of the kitchen cabinet upon public affairs surpasses that of the council of ministers."
We can imagine the sensations of an accomplished foreigner smitten with the love of republican institutions, and embarking for our shores with his imagination inflamed by all he had heard, and read, and fancied, of our miraculous condition of prosperity, order, and freedom, when, on reaching our land, he finds himself in the midst of universal confusion and distress, and learns that all is owing to the willing submission of the enlightened and virtuous people he had so much admired, to the most extraordinary pranks of ignorance and perverseness united which ever astonished a rational mind, or tortured a helpless slave. He learns that, not very long before his arrival, the country was in the situation in which he had pictured it to himself; that every thing then fully justified the boast that the grand problem of self-government was satisfactorily solved; that each citizen, as he contemplated the results which attended the efforts of his enterprise, his industry, and his skill, had ample reason to congratulate himself upon living in a land where no unnatural obstacles obstructed his onward course—where all inspired the utmost buoyancy of hope, all created the fullest confidence of merited success, all lent the most efficacious assistance to laudable undertakings—where all, in short, whilst it imparted that aspect of independence and erectness to the
inhabitants, which only there, perhaps, could be seen in complete verification of the boast of the ancient, os homini sublime dedit, columque tueri," at the same time developed, in their widest extent, the most useful and powerful energies of our nature. He learns that almost in a moment the whole face of things was changed "as if by touch of some enchanter's wand," as if some foul magician had breathed the breath of destruction over the land ; and that this was the work of one whom the nation, in gratitude for services of a kind which ought never to have been rewarded in that way, invested with its highest honours-of one who, disqualified by temperament, education, and habits, for the post he was called to fill, and acting under the dictates of ignorance and passion, had conceived a bitter hostility to a principal instrument of the country's welfare, and assaulted it with all the eagerness and blindness of personal malice, hugging the idea that he was but executing the commands of patriotism. He learns that the infatuation of their favourite had communicated itself to the people, and that instead of staying the profane hand which was scattering their happiness to the winds, and desecrating their institutions, they had leagued with him in the fierce crusade against their own interests and their own reputation, and at the moment were even urging him on in the career of ruin. He hears cries of distress which are echoed by the laugh of scorn; he beholds turmoil made confusion worse confounded by those who might have calmed the tempest and poured oil upon the waves; he sees himself surrounded by all the mischief which results from the perversion of the best materials of prosperity, by all the consequences of ignorance, and vice, and delusion; and, if he does not, in a fit of disappointment and disgust, return at once to whence he came, but remains and endeavours to understand the causes of a spectacle so melancholy and so unexpected, he at length discovers, like Mr. Chevalier, that “an absolute people may, as well as an absolute king, disdain for a while the counsels of experience and wisdom; that a people as well as a king may have its courtiers; that a people that rules, when its authority is limited by no counterpoise, may also espouse blindly, and at every risk, the quarrels of its favourites of the moment." Amournful lesson to learn for those who have cherished the fond belief that a majority can do no wrong ; that there is no such thing as that “ worst of tyrants an usurping crowd,” in countries where the people are recognised as sovereign. But it is a useful lesson for that people especially to learn, and, if duly remembered, must be their best preservative against the perils to which they are exposed by the freedom which is given to the evil as well as to the good attributes of their nature. Self-distrust, to a certain extent, is as necessary
for them as self-confidence. The intoxication of national presumption must make them reel, if not fall, in the path before them; and when once the idea that all they do is right because they do it, obtains possession of their minds, clouds will soon gather upon their horizon, and the storm will burst upon unprotected heads. Sincerely is it to be hoped, that the experience we have had will not realize the wise man's remark, that experience is like the stern-light of a vessel, only illuminating the track behind. May it cast its brightest effulgence before our feet, for dearly have we purchased the lamp.
Mr. Chevalier thinks that the unpopularity of the banking system, resulting from the injury which had been produced by the mismanagement of various banks, was so great and so general as to have been a principal cause of the eagerness of the people for the destruction of the bank of the United States. To a certain extent, undoubtedly, there was a strong dislike to the whole system, and some, if not many, would have rejoiced to see it entirely eradicated; but we are confident in the belief that, at the period of the late president's first election, had the vote of the country been taken, there would have been found a decided, perhaps an overwhelming, majority in favour of the institution. Its benefits had been too important, too palpable, not to have created a sentiment of good will towards it among a people who, when not labouring under one of those illusions to which even the clearest sighted may at times be subject, have too keen a perception of their interests to be indifferent or hostile to the sources of their prosperity. Nothing but a fit of what may be termed insanity could have prompted them to the determination to dry those sources up; and, if ever there was an instance of national insanity, that was certainly one which the good people of the United States have just exhibited. It was not until they had become so enamoured of the idol they had fashioned with their own hands as to be willing to sacrifice even themselves upon its altar—it was not until fascinated with the idea that a single individual comprised all the wisdom and virtue of the country, they hesitated not to believe aught, however preposterous or monstrous, at his bidding-it was not until overtaken by this wretched delirium, that they loosed the silver cord of their tranquillity, and broke the golden bowl of their happiness. The people's president could not deceive the people. Those whom he chose to select as his enemies, must be their enemies. Those whom he denounced, they should denounce. Those whom he would destroy, they should destroy.
Our author mentions two striking instances of the degree in which every thing, whatever its real colour, looks yellow to jaundiced eyes. It may be useful to recur to them as samples of the whole treatment of the “ faultless monster.”