BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. April 19, 1836 General Appearance of American Women.
The hour after midnight. Just returned from a very gay ball at a private house. Let us revisit it and I will introduce you to an American ballroom: how crowded are the rooms, and what a number of pretty women there are; few distinguished beauties, but many, very many faces that one loves to look at. The ladies are well dressed too. So are the gentlemen and there is nothing in their appearance, or manner, by which you could distinguish them from a company in an English ballroom. The only thing that strikes you as strange is, that the musicians are coloured people--and I may add, that you will scarcely hear any gentleman present addressed by a title lower than that of field officer at least.
Let us take our stand here, and I will point out some of the people to you: that pretty animated little girl with fair hair, fresh complexion, and merry blue eyes that twinkle brightly through the long dark lashes, is Miss E. M. She is, I believe, an only daughter, does what she pleases in her papa's house and gives very pleasant parties. Her voice is like a singing birdÕs, how musical is her laugh with its clear silvery tones ringing from the pure metal of the heart. That lady seated at the end of the room, figure en bon point dressed in a robe of rich black velvet, and wearing a profusion of jewels, was the wife of a King. Jerome Buonaparte. She was, I am told, eminently handsome, and she still does retain the traces of former beauty. The young lady to whom she is speaking is her niece Miss P., one of the belles of Baltimore.
Remark that tall slight lady in the centre of the room, now she turns her head, what a glorious face, glowing with youth and joy and intelligence. What expression! Every feature speaks. Did you ever see a more finely formed head, a more serene and noble brow ? They are such as Phidias would have loved to copy, and her mouth now slightly parted in a smile, how inexpressibly beautiful it is? Altogether it is one of the faces of such surpassing loveliness which one seldom sees, but in a dream. But, but, alas, her figure is wretched, long, thin and gawky, her motions are ungraceful. Her step is heavy, uncertain without the slightest ease or elasticity. She has the face of a goddess, but the figure of a Yankee. A majority of the ladies have good eyes and delicate complexions.
That low, slight made effeminate-looking young man dressed with scrupulous exactness, gold chains round his neck, and rings on his delicate fingers, enough to make the stock-in-trade of a dozen pedlars, is the most consummate fop, and conceited coxcomb I had ever the fortune to meet. He has scarcely spoken a word since he entered the room. Of course he does not dance, as he declares the very thought of being pushed about so horrifies him, and the quick motions of the dancers makes him frightfully nervous. There he has been standing all evening with his chapeau bras in one hand and a curious looking walking stick in the other. He is rich, has been in Europe, travelled there a short time, and returned with his head turned, and it seems inflated with the ambition of being the Beau Brummell of America.
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY. August 15, 1836. The effect of climate on the health of Americans.
From what I have seen of the climate of America, I am convinced that it is not healthy. The fierce extremes of heat and cold that are experienced, and the sudden changes of temperature (the thermometer varying sometimes twenty or thirty degrees in one day) must be very trying on the constitution. There is none of that equality of temperature which is so favourable to health.
The appearance of the people, particularly those who dwell to the Eastward of the Alleghanies, proves that the climate is unhealthy. The men are almost invariably bad complexioned, lathy, wall sided, round shouldered fellows, with a tout ensemble adequately described by no other term than Yankey-ishness. I don't suppose that a set of such looking men could be met with anywhere else than America. The women are generally thin and pale faced, with flat ricketty figures.
STAGECOACH TO LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY. August 19, 1836. Women Travelers on the Coach>
Took leave of my friends in Frankfort and started by the stage for Louisville. Company in the coach--the Sheriff of the County, a cadaverous looking gentleman who bore a strong resemblance to a Turkey Buzzard-- two or three substantial farmers--a doctor, whose plump round about appearonce, showed that he took few of his own prescriptions--and the doctor's lady, a very angular piece ofmortality, tightly laced up in a faded black silk gown. She also wore a tawdry white bonnet. not very clean and bedecked with a profusion of artificial flowers. Her features were sharp and vixen looking, her bright little black eyes were continually glancing about as if in search of something, her thin prim lips looked as if they had been stuped in a composition of starch and vinegar and to complete her charms her voice sounded like the creaking of a door. It was a very disagreeable voice and I have no doubt the doctor also thought so from the involuntary start he gavewhenever its notes fell upon his ears.
After some conversation about the roads, the weather and the crops one of the gentlemen in the usual inquisition style ofAmericans addressed me. "I reckon Sir, you're not from this section of the country?" I replied in the negative. "YouÕre from the South I expect?" "I am an Irishman." "Hum, ha, from Ireland," said the doctor. " Oh, my," said the lady. "You speak English tolerably plain," pursued my first querist. "Oh, ! sir," said I. "I have been in the country six months, and have paid much attention to the language. I don't despair of mastering it yet." "Well, stranger," said he, in an encouraging tone, "when you have been among us a year or two, you will speak it nearly as well as ourselves."
They asked me many questions aboutIreland, of which they had very curious ideas. The lady chimed in and displayed great fluency of speech. She was a learned lady, moreover, and seemed to pride herself on the fund of general information which she possessed. She took pity on my ignorance and enlightened me on many points. Among other things, I learned from her that Holland is the chief town of Germany.
COVINGTON, KENTUCKY. September 1836 One Family's Encounter with a Yankee Peddler.
Yesterday a Yankee Pedlar drove up to the door in a light one-horse wagon, laden with an assortment of all kinds of notions he dismounted, came into the house with a case under his arm, and addressing the landlord, briskly said, "Well captain, how do you do?" " Keeping just as common," was the answer. " Can I make a trade with you today?" " Don't want anything," said my host buttoning his breeches' pockets with a resolute air. The pedlar proceeded to unstrap his box.
"Don't want anything, I tell you," repeated the landlord stiffly. The pedlar looked up and his eye caught a thong of leather which Obadiah used instead of a watch chain. "Now, I declare captain IÕm 'stonisLed to see a gentleman of your 'spectability wear such an ungenteel thing as that bit of leather to your time of day. It's fit for nothing but to hang a dog with. My missus wouldn't let me wear sich a thing, not for the universe," and he set to abusing it at such a rate, that my host at last seemed quite ashamed of having such an appendage to his watch. "Come, now, major," said the Yankee in an insinuating tone, "I warrant you'll be running for member of thelegislation some of these days. and it wouldn't do at all to go round the 'lectors with such a thing as that. Now, here's a chain," said he dangling before Obid's eyes an immense steel chain with links that might have served for a cable, " hereÕs an elegant chain, the very ditto of the one the President himself wears and IÕll let you have it for a trifle."
Now Obid, from the vituperation that had been lavished on the leather article, was heartily ashamed of it, and his eyes were dazzled by the bright looking ware of the pedlar. I saw that his resolution was giving way when the door opened and in came the landlady with her two gawky daughters trooping after her. I foresaw that the ladies and the pedlar would carry the day. Obid's faint remonstrance was overruled, and in a few minutes the contents of several cases and packages were strewed about to the great admiration of the ladies. "Now, Marm," said the pedlar to the landlady, "I will show you some goods in this here package, that's a sight to look at. Look here, Marm," said he, exhibiting a gown piece, "did you ever lay eyes on such a pattern as that ? It's dear, Marm, it's dear, but know you'll not regard the price, and if you and your sisters each take a piece, IÕll make them as low as possible."
"Well I vow, that's good, them ere gals is my darters." The pedlar dropped his yardstick with a look of well feigned astonishment. "Your darters, Marm, well upon my say so, you 'stonish me, well, well. You must have married considerably early, but the gals is pretty gals, and it's easy seen who they took their beauty from, no offence to you, Sir. Howsomdever, if so be as how you were dressed in one of these here pieces, there are few girls in the State, would take the shine out of you at a camp meeting." Now it required unparalleled impudence to stand up and make such a complimentary speech to a withered old vixen like my landlady, however she swallowed the flattery, gross as it was, crying out with a blush of gratified vanity, "Oh, you tarnal critter." The girls giggled, and my host in a quiet tone ejaculated, "Oh Lord!"
" Lawkes, Sister," said Miss Prudence Brown, "what dread- ful nice handkerchers I declare." "I'll have one of the blue ones," said one. "And IÕll have one of the pink ones," said the other. Then came the bargaining and hizzling. The "much too dear" of the landlady and the "I couldn't take it, I assure you" of the pedlar. At last the Yankee settled the dispute by saying, "I assure you on the honour of a gentleman, Marm, it's the lowest possible price, lowest price indeed, Marm, I do not deal like other merchants. My motto is low prices and quick sales, that's the way I do business."
Mrs. B., having made an additional purchase of a breastpin for her man to make him look 'spectable, said, "Now Obid, dear, pay the gent." Obid knew perfectly well that this was tantamount to saying, 'Go and do it directly,' so he went to his money drawer with a look of desperate resignation, and paid the pedlar to the tune of twenty or thirty dollars. However before he took his departure, he asked for a "leetle drop of brandy just to keep the tarnation ague out of my stomach." Having tossed off his grog in a twinkling, he leaped into his wagon, cracked his whip, and drove off to practise on some more of the natives. "Well," said mine host, after he was fairly gone, "if that ere Yankee Pedlar, or any other Yankee Pedlar, sets foot again in my house IÕll be--Ó and he muttered some- thing in his throat, which sounded very like an oath. "Come, Mr. Brown," said his wife, "don't be imperint; IÕll have none of your imperince. Was it for this, I married you, answer me that. I'm ashamed of you, I am, and before the foreign gentleman too." Obid sat down silent and ashamed at the rebuke of his better half.
WILDERNESS NEAR LAKE MICHIGAN. September 1836. Making Gifts to Indian Women.
[describing the Pottowatomie Indians] Their faces in general are strongly marked and bear a close resemblance to the Tartar cast of countenance. When seated in silence they have a cold abstracted look as if their thoughts were far away, but when speaking their features become very animated and they use considerable gesture. They wear their hair, in time of peace, long and plaited behind. Some of the women, though not absolutely handsome, had a mild and pleasing expression.
I had an assortment of rings with me, of which I made presents to the 1adies. When I was putting the rings on their fingers (and pretty little hands they had) they hung down their heads and seemed overcome with bashfulness, with the excep-tion of one squaw. When we entered her wigwam, we found her seated on a bearskin, making a pair of mocassins. Mamaseehwa said a few words to her, upon which she looked at me, smiled and held out her hand with the air of a princess. After shaking hands with her I put four or five rings on her fingers.
She looked alternately at her hands and in my face, laughed merrily and seemed quite delighted with her new ornaments. They are extremely fond of ornaments, value such presents highly and preserve them carefully, so I may hope, through the medium of these rings, long to be remembered in the wigwams of the Pottowatomies as the "pale face " who was once their guest.
NEW YORK CITY. November 27, 1836 General Appearance of the Ladies of Society.
Arrived at New York. Whether it is the force of contrast or not, I don't know but the city appears a much finer place than the first time I visited it.
Broadway is very gay. It is the fashionable promenade and is crowded from an early hour till evening with gaily dressed ladies. There is a considerable sprinkling of pretty faces among them but such figures. Oh, ye Graces, after what models were the New York ladies fashioned. Such flat, lanky, awkward figures, only to be equalled by their vile mode of walking. I protest on my conscience, I have not yet seen a woman here who could walk even passably They have no elasticity of step, not even the shadow of grace in their movements, they have a loose slip shod gait which is the very reverse of the poetry of motion. Some of them do attempt the short step, and lively tripping walk of the French ladies, but all they can accomplish is a painful wriggle. Yet they are celebrated for their style--a Devilish bad style it is. They dress in the most extravagant manner, there is an air of vulgar flash about them which I dislike, they are very partial to fine bonnets. It struck me as not in very good taste for ladies in the depth of winter to wear white silk bonnets bedecked with a profusion of artificial flowers, and ostrich, and Bird of Paradise plumes. I suppose they go on the principle that fine feathers make fine birds. In some circles of New York society you meet ladies of highly cultivated minds and literary attainments, and in the enjoyment of their society you almost forget that they are perhaps a little too cerulean in hue.