PENNSYLVANIA. Summer 1831. Financial Affairs and Legal Rights of Widows; Effects of Drunkenness on the Domestic Life of the Family; Benefits of Primogeniture Laws.
As to the law of dower, it is much the same as that of England generally; but where the sale has been made, the produce is considered as real estate so far, and the widow receives an annuity from one third in lieu of her dower. This does not effect the distribution of the remainder, which is divided as in England. It often happens, that the share of each person if young, is just enough to purchase his destruction.
Very frequently, but in some States more than others, its most prominent application is detected by the effects of a vicious indulgence in ardent spirits, principally among the second and lower classes. Drunkenness still prevails to an alarming extent, notwithstanding the benign presence of the temperate societies. I have heard the most melancholy and appalling accounts of its ravages in private life; and in one place I was informed of its disgusting influence over Judicial morality. The root of the evil is in the expectations which are formed: it is the certainty of actual possession of property at a future time, accompanied by ignorance as to its amount, that so often cherishes in the children the most dissolute habits of idleness, with all their attendant evils. Supposing both of them in the same easy circumstances as country gentlemen, and fathers of families, how different must of necessity be the sentiments of an American and an Englishman, when they survey their respective fire sides! Both see around them their wives and children, in the possession of affluence and comfort, and happy in the enjoyment of each otherís society. But in the event of his death, how gloomy may be the picture drawn by the one, in opposition to that contemplated by the other ! A divided estate and a dispersed family, present themselves to the mind of the American; or perhaps a small part of them living together, but unable to command any share of the luxuries, and not many of the comforts they enjoy during his lifetime, in consequence of a secession of property of marriage, or decrease of it from dissipation. The Englishman feels a debt of gratitude to the constitution of his country: in the event of his death, his house, in the possession of his eldest son, will be a home for his widow and a place of meeting for his children. His younger sons have been brought up under the idea that they are to be the architects of their own fortunes, and such a doctrine has not rendered them unhappy, because it has enforced the virtue of contentment. The law of primogeniture perpetuates, through the eldest son, a species of parental affection and authority; and where there is a title to descend, there is a further inducement to the eldest son to emulate the virtues or the actions of an illustrious father; or, if that father has brought disgrace upon a distinguished name or sullied the escutcheon of a distinguished family (which, be it added, is sometimes the case), the son may be naturally desirous of wiping away the stain, and of giving the benefit of his example to society, by his imitation of the character of a nobler ancestor. There is yet a further deficiency of inducement to exertion existing in the American, and in every other democracy. In England, a young man in the enjoyment of a sufficient income, and who is consequently not obliged to labour at any profession with a view to its increase, yet with the possibility of obtaining a title, will exert his abilities to the utmost; but in America, the stimulus of titled distinction being unknown, it must often happen that the finest talents are doomed to remain unemployed.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. Summer 1831. Strawberry party; Beauty of American Women; Need of an Aristocracy for the Improvement of Manners.
The environs of Baltimore are exceedingly pretty: almost every eminence is crowned with a country house, surrounded by gardens and pleasure grounds richly wooded, and laid out to the best advantage, so as generally to afford a peep through the trees at some part of the Patapsco, or the Chesapeake. They are admirably adapted for a fete champetre, or a strawberry party, as it is called at Baltimore. I had the honour of an invitation to the only one that was given during my stay in that city. The company assembled about six o'clock. Quadrilles and waltzes were kept up with great spirit, first on the lawn, and then in the house till about eleven. In the mean time strawberries and cream, ices, pine apples, and champagne, were served up in the greatest profusion. I had understood, and am quite ready to admit, that Baltimore deservedly enjoys a high reputation for female beauty. I am speaking of the American ladies in general, when I remark that it is no injustice to them to maintain, that where you will see twenty pretty girls, you will not see one really handsome woman. I have frequently observed the prettiest features, such as more reminded me of England, than of any other country; but I think that most Europeans who have formed a correct taste from the "stone ideal" of Greece, would agree with me that ladies with pretensions to that higher degree of beauty, are not so often to be met with in America as in England. There is one particular in which they would do well to imitate my fair countrywomen.
They have great charms for the breakfast table; but yet, elegant and lady-like as many of them undoubtedly are, how often have I been compelled to wish, that the breakfast table had not quite so many charms for them. They must know that to eat is unfeminine; and that ladies should in the presence of gentlemen, appear very hungry, is a decided proof of a deficiency in national manners, just as much, or even more so, than that men, be they who or what they may, should sit with their hats on in the dress circle at New York. The influence of a court would extend to, and would remedy all this. I should here again remark, that the first society is seldom seen at the theatre, and would not be guilty of such behaviour.