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Rulers of the Earth

Look at the rulers of the earth, from the patriarchs to the present day, how few have been pre-eminent! Even in the earliest periods, when the age of man reached to ten times its present span, the wonderful sacred writ records Tubal-Cain, the first artificer, and Jubal, the lyrist, as most extraordinary men; and with what care are Aholiab and Bezabel, cunning in all sorts of craft, and Hiram, the artificer of Tyre, recorded! Hiram, the king, great as he undoubtedly was, was secondary in Solomon's eyes to the widow's son.

These men, says the holy record, were gifted expressly for their peculiar mission; and so are all men, to whom the Inscrutable has been pleased to assign extraordinary talent.

Cæsar, the conqueror, Napoleon, his imitator, and Nelson, and Wellington, are they on a par with the rabble of New York? Procul, O, procul este profani!

Pure democracy is an utter and unattainable impossibility; nature has effectually barred against it. The only thing in the course of a life of more than half a century that has ever puzzled me about it is, that the Catholic clergy should, in so many parts of the world, have lent it a helping hand. The ministers of a creed essentially aristocratic, essentially the pillars of the divine right of kings, have they ever been in earnest about the matter? Perhaps not!

If that giant of modern Ireland, the pacificator citizen king, succeeded in separating the island from Great Britain, would he, on attaining the throne, or the dictatorship, or the presidency, or whatever it might be, for the nonce, desire pure democracy? Je crois que non, because, if he did, he would reign about one clear week afterwards.

Look at the United States, see how each successive president is bowed down before the Moloch altar; he must worship the democratic Baal, if he desires to be elected, or re-elected. It is not the intellect, or the wealth of the Union that rules. Already they seriously canvass in the Empire State perfect equality in worldly substance, and the division of the lands into small portions, sufficient to afford the means of respectable existence to every citizen. It is, perhaps, fortunate that very few of the office-holders have much substance to spare under these circumstances; but, if the President, Vice-President, and the Secretaries of State, are to live upon an acre or two of land for the rest of their lives, Spartan broth will be indeed a rich diet to theirs.

When the sympathizers invaded Canada, in 1838-1839, the lands of the Canadians were thus parceled out amongst them, as the reward of their extremely patriotic services, but in slices of one hundred, instead of one or two, acres.

But, notwithstanding all this ultra-democracy, there is at present a sufficient counterbalance in the sense of the people, to prevent any very serious consequences; and the Irish, from having had their religion trampled upon, and themselves despised, would be very likely to run counter to native feeling.

If any country in the whole civilized world exhibits the inequality of classes more forcibly than another, it is the country which has lately annexed Texas, and which aims at annexing all the New World.

There is a more marked line drawn between wealth and pretension on the one hand, poverty and impertinent assumption on the other, than in the dominions of the Czar. Birth, place, power, are all duly honored, and that sometimes to a degree which would astonish a British nobleman, accustomed all his life to high society. I remember once traveling in a canal boat, the most abominable of all conveyances, resembling Noah's ark in more particulars than its shape, that I was accosted, in the Northern States too, and near the borders, where equality and liberty reign paramount, by a long slab-sided fellow-passenger, who, I thought, was going to ask me to pay his passage, his appearance was so shabby, with the following questions:

"Where are you from? are you a Livingstone?" I told him, for I like to converse with characters, that I was from Canada. "What's your name?" he asked. I satisfied him. He examined me from head to foot with attention, and, as he was an elderly man, I stood the gaze most valiantly. "Well," he said, "I thought you were a Livingstone; you have got small ears, and small feet and hands, and that, all the world over, is the sign of gentle blood."

He was afterwards very civil; and, upon inquiring of the skipper of the boat who he was, I found that my friend was a man of large fortune, who lived somewhere near Utica, on an estate of his own.

This was before the sympathy troubles, and I can back it with another story or two to amuse the reader.

Some years ago, when it was the fashion in Canada for British officers always to travel in uniform, I went to Buffalo, the great city of Buffalo on lake Erie, in the Thames steamer, commanded by my good friend, Captain Van Allen, and the first British Canadian steamboat that ever entered that harbor. We went in gallantly, with the flag flying that "has braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze." I think the majority of the population must have lined the wharfs to see us come in. They rent the welkin with welcomes, and, among other demonstrations, cast up their caps, and cried with might and main—"Long live George the Third!"—Our gracious monarch had for years before bid this world good night, but that was nothing; the good folks of Buffalo had not perhaps quite forgotten that they were once, long before their city was a city, subjects of King George.

I and another officer in uniform were received with all honors, and escorted to the Eagle hotel, where we were treated sumptuously, and had to run the gauntlet of handshaking to great extent. A respectable gentleman, about forty, some seven years older than myself, stuck close to me all the while. I thought he admired the British undress uniform, but he only wanted to ask questions, and, after sundry answers, he inquired my name, which being courteously communicated, he said, "Well, I am glad, that's a fact, that I have seen you, for many is the whipping I have had for your book of Algebra." Now I never was capable of committing such an unheard-of enormity as being the cause of flagellation to any man by simple or quadratic equations; and it must have been the binomial theorem which had tickled his catastrophe, for it was my father's treatise which had penetrated into the new world of Buffalonian education.

It is a pity, is it not, gentle reader, that such feelings do not now exist?

Nevertheless, even now, the designation of a British officer is a passport in any part of the United States. The custom-house receives it with courtesy and good-will; society is gratified by attentions received from a British officer; and it is coupled with the feelings which the habits and conduct of a gentleman engender throughout Christendom.

At New York, I visited every place worth seeing; and, although disliking gambling, races, and debating societies, à outrance, I was determined to judge for myself of New York, of life in New York.

On one occasion, I was at a meeting of the turf in an hotel after the races, where violent discussions and heavy champagning were going on. I was then (it was in 1837) a major in the army, and was introduced to one or two prominent men in the room as a British officer who had been to see the racecourse; this caused a general stir, and the champagne flew about like——I am at a loss for a simile; and the health of Queen Victoria was drunk with three times three.

On board a packet returning from England, we had several of the leading characters of the United States as passengers. A very silly and troublesome democrat, of the Loco-foco school, from Philadelphia, made himself conspicuous always after dinner, when we sat, according to English fashion, at a dessert, by his vituperations against monarchy and an exhibition of his excessive love for everything American. The gentlemen above alluded to, men who had traveled over Europe, whose education and manners made them that which a true gentleman is all over the world, were disgusted, and, to punish his impertinence, proposed that a weekly paper should be written by the cabin passengers, in which the occurrences of each day should be noted and commented upon, and that poetry, tales, and essays, should form part of its matter.

They agreed to discuss the relative points and bearings of monarchy and democracy; they to depute one of their number to be the champion of monarchy; and we to choose the champion of democracy from amongst the English passengers.

Two drawings were fixed up at each end of the table after dinner; one, representing a crowned Plum-pudding; and the other, Liberty and Equality, by the well-known sign. The blustering animal was soon effectually silenced; a host of first-rate talent leveled a constant battery at his rude and uncultivated mind.

I shall never forget this voyage, and I hope the talent-gifted Canadian lawyer who threw down the gauntlet of Republicanism, and who has since risen to the highest honors of his profession which the Queen can bestow, has preserved copies of the Saturday's Gazette of The Mediator American Packet-ship.

The mention of this vessel puts me in mind of one more American anecdote, and I must tell it, for I have a good deal of dry work before me.

Crossing the Atlantic once in an American vessel, we met another American ship, of the same size, and passed very close. Our captain displayed the stars and stripes in true ship-shape cordial greeting. Brother Jonathan took no notice of this sea civility, and passed on; upon which the skipper, after taking a long look at him with his spy-glass, broke out in a passion, "What!" said he, "you won't show your b—d bunting, your old stripy rag? Now, I guess, if he had been a Britisher, instead of a d—d Yankee, he would not have been ashamed of his flag; he would have acted like a gentleman. Phew!" and he whistled, and then chewed his cigar viciously, quite unconscious that I was enjoying the scene.

But, if it be possible that one peculiar portion of the old countrymen are more disliked or despised than another in any country under the sun, connected by such ties as the United States are with Britain, there can be no doubt that the condition of the Jews under King John, as far as hatred and unexpressed contumelious feeling goes, was preferable to the feeling which native Americans, of the ultra Loco-foco or ultra-federal breed, entertain towards the laboring Catholic Irish, and would, if they could with safety, vent upon them in dreadful visitation. They would exterminate them, if they dared.

To account for such a feeling, it must be observed that a large portion of these ignorant and misguided men have brought much of this animosity upon themselves; for, continuing in the New World that barbarous tendency to demolish all systems and all laws opposed to their limited notions of right and wrong, and, whilst their senseless feuds among themselves harass society, they eagerly seek occasions for that restless political excitement to which they are accustomed in their own unhappy and regretted country.

A body of these hewers of wood and drawers of water, who, when not excited, are the most innocent and harmless people in the world—easily led, but never to be driven—get employed on a canal or great public work; and, no sooner do they settle down upon wages which must appear like a dream to them, than some old feud between Cork and Connaught, some ancient quarrel of the Capulets and Montagues of low life, is recollected, or a chant of the Boyne water is heard, and to it they go pell-mell, cracking one another's heads and disturbing a peaceful neighborhood with their insane broils.

Or, should a devil, in the shape of an adviser, appear among them, and persuade these excitable folks that they may obtain higher wages by forcing their own terms, bludgeons and bullets are resorted to, in order to compel compliance, and incendiarism and murder follow, until a military force is called out to quell the riots.

The scenes of this kind in Canada, where vast sums are annually expended on the public works, have been frightful; and such has been the terror which these lawless hordes have inspired, that timid people have quitted their properties and fled out of the reach of the moral pestilence; nay, it has been carried so far, that a Scotch regiment has been marked on account of its having been accidentally on duty in putting down a canal riot; and, wherever its station has afterwards been cast, the vengeance of these people has followed it.

At Montreal, the elections have been disgraced by bodies of these canallers having been employed to intimidate and overawe voters; and, were it not that a large military force is always at hand there, no election could be made of a member, whose seat would be the unbiased and free choice of his constituents.

It is, however, very fortunate for Canada that these canallers are not usually inclined to settle, but wander about from work to work, and generally, in the end, go to the United States. The Irish who settle are fortunately a different people; and, as they go chiefly into the backwoods, lead a peaceful and industrious life.

But it is, nevertheless, very amusing, and affords much insight into the workings of frail human nature to observe the conduct of that portion of the Irish emigrants who find that they have neither the means of obtaining land, nor of quitting some large town at which they may arrive. Their first notion then is to go out to service, which they had left Ireland to avoid altogether. The father usually becomes a day-laborer, the sons farm-servants or household servants in the towns, the daughters cooks, nursery-maids, &c.

When they come to the mistress of a family to hire, they generally sit down on the nearest chair to the door in the room, and assume a manner of perfect familiarity, assuring the lady of the house that they never expected to go out to service in America, but that some family misfortune has rendered such a step necessary. The lady then, of course, asks them what branch of household service they can undertake; to which the invariable reply is, anything—cook or housemaid, child's-maid or housekeeper, and that indeed they lived in better places at home than they expect to get in America, such as Lord So-and-so's, or Squire So-and-so's.

The end of this is obvious; and a lady told me, the other day, she hired a professed cook, who was very shortly put to the test by a dinner-party occurring a day or two after she joined the household. Her mistress ordered dinner; and one joint, or pièce de resistance, was a fine fillet of veal. The professed cook, it appeared, labored under a little manque d'usage on two delicate points, for she very unexpectedly burst into her lady's boudoir just as she was dressing for dinner, and exclaimed, "Mistress, dear, what'll I do with the vail?"—"The veil?" said the dame, in horror; "what veil?"—"Why, the vail in the pot, marm; I biled it, and it swelled out so, the divil a get it out can I get it."

So with the farm-servants, they can all do everything; and an Irish gentleman told me that he lately hired a young man, an emigrant, to plough for him; and, on asking him if he understood ploughing, the good-natured Paddy answered, offhand, "Ploughing, is it? I'm the boy for ploughing."—"Very well, I'm glad of it," said the gentleman, "for you are a fine, likely young fellow, so I shall hire you." He hired him accordingly at high wages—ten dollars a month and provisions and lodging found. The first day he was to work, my friend told him to go and yoke the oxen. Paddy stared with all his eyes, but said nothing, and went away. He staid some time, and then returned with a pair of oxen, which he was driving before him. "Here's the oxen, master!"—"Where are the yokes, Paddy?"—"The yokes! by the powers, is that what they call beef in Canady?" Poor Paddy had been a weaver all his live-long days.

The Irish are almost exclusively the servants in most parts of the northern states and throughout Canada, excepting the French Canadians, and very attached, faithful servants they frequently are; but notions of liberty and equality get possession of their phrenological developments, and they are almost always on the move to better their condition, which rarely happens as they desire.

Then another crying evil in Canada and in the States is the rage for dress. An Irish girl no sooner gets a modicum of wages than all her thoughts are to go to chapel or church as fine or finer than her mistress. Nearly every servant-girl in the large towns has a ridicule (that must be the proper way of spelling it), a bustle, a parasol, an expensive shawl, and a silk gown, and fine bonnet, gloves, and a white pocket-handkerchief. The men are not so aspiring, and usually don on Sundays a blue coat and brass buttons, white pantaloons, white gloves, and a good fur cap in winter, or a neat straw hat or brilliant beaver in summer. The waistcoat is nondescript, but the boots are irreproachable. A cigar has nearly replaced the pipe in the streets.

I will defy a short-sighted person to distinguish her nursery-maid from her own sister at a little distance; and, being somewhat afflicted that way myself, I frequently nod to a well-dressed soubrette, thinking she is at least a leading member of the aristocracy of the town; and this is the more amusing, as in all colonial towns and in the haute societé of the Republic very considerable magnificence is affected, and a rage for rank and pseudo-importance is not a little the order of the day. "Nothing," says a distinguished writer upon that most frivolous of all threadbare subjects, etiquette, "nothing is more decidedly the sign of a vulgar-born or a vulgar-bred person than to be ready to practice the art of cutting." I therefore bow to the well-dressed grisettes, upon the principle of avoiding to be thought vulgar in mixed society by cutting a lady of tremendous rank; as I would rather take a cook for a Countess, or a chambermaid for an Honorable, than be guilty of so much rudeness.

You must not smile, gentle reader, and say cooks are often handsomer than Countesses, or chambermaids prettier than Honorable; I am like the old man of the Bubbles of Brunnen, insensible to anything but the beauties of nature. Neither must you think we have no Countesses nor Honorable in Canada. The former are in truth raræ aves, but the latter—why, every change of ministry creates a batch of them.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Source: Canada and the Canadians, Volume I, 1849

 

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