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Toronto and the Transit
Behold us again in Toronto at Macdonald's Hotel; and, as we shall
have to visit this rising city frequently, we shall say very little
more about it at present, but embark as speedily as possible on
board the Transit, and steam over to Niagara.
The Transit, a celebrated packet, now getting old, and commanded
by a son of its well-known owner, Captain Richardson, starts always
in summer at eight a.m. punctually, and makes her voyage by
half-past eleven, at which hour, on the 5th day of July, we once
more touched the shore of Newark, or Niagara Town, at the Dock
Company's wharf, which we found had been greatly damaged in the
spring of the year by a most extraordinary ice phenomenon.
At the breaking-up of the frost, the ice in the river Niagara,
which came down the river, packed near its mouth, and dammed it up
so high at Queenston, seven miles above and close to the narrows,
that the upper surface of the fields of ice was thirty feet above
the level of the river, there a quarter of a mile broad or more. The
consequence was, that every wharf and every building under this
level was destroyed and crushed. Every edifice on the banks, and
among others a strong stone barrack, full of soldiers, was stormed
by the frost-king, during the darkness of an awful night, and the
front wall fairly breached and borne down by the advancing masses of
ice. The soldiers had barely time to escape from the crashing and
rending walls; and their cooking-house, a detached building, some
yards from the barrack and higher up the bank, was turned over, as
if it had been a small boat.
In the memory of man, such a scene had never occurred before, and
probably never will again; and I have been told, by those who beheld
it, that a more solemn display of natural power and irresistible
might has seldom been witnessed than that of the gradual grinding,
heaving passage of one great floe, or field, of thick-ribbed ice
over the other, until that summit was gained which could not be
Then came the disruption, the roar, the rush, the fury, the foam,
the groaning thunder, and the river flood; the plunge and the
struggle between the solid and the liquid waters.
Truly, the thundering water was well named by the Indian of old—NE
AW GAR AW is very Greek sounding.
Newark, or, as it is now called, Niagara, but, as it should be
named, Simcoe, is still a pretty, well laid-out town; and, although
it has scarcely had a new house built in it for many years past, is
on the whole a very respectable place, and the capital of the
district of Niagara, celebrated for its apple, peach, and cherry
It has a good-looking church, and the living is a rectory. A
Roman Catholic church stands close to the English, and a handsome
Scots church is at the other end of the town. There is an ugly jail
and Court-House about a mile in the country, and an excellent
market, where every thing is cheap and good.
Barracks for the Royal Canadian Rifle regiment stand on a large
plain. Old Fort George, the scene of former battling, is in total
ruin; and Fort Mississauga, with its square tower, looks frowningly
at Fort Niagara, on the American side of the estuary of the Great
River. I never see these rival batteries, for it is too magniloquent
to style them fortresses, but they picture to my mind England and
the United States.
Mississauga looks careless and confident, with a little bit of a
flag—the flag, however, of a thousand years, displayed, only on
Sundays and holidays, on a staff which looks something like that
which the king-making Warwick tied his heraldic bear to.
The antiquity and warlike renown of England sit equally and
visibly impressed on the crest of the miserable Mississauga as on
that of Gibraltar.
Fort Niagara, an old French Indian stockade, modernized by the
American engineers from time to time, half-lighthouse,
half-fortification, glaring with whitewashed walls, that may be seen
almost at Toronto, with a flag-staff towering to the skies, and a
flag which would cover the deck of a first-rate, displayed from morn
to night, speaks of the new nation, whose pretensions must ever be
put in plain view, and constantly tell the tale that America is a
second edition of the best work of English industry and of British
valor—a second edition interwoven, however, with foreign matter,
with French fierté without French politesse, with
German mysticism without German learning, with the restless and
rabid democracy of the whole world without the salutary check of
venerable laws, and with that strange mixture of freedom and
slavery, of tolerance and intolerance, which distinguishes America
of the nineteenth century.
But it is, nevertheless, a most extraordinary spectacle, to
contemplate the rise and progress of the union in so short a period
since the declaration of independence.
An Irish gentleman, apparently a clergyman, last year favored
the public with the result of an extensive tour in Canada and the
United States, in "Letters from America."
He starts in his preface with these remarkable expressions, which
must be well considered and analyzed, because they are the
deliberate convictions of an observant and well-informed man, who
had, moreover, singular opportunities of reflecting upon the people
he had so long traveled amongst.
He says that "In energy, perseverance, enterprise, sagacity,
activity, and varied resources" the Americans infinitely surpass the
British; that he never met with "a stupid American." That our
"American children" surpass us not only in our good, but "in our
evil peculiarities." This I cannot understand; for, surely, if we
have peculiarities, which there is no denying, they must by
all the rules of logic be limited to ourselves.
But the writer observes, in a paragraph too long for quotation,
that they exceed us in materialism and in utilitarianism; that we, a
nation of shopkeepers, as Napoleon styled the English, were outdone
in the worship of Mammon by them; that we have rejected too much the
higher branches of art and science, and the cultivation of the
æsthetic faculty—what an abominable word æsthetic is! it always puts
me in mind of asthmatic, for it is broken-winded learning.
"Is it not common," says he, "in modern England to reject
authorities both in Church and State, to look with contempt on the
humbler and more peculiarly Christian virtues of contentment and
submission, and to cultivate the intellectual at the expense of the
moral part of our nature? If these and other dangerous tendencies of
a similar nature are at work among ourselves, as they undoubtedly
are, it is useful and interesting to observe them in fuller
operation and more unchecked luxuriance in America."
Now, it is very satisfactory, that the Americans, a race of
yesterday, who have had no opportunity as yet of coping with the
deep research and master-minds of Europe, should in half a century
have leaped into such a position in the civilized world as to have
exceeded the Englishman in all the most useful relations of life, as
well as in all its darker and more dangerous features; very
satisfactory indeed that the mixed race peopling the United States
should be better and worse than that nation to which the world, by
universal consent, has yielded the palm of superiority in all the
arts and in all the sciences of modern acquirement.
Wherein do the Americans exceed the sons of Britain? In history,
in policy, in poetry, in mathematics, in music, in painting, or in
any of the gifts of the Muses? Are they more renowned in the
dreadful art of war? or in the mild virtues of peace? Is the fame of
America a wonder and a terror to the four quarters of the globe?—We
may fearlessly reply in the negative. The outer barbarian knows the
American but as another kind of Englishman. It will yet take him
some centuries to distinguish between the original and the
It is, in short, as untenable as an axiom in policy or history,
that the American exceeds the Briton in the development of mind, as
it is that the American exceeds the Briton in the development of the
baser qualities of our nature.
When the insatiate thirst for dollars, dollars, dollars, has
subsided, then the American may justly rear his head as an aspirant
for historic fame. His land has never yet produced a Shakespeare, a
Johnson, a Milton, a Spenser, a Newton, a Bacon, a Locke, a Coke, or
a Rennie. The utmost America has yet achieved is a very faint
imitation of the least renowned of our great writers, Walter Scott.
In diplomacy I deny also the palm. For although India is a case
in point, like as Texas, yet even there we have never first planted
a population with the express purpose of ejecting the lawful
government, but have conquered where conquest was not only hailed by
the enslaved people but was a positive benefit, by the introduction
of mild and equitable laws instead of brutal and bloody despotisms.
We have not snatched from a weak republic, whose principles had been
expressly formed on our own model, that which poverty alone obliged
it to relinquish. If the writer, who appears to be an excellent man
and a good Christian, had lived for several years on the borders of
the eagerly desired Canada, I very much doubt whether he would have
seen such a couleur de rose in the transactions of the mighty
commonwealth, where the rulers are the ruled, and where education,
intellect, integrity, innocence, and wealth must all alike bow
before the Juggernaut of an unattainable perfection of equality.
If Bill Johnson, the mail robber and smuggler, is as good as
William Pitt or any other William of superior mind, why then the
sooner the millennium of democracy arrives the better. It is
unfortunate for the present generation—what it will be for the next
no man can pretend to say—that this debasing principle is gaining
ground not only in Canada but in England. A reflecting mind has no
objection to the creed that all men were created equal; but history,
sacred and profane, plainly shows that mind as well as matter is
afterwards, for the wisest of purposes, very differently developed.
Does the meanest white American, the sweeper of Broadway, if
there be such a citizen, believe in this perfection of equality
amongst men as a fundamental axiom of the rights of man? Place a
black sweeper of crossings in juxtaposition, and the question will
very soon solve itself. Why, the free and enlightened citizens will
not even permit their black or colored brethren to worship their
common Creator in the same pew with themselves—it is horror, it is
degradation! And yet there is a universal outcry about sacred
liberty and equality all over the Union. The angels weep to witness
the tricks of men placed in a little brief authority. Can such a
state of things last as that, where the Irish laborer is treated as
an inferior being in the scale of creation, and the Negro, or the
offspring of the Negro and the white, is branded with the stigma of
servile? It cannot—it will not. Either let democracy assume its true
and legitimate features, or let it cease—for the re-action will be a
fearful one, as dread and as horribly diabolical as that which the
folly of the aristocracy of old France brought on that devoted land.
I have said, and I repeat it, that a residence on the borders of
Canada and the United States for some time will cure a reflecting
mind of many long cherished notions concerning the relative merits
of a limited monarchy and of a crude democracy.
The man who views the border people of the United States with
calm observation will soon come to the conclusion that a state of
government, if it may be so called, where the commonest ruffian
asserts privileges which the most educated and refined mind never
dreams of, is not an enviable order of things.
In the first fury of a war with England, who were the promoters?
the mob on the borders. Who hoped for a new sympathy demonstration,
in order to annex Canada? the people of the Western States, who, far
removed from the possibility of invasion, valiantly resolve to carry
fire and sword among their unoffending brethren.
The intelligence and the wealth of the United States are passive;
they are physically weak, and therefore succumb to the dictation of
the rude masses. And what keeps up this singular action, but the
constantly-recurring elections, the incessant balloting and voting,
the necessity which every man feels hourly of saving his substance
or his life from the devouring rapacity of those who think that all
should be equal!
If the government, acutely sensible that war is an evil which
must cripple its resources, is unwilling to engage in it, both from
principle and from patriotism, it must yield if the mob wills it, or
forfeit the sweets of office and of power. Hence, few men enter upon
the cares of public life in the States now-a-days who are of that
frame of mind which considers personal expediency as worthy of deep
reflection. What would Washington have said to such a system?
The batteries or fortalices of Niagara and of Mississauga have
led to a digression quite unintentional and unforeseen, which must
terminate for the present with a different view from that of the
author of the Letters above-mentioned: and let us hope fervently
that the New World has not yet arrived at such a consummation as
that of surpassing the vices and crimes of the Old, as we are
certain it has not yet achieved such a moral victory as that of
outrunning it in the race of scientific or mechanic fame. England is
no more in her dotage than America is in her nonage. The former,
without vanity or want of verity be it spoken, is as pre-eminent as
the latter is honestly and creditably aspiring.
The writer above quoted says their ships sail better, and are
manned with fewer hands. We grant that no nation excels the United
States in ship-building, and that they build vessels expressly for
sailing; but for one English ship lost on the ocean, there are three
of the venturous Americans; for one steam-vessel that explodes, and
hurls its hundreds to destruction, in England or Canada, there are
In England, the cautious, the slow and the sure plan prevails; in
America, the go-ahead, reckless, dollar-making principle prevails;
and so it is through every other concern of life. A hundred ways of
worshipping the Creator, after the Christian form, exist in America,
where half a dozen suffice in England.
Time is money in America; the meals are hurried over, relaxations
necessary to the enjoyment of existence forbidden—and what for? to
make money. To what end? to spend it faster than it is made, and
then to begin again. You have only a faint shadow of the immense
wealth realized in England by that of the merchant or the shopkeeper
in the States. Capital there is constantly in a rapid consumption;
and as the people engaged in the feverish excitement of acquiring it
are in the latter country, from their habits, short-lived, so the
opposite fact exhibits itself in England. There are no Rothschilds,
no railway kings in America. Time and the man will not admit of it.
John Jacob Astor is an exception to this fact.
On landing at Niagara, the difference of climate between it and
Toronto is at once perceived. Here you are on sandy, there on clayey
soil. Here all is heat, there moisture. I tried hard for several
seasons to bring the peach to perfection at Toronto, only thirty-six
miles from Niagara, without success; at Niagara it grows freely, and
almost spontaneously, as well as the quince. The fields and the
gardens of Niagara are a fortnight or more in advance of those of
Toronto. Strange that the passage of the westerly winds across
Ontario should make such a difference!
Niagara is a grand racing-stand, where all the loafers of the
neighboring republic congregate in the autumn; I was unfortunately
present at the last races, and never desire to repeat my visit at
that season. Blacklegs and whitelegs prevail; and the next morning
the course was strewed with the bodies of drunken vagabonds. It
appears to me very strange that the gentry of the neighborhood
suffer a very small modicum of ephemeral newspaper notoriety to get
the better of their good sense. The patronage of such a racecourse
as that of Niagara, so far from being an honor, is the reverse. It
is too near the frontier to be even decently respectable; nor is the
course itself a good one, for the sand is too deep. Many a young
gentleman of Toronto, who thinks that he copies the aristocracy of
England by patronizing the turf, finds out to his own loss and
sorrow that it would have been much better to have had his racing
qualifications exhibited nearer his own door; and there cannot
possibly be a greater colonial mistake committed than to fancy that
grooms, stable-boys, and blacklegs, are now the advisers and
companions of our juvenile nobility.—That day has passed!
It is very unfortunate that very false ideas exist in some of the
colonies of the manners and customs of high life in England. The
grown-up people often fancy that cold reserve, and an assumption of
great state, indicate high birth and breeding. The younger branches
seem frequently to think that there is no such thing at home as the
period of adolescence; consequently, you often see a pert young
master deliver his unasked opinion and behave before his seniors and
superiors as though he wanted to intimate that he was wiser in his
generation than they.
In crossing to Niagara, we had a specimen of the precocious
colonist of 1845. The table of the captain of the boat, like that of
his respected father, was good and decorously conducted, and there
were several ladies and some most respectable traveled Americans at
dinner. A very young gentleman, who boasted how much he had lost at
the races, how much they had gambled, and how much they drank of
champagne the night before—champagne, by the by, is thought a very
aristocratic drink among psuedo-great men, although it is common as
ditch-water in the United States—engrossed the whole conversation of
the dinner-table, picked his teeth, took up the room of two, called
the waiter fifty times, and ended by ordering the cheese to be
placed on the table before the pies and puddings were removed. The
company present rose before the dessert appeared, thoroughly
disgusted; and I afterwards saw this would-be man peeping into the
windows of the ladies'-cabin, and performing a thousand other antic
tricks, cigar in mouth, for which he would in England have met with
The precociousness of Transatlantic children is not confined to
the United States—it is equally and unpleasantly visible in Canada.
The Americans who travel, I can safely say, are not guilty of
these monstrous absurdities. I have crossed the Atlantic more than
once with boys of from seventeen to twenty, who have left college to
make the grand tour, without ever observing any thing to find fault
with. The American youth is observant, and soon discovers that
attempting to do the character of men before his time in the society
of English strangers invariably lowers instead of raising an
There is a good caricature of this in an American book, I forget
its title, written some time ago, to show the simplicity,
gullibility, and vindictiveness of our Trollopean travelers. It is a
boy of sixteen, or thereabouts, cigar in the corner of his mouth,
hat cocked on three curls, and all the modern etceteras of a
complete youth, saying to his father, "Here, take my boots, old
fellow, and clean them." The father looks a little amazed, upon
which the manikin ejaculates, "Why don't you take them? what's the
use of having a father?"
There will be a railway smash in this, as well as in the
locomotive mania. Republicanism towards elders and parents is
unnatural; the child and the man were not born equal.
I remember reading in a voluminous account of the terrors of the
French revolution a remarkable passage:—servants denounced masters,
debtors denounced creditors, women denounced husbands, children
denounced parents, youth denounced protecting age; gratitude was
unknown; a favor conferred led to the guillotine: but never, never
in that awful period, in that reign of the vilest passions of our
nature over reason, was there one instance, one single instance, of
a parent denouncing its child.
It is not a good sign when extreme youth pretends to have
discovered the true laws of the universe, when the son is wiser than
the father, or when immature reason usurps the functions of the
I have put this together because I hear hourly parents
deprecating the system of education in the greatest city of Western
Canada; because I hear and see children of fourteen swaggering about
the streets with all the consequence of unfledged men, smoking
cigars, frequenting tavern-bars and billiard-rooms, and no doubt led
by such unbridled license into deeper mysteries and excesses;
because I hear clergymen lament that boys of that age lose their
health by excesses too difficult of belief to fancy true. Surely a
salutary check in time may be applied to such an evil.
But liberty and equality, as I said before, are extending on both
sides of the Atlantic: and in their train come these evils, simply
because liberty and equality are as much misunderstood as real
republicanism and limited monarchy are.
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Source: Canada and the Canadians, Volume I, 1849
Canada and the Canadians