"That thou givest them they gatber. Thou openest thine hand; they are filled with good."

104th Psalm.

The traveller from the Old World to the New is apt to lose himself in reflection when he should he observing. Speculations come in crowds in the wilderness. He finds himself philosophizing with every step he takes, as luxuriously as by his study fireside, or in his rare solitary walk at home.

In England, everything comes complete and finished under notice. Each man may be aware of some one process of formation, which it is his business to conduct; but all else is presented to him in its entireness. The statesman knows what it is to compose an act of parliament; to proceed from the first perception of the want of it, through the gathering together of facts and opinions, the selection from these, the elaborating, adjusting, moulding, specifying, excluding, consolidating, till it becomes an entire something, which he throws down for parliament to find fault with. When it is passed, the rest of society looks upon it as a whole, as a child does upon a table or a doll, without being aware of any process of formation. The shoemaker, thus, takes his loaf of bread, and the clock that ticks behind his door, as if they came down from the clouds as they are, in return for so much of his wages; and he analyzes nothing but shoes. The baker and watchmaker receive their shoes in the same way, and analyze nothing but bread and clocks. Too many gentlemen and ladies analyze nothing at all. If better taught, and introduced at an early age into the world of analysis, nothing, in the whole course of education, is probably so striking to their minds. They begin a fresh existence from the day when they first obtain a glimpse into this new region of discovery.

Such an era is the traveller's entrance upon the wilder regions of America. His old experience is all reversed. He sees nothing of art in its entireness; but little of nature in her instrumentality. Nature is there the empress, not the handmaid. Art is her inexperienced page, and no longer the Prospero to whom she is the Ariel.

It is an absorbing thing to watch the process of world-making;--both the formation of the natural and the conventional world. I witnessed both in America; and when I look back upon it now, it seems as if I had been in another planet. I saw something of the process of creating the natural globe in the depths of the largest explored cave in the world. In its depths, in this noiseless workshop, was Nature employed with her blind and dumb agents, fashioning mysteries which the earthquake of a thousand years hence may bring to light, to give man a new sense of the shortness of his life. I saw something of the process of world-making behind the fall of Niagara, in the thunder cavern, where the rocks that have stood for ever tremble to their fall amidst the roar of the unexhausted floods. I stood where soon human foot shall stand no more. Foot-hold after foot-hold is destined to be thrown down, till, after more ages than the world has yet known, the last rocky barrier shall be overpowered, and an ocean shall overspread countries which are but just entering upon civilized existence. Niagara itself is but one of the shifting scenes of life, like all of the outward that we hold most permanent. Niagara itself, like the systems of the sky, is one of the hands of Nature's clock, moving, though too slowly to be perceived by the unheeding,--still moving, to mark the lapse of time. Niagara itself is destined to be as the traditionary monsters of the ancient earth--a giant existence, to be spoken of to wondering ears in studious hours, and believed in from the sole evidence of its surviving grandeur and beauty. While I stood in the wet whirlwind, with the crystal roof above me, the thundering floor beneath, and the foaming whirlpool and rushing flood before me, I saw those quiet, studious hours of the future world when this cataract shall have become a tradition, and the spot on which I stood shall be the centre of a wide sea, a new region of ]ife. This was seeing world-making. So it was on the Mississippi, when a sort of scum on the waters betokened the birth-place of new land. All things help in this creation. The cliffs of the upper Missouri detach their soil, and send it thousands of miles down the stream. The river brings it, and deposits it, in continual increase, till a barrier is raised against the rushing waters themselves. The air brings seeds, and drops them where they syrout, and strike downwards, so that their roots bind the soft soil, and enable it to bear the weight of new accretions. The infant forest, floating, as it appeared, on the surface of the turbid and rapid waters, may reveal no beauty to the painter; but to the eye of one who loves to watch the process of world-making, it is full of delight. These islands are seen in every stage of growth. The cotton-wood trees, from being like cresses in a pool, rise breast-high; then they are like the thickets, to whose shade the alligator may retreat; then, like groves that bid the sun good-night, while he is still lighting up the forest; then like the forest itself, with the wood-cutter's house within its screen, flowers springing about its stems, and the wild-vine climbing to meet the night breezes on its lofty canopy. This was seeing world-making. Here was strong instigation to the exercise of analysis.

One of the most frequent thoughts of a speculator in these wildernesses, is the rarity of the chance which brings him here to speculate. The primitive glories of nature have, almost always since the world began, been dispensed to savages; to men who, dearly as they love the wilderness, have no power of bringing into contrast with it the mind of man, as enriched and stimulated by cultivated society. Busy colonists, pressed by bodily wants, are the next class brought over the threshold of this temple: and they come for other purposes than to meditate. The next are those who would make haste to be rich; selfish adventurers, who drive out the red man, and drive in the black man, and, amidst the forests and the floods, think only of cotton and of gold. Not to such alone should the primitive glories of nature be dispensed; glories which can never be restored. The philosopher should come, before they are effaced, and find combinations and proportions of life and truth which are not to be found elsewhere. Tlle painter should come, and find combinations and proportions of visible beauty which are not to be found elsewhere. Tlle architect should come, and find suggestions and irradiations of his art which are not to be found elsewhere. The poet should come, and witness a supremacy of nature such as he imagines in the old days when the world's sires came forth at the tidings of the rainbow in the cloud. The chance which opens to the meditative the almost untouched regions of nature, is a rare one; and they should not be left to the vanishing savage, the busy and the sordid.

I watched also the progress of conventional life. I saw it in every stage of advancement, from the clearing in the woods, where the settler, carrying merely his axe, makes his very tools, his house, his fireplace, his bed, his table; carves out his fields, catches from among wild or strayed animals his farm stock, and creates his own food, warmth, and winter light,--from primitive life like this, to that of the highest finish, which excludes all thought of analysis.

The position or prospects of men in a new country may best be made intelligible by accounts of what the traveller saw and heard while among them. Pictures serve the purpose better than reports. I will, therefore, give pictures of some of the many varieties of dwellers that I saw, amidst their different localities, circumstances, and modes of living. No one of them is aware how vivid an idea he impresses on the mind of humanity; nor how distinct a place he fills in her records. No one of them, probably, is aware how much happier he is than Alexander, in having before him more worlds to conquer.

My narratives, or pictures, must be but a few selected from among a multitude. My chapter would extend to a greater length than any old novel, if I were to give all I possess.

The United States are not only vast in extent: they are inestimably rich in material wealth. There are fisheries and granite quarries along the northern coasts; and shipping from the whole commercial world within their ports. There are tanneries within reach of their oak woods, and manufactures in the north from the cotton growth of the south. There is unlimited wealth of corn, sugar-cane and beet, hemp, flax, tobacco, and rice. There are regions of pasture land. There are varieties of grape for wine, and mulberries for silk. There is salt. There are mineral springs. There is marble, gold, lead, iron, and coal. There is a chain of mountains, dividing the great fertile western valley from the busy eastern region which lies between the mountains and the Atlantic. These mountains yield the springs by which the great rivers are to be fed for ever, to fertilize the great valley, and be the vehicle of its commerce with the world. Out of the reach of these rivers, in the vast breadth of the north, lie the great lakes, to be likewise the servants of commerce, and to afford in their fisheries the means of life and luxury to thousands. These inland seas temper the climate, summer and winter, and insure health to the heart of the vast continent. Never was a country more gifted by nature.

It is blessed also in the variety of its inhabitants. However it may gratify the pride of a nation to be descended from one stock, it is ultimately better that it should have been compounded from many nations. The blending of qualities, physical and intellectual, the absorption of national prejudices, the increase of mental resources, will be found in the end highly conducive to the elevation of the national character. America will find herself largely blessed in this way, however much she may now complain of the immigration of strangers. She complains of some for their poverty; but such bring a will to work, and a capacity for labour. She complains of others for their coming from countries governed by a despotism; but it is the love of freedom which they cannot enjoy at home, that brings such. She complains of others that they keep up their national language, manners, and modes of thinking, while they use her privileges of citizenship. This may appear ungracious; but it proceeds from that love of country and home institutions which will make staunch American patriots of their children's children. It is all well. The New England States may pride themselves on their population being homogeneous, while that of other States is mongrel. It is well that stability should thus have been temporarily provided for in one part of tbe Union, which should, for the season, be the acknowledged superior over the rest: but, this purpose of the arrangement having been fulfilled, New England may perhaps hereafter admit, what some others see already, that, if she inherits many of the virtues of the Pilgrims, she requires fortifying in others; and that a large reinforcement from other races would help her to throw off the burden of their inherited faults.

There can scarcely be a finer set of elements for the composition of a nation than the United States now contain. It will take centuries to fuse them; and by that time, pride of ancestry,--vanity of physical derivation,--will be at an end. Thc ancestry of moral qualities will be the only pedigree preserved; and of these every civilized nation under heaven possesses an ample, and probably an equal, share. Let the United States then cherish their industrious Germans and Dutch; their hardy Irish; their intelligent Scotch; their kindly Africans, as well as the intellectual Yankee, the insouciant Southerner, and the complacent Westerner. All are good in their way; and augment the moral value of their country, as diversities of soil, climate, and productions, do its material wealth.



From Harriet Martineau, Society in America, Volume I, Part II, - "Economy." London: Saunders and Otley, 1837, pp. 208-217.



Forward to Society in America, Part II, - Economy, Section I - "Solitaires."

Back to Society in America, Chapter III, Section VII- "Political Non-Existence of Women."

Back to Society in America - Table of Contents

Back to the Dead Sociologists' Society Index