The Homes of the New World/Letter II.
New York, October 4th, 1849.
“Good morning, little sister mine! or rather, good
evening in the New World, where I now set firm foot,
after thirteen days rocking on the sea. I am lodging in
the Astor House, one of the largest and best hotels of
New York, and where the inhabitants are as numerous
as in the capital of Iceland, namely, about five
Opposite to this Astor House I see a large, so-called, museum, with fluttering banners and green shrubs on the roof, and the walls covered with immense paintings, representing “The Greatest Wonders in the World,” in immense, wonderful animals, and extraordinary human beings, all of which may be seen in the house; among these I observe a fellow who makes a summerset aloft in the air out of the yawning jaws of a whale; a “salto mortale,” like the salt-prophet, Jonas; and many such-like curiosities, which are still further trumpetted forth by a band of musicians from a balcony before the house. They play very well, and the whole looks very merry.
In front of the Astor House is a green space, inclosed with trees, and in the centre a large fountain, which has a refreshing appearance, and there I have refreshed myself by walking an hour this afternoon. Astor House is situated in Broadway, the great high-street and thoroughfare of New York, where people and carriages pour along in one incessant stream, and in true republican intermixture. Long lines of white and gilded omnibuses wind their way at an uninterrupted, rapid rate, as far as one can see, amid thousands of other vehicles, great and small. The broad side-paths are thronged with people of all classes; there are beautiful houses, and houses under erection; splendid shops, and a heap of horrible rubbish. There is something confused in this Broadway which makes one feel a little bewildered in the beginning. And thus, in the first place, I merely think of getting across the street alive. That beautiful little green plot, with its lovely fountain, seems to me, beside the bustling Broadway, like an oasis in the agitated sand.
I must now say something of my arrival here.
I last left you the day before we reached Halifax. That night was the end of any danger in our voyage; for it was during a thick mist that we approached the shore and its dangerous surf. We were obliged every now and then to lie still. In the morning, however, we were at Halifax, and I saw the surf-billows, like some unknown, enormous sea-creatures, heave themselves, roaring at a distance around us. I went on shore at Halifax, but only to meet again the worst features of the old world, fog, rags, beggars, dirty, screaming children, wretched horses, and such-like. I was glad to stay only a few hours there.
The following clay we took our course direct to New York; that was a real enjoyment,—warm weather, a calm sea, favourable wind, and in the evening the ocean full of phosphoric light and stars, and heaven full of stars also, shining out from amid poetical clouds. It was a glorious evening. I was on deck till quite late, and watched the fireworks which our keel called forth from the deep along the whole track of the ship. We sailed, as it were, in an element of bright silver, from which the most splendid constellation of golden stars sprang forth incessantly.
The day before had been cloudy; the heavens and the sea had been grey; the waves lead-coloured. But when we came into the large, beautiful haven of New York, which inclosed us like an open embrace, the sun broke through the clouds, strong and warm, and everything far around was illuminated. It was a glorious reception by the New World; besides this, there was a something so singularly full of vitality, so exuberantly young, which struck me deeply: there was in it something of that first life of youth, such as is felt at fifteen or sixteen. I drank in the air as one might drink in water, whilst I stood on deck looking out upon the new shore which we were rapidly approaching.
The shore is low. A forest of masts, as yet, hid New York from my sight; one only saw its towers and its smoke; and right and left in the harbour lay, with its green hills and groups of beautiful villas and houses, the large islands, Long Island, and to the left Staten Island, which seemed to me higher and more woody than the rest of the coast. The harbour is magnificent; and our arrival was festively beautiful, thanks to sun and wind!
A very agreeable family of the name of B——, from Georgia, took charge of me and mine with the utmost kindness, and I accompanied them to the Astor House, where we immediately obtained rooms. The pale girl and myself took up our quarters in a room four stories high; we could not manage it otherwise.
I had not been a quarter of an hour in the Astor House, and was standing with my travelling companions in a parlour, when a gentleman dressed in black, with a refined, gentlemanly appearance and manner, and a pair of the handsomest brown eyes I ever saw, approached me gently, and mentioned my name in a remarkably melodious voice: it was Mr. Downing, who had come from his villa on the Hudson to meet me on my arrival. I had scarcely expected that, as I was so much after my time, and he had already made a journey to New York on my behalf in vain. His exterior and his whole demeanour pleased me greatly. I do not know why, but I had imagined him to be a middle-aged man, with blue eyes and light hair; and he is a young man, about thirty, with dark eyes and dark hair, of a beautiful brown, and softly curling—in short, of quite a poetical appearance! He will remain here with me over to-morrow; but he insists upon it that on the following day I shall accompany him to his house on the Hudson, where I can make the acquaintance of his wife, at my leisure, in the Highlands of the Hudson, as well as consider over my future travelling movements.
I have spent the evening with my friends from the “Canada,” and Mr. Downing, in one of the many large drawing-rooms of the house, and there made various acquaintances. Magnificent drawing-rooms with furniture of velvet, with mirrors and gilding, brilliant with gas-lighted magnificent chandeliers, and other grandeur, stand open in every storey of the house, for ladies and gentlemen who live here, or who are visiting here, to converse or to rest, talking together on soft and splendid sofas or arm chairs, fanning themselves, and just as if they had nothing else to do in the world than to make themselves agreeable to one another. Scarcely can a lady rise than immediately a gentleman is at hand to offer her his arm.
October 5th.—Uf! It is more wearisome here than anybody can believe; and I am quite tired out after one day of lion-life.
Through the whole day have I had nothing to do but to receive visits; to sit or to stand in a grand parlour, and merely turn from one to another, receiving the salutations and shaking hands with sometimes half a dozen new acquaintance at once—gentlemen of all professions and all nations, ladies who invite me to their house and home, and who wish that I would go immediately; besides, a number of letters which I could do no more than merely break open, requests for autographs and so on. I have shaken hands with from seventy to eighty persons to-day, whilst I was unable to receive the visits of many others. Of the names I remember scarcely any, but the greater number of the people whom I have seen please me from their cordial frank manners, and I am grateful to them for their extreme friendliness towards me. It feels to me so warm and hospitable. Nevertheless I was very glad to be relieved for a few hours from my good friends, and to drive out with Mr. Downing to the beautiful park, Greenwood, the large and new cemetery of New York, a young Père la Chaise, but on a more gigantic scale as to situation and plan. One drives as if in an extensive English park, amid hill and dale. From the highest hill, Ocean Hill, as it is called, one looks out to the sea—a glorious view. I should like to repose here. The most beautiful monument which I saw, was of white marble, and had been erected by sorrowing parents over their young daughter and only child. The young girl had been driven over; I suppose it must have been in Broadway.
On our return to the hotel I dined with Mr. Downing in one of the smaller saloons. I saw some gentlemen sitting at table, whom it was as distressing for me to look at as it is to look at over-driven worn-out horses, for so they looked to me. The restless, deeply sunk eyes, the excited, wearied features,—to what a life they bore witness? Better lie and sleep on Ocean Hill than live thus on Broadway! These figures resembled a few of those which I had seen at the Astor House; but I had already seen on Broadway both human beings and horses which I wished not to have seen on the soil of the New World, and which testify to dark passages of life even there. And yet,—how should it be otherwise, especially at New York? which is rather a large hotel, a caravanserai for the whole world, than a regular American city.
After dinner I again received visitors, among these, Mrs. Child; she gave me the impression of a beautiful soul, but too angular to be happy. The little poetess, Miss Lynch, was among the visitors of the morning, an agreeable, pretty, and intellectual young lady, in whose countenance there is a look of Jenny Lind. I also saw some of my countrymen. A pleasant young Swede, Frestadius, came with a large bouquet. The Norwegian consul, Hejerdahl, Mr. Buttenskön, I had scarcely time for more than merely to exchange a greeting with. Oneonius came also from the West, and wished to talk with me, that I might warn our countrymen against emigration and its sufferings.
Among the invitations of to-day there was one to a Phalanstery, situated at New Jersey, not far from New York. I shall have no objection to make a nearer acquaintance with these wild beasts. The family which invited me thither, on a visit to themselves, did not seem at all repulsive, but, on the contrary, attractive; so ingenuous, kind, and earnest, did they appear.
But that which I am a little afraid of is, for myself at
least, lest life in this country should be like this of to-day;
then I should be regularly worn out, for my strength
could never stand against these many lively people. What
is to be done if it goes on in this way? Fortunately I
I shall be conveyed away from New York early to-morrow morning by the excellent Mr. Downing. This evening
I must, spite of my fatigue, drive to a soirée at the
house of Miss Lynch, who wishes to introduce me to
some of her literary friends. I am dressed for this
purpose, have on my best clothes, and look quite
respectable in them, and am writing whilst I wait for the
carriage. Only to think of those who are lying down to
I am still in joint quarters with the pale young girl from the South; I have never seen any one with so serene a mind, or one who meets suffering so cheerfully. She is a quiet, pious being, endowed with great strength and tenderness of soul.
I must now go! Good night!
Newburgh on the Hudson, October 7th.
Sunday.—My sweet sister, my sweet friend! how glad I am to be here in the young, new world; how thankful I am to Providence, who, in his mercy, through the impulse of mind and of steam, brought me happily hither, although I am at the same time almost as much burdened as elevated by the crowd of impressions and thoughts which, as it were, rush in upon me at once.
Everything of which I have had a foretaste, which I have sought after and longed for, do I meet with here, and more than that. I mean nourishment and light for the inquiring and searching spirit within me. I consider myself especially fortunate in coming in contact with Mr. Downing, a noble and acutely discriminating spirit, a true American, yet without blind patriotism, an open heart, a critically sagacious intellect, one who can assist me to understand the condition and the questions of this country. And with such assistance it is very requisite to begin.
It was also requisite that I should really be released bodily from my friends of the Astor House and New York, who otherwise would have made an end of me in the beginning. I was so weary of that first day's labour in social life, which lasted till long after midnight, and was so much in want of rest and sleep, that I did not believe it possible for me to set off from New York at five o'clock the next morning. I said so to Mr. Downing, who very mildly, yet decidedly, remarked, “Oh, we must endeavour to do so!” on which I thought to myself, “these Americans believe that everything is possible!” but feeling at the same time that the thing was quite impracticable. And yet at half-past four the next morning I was up and ready dressed, kissed in her bed the pale girl from the South, who at the last moment tied round my neck a little silk handkerchief, as delicate and white as herself, and then hastened down to place myself under the tyranny of Mr. Downing. The carriage was already at the door, and seated in it I found Miss Lynch, whom Mr. Downing had invited to pass the Sunday at his house.
“Go a-head! New World!” cried the servant at the door of the hotel to our driver; and we rolled away down Broadway to the harbour, where the great steamboat, the “New World,” received us on board. This was really a little floating palace, splendid and glittering with white and gold on the outside, splendid and elegant within: large saloons, magnificent furniture, where ladies and gentlemen reclined comfortably, talking or reading the newspapers. I saw here none of Dickens smoking and spitting gentlemen. We floated proudly and smoothly on the broad magnificent Hudson. It was a pity that the day was rainy, because the voyage was, excepting for this, one of the most beautiful which any one can conceive, especially when after a few hours' time, we reached what are called the Highlands. The shores, with their boldly wood-covered heights, reminded me continually of the shores of the Dala and the Angermanna rivers, nay, seemed to me to belong to the same natural conformation, excepting that here it was broader and on a larger scale; and the dark clouds which hung between the hills in heavy draperies above the river, were in perfect harmony with the gloomily beautiful passes, through which we swung, and which presented at every new turn new and more magnificent pictures. The river was full of life. Wooden-roofed steamboats, brilliant, as ours, with gold and white, passed up and down the river. Other steamboats drew along with them flotillas of from twenty to thirty boats, laden with goods from the country to New York, whilst hundreds of smaller and larger craft were seen skimming along past the precipitous shores like white doves with red fluttering neck-ribbons. On the shores shone forth white country-houses and small farms. I observed a great variety in the style of building: many of the houses were in the gothic style, others like Grecian temples; and why not? The home ought to be a temple as well as a habitation and a storehouse. Also in our old North was the houseplace a sacred room in which the household gods were to be worshipped. I saw too that there was every variety of church on the shores: the prevailing colour being white. Many private houses, however, were of a soft grey and of a sepia tint. During the latter part of the journey, the clouds came down upon us, and we became perfectly wet. But with the agreeable Miss Lynch and Mr. Downing it was an easy thing to preserve sunshine in temper and in conversation.
After a sail of between three and four hours, we landed at the little town of Newburgh, where Mr. Downing's carriage awaited to convey us up the hills to a beautiful villa of sepia-coloured sandstone, with two small projecting towers, surrounded by a park: lying high and open it has a free view over the beautiful river and its shores. A delicate, pretty little woman met us at the door of the house, embraced Mr. Downing, and cordially welcomed his guests. This was Mrs. Downing. She seemed to be of a bird-like nature; and we shall get on and twitter together charmingly, because I, too, have something of that nature about me.
The Astor House and its splendid rooms, and social life and the “New World” steamer, with all its finery, were good specimens of the showy side of the life of the new world; and Mr. Downing said that it was quite as well that I should at once have seen something of it, that I might the better be able to form an opinion of the other side of life here—of that which belongs to the inward, more refined, peculiar, individual development. And I could not easily have a better specimen of this than in Mr. Downing himself, and his home. He has built his house himself. It was himself who planted all the trees and flowers around it; and everything seems to me to bear the stamp of a refined and earnest mind. It stands in the midst of romantic scenery, shadowy pathways, the prettiest little bits of detail and splendid views. Everything has been done with design; nothing by guess, nothing with formality. A soul has here felt, thought, arranged. Within the house there prevails a certain darkness of tone: all the wood-work of the furniture is brown; the daylight even is dusk, yet nevertheless clear, or more properly full of light—a sort of imprisoned sunshine, something warm and deep; it seemed to me like a reflection of the man's own brown eyes. In the forms, the furniture, and the arrangement, prevails the finest taste; everything is noble and quiet, and everything equally comfortable as it is tasteful. The only things which are brilliant in the rooms are the beautiful flowers in lovely vases and baskets. For the rest, there are books, busts, and some pictures. Above small bookcases, in the form of gothic windows, in the walls of Mr. Downing's parlour, stand busts of Linnæus, Franklin, Newton, and many other heroes of natural science. One sees in this habitation a decided and thorough individuality of character, which has impressed itself on all that surrounds it. And in this way ought every one to form himself and his own world. One feels here Mr. Downing's motto, “Il buono è il bello.” In food, in fruits, as well as in many small things, prevails a certain amount of luxury; but which does not make any outward show; it exists, as it were, concealed in the inward richness and exquisite selection of the thing itself. I did not expect to have met with this kind of home in the young new world.
Since I have been here it has rained and blown incessantly, and I am quite appalled at the climate. It could hardly be worse with us in October. But not the less happy do I esteem myself for having come to so good a home. My room is in the upper story, and has a magnificent view over the Hudson, and the hills on the other side of the river.
I thought that I should be here, for a time at least, free from visitors. But no! Last evening, as I sate with my friends in their peaceful parlour, there came, amid the darkness, the storm, and the rain, Professor Hart, the editor of Sartain's “Union Magazine” in Philadelphia, who immediately on the announcement of my arrival in the newspapers, had travelled from Philadelphia to New York, and from New York had followed me hither merely, he said, to “monopolise” me for his magazine, begging me to write for it, and for none other, during my visit to America. So much for American enterprise in matters of business. For the rest, there was so much gentlemanly refinement in his manner, and a something so benevolently good and agreeable in his pale, delicate countenance, that I could not help taking a fancy to him, and giving him my word that if I should write anything for publication in America I would leave it in his hands. But I doubt whether I shall write anything here. Here I have need to think and to learn.
Monday, the 8th of October.—To-day the sun shines above the lordly Hudson, which flows at my feet; and I should feel myself happy with my thoughts and my American books were not the stream of visitors again in motion, taking up my time and my attention. I must beg of the Downings to defend my forenoon hours, and during them not to allow me to be called from my cage; if not, I shall become a savage lion, instead of a tame lioness, as they would have me, and as is most becoming to my disposition. I feel myself particularly happy with the Downings, and I am able to learn very much from Mr. Downing, whose individuality of character strikes me more and more. There is something of a quiet melancholy in him, but he has an unusually observant glance, a critical, and rather sarcastic turn of mind, the result of a large comprehension. He is silent, but one of those silent persons from whom one seems to hear profound wisdom, though not a word is said. His mind is in a high degree receptive and discriminating, and the conversation of all is interesting to him. His wife is a charming, merry, and amiable little creature, of a highly cultivated mind, and equal to her husband.
I have to-day, at the suggestion of Mr. Downing, written to Professor Bergfalk to invite him hither. Professor Bergfalk is at this time at Poughkeepsie, a few Swedish miles up the country, where he is perfecting himself in the use of the English language. I consider it is a particularly fortunate thing for me to be able now and then, during my stay here in this country, to meet and to converse with Bergfalk; and I wish him to make Mr. Downing's acquaintance, and for Mr. Downing to become acquainted with Bergfalk, that he may know how interesting a Swedish learned man can be.
Now receive a large, cordial embrace across the great ocean for mamma and you!
P.S. I must tell you that among my invitations is one to a wedding in the neighbourhood: I shall gladly accept it. I like to see brides and weddings.
In my next letter I shall speak of my plans and of my route for the future: at present they are not wholly decided; further than that, I wish to spend the winter in Boston—the American Athens—and there, as far as I can, come to a knowledge of the intellectual movements in the life of the New World. In the first place, it is a good thing for me to spend about three weeks with the Downings, and to make excursions with them to some of their friends on the Hudson,—“some of the best people in the country,” as they say. Among these is Washington Irving, who, together with Fenimore Cooper, was the first who made us in Sweden somewhat at home in America. Miss Sedgwick is expected here in a few days: I shall be glad to see her, and thank her for the pleasure we have had in her “Redwood” and “Hope Leslie.” If I could only have a little time for myself! The difficulty to me is to be able to receive all the kind people who hasten to me from far and near, from different states and towns. But although I can but imperfectly respond to their good-will, yet I am not the less heartily grateful for it; and never shall I forget how, on the very first day of my arrival in New York, more than half-a-dozen homes were opened to me, where I might have been received as guest and member of the family; and the number of these homes increase daily. I have even had invitations from Quakers. Would that I could have accepted one-fifth of these!