Page images

a great number last winter-five, I think, in one week. The cabin of this hunter was neatly arranged, and the garden well stocked.'—pp..

112, 113.

And THIS is the chosen spot where Mr. Birkbeck has 'constituted himself a land-owner by paying seven hundred and twenty dollars as one-fourth of the purchase money of fourteen hundred and forty. acres'? Mr. Flower made a similar purchase, 'being part of a beautiful and rich prairie, about six miles distant from the Big and the same from the Little Wabash.'

[ocr errors]

The rest of the book is very much in the nature of a puffing advertisement-inviting all persons wishing to obtain satisfactory information to direct their inquiries to Mr. Morris Birkbeck of Princeton, Gibson county, Indiana,-where gulls from England will find employment in clearing his wilderness. 'An English farmer,' he says, possessing three thousand pounds, besides the charges of removal, (no light matter,) may establish himself well, as a proprietor and occupier of six hundred and forty acres'—of swamp or jungle; the folly or the wisdom of the undertaking,' he adds, I leave among the propositions, which are too plain to admit of illustration.' We are much misinformed (we have it from Washington) if Mr. Birkbeck, and his friend Flower too, have not long since found the 'proposition' much plainer even than they expected, and that if they can only find two English farmers' to take their precious bargain off their hands, we shall, in no great length of time, see them both back again on the sheep downs of Sussex. The flattering prospect indulged by these two friends' of sitting under their own vines and their own fig-trees,' on the fifteen hundred acres each, which they had carved for themselves from a beautiful prairie,' has already faded, and the fatal truth has been realized, that this new paradise affords no comforts like England, and that even the penny-an-acre tax' is paying a halfpenny too much. In spite, as we have already observed, of his forced attempt to make the best of America, every now and then the truth peeps out in some sarcastic remark on the character or the condition of the people. Among other things he is not a little shocked to hear American lips call the grand in scenery disgusting-the very scenery, by the way, which characterizes his purchase while the epithet elegant' is used on every occasion to which it does not belong. We wonder it did not strike our fastidious friend that this was merely a species of the genus' anticipation.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

An elegant improvement is a cabin of rude logs, and a few acres with the trees cut down to the height of three feet, and surrounded by a worm-fence, or ziz-zag railing. You hear of an elegant mill, an elegant orchard, an elegant tan-yard, &c. and familiarly of elegant roads, -meaning such as you may pass without extreme peril. The word

£ 4


implies eligibility or usefulness in America, but has nothing to do with taste; which is a term as strange to the American language, where I have heard it spoken, as comfort is said to be to the French, and for a similar reason: the idea has not yet reached them.'-p. 152.

In the plan which Mr. Birkbeck has already drawn up for the regulation of his new settlement, (for in a paroxysm of vanity, the poor man aspires to be the William Penn of the country on the Wabash,) there is not one syllable mentioned of religious instruction, nor one farthing set apart for any kind of public worship,'mutual interest,' good neighbourhood,'' concentration of capital and population,' are particularly enforced, and repeatedly mentioned as essential to property; but morality and religion form no part of the system. Mr. Birkbeck, however, is not contented with the mere omission of providing some institution for the religious and moral conduct of his citizens or subjects-he openly avows his hostility to all religious communities. I wish,' says he, to see capital and population concentrated, with no bond of cohesion, but common interest arising out of vicinity, the true elements, as I conceive, of a prosperous nation.'-(p. 124.) And this is said in allusion to an industrious, inoffensive, and prosperous community, called ' Harmonites,' who have literally raised a town in the wilderness, near the banks of the Ohio; but he tells us a slavish acquiescence, under a disgusting superstition, is so remarkable an ingredient in their character, that it checks all desire of imitation.' But he shall himself describe Harmony.'

This day, being Sunday, afforded us an opportunity of seeing grouped and in their best attire, a large part of the members of this wonderful community. It was evening when we arrived, and we saw no human creature about the streets ::-we had even to call the landlord of the inn out of church to take charge of our horses. The cows were waiting round the little dwellings to supply the inhabitants with their evening's meal. Soon the entire body of people, which is about seven hundred, poured out of the church, and exhibited so much health, and peace, and neatness in their persons, that we could not but exclaim, Surely the institutions which produce so much happiness must have more of good than of evil in them; and here I rest, not lowered in my abhorrence of the hypocrisy, if it be such, which governs the ignorant by nursing them in superstition; but inclined in charity to believe that the leaders are sincere. Certain it is, that living in such plenty, and a total abstraction from care about the future provision for a family, it must be some overbearing thraldom that prevents an increase of their numbers by the natural laws of population.'-pp. 119, 120.

Happy Harmonites!-let such scoffers as Mr. Birkbeck despise your ignorance and ridicule your 'superstition. Above all, happy if you should escape the contamination of infidelity from such neighbours as those who affect to hold you up to scorn while they

envy your prosperity. Had it been your misfortune to have Mr. Morris Birkbeck for a neighbour, his principles would soon have ' uproared the peace' of your little society, and 'Harmony' ceased to be an appropriate name!

The neighbourhood of Vincennes is better adapted to the prin ciples which our author openly professes: the simple maxim, that a man has a right to do any thing but injure his neighbour, is there very broadly adopted into the practical as well as political code'a pretty broad' maxim, and convenient enough where, of course, every man is his own judge. A good citizen is the common designation of respect when a man speaks of his neighbour as a virtuous man" he is a very good citizen." And, lastly, 'personal resistance to personal aggression holds a high place in the class of duties with the citizens of Indiana;' that is to say, every man who is strong enough takes the law into his own hands. The baptists, however, do all they can to repress this summary mode of redressing injuries among the brethren of the church.


'A respectable but knotty member of that community was lately arraigned before their spiritual tribunal for supporting heterodox opinions on this subject. After hearing the arguments derived from the texts of scripture, which favour the doctrines of non-resistance, he rose, and with energy of action suited to his words, declared that he should not wish to live longer than he had the right to knock down the man who told him he lied.'-p. 100.

[ocr errors]

We had proceeded thus far, and were about to close our remarks, when another production of Morris Birkbeck reached us. For a farmer, he seems unusually fond of the pen, and, in justice to his taste, we may observe, that he is likely to find it more productive than his plough. The date of his Notes,' which we have reviewed, is September, 1817, when, as he expresses it, he had just settled down' in his wilderness; and only two months after, (namely, in November,) we find him busily at work on a second volume! A third, and a fourth, we doubt not, are already on the way to his publisher.

[ocr errors]

The new work takes the name of 'Letters from Illinois.' Some malicious friend has furnished him with a nrotto of ominous import: Vox clamantis è Deserto; the voice of one crying out of the Desert. The fact, we suspect, is that simpletons do not. flock quite so readily as he expected to the Paradise thus opened for them in the wild;' he is evidently alarmed, therefore, lest he should be left to the solitary enjoyment of his own happiness. Mr. Birkbeck allows too much to his own cunning, or too little to the understanding of his readers; for his plan to procure associates is most clumsily laid. He has scarcely, as we have just observed, traced


the outline of his Elysium, ere he falls to boasting as loudly of his pleasures and his profits as if they were already received and enjoyed: he sees harvests spread before he has yet planted a grain of corn, and villas rise before he has mortized the few rude logs which shelter him from the weather! Nay, he receives letters from anxious inquirers in various parts of Europe, respecting the blessings to be obtained by purchasing lots of land in his neighbourhood, &c. and he answers them with a gravity that might make one split.' Never was the game of make-believe played with such ludicrous solemnity, and such impudence.

To come, however, to these suppositious epistles, (which remind us of the genuine correspondence of the celebrated Dr. Solomon,') they are not of a nature to require from us much notice, nor do we think they will add to the reputation of the writer in any way. It would seem from them, however, that we had been misinformed in one point, namely, respecting Mr. Birkbeck's dissatisfaction with his new situation;-it was Mr. Flower only (so, at least, we understand the author, who is very sore on the subject) who prudently determined to abandon all his visionary projects, ere it was too late, and return to his own country ;—but, on the other hand, they most fully substantiate the charge we have been compelled to bring against him of being a reviler and contemner of all religion; for he no longer deals in insinuations, but openly avows his total disregard and dislike to religion under whatever form it may appear. Where this is the case it is almost unnecessary to add that we should look in vain for any fixed moral principles-self-interest is the predominant motive and the end of every measure; and when Mr. Birkbeck tells us of the 'gentle manners, warm hearts, and cultivated understandings' of the estimable Wabashites, we may be quite sure that he speaks by the usual figure-the passage, however, is not unamusing.

But what think you of a community, not only without an established religion, but of whom a large proportion profess no particular religion, and think as little about the machinery of it, as you know was the case with myself? What in some places is esteemed a decent conformity with practices which we despise, is here altogether unnecessary. There are, however, some sectaries even here, with more of enthusiasm than good temper; but their zeal finds sufficient vent in loud preaching and praying. The Court-house is used by all persuasions, indifferently, as a place of worship; any acknowledged preacher who announces himself for a Sunday or other day, may always collect an audience, and rave or reason as he sees meet. When the weather is favourable few Sundays pass without something of the sort. It is remarkable that they generally deliver themselves with that chanting cadence you have heard among the quakers. This is Christmas day, and seems to be kept


as a pure holiday-merely a day of relaxation and amusement: those that choose, observe it religiously; but the public opinion does not lean that way, and the law is silent on the subject. After this deplorable account you will not wonder when you hear of earthquakes and tornados amongst us. But the state of political feeling is, if possible, still more deplorable. Republican principles prevail universally. Those few zealous persons, who, like the ten faithful that were not found by Abra ham, might have stood between their heathen neighbours and destruction, even these are among the most decided foes of all legitimacy, except that of a government appointed by the people. They are as fully armed with carnal weapons as with spiritual; and as determined in their animosity against royalty and its appurtenances, as they are against the kingdom of Anti-Christ; holding it as lawful to use the sword of the flesh for the destruction of the one, as that of the spirit for the other.

'Children are not baptized or subjected to any superstitious rite; the parents name them, and that is all: and the last act of the drama is as simple as the first. There is no consecrated burial place or funeral service. The body is enclosed in the plainest coffin; the family of the deceased convey the corpse into the woods; some of the party are provided with axes, and some with spades; a grave is prepared, and the body quietly placed in it; then trees are felled, and laid over the grave to protect it from wild beasts. If the party belong to a religious community, preaching sometimes follows; if not, a few natural tears are shed in silence, and the scene is closed. These simple monuments of mortality are not unfrequent in the woods. Marriages are as little concerned with superstitious observances as funerals; but they are observed as occasions of festivity. We are not quite out of hearing of the world and its bustle, but the sound is rather long in reaching us. We receive

the Philadelphia daily papers once a week, about a month after they are published; in these we read extracts from the English journals of the month preceding: so we take up the news as you forget it; and what happened three months ago in Europe is just now on the carpet, here.'-pp. 23-25,

The administration of justice in these back-woods, by the circuit court,' must needs be delightful. Morris Birkbeck, who has as little regard for law as for religion, thus introduces his honour' the judge, and the gentlemen of the jury, to his correspondent.

Your military or fox-hunting experience has, I dare say, furnished adventures similar to those which are constantly occurring here to the gentlemen of the long robe, on their progress from court to court. The judge and the bar are now working their way to the next county seat, through almost trackless woods, over snow and ice, with the thermometer about zero. In last November circuit the judge swam his horse, I think, seven times in one day; how often in the whole circuit is not in the record. What would our English lawyers say to seven such ablutions in one November day? and then to dry their clothes on their back by turning round and round before a blazing fire, preparatory to a


« PreviousContinue »