Images de page
PDF
ePub

frequent as those of cruelty to a wife or child in Northern lands, as displayed every day by the newspapers; and in point of general happiness, it would not be amiss to alter an old adage and say: 'As merry as a negro slave.'

I must not pursue this branch of the subject farther, for I can pretend to no great love for Doctor Livingstone's friends, the Makololos. There are, beyond all doubt, some very excellent people among them; but, as a race, the more I see of them the less do I think them capable of civilization, or even fitted to take care of themselves.

To give any general view of Virginia country life in a brief space, is impossible, on account of the great variety of character which the various parts of the State present. It is only to be done, if at all, by separate sketches, like that which I have attempted to give of the rise and progress of a Virginia village in the east. As a pleasant pendant to that picture, I may give you the portrait from more western life in the State, furnished to me by a friend who knows well the district of which he speaks, premising merely that the great Valley of Virginia, stretching nearly from one side of the State to the other, is one of the richest districts that the sun ever shines upon. He may be a little prejudiced perhaps; for according to the old Italian proverb,

"

AD agne
uccello
Suo nido e bello;'

but let us see what is his portrait of

THE VALLEY

FARMER.

THE Western and Eastern Virginian, he says, differ as absolutely from each other as either does from the New-England Puritans. Their lineage, their tastes, their habits are directly opposite. A Valley farmer is a noble specimen of the yeoman. He has little Latin and less Greek, having derived his education in an 'old field school-house,' from a stern Scotch school-master, who was contented with hammering into his knowledge-box the three great keys to other knowledge, reading, writing, and arithmetic. But though not learned, the Valley farmer is shrewd, sensible, and refined, with just views of human affairs, generous to others, but frugal himself; industrious and attentive to business, but full of fun in his hours of leisure; a Democrat in politics, a Presbyterian in religion, and a colonel in the militia.

As you approach his residence, you will be struck with the neatness and cleanliness of his system of farming, so different from the more slovenly course pursued on a large Eastern plantation. His gates, his fences, his out-houses, are all substantial and neat. His barn is always three times as large and handsome as his house. He is hospitable without display, and you would wound his feelings to the quick, if you refused to accept it. His table is loaded with abundance, and almost every thing is the product of his own farm. Even the liquor which, though temperate as he is, he presses upon

you with no sparing hand, is whiskey, or 'Apple-Jack,' distilled on his own or a neighbor's estate. His dress, too, is made of domestic cloth, unless on Sunday, or on some important occasion, such as court-day, election, or muster. On these, he appears with a wellkept blue coat, glittering with brass buttons, and surmounted by one of those immense, stiff collars, which belong to the style of the court of George the Third.

He hardly ever leaves home, except on the occasions above referred to, and now and then to the store,' where, with a few old cronies, he discusses the crops, the weather, and the news from Richmond. On Sunday,

'AT church, with meek and unoffended grace,
His looks adorn the venerable place.'

But the church itself is worthy of some notice. One of the oldest of these buildings, in that part of the Valley which I have in my eyes, is built of the native blue lime-stone. It is large and substantial, and has a great antiquity for this comparatively new land, having been erected more than a hundred years ago. All the iron work, the glass, the sashes, were, they say, carried across the Blue-ridge from Williamsburgh on pack-saddles: and, situated just on the edge of a noble forest of oak, walnut, and hickory, it presents a very picturesque appearance to the passing traveller. Here, every Sunday, appears the Valley farmer, to thank God sincerely for blessings past, and pray with hope and trust for others to come.

A remarkable contrast to this quiet life of useful moderation is afforded by the watering-place life of Virginia, and as Virginia has probably more watering-places than any other of the United States, this sort of life is peculiarly characteristic of the people and the country. Some people go to watering-places in search of health, but many more go for change of scene, and still more for amusement. To the Greenbrier White Sulphur, multitudes, especially from the far South, have resorted, during the summer, for very many years. Doubtless the water of that Spring is highly beneficial in a number of cases. I cannot, however, think it so to all who drink it; and I imagine that the great amount of advantage is derived from the gay society, the fine scenery, and the pure air not omitting to mention the enforced hardships which every visitor has to bear. But scattered over the State are springs of every quality, and the searcher for health may always find some suited to his peculiar condition. Not so those who go to the watering-places for amusement. There is a good deal of sameness in the daily life of the Springs, and the variety must be produced by the visitors themselves, and depends somewhat upon the taste and urbanity of the proprietors. The morning walk, the conventional drinking of a certain quantity of water, the idling through the hotter hours of the day, the ball at night, with flirting and coquetry, are common to all watering-places. But certainly the more substantial comfort (the good food, the comfortable rooms, the attention of the servants) varies very much. The most comfortable

Springs I have been at are the Old Swab and the Fauquier, and, as I am at the latter now, I may as well give some account of it as a good specimen of a Virginia watering-place. The house itself is one of the finest buildings I have seen in the country, large, wellbuilt, with spacious and lofty rooms, a splendid ball-room, with large ante-rooms, good parlors, an extensive dining-room, and chambers such as can hardly be found in any gentleman's dwelling in the land. The cabins, too, are much more spacious and conve nient than at most of the Springs; and then there is, stretching before the eye, down to the very valley of the Rappahannoc, that beautiful open grove, which, with its herds of fallow deer, has very much the appearance of a gentleman's park in England. The spring is one of sulphur-water, light, easy of digestion, and certainly powerful in its effect; but surely, that which does the most good is the fine, free air, the morning walk to the well or the baths in that octagon building on the other side of the grove.

After the walk, and the drinking of the waters, comes the breakfast at one of the innumerable little tables in the dining-hall; and there, every thing that the skill of excellent cooks, served with quiet but unremitting attention by well-taught servants, can do to refresh, is put before you. Oh! the mutton! the excellent, tender mutton! would that it could be had in Lower Virginia! Mutton is the favorite food of Englishmen, and a literary friend once aptly remarked, after a visit to the little island where he was received and feted as any American gentleman will, I trust, always be: They ought to call my countryman John Mutton,' rather than John Bull;' for it is only when he is very much provoked, that he shows his horns.

After breakfast, comes the stroll again, or, better still, the ride: and here we know no impediments. Good saddle-horses are to be procured at any time, and in abundance. Mr. Ais never required to stop till Mr. B- has done his ride; but the horse is ordered, and the horse comes, so that the exercise of which Virginians are so fond, is always at hand. Games at bowls, and perhaps a little sleep, diversify the day, and then, with the shades of evening, comes the merry dance, with the best music Washington can afford.

6

To quiet and sober people, whose toes are neither light nor fantastic,' conversation, light or serious, fills up a part of this time; and happy is he who is permitted to hear the words of wisdom fall from the venerated lips of a Taney — varied, often playful, but always full of that quintessence of wisdom, common-sense. Having mentioned the name of the Chief-Justice in his favorite retreat, I cannot but remark, that two of the most remarkable men whom the United States have ever produced, have sought to wile away their leisure hours at Fauquier. Chief-Justice Marshall's cabin stands nearly opposite that of his great successor, and the good taste and good feeling of the proprietor of the Springs has left it untouched, though it does not altogether harmonize with the plan of the grounds, or the luxurious finish of the other buildings.

There it stands, however, with an empty dog-kennel at the door, and brings pleasant remembrances of the simplest but most acute of the great lawyers to which this country has given birth.

In their general outline, the amusements of Fauquier are those of the other Springs, with all those advantages which greater shade, and proximity to Washington, can superadd. One can enjoy one's self here in weather when there is no enjoyment any where else. But there is one peculiarity in the way of amusement, which must not go without notice. It is true, that what is called the Tournament is not confined to Fauquier; but where can such another tournament-ground be met with? A broad, flat arena, of several acres, surrounded by high banks, shaded by embowering trees, under which the judges and the spectators sit, would inspire to something like the ancient feats of arms, and we might expect to see the lances shivered, and the helmets dashed away, were not the age of chivalry really past. The tournament, however, of the present day, is confined to one of the minor sports of the olden time-mere running at the ring; the amusement of novices and pages. Some opportunity is afforded for the display of good horsemanship; but the really attractive part of the scene is the display of youth and beauty beneath the green boughs, and the happy faces that look on, fondly thinking that they gaze upon the sports of those chivalrous ancestors, whose deeds of gallantry and daring civilized dark ages, and gave the sublime to wars often unjust and barbarous.

I have now, my dear friend, given you what you asked, a brief sketch of my impressions of Virginia country life. Those who know it better, might have done it better, and the only value it can have, lies in the fact that it is a picture of the impressions of a foreigner. Even I may be prejudiced; for, when one has received so warm and hearty a welcome in every house, hard must be the heart, ungenerous the mind, that does not view every phase of society through a pleasant medium. I would fain have given one sketch more that of the militia-muster; but alas! I have never seen one; and I dare not venture to go beyond my depth. I remember, in years long gone, when I was a mere lad, hearing inimitable old Mathews, in one of his At Homes,' describe most humorously the scene; but times have changed since then, and I little thought, in those days, that the warm-hearted kindness of Virginians, to which he did full justice, would ever be personally witnessed and enjoyed by

Yours ever,

[blocks in formation]

G. P. R. JAMES.

[blocks in formation]

Even as the bird has instincts for the sky
Before it dares to try
The empyrean's slope:
So the immortal hope

Lies folded in an instinct of the Soul!
And clouds of unbelief may o'er it roll,
The speculative intellect reject

All that the Soul securely may expect;

And yet its very life-spring be supplied

By that most precious hope, faithful even when denied!

Were it not so, O grave!

We could not stand so brave

Beside thy verge, and mark the narrow room

Where, when this mortal mould

Is motionless and cold:

It shall be laid to help the wild flowers bloom.
Were not the Soul upheld
By inward confirmations:
Refreshed, inspired, impelled

By heavenly ministrations,
Making its immortality a part
Of present life-heart of its very heart
The dread of utter death would surely be
Itself death's agony!

« PrécédentContinuer »