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I have said I took passage in a vessel bound to New-Orleans. I had never been at sea; and this was fortunate, for I required some excitement to arouse my torpid energies. It was a Sabbath evening, when we set sail. Hardly were we out of the harbor, when the wind rose, and drove us furiously on our course. The land was soon lost to view, in distance and darkness.
There being danger on deck, I sought my cabin and sleep. The noise of the winds, the quick, startling commands of the captain, and the running here and there; the knocking of blocks, and tackles, and ropes; the groaning of the ship as the seas struck her, to me inexperienced, seemed to betoken imminent peril. Every moment, for I lay awake all night, I expected to hear cries of alarm, and to be buried in the waves. I resigned myself calmly to my fate. I thought we must perish; and it was joy to think, that that life which had been so tempestuous and stormy, was about to be closed on the wide sea, amid the conflicts of the elements, in solitude and darkness. I was thankful, too, that time was allowed me to commend my soul to God; to ask forgiveness for my sins; to pray for the happiness of my friends, whom I had so much disregarded, and who had so often forgiven me. This is true. It was a blessed moment, I felt I had an immortal soul.
The danger, however, was all in my own imagination. It blowed hard, but we were perfectly secure.
Landsmen have no idea of the power a ship, or the magnificence of a real storm at sea. After once undergoing one, we are in possession of a secret; and a stiff gale is a source of pleasure rather than of pain. On land, the same wind that unroofs our houses, and prostrates the tall forest trees, breaks not the blade of grass, nor snaps the tender vine. A good ship yields in the soft element, and bends her head to the tempest. The danger at sea lies in squalls and sudden gusts. Give a seaman searoom enough, and he cares not how hard it blows, if it blow steadily.
The morning dawned at last, and I had just fallen into a deep sleep, worn out with watching, when the captain roused me, and said, 'Come, if you would see a fine sight.'
I went upon deck, and looked upon the most majestic scene my eyes ever beheld. The sun was just rising; not a cloud was in the sky; the waves ran mountain high, and their curled tops, covered with white foam, glistened in the slanting sun-beams. No land was in sight, but at some distance we could descry a tall ship dancing upon the waters, as if it were no heavier than a nut-shell. The crew looked fresh and animated, as they once more regained their own element ; and the captain, whom on land I had thought a coarse, illiterate, clumsy, sleepy booby, now appeared to possess a dignity and force of character, which awed me into silent respect before him. VOL. XI.
The moment, however, we were seated at breakfast, out of sight of the sailors, he relapsed again into the easy, jovial companion; and I, in my turn, showed my superiority in the graces of the table.
The laborer is graceful as he ploughs the field, or sweeps the scythe ; the artisan is graceful at his work; the sailor on the sea, as he climbs the giddy mast. Men are only clowns, when they attempt that which is foreign to their natures and habits. Dress the laborer in rich garments, and set him to work; put the mechanic into a ball-room, or the sailor on the land, and they are awkward and clumsy. Ease, and the mens conscia recti, is gracefulness; consistency is gracefulness; to appear what we truly are, is to be truly dignified.
As we proceeded out to sea, and the bracing air of the ocean operated upon my health, giving me life and gayety; as I underwent danger from storms, and heard our captain tell of his hair-breadth 'scapes' on the deep; of shipwreck, murder, famine, and death; my own misfortunes sank into insignificance, and I began to feel ashamed of myself for yielding to despair, in the presence of men who were happy and contented with the recollection of past misfortunes upon their minds, and the chance of danger always hanging over them.
Confined to the narrow sphere of a village or family, we are apt to acquire a force of character only sufficiently strong to meet trite and common events. We look upon little things as large; we magnify inconveniences into misfortunes, accidents into judgments, and are frequently made positively unhappy by things unworthy the notice of an immortal being. Travel, and a larger intercourse with mankind, will correct this weakness. Our scope of comparison will be wider, and by getting to know that difficulty attends every enterprise ; that all men, from the highest to the lowest, are not, in any one instance, exempted from suffering; we return to the circumscribed society of the village, and are happy by comparison. Though our bodies move only over a short space of earth, still, in our minds, we live in the world, in the widest sense, and acquire that elevation, and liberality, and reasonableness of thought, so great a source of happiness to others and to its possessor.
After a very long, but not to me tedious passage, for I was sorry when we came in sight of land, we arrived at New-Orleans. I am not about to give a description of the country or cities ; but the impression is still vivid in my memory, of the feelings I experienced as we stemmed the tide of the mighty river, and dragged by the low marshes to the mud-walled city of the South; the sink of filth; the palace of beauty; the France of America; the gambling dépôt of planters and desperadoes, uniting all nations, complexions, religions; all codes of morals, all steps to vice, all degrees of virtue. Here is the gloomy fanatic, the vociferating Methodist, the astute Jesuit, the self-satisfied Catholic, high-born and wealthy, devout in his observances, infidel in his sentiments, and polluted in his life, all walking side by side ; while the calm, quiet, unassuming Quaker, emblem of meekness, Christian humility, and heavenly love, glides along his noiseless way, and impresses you with the belief, that true Christianity has yet her disciples on earth.
With a year's allowance in my pocket, I set out to dissipate my cares, and to make a bold rush at something. Not much of a traveller, except among the moral inhabitants of the North, I began, after observing the latitude of conduct here, to place myself quite above par in the scale of virtue. Northerners have no idea of the utter want of principle that characterizes the southern man of pleasure ; of the grossness, the debauchery, the sensuality, that walks in open day, and glories in its degradation. Here is every thing to entice the senses ; and the blood of the northerner, warmed up by the climate ; his senses fascinated by novel and luxurious allurements to sensual pleasure; his avarice revelling in the heaps of gold he may, by chance, realize, and that too from the smallest beginnings; all tend to lead him astray. If at home he has the character of a saint, here he will, most likely, have the character of a man ruined beyond redemption, or fortunate, beyond the hopes of independence. There is no medium. Hundreds of young men go annually from the northern states to New Orleans to seek their fortunes. About one-third return with the appearance of premature old age, and pretty fortunes. The remainder die, or linger about the city, waiting, hoping for death to come to their relief. Beside, the men who have made their fortunes at the South, rarely bring home with them the respect they once had for religion and good morals. They are indeed gentlemen, as the term goes, and bear, many of them, the honorable scars of courage at twelve paces; but they pine for the freedom from restraint which the South affords; they have lost their forme rhabits and tastes, and they find no sympathy for their newly-acquired substitutes.
Moralists may talk about principle as they please. It is good in the abstract. Men must have habits of goodness, or they will fail, with the purest intentions in the world. It is hard to find out where habit ends, and principle begins. Principle! Why, it is conscience, common sense. It puts us into a good path; it points out when we have lost the way: but habit governs us. Habit begets principle, and bad principles are sometimes only sophistry – that is, want of common sense. I pray God to give me good habits ! reason about the excellence of virtue and temperance till you die ; you never will become morally pure, until you first are physically so. Dr. Johnson said a very foolish thing when he said, 'A man may have good principles and bad practice.' A mere period ! Prettily balanced sentence! How many have
you sent to the devil! Soon after I had got established at a hotel, I formed an acquaintance with Mr. D , from Charleston. He was a very gentlemanly man, whom I had seen at college, rather disposed for frolic, but with nothing vicious in his nature. He introduced me to a fine set, as he thought them - acquaintances he had made since his residence in the city. Already he had been pigeoned to a considerable amount by these friends, but his large resources and unsuspicious nature concealed from him their real character.
All young men of large fortune and inexperience in the world will be subject to such friends, upon first coming out. This kind of friendship is a perfect game. These fallen gentlemen who hang round our cities, more particularly at the South, where they can lodge out of doors, (good policy!) get quite a comfortable living by initiating young men into the world. They have the exterior of gentle
men; they have been gentlemen in their feelings. They possess the artem captandi, the indefinite agreeable, the slash look, the easy carriage, which imposes so readily upon a young man, fresh from his books and the dreams of the world.
The keepers of houses of entertainment know these men by instinct; and they are aware that they are known. There is no agreement but a tacit one. They have the appearance of credit at such places ; they can order their bottle and a dinner, (the bottle always comes first ;) they get it not for money but for service – a regular quid pro quo. The quo' is, to exert themselves for the credit of the house, and lead their dupes there to be sacrificed. This is the slight o' hand of living. Having been duped themselves, they now live by duping others; and it is not improbable that the fathers of their victims are the fortunate possessors of the wealth acquired from them.
At gambling houses they play with the keeper's money, and play into his hands, and receive a per centage on the profits of the night. This is blackleg-ism. Mr. D—and myself played, and in consequence were stripped in a short time of all our means.
We were largely in debt at our hotel for the dinners and wines we had furnished our friends. We were not fairly sober during the whole time of our stay in the city. At the houses we frequented, we were kept under continual excitement. Servants were always at hand to assuage our thirst, and give ardor to our courage. These rooms are very splendid ; richer than any private apartments at the North ; more luxurious. Sofas, couches, mirrors, paintings, fountains of nectar, and the music of seraphs, enchant the senses.
How many wretched forms have reclined upon these very couches ! How many haggard faces have been reflected from these mirrors ! Here, sitting where my form reste, the suicide thought of his beggared wife, and the boy - the first born of his union — and burying his face in his hands, formed the awful resolution. Here too the old and respectable planter has sat in mute despair to contemplate bis bankruptcy and loss of reputation; but he did not think of suicide. The old love life, though they know it to be pain and sorrow. Can splendor, and music, and gayety, and youth, throw even a gleam of joy over apartments so accursed? The air is death. Men will not grow wise by any thing but their own experience. Though all the dead bodies of suicide, and all the mental pangs personified, sat by to warn the gambler, he would not stop. Yes! all goes on now as before. The cards that are handled to-day, and the dice that rattle so merrily, and the spots so well drawn, bave been handied, and rattled, and seen, by fingers and eyes that now clasp the worm, and furnish a nest for the coiling reptile. Women made no small part of our amusement.
There is a refinement in vice; but so far from 'robbing it of half its evil,' it only makes it more damnable in its effects. How much sophistry is concealed under great names and rich language !
Balls and evening parties are established, where only those who have gold can find admission, and where women are found, who look like angels, with all the enticements of dress, and passion, and complexion, and winning smiles, to waylay the imprudent. And what is strange enough, many of these women are strictly chaste, and, in scenes of riot and debauchery, wear brows adorned with the virgin wreath. In point of moral dignity, they rank with the turile that crawls about in the yards of eating houses. They are to be bought and consumed. Those who have been bought, and used, resemble the same turtle, when he has been cooked, and served up, and warmed over, for so much a bowl.
No man can look upon these young girls, panting to be bought, (for they are to be sold by their parents,) with indifference. They have been educated for the market - taught all the graceful movements the female body is capable of. They sing, they converse, divinely. With their black fasbing eyes, swimming in passion ; their luxurious persons, adorned with consummate taste; with limbs to enchant the statuary; but fifteen years of age, and yet blooming in all the richness of womanhood; they certainly, though not of full blood, are the most beautiful women in the world.
It is a wretched trade! There certainly is a hell. I am convinced of it, though all my life inclined to skepticism. These children are trained as we fat our cattle for market. They bring an immense price sometimes ; and after a few months or years, as it may be, of servitude to their masters, moving in the higher circles of whoredom, that is, attending balls, wearing expensive dresses, and drinking champaigne, they are removed step by step down to the herd who walk the streets, and seek subsistence and pleasure in filthy vice and drunkenness.
It is very philanthropic and sounding to discourse about abolition. It is very affecting to see tears shed for the poor negroes, chained and tasked.' Men get a vast deal of credit by these means; but we may as well hope to drain the ocean by a pump, placed at one of our wharves, as to attempt the project of emancipation of slaves at once. There are certain intermediate steps to this result. I utter not a crude opinion, when I say, that if we hope to do any permanent good, we must begin at the foundation of opinion and conduct; that when education is generally encouraged in all parts of our country, and there is not a child destitute of school instruction, and a well-informed mother, that then slavery will die go out, as a candle goes out when there is no oil to nourish it. Public sentiment produces reform, and not societies. Societies influence the intelligent part of the community, but not men who are steeled against them by their ignorance and their interests. If the money expended in presses, and papers, and missionaries, and preachers, and in the purchasing of slaves to colonize Liberia, were to be devoted to building schoolhouses, buying books, and paying teachers, perhaps we might not do so much for one, two, or ten years, but in fifty years we should do more than will be done by present means.
Certainly the society of these beautiful quadroons was very charming to us young men, and we did not stop to reason very profoundly about vice and virtue, but gave ourselves up to the fascination of the senses.
Young men are apt to form very strong sensual attachments. I remember — it is too weak a word — her image is fixed in my heart one young girl gave herself to me of her own accord. She said she loved me, and I was very well pleased with the adventure. I believe it was the delicacy of my treatment of her