Letter I.

From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston


Passage in the Cambria.—Lord and Lady Falkland.—Capt. Judkins.—Liverpool.—Manchester.—Mechanics’ Institute.—“The Dial.”—Peace and War.—The Working-Men of England.—Their Tribute to Sir Robert Peel.—The Royal Institute.—Statues.—Chester.—Bathing.

Ambleside, Westmoreland, 23d August, 1846.

  I TAKE the first interval of rest and stillness to be filled up by some lines for the Tribune. Only three weeks have passed since leaving New York, but I have already had nine days of wonder in England, and, having learned a good deal, suppose I may have something to tell.

  Long before receiving this, you know that we were fortunate in the shortest voyage ever made across the Atlantic,*—only ten days and sixteen hours from Boston to Liverpool. The weather and all circumstances were propitious; and, if some of us were weak of head enough to suffer from the small and jar of the machinery, or other ills by which the sea is wont to avenge itself on the arrogance of its vanquishers, we found no pity. The stewardess observed that she thought “any one tempted God Almighty who complained on a voyage where they did not even have to put guards to the dishes”!

  As many contradictory counsels were given us with regard to going in one of the steamers in preference to a sailing vessel, I will mention here, for the benefit of those who have not yet tried one, that he must be fastidious indeed who could complain of the Cambria. The advantage of a quick passage and certainty as to the time of arrival, would, with us, have outweighed many ills; but, apart from this, we found more space than we expected and as much as we needed for a very tolerable degree of convenience in our sleeping-rooms, better ventilation than Americans in general can be persuaded to accept, general cleanliness, and good attendance. In the evening, when the wind was favorable, and the sails set, so that the vessel looked like a great winged creature darting across the apparently measureless expanse, the effect was very grand, but ah! for such a spectacle one pays too dear; I far prefer looking out upon “the blue and foaming sea” from a firm green shore.

  Our ship’s company numbered several pleasant members, and that desire prevailed in each to contribute to the satisfaction of all, which, if carried out through the voyage of life, would make this earth as happy as it is a lovely abode. At Halifax we took in the Governor of Nova Scotia, returning from his very unpopular administration. His lady was with him, a daughter of William the Fourth and the celebrated Mrs. Jordan. The English on board, and the Americans, following their lead, as usual, seemed to attach much more importance to her left-handed alliance with one of the dullest families that ever sat upon a throne, (and that is a bold word, too,) none to her descent from one whom Nature had endowed with her most splendid regalia,—genius that fascinated the attention of all kinds and classes of men, grace and winning qualities that no heart could resist. Was the cestus buried with her, that no sense of its pre-eminent value lingered, as far as I could perceive, in the thoughts of any except myself?

  We had foretaste of the delights of living under an aristocratical government at the Custom-House, where our baggage was detained, and was waiting for it weary hours, because of the preference given to the mass of household stuff carried back by this same Lord and Lady Falkland.

  Captain Judkins of the Cambria, an able and prompt commander, was the one who insisted upon Douglass being admitted to equal rights upon his deck with the insolent slave-holders, and assumed a tone toward their assumptions, which, if the Northern States had had the firmness, good sense, and honor to use would have had the same effect, and put our country in a very different position from that she occupies at present. He mentioned with pride that he understood the New York Herald called him “the Nigger Captain,” and seemed as willing to accept the distinction as Colonel McKenney is to wear as his last title that of “the Indian’s friend.”

  At the first sight of the famous Liverpool Docks, extending miles on each side of our landing, we felt ourselves in a slower, solider, and not on that account loss truly active, state of things than at home. That impression is confirmed. There is not as we travel that rushing, tearing, and swearing, that snatching of the baggage, that prodigality of shoe-leather and lungs that attend the course of the traveller in the United States; but we do not lose our “goods,” we do not miss our car. The dinner, if ordered in time, is cooked properly, and served punctually, and at the end of the day more that is permanent seems to have come of it than on the full-drive system. But more of that, and with a better grace, at a later day.

  The day after our arrival we went to Manchester. There we went over the magnificent warehouse of —— Phillips, in itself a Bazaar ample to furnish provision for all the wants and fancies of thousands. In the evening we went to the Mechanics’ Institute, and saw the boys and young men in their classes. I have since visited the Mechanics’ Institute at Liverpool, where more than seventeen hundred pupils are received, and with more thorough educational arrangements; but the excellent spirit, the desire for growth in wisdom and enlightened benevolence, is the same in both. For a very small fee the mechanic, clerk, or apprentice, and the women of their families, can receive various good and well-arranged instruction, not only in common branches of an English education, but in mathematics, composition, the French and German languages, the practice and theory of the Fine Arts, and they are ardent in availing themselves of instruction in the higher branches. I found large classes, not only in architectural drawing, which may be supposed to be followed with a view to professional objects, but landscape also, and as large in German as in French. They can attend many good lectures and concerts without additional charge, for a due place is here assigned to music as to its influence on the whole mind. The large and well-furnished libraries are in constant requisition, and the books in most constant demand are not those of amusement, but of a solid and permanent interest and value. Only for the last year in Manchester and for two in Liverpool, have these advantages been extended to girls; but now that part of the subject is looked upon as it ought to be, and begins to be treated more and more as it must and will be wherever true civilization is making its way. One of the handsomest houses in Liverpool has been purchased for the girls’ school, and room and good arrangement been afforded for their work and their play. Among other things they are taught, as they ought to be in all American schools, to cut out and make dresses.

  I had the pleasure of seeing quotations made from out Boston “Dial,” in the address in which the Director of the Liverpool Institute, a very benevolent and intelligent man, explained to his disciples and others its objects, and which concludes thus:—

  “But this subject of self-improvement is inexhaustible. If traced to its results in action, it is, in fact, ‘The Whole Duty of Man.’ Here, however, we must stop. Much remains, of which there may be an opportunity to speak hereafter. Meantime, I have sought to impress one great principle, rather than to dwell on minor points, however useful:—a principle which, to us in our relations here, is unspeakably important, identifying, as it does, intellectual improvement with moral obligation and moral progress. What farther of detail it involves and implies, I know that you will, each and all, think out for yourselves. Beautifully has it been said—‘Is not the difference between spiritual and material things just this; that in the one case we must watch details, in the other, keep alive the high resolve, and the details will take care of themselves? Keep the sacred central fire burning, and throughout the system, in each of its acts, will be warmth and glow enough.’

  “For myself, if I be asked what my purpose is in relation to you, I would briefly reply, It is that I may help, be it ever so feebly, to train up a race of young men, who shall escape vice by rising above it; who shall love truth because it is truth, not because it brings them wealth or honor; who shall regard life as a solemn thing, involving too weighty responsibilities to be wasted in idle or frivolous pursuits; who shall recognize in their daily labors not merely a tribute to the “hard necessity of daily bread,” but a field for the development of their better nature by the discharge of duty; who shall judge in all things for themselves, bowing the knee to no sectarian or party watchwords of any kind; and who, while they think for themselves, shall feel for others, and regard their talents, their attainments, their opportunities, their possessions, as blessings held in trust for the good of their fellow-men.”

  I found that The Dial had been read with earnest interest by some of the best minds in these especially practical regions, that it had been welcomed as a representative of some sincere and honorable life in America, and thought the fittest to be quoted under this motto:—

“What are noble deeds but noble thoughts realized?”

  Among other signs of the times we bought Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, and opening it found extracts from the writings of our countrymen Elihu Burritt and Charles Sumner, on the subject of Peace, occupying a leading place in the “Collect,” for the month, of this little hand-book, more likely, in an era like ours, to influence the conduct of the day than would an illuminated breviary. Now that peace is secured for the present between our two countries, the spirit is not forgotten that quelled the storm. Greeted on every side with expressions of feeling about the blessings of peace, the madness and wickedness of war, that would be deemed romantic in our darker land. I have answered to the speakers, “But you are mightily pleased, and illuminate for your victories in China and Ireland, do you not?” and they, unprovoked by the taunt, would mildly reply, “We do not, but it is too true that a large part of the nation fail to bring home the true nature and bearing of those events, and apply principle to conduct with as much justice as they do in the case of a nation nearer to them by kindred and position. But we are sure that feeling is growing purer on the subject day by day, and that there will soon be a large majority against war on any occasion or for any object.”

  I heard a most interesting letter read from a tradesman in one of the country towns, whose daughters are self-elected instructors of the people in the way of cutting out from books and pamphlets fragments on the great subjects of the day, which they send about in packages, or paste on walls and doors. He said that one such passage, pasted on a door, he had seen read with eager interest by hundreds to whom such thoughts were, probably, quite new, and with some of whom it could scarcely fail to be as a little seed of a large harvest. Another good omen I found in written tracts by Joseph Barker, a working-man of the town of Wortley, published through his own printing-press.

  How great, how imperious the need of such men, of such deeds, we felt more than ever, while compelled to turn a deaf ear to the squalid and shameless beggars of Liverpool, or talking by night in the streets of Manchester to the girls from the Mills, who were strolling bareheaded, with coarse, rude, and reckless air, through the streets, or seeing through the windows of the gin-palaces the women seated drinking, too dull to carouse. The homes of England! their sweetness is melting into fable; only the new Spirit in its holiest power can restore to those homes their boasted security for “each man’s castle,” for Woman, the warder, is driven into the street, and has let fall the keys in her sad plight. Yet darkest hour of night is nearest dawn, and there seems reasons to believe that

“There’s a good time coming.”

  Blest be those who aid, who doubt not that

“Smallest helps, if rightly given,
Make the impulse stronger;
‘T will be strong enough one day.”

  Other things we saw in Liverpool,—the Royal Institute, with the statue of Roscoe by Chartney, and in its collection from the works of the early Italian artists, and otherwise, bearing traces of that liberality and culture by which the man, happy enough to possess them, and, at the same time engaged with his fellow-citizens in practical life, can do so much more to enlighten and form them than prince or noble possibly can with far larger pecuniary means. We saw the statue of Huskisson in the Cemetery. It is fine as a portrait statue, but as a work of art wants firmness and grandeur. I say it is fine as a portrait statue, though we were told it is not like the original; but it is a good conception of an individuality which might exist, if it does not yet. It is by Gibson, who received his early education in Liverpool. I saw there, too, the body of an infant borne to the grave by women; for it is a beautiful custom here that those who have fulfilled all other tender offices to the little being, should hold it to the same relation to the very last.

  From Liverpool we went to Chester, one of the oldest cities in England, a Roman station once, and abode of the “Twentieth Legion,” “the Victorious.” Tiles bearing this inscription, heads of Jupiter, other marks of their occupation, have, not long ago, been detected beneath the sod. The town also bears the marks of Welsh invasion and domestic struggles. The shape of a cross in which it is laid out, its walls and towers, its four arched gateways, its ramparts and ruined towers, mantled with ivy, its old houses with Biblical inscriptions, its cathedral,—in which tall trees have grown up amid the arches, a fresh garden-plot, with flowers, bright green and red, has taken place of the altar and a crowd of revelling swallows supplanted the sallow choirs of a former priesthood,—present a tout-ensemble highly romantic in itself and charming, indeed, to Transatlantic eyes. Yet not to all eyes would it have had charms, for one American traveller, our companion on the voyage, gravely assured us that we should find the “castles and that sort of thing all humbug,” and that if we wished to enjoy them it would “be best to sit at home and read some handsome work on the subject.”

  At the hotel in Liverpool and that in Manchester I had found I had no bath, and asking for one at Chester, the chambermaid said, with earnest good-will, that “they had none, but she thought she could get me a note from her master to the Infirmary (!!) if I would go there.” Luckily I did not generalize quite as rapidly as travellers in America usually do, and put in the note book,—“Mem.: None but the sick ever bathe in England”; for in the next establishment we tried, I found the plentiful provision for a clean and healthy day, which I had read would be met everywhere in this country.

  All else I must defer to my next, as the mail is soon to close.

* True at the time these Letters were written.—ED.
† The Dial, Vol. I. p. 188, October, 1840, “Musings of a Recluse.”

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