25 JULY 1846, Page 15


COMPLETES the trio of fictions in which Mr. Cooper designed to paint the manners of the Americans in various texas, and to illustrate the principles and practices of the Anti-Rent agitation in New York State. The first of the three, it may be remembered, carried the reader back to the period anterior to the Revolution, and exhibited the evils the landowners had to struggle with from frontier warfare and the hardships of the wilderness. The second displayed the favourable terms on which they let their lands to poor tenants, and the wholesale manner in which they were plundered of their timber by squatters on a large scale. The present fiction exhibits these hardships overcome ; the property of Ravensnest brought under cultivation, the original leases on lives at trifling rents about to fall in, and the tenants of the district (for other properties are in the same condition) desirous of getting the farms in fee without paying the value. For this purpose, all the usual American arts of meeting, speechifying, and pas- sing resolutions, are had recourse to, in order to intimidate by means of a "majority." In addition to these more open means, the tenants resort to violence, somewhat after the fashion of the Rebeocaites in Wales, bat with more of deadly purpose, roaming the country in the disguise of Indians threatening life and property. The form of the novel, like that of its predecessors, is an autobiography : the hero is a descendant of the original owners of the property : and tU framework is well enough adapted to exhibit the descriptive and didactic purposes of the author. Young Littlepage and his uncle and guardian are called home from Paris in consequence of the state of affairs ; and as a landlord seems to run some risk of tarring and feathering, they make their way to the Ravensneat property in the disguise of a pedlar and itinerant musician. As this masquerade is thrown off on the arrival of a body of " Redskins " or real Indians in sufficient force to protect the family, the two aides of the agitation are exhibited ; the Littlepagea being at first considered as of the "people," and admitted, with sufficient likelihood for fiction, to the confidence of the agitators.

As a novel, Ravensnest is not equal to its predecessors. The manners and characters have not the same novelty or breadth ; and of stirring action there is none. The closest approach even to incident is an attempt at arson : but as the owner of the manor-house of Ravensneat is on ths alert, and the Red Indians on the prowl, we feel sure it will be crushed. There is a love-story between the hero and the daughter of the Episco- palian clergyman of the village : but it runs too smooth to have mach interest ; nor is either lady or gentleman very attractive. The most striking characters are Jop, the old family "Nigger," and Trackless, the Red Indian ; both of whom having appeared in the action of the pre- vious stories, now figure in extreme old age, as patriarchal specimens of the respective races, such as the author says are occasionally seen. For anything like action they are both too infirm ; but the truth of their per- sonal appearance, and the nice discrimination of their faculties, interest the reader ; and the high repute of Trackless is the cause of the visit of the Redskins to Ravensnest, and the consequent baffling of the insurgent " Ingins." These pieces of dramatic painting, however, are rare. Die ; cussion in the shape of dialogue is the staple of the book ; sometimes to expose the dishonest arts and impudent arguments of the Anti-Renters, with Cooper-like digressions de omnibus rebus ; and sometimes contrived to exhibit the Democracy either in discourse or public meeting. The cha, meters both of the scheming itinerant demagogue, and of the rude, grasping, active yeoman, not dishonest in himself, but made BO by agi- tators upon questions connected with his own immediate interests, are well drawn, but overdone from the didactic purposes of the author, and, it strikes us, somewhat exaggerated,—although there is a marvellous re- semblance in the arguments about rent to some we have met with touch- ing territory. Though the novel of Ravensnest is heavy, it is solid and real, without the generality of novel-writers' repetition of sell; beyond the general foible of the author as an arbiter elegantiarunt and Solomon without appeal. As a didactic work, the philosophy seems to us to fail pretty much as it did in The Chainbearer, touching the landlord's right to the artificial value of the planks, because the squatter had wrongfully cut down the trees. We make no doubt that the Anti-Rent cry is an unprincipled cry, based upon morals of the same kind that characterize the various American territorial demands, resolving everything into a question of will and convenience. But the incidents or the arguments scarcely support the denunciations. Putting aside the violence, which ignorant mobs continu- ally have recourse to, and the self-satisfied sufficiency, and truckling sub- mission to the will of the majority, (both of which flow from the circum- stances and "institutions" of the country ) the chief ground of com- plaint is an act which has passed the House Of Representatives but not the Senate of New York. By this law, on the death of the landlord the te- nant will be enabled to go before the Chancellor, change his reserved rent into a mortgage, and redeem it on paying the capital sum fixed upon. No doubt, if this capital sum is settled by the tenant alone, or by the law on any " hocussing" principle, wholesale fraud and confiscation will be the result : but if fairly done, the legislature has the right to do it. Pro- perty its the creature of legislation ; legislatures have always exercised the power of modifying the conditions of its tenure. The enormous es- ides of the Benaselaers are clearly contrary to the objects, scope, and spirit of American Democracy ; and, for aught we know, it may be contrary to the dignity of a "free and enlightened citizen" to be the tenant of any landlord. If these things create confusion in the country, or even if they do not, the state has as much right to interfere with leases on grounds of public- policy, as if has to take land for a turnpike road or a town im- progenient,—always paying the full, but not the fancy value. A tax upon the rent is also another grievance ; but it seems to us no worse than any other special tax, though the motive may exhibit a malus animus. The fact is, Mr. Cooper is like the New York Governor he denounces as Serving God and Mammon: he upholds the native institutions, yet wants something different from their inevitable results. He would gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles. Or, to be plain, he would substitute a lot of Mr. Coopers for the upper classes of Europe. There is a bitterness about some of Mr. Cooper's descriptions and re- marks, that it is difficult to account for, even if he be, as we infer he is, involved in the Rent war. His picture of the mass of Americans—cultiva- tors, townsinen, and legislators—is the worst we ever read, because the Writer obviously "knows his men" au fond, and allows their good qua- lities as well as explains the causes of their bad. He more than confirms the late writer Wyse as to the corruption of lawyers and even jurors ; showing, if his instances be trustworthy, that justice is poisoned at its very source. Some of these statements are so curious, coming from the quarter they do, that, at the risk of being didactic, we will extract a few. The character of the book is unfavourable to quotation from the strictly novel parts.


"But dat ist not right." "Right! Who says it is? or who thinks there is anything right about as- sessments, anywhere? I have heard assessors, with my own ears, use such words as these—' Sich a man is rich, and can afford to pay'; and 'Each a man is poor, and it will come hard on him!' Oh! they kiver up dishonesty now-a-days under all sorts of argooments."

"But der law; der rich might haf der law on deir side, surely ? "

"In what way, I should like to know ? Juries be everything; and juries will go aecordin' to their feelin's, as well as other men. Tye seen the things with my own eyes. The county pays just enough a day to make poor men like to be on juries, and they never fail to attend; while them that can pay their fines stay away, and so leave the law pretty much in the hands of one party. No rich man gains his cause, unless his case is so strong it can't be helped." I had heard this before; there being a very general complaint throughout the country of the practical abuses connected with the jury system. I have heard in- telligent lawyers complain, that whenever a cause of any interest is to be tried, the first question asked is, not "What are the merits?" "Which has the law and the facts on his side ? " but "Who is likely to be on the jury? "—thus obviously placing the composition of the jury before either law or evidence. Systems may have a very fair appearance on paper and as theories, that are execrable in prac- tice. As for juries, I believe the better opinion of the intelligent of all countries is, that while they are a capital contrivance to resist the abuse of power in narrow governments, in governments of a broad constituency they have the effect which might easily be seen, of placing the control of the law in the hands of those who would be mod apt to abuse it; since it is adding to, instead of withstanding and resisting, the controlling authority of the State, from which, in a popular govern- ment, most of the abuses must unavoidably Fred.

• • • •

The reader who is not acquainted with the interior of our social habits, must not suppose that I am colouring for effect. So far from this, I am quite conscious of having kept the tone of the picture down, it being an undeniable truth that nothing of much interest now-a-days is left to the simple decision of principles and laws, in this part of the country at least. The supremacy of numbers is so great, that scarce a private suit of magnitude is committed to a jury without attempts, more or less direct, to influence the common mind in favour of one side or the other, in the hope that the jurors will be induced to think as the majority thinks. In Europe, it is known that judges were, nay are, visited and solicited by the parties; but here it is the public that must be treated in the same way.


This word

"aristocratic," I find since my return home, has got to be a term of expansive signification, its meaning depending on the particular habits and opin ions of the person who happens to use it Thus, he who chews tobacco thinks it aristocratic in him who deems the practice nasty not to do the same; the man who stoops accuses him who is straight in the back of having aristocratic shoulders; and I have actually met with one individual who maintained that it was excessively aristocratic to pretend not to blow one's nose with his fingers.


-= One of the astodadiagsforeumstances of the times, is the general prevalence of falsehood among us, and the almost total suppression of truth. No matter what amount of evidence there may be to contradict a statement, or how often it has been disproved, it is reaffirmed with just as much assurance as if the matter had never been investigated; ay, and believed, as if its substance were =con- tradicted. I am persuaded there is no part of the world in which it is more dif- ficult to get a truth into the public mind, when there is a motive to suppress it, than among ourselves. This may seem singular, when it is remembered how many journals there are, which are uttered with the avowed purpose to circulate information. Alas! the machinery which can be used to give currency to truth is equally efficient in giving currency to falsehood. There are so many modes, too, of diluting truth, in addition to the downright lies which are told, that I greatly question if one alleged fact out of twenty that goes the rounds of the public prints, those of the commoner sort excepted, is true in all its essentials.


As a whole, the disorders, disturbances, and convulsions of America, have cer- tainly been much fewer than those of most, perhaps of all, other Christian nations, comparing numbers, and including the time since the great experiment com- menced. But such aught to have been the result of our facts, quite independently of national character. The institutions leave nothing for the masses to struggle for; and famine is unknown among us. But what does the other side of the pic- ture exhibit? Can any man point to a country in Europe in which a great politi- cal movement has commenced on a principle as barefacedly knavish as that of transferring property from one class of men to another/ That such a project does exist here, is beyond all just contradiction; and it is equally certain that it has carried its devices into legislation, and is fast corrupting the Government in its most efficient agents.


The prevalence of the notion of the omnipotence of majorities in America is so wide-spread and deep among the people in general, as to form a distinctive trait in the national character: it is doing an infinity of mischief, by being mistaken for the governing principle of the institutions, when in fact it is merely a neces- sary expedient to decide certain questions which must be decided by somebody, and in some mode or other. Kept in its proper sphere, the use of majorities is replete with justice, so far as justice can be exercised among men; abused, it opens the highway to the most intolerable tyranny. As a matter of course, the errors 'connected with this subject vary through all the gradations of intellect and selfishness. The following anecdote will give the reader some notion how the feeling impressed a stranger shortly after his arrival in this country. A year or two since, the writer had in his service an Irishman who had been only two years in the country. It was a part of this man's duty to look after the welfare of certain pigs, of which one occupied the position of a "runt." "Has your honour looked at the pigs lately?" said the honest fellow, one day. "No, not lately, Pat; is there any change?" "That is there, indeed, sir. and a great change: the little fellow is getting the majority of the rest, and will make the best hog of 'em all."