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HISTORY, LIFE, AND MANNERS
IN THE WEST.
But few of the writers who have treated of the western country, rank above mediocrity; and little of all that has been written on this subject is interesting or true. Books we have had in abundance; travels, gazetteers, and geographies inundate the land; but few of them are distinguished by literary merit or accurate information. Perhaps a reason for this is to be found in the character of the country. The subjects of interest in a land which has long been inhab ited by a civilized people, are such as are familiar to the student, and in traveling through such a region, he treads on classic ground with a knowledge of all the localities. He knows the points of attraction, and having reached them is learned in their history. If in Italy, he hastens to Rome; if in the Mediterra
nean, to Naples, Vesuvius, and the ruins of Carthage; if in Greece, to Athens; if in Palestine, to the Holy Sepulchre. Whether in Europe or in Asia, he finds, at every step, some object to awaken classic recollections, and expatiates on a field already familiar to bis imagination. In collecting information, he but fills an outline, previously sketched out in the seclusion of his closet, and the design itself is but a copy; for such narratives exhibit, in general, the same pictures, colored by different hands, each correcting the faults, and impproving on the failures, of the other. The accomplished writer, in short, who treats of the countries to which we have alluded, must be familiar with their history, their antiquities, their arts, their literature, their every thing which has been open to the observation of the hundreds and thousands who have preceded him, and, if not altogether devoid of genius, he cannot fail to throw some new light upon subjects, which, however hacknied, are always interesting, and to which every day brings some change, as each year gives moss to the rock, and ivy to the ruin.
All this is different in the west. The traveler, who launches his bark upon the silver wave of the Ohio, leaves behind him every object which has been consecrated by the pen of genius. He beholds the beauties of nature in rich luxuriance, but he sees no work of art which has existed beyond the memory of man, except a few faint and shapeless traces of a former race, whose name and character are beyond the reach
, even of conjecture. Every creation of human skill which he beholds, is the work of his cotemporaries. All is new. The fertile soil abounds in vegetation.
The forest is bright, and rich, and luxuriant, as it came from the hands of the Creator. The hundred rivers, that bear the treasures of western industry to the ocean, present grand and imposing spectacles to the eye, while they fill the mind with visions of the future wealth and greatness of the lands through which they roll. But they are nameless to the poet and historian; neither song nor chivalry has conse crated their shores. The inhabitants 'are all emigrants from other countries; they have no ruins, no traditions, nothing romantic or incredible, with which to regale the traveler's ear. They can tell of their own weary pilgrimage from the land of their fathers -of exploits performed with the rifle and the axeof solitary days and fearful nights spent in the wilderness-of sorrow, and sickness, and privation, when none was near to help them—and of competence and comfort, gained by years of toil and suffering. Scenes and objects of interest occur at every step, but they are of a character entirely new. All that the traveler tells must be learned upon the spot. The subjects are such as appeal to the judgment, and require the deliberate exercise of a cool and discriminating mind. The author has not now to examine the conflicting or conforming opinions of others, but
decision for himself upon matters which have not previously been investigated. He must describe a new country, with its various features and productions—a new people, with novel laws, habits, and institutions. He is not now in Italy or France, surrounded by the illustrious dead, and scarcely less Illustrious living, where the canvas glows, and the
marble speaks, where every grove shadows the tomb of a martyr, a hero, or a poet; and where every scene awakens a familiar image or a poetic thought A vast but silent scene surrounds him. No object speaks to his classic recollections. The face of the country, its climate, productions, and industry, must be described, and, to do this, he must dwell long and examine patiently. Books he will find, it is true, but they are the hasty productions of incompetent writers, whose opinions are generally wrong, and whose observations are confined to a few subjects of minor interest.
To acquire an adequate knowledge of such a country, requires extensive personal observation. It is necessary to examine things instead of books, to travel over this wide region, to become acquainted with the people, to learn their history from tradition, and to become informed as to their manners and modes of thinking, by associating with them in the familiar intercourse of business and domestic life. There is no other mode of collecting facts in relation to a country whose history has never been written, and with regard to which no accurate printed statistics, embracing the whole region, are in existence.
Yet the country affords ample materials. In the historical department a wide and various field is opened. The history of the western country has never been barren of incident. The valley of the Mississippi has been the theatre of hardy exploit, and curious adventure, throughout the whole period of our national existence, and its fertile plains present at this time a wide field of speculation. To whatever
point in the annals of this immense region we turn, we find them fraught with strange, and novel, and instructive matter. If we trace the solitary path of the fearless Boone; if we pursue the steps of Shelby, of Logan, and of Scott, we find them beset with dangers so terrible, adventures so wild, and achievements so wonderful, as to startle credulity, and we encoun ter tastes, and habits, and sentiments, peculiar to our own frontier. In the disastrous campaigns of Harmar and St. Clair, and the brilliant successes of Clarke and Wayne, there is a sufficiency of those vicissitudes which enliven the narratives of military daring, while a host of lesser worthies present respectable claims to our applause. “Grim visag’d war” has so recently “ smooth'd his wrinkled front,” in this vast territory, that thousands of living witnesses remain to show their scars and attest its dangers. The time is within memory when every dwelling was a fortress, when to fight“pro aris et focis” – for our hearths and altars
was not merely the poet's figure, but the literal and constant business of a whole people, when every father defended his own threshold, and even mothers imbrued their hands in blood to protect their offspring.
Few of these events will live in history. They formed no part of any national war, either for independence or for conquest; they neither accelerated nor retarded our march to national greatness; they brought no blot, and added but little fame to the national escutcheon. They are preserved chiefly in tradition, and will form a rich vein of romantic adventure for the future novelist and poet. But, although the historian of our common republic may not