University of Virginia Library


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Enough of garlands, of the Arcadian crook,
And all that Greece and Italy have sung,
Of swains reposing myrtle graves among!
Ours couch on naked rocks, will cross a brook,
Swollen with chill rains, nor ever cast a look
This way or that, or give it even a thought
More than by smoothest pathway may be brought
Into a vacant mind. Can written book
Teach what they learn?


Of the hardihood of the American character there
can be no doubts, however many there may exist on
the subject of our good manners. We ourselves
seem to be sufficiently conscious of our security on
the former head, as we forbear insisting upon it;
about the latter, however, we are sore and touchy
enough. We never trouble ourselves to prove that
we are sufficiently able and willing, when occasion


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serves, to do battle, tooth and nail, for our liberties and
possessions; our very existence, as a people, proves
this ability and readiness. But let John Bull prate
of our manners, and how we fume and fret; and what
fierce action, and wasteful indignation we expend
upon him! We are sure to have the last word in
all such controversies. Our hardihood comes from
our necessities, and prompts our enterprise; and the
American is bold in adventure to a proverb. Where
the silken shodden and sleek citizen of the European
world would pause and deliberate to explore our
wilds, we plunge incontinently forward, and the
forest falls before our axe, and the desert blooms
under the providence of our cultivator, as if the
wand of an enchanter had waved over them with the
rising of a sudden moonlight. Yankee necessities,
and southern and western curiosity will probe to
the very core of the dusky woods, and palsy, by
the exhibition of superior powers, the very souls of
their old possessors.

I was true to the temper and the nature of my
countrymen. The place, in which I was born, could
not keep me always. With manhood—ay, long before
I was a man—came the desire to range. My thoughts
craved freedom, my dreams prompted the same desire,
and the wandering spirit of our people, perpetually
stimulated by the continual opening of new regions
and more promising abodes, was working in


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my heart with all the volume of a volcano. Manhood
came, and I burst my shackles. I resolved
upon the enjoyment for which I had dreamed and
prayed. I had no fears, for I was stout of limb, bold
of heart, prompt in the use of my weapon, a fearless
rider, and a fatal shot. Here are the inevitable possessions
of the southern and western man, from Virginia
to the Gulf, and backward to the Ohio. I had
them, with little other heritage, from my Alabama
origin, and I was resolved to make the most of them
as soon as I could. You may be sure I lost no time
in putting my resolves into execution. Our grain
crops in Marengo were ripe in August, and my heart
bounded with the unfolding of the sheaves. I was
out of my minority in the same fortunate season.

I waited for the coming October only. I felt that
my parents had now no claims upon me. The customs
of our society, the necessities of our modes of
life, the excursive and adventurous habits of our
people, all justified a desire, which, in a stationary
community, would seem so adverse to the nicer designs
of humanity. But the life in the city has very
few standards in common with that of the wilderness.
We acknowledge few, at least. The impulses
of the latter, to our minds, are worth, any day, all
the mercantile wealth of the former; and that we
are sincere in this opinion may be fairly inferred from
the preference which the forester will always show


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for the one over the other. Gain is no consideration
for those who live in every muscle, and who
find enjoyment from the exercise of every limb.
The man who lives by measuring tape and pins by
the sixpence-worth, may make money by his vocation—but,
God help him! he is scarce a man. His
veins expand not with generous ardour; his muscles
wither and vanish, as they are unemployed. And
his soul!—it has no emotions which prompt him to
noble restlessness, and high and generous execution.
Let him keep at his vocation if he will, but he
might, morally and physically, do far better if he

My resolves were soon known to all around me.
They are not yet known to the reader. Well, they
are quickly told. The freed youth at twenty-one,
for the first time freed and impatient only for the
exercise of his freedom, has but few purposes, and
his plans are usually single and unsophisticated
enough. Remember, I am speaking for the forester
and farmer, not for the city youth who is taught the
arts of trade from the cradle up, and learns to scheme
and connive while yet he clips the coral in his boneless
gums. I was literally going abroad, after the
fashion of the poorer youth of our neighbourhood,
to seek my fortune. As yet, I had but little of my
own. A fine horse, a few hundred dollars in specie,
three able-bodied negroes, a good rifle, which


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carried eighty to the pound, and was the admiration
of many who were even better shots than myself—
these made pretty much the sum total of my earthly
possessions. But I thought not much of this matter.
To ramble awhile, at least until my money was all
gone, and then to take service on shares with some
planter who had land and needed the help of one
like myself, was all my secret. I had heard of the
Chickasaw Bluffs, and of the still more recent Choctaw
purchase—at that time a land of promise only,
as its acquisition had not been effected—and I
was desirous of looking upon these regions. The
Choctaw territory was reported to be rich as cream,
and I mediated to find out the best spots, in order
to secure them by entry, as soon as government
could effect the treaty which should throw them into
the market. In this ulterior object I was upheld by
some of our neighbouring capitalists, who had urged,
to some extent, the measure upon me. I was not unwilling
to do for them, particularly as it did not interfere
in my own plans to follow up theirs; but my
own desire was simply to stretch my limbs in freedom,
to traverse the prairies, to penetrate the swamps,
to behold the climbing hills and lovely hollows of
the Choctaw lands, and luxuriate in the eternal solitudes
of their spacious forests. To feel my freedom
was now my hope. I had been fettered long


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But do not think me wanting in natural affection
to my parents: far from it. I effected no small
achievement, when I first resolved to leave my
mother. It was no pain to leave my father. He
was a man, a strong one too, and could do well
enough without me. But, without spoiling me, my
mother, of all her children, had made me most a
favourite. I was her Richard always. She considered
me first, though I had an elder brother, and
spoke of me in particular, when speaking of her
sons, and referred to me for counsel, in preference
to all the rest. This may have been because I was
soon found to be the most decisive of all my brothers;
and folks did me the farther courtesy to say, the
most thoughtful too. My elder brother, John
Hurdis, was too fond of eating to be an adventurous
man, and too slow and unready to be a performing
one. We often quarrelled too, and this,
perhaps, was another reason why I should desire to
leave a place from which he was quite too lazy ever
to depart. Had he been bold enough to go forth, I
had not been so ready to do so, for there were
motives and ties to keep me at home, which shall
have development as I proceed.

My father, though a phlegmatic and proud man,
showed much more emotion at the declaration of
my resolve to leave him, than I had ever expected.
His emotion arose not so much from the love he bore


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me, as from the loss which he was about to sustain
by my departure. I had been his best negro, and
he confessed it. Night and day, without complaint,
my time had been almost entirely devoted to his
service, and his crops had never been half so good
as when I had directed the labour of his force, and
regulated his resources. My brother John had
virtually given up to me the entire management, and
my father was too well satisfied with the fruits of
the change, to make any objection. My resolution
to leave him now, once more threw the business of
the plantation upon John, and his incompetence,
the result of his inertness and obesity, rather than
of any deficiency of mind, was sorely apprehended
by the old man. I felt this to be the strongest argument
against my departure. But was I always to
be the slave I had been? Was I always to watch
peas and potatoes, corn and cotton, without even
the poor satisfaction of choosing the spot where it
would please me best to watch them. This reflection
strengthened me in my resolves, and answered
my father. In answer to the expostulation of my
mother, I made a promise, which in part consoled

“I will go but for a few months, mother; for the
winter only; you will see me back in spring; and
then, if father and myself can come to any thing


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like terms, I will stay and superintend for him, as I
have done before.”

“Terms, Richard!” were the old lady's words in
reply. “What terms, would you have, my son, that
he will not agree to, so that they be in reason? He
will give you one-fifth, I will answer for it, Richard,
and that ought to be quite enough to satisfy any

“More than enough, mother; more than I ask
or expect. But I cannot now agree even to that. I
must see the world awhile; travel about; and if, at
the end of the winter, I see no better place—no
place, I mean, which I could better like to live in—
why then I will come back, as I tell you, and go to
work as usual.”

There was some little indignation in the old lady's

“Better place! like better to live in! Why, Richard,
what has come over you? Are not the place
you were born in, and the parents who bred you,
and the people whom you have lived with all your
life—are they not good enough for you; that you
must come to me at this time of day and talk about
better places, and all such stuff? Really, my son,
you forget yourself to speak in this manner. As if
every thing was not good enough for you here!”

“Good enough, mother,” I answered gloomily;
“good enough; perhaps—I deny it not; and yet not


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exactly to my liking. I am not pleased to waste my
life as I do at present. I am not satisfied that I do
myself justice. I feel a want in my mind, and an
impatience at my heart; a thirst which I cannot explain
to you, and which, while here, I cannot quench.
I must go elsewhere—I must fix my eyes on other
objects. You forget, too, that I have been repulsed,
rejected—though you told me I should not be—
where I had set my heart; and that the boon has
been given to another, for which I had struggled
long, and for a long season had hoped to attain. Can
you wonder that I should seek to go abroad, even
were I not moved by a natural desire at my time of
life to see some little of the world?”

There were some portions of my reply which
were conclusive, and to which my mother did not
venture any answer; but my last remark suggested
the tenor of a response which she did not pause to

“But what can you see of the world, my son,
among the wild places to which you think to go?
What can you see at the Bluffs, or down by the Yazoo
but woods and Indians? Besides, Richard, the Choctaws
are said to be troublesome now in the nation.
Old Mooshoolatubbé and La Fleur are going to fight,
and it will be dangerous travelling.”

“The very thing, mother,” was my hasty reply.
“I will take side with La Fleur, and when we have


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to fight Mooshoolatubbé, get enough land for my reward,
to commence business for myself. That last
speech of yours, mother, is conclusive in my favour.
I will be a rich man yet; and then”—in the bitterness
of a disappointed spirit I spoke—“and then,
mother, we will see whether John Hurdis is a better
man with thirty negroes than Richard Hurdis with
but three.”

“Why, who says he is, my son?” demanded my
mother with a tenderness of accent which increased
while she spoke, and with eyes that filled with tears
in the same instant.

My heart told me I was wrong, but I could not
forbear the reply that rose to my lips.

“Mary Easterby,” were the two words which
made my only answer.

“Richard, Richard!” exclaimed the old lady,
“you envy your brother.”

“Envy him! No! I envy him nothing, not even
his better fortune. Let him wear what he has won,
whether he be worthy of it or not. If, knowing me,
she prefers him, be it so. She is not the woman for
me. I envy not his possessions; neither his wife,
nor his servant, his ox, nor his ass. It vexes me
that I have been mistaken, mother, both in her, and
in him; but, thank Heaven! I envy neither. I am
not humble enough for that.”

“Dear Richard, you know that I have always


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sought to make you happy. It grieves me that you
are not so. What would you have me do for you?”

“Let me go forth in peace. Say nothing to my
father to prevent it. Seem to be satisfied with my
departure yourself. I will try to please you better
when I return.”

“You ask too much, my son; but I will try. I
will do any thing for you, if you will only think
and speak less indifferently of your elder brother.”

“And what are my thoughts and words to him,
mother? He feels them not—they do not touch him.
Is he not my elder brother? Has he not all? The
favour of our grandmother gave him wealth, and with
his wealth, and from his wealth, comes the favour of
Mary Easterby.”

“You do her wrong!” said my mother.

“Do I, indeed?” I answered bitterly. “What!
she takes him then for his better person, his nobler
thoughts, his boldness, his industry, and the thousand
other manly qualities, so winning in a woman's eyes,
which I have not, but which he possesses in such
plenty? Is it this that you would say, my mother?
Say it then if you can; but well I know you must be
silent. You cannot speak, mother, and speak thus.
For what then has Mary Easterby preferred John
Hurdis? God forgive me if I do her wrong, and
Heaven's mercy to her if she wrongs herself and me.
At one time I thought she loved me, and I showed


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her some like follies. I will not say that she has
not made me suffer; but I rejoice that. I can suffer
like a man. Let me go from you in quiet, dear
mother; urge my departure, and believe, as I think,
that it will be for the benefit of all.”

My father's entrance interrupted a conversation,
which neither of us was disposed readily to resume.