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Page 208

41. LETTER XLI.[1]

Dear Uncle Joshua:—Here we are, amongst an ocean of
folks, and cutting up capers as high as a cat's back. I s'pose
you will see by the papers how we like to got drowned yester


Page 209
day crossing the bridge between the castle and the garden.[2]
It was a pesky narrow squeak for me and the President.
He was riding over on a great fine hoss, and I was walking
along by the side of him, and trying to clear the way a little,
for they crowded upon us so there was no getting along, and
hardly a chance to breathe. When we got under the arch,
we stopped a little bit for the crowd to clear away, when all at


Page 210


[Description: 688EAF. Page 210. In-line image. In the background a crowd is gathered around a castle with an American flag flying over it. A figure is dashing across a bridge. In the foreground another crowd is gathered.]
once I thought I heard something crack. Says I, “Gineral, you
better go ahead, I'm afraid there's mischief bruin' here.” At
that he gave his hoss a lick and pushed through the crowd;
but we hadn't got more than a rod, before crash went the
bridge behind us, all down in a heap, and two toll-houses on
top of it, and as many as a hundred folks splashed into the
water, all mixed up together, one top of t'other. The President
looked over his shoulder, and seeing I was safe behind
him, called out for Mr. Van Buren, and asked me to run and


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see if he was hurt. I told him he had forgot himself, for Mr.
Van Buren wasn't in the company; but Mr. Woodbury and
Mr. Cass were in for it, for I could see them floundering about
in the water now. “Run, Major,” said the President, “run
and give them a lift. Take Mr. Woodbury first; you know I
can't spare him at any rate.”

So there was a parcel of us took hold and went to hauling
of 'em out of the water, like so many drownded rats. But we
got 'em all out alive, except a few young things they called
dandies; they looked so after they got wet all over that we
couldn't make out whether they were alive or dead. So we
laid 'em up to dry, and left 'em; and I went on to help the
President review the troops on the Battery, as they call it;
and a grand place it is tu. I've seen more fine shows here,
it seems to me, than ever I see before in my life. Such a
sight of folks, and fine ladies, and fine houses, and vessels,
and steamboats, and flags a flying, and canons firing, and
fireworks a whisking about, I never see the beat of it. I
didn't think there was so much fun in this world before, for
all I've been about so much at Madawaska, and among the
nullifiers, and all round.

But I can't tell you much about it till we get there, for I
can't find any time to write. I've only catched a few minutes
this evening, while the President is gone into Mr. Niblo's garden.
One of the master sights that I've seen yet was that
balloon that went up this afternoon, carrying a man with it.

All these sights keep us back a little longer than we expected.
I don't think now we shall be in Portand before the
28th or 29th of this month. So I thought I'd jest write you a
line that you might be down there about that time.

In haste, your loving neffu


Editorial Note.—Here we come to an important point—an era in the
Downing literature, which requires special notice. It was now about three
years and a half that Major Downing had been serving and enlightening his
countrymen. In all that time his fame had steadily increased. His letters
were copied into almost every paper all over the land, and his name was in
everybody's mouth. Next to General Jackson, he was decidedly the most
popular man in the United States. Perhaps nothing is more calculated to
excite a feeling of envy than great popularity. The popular man is like the
child who holds a nice stick of candy in his hand; all the children around
are on tiptoe to get a nibble. It is not strange, therefore, that many in different
parts of the country, endeavored to get a taste of Major Downing's
popularity by attempting to imitate his writings.

But one individual, at this time, made a bold and systematic rush at the
Major, and attempted to strip his well-earned laurels from his brow, and entwine
them around his own head. This was a respectable merchant, a heavy
iron dealer in New York. Violently seized with a literary mania, he sat
down and wrote a Downing letter, giving an account of the arrival of the
Presidential party in New York, signed it with the Major's name, and published
it in the old Daily Advertiser.

As the letter of the genuine Major, giving an account of the same affair,
was sent to his Uncle Joshua, through the Portland Courier, it took several
days for it to make the journey Down East and back again to New York. In
the meantime, the letter of the iron dealer made its appearance, with Major
Downing's signature, and was seized upon by the greedy multitude, and
passed about as the true coin. The thousands and tens of thousands who
had been hurrahing for Major Downing for weeks and months, and some of
them for years, of course raised their voices again as loud as ever.

“God bless me!” said the iron merchant; “why, I've electrified the world!
I had no idea I was such a great writer before. I must go into this business
deep; who cares for trade when he can get popularity and literary fame?”

Henceforth the merchant became a man of letters, and the iron business
was turned over to the other members of the firm. For months afterward
he earnestly applied himself to writing Downing letters; and as he could
always get them to the New York market before the letters of the true
Major, who was riding about with the “Gineral,” and sending his epistles
through the Portland Courier, could arrive there, the merchant thought the
run of the trade was all in his favor. And whenever the voice of public
applause, in all parts of the country, pealed forth the name of Major Downing,
“God bless me!” said the merchant, “Don't you hear my thunder!”

Even to this day it is said, the New York iron merchant enjoys the secret
satisfaction of occasionally meeting with an individual so benighted in literary
history as to look up to him with awe and admiration, regarding him as the
great, the distinguished Major Downing.


Editorial Note.—The Presidential party landed at Castle Garden, the
ancient, heavy old fort standing in the harbor, six or eight rods from the
shore, at the southern point of the city. A bridge connected Castle Garden
with the green public park, called the Battery. The Major speaks of the
bridge “between the castle and the garden,” by which it would seem that he
supposed the old fort was the castle, and the green Battery the garden. In the
facts of the breaking down of the bridge, and the narrow escape of some of
the Presidential party, the Major is strictly accurate, as he always is on all
historical points. His remark to the President, that “Mr. Van Buren wasn'
in the company,” when the bridge gave way, will be explained by the fact
that Mr. Van Buren joined the President's traveling party at New York.