Travels in North America, in the years 1841-2: with geological observations on the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia

“It has so often happened to me in our own island, without traveling into those parts of Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, where they talk a perfectly distinct language, to encounter provincial dialects which it is difficult to comprehend, that I wonder at finding the people here so very English. If the metropolis of New England be a type of a large part of the United States, the industry of Sam Slick, and other writers, in collecting together so many diverting Americanisms and so much original slang, is truly great, or their inventive powers still greater.”

“I never traveled in any country where my scientific pursuits seemed to be better understood, or were more zealously forwarded, than in Nova Scotia, although I went there almost without letters of introduction. At Truro, having occasion to go over a great deal of ground in different directions, on two successive days, I had employed two pair of horses, one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. The postmaster, an entire stranger to me, declined to receive payment for them, although I pressed him to do so, saying that he heard I was exploring the country at my own expense, and he wished to contribute his share towards scientific investigations undertaken for the public good.

We know, on the authority of the author of “ Sam Slick,” unless he has belied his countrymen, that some of the Blue Noses (so called from a kind of potato which thrives here) are not in the habit of setting a very high value, either on their own time or that of others. To this class, I presume, belonged the driver of a stage-coach, who conducted us from Pictou to Truro. Drawing in the reins of his four horses, he informed us that there were a great many wild raspberries by the road-side, quite ripe, and that he intended to get off and eat some of them, as there was time to spare, for he should still arrive in Truro by the appointed hour. It is needless to say that all turned out, as there was no alternative but to wait in the inside of a hot coach, or to pick fruit in the shade. Had the same adventure happened to a traveller in the United States, it might have furnished a good text to one inclined to descant on the inconvenient independence of manners which democratic institutions have a tendency to create.

Doubtless, the political and social circumstances of all new colonies promote a degree of equality which influences the manners of the people. There is here no hereditary aristocracy, no proprietors who can let their lands to tenant, no dominant sect, with the privileges enjoyed by a church establishment. The sects are too numerous, and too fairly balanced, to admit of the possibility of such a policy; and the Baptists, who predominate greatly in number and position in society, are opposed on principle to all ecclesiastical endowments by the State. The influence of birth and family is scarcely felt, and the resemblance of the political and social state of things to that in the United States is striking. The longer, indeed, that I remained here, the larger were the deductions I found it necessary to make from those peculiarities that I had imagined, during my sojourn in the United States, to be the genuine fruits of a republican as contrasted with a monarchical constitution, of an American as distinguished from a British supremacy.

They who lament the increased power recently acquired by the democracy in the United States, ascribe to it, and I believe not without reason, the frequent neglect of men of the greatest talent and moral worth, and the power which it gives to envy, concealing itself under the cloak of a love of equality, to exclude such citizens from the most important places of trust and honour. In our American colonies, on the other hand, we hear complaints that very similar effects result from the habitual disregard of the claims of native merit, all posts of high rank and profit being awarded to foreigners, who have not their hearts in a country where they are but temporary sojourners. The late revolution in our colonial system, obliging the responsible executive to command a majority in the colonial parliaments, must, it is to be hoped, remove this cause of dissatisfaction.

It is no small object of ambition for a Nova Scotian to “go home,” which means to “leave home, and see England.” However much his curiosity may be gratified by the tour, his vanity, as I learn from several confessions made to me, is often put to a severe trial. It is mortifying to be asked in what part of the world Nova Scotia is situated to be complimented on “ speaking good English, although an American”—to be asked “what excuse can possibly be made for repudiation to be forced to explain to one fellow countryman after another “ that Nova Scotia is not one of the United States, but a British province.” All this, too, after having prayed loyally every Sunday for Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales—after having been so ready to go to war about the Canadian borderers, the New York sympathisers, the detention of Macleod and any other feud!

Nations know nothing of one another—most true but unfortunately in this particular case the ignorance is all on one side, for almost every native of Nova Scotia knows and thinks a great deal about England. It may, however, console the Nova Scotian to reflect, that there are districts in the British isles, far more populous than all his native peninsula, which the majority of the English people have never heard of, and respecting which, if they were named, few could say whether they spoke Gaelic, Welsh, 01 Irish, or what form of religion the greater part of them professed.”

Lyell, Charles, Sir. “Travels in North America, in the years 1841-2 : with geological observations on the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia” 1845.