MR. HENRY VINCENT'S LECTURE Burnley 7th December 1872.
Last night a crowded audience assembled in the Mechanics' Institution to hear an oration from Mr. Henry Vincent, on "America." The chair was occupied by R. Shaw, Esq., M.P., who on ascending the platform was loudly cheered. There were on the platform Councillor Nutter, Mr. John Baron, Revs. George Gill, T. Kench, J. C. Brewitt; and in the body of the hall Alderman Robinson, Alderman Coultate, Dr. Brumwell, and others. The Chairman, on rising, was received with loud applause. He commenced by expressing the pleasure he had in taking the chair on that occasion. He then referred to the action the Government had taken on the Alabama question with the United States, which he considered to be one of the grandest achievements of modern times, and contrasted this with the barbarous and bloody system of settling disputes with the sword. After a few further observations he introduced Mr. Vincent, who was received with loud cheering. We subjoin a summary of the lecture.
Mr. Vincent said that during the past six years he had crossed the Atlantic eight times, and made four extensive journeys through the United States, attracted thither by the desire to see what the people were doing to develop its great and varied resources, to strengthen the foundations of social order, and to spread around them the blessings of civilisation and education. After cautioning a student of the States against confusing the cosmopolitan population of New York with the interior and agricultural populations of the country, he said they would do well to consider thoroughly in the outset the New England States —which comprised Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and the State of Maine—States that might be fairly called the eye and soul of the great Republic.
It was with no ordinary enthusiasm, then, that he found himself taking his ticket for the important cities of those States in the autumn of 1866. The railway cars were spacious and well ventilated, and the directors entertained the barbarous notion that they ought to make travellers comfortable, but where they derived that notion from he never could understand. (Laughter.) He described the passengers as calm, and courteous, and sociable, and not realising the unfriendly caricatures drawn in this country: and he held it to be one of the grandest features of modern times to find such nations as England and America coming together with a warm and brotherly affection, and endeavouring to settle their international disputes not by the doubtful and bloody arbitrament of the sword, but by rational and intelligent arbitration. (Loud applause.)
New Haven be found to be one of the prettiest cities; the streets widely laid out, and planted with elm trees, forming in many places floral cathedral-like arches of unwonted beauty. There was a sober and orderly population, without the unpleasant features met with among the lower and more degraded cities of the Old World, and some of the crowded cities of the New; and this lie attributed not to the political only—the grand principle of self-government —but to the church and the school, —a church not enforced law, but sustained by Christian willinghood —(applause) —and the education that not only roused the brain, but solidified logic and gave the people that practical good sense which enabled them to work with efficiency the great power of self-government which God had deposited in their hands. (Applause.)
Without hurting anybody's religious scruples, he must say that he found in New England, where there was no Established Church—(hear, hear,) —that every form of religious worship was thoroughly sustained and efficiently worked. (Applause ) The Catholic population sustaining in a vigorous way their noble buildings, and extending their churches by the inherent power of their own faith and Christian willinghood; and it was likewise with the Methodists, Baptists, and Independents; and he must say that if one thing pleased him more than any other it was the possibility of standing on the same platform with Episcopalian, and Methodist, and Congregationalist and Baptist, and the Catholic priest, and he found that in their character as citizens man none seemed desirous of taking a bite off another man's shoulder. (Laughter and applause.) It was something new to him, and he did not know where they got their odd notions from, but the Yankees were an odd people. (Laughter.)
He visited the schools, and entering one the schools in Providence, for example, the whole of the teachers and scholars rose and sang, “God save your gracious Queen," as a compliment to the old country. He saw in the pupils a mixture of coloured and white, and various nationalities. This was the grand school system founded some thirty years ago. He said to a bright little girl,
'I hope you are not unkind to the coloured children," and she replied, with a kind of wit,
"Oh, dear, sir; we have been so long with them we have forgotten their colour." (Langhter.) He thonght there was a wise philosophy in that, and it would be well applied to politics and religion sometimes. It would be well if people of opposite opinions could sit beside each other without believing that each would give the other an attack of typhus fever —(laughter)—and extend the courtesies and amenities of Christian life. (Hear, hear.)
He found that none objected to paying rates to the schools, because all had equal access to them; and when he asked if working-men ever objected to pay these rates, the American went back a yard or two in surprise, and said the working-men were not such fools; they knew that education was the most important element for raising the children more effectually to fulfil all the duties of manhood.
Though the press in ordinary towns might not be so elaborately edited as in England, yet in such places Boston, Providence, New Haven, and other cities, he found it full of vigour and full of that freedom which kept alive free discussion.
Then, in New England, wherever they went they noticed marvellous industry and power. The born American was the most adaptive man under the sun; whatever befell him he was always ready for change ; and if they had to fling him out of the window he would alight on his feet like a cat. (Laughter.) The New England man lived within his means, and, as the custom was so general, he might mention that every mechanic took care to get a few hundred dollars ahead of the world. He did not creep into the shop on the Saturday night for a quarter of a pound of mutton, or two ounces of tea; but would get a pound of coffee or half a pound of tea; he bought a barrel of flour, and understood the value of ready money. And there was this advantage —his wife was not a slatternly woman, but she was stirred up by the education she had received and though a mechanic's wife, she expected to be a lady. (Applause.) She could clean a floor and work —(laughter), —and knew a little about religion, and more about politics. (Continued laughter.) The characteristics of New England, then, were social order, strength, industry, a fair amount of mental culture, a great belief in the power of religion, as a sanctifying and sustaining power, and great spirit of free enquiry that kept the mind in full play and vigorous action, the love of liberty, pride in the national institutions, and everything seemed to be done to develop that orderly and vigorous citizenship, which made him feel proud that such a nation had sprang from the strong brains.
It was wonderful how, in spite of protection—and he never could understand protection, and knew very well as a boy it was something like trying to make a dog fat by feeding it on its own tail—(laughter) —it was yet wonderful how the industries were prospering. It was astonishing how rapidly wealth was accumulating, and this was seen in the marvellous way in which such cities as Chicago and Boston were rising again after their great calamities —Chicago rising like poetry from the fabled head of the Greeks, as Boston would rise to a renewed existence. The boundless resources of the country were all in favour of the people who wore industrious and persevering; and as he visited some of the valleys where cotton and wool were manufactured, he found that the machinery was in most respects equal to that of our own country, and saw in all respects marvellous advancements. For while the demand for labour was in ordinary times more extensive than in this country, it was only natural that ingenuity of the people should be directed to every kind of labour saving machinery, and they had an interest in discovery even deeper than in the older nations. And throughout New England he found comfort among the operatives, some masters amassing great wealth, and there was an orderly and peaceful people.
He next described his visits to some of middle States, and said that of New York was worth a patient study of itself. It was nearly as large as Scotland, England, and Wales, and yet this was only one State of 36. This State was a wonder, whether they took the cities or the towns, the villages, or agricultural populations. He was much in the agricultural districts, because his country was more and more dependent upon the grain-growing and fruit and cattle producing nations to increase her supplies, and he was anxious to see how agricultural produce was increasing. England did her duty in the matter of eating, and he would back the United Kingdom against the universe in that respect. (Laughter.) He went to several of the great cheese manufactories. In England there had been attempts made get up cheese manufacturing —one or two in Cheshire, two in the neighbourhood of Derby—but the soil of this country varied much over its short area, we could not get milk enough of a uniform quality to supply on a sufficiently large scale any great factories; but in America where the same kind of climate prevailed, and where the soil was pretty much the same, the farmers with their immense stock of cows clubbed together, and their huge cheese factories were set up on the banks of some river or canal. He found they were supplied with ingenious machinery; he found the milk was carried from all quarters where the farmers lived to this factory, and he found the milk running down into great vats, and found the machinery ingeniously moved to stir the milk and make curd. They never ground the curd in the United States. They took piece in their fingers, pressed it like a piece putty, and when they had pressed all the water and whey out of it there was unctuous drop remaining that would make their hair curl without paper. (Laughter.) They knew the quantities of American cheese that came to England; it was improving in quality rapidly, and was beginning to compare favourably to the best sorts in this country.
When he got to Buffalo went on Change, where they suspended business for an hour that he might address them. The lecturer described his visit to Niagara in eloquent language, and then referred to the fine specimen of peaches found in New Jersey, and which grew great platitude. It was no use for a lady to look three or four times before crossing the street and then deliberately walk under a donkey's nose, expecting an American donkey to stand still. (Great laughter) The audience was treated to dissertation on oysters—of which the State produced all sizes from tender little bantling that might lie in a cockle-shell to the gigantic Saddle-rock oyster, half as big as a platter. Mr. Vincent excited his hearers into convulsions of laughter by reciting the late Mr. Thackeray's experience with one of these bivalves, the gorging of which, according to that humourist, left him with the sensation of having swallowed a baby!
The lecturer next carried his audience, in imagination, through Pennsylvania, with its vast mineral wealth— with coal-beds proved already by geological survey to be sixteen times the area of those of the United Kingdom with its slate quarries and hills of iron ore practically exhaustless by the human race if they worked millions of years. It was, indeed, impossible to exaggerate the natural treasures of the United States. God had been bountiful to our dear little island and had crowded it with wealth; but upon the grand Continent of America, occupied by people speaking the same mother tongue, reading the same literature —whose traditions were our traditions—it was not possible to gauge the treasures of mineral and agricultural wealth abounding on every hand.
Speaking of his visit to Washington and his experience of "coloured” people, Mr. Vincent detailed many incidents illustrating their rapidly improving condition and the gradual recognition they were receiving at the hands of their white brethren. He spoke too, among other things, of his visit to the wonderful museum in that city, to his visit to the houses of legislature, and to his interviews with the late president, Andrew Johnson, and the present president, General Grant.
An eminently amusing episode was the subsequent sketch of Cincinnati, the capital of Hamilton county, Ohio, with its immense establishments for pig killing and pork-curing. In Indiana he enjoyed his first experience seeing an entire house running along the streets on rollers, in process of removal, and this incident led to a digression in which he described the raising of the vast Tremont Hotel, at Chicago, which was elevated a dozen feet without interfering with the everyday bustle of its vast commercial business.
Next, the visit to Illinois, with its 55,000 square miles of territory, two-thirds of it underlaid with bituminous coal, and its vast prairies, was briefly sketched; and following it Michigan, 50,000 square miles in extent, Minnesota, another grand state, running to the Upper Bluffs of the Mississippi. Dwelling for a moment on the question of water carriage, he said that it had been ascertained that there were 50,000 miles of navigable waters connected with the Mississippi and Missouri, and with these vast rivers, huge mountains, and rolling prairies, what wonder was it Yankees should talk big. In America everything was "large, thundering, mighty, stupendous," and somehow there phrases lost their singularity and became familiar by constant association with the objects which called them forth.
A pleasant portion of the lecture was the episode, introduced, describing the visits to old friends in many of the places visited; and it afforded opportunity for an eloquent passage descriptive of the fondness with which settlers from the old country cherished the fond associations of their early home. A graphic account was that of the journey by the Pacific railroad over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada into California; and the picture was enhanced by a very glowing description of the wonders of the city of San Francisco. Amusing anecdotes were related of the lecturer's experience with the Chinese, and the adaptability of that race to the new circumstances of civilisation were detailed in a humourous recital of the many trades and handicrafts into which they had embarked.
The lecturer gave a description of the visit the Salt Lake City, and of an interview with Young. Mr. Vincent said he was not about to discuss the question of polygamy, because he had settled that point for himself some thirty years ago, by marrying the best of her sex. (Laughter.)
Utah was a third-rate city, but the most had been made of the site and the arrangement. As matter of course he went to see Brigham Young, whom he found well-preserved man of 70 years, with rather a hard face, but an expressive one, a lofty brow—a face altogether indicating power and of the "Thus saith the law" type. He told him, after the introduction was over, that be must not construe his presence as in the slightest degree assenting to the doctrines there held, but that he was a stranger desirous of looking at their little community. He was courteously received, and on the following Sunday had opportunity of visiting the Tabernacle, where in the morning he saw the pulpit occupied by an orthodox Methodist minister, and in the afternoon by an orthodox Episcopalian clergyman—the blind preacher lately in England, the Rev. Mr. Milman. At the closo of the latter sermon, Brigham Young ascended the pulpit, and spoke a few words, which were rendered by Mr. Vincent now to his audience with tone and gesture as nearly corresponding to those of the original as he could adopt. This little address intimated that the Mormonites were always glad to receive Christian ministers of good standing from the respective Churches and afford them the hospitality of their pulpit, so that if they had any word of rebuke, reproof, or instruction to offer, they might freely offer it. They acted thus, also, for this other reason—most of the elder Mormons knew what other Churches taught, but their children did not, and if they continued to hold only to Mormon teachings they would grow one-sided, and one-sided man was no man at all. They were, therefore, anxious that their young people should know what other Churches taught. Afterwards, George Smith took his place, and his address was given with an imitation of tone and manner which, if not accurate, was at any rate so successful as to be a striking piece of personation. Smith's harangue was to the effect that a few Sundays previous some clergyman had preached to them who, reaching San Francisco, had declared that they did not feel at liberty in that pulpit; but the fault was not in the pulpit, and must have been in themselves. He further defended himself and brethren from the attacks of some Baptist minister, recently amongst them, and hurled back some vindictive charges made by the Baptist Church with characteristic unction, applauded by distant voices in the Tabernacle. Dismissing the question of polygamy with the remark that it would gradually die out as its followers were brought more closely into contact with western institutions; Mr. Vincent brought his interesting address to a close. Returned to England, feeling that America had before her a glorious future, and her advancement would add the glory of the English-speaking race, leading to the final triumph of civil and religious liberty, and of the great questions of peace and industry. The meeting was closed with the usual votes of thanks.