Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

by agriculture. These contracts for apprentices are made before a magistrate, who regulates the agreement according to reason and justice; and, having in view the formation of a future useful citizen, obliges the master to engage by a written indenture, not only that, during the time of service stipulated, the apprentice shall be duly provided with meat, drink, apparel, washing, and lodging, and at its expiration with a complete new suit of clothes, but also, that he shall be taught to read, write, and cast accounts; and that he shall be well instructed in the art or profession of his master, or some other, by which he may afterwards gain a livelihood, and, be able in his turn to raise a family. A copy of this indenture is given to the apprentice or his friends, and the magistrate keeps a record of it, to which recourse may be had, in case of failure by the master in any point of performance. This desire among the masters to have more hands employed in working for them, induces them to pay the passage of young' persons of both sexes, who, on their arrival, agree to serve them one, two, three, or four years; those who have already learned a trade, agreeing for a shorter term in proportion to their skill, and the consequent immediate value of their service; and those who have none, agreeing for a longer term, in consideration of being taught an art their poverty would not permit them to acquire in their own country.

The almost general mediocrity of fortune that prevails in America, obliging its people to follow some business for subsistence, those vices that arise usually from idleness are in a great measure prevented. Industry and constant employment are great preservatives of the morals and virtue of a nation. Hence bad examples to youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practised. Atheism is unknown there; and infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel. And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his approbation of the mutual forbearance and kindness with which the different sects treat each other, by the remarkable prosperity with which he has been pleased to favour the whole country.

HUMOUROUS ACCOUNT OF A CUSTOM AMONG THE AMERICANS, ENTITLED WHITE-WASHING, ATTRIBUTED TO THE PEN OF DR. FRANKLIN.

ALTHOUGH the following article has not yet appeared in any collection of the works of this great philosopher, we are inclined to receive the general opinion (from the plainness of the style, and humour,which characterize it,) to be the performance of Dr. Franklin.

My wish is to give you some account of the people of these new States, but I am far from being qualified for the purpose, having as yet seen little more than the cities of New York and Philadelphia. I have discovered but few national singularities among them. Their customs and manners are nearly the same with those of England, which they have long been used to copy.' For, previous to the Revolution, the Americans were from their infancy taught to look up to the English as patterns of perfection in all things. I have observed, however, one custom, which, for aught I know, is peculiar to this country; an account of it will serve to afford you fill up the remainder of this sheet, and may

some amusement.

When a young couple are about to enter into the matrimonial state, a never failing article in the marriage treaty is, that the lady shall have and enjoy the free and unmolested exercise of the rights of whitewashing, with all its ceremonials, privileges, and appurtenances. A young woman would forego the most advantageous connexion, and even disappoint the warmest wishes of her heart, rather than resign the invaluable right. You will wonder what this privilege of white-washing is: I will endeavour to give you some idea of the ceremony, as I have seen it performed.

There is no season of the year in which the lady may not claim her privilege, if she pleases; but the latter end of May is most generally fixed upon for the purpose. The attentive husband may judge by certain prognostics when the storm is nigh at hand. When the lady is unusually fretful, finds fault with the servants, is discontented with the children, and complains much of the filthiness of every thing about her-these are signs which ought not to be neglected; yet they are not decisive, as they sometimes come on and go off again without producing any farther effect. But if, when the husband rises in the morning, he should ob

serve in the yard a wheelbarrow with a quantity of lime in it, or should see certain buckets with lime dissolved in water, there is then no time to be lost; he immediately locks up the apartment or closet, where his papers or his private property is kept, and putting the key in his pocket, betakes himself to flight: for a husband, however beloved, becomes a perfect nuisance during this season of female rage; his authority is superseded, his commission is suspended, and the very scullion, who cleans the brasses in the kitchen, becomes of more consideration and importance than him. He has nothing for it, but to abdicate, and run from an evil which he can neither prevent nor mollify.

The husband gone, the ceremony begins. The walls are in a few minutes stripped of their furniture; paintings, prints, and looking-glasses lie in a huddled heap about the floors, the curtains are torn from the testers, the beds crammed into the windows; chairs and tables, bedsteads and cradles, crowd the yard; and the garden fence bends beneath the weight of carpets, blankets, cloth, cloaks, old coats, and ragged breeches. Here may be seen the lumber of the kitchen, forming a dark and confused mass: for the foreground of the picture, gridirons and fryingpans, rusty shovels and broken tongs, spits and pots, and the fractured remains of rushbottomed chairs. There a closet has disgorged its bowels, cracked tumblers, broken wine glasses, phials of forgotten physic, papers of unknown powders, seeds and dried herbs, handfuls of old corks, tops of teapots, and stoppers of departed decanters ;-from the rag-hole in the garret to the rat-hole in the cellar, no place escapes unrummaged. It would seem as if the day of general doom was come, and the utensils of the house were dragged forth to judgment. In this tempest, the words of Lear naturally present themselves, and might, with some alteration, be made strictly applicable:

"Let the great gods,

That keep this dreadful pudder o'er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch
That has within thee, undivulged crimes,
Unwhipt of justice!"-

"Close pent up guilt, Raise your concealing continents, and ask These dreadful summoners grace!"

The ceremony completed, and the house thoroughly evacuated, the operation is to smear the walls and ceilings of every room and closet with brushes dipped in a solution of lime, called white-wash; to pour buck

ets of water over every floor; and scratch all the partitions and wainscots with rough brushes wet with soapsuds, and dipped in stone cutter's sand. The windows by no means escape the general deluge. A servant scrambles upon the penthouse, at the risk of her neck, and with a mug in her hand, and a bucket within her reach, she dashes away innumerable gallons of water against the glass panes; to the great annoyance of the passengers in the street.

I have been told that an action at law was once brought against one of these water-nymphs, by a person who had a new suit of clothes spoiled by this opera tion; but, after long argument, it was determined by the whole court, that the action would not lie, insomuch as the defendant was in the exercise of a legal right, and not answerable for the consequences; and so the poor gentleman was doubly nonsuited: for he lost not only his suit of clothes, but his suit at law.

These smearings and scratchings, washing and dashings, being duly performed, the next ceremony is to cleanse and replace the distracted furniture. You may have seen a house raising, or a ship launch, when all the hands within reach are collected together : recollect if you can, the hurry, bustle, confusion, and noise of such a scene, and you will have some idea of this cleaning match. The misfortune is, that the sole object is to make things clean; it matters not how many useful, ornamental, or valuable articles are mutilated, or suffer death under the operation: a mahogany chair and carved frame undergo the same discipline; they are to be made clean at all events; but their preservation is not worthy of attention. For instance, a fine large engraving is laid flat upon the floor; smaller prints are piled upon it, and the superincumbent weight cracks the glasses of the lower tier; but this is of no consequence. A valuable picture is placed leaning against the sharp corner of a table; others are made to lean against that, until the pressure of the whole forces the corner of the table through the canvass of the first. The frame and glass of a fine print are to be cleaned; the spirit and oil used on this occasion are suffered to leak through and spoil the engraving; no matter, if the glass is clean, and the frame shine, it is sufficient; the rest is not worthy of consideration. An able arithmetician has made an accurate calculation, founded on long experience, and has discovered, that the losses and destruction incident to two white-washings are equal to one removal, and three removals equal to one fire.

The cleaning frolic over, matters begin to resume

[ocr errors]

their pristine appearance. The storm abates, and all would be well again, but it is impossible that so great a convulsion, in so small a community, should not produce some farther effects. For two or three weeks after the operation, the family are usually afflicted with sore throats or sore eyes, occasioned by the caustic quality of the lime, or with severe colds from the exhalations of wet floors or damp walls.

I know a gentleman, who was fond of accounting for every thing in a philosophical way. He considers this, which I have called a custom, as a real periodical disease, peculiar to the climate. His train of reasoning is ingenious and whimsical; but I am not at leisure to give you a detail. The result was that he found the distemper to be incurable; but after much study he conceived he had discovered a method to divert the evil he could not subdue. For this purpose he caused a small building, about twelve feet square, to be erected in his garden, and furnished with some ordinary chairs and tables; and a few prints of the cheapest sort were hung against the walls. His hope was, that when the white-washing frenzy seized the females of his family they might repair to this apartment and scrub, and smear, and scour, to their heart's content; and so spend the violence of the disease in this outpost, while he enjoyed himself in quiet at head quarters. But the experiment did not answer his expectation; it was impossible it should, since a principal part of the gratification consists in the lady's having an uncontrolled right to torment her husband at least once a year, and to turn him out of doors, and take the reins of government in to her own hands.

There is a much better contrivance than this of the philosopher's, which is to cover the walls of the house with paper: that is generally done; and though it cannot abolish, it at least shortens the period of female dominion. The paper is decorated with flowers of various fancies, and made so ornamental, that the women have admitted the fashion without perceiving the design.

There is also another alleviation of the husband's distress he generally has the privilege of a small room or closet for his books and papers, the key of which he is allowed to keep. This is considered as a privileged place, and he stands like the land of Goshen amid the plagues of Egypt But then he must be extremely cautious, and ever on his guard; for should he inadvertently go abroad and leave the key in his door, the housemaid, who is always on the watch for such an opportunity, immediately enters in triumph with buckets

« ZurückWeiter »