July 9th.–Went with B—- to pay a visit to the shanties of the Irish and Canadians. He says that they sell and exchange these small houses among themselves continually. They may be built in three or four days, and are valued at four or five dollars. When the turf that is piled against the walls of some of them becomes covered with grass, it makes quite a picturesque object. It was almost dusk–just candle-lighting time–when we visited them. A young Frenchwoman, with a baby in her arms, came to the door of one of them, smiling, and looking pretty and happy. Her husband, a dark, black-haired, lively little fellow, caressed the child, laughing and singing to it; and there was a red-bearded Irishman, who likewise fondled the little brat. Then we could hear them within the hut, gabbling merrily, and could see them moving about briskly in the candlelight, through the window and open door. An old Irishwoman sat in the door of another hut, under the influence of an extra dose of rum,–she being an old lady of somewhat dissipated habits. She called to B—-, and began to talk to him about her resolution not to give up her house: for it is his design to get her out of it. She is a true virago, and, though somewhat restrained by respect for him, she evinced a sturdy design to remain here through the winter, or at least for a considerable time longer. He persisting, she took her stand in the doorway of the hut, and stretched out her fist in a very Amazonian attitude. “Nobody,” quoth she, “shall drive me out of this house, till my praties are out of the ground.” Then would she wheedle and laugh and blarney, beginning in a rage, and ending as if she had been in jest. Meanwhile her husband stood by very quiet, occasionally trying to still her; but itis to be presumed, that, after our departure, they came to blows, it being a custom with the Irish husbands and wives to settle their disputes with blows; and it is said the woman often proves the better man. The different families also have battles, and occasionally the Irish fight with the Canadians. The latter, however, are much the more peaceable, never quarrelling among themselves, and seldom with their neighbors. They are frugal, and often go back to Canada with considerable sums of money. B—- has gained much influence both with the Irish and the French,–with the latter, by dint of speaking to them in their own language. He is the umpire in their disputes, and their adviser, and they look up to him as a protector and patron-friend. I have been struck to see with what careful integrity and wisdom he manages matters among them, hitherto having known him only as a free and gay young man. He appears perfectly to understand their general character, of which he gives no very flattering description. In these huts, less than twenty feet square, he tells me that upwards of twenty people have sometimes been lodged.
A description of a young lady who had formerly been insane, and now felt the approach of a new fit of madness. She had been out to ride, had exerted herself much, and had been very vivacious. On her return, she sat down in a thoughtful and despondent attitude, looking very sad, but one of the loveliest objects that ever were seen. The family spoke to her, but she made no answer, nor took the least notice; but still sat like a statue in her chair,–a statue of melancholy and beauty. At last they led her away to her chamber.
We went to meeting this forenoon. I saw nothing remarkable, unless a little girl in the next pew to us, three or four years old, who fell asleep, with her head in the lap of her maid, and looked very pretty: a picture of sleeping innocence.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for July 9th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.