Daily Archives: August 6, 2007

Item of the Day: The Poetry of Travelling in the United States (1838)

Full Title: The Poetry of Travelling in the United States. By Caroline Gilman. With Additional Sketches, by a Few Friends; and a Week among Autographs, by Rev. S. Gilman. New-York: S. Colman, 141 Nassau Street, 1838.

Baltimore. [1836]

Washington is behind us–its beautiful Capitol, on which the eye lingers in unsated admiration, has faded away; as we leave it the heart is full–the mind is full. Great and elevating scenes, farewell; new and tender friends, farewell; a stranger has fed on your thousand flowers, and has borne away the hive of memory, oveflowing the honied stores!

As we entered the rail-road car, an old man took his seat in front of us, dressed in homespun, with a miserable hat, sun-burnt face, a chaw of tobacco in his mouth, and two soiled bundles in his hand. I shrank instinctivley from the contact, and dreaded two hours’ intercourse with such a low-looking crature; it even occurred to me that there ought to be a separate car of well and ill-dressed people. After a while he took out an old leather pocket-book, and among a few other loose papers, unfolded one which had the seal and signature of Lewis Cass; and as my eye ran over the plain printing, I perceived that it was the pension certificate of Edward Dennis of Maryland, a revolutionary soldier. What a change came over him! There was the difference to me in his countenance of Moses when he ascended and descended the mount–a glory was around him!

The old man turned the paper over and over, read it and re-read it. He wanted sympathy.

“This is worth a long journey,” said he at length, showing it to a passenger near him; “four hundred dollars down, and eighty dollars a-year, for a man seventy-eight years old;” and he took out the bills from the pocket-book, and a large handful of General Jackson’s shiners from his waistcoat.

I longed to give him my purse to put his money in, but was ashamed; my hand was on it, but I drew it back; it will look too sentimental, I thought.

“Why have you not applied for a pension before?” said the passenger to whom he had showed the bond.

The old man smiled. “Because I didn’t want it. You wouldn’t have had me ask for it ’till I wanted it, would ye?”

A gentleman, whose name, if I dared to give it, would lend a new interest to this little narrative, a New England man, but one who takes a deep interest in the south, was reading. I whispered to him the character of our fellow-traveller, and he laid down his book.

After a while the old man took it up and read, without glasses, two or three pages with apparent interest.

“How much might you have given for this book?” said he to the owner.

“I shall think it a cheap purchase, was the reply, “if an old soldier of the Revolution will accept it;” and taking out his pencil, he wrote—

“Presented to Edward Dennis, a soldier of the Revolution, by one who is now reaping the fruits of his bravery.”

The old man smiled as he received the book, turned it, looked at its cover, then within; and taking the pencil from the hand of the giver, wrote in fair characters the name which he saw on the first leaf. But after all he could not realise that it was a gift, and, as his pockets were oveflowing, he took out a dollar.

“No, no, my good friend,” said the giver, “put it up;” and in a lower voice added, “don’t you show your money to any body again but your wife.”

“No more I wont,” said the old man understandingly.

Repeatedly, during the excursion, he gave the book, inside and outside, the same long, pleased look with which he had received it.

We reached Baltimore on its noble rail-road, when one, whose elegant and varied conversation had made two hours seem as moments, and the old soldier, with his treasure, went on their opposite ways.


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Filed under 1830's, American Revolution, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel, Travel Literature