List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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to me by others, "Oh, yes; she can write, but she can do nothing
else," that I was made more diligent in cultivating every branch of
domestic usefulness; so that these ill-natured sarcasms ultimately
led to my acquiring a great mass of most useful practical knowledge.
Yet--such is the contradiction inherent in our poor fallen
nature--these people were more annoyed by my proficiency in the
common labours of the household, than they would have been by any
displays of my unfortunate authorship. Never was the fable of the
old man and his ass so truly verified.

There is a very little of the social, friendly visiting among
the Canadians which constitutes the great charm of home. Their
hospitality is entirely reserved for those monster meetings in which
they vie with each other in displaying fine clothes and costly
furniture. As these large parties are very expensive, few families
can afford to give more than one during the visiting season, which
is almost exclusively confined to the winter. The great gun, once
fired, you meet no more at the same house around the social board
until the ensuing year, and would scarcely know that you had a
neighbor, were it not for a formal morning call made now and then,
just to remind you that such individuals are in the land of the
living, and still exist in your near vicinity.

I am speaking of visiting in the towns and villages. The manners and
habits of the European settlers in the country are far more simple
and natural, and their hospitality more genuine and sincere. They
have not been sophisticated by the hard, worldly wisdom of a
Canadian town, and still retain a warm remembrance of the kindly
humanities of home.

Among the women, a love of dress exceeds all other passions. In
public they dress in silks and satins, and wear the most expensive
ornaments, and they display considerable taste in the arrangement
and choice of colours. The wife of a man in moderate circumstances,
whose income does not exceed two or three hundred pounds a-year,
does not hesitate in expending ten or fifteen pounds upon one
article of outside finery, while often her inner garments are not
worth as many sous; thus sacrificing to outward show all the real
comforts of life.

The aristocracy of wealth is bad enough; but the aristocracy of
dress is perfectly contemptible. Could Raphael visit Canada in rags,
he would be nothing in their eyes beyond a common sign-painter.

Great and manifold, even to the ruin of families, are the evils
arising from this inordinate love for dress. They derive their
fashions from the French and the Americans--seldom from the English,
whom they far surpass in the neatness and elegance of their costume.

The Canadian women, while they retain the bloom and freshness of
youth, are exceedingly pretty; but these charms soon fade, owing,
perhaps, to the fierce extremes of their climate, or the withering
effect of the dry metallic air of stoves, and their going too early
into company and being exposed, while yet children, to the noxious
influence of late hours, and the sudden change from heated rooms to
the cold, biting, bitter winter blast.

Though small of stature, they are generally well and symmetrically
formed, and possess a graceful, easy carriage. The early age at
which they marry, and are introduced into society, takes from them
all awkwardness and restraint. A girl of fourteen can enter a
crowded ball-room with as much self-possession, and converse with as
much confidence, as a matron of forty. The blush of timidity and
diffidence is, indeed, rare upon the cheek of a Canadian beauty.

Their education is so limited and confined to so few
accomplishments, and these not very perfectly taught, that their
conversation seldom goes beyond a particular discussion on their
own dress, or that of their neighbours, their houses, furniture,
and servants, sometimes interlarded with a LITTLE HARMLESS GOSSIP,
which, however, tells keenly upon the characters of their dear

Yet they have abilities, excellent practical abilities, which, with
a little mental culture, would render them intellectual and charming
companions. At present, too many of these truly lovely girls remind
one of choice flowers half buried in weeds.

Music and dancing are their chief accomplishments. In the former
they seldom excel. Though possessing an excellent general taste for
music, it is seldom in their power to bestow upon its study the time
which is required to make a really good musician. They are admirable
proficients in the other art, which they acquire readily, with the
least instruction, often without any instruction at all, beyond that
which is given almost intuitively by a good ear for time, and a
quick perception of the harmony of motion.

The waltz is their favorite dance, in which old and young join with
the greatest avidity; it is not unusual to see parents and their
grown-up children dancing in the same set in a public ball-room.

Their taste in music is not for the sentimental; they prefer the
light, lively tunes of the Virginian minstrels to the most
impassioned strains of Bellini.

On entering one of the public ball-rooms, a stranger would be
delighted with such a display of pretty faces and neat figures. I
have hardly ever seen a really plain Canadian girl in her teens;
and a downright ugly one is almost unknown.

The high cheek-bones, wide mouth, and turned-up nose of the Saxon
race, so common among the lower classes in Britain, are here
succeeded in the next generation, by the small oval face, straight
nose, and beautifully-cut mouth of the American; while the glowing
tint of the Albion rose pales before the withering influence of late
hours and stove-heat.

They are naturally a fine people, and possess capabilities and
talents, which when improved by cultivation will render them second
to no people in the world; and that period is not far distant.

Idiots and mad people are so seldom met with among natives of the
colony, that not one of this description of unfortunates has ever
come under my own immediate observation.

To the benevolent philanthropist, whose heart has bled over the
misery and pauperism of the lower classes in Great Britain, the
almost entire absence of mendicity from Canada would be highly
gratifying. Canada has few, if any, native beggars; her objects of
charity are generally imported from the mother country, and these
are never suffered to want food or clothing. The Canadians are a
truly charitable people; no person in distress is driven with harsh
and cruel language from their doors; they not only generously
relieve the wants of suffering strangers cast upon their bounty, but
they nurse them in sickness, and use every means in their power to
procure them employment. The number of orphan children yearly
adopted by wealthy Canadians, and treated in every respect as their
own, is almost incredible.

It is a glorious country for the labouring classes, for while
blessed with health they are always certain of employment, and
certain also to derive from it ample means of support for their
families. An industrious, hard-working man in a few years is able
to purchase from his savings a homestead of his own; and in process
of time becomes one of the most important and prosperous class of
settlers in Canada, her free and independent yeomen, who form the
bones and sinews of this rising country, and from among whom she
already begins to draw her senators, while their educated sons
become the aristocrats of the rising generation.

It has often been remarked to me by people long resident in the
colony, that those who come to the country destitute of means, but
able and willing to work, invariably improve their condition and
become independent; while the gentleman who brings out with him a
small capital is too often tricked and cheated out of his property,
and drawn into rash and dangerous speculations which terminate in
his ruin. His children, neglected and uneducated, yet brought up
with ideas far beyond their means, and suffered to waste their time
in idleness, seldom take to work, and not unfrequently sink down to
the lowest class.

But I have dwelt long enough upon these serious subjects; and I will
leave my husband, who is better qualified than myself, to give a
more accurate account of the country, while I turn to matters of a
lighter and a livelier cast.

It was towards the close of the summer of 1833, which had been
unusually cold and wet for Canada, while Moodie was absent at D---,
inspecting a portion of his government grant of land, that I was
startled one night, just before retiring to rest, by the sudden
firing of guns in our near vicinity, accompanied by shouts and
yells, the braying of horns, the beating of drums, and the barking
of all the dogs in the neighborhood. I never heard a more stunning
uproar of discordant and hideous sounds.

What could it all mean? The maid-servant, as much alarmed as myself,
opened the door and listened.

"The goodness defend us!" she exclaimed, quickly closing it, and
drawing a bolt seldom used. "We shall be murdered. The Yankees must
have taken Canada, and are marching hither."

"Nonsense! that cannot be it. Besides they would never leave the
main road to attack a poor place like this. Yet the noise is very
near. Hark! they are firing again. Bring me the hammer and some
nails, and let us secure the windows."

The next moment I laughed at my folly in attempting to secure a log
hut, when the application of a match to its rotten walls would
consume it in a few minutes. Still, as the noise increased, I was
really frightened. My servant, who was Irish (for my Scotch girl,
Bell, had taken to herself a husband and I had been obliged to hire
another in her place, who had only been a few days in the country),
began to cry and wring her hands, and lament her hard fate in coming
to Canada.

Just at this critical moment, when we were both self-convicted of an
arrant cowardice, which would have shamed a Canadian child of six
years old, Mrs. O--- tapped at the door, and although generally a
most unwelcome visitor, from her gossiping, mischievous
propensities, I gladly let her in.

"Do tell me," I cried, "the meaning of this strange uproar?"

"Oh, 'tis nothing," she replied, laughing; "you and Mary look as
white as a sheet; but you need not be alarmed. A set of wild fellows
have met to charivari Old Satan, who has married his fourth wife
to-night, a young gal of sixteen. I should not wonder if some
mischief happens among them, for they are a bad set, made up of all
the idle loafers about Port H--- and C---."

"What is a charivari?" said I. "Do, pray, enlighten me."

"Have you been nine months in Canada, and ask that question? Why I
thought you knew everything! Well, I will tell you what it is. The
charivari is a custom that the Canadians got from the French, in the
Lower Province, and a queer custom it is. When an old man marries a
young wife, or an old woman a young husband, or two old people, who
ought to be thinking of their graves, enter for the second or third
time into the holy estate of wedlock, as the priest calls it, all
the idle young fellows in the neighborhood meet together to
charivari them. For this purpose they disguise themselves,
blackening their faces, putting their clothes on hind part before,
and wearing horrible masks, with grotesque caps on their head,
adorned with cocks' feathers and bells. They then form in a regular
body, and proceed to the bridegroom's house, to the sound of tin
kettles, horns, and drums, cracked fiddles, and all the discordant
instruments they can collect together. Thus equipped, they surround
the house where the wedding is held, just at the hour when the happy
couple are supposed to be about to retire to rest--beating upon the
door with clubs and staves, and demanding of the bridegroom
admittance to drink the bride's health, or in lieu there of to
receive a certain sum of money to treat the band at the nearest

"If the bridegroom refuses to appear and grant their request, they
commence the horrible din you hear, firing guns charged with peas
against the doors and windows, rattling old pots and kettles, and
abusing him for his stinginess in no measured terms. Sometimes they
break open the doors, and seize upon the bridegroom; and he may
esteem himself a very fortunate man, under such circumstances, if
he escapes being ridden upon a rail, tarred and feathered, and
otherwise maltreated. I have known many fatal accidents arise out
of an imprudent refusal to satisfy the demands of the assailants.
People have even lost their lives in the fray; and I think the
government should interfere, and put down these riotous meetings.
Surely, it is very hard, that an old man cannot marry a young gal,
if she is willing to take him, without asking the leave of such a
rabble as that. What right have they to interfere with his private

"What, indeed?" said I, feeling a truly British indignation at such
a lawless infringement upon the natural rights of man.

"I remember," continued Mrs. O---, who had got fairly started upon a
favorite subject, "a scene of this kind, that was acted two years
ago, at ---, when old Mr. P--- took his third wife. He was a very
rich storekeeper, and had made during the war a great deal of money.
He felt lonely in his old age, and married a young, handsome widow,
to enliven his house. The lads in the village were determined to
make him pay for his frolic. This got wind, and Mr. P--- was advised
to spend the honeymoon in Toronto; but he only laughed, and said
that 'he was not going to be frightened from his comfortable home by
the threats of a few wild boys.' In the morning, he was married at
the church, and spent the day at home, where he entertained a large
party of his own and the bride's friends. During the evening, all
the idle chaps in the town collected round the house, headed by a
mad young bookseller, who had offered himself for their captain,
and, in the usual forms, demanded a sight of the bride, and liquor
to drink her health. They were very good-naturedly received by Mr.
P---, who sent a friend down to them to bid them welcome, and to
inquire on what terms they would consent to let him off, and

"The captain of the band demanded sixty dollars, as he, Mr. P---,
could well afford to pay it.

"'That's too much, my fine fellows!' cried Mr. P--- from the open
window. 'Say twenty-five, and I will send you down a cheque upon the
bank of Montreal for the money.'

"'Thirty! thirty! thirty! old boy!' roared a hundred voices. 'Your
wife's worth that. Down with the cash, and we will give you three
cheers, and three times three for the bride, and leave you to sleep
in peace. If you hang back, we will raise such a 'larum about your
ears that you shan't know that your wife's your own for a month to

"'I'll give you twenty-five,' remonstrated the bridegroom, not the
least alarmed at their threats, and laughing all the time in his

"'Thirty; not one copper less!' Here they gave him such a salute of
diabolical sounds that he ran from the window with his hands to his

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