List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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reflections are a rather serious commencement of a sketch which was
intended to be of a more lively description; one of my chief objects
in writing this chapter being to afford a connecting link between
my wife's sketches, and to account for some circumstances connected
with our situation, which otherwise would be unintelligible to
the reader. Before emigrating to Canada, I had been settled as a
bachelor in South Africa for about twelve years. I use the word
settled, for want of a better term--for a bachelor can never,
properly, be said to be settled. He has no object in life--no aim.
He is like a knife without a blade, or a gun without a barrel. He
is always in the way, and nobody cares for him. If he work on a
farm, as I did, for I never could look on while others were
working without lending a hand, he works merely for the sake of
work. He benefits nobody by his exertions, not even himself; for
he is restless and anxious, has a hundred indescribable ailments,
which no one but himself can understand; and for want of the
legitimate cares and anxieties connected with a family, he is full
of cares and anxieties of his own creating. In short, he is in a
false position, as every man must be who presumes to live alone
when he can do better.

This was my case in South Africa. I had plenty of land, and of
all the common necessaries of life; but I lived for years without
companionship, for my nearest English neighbour was twenty-five
miles off. I hunted the wild animals of the country, and had plenty
of books to read; but, from talking broken Dutch for months
together, I almost forgot how to speak my own language correctly.
My very ideas (for I had not entirely lost the reflecting faculty)
became confused and limited, for want of intellectual companions to
strike out new lights, and form new combinations in the regions of
thought; clearly showing that man was not intended to live alone.
Getting, at length, tired of this solitary and unproductive life,
I started for England, with the resolution of placing my domestic
matters on a more comfortable footing. By a happy accident, at the
house of a literary friend in London, I became acquainted with one
to whose cultivated mind, devoted affections, and untiring energy of
character, I have been chiefly indebted for many happy hours, under
the most adverse circumstances, as well as for much of that hope
and firm reliance upon Providence which have enabled me to bear up
against overwhelming misfortunes. I need not here repeat what has
been already stated respecting the motives which induced us to
emigrate to Canada. I shall merely observe that when I left South
Africa it was with the intention of returning to that colony, where
I had a fine property, to which I was attached in no ordinary
degree, on account of the beauty of the scenery and delightful
climate. However, Mrs. Moodie, somehow or other, had imbibed an
invincible dislike to that colony, for some of the very reasons that
I liked it myself. The wild animals were her terror, and she fancied
that every wood and thicket was peopled with elephants, lions, and
tigers, and that it would be utterly impossible to take a walk
without treading on dangerous snakes in the grass. Unfortunately,
she had my own book on South Africa to quote triumphantly in
confirmation of her vague notions of danger; and, in my anxiety to
remove these exaggerated impressions, I would fain have retracted my
own statements of the hair-breadth escapes I had made, in conflicts
with wild animals, respecting which the slightest insinuation of
doubt from another party would have excited my utmost indignation.

In truth, before I became familiarised with such danger, I had
myself entertained similar notions, and my only wonder, in reading
such narratives before leaving my own country, was how the
inhabitants of the country managed to attend to their ordinary
business in the midst of such accumulated dangers and annoyances.
Fortunately, these hair-breadth escapes are of rare occurrence;
but travellers and book-makers, like cooks, have to collect
high-flavoured dishes, from far and near, the better to please
the palates of their patrons. So it was with my South African
adventures; I threw myself in the way of danger from the love of
strong excitement, and I collected all my adventures together, and
related them in pure simplicity, without very particularly informing
the reader over what space of time or place my narrative extended,
or telling him that I could easily have kept out of harm's way had I
felt so inclined. All these arguments, however, had little influence
on my good wife, for I could not deny that I had seen such animals
in abundance in South Africa; and she thought she should never be
safe among such neighbours. At last, between my wife's fear of the
wild animals of Africa, and a certain love of novelty, which formed
a part of my own character, I made up my mind, as they write on
stray letters in the post-office, to "try Canada." So here we are,
just arrived in the village of C---, situated on the northern shore
of Lake Ontario.

Mrs. Moodie has already stated that we procured lodgings at a
certain hotel in the village of C--- kept by S---, a truly excellent
and obliging American. The British traveller is not a little struck,
and in many instances disgusted, with a certain air of indifference
in the manners of such persons in Canada, which is accompanied with
a tone of equality and familiarity exceedingly unlike the limber and
oily obsequiousness of tavern-keepers in England. I confess I felt
at the time not a little annoyed with Mr. S---'s free-and-easy
manner, and apparent coolness and indifference when he told us he
had no spare room in his house to accommodate our party. We
endeavoured to procure lodgings at another tavern, on the opposite
side of the street; but soon learned that, in consequence of the
arrival of an unusual number of immigrants, all the taverns in the
village were already filled to overflowing. We returned to Mr. S---,
and after some further conversation, he seemed to have taken a kind
of liking to us, and became more complaisant in his manner, until
our arrangement with Tom Wilson, as already related, relieved us
from further difficulty.

I NOW perfectly understand the cause of this apparent indifference
on the part of our host. Of all people, Englishmen, when abroad, are
the most addicted to the practice of giving themselves arrogant airs
towards those persons whom they look upon in the light of dependents
on their bounty; and they forget that an American tavern-keeper
holds a very different position in society from one of the same
calling in England. The manners and circumstances of new countries
are utterly opposed to anything like pretension in any class of
society; and our worthy host, and his excellent wife--who had both
held a respectable position in the society of the United States--had
often been deeply wounded in their feelings by the disgusting and
vulgar arrogance of English GENTLEMAN and LADIES, as they are
called. Knowing from experience the truth of the saying that "what
cannot be cured must be endured," we were particularly civil to Mr.
S---; and it was astonishing how quickly his manners thawed. We had
not been long in the house before we were witnesses of so many
examples of the purest benevolence, exhibited by Mr. S--- and his
amiable family, that it was impossible to regard them with any
feeling but that of warm regard and esteem. S--- was, in truth, a
noble-hearted fellow. Whatever he did seemed so much a matter of
habit, that the idea of selfish design or ostentation was utterly
excluded from the mind. I could relate several instances of the
disinterested benevolence of this kind-hearted tavern-keeper. I
shall just mention one, which came under my own observation while
I lived near C---.

I had frequently met a young Englishman, of the name of M---, at Mr.
S---'s tavern. His easy and elegant manners, and whole deportment,
showed that he had habitually lived in what is called the best
society. He had emigrated to Canada with 3,000 or 4,000 pounds, had
bought horses, run races, entertained many of the wealthy people of
Toronto, or York, as it was then called, and had done a number of
other exceedingly foolish things. Of course his money was soon
absorbed by the thirsty Canadians, and he became deeply involved in
debt. M--- had spent a great deal of money at S---'s tavern, and
owed him 70 or 80 pounds. At length he was arrested for debt by some
other party, was sent to the district gaol, which was nearly two
miles from C---, and was compelled at first to subsist on the gaol
allowance. What greatly aggravated the misfortunes of poor M---,
a man without suspicion or guile, was a bitter disappointment in
another quarter. He had an uncle in England, who was very rich, and
who intended to leave him all his property. Some kind friend, to
whom M--- had confided his expectations, wrote to England, informing
the old man of his nephew's extravagance and hopes. The uncle
there-upon cast him off, and left his property, when he died, to
another relative.

As soon as the kind-hearted tavern-keeper heard of the poor fellow's
imprisonment, he immediately went to see him, and, though he had not
the slightest hope of ever being paid one farthing of his claim, Mr.
S---, for many months that poor M--- lay in gaol, continued to send
him an excellent dinner every day from his tavern, to which he
always added a bottle of wine; for as Mr. S--- remarked, "Poor M---,
I guess, is accustomed to live well."

As soon as Mr. S--- found that we did not belong to that class of
people who fancy they exalt themselves by insulting others, there
were no bounds to the obligingness of his disposition. As I had
informed him that I wished to buy a cleared farm near Lake Ontario,
he drove me out every day in all directions, and wherever he thought
farms were to be had cheap.

Before proceeding further in my account of the inhabitants, I shall
endeavour to give the reader some idea of the appearance of the
village and the surrounding country. Of course, from the existence
of a boundless forest, only partially cleared, there is a great
sameness and uniformity in Canadian scenery.

We had a stormy passage from Kingston to C---, and the wind being
directly ahead, the plunging of the steam-boat between the sharp
seas of Lake Ontario produced a "motion" which was decidedly
"unconstitutional;" and, for the first time since we left England,
we experienced a sensation which strongly reminded us of
sea-sickness. The general appearance of the coast from the lake was
somewhat uninviting. The land appeared to be covered everywhere with
the dense unbroken forest, and though there were some gently sloping
hills and slight elevations, showing the margin of extensive
clearings, there was a general want of a background of high hills or
mountains, which imparts so much interest to the scenery of every
country. On reaching C---, however, we found that we had been much
deceived as to the features of the country, when viewed at a less

Immediately on the shores of the great lake, the land is generally
flat for two or three miles inland; and as the farms are there
measured out in long, narrow strips, a mile and a quarter long, and
a quarter of a mile wide, the back parts of the lots, which are
reserved for firewood, are only visible at a distance. This narrow
belt of the primeval forest, which runs along the rear of all the
lots in the first line of settlements, or concession as it is here
called, necessarily conceals the houses and clearings of the next
concession, unless the land beyond rises into hills. This
arrangement, however convenient, tends greatly to mar the beauty
of Canadian scenery.

The unvarying monotony of rail-fences and quadrangular enclosures,
occasions a tiresome uniformity in the appearance of the country,
which is increased by the almost total absence of those little
graceful ornaments in detail, in the immediate neighbourhood of
the homesteads, which give such a charm to English rural scenery.

The day after our arrival, we had an opportunity to examine the
town, or rather village, of C---. It then consisted chiefly of one
long street, parallel with the shore of the lake, and the houses,
with very few exceptions, were built of wood; but they were all
finished, and painted with such a degree of neatness, that their
appearance was showy, and in some instances elegant, from the
symmetry of their proportions. Immediately beyond the bounds of the
village, we, for the first time, witnessed the operation of clearing
up a thick cedar-swamp. The soil looked black and rich, but the
water stood in pools, and the trunks and branches of the cedars were
leaning in all directions, and at all angles, with their thick
foliage and branches intermingled in wild confusion. The roots
spread along the uneven surface of the ground so thickly that they
seemed to form a vast net-work, and apparently covered the greater
part of the surface of the ground. The task of clearing such a
labyrinth seemed utterly hopeless. My heart almost sickened at the
prospect of clearing such land, and I was greatly confirmed in my
resolution of buying a farm cleared to my hand.

The clearing process, however, in this unpromising spot, was going
on vigorously. Several acres had been chopped down, and the fire had
run through the prostrate trees, consuming all the smaller branches
and foliage, and leaving the trunks and ground as black as charcoal
could make them. Among this vast mass of ruins, four or five men
were toiling with yoke of oxen. The trees were cut into manageable
lengths, and were then dragged by the oxen together, so that they
could be thrown up into large log-heaps to burn. The men looked,
with their bare arms, hands, and faces begrimed with charcoal, more
like negroes than white men; and were we, like some shallow people,
to compare their apparent condition with that of the negro slaves in
more favoured regions, we should be disposed to consider the latter
the happier race. But this disgusting work was the work of freemen,
high-spirited and energetic fellows, who feared neither man nor wild
beast, and trusted to their own strong arms to conquer all
difficulties, while they could discern the light of freedom and
independence glimmering through the dark woods before them.

A few years afterwards, I visited C---, and looked about for the
dreadful cedar-swamp which struck such a chill into my heart, and
destroyed the illusion which had possessed my mind of the beauty of
the Canadian woods. The trees were gone, the tangled roots were
gone, and the cedar-swamp was converted into a fair grassy meadow,
as smooth as a bowling-green. About sixteen years after my first
visit to this spot, I saw it again, and it was covered with stone
and brick houses; and one portion of it was occupied by a large
manufactory, five or six stories high, with steam-engines,
spinning-jennies, and all the machinery for working up the wool
of the country into every description of clothing. This is
civilisation! This is freedom!

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