Page images
PDF
EPUB

Europe, there are strong inducements to immigrate to America. Most of the governments are arbitrary, the taxes are oppressive, the exactions of military service onerous in the extreme. Add to all this the harassing insecurity of property and life. For sixty or seventy years the continent has been one wide theatre of scarcely intermitted convulsion. Every country in it has been involved in war; there is scarcely one that has not passed through a revolution. We read of events like these in the newspapers, we look upon them with curiosity as articles of mere intelligence, or they awaken images of our own revolution, which we regard only with joyous associations. Far different the state of things in crowded Europe, of which, the fairest fields are trampled in every generation by mighty armies into bloody mire! Dazzled by the brilliancy of the military exploits of which we read at a safe distance, we forget the anxieties of those who grow up within the sound of the cannon's roar, whose prospects in life are ruined, their business broken up, their little accumulations swept away by the bankruptcy of governments or the general paralysis of the industry of the country, their sons torn from them by ruthless conscriptions, the means of educating and bringing up their families consumed in a day by disastrous emergencies. Terrified by the recent experience or the tradition of these miseries, thousands immigrate to the land of promise, flying before, not merely the presence, but the “rumor of war," which the Great Teacher places on a level with the reality.

Ever and anon some sharp specific catastrophe gives an intense activity to immigration. When France, in the lowest depth of her Revolution, plunged to a lower depth of suffering and crime, when the Reign of Terror was enthroned, and when every thing in any way conspicuous, whether for station, wealth, talent, or service, of every age and of either sex, from the crowned monarch to the gray-haired magistrate and the timid maiden, was brought to the guillotine, hundreds of thousands escaped at once from the devoted kingdom. The convulsions of San Domingo drove most of the European population of that island to the United States. But beyond every thing else which has been witnessed in modern times, the famine which prevailed a few years since in Ireland gave a terrific impulse to immigration. Not less, probably, than one million of her inhabitants left her shores within five years.

The population of this island, as highly favored in the gifts of nature as any spot on the face of the earth, has actually diminished more than one million eight hundred thousand since the famine year;* the only example, perhaps, in history, of a similar result in a country not visited by foreign war or civil convulsion. The population ought, in the course of nature, to have increased within ten years by at least that amount; and in point of fact, between 1840 and 1850, our own population increased by more than six millions.

This prodigious increase of the population of the United States is partly owing to the immigration from foreign countries, which has taken place under the influence of the causes general and specific, to which I have alluded. Of late years, from three to four hundred thousand immigrants are registered at the several custom-houses, as arriving in this country in the course of a year. It is probable that a third as many more enter by the Canadian frontier. Not much less than two millions of immigrants are supposed to have entered the United States in the last ten years; and it is calculated that there are living at the present day in the United States five millions of persons, foreigners who have immigrated since 1790, and their descendants.

There is nothing in the annals of mankind to be compared to this; but there is a series of great movements which may be contrasted with it. In the period of a thousand years, which began about three or four hundred years before our Saviour, the Roman republic and empire were from time to time invaded by warlike races from the north and east, who burst with overwhelming force upon the south and west of Europe, and repeatedly carried desolation to the gates of Rome. These multitudinous invaders were not armies of men, they were in reality nations of hostile immigrants. They came with their wives, with their “young barbarians," with

* London Quarterly Review for December, 1851, p. 191.

their Scythian cavalry, and their herds of cattle; and they came with no purpose of going away. The animus manendi was made up before they abandoned their ice-clad homes ; they left their Arctic allegiance behind them. They found the sunny banks of the Arno and the Rhone more pleasant than those of the Don and the Volga. Unaccustomed to the sight of any tree more inviting than the melancholy fir and the stunted birch, its branches glittering with snowy crystals, - brought up under a climate where the generous fruits are unknown, — these children of the North were not so much fascinated as bewildered " in the land of the citron and myrtle;" they gazed with delighted astonishment at the spreading elm, festooned with Falernian clusters; they clutched, with a kind of frantic joy, at the fruit of the fig-tree and the olive; — at the melting peach, the luscious plum, the golden orange, and the pomegranate, whose tinted cheek outblushes every thing but the living carnation of youthful love.

“ With grim delight the brood of winter view

A brighter day and heavens of azure hue,
Scent the new fragrance of the breathing rose,
And quaff the pendent vintage as it grows."

By the fortune of war, single detachments and even mighty armies frequently suffered defeat; but their place was immediately taken by new hordes, which fell upon declining Rome as the famished wolves in one of Catlin's pictures fall upon an aged buffalo in our western prairies. The imperial monster, powerful even in his decrepitude, would often scatter their undisciplined array with his iron tusks, and trample them by thousands under his brazen feet; but when he turned back, torn and bleeding, to his seven hills, tens of thousands came howling from the northern forests, who sprang at his throat and buried their fangs in his lacerated side. Wherever they conquered, and in the end they conquered everywhere, they established themselves on the soil, invited new-comers, and from their union with the former inhabitants, the nations of the south and west of Europe, at the present day, for the most part, trace their descent. VOL. III.

28

We know but little of the numbers thus thrown in upon the Roman republic and empire in the course of eight or ten centuries. They were, no doubt, greatly exaggerated by the panic fear of the inhabitants; and the pride of the Roman historians would lead them to magnify the power before which their own legions had so often quailed. But when we consider the difficulty of subsisting a large number of per. sons in a march through an unfriendly country, and this at a time when much of the now cultivated portion of Europe was covered with forest and swamp, I am disposed to think that the hosts which for a succession of centuries overran the Roman empire did not, in the aggregate, exceed in numbers the immigrants that have arrived in the United States since 1790. In other words, I am inclined to believe, that within the last sixty years the old world has poured in upon the United States a number of persons as great, with their natural increase, as Asia sent into Europe in these armed migra. tions of barbarous races.

Here, of course, the parallel ends. The races that invaded Europe came to lay waste and to subjugate; the hosts that cross the Atlantic are peaceful immigrants. The former burst upon the Roman empire, and by oft-repeated strokes beat it to the ground. The immigrants to America from all countries, come to cast in their lot with the native citizens, and to share with us this great inheritance of civil and religious liberty. The former were ferocious barbarians, half clad in skins, speaking strange tongues, worshipping strange gods with bloody rites. The latter are the children of the countries from which the first European settlers of this continent proceeded, and belong, with us, to the great common family of Christendom. The former destroyed the culture of the ancient world, and it was only after a thousand years that a better civilization grew up from its ruins. The millions who have established themselves in America within sixty years are, from the moment of their arrival, gradually absorbed into the mass of the population, conforming to the laws and moulding themselves to the manners of the country, and contributing their share to its prosperity and strength.

It is a curious coincidence, that, as the first mighty wave of the hostile migration that burst upon Europe before the time of our Saviour, consisted of tribes belonging to the great Celtic race, the remains of which, identified by their original dialect, are still found in Brittany, in Wales, in the Highlands of Scotland, and especially in Ireland, so by far the greater portion of the new and friendly immigration to the United States consists of persons belonging to the same ardent, truehearted, and too often oppressed race. I have heard, in the villages of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland, the gospel preached in a language radically the same as that in which Brennus uttered his haughty summons to Rome, and in which the mystic songs of the Druids were chanted in the depths of the primeval forests of France and England, in the time of Julius Cæsar. It is still spoken by thousands of Scotch, Welsh, and Irish immigrants, in all parts of the United States."

* A learned and friendly correspondent, of Welsh origin, is of opinion that I have fallen into a “gross error, in classing the Irish, Welsh, and Scotch, as one race of people, or Celts, whose language is the same. The slightest acquaintance,” he adds, “ with the Welsh and Irish languages, would convince you that they were totally different. A Welshman cannot understand one word of Irish, neither can the latter understand one word of Welsh.”

In a popular view of the subject this may be correct, in like manner as the Anglo-Saxon, the Teutonic, and Scandinavian races would, in a popular use of the terms, be considered as distinct races, speaking languages mutually unintelligible. But the etymologist regards their languages as substantially the same; and ethnographically these nations belong to one and the same stock.

There are certainly many points, in reference to the ancient history of the Celts, on which learned men greatly differ, and at which it was impossible that I should even glance in the superficial allusions which my limits admitted. But there is no point on which ethnographers are better agreed, than that the Bretons, Welsh, Irish, and Highland Scotch belong to the Celtic race, representing, no doubt, different national families, which acquired each its distinctive dialect at a very early period.

Dr. Prichard, (the leading authority on questions of this kind,) after comparing the remains of the ancient Celtic language, as far as they can now be traced in proper names, says: “We must hence conclude that the dialect of the ancient Gauls was nearly allied to the Welsh, and much more re

« PreviousContinue »