BATON ROUGE was clothed in flowers, like a bride- no, much more so; like a greenhouse. For we were in the absolute South now- no modifications, no compromises, no half- way measures. The magnolia- trees in the Capitol grounds were lovely and fragrant, with their dense rich foliage and huge snow- ball blossoms. The scent of the flower is very sweet, but you want distance on it, because it is so powerful. They are not good bedroom blossoms- they might suffocate one in his sleep. We were certainly in the South at last; for here the sugar region begins, and the plantations- vast green levels, with sugar- mill and negro quarters clustered together in the middle distance- were in view. And there was a tropical sun overhead and a tropical swelter in the air.
And at this point, also, begins the pilot's paradise: a wide river hence to New Orleans, abundance of water from shore to shore, and no bars, snags, sawyers, or wrecks in his road.
Sir Walter Scott is probably responsible for the Capitol building; for it is not conceivable that this little sham castle would ever have been built if he had not run the people mad, a couple of generations ago, with his medieval romances. The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque 'chivalry' doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth- century smell of cotton- factories and locomotives; and traces of its inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it. It is pathetic enough, that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things- materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not- should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so easy to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, and then devote this restoration- money to the building of something genuine.
Baton Rouge has no patent on imitation castles, however, and no monopoly of them. Here is a picture from the advertisement of the 'Female Institute' of Columbia; Tennessee. The following remark is from the same advertisement--
'The Institute building has long been famed as a model of striking and beautiful architecture. Visitors are charmed with its resemblance to the old castles of song and story, with its towers, turreted walls, and ivy- mantled porches.'
Keeping school in a castle is a romantic thing; as romantic as keeping hotel in a castle.
By itself the imitation castle is doubtless harmless, and well enough; but as a symbol and breeder and sustainer of maudlin Middle- Age romanticism here in the midst of the plainest and sturdiest and infinitely greatest and worthiest of all the centuries the world has seen, it is necessarily a hurtful thing and a mistake.
Here is an extract from the prospectus of a Kentucky 'Female College.'
Female college sounds well enough; but since the phrasing it in that unjustifiable way was done purely in the interest of brevity, it seems to me that she- college would have been still better- because shorter, and means the same thing: that is, if either phrase means anything at all--
'The president is southern by birth, by rearing, by education, and by sentiment; the teachers are all southern in sentiment, and with the exception of those born in Europe were born and raised in the south. Believing the southern to be the highest type of civilization this continent has seen, the young ladies are trained according to the southern ideas of delicacy, refinement, womanhood, religion, and propriety; hence we offer a first- class female college for the south and solicit southern patronage.'
What, warder, ho! the man that can blow so complacent a blast as that, probably blows it from a castle.
From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the great sugar plantations border both sides of the river all the way, and stretch their league- wide levels back to the dim forest- walls of bearded cypress in the rear. Shores lonely no longer. Plenty of dwellings all the way, on both banks-- standing so close together, for long distances, that the broad river lying between the two rows, becomes a sort of spacious street. A most home- like and happy- looking region. And now and then you see a pillared and porticoed great manor- house, embowered in trees. Here is testimony of one or two of the procession of foreign tourists that filed along here half a century ago. Mrs. Trollope says--
'The unbroken flatness of the banks of the Mississippi continued unvaried for many miles above New Orleans; but the graceful and luxuriant palmetto, the dark and noble ilex, and the bright orange, were everywhere to be seen, and it was many days before we were weary of looking at them.'
Captain Basil Hall--
'The district of country which lies adjacent to the Mississippi, in the lower parts of Louisiana, is everywhere thickly peopled by sugar planters, whose showy houses, gay piazzas, trig gardens, and numerous slave- villages, all clean and neat, gave an exceedingly thriving air to the river scenery.
All the procession paint the attractive picture in the same way. The descriptions of fifty years ago do not need to have a word changed in order to exactly describe the same region as it appears to- day--except as to the 'trigness' of the houses. The whitewash is gone from the negro cabins now; and many, possibly most, of the big mansions, once so shining white, have worn out their paint and have a decayed, neglected look. It is the blight of the war. Twenty- one years ago everything was trim and trig and bright along the 'coast,' just as it had been in 1827, as described by those tourists.
Unfortunate tourists! People humbugged them with stupid and silly lies, and then laughed at them for believing and printing the same. They told Mrs. Trollope that the alligators- or crocodiles, as she calls them-- were terrible creatures; and backed up the statement with a blood- curdling account of how one of these slandered reptiles crept into a squatter cabin one night, and ate up a woman and five children. The woman, by herself, would have satisfied any ordinarily- impossible alligator; but no, these liars must make him gorge the five children besides. One would not imagine that jokers of this robust breed would be sensitive- but they were. It is difficult, at this day, to understand, and impossible to justify, the reception which the book of the grave, honest, intelligent, gentle, manly, charitable, well- meaning Capt. Basil Hall got.