Peter shows me the Lions

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER I (19) start of chapter

Among the lions—the live lions—of Pictou to whom I was duly introduced by Peter, was the American Consul, and a most agreeable lion he proved to be; courteous and kindly, as all true American gentlemen are. The Major, for such was his rank, evidently held Peter in high esteem, and Peter repaid the Major's good opinion of him with liberal interest. Peter had previously held out to me the hope, based indeed on his own confident belief, that the Major would be good enough to favour me with an inspection of the many strange and curious things which he had collected, and which had more than once excited Peter's unaffected amazement. I was of course humbly hopeful that, through my friend's influence, I should be deemed worthy of so great a favour, though possessing only the questionable claim of a stranger and a traveller. The introduction effected, the application, made with modest boldness by Peter, met with instant success. 'Didn't I tell you how it would be?' whispered Peter, as we stood in the presence of the accumulated wonders. A nod, which eloquently expressed 'You did, sure enough,' was received by Peter as a satisfactory reply. The collection was really interesting, embracing many natural curiosities, including fossils, shells, minerals, reptiles, animals, birds, fishes, teeth of extinct animals, implements of savage warfare, evidences of bygone civilisation, and a variety of other matters.

All these wonders were explained and rendered intelligible to his visitors by the Major, who favoured us with a sufficient account of each. Peter's genuine admiration as he listened to the Consul, and then glanced at me, as if to witness the effect produced on my mind by the tooth of the megatherium, or the fossil with the impression of a plant, a shell, or a reptile, was every moment becoming warmer and more explosive. His 'Oh, Major!' grew more and more enthusiastic; but when the owner of the treasures exhibited in glass jars the various products derived from a particular description of coal, and Peter was assured that all those beautiful colours were produced by chemical action from a lump of coal such as he held in his hand, his 'Oh, Major!' was largely tinged with awe. He frankly declared that he had never seen the like in all his life, and was profuse in his acknowledgments for the kindness which, at his influential request, had been conferred on his friend, my unworthy self. The Major pleasingly varied the intellectual treat with refreshment of more material kind, to which neither Peter nor his companion proved insensible.

Under Peter's competent guidance, I sauntered through the town and rambled along the shore, and, with Peter as my companion, I sat on a piece of timber within a few feet of the water, which murmured in the tiniest wavelets on the beach, scarcely moved by the soft air of the Indian Summer, that harmonised deliciously with the exquisite colour of the sky, in which grey and blue were blended into an indescribable tint of loveliness; and while the sea murmured as it kissed the beach, and the soft air brought with it a sense of mental repose, I listened to Peter, who told of his trials and difficulties bravely met and manfully overcome, and gave me the benefit of his shrewdly expressed opinions on his race, their many virtues, their few but dangerous defects. 'This is a fine country for any man that's inclined to work, and able to work, and it's a man's own fault if he won't get along, and be respected, no matter who or what he is; but it's a bitter bad place for the drunkard anyhow, whether there is a good place for him in any country, which I am not sure there is,' added Peter doubtingly. Peter had an eye for the picturesque and beautiful as well as for choice bits of real estate, and was fond of the views to be seen from various points. Seated in Peter's comfortable 'trap,' gallantly bowled along by his well-trained and vigorous horse 'Charley,' I enjoyed many charming pictures of land and water, enhanced not a little by my companion's intelligent comments on men and things.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America