Part 2 out of 6
these words are painted on the walls: 'WORTHY OF NOTICE. SELF-
GOVERNMENT, QUIETUDE, AND PEACE, ARE BLESSINGS.' It is not assumed
and taken for granted that being there they must be evil-disposed
and wicked people, before whose vicious eyes it is necessary to
flourish threats and harsh restraints. They are met at the very
threshold with this mild appeal. All within-doors is very plain
and simple, as it ought to be, but arranged with a view to peace
and comfort. It costs no more than any other plan of arrangement,
but it speaks an amount of consideration for those who are reduced
to seek a shelter there, which puts them at once upon their
gratitude and good behaviour. Instead of being parcelled out in
great, long, rambling wards, where a certain amount of weazen life
may mope, and pine, and shiver, all day long, the building is
divided into separate rooms, each with its share of light and air.
In these, the better kind of paupers live. They have a motive for
exertion and becoming pride, in the desire to make these little
chambers comfortable and decent.
I do not remember one but it was clean and neat, and had its plant
or two upon the window-sill, or row of crockery upon the shelf, or
small display of coloured prints upon the whitewashed wall, or,
perhaps, its wooden clock behind the door.
The orphans and young children are in an adjoining building
separate from this, but a part of the same Institution. Some are
such little creatures, that the stairs are of Lilliputian
measurement, fitted to their tiny strides. The same consideration
for their years and weakness is expressed in their very seats,
which are perfect curiosities, and look like articles of furniture
for a pauper doll's-house. I can imagine the glee of our Poor Law
Commissioners at the notion of these seats having arms and backs;
but small spines being of older date than their occupation of the
Board-room at Somerset House, I thought even this provision very
merciful and kind.
Here again, I was greatly pleased with the inscriptions on the
wall, which were scraps of plain morality, easily remembered and
understood: such as 'Love one another' - 'God remembers the
smallest creature in his creation:' and straightforward advice of
that nature. The books and tasks of these smallest of scholars,
were adapted, in the same judicious manner, to their childish
powers. When we had examined these lessons, four morsels of girls
(of whom one was blind) sang a little song, about the merry month
of May, which I thought (being extremely dismal) would have suited
an English November better. That done, we went to see their
sleeping-rooms on the floor above, in which the arrangements were
no less excellent and gentle than those we had seen below. And
after observing that the teachers were of a class and character
well suited to the spirit of the place, I took leave of the infants
with a lighter heart than ever I have taken leave of pauper infants
Connected with the House of Industry, there is also an Hospital,
which was in the best order, and had, I am glad to say, many beds
unoccupied. It had one fault, however, which is common to all
American interiors: the presence of the eternal, accursed,
suffocating, red-hot demon of a stove, whose breath would blight
the purest air under Heaven.
There are two establishments for boys in this same neighbourhood.
One is called the Boylston school, and is an asylum for neglected
and indigent boys who have committed no crime, but who in the
ordinary course of things would very soon be purged of that
distinction if they were not taken from the hungry streets and sent
here. The other is a House of Reformation for Juvenile Offenders.
They are both under the same roof, but the two classes of boys
never come in contact.
The Boylston boys, as may be readily supposed, have very much the
advantage of the others in point of personal appearance. They were
in their school-room when I came upon them, and answered correctly,
without book, such questions as where was England; how far was it;
what was its population; its capital city; its form of government;
and so forth. They sang a song too, about a farmer sowing his
seed: with corresponding action at such parts as ''tis thus he
sows,' 'he turns him round,' 'he claps his hands;' which gave it
greater interest for them, and accustomed them to act together, in
an orderly manner. They appeared exceedingly well-taught, and not
better taught than fed; for a more chubby-looking full-waistcoated
set of boys, I never saw.
The juvenile offenders had not such pleasant faces by a great deal,
and in this establishment there were many boys of colour. I saw
them first at their work (basket-making, and the manufacture of
palm-leaf hats), afterwards in their school, where they sang a
chorus in praise of Liberty: an odd, and, one would think, rather
aggravating, theme for prisoners. These boys are divided into four
classes, each denoted by a numeral, worn on a badge upon the arm.
On the arrival of a new-comer, he is put into the fourth or lowest
class, and left, by good behaviour, to work his way up into the
first. The design and object of this Institution is to reclaim the
youthful criminal by firm but kind and judicious treatment; to make
his prison a place of purification and improvement, not of
demoralisation and corruption; to impress upon him that there is
but one path, and that one sober industry, which can ever lead him
to happiness; to teach him how it may be trodden, if his footsteps
have never yet been led that way; and to lure him back to it if
they have strayed: in a word, to snatch him from destruction, and
restore him to society a penitent and useful member. The
importance of such an establishment, in every point of view, and
with reference to every consideration of humanity and social
policy, requires no comment.
One other establishment closes the catalogue. It is the House of
Correction for the State, in which silence is strictly maintained,
but where the prisoners have the comfort and mental relief of
seeing each other, and of working together. This is the improved
system of Prison Discipline which we have imported into England,
and which has been in successful operation among us for some years
America, as a new and not over-populated country, has in all her
prisons, the one great advantage, of being enabled to find useful
and profitable work for the inmates; whereas, with us, the
prejudice against prison labour is naturally very strong, and
almost insurmountable, when honest men who have not offended
against the laws are frequently doomed to seek employment in vain.
Even in the United States, the principle of bringing convict labour
and free labour into a competition which must obviously be to the
disadvantage of the latter, has already found many opponents, whose
number is not likely to diminish with access of years.
For this very reason though, our best prisons would seem at the
first glance to be better conducted than those of America. The
treadmill is conducted with little or no noise; five hundred men
may pick oakum in the same room, without a sound; and both kinds of
labour admit of such keen and vigilant superintendence, as will
render even a word of personal communication amongst the prisoners
almost impossible. On the other hand, the noise of the loom, the
forge, the carpenter's hammer, or the stonemason's saw, greatly
favour those opportunities of intercourse - hurried and brief no
doubt, but opportunities still - which these several kinds of work,
by rendering it necessary for men to be employed very near to each
other, and often side by side, without any barrier or partition
between them, in their very nature present. A visitor, too,
requires to reason and reflect a little, before the sight of a
number of men engaged in ordinary labour, such as he is accustomed
to out of doors, will impress him half as strongly as the
contemplation of the same persons in the same place and garb would,
if they were occupied in some task, marked and degraded everywhere
as belonging only to felons in jails. In an American state prison
or house of correction, I found it difficult at first to persuade
myself that I was really in a jail: a place of ignominious
punishment and endurance. And to this hour I very much question
whether the humane boast that it is not like one, has its root in
the true wisdom or philosophy of the matter.
I hope I may not be misunderstood on this subject, for it is one in
which I take a strong and deep interest. I incline as little to
the sickly feeling which makes every canting lie or maudlin speech
of a notorious criminal a subject of newspaper report and general
sympathy, as I do to those good old customs of the good old times
which made England, even so recently as in the reign of the Third
King George, in respect of her criminal code and her prison
regulations, one of the most bloody-minded and barbarous countries
on the earth. If I thought it would do any good to the rising
generation, I would cheerfully give my consent to the disinterment
of the bones of any genteel highwayman (the more genteel, the more
cheerfully), and to their exposure, piecemeal, on any sign-post,
gate, or gibbet, that might be deemed a good elevation for the
purpose. My reason is as well convinced that these gentry were as
utterly worthless and debauched villains, as it is that the laws
and jails hardened them in their evil courses, or that their
wonderful escapes were effected by the prison-turnkeys who, in
those admirable days, had always been felons themselves, and were,
to the last, their bosom-friends and pot-companions. At the same
time I know, as all men do or should, that the subject of Prison
Discipline is one of the highest importance to any community; and
that in her sweeping reform and bright example to other countries
on this head, America has shown great wisdom, great benevolence,
and exalted policy. In contrasting her system with that which we
have modelled upon it, I merely seek to show that with all its
drawbacks, ours has some advantages of its own.
The House of Correction which has led to these remarks, is not
walled, like other prisons, but is palisaded round about with tall
rough stakes, something after the manner of an enclosure for
keeping elephants in, as we see it represented in Eastern prints
and pictures. The prisoners wear a parti-coloured dress; and those
who are sentenced to hard labour, work at nail-making, or stone-
cutting. When I was there, the latter class of labourers were
employed upon the stone for a new custom-house in course of
erection at Boston. They appeared to shape it skilfully and with
expedition, though there were very few among them (if any) who had
not acquired the art within the prison gates.
The women, all in one large room, were employed in making light
clothing, for New Orleans and the Southern States. They did their
work in silence like the men; and like them were over-looked by the
person contracting for their labour, or by some agent of his
appointment. In addition to this, they are every moment liable to
be visited by the prison officers appointed for that purpose.
The arrangements for cooking, washing of clothes, and so forth, are
much upon the plan of those I have seen at home. Their mode of
bestowing the prisoners at night (which is of general adoption)
differs from ours, and is both simple and effective. In the centre
of a lofty area, lighted by windows in the four walls, are five
tiers of cells, one above the other; each tier having before it a
light iron gallery, attainable by stairs of the same construction
and material: excepting the lower one, which is on the ground.
Behind these, back to back with them and facing the opposite wall,
are five corresponding rows of cells, accessible by similar means:
so that supposing the prisoners locked up in their cells, an
officer stationed on the ground, with his back to the wall, has
half their number under his eye at once; the remaining half being
equally under the observation of another officer on the opposite
side; and all in one great apartment. Unless this watch be
corrupted or sleeping on his post, it is impossible for a man to
escape; for even in the event of his forcing the iron door of his
cell without noise (which is exceedingly improbable), the moment he
appears outside, and steps into that one of the five galleries on
which it is situated, he must be plainly and fully visible to the
officer below. Each of these cells holds a small truckle bed, in
which one prisoner sleeps; never more. It is small, of course; and
the door being not solid, but grated, and without blind or curtain,
the prisoner within is at all times exposed to the observation and
inspection of any guard who may pass along that tier at any hour or
minute of the night. Every day, the prisoners receive their
dinner, singly, through a trap in the kitchen wall; and each man
carries his to his sleeping cell to eat it, where he is locked up,
alone, for that purpose, one hour. The whole of this arrangement
struck me as being admirable; and I hope that the next new prison
we erect in England may be built on this plan.
I was given to understand that in this prison no swords or fire-
arms, or even cudgels, are kept; nor is it probable that, so long
as its present excellent management continues, any weapon,
offensive or defensive, will ever be required within its bounds.
Such are the Institutions at South Boston! In all of them, the
unfortunate or degenerate citizens of the State are carefully
instructed in their duties both to God and man; are surrounded by
all reasonable means of comfort and happiness that their condition
will admit of; are appealed to, as members of the great human
family, however afflicted, indigent, or fallen; are ruled by the
strong Heart, and not by the strong (though immeasurably weaker)
Hand. I have described them at some length; firstly, because their
worth demanded it; and secondly, because I mean to take them for a
model, and to content myself with saying of others we may come to,
whose design and purpose are the same, that in this or that respect
they practically fail, or differ.
I wish by this account of them, imperfect in its execution, but in
its just intention, honest, I could hope to convey to my readers
one-hundredth part of the gratification, the sights I have
described, afforded me.
* * * * * *
To an Englishman, accustomed to the paraphernalia of Westminster
Hall, an American Court of Law is as odd a sight as, I suppose, an
English Court of Law would be to an American. Except in the
Supreme Court at Washington (where the judges wear a plain black
robe), there is no such thing as a wig or gown connected with the
administration of justice. The gentlemen of the bar being
barristers and attorneys too (for there is no division of those
functions as in England) are no more removed from their clients
than attorneys in our Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors
are, from theirs. The jury are quite at home, and make themselves
as comfortable as circumstances will permit. The witness is so
little elevated above, or put aloof from, the crowd in the court,
that a stranger entering during a pause in the proceedings would
find it difficult to pick him out from the rest. And if it chanced
to be a criminal trial, his eyes, in nine cases out of ten, would
wander to the dock in search of the prisoner, in vain; for that
gentleman would most likely be lounging among the most
distinguished ornaments of the legal profession, whispering
suggestions in his counsel's ear, or making a toothpick out of an
old quill with his penknife.
I could not but notice these differences, when I visited the courts
at Boston. I was much surprised at first, too, to observe that the
counsel who interrogated the witness under examination at the time,
did so SITTING. But seeing that he was also occupied in writing
down the answers, and remembering that he was alone and had no
'junior,' I quickly consoled myself with the reflection that law
was not quite so expensive an article here, as at home; and that
the absence of sundry formalities which we regard as indispensable,
had doubtless a very favourable influence upon the bill of costs.
In every Court, ample and commodious provision is made for the
accommodation of the citizens. This is the case all through
America. In every Public Institution, the right of the people to
attend, and to have an interest in the proceedings, is most fully
and distinctly recognised. There are no grim door-keepers to dole
out their tardy civility by the sixpenny-worth; nor is there, I
sincerely believe, any insolence of office of any kind. Nothing
national is exhibited for money; and no public officer is a
showman. We have begun of late years to imitate this good example.
I hope we shall continue to do so; and that in the fulness of time,
even deans and chapters may be converted.
In the civil court an action was trying, for damages sustained in
some accident upon a railway. The witnesses had been examined, and
counsel was addressing the jury. The learned gentleman (like a few
of his English brethren) was desperately long-winded, and had a
remarkable capacity of saying the same thing over and over again.
His great theme was 'Warren the ENGINE driver,' whom he pressed
into the service of every sentence he uttered. I listened to him
for about a quarter of an hour; and, coming out of court at the
expiration of that time, without the faintest ray of enlightenment
as to the merits of the case, felt as if I were at home again.
In the prisoner's cell, waiting to be examined by the magistrate on
a charge of theft, was a boy. This lad, instead of being committed
to a common jail, would be sent to the asylum at South Boston, and
there taught a trade; and in the course of time he would be bound
apprentice to some respectable master. Thus, his detection in this
offence, instead of being the prelude to a life of infamy and a
miserable death, would lead, there was a reasonable hope, to his
being reclaimed from vice, and becoming a worthy member of society.
I am by no means a wholesale admirer of our legal solemnities, many
of which impress me as being exceedingly ludicrous. Strange as it
may seem too, there is undoubtedly a degree of protection in the
wig and gown - a dismissal of individual responsibility in dressing
for the part - which encourages that insolent bearing and language,
and that gross perversion of the office of a pleader for The Truth,
so frequent in our courts of law. Still, I cannot help doubting
whether America, in her desire to shake off the absurdities and
abuses of the old system, may not have gone too far into the
opposite extreme; and whether it is not desirable, especially in
the small community of a city like this, where each man knows the
other, to surround the administration of justice with some
artificial barriers against the 'Hail fellow, well met' deportment
of everyday life. All the aid it can have in the very high
character and ability of the Bench, not only here but elsewhere, it
has, and well deserves to have; but it may need something more:
not to impress the thoughtful and the well-informed, but the
ignorant and heedless; a class which includes some prisoners and
many witnesses. These institutions were established, no doubt,
upon the principle that those who had so large a share in making
the laws, would certainly respect them. But experience has proved
this hope to be fallacious; for no men know better than the judges
of America, that on the occasion of any great popular excitement
the law is powerless, and cannot, for the time, assert its own
The tone of society in Boston is one of perfect politeness,
courtesy, and good breeding. The ladies are unquestionably very
beautiful - in face: but there I am compelled to stop. Their
education is much as with us; neither better nor worse. I had
heard some very marvellous stories in this respect; but not
believing them, was not disappointed. Blue ladies there are, in
Boston; but like philosophers of that colour and sex in most other
latitudes, they rather desire to be thought superior than to be so.
Evangelical ladies there are, likewise, whose attachment to the
forms of religion, and horror of theatrical entertainments, are
most exemplary. Ladies who have a passion for attending lectures
are to be found among all classes and all conditions. In the kind
of provincial life which prevails in cities such as this, the
Pulpit has great influence. The peculiar province of the Pulpit in
New England (always excepting the Unitarian Ministry) would appear
to be the denouncement of all innocent and rational amusements.
The church, the chapel, and the lecture-room, are the only means of
excitement excepted; and to the church, the chapel, and the
lecture-room, the ladies resort in crowds.
Wherever religion is resorted to, as a strong drink, and as an
escape from the dull monotonous round of home, those of its
ministers who pepper the highest will be the surest to please.
They who strew the Eternal Path with the greatest amount of
brimstone, and who most ruthlessly tread down the flowers and
leaves that grow by the wayside, will be voted the most righteous;
and they who enlarge with the greatest pertinacity on the
difficulty of getting into heaven, will be considered by all true
believers certain of going there: though it would be hard to say
by what process of reasoning this conclusion is arrived at. It is
so at home, and it is so abroad. With regard to the other means of
excitement, the Lecture, it has at least the merit of being always
new. One lecture treads so quickly on the heels of another, that
none are remembered; and the course of this month may be safely
repeated next, with its charm of novelty unbroken, and its interest
The fruits of the earth have their growth in corruption. Out of
the rottenness of these things, there has sprung up in Boston a
sect of philosophers known as Transcendentalists. On inquiring
what this appellation might be supposed to signify, I was given to
understand that whatever was unintelligible would be certainly
transcendental. Not deriving much comfort from this elucidation, I
pursued the inquiry still further, and found that the
Transcendentalists are followers of my friend Mr. Carlyle, or I
should rather say, of a follower of his, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
This gentleman has written a volume of Essays, in which, among much
that is dreamy and fanciful (if he will pardon me for saying so),
there is much more that is true and manly, honest and bold.
Transcendentalism has its occasional vagaries (what school has
not?), but it has good healthful qualities in spite of them; not
least among the number a hearty disgust of Cant, and an aptitude to
detect her in all the million varieties of her everlasting
wardrobe. And therefore if I were a Bostonian, I think I would be
The only preacher I heard in Boston was Mr. Taylor, who addresses
himself peculiarly to seamen, and who was once a mariner himself.
I found his chapel down among the shipping, in one of the narrow,
old, water-side streets, with a gay blue flag waving freely from
its roof. In the gallery opposite to the pulpit were a little
choir of male and female singers, a violoncello, and a violin. The
preacher already sat in the pulpit, which was raised on pillars,
and ornamented behind him with painted drapery of a lively and
somewhat theatrical appearance. He looked a weather-beaten hard-
featured man, of about six or eight and fifty; with deep lines
graven as it were into his face, dark hair, and a stern, keen eye.
Yet the general character of his countenance was pleasant and
agreeable. The service commenced with a hymn, to which succeeded
an extemporary prayer. It had the fault of frequent repetition,
incidental to all such prayers; but it was plain and comprehensive
in its doctrines, and breathed a tone of general sympathy and
charity, which is not so commonly a characteristic of this form of
address to the Deity as it might be. That done he opened his
discourse, taking for his text a passage from the Song of Solomon,
laid upon the desk before the commencement of the service by some
unknown member of the congregation: 'Who is this coming up from
the wilderness, leaning on the arm of her beloved!'
He handled his text in all kinds of ways, and twisted it into all
manner of shapes; but always ingeniously, and with a rude
eloquence, well adapted to the comprehension of his hearers.
Indeed if I be not mistaken, he studied their sympathies and
understandings much more than the display of his own powers. His
imagery was all drawn from the sea, and from the incidents of a
seaman's life; and was often remarkably good. He spoke to them of
'that glorious man, Lord Nelson,' and of Collingwood; and drew
nothing in, as the saying is, by the head and shoulders, but
brought it to bear upon his purpose, naturally, and with a sharp
mind to its effect. Sometimes, when much excited with his subject,
he had an odd way - compounded of John Bunyan, and Balfour of
Burley - of taking his great quarto Bible under his arm and pacing
up and down the pulpit with it; looking steadily down, meantime,
into the midst of the congregation. Thus, when he applied his text
to the first assemblage of his hearers, and pictured the wonder of
the church at their presumption in forming a congregation among
themselves, he stopped short with his Bible under his arm in the
manner I have described, and pursued his discourse after this
'Who are these - who are they - who are these fellows? where do
they come from? Where are they going to? - Come from! What's the
answer?' - leaning out of the pulpit, and pointing downward with
his right hand: 'From below!' - starting back again, and looking
at the sailors before him: 'From below, my brethren. From under
the hatches of sin, battened down above you by the evil one.
That's where you came from!' - a walk up and down the pulpit: 'and
where are you going' - stopping abruptly: 'where are you going?
Aloft!' - very softly, and pointing upward: 'Aloft!' - louder:
'aloft!' - louder still: 'That's where you are going - with a fair
wind, - all taut and trim, steering direct for Heaven in its glory,
where there are no storms or foul weather, and where the wicked
cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.' - Another walk:
'That's where you're going to, my friends. That's it. That's the
place. That's the port. That's the haven. It's a blessed harbour
- still water there, in all changes of the winds and tides; no
driving ashore upon the rocks, or slipping your cables and running
out to sea, there: Peace - Peace - Peace - all peace!' - Another
walk, and patting the Bible under his left arm: 'What! These
fellows are coming from the wilderness, are they? Yes. From the
dreary, blighted wilderness of Iniquity, whose only crop is Death.
But do they lean upon anything - do they lean upon nothing, these
poor seamen?' - Three raps upon the Bible: 'Oh yes. - Yes. - They
lean upon the arm of their Beloved' - three more raps: 'upon the
arm of their Beloved' - three more, and a walk: 'Pilot, guiding-
star, and compass, all in one, to all hands - here it is' - three
more: 'Here it is. They can do their seaman's duty manfully, and
be easy in their minds in the utmost peril and danger, with this' -
two more: 'They can come, even these poor fellows can come, from
the wilderness leaning on the arm of their Beloved, and go up - up
- up!' - raising his hand higher, and higher, at every repetition
of the word, so that he stood with it at last stretched above his
head, regarding them in a strange, rapt manner, and pressing the
book triumphantly to his breast, until he gradually subsided into
some other portion of his discourse.
I have cited this, rather as an instance of the preacher's
eccentricities than his merits, though taken in connection with his
look and manner, and the character of his audience, even this was
striking. It is possible, however, that my favourable impression
of him may have been greatly influenced and strengthened, firstly,
by his impressing upon his hearers that the true observance of
religion was not inconsistent with a cheerful deportment and an
exact discharge of the duties of their station, which, indeed, it
scrupulously required of them; and secondly, by his cautioning them
not to set up any monopoly in Paradise and its mercies. I never
heard these two points so wisely touched (if indeed I have ever
heard them touched at all), by any preacher of that kind before.
Having passed the time I spent in Boston, in making myself
acquainted with these things, in settling the course I should take
in my future travels, and in mixing constantly with its society, I
am not aware that I have any occasion to prolong this chapter.
Such of its social customs as I have not mentioned, however, may be
told in a very few words.
The usual dinner-hour is two o'clock. A dinner party takes place
at five; and at an evening party, they seldom sup later than
eleven; so that it goes hard but one gets home, even from a rout,
by midnight. I never could find out any difference between a party
at Boston and a party in London, saving that at the former place
all assemblies are held at more rational hours; that the
conversation may possibly be a little louder and more cheerful; and
a guest is usually expected to ascend to the very top of the house
to take his cloak off; that he is certain to see, at every dinner,
an unusual amount of poultry on the table; and at every supper, at
least two mighty bowls of hot stewed oysters, in any one of which a
half-grown Duke of Clarence might be smothered easily.
There are two theatres in Boston, of good size and construction,
but sadly in want of patronage. The few ladies who resort to them,
sit, as of right, in the front rows of the boxes.
The bar is a large room with a stone floor, and there people stand
and smoke, and lounge about, all the evening: dropping in and out
as the humour takes them. There too the stranger is initiated into
the mysteries of Gin-sling, Cock-tail, Sangaree, Mint Julep,
Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks. The house is
full of boarders, both married and single, many of whom sleep upon
the premises, and contract by the week for their board and lodging:
the charge for which diminishes as they go nearer the sky to roost.
A public table is laid in a very handsome hall for breakfast, and
for dinner, and for supper. The party sitting down together to
these meals will vary in number from one to two hundred: sometimes
more. The advent of each of these epochs in the day is proclaimed
by an awful gong, which shakes the very window-frames as it
reverberates through the house, and horribly disturbs nervous
foreigners. There is an ordinary for ladies, and an ordinary for
In our private room the cloth could not, for any earthly
consideration, have been laid for dinner without a huge glass dish
of cranberries in the middle of the table; and breakfast would have
been no breakfast unless the principal dish were a deformed beef-
steak with a great flat bone in the centre, swimming in hot butter,
and sprinkled with the very blackest of all possible pepper. Our
bedroom was spacious and airy, but (like every bedroom on this side
of the Atlantic) very bare of furniture, having no curtains to the
French bedstead or to the window. It had one unusual luxury,
however, in the shape of a wardrobe of painted wood, something
smaller than an English watch-box; or if this comparison should be
insufficient to convey a just idea of its dimensions, they may be
estimated from the fact of my having lived for fourteen days and
nights in the firm belief that it was a shower-bath.
CHAPTER IV - AN AMERICAN RAILROAD. LOWELL AND ITS FACTORY SYSTEM
BEFORE leaving Boston, I devoted one day to an excursion to Lowell.
I assign a separate chapter to this visit; not because I am about
to describe it at any great length, but because I remember it as a
thing by itself, and am desirous that my readers should do the
I made acquaintance with an American railroad, on this occasion,
for the first time. As these works are pretty much alike all
through the States, their general characteristics are easily
There are no first and second class carriages as with us; but there
is a gentleman's car and a ladies' car: the main distinction
between which is that in the first, everybody smokes; and in the
second, nobody does. As a black man never travels with a white
one, there is also a negro car; which is a great, blundering,
clumsy chest, such as Gulliver put to sea in, from the kingdom of
Brobdingnag. There is a great deal of jolting, a great deal of
noise, a great deal of wall, not much window, a locomotive engine,
a shriek, and a bell.
The cars are like shabby omnibuses, but larger: holding thirty,
forty, fifty, people. The seats, instead of stretching from end to
end, are placed crosswise. Each seat holds two persons. There is
a long row of them on each side of the caravan, a narrow passage up
the middle, and a door at both ends. In the centre of the carriage
there is usually a stove, fed with charcoal or anthracite coal;
which is for the most part red-hot. It is insufferably close; and
you see the hot air fluttering between yourself and any other
object you may happen to look at, like the ghost of smoke.
In the ladies' car, there are a great many gentlemen who have
ladies with them. There are also a great many ladies who have
nobody with them: for any lady may travel alone, from one end of
the United States to the other, and be certain of the most
courteous and considerate treatment everywhere. The conductor or
check-taker, or guard, or whatever he may be, wears no uniform. He
walks up and down the car, and in and out of it, as his fancy
dictates; leans against the door with his hands in his pockets and
stares at you, if you chance to be a stranger; or enters into
conversation with the passengers about him. A great many
newspapers are pulled out, and a few of them are read. Everybody
talks to you, or to anybody else who hits his fancy. If you are an
Englishman, he expects that that railroad is pretty much like an
English railroad. If you say 'No,' he says 'Yes?'
(interrogatively), and asks in what respect they differ. You
enumerate the heads of difference, one by one, and he says 'Yes?'
(still interrogatively) to each. Then he guesses that you don't
travel faster in England; and on your replying that you do, says
'Yes?' again (still interrogatively), and it is quite evident,
don't believe it. After a long pause he remarks, partly to you,
and partly to the knob on the top of his stick, that 'Yankees are
reckoned to be considerable of a go-ahead people too;' upon which
YOU say 'Yes,' and then HE says 'Yes' again (affirmatively this
time); and upon your looking out of window, tells you that behind
that hill, and some three miles from the next station, there is a
clever town in a smart lo-ca-tion, where he expects you have
concluded to stop. Your answer in the negative naturally leads to
more questions in reference to your intended route (always
pronounced rout); and wherever you are going, you invariably learn
that you can't get there without immense difficulty and danger, and
that all the great sights are somewhere else.
If a lady take a fancy to any male passenger's seat, the gentleman
who accompanies her gives him notice of the fact, and he
immediately vacates it with great politeness. Politics are much
discussed, so are banks, so is cotton. Quiet people avoid the
question of the Presidency, for there will be a new election in
three years and a half, and party feeling runs very high: the
great constitutional feature of this institution being, that
directly the acrimony of the last election is over, the acrimony of
the next one begins; which is an unspeakable comfort to all strong
politicians and true lovers of their country: that is to say, to
ninety-nine men and boys out of every ninety-nine and a quarter.
Except when a branch road joins the main one, there is seldom more
than one track of rails; so that the road is very narrow, and the
view, where there is a deep cutting, by no means extensive. When
there is not, the character of the scenery is always the same.
Mile after mile of stunted trees: some hewn down by the axe, some
blown down by the wind, some half fallen and resting on their
neighbours, many mere logs half hidden in the swamp, others
mouldered away to spongy chips. The very soil of the earth is made
up of minute fragments such as these; each pool of stagnant water
has its crust of vegetable rottenness; on every side there are the
boughs, and trunks, and stumps of trees, in every possible stage of
decay, decomposition, and neglect. Now you emerge for a few brief
minutes on an open country, glittering with some bright lake or
pool, broad as many an English river, but so small here that it
scarcely has a name; now catch hasty glimpses of a distant town,
with its clean white houses and their cool piazzas, its prim New
England church and school-house; when whir-r-r-r! almost before you
have seen them, comes the same dark screen: the stunted trees, the
stumps, the logs, the stagnant water - all so like the last that
you seem to have been transported back again by magic.
The train calls at stations in the woods, where the wild
impossibility of anybody having the smallest reason to get out, is
only to be equalled by the apparently desperate hopelessness of
there being anybody to get in. It rushes across the turnpike road,
where there is no gate, no policeman, no signal: nothing but a
rough wooden arch, on which is painted 'WHEN THE BELL RINGS, LOOK
OUT FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE.' On it whirls headlong, dives through the
woods again, emerges in the light, clatters over frail arches,
rumbles upon the heavy ground, shoots beneath a wooden bridge which
intercepts the light for a second like a wink, suddenly awakens all
the slumbering echoes in the main street of a large town, and
dashes on haphazard, pell-mell, neck-or-nothing, down the middle of
the road. There - with mechanics working at their trades, and
people leaning from their doors and windows, and boys flying kites
and playing marbles, and men smoking, and women talking, and
children crawling, and pigs burrowing, and unaccustomed horses
plunging and rearing, close to the very rails - there - on, on, on
- tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars;
scattering in all directions a shower of burning sparks from its
wood fire; screeching, hissing, yelling, panting; until at last the
thirsty monster stops beneath a covered way to drink, the people
cluster round, and you have time to breathe again.
I was met at the station at Lowell by a gentleman intimately
connected with the management of the factories there; and gladly
putting myself under his guidance, drove off at once to that
quarter of the town in which the works, the object of my visit,
were situated. Although only just of age - for if my recollection
serve me, it has been a manufacturing town barely one-and-twenty
years - Lowell is a large, populous, thriving place. Those
indications of its youth which first attract the eye, give it a
quaintness and oddity of character which, to a visitor from the old
country, is amusing enough. It was a very dirty winter's day, and
nothing in the whole town looked old to me, except the mud, which
in some parts was almost knee-deep, and might have been deposited
there, on the subsiding of the waters after the Deluge. In one
place, there was a new wooden church, which, having no steeple, and
being yet unpainted, looked like an enormous packing-case without
any direction upon it. In another there was a large hotel, whose
walls and colonnades were so crisp, and thin, and slight, that it
had exactly the appearance of being built with cards. I was
careful not to draw my breath as we passed, and trembled when I saw
a workman come out upon the roof, lest with one thoughtless stamp
of his foot he should crush the structure beneath him, and bring it
rattling down. The very river that moves the machinery in the
mills (for they are all worked by water power), seems to acquire a
new character from the fresh buildings of bright red brick and
painted wood among which it takes its course; and to be as light-
headed, thoughtless, and brisk a young river, in its murmurings and
tumblings, as one would desire to see. One would swear that every
'Bakery,' 'Grocery,' and 'Bookbindery,' and other kind of store,
took its shutters down for the first time, and started in business
yesterday. The golden pestles and mortars fixed as signs upon the
sun-blind frames outside the Druggists', appear to have been just
turned out of the United States' Mint; and when I saw a baby of
some week or ten days old in a woman's arms at a street corner, I
found myself unconsciously wondering where it came from: never
supposing for an instant that it could have been born in such a
young town as that.
There are several factories in Lowell, each of which belongs to
what we should term a Company of Proprietors, but what they call in
America a Corporation. I went over several of these; such as a
woollen factory, a carpet factory, and a cotton factory: examined
them in every part; and saw them in their ordinary working aspect,
with no preparation of any kind, or departure from their ordinary
everyday proceedings. I may add that I am well acquainted with our
manufacturing towns in England, and have visited many mills in
Manchester and elsewhere in the same manner.
I happened to arrive at the first factory just as the dinner hour
was over, and the girls were returning to their work; indeed the
stairs of the mill were thronged with them as I ascended. They
were all well dressed, but not to my thinking above their
condition; for I like to see the humbler classes of society careful
of their dress and appearance, and even, if they please, decorated
with such little trinkets as come within the compass of their
means. Supposing it confined within reasonable limits, I would
always encourage this kind of pride, as a worthy element of self-
respect, in any person I employed; and should no more be deterred
from doing so, because some wretched female referred her fall to a
love of dress, than I would allow my construction of the real
intent and meaning of the Sabbath to be influenced by any warning
to the well-disposed, founded on his backslidings on that
particular day, which might emanate from the rather doubtful
authority of a murderer in Newgate.
These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed: and that
phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness. They had
serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls; and were not
above clogs and pattens. Moreover, there were places in the mill
in which they could deposit these things without injury; and there
were conveniences for washing. They were healthy in appearance,
many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment of
young women: not of degraded brutes of burden. If I had seen in
one of those mills (but I did not, though I looked for something of
this kind with a sharp eye), the most lisping, mincing, affected,
and ridiculous young creature that my imagination could suggest, I
should have thought of the careless, moping, slatternly, degraded,
dull reverse (I HAVE seen that), and should have been still well
pleased to look upon her.
The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as themselves.
In the windows of some, there were green plants, which were trained
to shade the glass; in all, there was as much fresh air,
cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the occupation would
possibly admit of. Out of so large a number of females, many of
whom were only then just verging upon womanhood, it may be
reasonably supposed that some were delicate and fragile in
appearance: no doubt there were. But I solemnly declare, that
from all the crowd I saw in the different factories that day, I
cannot recall or separate one young face that gave me a painful
impression; not one young girl whom, assuming it to be a matter of
necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour of her
hands, I would have removed from those works if I had had the
They reside in various boarding-houses near at hand. The owners of
the mills are particularly careful to allow no persons to enter
upon the possession of these houses, whose characters have not
undergone the most searching and thorough inquiry. Any complaint
that is made against them, by the boarders, or by any one else, is
fully investigated; and if good ground of complaint be shown to
exist against them, they are removed, and their occupation is
handed over to some more deserving person. There are a few
children employed in these factories, but not many. The laws of
the State forbid their working more than nine months in the year,
and require that they be educated during the other three. For this
purpose there are schools in Lowell; and there are churches and
chapels of various persuasions, in which the young women may
observe that form of worship in which they have been educated.
At some distance from the factories, and on the highest and
pleasantest ground in the neighbourhood, stands their hospital, or
boarding-house for the sick: it is the best house in those parts,
and was built by an eminent merchant for his own residence. Like
that institution at Boston, which I have before described, it is
not parcelled out into wards, but is divided into convenient
chambers, each of which has all the comforts of a very comfortable
home. The principal medical attendant resides under the same roof;
and were the patients members of his own family, they could not be
better cared for, or attended with greater gentleness and
consideration. The weekly charge in this establishment for each
female patient is three dollars, or twelve shillings English; but
no girl employed by any of the corporations is ever excluded for
want of the means of payment. That they do not very often want the
means, may be gathered from the fact, that in July, 1841, no fewer
than nine hundred and seventy-eight of these girls were depositors
in the Lowell Savings Bank: the amount of whose joint savings was
estimated at one hundred thousand dollars, or twenty thousand
I am now going to state three facts, which will startle a large
class of readers on this side of the Atlantic, very much.
Firstly, there is a joint-stock piano in a great many of the
boarding-houses. Secondly, nearly all these young ladies subscribe
to circulating libraries. Thirdly, they have got up among
themselves a periodical called THE LOWELL OFFERING, 'A repository
of original articles, written exclusively by females actively
employed in the mills,' - which is duly printed, published, and
sold; and whereof I brought away from Lowell four hundred good
solid pages, which I have read from beginning to end.
The large class of readers, startled by these facts, will exclaim,
with one voice, 'How very preposterous!' On my deferentially
inquiring why, they will answer, 'These things are above their
station.' In reply to that objection, I would beg to ask what
their station is.
It is their station to work. And they DO work. They labour in
these mills, upon an average, twelve hours a day, which is
unquestionably work, and pretty tight work too. Perhaps it is
above their station to indulge in such amusements, on any terms.
Are we quite sure that we in England have not formed our ideas of
the 'station' of working people, from accustoming ourselves to the
contemplation of that class as they are, and not as they might be?
I think that if we examine our own feelings, we shall find that the
pianos, and the circulating libraries, and even the Lowell
Offering, startle us by their novelty, and not by their bearing
upon any abstract question of right or wrong.
For myself, I know no station in which, the occupation of to-day
cheerfully done and the occupation of to-morrow cheerfully looked
to, any one of these pursuits is not most humanising and laudable.
I know no station which is rendered more endurable to the person in
it, or more safe to the person out of it, by having ignorance for
its associate. I know no station which has a right to monopolise
the means of mutual instruction, improvement, and rational
entertainment; or which has ever continued to be a station very
long, after seeking to do so.
Of the merits of the Lowell Offering as a literary production, I
will only observe, putting entirely out of sight the fact of the
articles having been written by these girls after the arduous
labours of the day, that it will compare advantageously with a
great many English Annuals. It is pleasant to find that many of
its Tales are of the Mills and of those who work in them; that they
inculcate habits of self-denial and contentment, and teach good
doctrines of enlarged benevolence. A strong feeling for the
beauties of nature, as displayed in the solitudes the writers have
left at home, breathes through its pages like wholesome village
air; and though a circulating library is a favourable school for
the study of such topics, it has very scant allusion to fine
clothes, fine marriages, fine houses, or fine life. Some persons
might object to the papers being signed occasionally with rather
fine names, but this is an American fashion. One of the provinces
of the state legislature of Massachusetts is to alter ugly names
into pretty ones, as the children improve upon the tastes of their
parents. These changes costing little or nothing, scores of Mary
Annes are solemnly converted into Bevelinas every session.
It is said that on the occasion of a visit from General Jackson or
General Harrison to this town (I forget which, but it is not to the
purpose), he walked through three miles and a half of these young
ladies all dressed out with parasols and silk stockings. But as I
am not aware that any worse consequence ensued, than a sudden
looking-up of all the parasols and silk stockings in the market;
and perhaps the bankruptcy of some speculative New Englander who
bought them all up at any price, in expectation of a demand that
never came; I set no great store by the circumstance.
In this brief account of Lowell, and inadequate expression of the
gratification it yielded me, and cannot fail to afford to any
foreigner to whom the condition of such people at home is a subject
of interest and anxious speculation, I have carefully abstained
from drawing a comparison between these factories and those of our
own land. Many of the circumstances whose strong influence has
been at work for years in our manufacturing towns have not arisen
here; and there is no manufacturing population in Lowell, so to
speak: for these girls (often the daughters of small farmers) come
from other States, remain a few years in the mills, and then go
home for good.
The contrast would be a strong one, for it would be between the
Good and Evil, the living light and deepest shadow. I abstain from
it, because I deem it just to do so. But I only the more earnestly
adjure all those whose eyes may rest on these pages, to pause and
reflect upon the difference between this town and those great
haunts of desperate misery: to call to mind, if they can in the
midst of party strife and squabble, the efforts that must be made
to purge them of their suffering and danger: and last, and
foremost, to remember how the precious Time is rushing by.
I returned at night by the same railroad and in the same kind of
car. One of the passengers being exceedingly anxious to expound at
great length to my companion (not to me, of course) the true
principles on which books of travel in America should be written by
Englishmen, I feigned to fall asleep. But glancing all the way out
at window from the corners of my eyes, I found abundance of
entertainment for the rest of the ride in watching the effects of
the wood fire, which had been invisible in the morning but were now
brought out in full relief by the darkness: for we were travelling
in a whirlwind of bright sparks, which showered about us like a
storm of fiery snow.
CHAPTER V - WORCESTER. THE CONNECTICUT RIVER. HARTFORD. NEW
HAVEN. TO NEW YORK
LEAVING Boston on the afternoon of Saturday the fifth of February,
we proceeded by another railroad to Worcester: a pretty New
England town, where we had arranged to remain under the hospitable
roof of the Governor of the State, until Monday morning.
These towns and cities of New England (many of which would be
villages in Old England), are as favourable specimens of rural
America, as their people are of rural Americans. The well-trimmed
lawns and green meadows of home are not there; and the grass,
compared with our ornamental plots and pastures, is rank, and
rough, and wild: but delicate slopes of land, gently-swelling
hills, wooded valleys, and slender streams, abound. Every little
colony of houses has its church and school-house peeping from among
the white roofs and shady trees; every house is the whitest of the
white; every Venetian blind the greenest of the green; every fine
day's sky the bluest of the blue. A sharp dry wind and a slight
frost had so hardened the roads when we alighted at Worcester, that
their furrowed tracks were like ridges of granite. There was the
usual aspect of newness on every object, of course. All the
buildings looked as if they had been built and painted that
morning, and could be taken down on Monday with very little
trouble. In the keen evening air, every sharp outline looked a
hundred times sharper than ever. The clean cardboard colonnades
had no more perspective than a Chinese bridge on a tea-cup, and
appeared equally well calculated for use. The razor-like edges of
the detached cottages seemed to cut the very wind as it whistled
against them, and to send it smarting on its way with a shriller
cry than before. Those slightly-built wooden dwellings behind
which the sun was setting with a brilliant lustre, could be so
looked through and through, that the idea of any inhabitant being
able to hide himself from the public gaze, or to have any secrets
from the public eye, was not entertainable for a moment. Even
where a blazing fire shone through the uncurtained windows of some
distant house, it had the air of being newly lighted, and of
lacking warmth; and instead of awakening thoughts of a snug
chamber, bright with faces that first saw the light round that same
hearth, and ruddy with warm hangings, it came upon one suggestive
of the smell of new mortar and damp walls.
So I thought, at least, that evening. Next morning when the sun
was shining brightly, and the clear church bells were ringing, and
sedate people in their best clothes enlivened the pathway near at
hand and dotted the distant thread of road, there was a pleasant
Sabbath peacefulness on everything, which it was good to feel. It
would have been the better for an old church; better still for some
old graves; but as it was, a wholesome repose and tranquillity
pervaded the scene, which after the restless ocean and the hurried
city, had a doubly grateful influence on the spirits.
We went on next morning, still by railroad, to Springfield. From
that place to Hartford, whither we were bound, is a distance of
only five-and-twenty miles, but at that time of the year the roads
were so bad that the journey would probably have occupied ten or
twelve hours. Fortunately, however, the winter having been
unusually mild, the Connecticut River was 'open,' or, in other
words, not frozen. The captain of a small steamboat was going to
make his first trip for the season that day (the second February
trip, I believe, within the memory of man), and only waited for us
to go on board. Accordingly, we went on board, with as little
delay as might be. He was as good as his word, and started
It certainly was not called a small steamboat without reason. I
omitted to ask the question, but I should think it must have been
of about half a pony power. Mr. Paap, the celebrated Dwarf, might
have lived and died happily in the cabin, which was fitted with
common sash-windows like an ordinary dwelling-house. These windows
had bright-red curtains, too, hung on slack strings across the
lower panes; so that it looked like the parlour of a Lilliputian
public-house, which had got afloat in a flood or some other water
accident, and was drifting nobody knew where. But even in this
chamber there was a rocking-chair. It would be impossible to get
on anywhere, in America, without a rocking-chair. I am afraid to
tell how many feet short this vessel was, or how many feet narrow:
to apply the words length and width to such measurement would be a
contradiction in terms. But I may state that we all kept the
middle of the deck, lest the boat should unexpectedly tip over; and
that the machinery, by some surprising process of condensation,
worked between it and the keel: the whole forming a warm sandwich,
about three feet thick.
It rained all day as I once thought it never did rain anywhere, but
in the Highlands of Scotland. The river was full of floating
blocks of ice, which were constantly crunching and cracking under
us; and the depth of water, in the course we took to avoid the
larger masses, carried down the middle of the river by the current,
did not exceed a few inches. Nevertheless, we moved onward,
dexterously; and being well wrapped up, bade defiance to the
weather, and enjoyed the journey. The Connecticut River is a fine
stream; and the banks in summer-time are, I have no doubt,
beautiful; at all events, I was told so by a young lady in the
cabin; and she should be a judge of beauty, if the possession of a
quality include the appreciation of it, for a more beautiful
creature I never looked upon.
After two hours and a half of this odd travelling (including a
stoppage at a small town, where we were saluted by a gun
considerably bigger than our own chimney), we reached Hartford, and
straightway repaired to an extremely comfortable hotel: except, as
usual, in the article of bedrooms, which, in almost every place we
visited, were very conducive to early rising.
We tarried here, four days. The town is beautifully situated in a
basin of green hills; the soil is rich, well-wooded, and carefully
improved. It is the seat of the local legislature of Connecticut,
which sage body enacted, in bygone times, the renowned code of
'Blue Laws,' in virtue whereof, among other enlightened provisions,
any citizen who could be proved to have kissed his wife on Sunday,
was punishable, I believe, with the stocks. Too much of the old
Puritan spirit exists in these parts to the present hour; but its
influence has not tended, that I know, to make the people less hard
in their bargains, or more equal in their dealings. As I never
heard of its working that effect anywhere else, I infer that it
never will, here. Indeed, I am accustomed, with reference to great
professions and severe faces, to judge of the goods of the other
world pretty much as I judge of the goods of this; and whenever I
see a dealer in such commodities with too great a display of them
in his window, I doubt the quality of the article within.
In Hartford stands the famous oak in which the charter of King
Charles was hidden. It is now inclosed in a gentleman's garden.
In the State House is the charter itself. I found the courts of
law here, just the same as at Boston; the public institutions
almost as good. The Insane Asylum is admirably conducted, and so
is the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.
I very much questioned within myself, as I walked through the
Insane Asylum, whether I should have known the attendants from the
patients, but for the few words which passed between the former,
and the Doctor, in reference to the persons under their charge. Of
course I limit this remark merely to their looks; for the
conversation of the mad people was mad enough.
There was one little, prim old lady, of very smiling and good-
humoured appearance, who came sidling up to me from the end of a
long passage, and with a curtsey of inexpressible condescension,
propounded this unaccountable inquiry:
'Does Pontefract still flourish, sir, upon the soil of England?'
'He does, ma'am,' I rejoined.
'When you last saw him, sir, he was - '
'Well, ma'am,' said I, 'extremely well. He begged me to present
his compliments. I never saw him looking better.'
At this, the old lady was very much delighted. After glancing at
me for a moment, as if to be quite sure that I was serious in my
respectful air, she sidled back some paces; sidled forward again;
made a sudden skip (at which I precipitately retreated a step or
two); and said:
'I am an antediluvian, sir.'
I thought the best thing to say was, that I had suspected as much
from the first. Therefore I said so.
'It is an extremely proud and pleasant thing, sir, to be an
antediluvian,' said the old lady.
'I should think it was, ma'am,' I rejoined.
The old lady kissed her hand, gave another skip, smirked and sidled
down the gallery in a most extraordinary manner, and ambled
gracefully into her own bed-chamber.
In another part of the building, there was a male patient in bed;
very much flushed and heated.
'Well,' said he, starting up, and pulling off his night-cap: 'It's
all settled at last. I have arranged it with Queen Victoria.'
'Arranged what?' asked the Doctor.
'Why, that business,' passing his hand wearily across his forehead,
'about the siege of New York.'
'Oh!' said I, like a man suddenly enlightened. For he looked at me
for an answer.
'Yes. Every house without a signal will be fired upon by the
British troops. No harm will be done to the others. No harm at
all. Those that want to be safe, must hoist flags. That's all
they'll have to do. They must hoist flags.'
Even while he was speaking he seemed, I thought, to have some faint
idea that his talk was incoherent. Directly he had said these
words, he lay down again; gave a kind of a groan; and covered his
hot head with the blankets.
There was another: a young man, whose madness was love and music.
After playing on the accordion a march he had composed, he was very
anxious that I should walk into his chamber, which I immediately
By way of being very knowing, and humouring him to the top of his
bent, I went to the window, which commanded a beautiful prospect,
and remarked, with an address upon which I greatly plumed myself:
'What a delicious country you have about these lodgings of yours!'
'Poh!' said he, moving his fingers carelessly over the notes of his
instrument: 'WELL ENOUGH FOR SUCH AN INSTITUTION AS THIS!'
I don't think I was ever so taken aback in all my life.
'I come here just for a whim,' he said coolly. 'That's all.'
'Oh! That's all!' said I.
'Yes. That's all. The Doctor's a smart man. He quite enters into
it. It's a joke of mine. I like it for a time. You needn't
mention it, but I think I shall go out next Tuesday!'
I assured him that I would consider our interview perfectly
confidential; and rejoined the Doctor. As we were passing through
a gallery on our way out, a well-dressed lady, of quiet and
composed manners, came up, and proffering a slip of paper and a
pen, begged that I would oblige her with an autograph, I complied,
and we parted.
'I think I remember having had a few interviews like that, with
ladies out of doors. I hope SHE is not mad?'
'On what subject? Autographs?'
'No. She hears voices in the air.'
'Well!' thought I, 'it would be well if we could shut up a few
false prophets of these later times, who have professed to do the
same; and I should like to try the experiment on a Mormonist or two
to begin with.'
In this place, there is the best jail for untried offenders in the
world. There is also a very well-ordered State prison, arranged
upon the same plan as that at Boston, except that here, there is
always a sentry on the wall with a loaded gun. It contained at
that time about two hundred prisoners. A spot was shown me in the
sleeping ward, where a watchman was murdered some years since in
the dead of night, in a desperate attempt to escape, made by a
prisoner who had broken from his cell. A woman, too, was pointed
out to me, who, for the murder of her husband, had been a close
prisoner for sixteen years.
'Do you think,' I asked of my conductor, 'that after so very long
an imprisonment, she has any thought or hope of ever regaining her
'Oh dear yes,' he answered. 'To be sure she has.'
'She has no chance of obtaining it, I suppose?'
'Well, I don't know:' which, by-the-bye, is a national answer.
'Her friends mistrust her.'
'What have THEY to do with it?' I naturally inquired.
'Well, they won't petition.'
'But if they did, they couldn't get her out, I suppose?'
'Well, not the first time, perhaps, nor yet the second, but tiring
and wearying for a few years might do it.'
'Does that ever do it?'
'Why yes, that'll do it sometimes. Political friends'll do it
sometimes. It's pretty often done, one way or another.'
I shall always entertain a very pleasant and grateful recollection
of Hartford. It is a lovely place, and I had many friends there,
whom I can never remember with indifference. We left it with no
little regret on the evening of Friday the 11th, and travelled that
night by railroad to New Haven. Upon the way, the guard and I were
formally introduced to each other (as we usually were on such
occasions), and exchanged a variety of small-talk. We reached New
Haven at about eight o'clock, after a journey of three hours, and
put up for the night at the best inn.
New Haven, known also as the City of Elms, is a fine town. Many of
its streets (as its ALIAS sufficiently imports) are planted with
rows of grand old elm-trees; and the same natural ornaments
surround Yale College, an establishment of considerable eminence
and reputation. The various departments of this Institution are
erected in a kind of park or common in the middle of the town,
where they are dimly visible among the shadowing trees. The effect
is very like that of an old cathedral yard in England; and when
their branches are in full leaf, must be extremely picturesque.
Even in the winter time, these groups of well-grown trees,
clustering among the busy streets and houses of a thriving city,
have a very quaint appearance: seeming to bring about a kind of
compromise between town and country; as if each had met the other
half-way, and shaken hands upon it; which is at once novel and
After a night's rest, we rose early, and in good time went down to
the wharf, and on board the packet New York FOR New York. This was
the first American steamboat of any size that I had seen; and
certainly to an English eye it was infinitely less like a steamboat
than a huge floating bath. I could hardly persuade myself, indeed,
but that the bathing establishment off Westminster Bridge, which I
left a baby, had suddenly grown to an enormous size; run away from
home; and set up in foreign parts as a steamer. Being in America,
too, which our vagabonds do so particularly favour, it seemed the
The great difference in appearance between these packets and ours,
is, that there is so much of them out of the water: the main-deck
being enclosed on all sides, and filled with casks and goods, like
any second or third floor in a stack of warehouses; and the
promenade or hurricane-deck being a-top of that again. A part of
the machinery is always above this deck; where the connecting-rod,
in a strong and lofty frame, is seen working away like an iron top-
sawyer. There is seldom any mast or tackle: nothing aloft but two
tall black chimneys. The man at the helm is shut up in a little
house in the fore part of the boat (the wheel being connected with
the rudder by iron chains, working the whole length of the deck);
and the passengers, unless the weather be very fine indeed, usually
congregate below. Directly you have left the wharf, all the life,
and stir, and bustle of a packet cease. You wonder for a long time
how she goes on, for there seems to be nobody in charge of her; and
when another of these dull machines comes splashing by, you feel
quite indignant with it, as a sullen cumbrous, ungraceful,
unshiplike leviathan: quite forgetting that the vessel you are on
board of, is its very counterpart.
There is always a clerk's office on the lower deck, where you pay
your fare; a ladies' cabin; baggage and stowage rooms; engineer's
room; and in short a great variety of perplexities which render the
discovery of the gentlemen's cabin, a matter of some difficulty.
It often occupies the whole length of the boat (as it did in this
case), and has three or four tiers of berths on each side. When I
first descended into the cabin of the New York, it looked, in my
unaccustomed eyes, about as long as the Burlington Arcade.
The Sound which has to be crossed on this passage, is not always a
very safe or pleasant navigation, and has been the scene of some
unfortunate accidents. It was a wet morning, and very misty, and
we soon lost sight of land. The day was calm, however, and
brightened towards noon. After exhausting (with good help from a
friend) the larder, and the stock of bottled beer, I lay down to
sleep; being very much tired with the fatigues of yesterday. But I
woke from my nap in time to hurry up, and see Hell Gate, the Hog's
Back, the Frying Pan, and other notorious localities, attractive to
all readers of famous Diedrich Knickerbocker's History. We were
now in a narrow channel, with sloping banks on either side,
besprinkled with pleasant villas, and made refreshing to the sight
by turf and trees. Soon we shot in quick succession, past a light-
house; a madhouse (how the lunatics flung up their caps and roared
in sympathy with the headlong engine and the driving tide!); a
jail; and other buildings: and so emerged into a noble bay, whose
waters sparkled in the now cloudless sunshine like Nature's eyes
turned up to Heaven.
Then there lay stretched out before us, to the right, confused
heaps of buildings, with here and there a spire or steeple, looking
down upon the herd below; and here and there, again, a cloud of
lazy smoke; and in the foreground a forest of ships' masts, cheery
with flapping sails and waving flags. Crossing from among them to
the opposite shore, were steam ferry-boats laden with people,
coaches, horses, waggons, baskets, boxes: crossed and recrossed by
other ferry-boats: all travelling to and fro: and never idle.
Stately among these restless Insects, were two or three large
ships, moving with slow majestic pace, as creatures of a prouder
kind, disdainful of their puny journeys, and making for the broad
sea. Beyond, were shining heights, and islands in the glancing
river, and a distance scarcely less blue and bright than the sky it
seemed to meet. The city's hum and buzz, the clinking of capstans,
the ringing of bells, the barking of dogs, the clattering of
wheels, tingled in the listening ear. All of which life and stir,
coming across the stirring water, caught new life and animation
from its free companionship; and, sympathising with its buoyant
spirits, glistened as it seemed in sport upon its surface, and
hemmed the vessel round, and plashed the water high about her
sides, and, floating her gallantly into the dock, flew off again to
welcome other comers, and speed before them to the busy port.
CHAPTER VI - NEW YORK
THE beautiful metropolis of America is by no means so clean a city
as Boston, but many of its streets have the same characteristics;
except that the houses are not quite so fresh-coloured, the sign-
boards are not quite so gaudy, the gilded letters not quite so
golden, the bricks not quite so red, the stone not quite so white,
the blinds and area railings not quite so green, the knobs and
plates upon the street doors not quite so bright and twinkling.
There are many by-streets, almost as neutral in clean colours, and
positive in dirty ones, as by-streets in London; and there is one
quarter, commonly called the Five Points, which, in respect of
filth and wretchedness, may be safely backed against Seven Dials,
or any other part of famed St. Giles's.
The great promenade and thoroughfare, as most people know, is
Broadway; a wide and bustling street, which, from the Battery
Gardens to its opposite termination in a country road, may be four
miles long. Shall we sit down in an upper floor of the Carlton
House Hotel (situated in the best part of this main artery of New
York), and when we are tired of looking down upon the life below,
sally forth arm-in-arm, and mingle with the stream?
Warm weather! The sun strikes upon our heads at this open window,
as though its rays were concentrated through a burning-glass; but
the day is in its zenith, and the season an unusual one. Was there
ever such a sunny street as this Broadway! The pavement stones are
polished with the tread of feet until they shine again; the red
bricks of the houses might be yet in the dry, hot kilns; and the
roofs of those omnibuses look as though, if water were poured on
them, they would hiss and smoke, and smell like half-quenched
fires. No stint of omnibuses here! Half-a-dozen have gone by
within as many minutes. Plenty of hackney cabs and coaches too;
gigs, phaetons, large-wheeled tilburies, and private carriages -
rather of a clumsy make, and not very different from the public
vehicles, but built for the heavy roads beyond the city pavement.
Negro coachmen and white; in straw hats, black hats, white hats,
glazed caps, fur caps; in coats of drab, black, brown, green, blue,
nankeen, striped jean and linen; and there, in that one instance
(look while it passes, or it will be too late), in suits of livery.
Some southern republican that, who puts his blacks in uniform, and
swells with Sultan pomp and power. Yonder, where that phaeton with
the well-clipped pair of grays has stopped - standing at their
heads now - is a Yorkshire groom, who has not been very long in
these parts, and looks sorrowfully round for a companion pair of
top-boots, which he may traverse the city half a year without
meeting. Heaven save the ladies, how they dress! We have seen
more colours in these ten minutes, than we should have seen
elsewhere, in as many days. What various parasols! what rainbow
silks and satins! what pinking of thin stockings, and pinching of
thin shoes, and fluttering of ribbons and silk tassels, and display
of rich cloaks with gaudy hoods and linings! The young gentlemen
are fond, you see, of turning down their shirt-collars and
cultivating their whiskers, especially under the chin; but they
cannot approach the ladies in their dress or bearing, being, to say
the truth, humanity of quite another sort. Byrons of the desk and
counter, pass on, and let us see what kind of men those are behind
ye: those two labourers in holiday clothes, of whom one carries in
his hand a crumpled scrap of paper from which he tries to spell out
a hard name, while the other looks about for it on all the doors
Irishmen both! You might know them, if they were masked, by their
long-tailed blue coats and bright buttons, and their drab trousers,
which they wear like men well used to working dresses, who are easy
in no others. It would be hard to keep your model republics going,
without the countrymen and countrywomen of those two labourers.
For who else would dig, and delve, and drudge, and do domestic
work, and make canals and roads, and execute great lines of
Internal Improvement! Irishmen both, and sorely puzzled too, to
find out what they seek. Let us go down, and help them, for the
love of home, and that spirit of liberty which admits of honest
service to honest men, and honest work for honest bread, no matter
what it be.
That's well! We have got at the right address at last, though it
is written in strange characters truly, and might have been
scrawled with the blunt handle of the spade the writer better knows
the use of, than a pen. Their way lies yonder, but what business
takes them there? They carry savings: to hoard up? No. They are
brothers, those men. One crossed the sea alone, and working very
hard for one half year, and living harder, saved funds enough to
bring the other out. That done, they worked together side by side,
contentedly sharing hard labour and hard living for another term,
and then their sisters came, and then another brother, and lastly,
their old mother. And what now? Why, the poor old crone is
restless in a strange land, and yearns to lay her bones, she says,
among her people in the old graveyard at home: and so they go to
pay her passage back: and God help her and them, and every simple
heart, and all who turn to the Jerusalem of their younger days, and
have an altar-fire upon the cold hearth of their fathers.
This narrow thoroughfare, baking and blistering in the sun, is Wall
Street: the Stock Exchange and Lombard Street of New York. Many a
rapid fortune has been made in this street, and many a no less
rapid ruin. Some of these very merchants whom you see hanging
about here now, have locked up money in their strong-boxes, like
the man in the Arabian Nights, and opening them again, have found
but withered leaves. Below, here by the water-side, where the
bowsprits of ships stretch across the footway, and almost thrust
themselves into the windows, lie the noble American vessels which
having made their Packet Service the finest in the world. They
have brought hither the foreigners who abound in all the streets:
not, perhaps, that there are more here, than in other commercial
cities; but elsewhere, they have particular haunts, and you must
find them out; here, they pervade the town.
We must cross Broadway again; gaining some refreshment from the
heat, in the sight of the great blocks of clean ice which are being
carried into shops and bar-rooms; and the pine-apples and water-
melons profusely displayed for sale. Fine streets of spacious
houses here, you see! - Wall Street has furnished and dismantled
many of them very often - and here a deep green leafy square. Be
sure that is a hospitable house with inmates to be affectionately
remembered always, where they have the open door and pretty show of
plants within, and where the child with laughing eyes is peeping
out of window at the little dog below. You wonder what may be the
use of this tall flagstaff in the by-street, with something like
Liberty's head-dress on its top: so do I. But there is a passion
for tall flagstaffs hereabout, and you may see its twin brother in
five minutes, if you have a mind.
Again across Broadway, and so - passing from the many-coloured
crowd and glittering shops - into another long main street, the
Bowery. A railroad yonder, see, where two stout horses trot along,
drawing a score or two of people and a great wooden ark, with ease.
The stores are poorer here; the passengers less gay. Clothes
ready-made, and meat ready-cooked, are to be bought in these parts;
and the lively whirl of carriages is exchanged for the deep rumble
of carts and waggons. These signs which are so plentiful, in shape
like river buoys, or small balloons, hoisted by cords to poles, and
dangling there, announce, as you may see by looking up, 'OYSTERS IN
EVERY STYLE.' They tempt the hungry most at night, for then dull
candles glimmering inside, illuminate these dainty words, and make
the mouths of idlers water, as they read and linger.
What is this dismal-fronted pile of bastard Egyptian, like an
enchanter's palace in a melodrama! - a famous prison, called The
Tombs. Shall we go in?
So. A long, narrow, lofty building, stove-heated as usual, with
four galleries, one above the other, going round it, and
communicating by stairs. Between the two sides of each gallery,
and in its centre, a bridge, for the greater convenience of
crossing. On each of these bridges sits a man: dozing or reading,
or talking to an idle companion. On each tier, are two opposite
rows of small iron doors. They look like furnace-doors, but are
cold and black, as though the fires within had all gone out. Some
two or three are open, and women, with drooping heads bent down,
are talking to the inmates. The whole is lighted by a skylight,
but it is fast closed; and from the roof there dangle, limp and
drooping, two useless windsails.
A man with keys appears, to show us round. A good-looking fellow,
and, in his way, civil and obliging.
'Are those black doors the cells?'
'Are they all full?'
'Well, they're pretty nigh full, and that's a fact, and no two ways
'Those at the bottom are unwholesome, surely?'
'Why, we DO only put coloured people in 'em. That's the truth.'
'When do the prisoners take exercise?'
'Well, they do without it pretty much.'
'Do they never walk in the yard?'
'Sometimes, I suppose?'
'Well, it's rare they do. They keep pretty bright without it.'
'But suppose a man were here for a twelvemonth. I know this is
only a prison for criminals who are charged with grave offences,
while they are awaiting their trial, or under remand, but the law
here affords criminals many means of delay. What with motions for
new trials, and in arrest of judgment, and what not, a prisoner
might be here for twelve months, I take it, might he not?'
'Well, I guess he might.'
'Do you mean to say that in all that time he would never come out
at that little iron door, for exercise?'
'He might walk some, perhaps - not much.'
'Will you open one of the doors?'
'All, if you like.'
The fastenings jar and rattle, and one of the doors turns slowly on
its hinges. Let us look in. A small bare cell, into which the
light enters through a high chink in the wall. There is a rude
means of washing, a table, and a bedstead. Upon the latter, sits a
man of sixty; reading. He looks up for a moment; gives an
impatient dogged shake; and fixes his eyes upon his book again. As
we withdraw our heads, the door closes on him, and is fastened as
before. This man has murdered his wife, and will probably be
'How long has he been here?'
'When will he be tried?'
'When is that?'
'In England, if a man be under sentence of death, even he has air
and exercise at certain periods of the day.'
With what stupendous and untranslatable coolness he says this, and
how loungingly he leads on to the women's side: making, as he
goes, a kind of iron castanet of the key and the stair-rail!
Each cell door on this side has a square aperture in it. Some of
the women peep anxiously through it at the sound of footsteps;
others shrink away in shame. - For what offence can that lonely
child, of ten or twelve years old, be shut up here? Oh! that boy?
He is the son of the prisoner we saw just now; is a witness against
his father; and is detained here for safe keeping, until the trial;
But it is a dreadful place for the child to pass the long days and
nights in. This is rather hard treatment for a young witness, is
it not? - What says our conductor?
'Well, it an't a very rowdy life, and THAT'S a fact!'
Again he clinks his metal castanet, and leads us leisurely away. I
have a question to ask him as we go.
'Pray, why do they call this place The Tombs?'
'Well, it's the cant name.'
'I know it is. Why?'
'Some suicides happened here, when it was first built. I expect it
come about from that.'
'I saw just now, that that man's clothes were scattered about the
floor of his cell. Don't you oblige the prisoners to be orderly,
and put such things away?'
'Where should they put 'em?'
'Not on the ground surely. What do you say to hanging them up?'
He stops and looks round to emphasise his answer:
'Why, I say that's just it. When they had hooks they WOULD hang
themselves, so they're taken out of every cell, and there's only
the marks left where they used to be!'
The prison-yard in which he pauses now, has been the scene of
terrible performances. Into this narrow, grave-like place, men are
brought out to die. The wretched creature stands beneath the
gibbet on the ground; the rope about his neck; and when the sign is
given, a weight at its other end comes running down, and swings him
up into the air - a corpse.
The law requires that there be present at this dismal spectacle,
the judge, the jury, and citizens to the amount of twenty-five.
From the community it is hidden. To the dissolute and bad, the
thing remains a frightful mystery. Between the criminal and them,
the prison-wall is interposed as a thick gloomy veil. It is the
curtain to his bed of death, his winding-sheet, and grave. From
him it shuts out life, and all the motives to unrepenting hardihood
in that last hour, which its mere sight and presence is often all-
sufficient to sustain. There are no bold eyes to make him bold; no
ruffians to uphold a ruffian's name before. All beyond the
pitiless stone wall, is unknown space.
Let us go forth again into the cheerful streets.
Once more in Broadway! Here are the same ladies in bright colours,
walking to and fro, in pairs and singly; yonder the very same light
blue parasol which passed and repassed the hotel-window twenty
times while we were sitting there. We are going to cross here.
Take care of the pigs. Two portly sows are trotting up behind this
carriage, and a select party of half-a-dozen gentlemen hogs have
just now turned the corner.
Here is a solitary swine lounging homeward by himself. He has only
one ear; having parted with the other to vagrant-dogs in the course
of his city rambles. But he gets on very well without it; and
leads a roving, gentlemanly, vagabond kind of life, somewhat
answering to that of our club-men at home. He leaves his lodgings
every morning at a certain hour, throws himself upon the town, gets
through his day in some manner quite satisfactory to himself, and
regularly appears at the door of his own house again at night, like
the mysterious master of Gil Blas. He is a free-and-easy,
careless, indifferent kind of pig, having a very large acquaintance
among other pigs of the same character, whom he rather knows by
sight than conversation, as he seldom troubles himself to stop and
exchange civilities, but goes grunting down the kennel, turning up
the news and small-talk of the city in the shape of cabbage-stalks
and offal, and bearing no tails but his own: which is a very short
one, for his old enemies, the dogs, have been at that too, and have
left him hardly enough to swear by. He is in every respect a
republican pig, going wherever he pleases, and mingling with the
best society, on an equal, if not superior footing, for every one
makes way when he appears, and the haughtiest give him the wall, if
he prefer it. He is a great philosopher, and seldom moved, unless
by the dogs before mentioned. Sometimes, indeed, you may see his
small eye twinkling on a slaughtered friend, whose carcase
garnishes a butcher's door-post, but he grunts out 'Such is life:
all flesh is pork!' buries his nose in the mire again, and waddles
down the gutter: comforting himself with the reflection that there
is one snout the less to anticipate stray cabbage-stalks, at any
They are the city scavengers, these pigs. Ugly brutes they are;
having, for the most part, scanty brown backs, like the lids of old
horsehair trunks: spotted with unwholesome black blotches. They
have long, gaunt legs, too, and such peaked snouts, that if one of
them could be persuaded to sit for his profile, nobody would
recognise it for a pig's likeness. They are never attended upon,
or fed, or driven, or caught, but are thrown upon their own
resources in early life, and become preternaturally knowing in
consequence. Every pig knows where he lives, much better than
anybody could tell him. At this hour, just as evening is closing
in, you will see them roaming towards bed by scores, eating their
way to the last. Occasionally, some youth among them who has over-
eaten himself, or has been worried by dogs, trots shrinkingly
homeward, like a prodigal son: but this is a rare case: perfect
self-possession and self-reliance, and immovable composure, being
their foremost attributes.
The streets and shops are lighted now; and as the eye travels down
the long thoroughfare, dotted with bright jets of gas, it is
reminded of Oxford Street, or Piccadilly. Here and there a flight
of broad stone cellar-steps appears, and a painted lamp directs you
to the Bowling Saloon, or Ten-Pin alley; Ten-Pins being a game of
mingled chance and skill, invented when the legislature passed an
act forbidding Nine-Pins. At other downward flights of steps, are
other lamps, marking the whereabouts of oyster-cellars - pleasant
retreats, say I: not only by reason of their wonderful cookery of
oysters, pretty nigh as large as cheese-plates (or for thy dear
sake, heartiest of Greek Professors!), but because of all kinds of
caters of fish, or flesh, or fowl, in these latitudes, the
swallowers of oysters alone are not gregarious; but subduing
themselves, as it were, to the nature of what they work in, and
copying the coyness of the thing they eat, do sit apart in
curtained boxes, and consort by twos, not by two hundreds.
But how quiet the streets are! Are there no itinerant bands; no
wind or stringed instruments? No, not one. By day, are there no
Punches, Fantoccini, Dancing-dogs, Jugglers, Conjurers,
Orchestrinas, or even Barrel-organs? No, not one. Yes, I remember
one. One barrel-organ and a dancing-monkey - sportive by nature,
but fast fading into a dull, lumpish monkey, of the Utilitarian
school. Beyond that, nothing lively; no, not so much as a white
mouse in a twirling cage.
Are there no amusements? Yes. There is a lecture-room across the
way, from which that glare of light proceeds, and there may be
evening service for the ladies thrice a week, or oftener. For the
young gentlemen, there is the counting-house, the store, the bar-
room: the latter, as you may see through these windows, pretty
full. Hark! to the clinking sound of hammers breaking lumps of
ice, and to the cool gurgling of the pounded bits, as, in the
process of mixing, they are poured from glass to glass! No
amusements? What are these suckers of cigars and swallowers of
strong drinks, whose hats and legs we see in every possible variety
of twist, doing, but amusing themselves? What are the fifty
newspapers, which those precocious urchins are bawling down the
street, and which are kept filed within, what are they but
amusements? Not vapid, waterish amusements, but good strong stuff;
dealing in round abuse and blackguard names; pulling off the roofs
of private houses, as the Halting Devil did in Spain; pimping and
pandering for all degrees of vicious taste, and gorging with coined
lies the most voracious maw; imputing to every man in public life
the coarsest and the vilest motives; scaring away from the stabbed
and prostrate body-politic, every Samaritan of clear conscience and
good deeds; and setting on, with yell and whistle and the clapping
of foul hands, the vilest vermin and worst birds of prey. - No
Let us go on again; and passing this wilderness of an hotel with
stores about its base, like some Continental theatre, or the London
Opera House shorn of its colonnade, plunge into the Five Points.
But it is needful, first, that we take as our escort these two
heads of the police, whom you would know for sharp and well-trained
officers if you met them in the Great Desert. So true it is, that
certain pursuits, wherever carried on, will stamp men with the same
character. These two might have been begotten, born, and bred, in
We have seen no beggars in the streets by night or day; but of
other kinds of strollers, plenty. Poverty, wretchedness, and vice,
are rife enough where we are going now.
This is the place: these narrow ways, diverging to the right and
left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth. Such lives as
are led here, bear the same fruits here as elsewhere. The coarse
and bloated faces at the doors, have counterparts at home, and all
the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses
prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and
how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes
that have been hurt in drunken frays. Many of those pigs live
here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright in lieu
of going on all-fours? and why they talk instead of grunting?
So far, nearly every house is a low tavern; and on the bar-room
walls, are coloured prints of Washington, and Queen Victoria of
England, and the American Eagle. Among the pigeon-holes that hold
the bottles, are pieces of plate-glass and coloured paper, for
there is, in some sort, a taste for decoration, even here. And as
seamen frequent these haunts, there are maritime pictures by the
dozen: of partings between sailors and their lady-loves, portraits
of William, of the ballad, and his Black-Eyed Susan; of Will Watch,
the Bold Smuggler; of Paul Jones the Pirate, and the like: on
which the painted eyes of Queen Victoria, and of Washington to
boot, rest in as strange companionship, as on most of the scenes
that are enacted in their wondering presence.
What place is this, to which the squalid street conducts us? A
kind of square of leprous houses, some of which are attainable only
by crazy wooden stairs without. What lies beyond this tottering
flight of steps, that creak beneath our tread? - a miserable room,
lighted by one dim candle, and destitute of all comfort, save that
which may be hidden in a wretched bed. Beside it, sits a man: his
elbows on his knees: his forehead hidden in his hands. 'What ails
that man?' asks the foremost officer. 'Fever,' he sullenly
replies, without looking up. Conceive the fancies of a feverish
brain, in such a place as this!
Ascend these pitch-dark stairs, heedful of a false footing on the
trembling boards, and grope your way with me into this wolfish den,
where neither ray of light nor breath of air, appears to come. A
negro lad, startled from his sleep by the officer's voice - he
knows it well - but comforted by his assurance that he has not come
on business, officiously bestirs himself to light a candle. The
match flickers for a moment, and shows great mounds of dusty rags
upon the ground; then dies away and leaves a denser darkness than
before, if there can be degrees in such extremes. He stumbles down
the stairs and presently comes back, shading a flaring taper with
his hand. Then the mounds of rags are seen to be astir, and rise
slowly up, and the floor is covered with heaps of negro women,
waking from their sleep: their white teeth chattering, and their
bright eyes glistening and winking on all sides with surprise and
fear, like the countless repetition of one astonished African face
in some strange mirror.
Mount up these other stairs with no less caution (there are traps
and pitfalls here, for those who are not so well escorted as
ourselves) into the housetop; where the bare beams and rafters meet
overhead, and calm night looks down through the crevices in the
roof. Open the door of one of these cramped hutches full of
sleeping negroes. Pah! They have a charcoal fire within; there is
a smell of singeing clothes, or flesh, so close they gather round
the brazier; and vapours issue forth that blind and suffocate.
From every corner, as you glance about you in these dark retreats,
some figure crawls half-awakened, as if the judgment-hour were near
at hand, and every obscene grave were giving up its dead. Where
dogs would howl to lie, women, and men, and boys slink off to
sleep, forcing the dislodged rats to move away in quest of better
Here too are lanes and alleys, paved with mud knee-deep,
underground chambers, where they dance and game; the walls bedecked
with rough designs of ships, and forts, and flags, and American
eagles out of number: ruined houses, open to the street, whence,
through wide gaps in the walls, other ruins loom upon the eye, as
though the world of vice and misery had nothing else to show:
hideous tenements which take their name from robbery and murder:
all that is loathsome, drooping, and decayed is here.
Our leader has his hand upon the latch of 'Almack's,' and calls to
us from the bottom of the steps; for the assembly-room of the Five
Point fashionables is approached by a descent. Shall we go in? It
is but a moment.
Heyday! the landlady of Almack's thrives! A buxom fat mulatto
woman, with sparkling eyes, whose head is daintily ornamented with
a handkerchief of many colours. Nor is the landlord much behind
her in his finery, being attired in a smart blue jacket, like a
ship's steward, with a thick gold ring upon his little finger, and
round his neck a gleaming golden watch-guard. How glad he is to
see us! What will we please to call for? A dance? It shall be
done directly, sir: 'a regular break-down.'
The corpulent black fiddler, and his friend who plays the
tambourine, stamp upon the boarding of the small raised orchestra
in which they sit, and play a lively measure. Five or six couple
come upon the floor, marshalled by a lively young negro, who is the
wit of the assembly, and the greatest dancer known. He never
leaves off making queer faces, and is the delight of all the rest,
who grin from ear to ear incessantly. Among the dancers are two
young mulatto girls, with large, black, drooping eyes, and head-
gear after the fashion of the hostess, who are as shy, or feign to
be, as though they never danced before, and so look down before the
visitors, that their partners can see nothing but the long fringed
But the dance commences. Every gentleman sets as long as he likes
to the opposite lady, and the opposite lady to him, and all are so
long about it that the sport begins to languish, when suddenly the
lively hero dashes in to the rescue. Instantly the fiddler grins,
and goes at it tooth and nail; there is new energy in the
tambourine; new laughter in the dancers; new smiles in the
landlady; new confidence in the landlord; new brightness in the
Single shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut; snapping his
fingers, rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the
backs of his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels
like nothing but the man's fingers on the tambourine; dancing with
two left legs, two right legs, two wooden legs, two wire legs, two
spring legs - all sorts of legs and no legs - what is this to him?
And in what walk of life, or dance of life, does man ever get such
stimulating applause as thunders about him, when, having danced his
partner off her feet, and himself too, he finishes by leaping
gloriously on the bar-counter, and calling for something to drink,
with the chuckle of a million of counterfeit Jim Crows, in one
The air, even in these distempered parts, is fresh after the
stifling atmosphere of the houses; and now, as we emerge into a
broader street, it blows upon us with a purer breath, and the stars
look bright again. Here are The Tombs once more. The city watch-
house is a part of the building. It follows naturally on the
sights we have just left. Let us see that, and then to bed.
What! do you thrust your common offenders against the police
discipline of the town, into such holes as these? Do men and
women, against whom no crime is proved, lie here all night in
perfect darkness, surrounded by the noisome vapours which encircle
that flagging lamp you light us with, and breathing this filthy and
offensive stench! Why, such indecent and disgusting dungeons as
these cells, would bring disgrace upon the most despotic empire in
the world! Look at them, man - you, who see them every night, and
keep the keys. Do you see what they are? Do you know how drains
are made below the streets, and wherein these human sewers differ,
except in being always stagnant?
Well, he don't know. He has had five-and-twenty young women locked
up in this very cell at one time, and you'd hardly realise what
handsome faces there were among 'em.
In God's name! shut the door upon the wretched creature who is in
it now, and put its screen before a place, quite unsurpassed in all
the vice, neglect, and devilry, of the worst old town in Europe.
Are people really left all night, untried, in those black sties? -
Every night. The watch is set at seven in the evening. The
magistrate opens his court at five in the morning. That is the
earliest hour at which the first prisoner can be released; and if
an officer appear against him, he is not taken out till nine
o'clock or ten. - But if any one among them die in the interval, as
one man did, not long ago? Then he is half-eaten by the rats in an
hour's time; as that man was; and there an end.
What is this intolerable tolling of great bells, and crashing of
wheels, and shouting in the distance? A fire. And what that deep
red light in the opposite direction? Another fire. And what these
charred and blackened walls we stand before? A dwelling where a
fire has been. It was more than hinted, in an official report, not
long ago, that some of these conflagrations were not wholly
accidental, and that speculation and enterprise found a field of
exertion, even in flames: but be this as it may, there was a fire
last night, there are two to-night, and you may lay an even wager
there will be at least one, to-morrow. So, carrying that with us
for our comfort, let us say, Good night, and climb up-stairs to
* * * * * *
One day, during my stay in New York, I paid a visit to the
different public institutions on Long Island, or Rhode Island: I
forget which. One of them is a Lunatic Asylum. The building is
handsome; and is remarkable for a spacious and elegant staircase.
The whole structure is not yet finished, but it is already one of
considerable size and extent, and is capable of accommodating a
very large number of patients.
I cannot say that I derived much comfort from the inspection of
this charity. The different wards might have been cleaner and
better ordered; I saw nothing of that salutary system which had
impressed me so favourably elsewhere; and everything had a
lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was very painful. The
moping idiot, cowering down with long dishevelled hair; the
gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh and pointed finger; the
vacant eye, the fierce wild face, the gloomy picking of the hands
and lips, and munching of the nails: there they were all, without
disguise, in naked ugliness and horror. In the dining-room, a
bare, dull, dreary place, with nothing for the eye to rest on but
the empty walls, a woman was locked up alone. She was bent, they
told me, on committing suicide. If anything could have
strengthened her in her resolution, it would certainly have been
the insupportable monotony of such an existence.
The terrible crowd with which these halls and galleries were
filled, so shocked me, that I abridged my stay within the shortest
limits, and declined to see that portion of the building in which
the refractory and violent were under closer restraint. I have no
doubt that the gentleman who presided over this establishment at
the time I write of, was competent to manage it, and had done all
in his power to promote its usefulness: but will it be believed
that the miserable strife of Party feeling is carried even into
this sad refuge of afflicted and degraded humanity? Will it be
believed that the eyes which are to watch over and control the
wanderings of minds on which the most dreadful visitation to which
our nature is exposed has fallen, must wear the glasses of some
wretched side in Politics? Will it be believed that the governor
of such a house as this, is appointed, and deposed, and changed
perpetually, as Parties fluctuate and vary, and as their despicable
weathercocks are blown this way or that? A hundred times in every
week, some new most paltry exhibition of that narrow-minded and
injurious Party Spirit, which is the Simoom of America, sickening
and blighting everything of wholesome life within its reach, was
forced upon my notice; but I never turned my back upon it with
feelings of such deep disgust and measureless contempt, as when I
crossed the threshold of this madhouse.
At a short distance from this building is another called the Alms
House, that is to say, the workhouse of New York. This is a large
Institution also: lodging, I believe, when I was there, nearly a
thousand poor. It was badly ventilated, and badly lighted; was not
too clean; - and impressed me, on the whole, very uncomfortably.
But it must be remembered that New York, as a great emporium of
commerce, and as a place of general resort, not only from all parts
of the States, but from most parts of the world, has always a large
pauper population to provide for; and labours, therefore, under
peculiar difficulties in this respect. Nor must it be forgotten
that New York is a large town, and that in all large towns a vast
amount of good and evil is intermixed and jumbled up together.
In the same neighbourhood is the Farm, where young orphans are
nursed and bred. I did not see it, but I believe it is well
conducted; and I can the more easily credit it, from knowing how
mindful they usually are, in America, of that beautiful passage in
the Litany which remembers all sick persons and young children.
I was taken to these Institutions by water, in a boat belonging to
the Island jail, and rowed by a crew of prisoners, who were dressed
in a striped uniform of black and buff, in which they looked like
faded tigers. They took me, by the same conveyance, to the jail
It is an old prison, and quite a pioneer establishment, on the plan
I have already described. I was glad to hear this, for it is
unquestionably a very indifferent one. The most is made, however,
of the means it possesses, and it is as well regulated as such a
place can be.
The women work in covered sheds, erected for that purpose. If I
remember right, there are no shops for the men, but be that as it
may, the greater part of them labour in certain stone-quarries near
at hand. The day being very wet indeed, this labour was suspended,
and the prisoners were in their cells. Imagine these cells, some
two or three hundred in number, and in every one a man locked up;
this one at his door for air, with his hands thrust through the
grate; this one in bed (in the middle of the day, remember); and
this one flung down in a heap upon the ground, with his head
against the bars, like a wild beast. Make the rain pour down,
outside, in torrents. Put the everlasting stove in the midst; hot,
and suffocating, and vaporous, as a witch's cauldron. Add a
collection of gentle odours, such as would arise from a thousand
mildewed umbrellas, wet through, and a thousand buck-baskets, full
of half-washed linen - and there is the prison, as it was that day.
The prison for the State at Sing Sing is, on the other hand, a
model jail. That, and Auburn, are, I believe, the largest and best
examples of the silent system.
In another part of the city, is the Refuge for the Destitute: an
Institution whose object is to reclaim youthful offenders, male and
female, black and white, without distinction; to teach them useful
trades, apprentice them to respectable masters, and make them
worthy members of society. Its design, it will be seen, is similar
to that at Boston; and it is a no less meritorious and admirable
establishment. A suspicion crossed my mind during my inspection of
this noble charity, whether the superintendent had quite sufficient
knowledge of the world and worldly characters; and whether he did
not commit a great mistake in treating some young girls, who were
to all intents and purposes, by their years and their past lives,
women, as though they were little children; which certainly had a
ludicrous effect in my eyes, and, or I am much mistaken, in theirs
also. As the Institution, however, is always under a vigilant
examination of a body of gentlemen of great intelligence and
experience, it cannot fail to be well conducted; and whether I am
right or wrong in this slight particular, is unimportant to its
deserts and character, which it would be difficult to estimate too
In addition to these establishments, there are in New York,
excellent hospitals and schools, literary institutions and
libraries; an admirable fire department (as indeed it should be,