Chapter 12411630

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Chapter NumberVOLUME II:IV
Chapter TitleFROM CINCINNATI TO LOUISVILLE IN ANOTHER WESTERN STEAMBOAT; AND FROM LOUISVILLE TO ST. LOUIS IN ANOT
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12411630
Full Date1843-05-26
Page Number4
Corrections2
Word Count4918
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2010-07-06
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)
Trove TitleAmerican Notes for General Circulation
article text

AMERICAN NOTES

FOR

GENERAL CIRCULATION.

BY CHARLES DICKENS.

CHAPTER IV.

FROM CINCINNATI TO LOUISVILLE IN

ANOTHER WESTERN STEAMBOAT ; AND FROM LOUISVILLE TO ST. LOUIS IN ANOTHER. ST. LOUIS.

LEAVING Cincinnati at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, we embarked for Louisville in the Pike steamboat, which, carrying the mails, was a packet of a much better class than that in which we had come from Pittsburg. As this passage does not occupy more than twelve or thirteen hours, we arranged to go ashore that night : not coveting the distinction of sleeping in a state-room, when it was possible to sleep anywhere else.

There chanced to be on board of this boat, in addition to the usual dreary crowd of passengers, one Pitchlyn, a chief of the Choctaw tribe of Indians, who sent in his card to me, and with whom I had the pleasure of a long conversation.

He spoke English perfectly well, though he had not begun to learn the language, he told me, until he was a young man grown. He had read many books, and Scott's poetry appeared to have left a strong im- pression on his mind, especially the open- ing of The Lady of the Lake, and the great battle scene in Marmion, in which, no doubt, from the congeniality of the subjects to his own pursuits and tastes, he had great interest and delight. He appeared to understand correctly all he had read, and whatever fiction had enlisted his sympathy in its belief, had done so keenly and earnestly, I might almost say fiercely. He was dressed in our ordinary every-day costume, which hung about his fine figure loosely, and with indifferent grace. On my telling him that I regretted not to see him in his own attire, he threw up his right arm for a moment, as though he were brandishing some heavy weapon, and answered, as he let it fall again, that his race were losing many things besides their dress, and would soon be seen upon the earth no more ; but he wore it at home, he added proudly.

He told me that he had been away from his home, West of the Mississippi, seventeen months ; and was now return- ing. He had been chiefly at Washing- ton on some negotiations pending between his tribe and the Government ; which were not settled yet (he said in a melan- choly way) and he feared never would be ; for what could a few poor Indians do against

such well-skilled men of business as the

whites ? He had no love for Washing- ton ; tired of towns and cities very soon ; and longed for the Forest and the Prairie.

I asked him what he thought of Con- gress ? He answered, with a smile, that it wanted dignity in an Indian's eyes.

He would very much like, he said, to see England before he died ; and spoke with much interest about the great things

to be seen there. When I told him of that chamber in the British Museum

wherein are preserved household memo- rials of a race that ceased to be, thousands of years ago, he was very attentive, and it   was not hard to see that he had a reference   in his mind to the gradual fading away of   his own people.  

This led us to speak of Mr. Catlin's  

gallery, which he praised highly, observ- ing that his own portrait was among the   collection, and that all the likenesses were   "elegant." Mr. Cooper, he said, had   painted the red man well ; and so would  

I, he knew, if I would go home with him  

and hunt buffaloes, which he was quite   anxious I should do. "When I told him   that, supposing I went, I should not be  

very likely to damage the buffaloes much, he took it as a great joke and laughed   heartily.  

He was a remarkably handsome man ;   some years past forty I should judge, with   long black hair, an aquiline nose, broad  

cheek bones, a sunburnt complexion, and a very bright, keen, dark, and piercing   eye. There were but twenty thousand   of the Choctaws left he said, and their  

number was decreasing every day. A few of his brother chiefs had been obliged   to become civilized, and to make them-   selves acquainted with what the whites  

knew, for it was their only chance of ex-   istence. But they were not many ; and   the rest were as they always had been.   He dwelt on this, and said, several times,   that unless they tried to assimilate them-  

selves to their "conquerors, they must be   swept away before the strides of civilized  

society.

When we shook hands at parting, I  

I told him he must come to England, as he  

longed to see the land so much ; that I should hope to see him there one day, and that I could promise him he would be well received and kindly treated. He was evidently pleased by this assurance, though he rejoined, with a good-humoured smile and an arch shake of his head that the English used to be very fond of the red men when they wanted their help, but had not cared much for them since.

He took his leave;j as stately and com-   plete a gentleman of Nature's making as   ever I beheld ; and moved among the   people in the boat another kind of being.   He sent me a lithographic portrait of him-   self soon afterwards ; very like, though   scarcely handsome enough ; which I have   carefully preserved in memory of our brief  

acquaintance.  

There was nothing very interesting in   the scenery of this day's journey, which  

brought us, at midnight, to Louisville. We slept at the Galt House ; a splendid hotel, and were as handsomely lodged as though we had been in Paris, rather than hundreds, of miles beyond the Alleghanies.

The city presented no objects of suffi- cient interest to detain us on our way, we resolved to proceed next day by ano- ther steam-boat, the Fulton, and to join   it, about noon, at a suburb called Port- land, where it would be delayed some time in passing through a canal.

The interval, after breakfast, ee de-   voted to riding through the town, which is regular and cheerful the streets being     laid out at right angles, and planted with young trees. The buildings are smoky and blackened, from the use of bituminous coal, but the Englishman is well used to that appearance, and indisposed to quarrel with it. There did not appear to be much business stirring, and some unfinished buildings and improvements seemed to in- timate that the city had been over built in the ardour of " going a-head," and   was suffering under the reaction conse- quent upon such feverish forcing of its

powers.

On our way to Portland, we passed a " Magistrate's office," which amused me as looking fat more like a dame school than any police establishment : for this awful in- stitution was nothing but a little lazy, good for-nothing front parlour, open to the street,     wherein two or three figures (I presume the magistrate and his myrmidons) were basking in the sunshine, the very effigies   of languor and repose. It was a perfect picture of Justice retired from business for want of customers ; her sword and scales sold off, napping comfortably with her legs upon the table.

Here, as elsewhere in these parts, the   road was perfectly alive with pigs of all ages, lying about in every direction, fast       asleep ; or grunting along in quest of hid-   den dainties. I had always a sneaking kindness for these odd animals, and found a constant source of amusement, when all others failed, in watching their pro- ceedings. As we were riding along this morning, I observed a little incident be-   tween two youthful pigs, which was so very human as to be inexpressibly comi-   cal, and grotesque at the time, though I date say, in telling, it is tame enough.

One young gentleman (a very delicate porker, with several straws sticking about his nose, betokening recent investigations in a dunghill), was walking deliberately on,   profoundly thinking, when suddenly his brother, who was lying in a miry hole,

unseen by him, rose up immediately be- fore his startled eyes, ghostly with damp mud. Never was pig's whole mass of blood so turned. He started back at least three   feet, gazed for a moment, and then shot off as hard as he could go : his excessively little tail vibrating with speed and terror like a distracted pendulum. But before he had gone very far, he began to reason with himself as to the nature of this frightful appearance ; and as he reasoned, he re-

laxed his speed by gradual degrees, until at last he stopped, and faced about.   There was his brother, with the mud upon him glazing in the sun, yet staring out of the very same hole, perfectly amazed at his proceedings ! He was no sooner as-   sured of this ; and he assured himself so carefully that one may almost say he shaded his eyes with his hand to see the better, than he came back at a round trot, pounced upon him, and summarily took off a piece of his tail ; as a caution to him to be careful what he was about for the future, and never to play tricks with his family any more.

We found the steam boat in the canal, waiting for the slow process of getting through the lock, and went on board, where we shortly afterwards had a new   kind of visitor in the person of a certain Kentucky Giant, whose name is Porter, and who is of the moderate height of seven feet eight inches, in his stockings.

There never was a race of people who   so completely gave the lie to history as these giants, 0r whom all the chroniclers have so cruelly libelled. Instead of roar- ing and ravaging about the world, con-   stantly catering for their cannibal larders, and perpetually going to market in an un- lawful manner ; they are the meekest people in any man's acquaintance : rather inclined to milk and vegetable diet, and   bearing anything for a quiet life. So de- cidedly are amiability and mildness their characteristics, that I confess I look upon that south, who distinguished him- self by the slaughter of these inoffensive persons, as a false-hearted brigand, who,     pretending to philanthropic motives was secretly influenced only by the wealth stored up within their castles, and the hope of plunder. And I lean the more to this opinion from finding that even the historian of these exploits, with all his partiality for his hero, is fain to admit     that the slaughtered monsters in question were of a very innocent and simple turn :

extremely guileless and ready of belief ; lending a credulous ear to the most im- probable tales ; suffering themselves to be easily entrapped into pits , and even (as in the case of the Welsh Giant), with an excess of the hospitable politeness of a landlord, ripping themselves open rather than hint at the possibility of their guests being versed in the vagabond arts of slight of-hand and hocus-pocus.    

The Kentucky Giant was but another     illustration of the truth of this position. He had a weakness in the region of the knees, and a trustfulness in his long face, which appealed even to five feet nine for encouragement and support. He was only twenty five years old, he said, and had grown recently, for it had been found ne- cessary to make an addition to the legs of his inexpressibles. At fifteen he was a short boy, and in those days his English

father and his Irish mother had rather snubbed him, as being too small of stature to sustain the credit of the family. He added that his health had not been good,   though it was better now, but short peo- ple are not wanting who whisper that he

drinks too hard.

I understand he drives a hackney coach, though how he does it, unless he stands on the footboard behind, and lies along the roof upon his chest, with his chin in the box, it would be difficult to compre- hend. He brought his gun with him, as a curiosity. Christened " The Little Rifle," and displayed outside a shop window, it would make the fortune of any   retail business in Holborn. When he   had shown himself and talked a little while, he withdrew with this pocket-instrument,   and went bobbing down the cabin, among men of six feet high and upwards, like a   lighthouse walking among lamp-posts  

Within a few minutes afterwards, we were out of the canal, and in the Ohio

river again.

The arrangements of the boat were like that of the Messenger, and the passengers were of the same order of people. We fed at the same time, on the same kind of viands, in the same dull manner, and with

the same observances. The company ap-    

peared to be oppressed by the same tre- mendous concealments, and had as little       capacity of enjoyment or lightheartedness,    

I never in my life did see such listless, heavy dulness as brooded over these meals :

the very recollection of it weighs me down, and makes me for the moment wretched. Reading and writing on my knee, in our little cabin, I really dreaded the coming of the hour that summoned us to table ; and was glad to escape from it again, as if it had been a penance or a punishment.     Healthy cheerfulness and good spirits forming a part of the banquet, I could soak my crusts in the fountain with Le Sage's   strolling player, and level in their glad enjoyment but sitting down with so many fellow animals to ward off thirst and hunger as a business ;to empty, each creature, his Yahoo's trough as quickly as     he can, and then slink sullenly away ; to have these social sacraments stripped off everything but the mere greedy satisfac- tion of the natural cravings, goes so against the gram with me, that I seriously believe the recollection of these funeral feasts will be a waking nightmare to me all my life.

There was some relief in this boat, too, which there had not been in the other, for the captain (a blunt good natured fellow), had his handsome wife with him, who was disposed to be lively and agree- able, as were a few other lady-passengers   who had their seats about us at the same end of the table. But nothing could have made head against the depressing in- fluence of the general body. There was a magnetism of dulness in them which

would have beaten down the most face- tious companion that earth ever knew. A jest would have been a crime, and a smile would have faded into a grinning horror. Such deadly leaden people ; such syste- matic plodding weary insupportable hea-   viness ; such a mass of animated indiges- tion in respect of all that was genial, jovial, frank, social, or hearty ; never, sure, was brought together elsewhere since   the world began.

Nor was the scenery, as we approached the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, at all inspiriting in its influence. The trees were stunted in their growth, the banks were low and flat, the settle- ments and log cabins fewer in number :

their inhabitants more wan and wretched

than we had encountered yet. No songs of birds were m their air, no pleasant scents, no moving lights and shadows from swift passing clouds. Hour after hour, the changeless glare of the hot, unwinking sky, shone upon the same monotonous objects. Hour after hour, the river rolled along, as   wearily and slowly as the time itself.

At length, upon the morning of the third day, we arrived at a spot so much more desolate than any we had yet beheld, that the forlornest places we had passed, were, in comparison with it, full of interest. At the junction of the two rivers, on ground so flat and low and marshy, that at certain     seasons of the year it is inundated to the   housetops, lies a breeding-place of fever,   ague, and death : vaunted in England as a mine of Golden hope, and speculated in, on the faith of monstrous representations, to many people's ruin. A dismal swamp,   on which the half-built houses rot away :

cleared here and there for the space of a few yards, and teeming, then, with rank unwholesome vegetation, in whose baleful

shade the wretched wanderers who are

tempted hither, droop, and die, and lay their bones ; the hateful Mississippi circling and eddying before it, and turning off upon   its southern course a slimy monster hideous to behold ; a hotbed of disease, an ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise : a place without one single quality, in earth or air 0r water, to   commend it : such is this dismal Cairo.

But what words shall describe the Mis-  

sissippi, great father of rivers, who (praise be to Heaven) has no young children like   him ! An enormous ditch, sometimes two or three miles wide, running liquid mud, six miles an hour its strong and frothy current choked and obstructed everywhere by huge logs and whole forest trees : now twining themselves together in great rafts, from the interstices of which a sedgy lazy foam works up, to float upon the water's top : now rolling past like monstrous bodies, their tangled roots showing like matted hair ; now glancing singly by like glint leeches ; and now writhing round and

round in the vortex of some small whirl-

pool, like wounded snakes. The banks low, the trees dwarfish, the marshes swarm-     ing with frogs, the wretched cabins few and far apart, their inmates hollow-cheeked   and pale, the weather very hot, mosquitoes   penetrating into every crack and crevice of   the boat, mud and slime on everything ; nothing pleasant in its aspect, but the harmless lightning which flickers every night upon the dark horizon.

For two days we toiled up this foul stream, striking constantly against the floating timber, or stopping to avoid those more dangerous obstacles, the snags, or

sawyers, which are the hidden trunks of

trees that have their roots below the tide. When the nights are very dark, the look- out stationed in the head of the boat, knows by the ripple of the water if any great impediment be near at hand, and rings a bell beside him, which is the signal for the engine to be stopped : but always in the night this bell has work to do, and after every ring, there comes a blow which renders it no easy matter to remain in bed.

The decline of the day here was very gorgeous, tinging the firmament deeply with red and gold, up to the very keystone of the arch above us. As the sun went down behind the bank, the slightest blades of grass upon it seemed to become as dis- tinctly visible as the arteries in the skeleton of a leaf, and when, as it slowly sank, the red and golden bars upon the water grew dimmer, and dimmer yet, as if they were sinking too, and all the glowing colours of departing day paled, inch by inch, before the sombre night, the scene became a thousand times more lonesome and more dreary than before, and all its influences darkened with the sky.

We drank the muddy water of this river while we were upon it. It is considered wholesome by the natives, and is some-   thing more opaque than gruel. I have seen water like it at the Filter-shops, but     nowhere else.

On the fourth night after leaving Lous- ville, we reached St. Louis, and here I witnessed the conclusion of an incident,   trifling enough in itself but very pleasant to see, which had interested me during the whole journey.

There was a little woman on board, with a little baby, and both little woman and little child were cheerful, good looking, bright eyed, and fair to see. The little   woman had been passing a long time with her sick mother in New York, and had left her home in St Louis, in that condi- tion in which ladies who truly love their lords desire to be. The baby was born in her mother's house, and she had not seen her husband (to whom she was now re- turning), for twelve months having left him a month or two after their marriage.  

Well, to be sure there never was a little woman so full of hope, and tenderness, and love, as this little woman was : and all day long she wondered whether " He"

would be at the wharf, and whether, " He"    

had got her letter ; and whether, if she  

sent the baby ashore by somebody else, " He" would know it, meeting it in the street : which, seeing that he had never set eyes upon it in his life, was not very likely in the abstract, but was probable enough, to the young mother. She was such an artless little creature ; and was in such a sunny, beaming, hopeful state ; and let out all this matter clinging close about her heart, so freely, that all the other lady passengers entered into the spirit of it as much as she ; and the captain (who heard all about it from his wife), was wonderous sly, I promise you : inquiring every time we met at table, as in forgetfulness, whether she expected any body to meet her at St. Louis, and whether she would want to go on shore the night we reached it, (but he supposed she would'nt), and cutting many other dry jokes of that nature. There was one little weazen, dried-apple-faced old woman, who took occasion to doubt the constancy of husbands in such circum- stances of bereavement ; and there was another lady (with a lap dog) old enough to moralize on the lightness of human affec- tions, and yet not so old that she could help nursing the baby, now and then, or laughing with the rest, when the little woman called it by its father's name, and asked it all manner of fantastic questions concerning him in the joy of her heart.

It was something of a blow to the little woman, that when we were within twenty miles of our destination, it became clearly necessary to put this baby to bed. But she got over it with the same good humour ; tied a handkerchief round her head, and came out into the little gallery with the rest. Then, such an oracle as she became in reference to the localities ! and such

facetiousness as was displayed by the married ladies ! and such sympathy as was shown by the single ones ! and such peals of laughter as the little woman her- self (who would just as soon have cried) greeted every jest with !

At last, there were the lights of St. Louis, and here was the wharf, and those were the steps : and the little woman covering her face with her hands, and laughing (or seeming to laugh) more than ever, ran into her own cabin, and shut herself up. I have no doubt that in the charming inconsistency of such excite- ment, she stopped her ears, lest she should hear " him" asking for her : but I

did not see her do it.

Then, a crowd of people rushed on board, though the boat was not yet made fast, but was wandering about among the other boats, to find a landing-place : and everybody looked for the husband : and nobody saw him : when, in the midst of us all—Heaven knows how she ever got there—there was the little woman clinging with both arms tight round the neck of a fine, good-looking, sturdy, young fellow ! and in a moment afterwards, there she was   again, actually clapping her little hands for joy, as she dragged him through the small door of her small cabin, to look at the baby as he lay asleep !

We went to a large hotel, called the Planters House : built like an English hospital, with long passages and bare walls, and sky-lights above the room-doors for the free circulation of air. There were a great many boarders in it ; and as many lights sparkled and glistened from the windows down into the street below, when we drove up, as if it had been illuminated on some occasion of rejoicing. It is an excellent house, and the proprietors have most bountiful notions of providing the creature comforts. Dining alone with my wife in our own room, one day, I counted fourteen dishes on the table at once.

In the old French portion of the town, the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very quaint and picturesque : being built of wood, with tumble-down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs or rather ladders, from the street. There are queer little barbers' shops, and drinking houses too, in this quarter ; and abundance of crazy old tenements with blinking casements, such as may be seen in Flanders. Some of these ancient habitations, with high garret gable-windows poking into the roofs have a kind of French shrug about them ; and being lop-sided with age, appear to

hold their heads askew, besides, as if they   were grimacing in astonishment at the

American improvements.  

It is hardly necessary to say, that these consist of wharfs and warehouses, and new buildings in all directions ; and of a great many vast plans which are still "progressing." Already, however, some very good houses, broad streets, and marble fronted shops, have gone so far a-head as to be in a state of completion ; and the town bids fair in a few years to improve considerably : though it is not likely ever to vie, in point of elegance or beauty, with Cincinnati.

The Roman Catholic religion, intro- duced here by the early French settlers,  

prevails extensively. Among the public institutions are a Jesuit College ; a con-

vent for "the Ladies of the Sacred

Heart ;" and a large chapel attached to the college, which was in course of erection at the time of my visit, and was intended to

be consecrated on the second of December

in the present year. The architect of this building, is one of the reverend fathers of the school, and the works pro- ceed under his sole direction. The organ will be sent from Belgium.

In addition to these establishments, there is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, de- dicated to Saint Francis Xavier ; and a hospital, founded by the munificence of a deceased resident ; who was a member of that Church. It also sends missionaries

from hence among the Indian tribes.  

The Unitarian Church is represented, in this remote place, as in most parts of America, by a gentleman of great worth and excellence. The poor have good rea- son to remember and bless it ; for it be- friends them, and aids the cause of ra- tional education, without any sectarian or

selfish views. It is liberal in all its ac- tions ; of kind construction ; and of wide

benevolence.

There arc three free-schools already erected, and in full operation, in this city. A fourth is building and will soon be opened.

No man ever admits the unhealthiness of the place he dwells in (unless he is going away from it), and I shall there- fore, I have no doubt, be at issue with the inhabitants of Saint Louis, in questioning the perfect salubrity of its climate, and in hinting that I think it must rather dispose to fever, in the summer and autumnal sea- sons. Just adding, that it is very hot, lies among great rivers, and has vast tracts of undrained swampy land around it, I leave the reader to form his own opinion.

As I had a great desire to see a prairie before turning back from the fur- thest point of my wanderings ; and as some gentlemen of the town had, in their hospitable consideration, an equal desire to gratify me ; a day was fixed, before my departure, for an expedition to the Looking-Glass Prairie, which is within thirty miles of the town. Deeming it possible that my readers may not object

to know what kind of thing such a gipsy party may be at that distance from home,   and among what sort of objects it moves, I will describe the jaunt in another chapter.