Chapter 12424499

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Chapter NumberVOLUME II: III
Chapter TitleChapter III V. II FROM PITTSBURG TO CINCINNATI IN A WESTERN STEAM-BOAT. CINCINNATI.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12424499
Full Date1843-05-25
Page Number4
Corrections2
Word Count3772
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2010-07-06
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)
Trove TitleAmerican Notes for General Circulation
article text

AMERICAN NOTES

GENERAL CIRCULATION

BY CHARLES DICKENS.

CHAPTER III.

FROM PITTSBURG TO CINCINNATI IN A WESTERN STEAM-BOAT. CINCINNATI.

The Messenger was one among a crowd of high-pressure steam-boats, clustered toge- ther by the wharf-side, which, looked down upon from the rising ground that forms the landing-place, and backed by the lofty bank on the opposite side of the river, appeared no larger than so many floating models. She had some forty pas- sengers on board, exclusive of the poorer persons on the lower deck ; and in half an hour, or less, proceeded on her way.

We had, for ourselves, a tiny state-room with two berths in it, opening out of the ladies' cabin. There was, undoubtedly, something satisfactory in this "location," inasmuch as it was in the stem, and we had been a great many times very gravely recommended to keep as far aft as possible, " because the steam-boats generally blow- up forward." Nor was this an unnecessary caution, as the occurrence and circum- stances of more than one such fatality during our stay sufficiently testified. Apart from this source of self-congratulation, it was an unspeakable relief to have any place, no matter how confined, where one could be alone ; and as the row of little chambers of which this was one, had each a second glass-door besides that in the ladies' cabin, which opened on a narrow gallery outside the vessel, where the other passengers seldom came, and where one could sit in peace and gaze upon the shifting prospect,  

we took possession of our new quarters with

much pleasure.

If the native packets I have already described be unlike anything we are in the habit of seeing on water, these western vessels are still more foreign to all the ideas we are accustomed to entertain of boats. I hardly know what to liken them to, or how to describe them.

In the first place, they have no mast, cordage, tackle, rigging, or other such boat-like gear ; nor have they anything in   their shape at all calculated to remind one of a boat's head, stern, sides, or keel. Except that they are in the water, and display a couple of paddle-boxes, they might be intended, for anything that appears to the contrary, to perform some unknown service, high and dry, upon a mountain top. There is no visible deck, even : nothing but a long, black, ugly roof, covered with burnt-out feathery sparks ; above which tower two iron chimneys, and a hoarse escape-valve, and a glass steerage house. Then, in order as the eye descends towards the water, are the sides and doors, and windows of the state-rooms, jumbled as oddly together as though they formed a small street, built by the varying tastes of a dozen men : the whole is supported on beams and pillars resting on a dirty barge, but a few inches above the water's edge : and in the narrow space between this upper structure and this barge's deck, are the furnace fires and machinery, open at the sides to every wind that blows, and every storm of rain it drives along its path.

Passing one of these boats at night, and seeing the great body of fire, exposed as I have just described, that rages and roars beneath the frail pile of painted wood : the machinery, not warded off or guarded in any way, but doing its work in the midst of the crowd of idlers, and emigrants, and children, who throng the lower deck ; under the management, too, of reckless men, whose acquaintance with its mys- teries may have been of six months' stand- ing : one feels directly that the wonder is, not that there should be so many fatal accidents, but that any journey should be safely made.

Within there is one long narrow cabin, the whole length of the boat ; from which the state rooms open, on both sides. A small portion of it at the stern, is par- titioned off for the ladies ; and the bar is at the opposite extreme. There is a long table down the centre, and at either end a stove. The washing apparatus is found

on the deck. It is a little better than on board the canal-boat, but not much. In all modes of travelling, the American cus- toms with reference to the means of per- sonal cleanliness and wholesome ablution, are extremely negligent and filthy ; and I strongly incline to the belief that a con- siderable amount of illness is referable to

this cause.

We are to be on board the Messenger three days : arriving at Cincinnati (barring accidents) on Monday morning. There are three meals a-day. Breakfast at seven, dinner at half-past twelve, supper about six. At each, there are a great many small dishes and plates upon the table, with very little in them ; so that although there is every appearance of a mighty "spread," there is seldom really more than a joint, except for those who fancy slices of beetroot, shreds of dried beef, complicated entanglements of yellow pickle ; maize, Indian corn, apple-sauce, and pumpkin.

Some people fancy all these little dain-  

ties together (and sweet preserves be-   sides), by way of relish to their roast pig. They are generally those dyspeptic ladies and gentlemen who eat unheard-of quan- tities of hot corn bread (almost as good for the digestion as a kneaded pin-cushion) for breakfast and for supper. Those who do not observe this custom, and who help themselves several times instead, usually stick their knives and forks meditatively, until they have decided what to take next : then pull them out of their mouths ; put them in the dish ; help themselves ; and fall to work again. At dinner there is nothing to drink on the table but great jugs full of cold water. Nobody says anything, at any meal, to anybody. All the passengers are very dismal, and seem to have tremendous secrets weighing on their minds. There is no conversation, no laughter, no cheerfulness, no sociality, except in spitting, and that is done in silent fellowship round the stove, when the meal is over. Every man sits down,   dull and languid, swallows his fare, as if breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, were necessities of nature never to be coupled with recreation or enjoyment; and having bolted his food in a gloomy silence, bolts himself, in the same state. But for these animal observances, you might suppose the whole male portion of the company to be the melancholy ghosts of departed book-keepers, who had fallen dead at the desk : such is their weary aid of business and calculation. Undertakers on duty would be sprightly beside them ; and a

collation of funeral-baked meats, in com- parison with these meals, would be a sparkling festivity. The people are all alike, too. There is no diversity of cha- racter. They travel about on the same errands, say and do the same things in exactly the same manner, and fol- low in the same dull, cheerless round. All down the long table, there is scarcely a man who is in anything different from his neighbour. It is quite a relief to have, sitting opposite, that little girl of fifteen with the loquacious chin : who, to do her justice, acts up to it, and fully identifies nature's handwriting, for of all the small chatterboxes that ever invaded the repose of a drowsy ladies' cabin, she is the first and foremost. The beautiful girl, who sits a little beyond her—further down the table there—married the young man with the dark whiskers, who sits beyond her, only last month. They are going to settle in the very Far West, where he has lived four years, and where she has never been. They were both overturned in a stage- coach the other day (a bad omen anywhere else, where overturns are not so common), and his head, which bears the marks of a recent wound, is bound up still. She was hurt too, at the same time, and lay insen- sible for some days ; bright as her eyes

are, now.

Further down still, sits a man who is

going some miles beyond their place of destination, to "improve" a newly disco- vered copper mine. He carries the vil- lage—that is to be—with him : a few frame cottages, and apparatus for smelt- ing the copper. He carries its people too. They are partly American and partly Irish, and herd together on the lower deck ; where they amused themselves last evening till the night was pretty far ad- vanced, by alternately firing off pistols and singing hymns.

They, and the very few who have been left at table twenty minutes, rise, and go away. We do so too ; and passing through our little state-room, resume our seats in the quiet gallery without.

A fine broad river always, but in some parts, wider than in others : and then there is usually a green island, covered with

trees, dividing it into two streams. Occa- sionally, we stop for a few minutes, may be to take in wood, maybe for passengers, at some small town or village (I ought to say city, every place is a city here) : but the banks are for the most part deep solitudes, overgrown with trees, which, hereabouts, are already in leaf and very green. For miles, and miles, and miles, these solitudes are unbroken by any sign of human life or trace of human footsteps ; nor is anything seen to move about them but the blue jay, whose colour is so bright, and yet so delicate, that it looks like a flying flower. At lengthened intervals a log cabin, with its little space of cleared land about it, nestles under a rising ground, and sends its thread of blue smoke curling up into the sky. It stands in the corner of the poor field of wheat, which is full of great unsightly stumps, like earthy butchers' blocks. Sometimes the ground is only just now cleared : the felled trees lying yet upon the soil ; and the log-house only this morning begun. As we passed this clearing, the settler leans upon his axe or hammer, and looks wistfully at the people from the world. The children creep out of the temporary hut, which is like a gipsy tent upon the ground, and clap their hands and shout. The dog only glances round at us ; and then looks up into his master's face again, as if he were rendered uneasy by any suspension of the common business, and had nothing more to do with pleasurers. And still there is the same, eternal foreground. The river has washed away its banks, and stately trees have fallen down into the stream. Some have been there so long that they are mere dry grizzly skeletons. Some have just toppled over, and having earth yet about their roots, are bathing their green heads in the river, and putting forth new

shoots and branches. Some are almost

sliding down as you look at them. And some were drowned so long ago, that their

bleached arms start out from the middle

of the current, and seem to try to grasp the boat, and drag it underwater.

Through such a scene as this, the un- wieldy machine takes its hoarse sullen way ; venting, at every revolution of the paddles, a loud high-pressure blast, enough,

one would think, to waken up the host of Indians who lie buried in a great mound yonder, so old that mighty oaks and other

forest trees have struck their roots into its

earth, and so high that it is a hill even among the hills that Nature planted round it. The very river, as though it shared one's feelings of compassion for the extinct tribes who lived so pleasantly here, in their blessed ignorance of white existence, hundreds of years ago, steals out of its way to ripple near this mound ; and there are few places where the Ohio sparkles more brightly than in Big Grave Creek.

All this I see as I sit in the little stern

gallery mentioned just now. Evening slowly steals upon the landscape, and changes it before me, when we stop to set some emigrants ashore.

Five men, as many women, and a little girl. All their worldly goods are a bag, a large chest, and an old chair ; one old, high-backed, rush-bottomed chair—a soli- tary settler in itself. They are rowed ashore in the boat, while the vessel stands a little off, waiting its return, the water being shallow. They are landed at the foot of a high bank, on the summit of which are a few log cabins, attainable only by a long winding path. It is growing dusk ; but the sun is very red, and shines in the water and on some of the tree- tops like fire.

The men get out of the boat first ; help out the women, take out the bag, the chest, the chair ; bid the rowers "good bye," and shove the boat off for them. At the first plash of the oars in the water, the oldest woman of the party sits down in the old chair, close to the water's edge, without speaking a word. None of the others sit down, though the chest is large enough for many seats. They all stand where they landed, as if stricken into stone ; and look after the boat. So they remain quite still and silent : the old woman and her old chair, in the centre ; the bag and chest upon the shore, without anybody heeding them : all eyes fixed upon the boat. It comes alongside, is made fast, the men jump on board, the engine is put in motion, and we go hoarsly on again. There they stand yet, without the motion of a hand. I can see them, through my glass, when, in the distance and increasing darkness, they are mere specks to the eye : lingering there still, the old woman in the old chair, and all the rest about her : not stirring in the least degree. And thus I slowly lose

them.

The night is dark, and we proceed with- in the shadow of the wooded bank, which makes it darker. After gliding past the sombre maze of boughs for a long time, we come upon an open space, where the tall trees are burning. The shape of every branch and twig is expressed in a deep red glow, and as the light wind stirs and ruf- fles it, they seem to vegetate in fire. It is such a sight as we read of in legends of enchanted forests : saving that it is sad to see these noble works wasting away so awfully, clone ; and to think how many years must come and go before the magic that created them will rear the like upon this ground again. But the time will come : and when, in their changed ashes, the growth of centuries unborn has struck its roots, the restless men of distant ages will repair to these again unpeopled soli- tudes ; and their fellows, in cities far away, that slumber now, perhaps, beneath the rolling sen, will read, in language strange to any ears in being now, but very old to them, of primeval forests where the axe was never heard, and where the jungled ground was never trodden by a human

foot.

Midnight and sleep blot out these scenes and thoughts : and when the morning shines again, it gilds the house-tops of a lively city, before whose broad paved wharf the boat is moored ; with other boats, and flags, and moving wheels, and hum of men around it ; as though there were not a solitary or silent rood of ground within the compass of a thousand miles.

Cincinnati is a beautiful city ; cheerful, thriving, and animating. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so fa- vourably and pleasantly to a stranger at the first glance as this doe : with its clean houses of red and white, its well-paved roads, and footways of bright tile. Nor does it become less prepossessing on a closer acquaintance. The streets are broad and airy, the shops extremely good, the pri-

vate residences remarkable for their ele-

gance and neatness. There is something of invention and fancy in the varying styles of these latter erections, which, after the dull company of the steamboat, is per- fectly delightful, as conveying an assurance that there are such qualities still in ex- istence. The disposition to ornament these pretty villas and render them at- tractive, leads to the culture of trees and flowers, and the laying out of well-kept gardens, the sight of which, to those who walk along the streets, is inexpressibly refreshing and agreeable. I was quite

charmed with the appearance of the town, and its adjoining suburban of Mount Au- burn : from which the city, lying in an amphitheatre of hills, forms a picture of remarkable beauty, and is seen to great advantage.

There happened to be a great temper- ance convention held here on the day after our arrival ; and as the order of march brought the procession under the windows of the hotel in which we lodged, when they started in the morning, I had a good opportunity of seeing it. It comprised several thousand men ; the members of various " "Washington Auxiliary Tem- perance Societies;" and was marshalled by officers on horseback, who cantered briskly up and down the line, with scarfs and ribbons of bright colours fluttering out behind them gaily. There were bands of music too, and banners out of number ; and it was a fresh, holiday-looking con- course altogether.

I was particularly pleased to see the Irishmen, who formed a distinct society among themselves, and mustered very strong with their green scarfs ; carrying their national Harp and their Portrait of Father Mathew, high above the people's heads. They looked as jolly and good humoured as ever ; and, working the hard- est for their living and doing any kind of sturdy labour that came in their way, were the most independent fellows there, I thought.

The banners were very well painted, and flaunted about the street famously. There was the smiting of the rock, and the gushing forth of the waters ; and there was a temperate man with " con- siderable of a hatchet" (as the standard bearer would probably have said), aiming a deadly blow at a serpent which was ap- parently about to spring upon him from the top of a barrel of spirits. But the chief feature of this part of the show was a huge allegorical device, borne among the ship-carpenters, on one side whereof the steamboat Alcohol was represented bursting her boiler and exploding with a great crash, while upon the other, the good ship Temperance sailed away with a fair wind, to the hearts' content of the captain, crew, and passengers.

After going round the town, the pro- cession repaired to a certain appointed place, where, as the printed programme set forth, it would be received by the chil- dren of the different free schools, "singing Temperance Songs." I was prevented from getting there in time to hear these Little Warblers, or to report upon this novel kind of vocal entertainment : novel, at least to me : but I found, in a large open space, each society gathered round its own banners, and listening in silent attention to its own orator. The speeches, judging from the little I could hear of them, were certainly adapted to the occa- sion, as having that degree of relationship to cold water which wet blankets may claim : but the main thing was the con- duct and appearance of the audience throughout the day; and that was ad- mirable and full of promise.

Cincinnati is honourably famous for its free schools, of which it has so many that no person's child among its population can, by possibility, want the means of education, which are extended, upon an average, to four thousand pupils, annually. I was only present in one of these estab- lishments during the hours of instruction. In the boys' department, which was full of little urchins, (varying in their ages, I should say, from six years old to ten or twelve), the master offered to institute an extemporary examination of the pupils in algebra ; a proposal, which, as I was by no means confident of my ability to detect mistakes in that science, I declined with some alarm. In the girls' school, reading was proposed ; and as I felt tolerably equal to that art I expressed my willingness to hear a class. Books were distributed ac-

cordingly, and some half dozen girls re- lieved each other in reading paragraphs from English History. But it was a dry compilation, infinitely above their powers ; and when they had blundered through three or four dreary passages concerning the treaty of Amiens, and other thrilling topics of the some nature (obviously with- out comprehending ten words ; I expressed myself quite satisfied. It is very possible that they only mounted to this exalted stave in the Ladder of Learning, for the astonishment of a visitor ; and that at other times they keep upon its lower rounds ; but I should have been much better pleased and satisfied if I had heard them exercised in simpler lessons, which they understood.

As in every other place I visited, the Judges here were gentlemen of high cha- racter and attainments, I was in one of the courts for a few minutes, and found it like those to which I have already referred.   A nuisance cause was trying ; there were not many spectators ; and the witnesses, counsel, and jury, formed a sort of family circle, sufficiently jocose and snug.

The society with which I mingled, was intelligent, courteous, and agreeable. The inhabitants cf Cincinnati are proud of their city, as one of the most interesting in America : and with good reason : for beauti- ful and thriving as it is now, and contain- ing, as it does, a population of fifty thou- sand souls, but two-and-fifty years have passed away since the ground on which it stands (bought at that time for a few dol- lars) was a wild wood, and its citizens were but a handful of dwellers in scattered log huts upon the river's shore.