Rich in narrative and colorful detail, this cultural history of America from 1830 to 1880 illuminates the fifty years that transformed a wild continent into a modern nation as it retraces the travels of eight eminently British visitors to the growing country's shores. Besides the nation that Charles Dickens hugely quarreled with or the one with which Oscar Wilde fell wittily in love, this lively volume examines the America that prompted Frances Trollope to acidly indict barbarous Cincinnati and that turned the celebrated actress Fanny Kemble into a passionate abolitionist. It explores the Colorado Territory with George Ruxton and travels by stagecoach with Richard Burton across the Great Plains. It follows the path of William Howard Russell, who covered the outbreak of the Civil War for the London Times, and chronicles the adventures of Frank Harris as a real-life Texas cowboy. In all, it brings new light to the dawn of modern America.
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Read an Excerpt
An Exploration of the American Character in the 19th Century
By James C. Simmons Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright © 2001 James C. Simmons
All right reserved.
"And how do you like our country, sir?" asked Mrs. Hominy. "Very much indeed," said Martin, half asleep. "At leastthat ispretty well, ma'am." "Most strangersand partick'larly Britishersare much surprised by what they see in the United States," remarked Mrs. Hominy. "They have excellent reason to be, ma'am," said Martin. "I never was so surprised in my life."
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit
Frances Trollope: America's Nemesis
In late March 1832 bookstores throughout England began displaying a new book with the innocent title Domestic Manners of the Americans. Its author, Frances Trollope, had just celebrated her fifty-third birthday. This was her first book. It recounted in graphic detail her stay of 25 months in Cincinnati, then the largest city on the northwestern American frontier. Mrs. Trollope proved to be a shrewd, if prejudiced, observer whose style was laced throughout with an acid wit. "I do not like Americans," she confessed. "I do not like their principles. I do not like their manners. I do not like their opinions." Mrs. Trollope unequivocally insisted that the Americanexperiment was a giant step back toward barbarism, an unruly triumph of the mob.
Domestic Manners quickly became that rarity of the publishing business, a bona fide phenomenon. No other travel book on America has ever generated so much controversy. In the United States an outraged citizenry bought up copies as fast the publishers could print them. A British Army officer in New York City in 1832 viewed the commotion with utter disbelief. "The Tariff and Bank Bills were alike forgotten, and the tug of war was hard, whether Domestic Manners or the cholera, both of which had burst upon them simultaneously, should be the more engrossing topic of conversation," he wrote home. "At every table d'hote, on board every steamship, in every stage coach, and in all societies, the first question was, 'Have you read Mrs. Trollope?'"
No English citizen since King George III enjoyed such notoriety in America as did Mrs. Trollope. She was lampooned, parodied, travestied, and caricatured everywhere, until she became a folk character. A British tourist in New England later encountered her likeness in a traveling menagerie. "This exact likeness turned out to be the figure of a fat red-faced trollop, smoking a short pipe, and dressed in dirty flannel and worsted and a ragged slouched hat," he wrote. "'This,' said the showman, 'is the purty Mrs. Trollope, who was sent over to the United States by the British lords to write libels against the free-born Americans.' The figure excited a good deal of attention and was abused in no measured terms." And trollope in America became a universal slang term of reproval to be hurled at ill-mannered and uncouth brethren. "A trollope! A trollope!" American theater audiences shouted whenever a gentleman parked his feet on the edge of his box.
And yet Mrs. Trollope had not come to America expecting to judge it harshly. Indeed, in late 1827 when she sailed from the British shores for New Orleans, her heart was full of hope. America was for her a promised land where anything might be possible. Severe times had overtaken her own family. Her husband was nearly bankrupt. In America she hoped to recover his losses. She was then a true believer in the American dream of happiness and freedom for all men. Within two years she had been totally disillusioned. What had soured her dream?
Frances Trollope was born on March 10, 1779, near Bristol, England, the third of four children. Her father was the Rev. William Milton, an eccentric country clergyman who dabbled with inventions. (His pride and joy was a set of dinner plates with silver strips embedded in them to eliminate the screeching noise of knives against porcelain.) In 1784 his wife died, leaving him the dominant influence in the lives of his children. In 1801 he remarried and relocated to a small country parish. Frances Milton's education was desultory and typical of the period for girls in her situation: singing and playing the pianoforte, a smattering of languages, and some art lessons.
In 1803 her brother Henry took a position in London at the War Office and moved with his two sisters into a house in the Bloomsbury section. Beau Brummel and George, Prince of Wales, dominated London's high society, a world of stylishly dressed men and women who devoted their days to clothes, parties, witty conversation, and sexual intrigues. Frances Milton's days were a whirl of theatrical performances, card parties, museum visits, small dinner parties, and balls. In 1808 her brother introduced her to Thomas Arnold Trollope, a 34-year-old barrister, the younger son of a baronet, and a man with "expectations." They were oppositesshe vivacious, witty, extroverted; he reserved, stolid, and taciturn. Yet in spite of their differences they fell in love and were married on May 23, 1809. The marriage was ill-fated. In that happy honeymoon period Mrs. Trollope could never have foreseen that ahead lay bankruptcy and sorrow. Her family's salvation was to depend entirely on her courage and faith.
Mrs. Trollope quickly settled into her new career of housewife and mother. In the next nine years she gave birth to seven children, including Anthony, in 1815, who would establish himself as one of England's most beloved novelists. Their comfortable middle-class establishment included a nurse, several servants, and a liveried footman. Thomas Trollope's law practice in Lincoln Inn prospered. This, plus the expectation of a large inheritance from a favorite uncle, prompted him in 1813 to lease a farm of 160 acres near Harrow, an hour's ride from his London office. He soon started construction on a handsome new house, a stately brick mansion of four stories with several chimneys. He underestimated the costs and then was horrified to learn that his uncle, the source of all his expectations, had unexpectedly married a young woman. Their first child appeared the following year, dashing nephew Thomas's hopes for a large inheritance. "That farm was the grave of all my father's hopes, ambition, and prosperity, the cause of my mother's sufferings, and those of her children, and perhaps the director of her destiny and ours," his son Anthony observed years later in his Autobiography.
To make matters worse, Thomas Trollope's London law practice slowly unwound. His arrogance, coupled with a quarrelsome manner, offended both his clients and colleagues. His reputation as a dour, sullen, and rude-mannered man quickly spread. Soon he found himself without a practice. One consequence was a marked deterioration in his health. The Trollope family's standard of living underwent a slow but steady decline.
Mrs. Trollope did what she could to stem the ebb of the family fortunes, displaying a mix of common sense and fortitude. She simply refused to dwell on losses and adjusted to each new crisis by doggedly forging ahead. She studied farming journals to learn the latest techniques, kept the house in order, read Dante while hemming her sheets, and gave parties that delighted others. Her daughter-in-law remembered her in later years: "She had admirably good sense, much genuine humour, great knowledge of the world, and a quick appreciation of others' gifts, and above all, a character of the most flawless sincerity and a warmly affectionate heart." She, not her husband, proved the dominant force within their family.
Mrs. Trollope had long considered herself something of a radical in her political persuasion. Her drawing room at Harrow soon developed a reputation as a sympathetic refuge for anyone fleeing persecution. "She used to be such a Radical that her house ... was a perfect emporium of escaped state criminals," her good friend novelist Mary Russell Mitford recalled. "I remember asking her at one of her parties how many of her guests would have been shot or guillotined if they had remained in their own country."
One of these was a young, handsome artist, Auguste Hervieu, a 33-year-old refugee from monarchist France. Most of his life had been spent in the lonely pursuit of art and revolution without the benefit of family or funds. His father, a professional soldier, had died during Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. The young Hervieu was forced into exile in 1823 after his complicity in a plot to overthrow Louis XVIII was discovered. He was sentenced in absentia to a fine of 15,000 francs and five years in prison. He eventually found refuge in the Trollope household as the children's art tutor.
In 1823 Mrs. Trollope made her first visit to Paris, where she met General Marie Joseph Paul Lafayette, the venerable hero of the American Revolution, and his ward, Frances Wright. This wealthy Scotswoman would soon shape Mrs. Trollope's fortunes in a direction she could never have foreseen. A person of strong character and fanatical idealism, Miss Wright at 28 enjoyed a large fortune with which she indulged her enthusiasms for such revolutionary causes as socialism, free love, and women's rights. Thomas Adolphus Trollope, the oldest son, remembered her as "a very clever woman ... handsome in a large and almost masculine style of beauty, with a most commanding presence."
In 1824 when General Lafayette embarked upon his triumphant tour of the United States, Miss Wright was at his side. She developed a special interest in slavery and purchased a small plantation called Nashoba fifteen miles from Memphis, Tennessee. There she set up a utopian community where she hoped to solve the problem of American slavery. Her Negroes would earn their emancipation while special schools would teach them the survival skills necessary for a new life outside the United States. Upon her return to France she invited the Trollopes for an extended visit at General Lafayette's splendid chateau. (Another guest there was American novelist James Fenimore Cooper.) From the first Mrs. Trollope had been enormously attracted and somewhat overwhelmed by the younger woman. A reformer, world traveler, and published author, Miss Wright seemed to have done it all. By contrast Mrs. Trollope's own life at Harrow appeared barren of excitement and achievement. Her youngest son was in school. She yearned for a new direction in her life. Frances Wright's scheme at Nashoba seemed to promise just that.
At Harrow Mr. Trollope's financial problems multiplied while his health deteriorated still further. Early in 1827 he informed his wife that they must give up their spacious mansion at Harrow for the cramped confines of a cottage remote from London. In the meantime Miss Wright had returned to America and sent glowing letters of her progress at Nashoba. "Our people are now singing in chorus," she wrote. "We have a tolerable fiddle among them, and I shall bring ... a flute for another. We have already a large room where they dance twice a week, and so heartily after a day's hard work of hewing and chopping that I could wish myself one of them. Thus far I am amazed at our success. We were told of difficulties and apprehended many. Truly as yet we have found none worthy of the name." To Mrs. Trollope, struggling with marital disillusionment and major financial problems, faraway Nashoba seemed like an Eden newly carved out of the wilderness.
In 1827 Miss Wright returned to England in the hopes of gaining new recruits for her plantation in Tennessee. "The more I see of the old world the less I feel inclined to remain in it," she advised her friends the Trollopes. "But I should like to rescue out of it a few rational beings who are too good for it and would be much happier in the woods." She desperately wanted a female companion to accompany her to Nashoba. "Must I return without a bosom intimate?" she pleaded. "Our little circle has mind, has heart, has right opinions, right feelings.... Yet I do want one of my own sex to commune with and sometimes to lean upon in all the confidence of equality and friendship."
Miss Wright and Mrs. Trollope had another lengthy visit outside Paris at the Lafayette estate. The ardent reformer pressed her friend to return to Nashoba with her. She suggested that Mrs. Trollope's son Henry and companion Hervieu also come along to assume teaching positions in the commune. At last Mrs. Trollope gave in. She convinced her husband that a year or two in the American woods with three of their children (Henry, age 16; and Cecilia and Emily, ages eleven and nine) would resolve many of their most pressing financial problems. Her mind made up, Mrs. Trollope quickly packed and with a servant and maid in tow joined Miss Wright in London. She looked forward to her adventure with great excitement. She knew next to nothing about the country ahead. At the time of her birth, the American colonies had been in revolt against England; they had united and written their Constitution while she was a young girl. Except for Frances Wright and her companion General Lafayette, Mrs. Trollope had talked to almost no one who had actually spent time in America. And the young Scotswoman had applauded unstintingly the energy, integrity, hospitality, cleanliness, and polite manners of the American people.
On November 4 the small group boarded a ship bound for New Orleans. After seven weeks of sailing they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on Christmas Day and found themselves in the middle of a barren landscape of "mud banks, monstrous bulrushes, and now and then a huge crocodile luxuriating in the slime." For two days they traveled up the wide river past flat mud banks devoid of any features except an occasional hut and stunted tree. On December 27 their ship docked at New Orleans, and they set their legs on solid ground for the first time in almost two months. Mrs. Trollope felt like an explorer entering an uncharted land. "At our public schools America (except perhaps as to her geographical position) is hardly better known than Fairy Land," she wrote later in Domestic Manners. "And the American character has not been much more deeply studied than that of the Anthropophagi. All, therefore, was new, and everything was amusing."
Before railroads came to dominate the American landscape in the post-Civil War years, New Orleans was the hub of the great Mississippi Valley. Vast quantities of grain, cotton, furs, and tobacco flowed from the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies into the city on steamboats, flatboats, and barges. In the minds of the Americans New Orleans was a great, rich, romantic city. And as long as water travel had been dominant, it remained soa joyous, epicurean metropolis whose French character fitted well into the Jacksonian culture of the agrarian West.
After settling into a hotel, Mrs. Trollope ventured out to explore the sights and sounds of America. In 1827 New Orleans was still more French than American in many ways. The language was equally divided between French and English. She thought the city had all the appearances superficially of "a French Ville de Province." But it possessed an exoticism no French city could match. She marveled at "the grace and beauty of the elegant Quadroons, the occasional groups of wild and savage looking Indians, the unwonted aspect of the vegetation, and the huge and turbid river with its low and slimy shore." The sight of her first slave, a young black girl sweeping the steps of her master's house, made a profound impression on her. A dedicated abolitionist, Mrs. Trollope gave her imagination free rein to invent little romantic miseries for each of the numerous slaves she saw.
On January 1, 1828, the small band of British travelers boarded the steamboat Belvidere for the passage to Memphis. Mrs. Trollope deplored the condition of their cabins"I would infinitely prefer sharing the apartment of a party of well conditioned pigs." She spent long hours on the deck intently watching the river traffic. Accustomed to the neatly tamed rivers of the English countryside, she was utterly unprepared for the desolation and savagery of the lower Mississippi River and the culture along its banks. The Belvidere carried in deck passage 200 flatboat crewmen returning to Kentucky. They were her introduction to the rough-mannered frontiersmen so common along the river. Her initial feelings were mixed. She thought the Kentuckians "noble-looking and extremely handsome." Yet she also found them "a most disorderly set of persons, constantly gambling and wrangling, very seldom sober, and never suffering a night to pass without giving practical proof of the respect in which they hold the doctrine of equality."
American mannersor their absencegrated upon Mrs. Trollope almost from the first. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the ship's dining room. For her meal time quickly became major ordeals:
The total want of all the usual courtesies of the table, the voracious rapidity with which the viands were seized and devoured, the strange uncouth phrases and pronunciation; the loathsome spitting, from the contamination of which it was absolutely impossible to protect our dresses; the frightful manner of feeding with their knives, till the whole blade seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful manner of cleaning the teeth afterwards with a pocket knife, soon forced us to feel that we were not surrounded by the generals, colonels, and majors of the old world; and that the dinner hour was to be anything rather than an hour of enjoyment.
Mrs. Trollope began to have doubts, too, about her companion Frances Wright. "I was a very poor creature during the voyage and persuaded myself repeatedly that it was my weakness that made me deem Fanny too eccentric," she wrote home in one letter. "I saw her sitting upon a coil of rope in the steerage, reading to a sailor occupied in patching his breeches ... some of the wildest doctrines of equality and concubinage that pen ever traced on paper. Writing such and reading them aloud were her chief occupation during the voyage. And I often recurred to the idea that had tormented us at Paris that she was not in her right senses."
Steamboats were an unexpected novelty to Mrs. Trollope. Nothing remotely like them existed in Europe. "They are the stage coaches and fly wagons of this land of lakes and rivers," she marveled. Steamboats were the invention of Robert Fulton, a Pennsylvania-born civil engineer. His boat, the Clermont, made history in August 1807 when it steamed at five miles per hour up the Hudson River. Four years later the New Orleans became the first steamboat to operate on the Mississippi River and ushered in an era of rapid industrial and agricultural development along the entire Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. (One of the early steamboats named each of its cabins after a state, thus giving the term "stateroom" to the English language.) In 1827 the Tecumseh set a record when she traveled from New Orleans to Louisville in eight days and two hours. By 1827 the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers teemed with more than 175 steamboats. Most were between 100 and 150 feet in length and cost about $7,500 to build. Steamboat travel was relatively inexpensive. A cabin-class ticket for the passage between New Orleans and Pittsburgh cost about $50. (That same trip in a flatboat with none of the creature comforts ran $6.) The average lifespan of a steamboat was less than five years. Travel on a steamboat was far more dangerous than a long ocean voyage to China. Explosions, mid-river collisions, and groundings on sandbars were daily risks to be endured. Accidents were frequent and often resulted in a horrendous loss of life. On April 25, 1838, the steamship Moselle, crowded with 260 passengers, was backing away from the wharf at Cincinnati when her four boilers exploded simultaneously. Pieces of bodies rained down in Kentucky half a mile away. "One hundred and fifty souls were ushered into eternity," one local newspaper editor wrote.
Furnishing wood to steamboats was a common industry along the rivers, fuel amounting to thirty percent of their operating costs. A cord of cut wood sold for $2.50. The Belvidere made daily stops to collect wood. Mrs. Trollope was appalled at the isolation, squalid lifestyle, and poverty of the woodcutters and their families. Most lived in ramshackle huts atop tall piles at the river's edge. "Their complexion is of a bluish white that suggests ... dropsy; and the little ones wear the same ghastly hue," she wrote later. "A miserable cow and a few pigs standing knee-deep in water distinguish the more prosperous of these dwellings. On the whole, I should say I never witnessed human nature reduced so low, as it appeared in the woodcutters' huts on the unwholesome banks of the Mississippi."
The Belvidere slowly pushed its way up the river toward Memphis. Mrs. Trollope noted one of the most common sights of river travel in the 1820s, the lurid glare of burning forests, which often illuminated the river at nighttime and sent great clouds of smoke swirling over their heads. New settlers in the virgin wilderness cleared land for farming simply by burning the forests away. The waste appalled Mrs. Trollope. But the fires marked a major difference between England, where men were many and land scarce, and the American frontier, where men were few and land was abundant. Flagrant wastefulness was already established in 1828 as a national American trait. "Wastefulness came naturally to the frontiersman," historian Ray A. Billington has observed. "Who would think of preservation amidst overwhelming abundance? In his eyes nature's riches were so plentiful that their exhaustion was beyond comprehension. Why protect trees in a land where they grew by the billions? Why preserve soil when a move to virgin fields was cheaper than fertilizer?"
The Belvidere arrived in Memphis at night in a heavy rain. Wet and exhausted, the little group made its way to a hotel near the riverfront. There Mrs. Trollope had her introduction to the democratic spirit prevailing in Western inns. She quickly learned that the frontier refused to sanction any distinction between "first-class" and "second-class" service. Tradesmen, plantation owners, generals, deckhands, farmers, and congressmen all ate side by side at long tables and received the same treatment. The next day Mrs. Trollope made clear her desire to take her meals in her room; but Miss Wright quickly discouraged her, saying that the lady of the house would take the request as a personal affront. Mrs. Trollope was horrified to discover that she had to eat her meals with fifty other guests around an enormous table with her servant William seated directly across from her.
The following morning Mrs. Trollope's group piled their trunks and boxes into a carriage and set out for Nashoba along a crude muddy roadway studded with stumps, with an impenetrable forest looming on either side. In the late afternoon they reached their destination. Mrs. Trollope sat in the carriage in stunned disbelief and looked around at the rude clearing with its small collection of crude cabins. "Every idea I had formed of the place was as far as possible from the truth," she recalled with a shudder in Domestic Manners. "Desolation was the only feelingthe only word that presented itself." Shocked and bewildered, Mrs. Trollope, Hervieu, and her children explored the small settlement. The cabins proved crude two-room affairs with dirt floors and only a smattering of rough furniture. The several whites living there were pale, thin, and chronically ill from the poor climate.
The eloquence of Frances Wright had brought them all these many thousands of miles from England. Her mind's imagination had transformed the little log cabins with their dirty, half-clad Negro tenants into a splendid hall with columns and arcades. Miss Wright appeared genuinely surprised that her guests should find anything disagreeable in the arrangements of her colony. She "stood in the midst of all this desolation with the air of a conqueror," Mrs. Trollope noted, and dined upon corn bread and a glass of rainwater, smiling with a complacency that made her guest think of Peter the Hermit eating acorns in the wilderness.
Fearful for her children's health, Mrs. Trollope determined at once to leave Nashoba. But her money was exhausted. She had to wait ten days while Miss Wright's trustees made arrangements to lend $300 so she could relocate her family in more agreeable surroundings.
On January 26 Mrs. Trollope led her group back to Memphis. On February 1 they embarked on the steamboat Criterion for Cincinnati, after New Orleans the most important city west of the Allegheny Mountains. In Memphis she had heard numerous stories of Cincinnati's beauty, wealth, and unequaled prosperity. She was much too dedicated an abolitionist to relocate in a Southern state, and Cincinnati seemed to offer the nearest and most convenient place of refuge. England was clearly beyond reach. But, she reasoned, a skillful use of the $300 she had borrowed might lead to a new life in Cincinnati.
Mrs. Trollope's spirits lifted as the Criterion left the muddy waters of the Mississippi for the clearer Ohio River. The shore scenery presented a greater variety than before. Virgin forests hung in solemn grandeur from the cliffs. Settlements were frequent. In Kentucky the vast tracts of rich pastureland impressed her. On February 10 they arrived in Cincinnati, a city of some 20,000 inhabitants situated on the south side of several hills that rose gently from the river's edge. Mrs. Trollope's first impression was that the city's skyline "wanted domes, towers, and steeples." But the wharf, with its 15 steamboats tied up, impressed her. She and her group checked into the Washington Hotel. Cincinnati would be her home for the next 25 eventful months.
Although only recently carved out of the wilderness, Cincinnati had grown far beyond a frontier post of log cabins and mud paths. In 1828 it was a center for western migration, the steamboat capital of the Ohio Valley, and well on its way to becoming the economic colossus of the entire Midwest. Several thousand people a month passed through the city on their way to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Immigrants poured into Cincinnati at such a rapid rate that not even the construction of 1,400 new homes the preceding year proved sufficient. The city boasted nine steam-engine factories and nine cotton mills. It supported 12 newspapers, 34 charitable organizations, 23 churches, 40 schools, two colleges, and a medical school. The city's one theater was reputed to be the finest in America, after New York's and Philadelphia's.
In 1828 Cincinnati was already the manufacturing center of the Ohio Valley. Its factories annually exported more than $2,500,000 of tools, furniture, clocks, paper, hats, books, whiskey, and flour. Early farmers in southern Ohio discovered that corn thrived in the soil; but getting their corn to distant markets proved difficult. They solved the problem by walking their crops to market on pig's feet, thus forming the basis for one of Cincinnati's largest industriesmeat packing. The city soon was shipping so much pork and lard that others referred to it as "Porkopolis," much to the indignation of its citizenry. (In 1837 two Cincinnati merchants, candle-molder William Proctor and soap-boiler James Gamble already grown wealthy from the byproducts of pigs, married sisters and merged their businesses. Within a few years Proctor & Gamble was a household name in the American soap industry.) As many as 20 large steamboats at once often tied up at the city's wharf. The city was so dominant that river men sometimes called the Ohio the Cincinnati River. The Ohio River valley reminded the early German immigrants of their Rhine valley back home. Soon thousands of Germans were arriving. (By 1841, 28 percent of the city's population was German and Cincinnati had taken on a distinctly German flavor.) In 1831 Timothy Flint, the editor of the Cincinnati magazine Western Monthly Review, observed with satisfaction that the city presented "a picture of beauty, wealth, progress, and fresh advance, as few landscapes in any country can surpass."
After settling into temporary quarters in the Washington Hotel, Mrs. Trollope set about exploring Cincinnati. The sight of three-story brick-and-mortar buildings cheered her after many weeks of crude log buildings. She likened the place to Salisbury in size and population but "without even an attempt at beauty in any of its edifices and with only just enough of the air of a city to make it noisy and bustling." She noted with interest the large number of free Negroes on the streets, most of whom lived in a section of the city known as Little Africa. Main Street, the city's principal thoroughfare, was the only one entirely paved. Most of Cincinnati had been built around a system of squares. On the south the city fronted up against the Ohio River ("a beautiful feature"). But to the north it abutted against a series of steep, timber-covered hills, which, she thought, gave life in Cincinnati a certain claustrophobic air.
The newness of Cincinnati constantly amazed her. "Freshly risen from the bosom of the wilderness," the city had been carved out of raw frontier only a generation earlier. The most obvious vestiges of the frontierthe log cabins, buckskin jackets, and Indian raidshad vanished. But Mrs. Trollope soon discovered, to her horror, that the behavior of many of the city's inhabitants still exhibited the coarseness, expediency, rugged individualism, restlessness, nervous energy, crude manners, and fanatical devotion to equality characteristic of life in the West. Mrs. Trollope quickly came up against the leveling influence of the frontier on Jacksonian democracy. She, in turn, was always much too British to accept as a fundamental difference between America and England a social code that merged groups rather than set them apart.
Mrs. Trollope soon arranged to rent a house. However, settling her domestic arrangements proved a major challenge. Simply finding servants on the frontier became an unanticipated nightmare in a land where illiterate farm girls thought themselves too proud to work for a lady. "Hundreds of half-naked girls work in the paper mills ... for less than half the wages they would receive in service," she complained. "But they think their equality is compromised by the latter." Her first girl lasted only a few days and then left in a sulk after Mrs. Trollope refused to let her eat at the family table. "I guess that's 'cause you don't think I'm good enough to eat with you," she pointedly informed her employer. "You'll find that won't do here." Mrs. Trollope quickly learned that on the frontier Americans of both sexes felt equal, acted the part, and resented both menial tasks and menial titles.
Finally, Mrs. Trollope and her group were settled into a house that was both "neat and comfortable." But life in Cincinnati lacked many of the amenities she had taken for granted in London. Her house had no pump, cistern, or drain. And no dustman's cart stopped regularly to collect the garbage.
"What," she demanded of her landlord, "are we to do with our refuse?"
"Your help will have to fix them all into the middle of the street, but you must mind, old woman, that it is the middle," he informed her. (Her landlord was the first, but not the last, to address her as "old woman." So she would become known around Cincinnati, much to her distress.) "I expect you don't know as we have got a law that forbids throwing such things at the sides of the streets. They must all be cast right into the middle, and the pigs soon takes them off."
Cincinnati was one giant pigsty. The ubiquitous pigs, thin-backed and dirty, rooted about in every quarter of the city, fattening themselves on the mounds of garbage until they themselves disappeared into the many slaughterhouses. (Cincinnati was not the only American city employing a leave-it-to-the-pigs system of garbage removal; Mrs. Trollope later discovered that even in New York City vast numbers of the animals roamed freely along the streets.) In one of the most vivid passages of Domestic Manners she complained:
It seems hardly fair to quarrel with a place because its staple commodity is not pretty, but I am sure I should have liked Cincinnati much better if the people had not dealt so very largely in hogs. The immense quantity of business done in this line would hardly be believed by those who had not witnessed it. I never saw a newspaper without remarking such advertisements as the following:
"Wanted, immediately, 4,000 fat hogs."
"For sale, 2,000 barrels of prime pork."
But the annoyance came nearer than this. If I determined upon a walk up Main Street, the chances were five hundred to one against my reaching the shady side without brushing by a snout fresh dripping from the kennel. When we had screwed our courage to the enterprise of mounting a certain noble-looking sugar-loaf hill that promised pure air and a fine view, we found the brook we had to cross at its foot red with the stream from a pig slaughter house.... Our feet on leaving the city had expected to press the flowery sod, [but] literally got entangled in pigs' tails and jawbones.
Excerpted from Star-Spangled Eden by James C. Simmons Copyright © 2001 by James C. Simmons. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
|Part 1||Jacksonian America||5|
|Chapter 1||Frances Trollope: America's Nemesis||15|
|Chapter 2||Fanny Kemble: British Mistress of a Georgian Plantation||53|
|Chapter 3||Charles Dickens: The Great Quarrel with America||95|
|Part 2||The Western Frontier||133|
|Chapter 4||Ruxton of the Rockies||143|
|Chapter 5||Richard Burton: By Stagecoach Through the Far West||183|
|Part 3||The Civil War||215|
|Chapter 6||Bull Run Russell||223|
|Part 4||The Rise of Modern America||251|
|Chapter 7||Frank Harris: Confessions of a Cowboy||259|
|Chapter 8||Oscar Wilde: Wilde in the American Streets||289|
|Notes for Further Reading||333|