On completion of the dangerous voyage aboard the Britannia
Dickens made a presentation of silver plate to Captain Hewett on behalf
of the passengers. Read Dickens' speech
Dickens' American Observations 1842
- The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should imagine, to impress
all strangers very favourably.
- 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
- It is a handsome city, but distractingly regular. After walking about
it for an hour or two, I felt that I would have given the world for a crooked
street. The collar of my coat appeared to stiffen, and the brim of my hat
to expand, beneath its Quakerly influence.
- This capital of the state of Maryland is a bustling, busy town, with a
great deal of traffic of various kinds, and in particular of water commerce.
That portion of the town which it most favours is none of the cleanest,
it is true; but the upper part is of a very different character, and has
many agreeable streets and public buildings.
- It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might
with greater propriety be termed the City of Magnificent Intentions; for
it is only on taking a bird's-eye view of it from the top of the Capitol
that one can at all comprehend the vast designs of its projector, an aspiring
Frenchman. Spacious avenues that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere; streets,
mile long, that only want houses, roads, and inhabitants; public buildings
that need but a public to be complete; and ornaments of great thoroughfares,
which only lack great thoroughfares to ornament -- are its leading features.
- The next day, and the next, we rode and walked about the town, which is
delightfully situated on eight hills, overhanging James River; a sparkling
stream, studded here and there with bright islands, or brawling over broken
rocks. Although it was yet but the middle of March, the weather in this
southern temperature was extremely warm; the peach-trees and magnolias were
in full bloom; and the trees were green.
- Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving, and animated. I have
not often seen a place that commends itself so favourably and pleasantly
to a stranger at the first glance as this does: with its clean houses of
red and white, its well-paved roads, and footways bright tile. Nor does
it become less prepossessing on a closer acquaintance. The streets are broad
and airy, the shops extremely good, the private residences remarkable for
their elegance and neatness.
- 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.
- 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 perking
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 was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked -- Great Heaven, on
what a fall of bright green water! -- that it came upon me in its full might
and majesty. Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the
first effect, and the enduring one -- instant and lasting -- of the tremendous
spectacle, was Peace.
- Montreal is pleasantly situated on the margin of the St. Lawrence, and
is backed by some bold heights, about which there are charming rides and
drives. The streets are generally narrow and irregular, as in most French
towns of any age; but, in the more modern parts of the city, they are wide
and airy. All the rides in the vicinity were made doubly interesting by
the bursting out of spring, which is here so rapid that it is but a day's
leap from barren winter to the blooming youth of summer.
Dickens' will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honor him. The only
statue of Dickens, cast in bronze in 1891 by Frank Edwin Elwell, is located in
Herb Moskovitz relates the circumstances of Dickens' meeting with Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia in March 1842
Boz in Egypt
Dickens' visit to southern Illinois in 1842 is explored in this article by Herbert Channick
America's favorite poet met Dickens in Boston in
1842 and the two became lifelong friends. Longfellow's observations of his
"He has not a moment's rest;-calls innumerable-invitations innumerable;-and
is engaged three deep for the remainder of his stay, in the way of dinners
He is a gay, free and easy character;-a fine bright face; blue eyes, long
dark hair, and withal a slight dash of the Dick Swiveller in him."
Dickens' Letters to John Forster from America in 1842
During his 1842 trip to America Dickens wrote lengthy
letters home to his friend and future biographer, John Forster. Dickens
used these letters, along with his personal diary, as a basis for the account
of the trip published as American Notes. The letters contained more
of Dickens' thoughts than he included in the book, these candid observations
were published after Dickens' death in Forster's biography The Life of
Charles Dickens and portions can be found here on these topics:
Dickens directed and acted in three plays at the
Theatre Royal in Montreal during the two weeks he was there in 1842. His
wife also played a part in Deaf as a Post. See the playbill
Suppressed Introductory Chapter to American Notes
Dickens wrote an introductory chapter to American
Notes that his friend and future biographer, John Forster, talked him
out of including in the published book. Forster felt that the chapter should
be withheld until sufficient time had passed to diffuse ill feelings over
some of Dickens' criticism of America. Forster included the chapter in his
biography The Life of Charles Dickens, published after Dickens death.
Dickens' American Reading Tour 1867/68 A Hot Ticket
Tickets for Dickens readings were sold out as soon
as they appeared. Despite Dickens' and his manager's best efforts to make
the readings affordable, ticket scalpers ('speculators' in the following
article) were buying up the tickets and reselling them at exorbitant prices.
The following article from a Philadelphia paper describes the sale of tickets
to New York shows.
"The pay-place was to open at nine on a Wednesday morning, and at midnight
of Tuesday a long line of speculators were assembled in queue; at two in
the morning a few honest buyers had begun to arrive; at five there were,
of all classes, two lines of not less than 800 each; at eight there were
at least 5,000 persons in the two lines; at nine each line was more than
three-quarters of a mile in length, and neither became sensibly shorter
during the whole morning. The tickets for the course were all sold before
noon. Members of families relieved each other in the queues; waiters flew
across the streets and squares from the neighbouring restaurant, to serve
parties who were taking their breakfast in the open December air; while
excited men offered five and ten dollars for the mere permission to exchange
places with other persons standing nearer the head of the line!"
On January 3, 1842 Charles Dickens, a month
shy of his 30th birthday, sailed from Liverpool on the steamship Britannia bound for America.
Dickens was at the height of his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic
and, securing a year off from writing, determined to visit the young nation
to see for himself this haven for the oppressed which had righted all the
wrongs of the Old World. The voyage out, accompanied by his wife, Kate,
and her maid, Anne Brown, proved to be one of the stormiest in years and
his cabin aboard the Britannia proved to be so small that Dickens quipped
that their portmanteaux could "no more be got in at
the door, not to say stowed away, than a giraffe could be forced into a
The violent seas on the journey can best be described by Dickens' comical account
of trying to administer a little brandy to his wife and her traveling companions
to calm their fears:
They, and the handmaid before mentioned, being in such
ecstasies of fear that I scarcely knew what to do with them, I naturally
bethought myself of some restorative or comfortable cordial; and nothing
better occurring to me, at the moment, than hot brandy-and-water, I procured
a tumblerful without delay. It being impossible to stand or sit without
holding on, they were all heaped together in one corner of a long sofa --
a fixture, extending entirely across the cabin -- where they clung to each
other in momentary expectation of being drowned. When I approached this
place with my specific, and was about to administer it, with many consolatory
expressions, to the nearest sufferer, what was my dismay to see them all
roll slowly down to the other end! And when I staggered to that end, and
held out the glass once more, how immensely baffled were my good intentions
by the ship giving another lurch, and their all rolling back again! I suppose
I dodged them up and down this sofa for at least a quarter of an hour, without
reaching them once; and, by the time I did catch them, the brandy-and-water
was diminished, by constant spilling, to a tea-spoonful.
Arriving in Boston on January 22, 1842 Dickens was at once mobbed and generally
given the adulation afforded four
other young Englishmen who would invade America more than a century
Dickens at first reveled in the attention but soon the never-ending demand
of his time began to wear on his enthusiasm. He complained in a letter to
his friend John Forster"I
can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere where I want to go, and see
nothing that I want to see. If I turn into the street, I am followed by
One of the things on Dickens' agenda for the trip to America was to try
to put forth the idea of international
copyright. Dickens' works were routinely pirated in America and for
the most part he received not a penny for his writing there. Dickens argued
that American authors would benefit also as they were pirated in Europe
but these arguments generally fell on deaf ears. Indeed there would be no
international copyright law for another 50 years. Dickens did not touch
on the tempest caused by his argument for international copyright in American
Notes but revealed the controversy in this
letter to his friend John Forster.
in the Boston area Dickens visited the Perkins
Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind where he observed
Bridgman (1829-1889), a blind and deaf girl. Dickens chronicled
in American Notes Laura's remarkable education through the
teaching of Samuel Gridley Howe, director of the school. 40 years
later Captain Arthur Keller and his wife, Kate, read Dickens' account
of Laura Bridgman and the Perkins Institution. The Keller's blind and
deaf daughter, Helen
Keller (1880-1968), also received part of her remarkable education
at the Perkins school through Anne Sullivan, a visually impaired teacher
and recent graduate of the institution.
In keeping with his fascination for the unusual, visits to prisons, hospitals
for the insane, reform schools, and schools for blind and deaf children
were high on his list of places to visit in almost every city he toured.
He also toured factories, the industrial mills of Lowell,
Massachusetts, a Shaker village in New York, and a prairie in Illinois.
While in Washington he attended sessions of Congress, toured the White House,
and met President Tyler. In the White House, as just about everywhere he
went in America, Dickens was appalled at the American male passion for chewing
tobacco. He gives this account of a visit to the Capital building:
Both Houses are handsomely carpeted; but the state
to which these carpets are reduced by the universal disregard of the spittoon
with which every honourable member is accommodated, and the extraordinary
improvements on the pattern which are squirted and dabbled upon it in every
direction, do not admit of being described. I will merely observe, that
I strongly recommend all strangers not to look at the floor; and if they
happen to drop anything, though it be their purse, not to pick it up with
an ungloved hand on any account.
It is somewhat remarkable too, at first, to say the least, to see so many
honourable members with swelled faces; and it is scarcely less remarkable
to discover that this appearance is caused by the quantity of tobacco they
contrive to stow within the hollow of the cheek. It is strange enough, too,
to see an honourable gentleman leaning back in his tilted chair, with his
legs on the desk before him, shaping a convenient "plug" with his penknife,
and, when it is quite ready for use, shooting the old one from his mouth
as from a pop-gun, and clapping the new one in its place.
Dickens wanted to see the South and observe slavery first hand. His initial
plan was to go to Charleston but because of the heat and the length of the
trip he settled for Richmond, Virginia. He was revolted by what he saw in
Richmond, both by the condition of the slaves themselves and by the whites'
attitudes towards slavery. In American Notes, the book written after
he returned to England describing his American visit, he wrote scathingly
about the institution of slavery, citing newspaper accounts of runaway slaves
horribly disfigured by their cruel masters.
visiting St. Louis, Dickens expressed a desire to see an American
prairie before returning east. Finding no shortage of men wishing
to accommodate the great author, a group of 13 men set out with Dickens
to visit Looking Glass Prairie, a trip of some 30 miles into Illinois.
During the trip the entourage stayed at the Mermaid House, an inn
in Lebanon, Illinois built by retired sea captain Lyman Adams in 1830.
Dickens described the hotel in American Notes: "In point of
cleanliness and comfort it would have suffered by no comparison with
any village alehouse, of a homely kind, in England."
From Richmond Dickens returned to Washington and started a trek westward to St.
Louis. Traveling by riverboat and stagecoach the Dickens entourage, which
included Dickens, his wife Kate,
Kate's maid, Anne Brown, and George Putnam, Charles'
traveling secretary, endured quite an adventure. Gaining anonymity and more
personal freedom the further west they went, Dickens' power of observation
provides a very entertaining and enlightening view of early America.
Dickens came away from his American experience with a sense of disappointment.
To his friend William Macready
he wrote "this is not the republic I came to see; this
is not the republic of my imagination". On returning to England Dickens
began an account of his American trip which he completed in four months.
Not only did Dickens attack slavery in American Notes, he also attacked
the American press whom he blamed for the American's lack of general information.
In Dickens' next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit,
he sends young Martin
to America where he continues to vent his feelings for the young republic.
American response to both books was extremely negative but eventually the
passion subsided and Dickens' popularity was restored.
Steamboat Trip Read
Dickens' account of his fascinating 1842 trip aboard the steamboat
Messenger down the Ohio river from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati
during the heyday of the American steamboat.
Read Dickens' traveling secretary, George Washington Putnam's (1812-1896) account of the 1842 American visit: Four Months with Charles Dickens. An article he wrote for Atlantic Monthly in October 1870, shortly after Dickens' death.
The Haves...and the Have Nots Near
the end of Dickens' 1842 travels in North America he observed, on
a steamboat between Quebec and Montreal, emigrants from England
crowded between decks. He recorded his thoughts, in this beautiful
passage in American Notes, on the burden poor families face
over those blessed with plenty.
In the late 1850s Dickens began to contemplate
a second visit to America, tempted by the money that he believed he could
make by extending his reading tour,
hugely successful in Britain, to the New World. The outbreak of the Civil
War in America in 1861 put those plans on hold. After the war, renewed offers
Dickens by J. Gurney, New York 1867
from America of huge profits to be made if Dickens would read there convinced
him to go, despite questions of poor health and objections from his friend
and advisor, John Forster and others.
Dickens' argument for going was penned in what he called the "Case in a Nutshell"
which he forwarded to Forster and other doubters.
Having decided to make the trip, he arrived in Boston on November 19, 1867. Though a few articles appeared
in the press concerning Dickens' comments made following his first American
visit, more than a quarter of a century before, these were quickly forgotten
and he was again adored by the American public. His health, however, was
in rapid decline and he suffered greatly during this trip. On several occasions
Dickens' manager on the tour, George Dolby, feared that he would not be able to go on
with an evening's reading. However, no shows were cancelled. Dickens quipped that
"No man had a right to break an engagement with the public if he were able to be
out of bed."
The original plan called for a visit to Chicago and as far west as St. Louis.
Because of ill-health and bad weather this idea was scrapped and Dickens did
not venture from the northeastern states. He stayed for five months and gave 76 performances
for which he earned an incredible $228,000. After expenses of $39,000 he was able
to bank nearly £19,000. Mark Twain saw Dickens
perform in January, 1868 at the Steinway Hall in New York and
gave this report.
At a dinner in his honor in New York on April 18, 1868 Dickens, alluding
to negative aspects of the 1842 trip, noted that both he and America had
undergone considerable change since his last visit. He commented on the
excellent treatment he had received from everyone he came in contact with
on this trip and vowed to include these words as an appendix to every copy
of the two books in which he refers to America (American Notes and
Dickens 1867-68 Reading Tour See a map of the American cities visited during the reading tour. See a list showing the chronology of the 1867-68 American reading tour.
Dickens 1867-68 reading tour required several trips between Boston and New York on the recently completed Shore Line Railway, an interesting mix of rail and train ferry.
Following a Dickens reading in Portland, Maine, on the 30th of March, 1868 12-year-old Kate Wiggin, having missed the Portland reading, encountered Charles Dickens on a train bound for Boston. Dickens was quite taken with this precocious child and spent considerable time talking with her during the journey. He was amused when she told him that she had read all of his books, skipping over some of the "lengthy dull parts." Kate grew up to be a novelist herself, publishing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1903. In 1912 she published her account of the meeting with Dickens as A Child's Journey with Dickens.
The Old Curiosity Shop in Braille
During his 1867-68 reading tour in America Dickens was contacted by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, asking permission to publish The Old Curiosity Shop in braille. Dickens, who had visited the Perkins school in 1842 and had devoted 14 pages to it in American Notes, went even further. He paid $1700 to have 250 copies of the book printed in braille and distributed to all of the blind schools in America.