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Charles Dickens > American Notes > Chapter VIII

American Notes

Chapter VIII


WE left Philadelphia by steamboat, at six o'clock one very cold
morning, and turned our faces towards Washington.

In the course of this day's journey, as on subsequent occasions, we
encountered some Englishmen (small farmers, perhaps, or country
publicans at home) who were settled in America, and were travelling
on their own affairs. Of all grades and kinds of men that jostle
one in the public conveyances of the States, these are often the
most intolerable and the most insufferable companions. United to
every disagreeable characteristic that the worst kind of American
travellers possess, these countrymen of ours display an amount of
insolent conceit and cool assumption of superiority, quite
monstrous to behold. In the coarse familiarity of their approach,
and the effrontery of their inquisitiveness (which they are in
great haste to assert, as if they panted to revenge themselves upon
the decent old restraints of home), they surpass any native
specimens that came within my range of observation: and I often
grew so patriotic when I saw and heard them, that I would
cheerfully have submitted to a reasonable fine, if I could have
given any other country in the whole world, the honour of claiming
them for its children.

As Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured
saliva, the time is come when I must confess, without any disguise,
that the prevalence of those two odious practices of chewing and
expectorating began about this time to be anything but agreeable,
and soon became most offensive and sickening. In all the public
places of America, this filthy custom is recognised. In the courts
of law, the judge has his spittoon, the crier his, the witness his,
and the prisoner his; while the jurymen and spectators are provided
for, as so many men who in the course of nature must desire to spit
incessantly. In the hospitals, the students of medicine are
requested, by notices upon the wall, to eject their tobacco juice
into the boxes provided for that purpose, and not to discolour the
stairs. In public buildings, visitors are implored, through the
same agency, to squirt the essence of their quids, or 'plugs,' as I
have heard them called by gentlemen learned in this kind of
sweetmeat, into the national spittoons, and not about the bases of
the marble columns. But in some parts, this custom is inseparably
mixed up with every meal and morning call, and with all the
transactions of social life. The stranger, who follows in the
track I took myself, will find it in its full bloom and glory,
luxuriant in all its alarming recklessness, at Washington. And let
him not persuade himself (as I once did, to my shame) that previous
tourists have exaggerated its extent. The thing itself is an
exaggeration of nastiness, which cannot be outdone.

On board this steamboat, there were two young gentlemen, with
shirt-collars reversed as usual, and armed with very big walking-
sticks; who planted two seats in the middle of the deck, at a
distance of some four paces apart; took out their tobacco-boxes;
and sat down opposite each other, to chew. In less than a quarter
of an hour's time, these hopeful youths had shed about them on the
clean boards, a copious shower of yellow rain; clearing, by that
means, a kind of magic circle, within whose limits no intruders
dared to come, and which they never failed to refresh and re-
refresh before a spot was dry. This being before breakfast, rather
disposed me, I confess, to nausea; but looking attentively at one
of the expectorators, I plainly saw that he was young in chewing,
and felt inwardly uneasy, himself. A glow of delight came over me
at this discovery; and as I marked his face turn paler and paler,
and saw the ball of tobacco in his left cheek, quiver with his
suppressed agony, while yet he spat, and chewed, and spat again, in
emulation of his older friend, I could have fallen on his neck and
implored him to go on for hours.

We all sat down to a comfortable breakfast in the cabin below,
where there was no more hurry or confusion than at such a meal in
England, and where there was certainly greater politeness exhibited
than at most of our stage-coach banquets. At about nine o'clock we
arrived at the railroad station, and went on by the cars. At noon
we turned out again, to cross a wide river in another steamboat;
landed at a continuation of the railroad on the opposite shore; and
went on by other cars; in which, in the course of the next hour or
so, we crossed by wooden bridges, each a mile in length, two
creeks, called respectively Great and Little Gunpowder. The water
in both was blackened with flights of canvas-backed ducks, which
are most delicious eating, and abound hereabouts at that season of
the year.

These bridges are of wood, have no parapet, and are only just wide
enough for the passage of the trains; which, in the event of the
smallest accident, wound inevitably be plunged into the river.
They are startling contrivances, and are most agreeable when

We stopped to dine at Baltimore, and being now in Maryland, were
waited on, for the first time, by slaves. The sensation of
exacting any service from human creatures who are bought and sold,
and being, for the time, a party as it were to their condition, is
not an enviable one. The institution exists, perhaps, in its least
repulsive and most mitigated form in such a town as this; but it IS
slavery; and though I was, with respect to it, an innocent man, its
presence filled me with a sense of shame and self-reproach.

After dinner, we went down to the railroad again, and took our
seats in the cars for Washington. Being rather early, those men
and boys who happened to have nothing particular to do, and were
curious in foreigners, came (according to custom) round the
carriage in which I sat; let down all the windows; thrust in their
heads and shoulders; hooked themselves on conveniently, by their
elbows; and fell to comparing notes on the subject of my personal
appearance, with as much indifference as if I were a stuffed
figure. I never gained so much uncompromising information with
reference to my own nose and eyes, and various impressions wrought
by my mouth and chin on different minds, and how my head looks when
it is viewed from behind, as on these occasions. Some gentlemen
were only satisfied by exercising their sense of touch; and the
boys (who are surprisingly precocious in America) were seldom
satisfied, even by that, but would return to the charge over and
over again. Many a budding president has walked into my room with
his cap on his head and his hands in his pockets, and stared at me
for two whole hours: occasionally refreshing himself with a tweak
of his nose, or a draught from the water-jug; or by walking to the
windows and inviting other boys in the street below, to come up and
do likewise: crying, 'Here he is!' 'Come on!' 'Bring all your
brothers!' with other hospitable entreaties of that nature.

We reached Washington at about half-past six that evening, and had
upon the way a beautiful view of the Capitol, which is a fine
building of the Corinthian order, placed upon a noble and
commanding eminence. Arrived at the hotel; I saw no more of the
place that night; being very tired, and glad to get to bed.

Breakfast over next morning, I walk about the streets for an hour
or two, and, coming home, throw up the window in the front and
back, and look out. Here is Washington, fresh in my mind and under
my eye.

Take the worst parts of the City Road and Pentonville, or the
straggling outskirts of Paris, where the houses are smallest,
preserving all their oddities, but especially the small shops and
dwellings, occupied in Pentonville (but not in Washington) by
furniture-brokers, keepers of poor eating-houses, and fanciers of
birds. Burn the whole down; build it up again in wood and plaster;
widen it a little; throw in part of St. John's Wood; put green
blinds outside all the private houses, with a red curtain and a
white one in every window; plough up all the roads; plant a great
deal of coarse turf in every place where it ought NOT to be; erect
three handsome buildings in stone and marble, anywhere, but the
more entirely out of everybody's way the better; call one the Post
Office; one the Patent Office, and one the Treasury; make it
scorching hot in the morning, and freezing cold in the afternoon,
with an occasional tornado of wind and dust; leave a brick-field
without the bricks, in all central places where a street may
naturally be expected: and that's Washington.

The hotel in which we live, is a long row of small houses fronting
on the street, and opening at the back upon a common yard, in which
hangs a great triangle. Whenever a servant is wanted, somebody
beats on this triangle from one stroke up to seven, according to
the number of the house in which his presence is required; and as
all the servants are always being wanted, and none of them ever
come, this enlivening engine is in full performance the whole day
through. Clothes are drying in the same yard; female slaves, with
cotton handkerchiefs twisted round their heads are running to and
fro on the hotel business; black waiters cross and recross with
dishes in their hands; two great dogs are playing upon a mound of
loose bricks in the centre of the little square; a pig is turning
up his stomach to the sun, and grunting 'that's comfortable!'; and
neither the men, nor the women, nor the dogs, nor the pig, nor any
created creature, takes the smallest notice of the triangle, which
is tingling madly all the time.

I walk to the front window, and look across the road upon a long,
straggling row of houses, one story high, terminating, nearly
opposite, but a little to the left, in a melancholy piece of waste
ground with frowzy grass, which looks like a small piece of country
that has taken to drinking, and has quite lost itself. Standing
anyhow and all wrong, upon this open space, like something meteoric
that has fallen down from the moon, is an odd, lop-sided, one-eyed
kind of wooden building, that looks like a church, with a flag-
staff as long as itself sticking out of a steeple something larger
than a tea-chest. Under the window is a small stand of coaches,
whose slave-drivers are sunning themselves on the steps of our
door, and talking idly together. The three most obtrusive houses
near at hand are the three meanest. On one - a shop, which never
has anything in the window, and never has the door open - is
painted in large characters, 'THE CITY LUNCH.' At another, which
looks like a backway to somewhere else, but is an independent
building in itself, oysters are procurable in every style. At the
third, which is a very, very little tailor's shop, pants are fixed
to order; or in other words, pantaloons are made to measure. And
that is our street in Washington.

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. One might fancy the season over, and most of the houses
gone out of town for ever with their masters. To the admirers of
cities it is a Barmecide Feast: a pleasant field for the
imagination to rove in; a monument raised to a deceased project,
with not even a legible inscription to record its departed

Such as it is, it is likely to remain. It was originally chosen
for the seat of Government, as a means of averting the conflicting
jealousies and interests of the different States; and very
probably, too, as being remote from mobs: a consideration not to
be slighted, even in America. It has no trade or commerce of its
own: having little or no population beyond the President and his
establishment; the members of the legislature who reside there
during the session; the Government clerks and officers employed in
the various departments; the keepers of the hotels and boarding-
houses; and the tradesmen who supply their tables. It is very
unhealthy. Few people would live in Washington, I take it, who
were not obliged to reside there; and the tides of emigration and
speculation, those rapid and regardless currents, are little likely
to flow at any time towards such dull and sluggish water.

The principal features of the Capitol, are, of course, the two
houses of Assembly. But there is, besides, in the centre of the
building, a fine rotunda, ninety-six feet in diameter, and ninety-
six high, whose circular wall is divided into compartments,
ornamented by historical pictures. Four of these have for their
subjects prominent events in the revolutionary struggle. They were
painted by Colonel Trumbull, himself a member of Washington's staff
at the time of their occurrence; from which circumstance they
derive a peculiar interest of their own. In this same hall Mr.
Greenough's large statue of Washington has been lately placed. It
has great merits of course, but it struck me as being rather
strained and violent for its subject. I could wish, however, to
have seen it in a better light than it can ever be viewed in, where
it stands.

There is a very pleasant and commodious library in the Capitol; and
from a balcony in front, the bird's-eye view, of which I have just
spoken, may be had, together with a beautiful prospect of the
adjacent country. In one of the ornamented portions of the
building, there is a figure of Justice; whereunto the Guide Book
says, 'the artist at first contemplated giving more of nudity, but
he was warned that the public sentiment in this country would not
admit of it, and in his caution he has gone, perhaps, into the
opposite extreme.' Poor Justice! she has been made to wear much
stranger garments in America than those she pines in, in the
Capitol. Let us hope that she has changed her dress-maker since
they were fashioned, and that the public sentiment of the country
did not cut out the clothes she hides her lovely figure in, just

The House of Representatives is a beautiful and spacious hall, of
semicircular shape, supported by handsome pillars. One part of the
gallery is appropriated to the ladies, and there they sit in front
rows, and come in, and go out, as at a play or concert. The chair
is canopied, and raised considerably above the floor of the House;
and every member has an easy chair and a writing desk to himself:
which is denounced by some people out of doors as a most
unfortunate and injudicious arrangement, tending to long sittings
and prosaic speeches. It is an elegant chamber to look at, but a
singularly bad one for all purposes of hearing. The Senate, which
is smaller, is free from this objection, and is exceedingly well
adapted to the uses for which it is designed. The sittings, I need
hardly add, take place in the day; and the parliamentary forms are
modelled on those of the old country.

I was sometimes asked, in my progress through other places, whether
I had not been very much impressed by the HEADS of the lawmakers at
Washington; meaning not their chiefs and leaders, but literally
their individual and personal heads, whereon their hair grew, and
whereby the phrenological character of each legislator was
expressed: and I almost as often struck my questioner dumb with
indignant consternation by answering 'No, that I didn't remember
being at all overcome.' As I must, at whatever hazard, repeat the
avowal here, I will follow it up by relating my impressions on this
subject in as few words as possible.

In the first place - it may be from some imperfect development of
my organ of veneration - I do not remember having ever fainted
away, or having even been moved to tears of joyful pride, at sight
of any legislative body. I have borne the House of Commons like a
man, and have yielded to no weakness, but slumber, in the House of
Lords. I have seen elections for borough and county, and have
never been impelled (no matter which party won) to damage my hat by
throwing it up into the air in triumph, or to crack my voice by
shouting forth any reference to our Glorious Constitution, to the
noble purity of our independent voters, or, the unimpeachable
integrity of our independent members. Having withstood such strong
attacks upon my fortitude, it is possible that I may be of a cold
and insensible temperament, amounting to iciness, in such matters;
and therefore my impressions of the live pillars of the Capitol at
Washington must be received with such grains of allowance as this
free confession may seem to demand.

Did I see in this public body an assemblage of men, bound together
in the sacred names of Liberty and Freedom, and so asserting the
chaste dignity of those twin goddesses, in all their discussions,
as to exalt at once the Eternal Principles to which their names are
given, and their own character and the character of their
countrymen, in the admiring eyes of the whole world?

It was but a week, since an aged, grey-haired man, a lasting honour
to the land that gave him birth, who has done good service to his
country, as his forefathers did, and who will be remembered scores
upon scores of years after the worms bred in its corruption, are
but so many grains of dust - it was but a week, since this old man
had stood for days upon his trial before this very body, charged
with having dared to assert the infamy of that traffic, which has
for its accursed merchandise men and women, and their unborn
children. Yes. And publicly exhibited in the same city all the
while; gilded, framed and glazed hung up for general admiration;
shown to strangers not with shame, but pride; its face not turned
towards the wall, itself not taken down and burned; is the
Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America,
which solemnly declares that All Men are created Equal; and are
endowed by their Creator with the Inalienable Rights of Life,
Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness!

It was not a month, since this same body had sat calmly by, and
heard a man, one of themselves, with oaths which beggars in their
drink reject, threaten to cut another's throat from ear to ear.
There he sat, among them; not crushed by the general feeling of the
assembly, but as good a man as any.

There was but a week to come, and another of that body, for doing
his duty to those who sent him there; for claiming in a Republic
the Liberty and Freedom of expressing their sentiments, and making
known their prayer; would be tried, found guilty, and have strong
censure passed upon him by the rest. His was a grave offence
indeed; for years before, he had risen up and said, 'A gang of male
and female slaves for sale, warranted to breed like cattle, linked
to each other by iron fetters, are passing now along the open
street beneath the windows of your Temple of Equality! Look!' But
there are many kinds of hunters engaged in the Pursuit of
Happiness, and they go variously armed. It is the Inalienable
Right of some among them, to take the field after THEIR Happiness
equipped with cat and cartwhip, stocks, and iron collar, and to
shout their view halloa! (always in praise of Liberty) to the music
of clanking chains and bloody stripes.

Where sat the many legislators of coarse threats; of words and
blows such as coalheavers deal upon each other, when they forget
their breeding? On every side. Every session had its anecdotes of
that kind, and the actors were all there.

Did I recognise in this assembly, a body of men, who, applying
themselves in a new world to correct some of the falsehoods and
vices of the old, purified the avenues to Public Life, paved the
dirty ways to Place and Power, debated and made laws for the Common
Good, and had no party but their Country?

I saw in them, the wheels that move the meanest perversion of
virtuous Political Machinery that the worst tools ever wrought.
Despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with
public officers; cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous
newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers; shameful
trucklings to mercenary knaves, whose claim to be considered, is,
that every day and week they sow new crops of ruin with their venal
types, which are the dragon's teeth of yore, in everything but
sharpness; aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the
popular mind, and artful suppressions of all its good influences:
such things as these, and in a word, Dishonest Faction in its most
depraved and most unblushing form, stared out from every corner of
the crowded hall.

Did I see among them, the intelligence and refinement: the true,
honest, patriotic heart of America? Here and there, were drops of
its blood and life, but they scarcely coloured the stream of
desperate adventurers which sets that way for profit and for pay.
It is the game of these men, and of their profligate organs, to
make the strife of politics so fierce and brutal, and so
destructive of all self-respect in worthy men, that sensitive and
delicate-minded persons shall be kept aloof, and they, and such as
they, be left to battle out their selfish views unchecked. And
thus this lowest of all scrambling fights goes on, and they who in
other countries would, from their intelligence and station, most
aspire to make the laws, do here recoil the farthest from that

That there are, among the representatives of the people in both
Houses, and among all parties, some men of high character and great
abilities, I need not say. The foremost among those politicians
who are known in Europe, have been already described, and I see no
reason to depart from the rule I have laid down for my guidance, of
abstaining from all mention of individuals. It will be sufficient
to add, that to the most favourable accounts that have been written
of them, I more than fully and most heartily subscribe; and that
personal intercourse and free communication have bred within me,
not the result predicted in the very doubtful proverb, but
increased admiration and respect. They are striking men to look
at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Crichtons in
varied accomplishments, Indians in fire of eye and gesture,
Americans in strong and generous impulse; and they as well
represent the honour and wisdom of their country at home, as the
distinguished gentleman who is now its Minister at the British
Court sustains its highest character abroad.

I visited both houses nearly every day, during my stay in
Washington. On my initiatory visit to the House of
Representatives, they divided against a decision of the chair; but
the chair won. The second time I went, the member who was
speaking, being interrupted by a laugh, mimicked it, as one child
would in quarrelling with another, and added, 'that he would make
honourable gentlemen opposite, sing out a little more on the other
side of their mouths presently.' But interruptions are rare; the
speaker being usually heard in silence. There are more quarrels
than with us, and more threatenings than gentlemen are accustomed
to exchange in any civilised society of which we have record: but
farm-yard imitations have not as yet been imported from the
Parliament of the United Kingdom. The feature in oratory which
appears to be the most practised, and most relished, is the
constant repetition of the same idea or shadow of an idea in fresh
words; and the inquiry out of doors is not, 'What did he say?' but,
'How long did he speak?' These, however, are but enlargements of a
principle which prevails elsewhere.

The Senate is a dignified and decorous body, and its proceedings
are conducted with much gravity and order. 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.

I was surprised to observe that even steady old chewers of great
experience, are not always good marksmen, which has rather inclined
me to doubt that general proficiency with the rifle, of which we
have heard so much in England. Several gentlemen called upon me
who, in the course of conversation, frequently missed the spittoon
at five paces; and one (but he was certainly short-sighted) mistook
the closed sash for the open window, at three. On another
occasion, when I dined out, and was sitting with two ladies and
some gentlemen round a fire before dinner, one of the company fell
short of the fireplace, six distinct times. I am disposed to
think, however, that this was occasioned by his not aiming at that
object; as there was a white marble hearth before the fender, which
was more convenient, and may have suited his purpose better.

The Patent Office at Washington, furnishes an extraordinary example
of American enterprise and ingenuity; for the immense number of
models it contains are the accumulated inventions of only five
years; the whole of the previous collection having been destroyed
by fire. The elegant structure in which they are arranged is one
of design rather than execution, for there is but one side erected
out of four, though the works are stopped. The Post Office is a
very compact and very beautiful building. In one of the
departments, among a collection of rare and curious articles, are
deposited the presents which have been made from time to time to
the American ambassadors at foreign courts by the various
potentates to whom they were the accredited agents of the Republic;
gifts which by the law they are not permitted to retain. I confess
that I looked upon this as a very painful exhibition, and one by no
means flattering to the national standard of honesty and honour.
That can scarcely be a high state of moral feeling which imagines a
gentleman of repute and station, likely to be corrupted, in the
discharge of his duty, by the present of a snuff-box, or a richly-
mounted sword, or an Eastern shawl; and surely the Nation who
reposes confidence in her appointed servants, is likely to be
better served, than she who makes them the subject of such very
mean and paltry suspicions.

At George Town, in the suburbs, there is a Jesuit College;
delightfully situated, and, so far as I had an opportunity of
seeing, well managed. Many persons who are not members of the
Romish Church, avail themselves, I believe, of these institutions,
and of the advantageous opportunities they afford for the education
of their children. The heights of this neighbourhood, above the
Potomac River, are very picturesque: and are free, I should
conceive, from some of the insalubrities of Washington. The air,
at that elevation, was quite cool and refreshing, when in the city
it was burning hot.

The President's mansion is more like an English club-house, both
within and without, than any other kind of establishment with which
I can compare it. The ornamental ground about it has been laid out
in garden walks; they are pretty, and agreeable to the eye; though
they have that uncomfortable air of having been made yesterday,
which is far from favourable to the display of such beauties.

My first visit to this house was on the morning after my arrival,
when I was carried thither by an official gentleman, who was so
kind as to charge himself with my presentation to the President.

We entered a large hall, and having twice or thrice rung a bell
which nobody answered, walked without further ceremony through the
rooms on the ground floor, as divers other gentlemen (mostly with
their hats on, and their hands in their pockets) were doing very
leisurely. Some of these had ladies with them, to whom they were
showing the premises; others were lounging on the chairs and sofas;
others, in a perfect state of exhaustion from listlessness, were
yawning drearily. The greater portion of this assemblage were
rather asserting their supremacy than doing anything else, as they
had no particular business there, that anybody knew of. A few were
closely eyeing the movables, as if to make quite sure that the
President (who was far from popular) had not made away with any of
the furniture, or sold the fixtures for his private benefit.

After glancing at these loungers; who were scattered over a pretty
drawing-room, opening upon a terrace which commanded a beautiful
prospect of the river and the adjacent country; and who were
sauntering, too, about a larger state-room called the Eastern
Drawing-room; we went up-stairs into another chamber, where were
certain visitors, waiting for audiences. At sight of my conductor,
a black in plain clothes and yellow slippers who was gliding
noiselessly about, and whispering messages in the ears of the more
impatient, made a sign of recognition, and glided off to announce

We had previously looked into another chamber fitted all round with
a great, bare, wooden desk or counter, whereon lay files of
newspapers, to which sundry gentlemen were referring. But there
were no such means of beguiling the time in this apartment, which
was as unpromising and tiresome as any waiting-room in one of our
public establishments, or any physician's dining-room during his
hours of consultation at home.

There were some fifteen or twenty persons in the room. One, a
tall, wiry, muscular old man, from the west; sunburnt and swarthy;
with a brown white hat on his knees, and a giant umbrella resting
between his legs; who sat bolt upright in his chair, frowning
steadily at the carpet, and twitching the hard lines about his
mouth, as if he had made up his mind 'to fix' the President on what
he had to say, and wouldn't bate him a grain. Another, a Kentucky
farmer, six-feet-six in height, with his hat on, and his hands
under his coat-tails, who leaned against the wall and kicked the
floor with his heel, as though he had Time's head under his shoe,
and were literally 'killing' him. A third, an oval-faced, bilious-
looking man, with sleek black hair cropped close, and whiskers and
beard shaved down to blue dots, who sucked the head of a thick
stick, and from time to time took it out of his mouth, to see how
it was getting on. A fourth did nothing but whistle. A fifth did
nothing but spit. And indeed all these gentlemen were so very
persevering and energetic in this latter particular, and bestowed
their favours so abundantly upon the carpet, that I take it for
granted the Presidential housemaids have high wages, or, to speak
more genteelly, an ample amount of 'compensation:' which is the
American word for salary, in the case of all public servants.

We had not waited in this room many minutes, before the black
messenger returned, and conducted us into another of smaller
dimensions, where, at a business-like table covered with papers,
sat the President himself. He looked somewhat worn and anxious,
and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression
of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably
unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable. I thought that in his
whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly

Being advised that the sensible etiquette of the republican court
admitted of a traveller, like myself, declining, without any
impropriety, an invitation to dinner, which did not reach me until
I had concluded my arrangements for leaving Washington some days
before that to which it referred, I only returned to this house
once. It was on the occasion of one of those general assemblies
which are held on certain nights, between the hours of nine and
twelve o'clock, and are called, rather oddly, Levees.

I went, with my wife, at about ten. There was a pretty dense crowd
of carriages and people in the court-yard, and so far as I could
make out, there were no very clear regulations for the taking up or
setting down of company. There were certainly no policemen to
soothe startled horses, either by sawing at their bridles or
flourishing truncheons in their eyes; and I am ready to make oath
that no inoffensive persons were knocked violently on the head, or
poked acutely in their backs or stomachs; or brought to a
standstill by any such gentle means, and then taken into custody
for not moving on. But there was no confusion or disorder. Our
carriage reached the porch in its turn, without any blustering,
swearing, shouting, backing, or other disturbance: and we
dismounted with as much ease and comfort as though we had been
escorted by the whole Metropolitan Force from A to Z inclusive.

The suite of rooms on the ground-floor were lighted up, and a
military band was playing in the hall. In the smaller drawing-
room, the centre of a circle of company, were the President and his
daughter-in-law, who acted as the lady of the mansion; and a very
interesting, graceful, and accomplished lady too. One gentleman
who stood among this group, appeared to take upon himself the
functions of a master of the ceremonies. I saw no other officers
or attendants, and none were needed.

The great drawing-room, which I have already mentioned, and the
other chambers on the ground-floor, were crowded to excess. The
company was not, in our sense of the term, select, for it
comprehended persons of very many grades and classes; nor was there
any great display of costly attire: indeed, some of the costumes
may have been, for aught I know, grotesque enough. But the decorum
and propriety of behaviour which prevailed, were unbroken by any
rude or disagreeable incident; and every man, even among the
miscellaneous crowd in the hall who were admitted without any
orders or tickets to look on, appeared to feel that he was a part
of the Institution, and was responsible for its preserving a
becoming character, and appearing to the best advantage.

That these visitors, too, whatever their station, were not without
some refinement of taste and appreciation of intellectual gifts,
and gratitude to those men who, by the peaceful exercise of great
abilities, shed new charms and associations upon the homes of their
countrymen, and elevate their character in other lands, was most
earnestly testified by their reception of Washington Irving, my
dear friend, who had recently been appointed Minister at the court
of Spain, and who was among them that night, in his new character,
for the first and last time before going abroad. I sincerely
believe that in all the madness of American politics, few public
men would have been so earnestly, devotedly, and affectionately
caressed, as this most charming writer: and I have seldom
respected a public assembly more, than I did this eager throng,
when I saw them turning with one mind from noisy orators and
officers of state, and flocking with a generous and honest impulse
round the man of quiet pursuits: proud in his promotion as
reflecting back upon their country: and grateful to him with their
whole hearts for the store of graceful fancies he had poured out
among them. Long may he dispense such treasures with unsparing
hand; and long may they remember him as worthily!

* * * * * *

The term we had assigned for the duration of our stay in Washington
was now at an end, and we were to begin to travel; for the railroad
distances we had traversed yet, in journeying among these older
towns, are on that great continent looked upon as nothing.

I had at first intended going South - to Charleston. But when I
came to consider the length of time which this journey would
occupy, and the premature heat of the season, which even at
Washington had been often very trying; and weighed moreover, in my
own mind, the pain of living in the constant contemplation of
slavery, against the more than doubtful chances of my ever seeing
it, in the time I had to spare, stripped of the disguises in which
it would certainly be dressed, and so adding any item to the host
of facts already heaped together on the subject; I began to listen
to old whisperings which had often been present to me at home in
England, when I little thought of ever being here; and to dream
again of cities growing up, like palaces in fairy tales, among the
wilds and forests of the west.

The advice I received in most quarters when I began to yield to my
desire of travelling towards that point of the compass was,
according to custom, sufficiently cheerless: my companion being
threatened with more perils, dangers, and discomforts, than I can
remember or would catalogue if I could; but of which it will be
sufficient to remark that blowings-up in steamboats and breakings-
down in coaches were among the least. But, having a western route
sketched out for me by the best and kindest authority to which I
could have resorted, and putting no great faith in these
discouragements, I soon determined on my plan of action.

This was to travel south, only to Richmond in Virginia; and then to
turn, and shape our course for the Far West; whither I beseech the
reader's company, in a new chapter.

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