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*Charles Dickens by steamboat, 1842*

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    *Charles Dickens by steamboat, 1842*

    Steamboating colleagues:
    English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1842) recorded his visit to America, 1841-1842, in 'American Notes' gathering much attention here and abroad written by the age of 30. To date Dickens had penned 'Pickwick Papers,' 'Oiver Twist,' 'Old Curiosity Shop,' 'Barnaby Rudge,' with 'Christmas Carol' to appear in 1843 along with other short stories and plays. Queen Victoria had ascended the throne in 1837. A number of his penned notes and sketches were recently unearthed in the archives of the Literary Club of Cincinnati, founded in 1849. The burgeoning industrial revolution rendered Dickens no stranger to the soot, smoke, steam, dirt and smells of both England and America at the time. His perceptive views, opinions of life in America and her still "pioneer" people were not meant as derogatory.

    Dickens, arriving in Cincinnati aboard the steamboat MESSENGER on April 4, 1842 reads. "We arrived this morning about three o' clock but I was fast alseep in my berth. I turned out soon after six, I dressed and breakfased on board. About half after eight we came ashore...to the hotel to which I had written for rooms which is a stone's throw from the wharf. I was very well serenaded I assure you" [Reception] he penned back to England. He continues, "Cincinnati is only 50 years old, but it is a very beautiful city. I think the prettiest place I have seen here, except Boston. It has risen out the forest like an Arabian night city."

    After an initial short visit, Dickens boarded the steamboat PIKE on April 6 for Louisville. From Louisville he boaded again the steamer FULTON for St. Louis where he noted "...very good houses, broad streets, marble fronted shops...and the town bids fair in a few years to improve considerably."

    Dickens returned to Louisville returning in the very early hours to Cincinnati aboard the steamer BEN FRANKLIN described as "A very beautiful boat" arriving on April, 19, 1842 noting with much interest, "Being by this time nearly tired of sleeping upon shelves [Steamboat berths] we had remained awake to go ashore straightway, and groping a passage across dark decks of other boats and among labyrinths of engine machinery and leaking casks of molasses, we reached the streets, knocked on the porter of the hotel where we stayed before and were to our great joy safely housed soon afterwards" no doubt being tried from his travels, longing for relative comforts of a hotel and the possiblity of a full bath. ["Across decks of other boats" reference the many steamboats lying tied together one on one]. And we can almost see slight Dickens with cape and customary umbrella in hand.

    His longer stay in Cincinnati marked by receptions, speeches, readings and "tours to the local courts to see how things were conducted" by Judge Timothy Walker [Later an early member of the Literary Club] who "Walked the veritable Englisman greatly to his credit."

    Additional diggings, scratchings to produce more written notes by Dickens in time.

    R. Dale Flick Literary Club of Cincinnati
    Coal Haven landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati

    #2
    *A 'coda' to the above*
    Steamboating colleagues:
    To explain the date for Dickens (1812-1842). Dickens died in 1870. His literary life divided into eras from 1812 to 1842; then into later segments with appearance of more of his works. Like Mark Twain, Dickens also had various 'periods' in which his writings/commentary changed with age. Cheers!

    R. Dale Flick
    Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

    Comment


      #3
      Very interesting, Dale! Dickens and an association with steamboats is something I had never even thought about.

      Comment


        #4
        *Dickens describes a steamboat, 1842*
        Hi, Bob & Steamboating colleagues:
        The wide, wondering dark eyes of Charles Dickens missed nothing as a keen observer of all around him including the human condition. In digging out his briefly penned notes at the Literary Club of Cincinnati, I went on to flesh out his accounts 'From Pittsburgh to Cincinnati in a Western Steamboat.' Dickens, received with great acclaim in America, traveled with a near retinue composed of his wife, her maid Ann and young George Putnam, an educated Bostonian hired a private secretary to Dickens for the long American journey. Dickens would dictate letters and accounts to Putnam who used shorthand, later penned in text for Dickens to edit here and there with corrections. In addition to his appearances in America, Dickens made the trip following an undisclosed illness to gather his strength. The steamboat MESSENGER was his first on our inland rivers. His accounts give richer detail than that found in the writings of later Mark Twain.

        "She [*Str. MESSENGER] had some forty passengers aboard, exclusive of the poorer persons on the lower deck. We had for ourselves, a tiny state-room with two berths opening out of the ladies' cabin. We had been gravely recommended to keep as far aft as possible, 'because the steamboats generally blew up forward'...it was an unspeakable relief. Each [*cabin] had a second glass door besides that in the ladies' cabin, which opened on a narrow gallery outside the vessel, where the other passengers seldom came, and where one could sit in peace and gaze upon the shifting prospect, we took our new quarters with much pleasure.

        "These western vessels are still more foreign to all the ideas we are accustomed to entertain of boats. I hardly know what to liken them to, or how to describe them. In the first place, they have no mast, cordage, tackle, rigging, or other such boat-like gear; nor have they anything in their shape at all calculated to remind one of a boat's head, stern, sides, or keel. Except they are in the water, and display a couple of paddle-boxes. There is no visible deck: nothing but a long, black, ugly roof covered with burnt-out feathery sparks; above which tower two iron chimneys, and a hoarse escape valves, and a glass steerage-house. There are sides, and doors, and windows of the state-rooms, jumbled as oddly together as though they formed a small street, built by the varying tastes of a dozen men; the whole is supported on beams and pillars resting on a dirty barge, but a few inches above the water's edge: and the narrow space between this upper structure and this barge's deck, are the furnaces, fires and machinery, open at the sides to every wind that blows, and every storm of rain it drives along its path. Passing one of these boats at night, and seeing the great body of fire [*Boilers being fired] that rages and roars beneath the frail pile of painted wood. The machinery, not warded off or guarded in ay way, but doing its work in the midst of idlers and emigrants and children, who throng the lower deck.

        There is one long narrow cabin, the whole length of the boat; from which the state-rooms open. The stern is partitioned off for the ladies; and the 'bar' is opposite. There is a long table down the center and at either end a stove. The washing apparatus [*Lavatories] is forward, on the deck. It is a little better than on the canal boats, but not much. In all modes of travelling, the American customs, with reference to the means of personal cleanliness and wholesome ablution, are extremely negligent and filthy; and I strongly incline to the belief that a considerable amount of illness is referable to this cause." In time Dickens focuses his attention on fellow passengers and the meals served aboard.

        R. Dale Flick
        Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati

        Comment


          #5
          *Dickens on steamboat food etc.*
          Steamboating colleagues:
          And so Charles Dickens, with his little retinue, began their three day voyage to Cincinnati aboard the "high pressure steamboat MESSENGER" to arrive in Cincinnati barring accidents. He noted the high hills above the river in Pittsburgh.

          "Through such a scene as this, the unwieldly 'machine' takes it hoarse, sullen way: venting, at every revolution of the paddles, a loud high-pressure blast; enough, one would think, to waken up the host of Indians who lie buried in a great mound yonder...nor is anything seen to move about them but the blue jay, whose colour is so bright, and yet so delicate, that it looks like a flying flower.

          "There are three meals a day. Breakfast at seven, dinner at half-past twelve, supper about six. At each, there are a great many small dishes and plates upon the table, with very little in them; so that although there is every appearance of a mighty 'spread,' there is seldom really more than a joint [*leg of beef, mutton, ham]: except for those who fancy slices of beet-root, shreds of dried beef, complicated entanglements of yellow pickle, maize, Indian corn, apple-sauce, and pumpkin. Some people fancy all these little danties together with sweet preserves, bay way to relish their roast pig...un-heard of quanties of hot corn bread--almost as good for the digestion as a kneaded pin-cushion, for breakfast, and for supper. At table they [*passengers] suck their knives and forks meditatively, until they have decided what to take next: then pull them out of their mouths, put then in the dish; help themselves; and fall to work again. At dinner, there is nothing to drink upon the table, but great jugs full of cold water." [*No mention of tea, coffee, juices or milk in any form. We wonder if Dickens was conscious of the 'source' of the water they drank?] Again, no mention of any interim snacks or an extra buffet.

          Describing his fellow passengers, Dickens pens, "Undertakers on duty would be sprightly beside them and a collation of funeral-baked meats, in comparison with these meals, would be a sparkling festivity." This in some ways confirms later opinions on most steamboat meals as, "slop...no better than a 2nd class boarding house ashore." No doubt Dickens himself, if known to many of the passengers, would have been an 'oddity' in addition to a renowned English writer traveling like an English lord.

          Dickens, as so many other foreign travelers of the day, commented several times on the "steamboats passing in the night" with the sound of "scape valves, flash of fires below from the boilers, clanging sound of the fire doors, grates, tending of the roaring fires"...stopping for various purposes, gathering up wood. "All this I see as I sit in the little stern-gallery. Evening slowly steals upon the landscape and changes it before me."

          To most in those days the steamboat was a necessary, if not dubious, means of getting from point A to point B; a means to an end and not an end in itself.

          R. Dale Flick
          Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati

          Comment


            #6
            Dale: Dickens din't miss much and I expect his observations were quite correct in that day and time. I suspect that the thing we might miss the most were we to travel as they did in that day, would be the opportunities for personal cleanliness. Cap'n Walnut

            Comment


              #7
              *RE: Str. MESSENGER/Dickens' views*
              Hi, Tom & Steamboating colleagues:
              WAY'S PACKET DIRECTORY, Pg. 349, Entry No: 3905 does mention a Str. MESSENGER with the initial date of 1844 running until 1849 when replaced by the MESSENGER NO. 2. Whether this is the same boat Dickens and party steamed on a question. Possibly no known photo of the 1842 boat so mentioned. The MESSENGER of 1844 was a sidewheel built in Pittsburgh of 236 tons. 172 X 25 X 5.7 ft. Built for Capt. James J. Perry along with investors A. & W.K. Nimick running from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati and occassionaly New Orleans. Whatever, whichever, the boat would have fit the pattern for those so constructed in that era; certainly not a classic 'cotton packet' of ensuing years.

              Dickens focused his keen eye on not only the boats, river; but the travelers on the "lower decks" in that still pioneer era. All seeming to be intent on "travel west to seek their fortunes...never going east." He continues to pen, "The river has washed away its banks, and stately trees have fallen down into the stream. Some have been there so long, that they are mere dry, grizzly skeletons. Some have just toppled over, and having earth about their roots, are bathing their green heads in the river, and putting forth new shoots and branches. Some are almost sliding down, as you look at them. And some were drowned so long ago, that their bleached arms start out from the middle of the current, and seem to try to grasp the boat, and drag it under water." No doubt fellow travelers, possibly officers or crew, told him of the danger these 'sawyers' and other drift could do to a wood hulled vessel. Dickens was entranced by America's vast timbered land with trees that astounded him.

              In the dark of night the steamboat passes the wooded banks until Dickens views a large pioneer clearing being readied for planting. "We come upon an open space where the tall trees are burning. The shape of every branch and twig is expressed in a deep red glow, and as the light wind stirs and ruffles it, they seem to vegetate in fire...such a sight as we read of in legends of enchanted forests: it is sad to see these noble works wasting away so awfully, and to think how many years must come and go before the magic that created them will rear their like upon this ground again. Of primeval forests where the ax was never heard, and where the jungled ground was never trodden by a human foot." Did Dickens really write like that? You bet.

              R. Dale Flick
              Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

              Comment


                #8
                Dale: Oh! WoW! He could write like the DIckens! Cap'n Walnut

                Comment

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