American Notes

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And was one of the most troubled of many troubled years for the city.

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The city and country were still in the grip of a depression that followed the Panic of , a cataclysm that rivals the Great Depression of the s. It was a grim time of rising and widespread destitution. As for politics, every right-thinking New Yorker took for granted that the entire business was corrupt and corrupting. In , the tax rate jumped 42 percent—but even that was not enough to keep the government from spending more than it received. Dickens had come to celebrate the American experiment, and Americans were equally eager to meet him.

But by the time Dickens left New York, his vision of America had changed. He was enthralled, but also repulsed, by what he saw, and for the rest of his life, his view of the United States was decidedly mixed. It was in New York, more than anywhere else, that the great novelist developed a more sober view of America. F rom the moment he landed in the United States, Dickens was mobbed, feted, and lionized. Americans considered the novelist to be one of their own; they revered him as a friend of the poor and an enemy of social evil.

Boz, who had just turned 30, had an immense readership in the United States. Dickens penned five of the 14 top-selling books in America between and He was read not only by the educated middle and upper classes but also by the laboring classes, sometimes aloud for their illiterate fellows.

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While it existed, the Carlton was one of the luxurious hotels that introduced Americans to a new and more comfortable style of living. New York was glamorous, but it was also filthy, and it stank. Drinking the water could be fatal. Cholera, yellow fever, and typhus periodically ravaged the city. A foul miasma rose from the garbage, carcasses of dead animals, and the offal of butchered livestock. The pigs!

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In earlier years, when the municipal authorities attempted to control unpenned pigs, riots had erupted—for any curtailing of the freedom of these animals increased the cost of their upkeep, thus placing a significant burden on the poor who owned them. More tonnage came in and out of the city than anywhere but London.


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The stage was the scene for 20 tableaux vivants. An unusual feature was the presence of a small coterie of ladies, including Kate, in a room adjoining the banquet hall. They edged their way into the ballroom to listen to the speechmaking. Yet for all the attention he drew in New York, Dickens also managed to forge several lifelong friendships—with Longfellow, Washington Irving, and David Colden, among them. T o Dickens and British radicals, the United States was a land of hope and freedom—freedom especially from the dominance of class.

Giles and its Seven Dials, among the vilest rookeries of his native London.

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Dickens was fascinated with jails, asylums, homes for the deaf, and other reformatory institutions. The Irish, along with blacks, were consigned to the bottom of society, scourged by tuberculosis, pneumonia, bronchitis, and scrofula. As an advocate of Irish rights in Britain, Dickens found the degradation and discrimination he witnessed appalling.

Its design had been inspired by an ancient mausoleum that a traveler to Egypt, John I. On each tier, are two opposite rows of small, iron doors. They look like furnace-doors but are cold and black, as though the fires within had all gone out. Hangings of the official kind were carried out in an inner yard until almost 50 years later, when the electric chair at Auburn, one of the heralds of the Machine Age, came into use.

Fields called Dickens, became thoroughly disillusioned after he saw other city institutions for the broken, the criminal, and the mad. D ickens had arrived in America in high spirits but also with a well-justified grievance.

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He had won legions of American readers but had reaped no American financial rewards. In speeches at dinners in his honor in Boston and Hartford, Dickens raised the issue of the copyright, calling on the country to do justice by those foreigners who toiled with their pen and sold their works stateside. His remarks in Boston were generally overlooked as a minor breach in manners; when he repeated the theme in Hartford, he provoked increasingly acid comment.

Now, in New York, at the gala City Hotel dinner, Dickens raised the issue again, in a direct but mild and brief allusion. The press howled. Search by: Title, Author or Keyword. While there he acted as a critical observer of these societies almost as if returning a status report on their progress.

This can be compared to the style of his Pictures from Italy written four years later, where he wrote far more like a tourist. His American journey was also an inspiration for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit.

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I present it, unaltered, in the Cheap Edition; and such of my opinions as it expresses, are quite unaltered too. My readers have opportunities of judging for themselves whether the influences and tendencies which I distrust in America, have any existence not in my imagination. They can examine for themselves whether there has been anything in the public career of that country during these past eight years, or whether there is anything in its present position, at home or abroad, which suggests that those influences and tendencies really do exist.