Anthony Trollope.

North America — Volume 2 online

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E-text prepared by Donald Lainson and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein,

Editorial note:

Anthony Trollope travelled through the United States from
August, 1861, to May, 1862. He visited all the states that
did not secede except California. This book is partly a
journal of his travels and partly his description of American
customs and culture including industry, education, government,
military affairs, religion, transportation, and even
hotels. To an American of today it provides a revealing and
fascinating picture of life at the time.

The book was first published in two volumes by Chapman & Hall
in 1862.

Project Gutenberg has the other volume of this work.
Volume I: see




In Two Volumes






The site of the present city of Washington was chosen with three
special views; firstly, that being on the Potomac it might have the
full advantage of water-carriage and a sea-port; secondly, that
it might be so far removed from the seaboard as to be safe from
invasion; and, thirdly, that it might be central alike to all the
States. It was presumed when Washington was founded that these three
advantages would be secured by the selected position. As regards the
first, the Potomac affords to the city but few of the advantages
of a sea-port. Ships can come up, but not ships of large burthen.
The river seems to have dwindled since the site was chosen; and at
present it is, I think, evident that Washington can never be great in
its shipping. _Statio benefida carinis_ can never be its motto. As
regards the second point, singularly enough Washington is the only
city of the Union that has been in an enemy's possession since the
United States became a nation. In the war of 1812 it fell into our
hands, and we burnt it. As regards the third point, Washington, from
the lie of the land, can hardly have been said to be centrical at
any time. Owing to the irregularities of the coast it is not easy of
access by railways from different sides. Baltimore would have been
far better. But as far as we can now see, and as well as we can now
judge, Washington will soon be on the borders of the nation to which
it belongs, instead of at its centre. I fear, therefore, that we must
acknowledge that the site chosen for his country's capital by George
Washington has not been fortunate.

I have a strong idea, which I expressed before in speaking of the
capital of the Canadas, that no man can ordain that on such a spot
shall be built a great and thriving city. No man can so ordain even
though he leave behind him, as was the case with Washington, a
prestige sufficient to bind his successors to his wishes. The
political leaders of the country have done what they could for
Washington. The pride of the nation has endeavoured to sustain
the character of its chosen metropolis. There has been no rival,
soliciting favour on the strength of other charms. The country has
all been agreed on the point since the father of the country first
commenced the work. Florence and Rome in Italy have each their
pretensions; but in the States no other city has put itself forward
for the honour of entertaining Congress. And yet Washington has been
a failure. It is commerce that makes great cities, and commerce has
refused to back the General's choice. New York and Philadelphia,
without any political power, have become great among the cities of
the earth. They are beaten by none except by London and Paris. But
Washington is but a ragged, unfinished collection of unbuilt broad
streets, as to the completion of which there can now, I imagine, be
but little hope.

Of all places that I know it is the most ungainly and most
unsatisfactory; - I fear I must also say the most presumptuous in its
pretensions. There is a map of Washington accurately laid down; and
taking that map with him in his journeyings a man may lose himself in
the streets, not as one loses oneself in London between Shoreditch
and Russell Square, but as one does so in the deserts of the Holy
Land, between Emmaus and Arimathea. In the first place no one knows
where the places are, or is sure of their existence, and then between
their presumed localities the country is wild, trackless, unbridged,
uninhabited, and desolate. Massachusetts Avenue runs the whole length
of the city, and is inserted on the maps as a full-blown street,
about four miles in length. Go there, and you will find yourself not
only out of town, away among the fields, but you will find yourself
beyond the fields, in an uncultivated, undrained wilderness. Tucking
your trousers up to your knees you will wade through the bogs, you
will lose yourself among rude hillocks, you will be out of the reach
of humanity. The unfinished dome of the Capitol will loom before you
in the distance, and you will think that you approach the ruins of
some western Palmyra. If you are a sportsman, you will desire to
shoot snipe within sight of the President's house. There is much
unsettled land within the States of America, but I think none so
desolate in its state of nature as three-fourths of the ground on
which is supposed to stand the city of Washington.

The city of Washington is something more than four miles long, and
is something more than two miles broad. The land apportioned to it
is nearly as compact as may be, and it exceeds in area the size
of a parallelogram four miles long by two broad. These dimensions
are adequate for a noble city, for a city to contain a million of
inhabitants. It is impossible to state with accuracy the actual
population of Washington, for it fluctuates exceedingly. The place
is very full during Congress, and very empty during the recess.
By which I mean it to be understood that those streets, which
are blessed with houses, are full when Congress meets. I do not
think that Congress makes much difference to Massachusetts Avenue.
I believe that the city never contains as many as eighty thousand,
and that its permanent residents are less than sixty thousand.

But, it will be said, - was it not well to prepare for a growing city?
Is it not true that London is choked by its own fatness, not having
been endowed at its birth or during its growth, with proper means for
accommodating its own increasing proportions? Was it not well to lay
down fine avenues and broad streets, so that future citizens might
find a city well prepared to their hand?

There is no doubt much in such an argument, but its correctness must
be tested by its success. When a man marries it is well that he
should make provision for a coming family. But a Benedict, who early
in his career shall have carried his friends with considerable
self-applause through half-a-dozen nurseries and at the end of twelve
years shall still be the father of one ricketty baby, will incur a
certain amount of ridicule. It is very well to be prepared for good
fortune, but one should limit one's preparation within a reasonable
scope. Two miles by one might perhaps have done for the skeleton
sketch of a new city. Less than half that would contain much more
than the present population of Washington; and there are, I fear, few
towns in the Union so little likely to enjoy any speedy increase.

Three avenues sweep the whole length of Washington; - Virginia Avenue,
Pennsylvania Avenue, and Massachusetts Avenue. But Pennsylvania
Avenue is the only one known to ordinary men, and the half of that
only is so known. This avenue is the backbone of the city, and those
streets which are really inhabited cluster round that half of it
which runs westward from the Capitol. The eastern end, running from
the front of the Capitol, is again a desert. The plan of the city is
somewhat complicated. It may truly be called "a mighty maze, but not
without a plan." The Capitol was intended to be the centre of the
city. It faces eastward, away from the Potomac, - or rather from the
main branch of the Potomac, and also unfortunately from the main body
of the town. It turns its back upon the chief thoroughfare, upon the
Treasury buildings, and upon the President's house; and indeed upon
the whole place. It was, I suppose, intended that the streets to the
eastward should be noble and populous, but hitherto they have come
to nothing. The building therefore is wrong side foremost, and all
mankind who enter it, senators, representatives, and judges included,
go in at the back-door. Of course it is generally known that in
the Capitol is the Chamber of the Senate, that of the House of
Representatives, and the Supreme Judicial Court of the Union. It may
be said that there are two centres in Washington, this being one and
the President's house the other. At these centres the main avenues
are supposed to cross each other, which avenues are called by the
names of the respective States. At the Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue,
New Jersey Avenue, Delaware Avenue, and Maryland Avenue converge.
They come from one extremity of the city to the square of the Capitol
on one side, and run out from the other side of it to the other
extremity of the city. Pennsylvania Avenue, New York Avenue, Vermont
Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue do the same at what is generally
called President's Square. In theory, or on paper, this seems to be a
clear and intelligible arrangement; but it does not work well. These
centre depots are large spaces, and consequently one portion of a
street is removed a considerable distance from the other. It is as
though the same name should be given to two streets, one of which
entered St. James's Park at Buckingham Gate, while the other started
from the Park at Marlborough House. To inhabitants the matter
probably is not of much moment, as it is well known that this portion
of such an avenue and that portion of such another avenue are merely
myths, - unknown lands away in the wilds. But a stranger finds himself
in the position of being sent across the country knee-deep into the
mud, wading through snipe grounds, looking for civilization where
none exists.

All these avenues have a slanting direction. They are so arranged
that none of them run north and south or east and west; but the
streets, so called, all run in accordance with the points of the
compass. Those from east to west are A Street, B Street, C Street,
and so on, - counting them away from the Capitol on each side, so that
there are two A streets and two B streets. On the map these streets
run up to V Street, both right and left, - V Street North and V Street
South. Those really known to mankind are E, F, G, H, I, and K Streets
North. Then those streets which run from north to south are numbered
First Street, Second Street, Third Street, and so on, on each front
of the Capitol, running to Twenty-fourth or Twenty-fifth Street on
each side. Not very many of these have any existence, or I might
perhaps more properly say, any vitality in their existence.

Such is the plan of the city, that being the arrangement and those
the dimensions intended by the original architects and founders of
Washington; but the inhabitants have hitherto confined themselves to
Pennsylvania Avenue West, and to the streets abutting from it or near
to it. Whatever address a stranger may receive, however perplexing
it may seem to him, he may be sure that the house indicated is near
Pennsylvania Avenue. If it be not, I should recommend him to pay no
attention to the summons. Even in those streets with which he will
become best acquainted, the houses are not continuous. There will be
a house, and then a blank; then two houses, and then a double blank.
After that a hut or two, and then probably an excellent, roomy,
handsome family mansion. Taken altogether, Washington as a city is
most unsatisfactory, and falls more grievously short of the thing
attempted than any other of the great undertakings of which I have
seen anything in the States. San Jose, the capital of the republic of
Costa Rica, in Central America, has been prepared and arranged as a
new city in the same way. But even San Jose comes nearer to what was
intended than does Washington.

For myself, I do not believe in cities made after this fashion.
Commerce, I think, must select the site of all large congregations of
mankind. In some mysterious way she ascertains what she wants, and
having acquired that, draws men in thousands round her properties.
Liverpool, New York, Lyons, Glasgow, Venice, Marseilles, Hamburg,
Calcutta, Chicago, and Leghorn, have all become populous, and are or
have been great, because trade found them to be convenient for its
purposes. Trade seems to have ignored Washington altogether. Such
being the case, the Legislature and the Executive of the country
together have been unable to make of Washington anything better than
a straggling congregation of buildings in a wilderness. We are now
trying the same experiment at Ottawa, in Canada, having turned our
back upon Montreal in dudgeon. The site of Ottawa is more interesting
than that of Washington, but I doubt whether the experiment will be
more successful. A new town for art, fashion, and politics has been
built at Munich, and there it seems to answer the expectation of the
builders; but at Munich there is an old city as well, and commerce
had already got some considerable hold on the spot before the new
town was added to it.

The streets of Washington, such as exist, are all broad. Throughout
the town there are open spaces, - spaces, I mean, intended to be open
by the plan laid down for the city. At the present moment it is
almost all open space. There is also a certain nobility about the
proposed dimensions of the avenues and squares. Desirous of praising
it in some degree, I can say that the design is grand. The thing
done, however, falls so infinitely short of that design, that nothing
but disappointment is felt. And I fear that there is no look-out
into the future which can justify a hope that the design will be
fulfilled. It is therefore a melancholy place. The society into which
one falls there consists mostly of persons who are not permanently
resident in the capital; but of those who were permanent residents I
found none who spoke of their city with affection. The men and women
of Boston think that the sun shines nowhere else; - and Boston Common
is very pleasant. The New Yorkers believe in Fifth Avenue with an
unswerving faith; and Fifth Avenue is calculated to inspire a faith.
Philadelphia to a Philadelphian is the centre of the universe, and
the progress of Philadelphia, perhaps, justifies the partiality. The
same thing may be said of Chicago, of Buffalo, and of Baltimore. But
the same thing cannot be said in any degree of Washington. They who
belong to it turn up their noses at it. They feel that they live
surrounded by a failure. Its grand names are as yet false, and none
of the efforts made have hitherto been successful. Even in winter,
when Congress is sitting, Washington is melancholy; - but Washington
in summer must surely be the saddest spot on earth.

There are six principal public buildings in Washington, as to which
no expense seems to have been spared, and in the construction of
which a certain amount of success has been obtained. In most of these
this success has been more or less marred by an independent deviation
from recognized rules of architectural taste. These are the Capitol,
the Post-office, the Patent-office, the Treasury, the President's
house, and the Smithsonian Institute. The five first are Grecian,
and the last in Washington is called - Romanesque. Had I been left to
classify it by my own unaided lights, I should have called it bastard

The Capitol is by far the most imposing; and though there is much
about it with which I cannot but find fault, it certainly is
imposing. The present building was, I think, commenced in 1815, the
former Capitol having been destroyed by the English in the war of
1812-13. It was then finished according to the original plan, with a
fine portico and well-proportioned pediment above it, - looking to the
east. The outer flight of steps, leading up to this from the eastern
approach, is good and in excellent taste. The expanse of the building
to the right and left, as then arranged, was well proportioned,
and, as far as we can now judge, the then existing dome was well
proportioned also. As seen from the east the original building
must have been in itself very fine. The stone is beautiful, being
bright almost as marble, and I do not know that there was any great
architectural defect to offend the eye. The figures in the pediment
are mean. There is now in the Capitol a group apparently prepared for
a pediment, which is by no means mean. I was informed that they were
intended for this position; but they, on the other hand, are too good
for such a place, and are also too numerous. This set of statues
is by Crawford. Most of them are well known, and they are very
fine. They now stand within the old chamber of the Representative
House, and the pity is, that if elevated to such a position as that
indicated, they can never be really seen. There are models of them
all at West Point, and some of them I have seen at other places in
marble. The Historical Society at New York has one or two of them.
In and about the front of the Capitol there are other efforts of
sculpture, - imposing in their size, and assuming, if not affecting,
much in the attitudes chosen. Statuary at Washington runs too much on
two subjects, which are repeated perhaps almost ad nauseam; one is
that of a stiff, steady-looking, healthy, but ugly individual, with
a square jaw and big jowl, which represents the great General; he
does not prepossess the beholder, because he appears to be thoroughly
ill-natured. And the other represents a melancholy, weak figure
without any hair, but often covered with feathers, and is intended
to typify the red Indian. The red Indian is generally supposed to
be receiving comfort; but it is manifest that he never enjoys the
comfort ministered to him. There is a gigantic statue of Washington,
by Greenough, out in the grounds in front of the building. The figure
is seated and holding up one of its arms towards the city. There is
about it a kind of weighty magnificence; but it is stiff, ungainly,
and altogether without life.

But the front of the original building is certainly grand. The
architect who designed it must have had skill, taste, and nobility of
conception; but even this was spoilt, or rather wasted, by the fact
that the front is made to look upon nothing, and is turned from the
city. It is as though the _façade_ of the London Post-office had been
made to face the Goldsmiths' Hall. The Capitol stands upon the side
of a hill, the front occupying a much higher position than the back;
consequently they who enter it from the back - and everybody does so
enter it - are first called on to rise to the level of the lower floor
by a stiff ascent of exterior steps, which are in no way grand or
imposing, and then, having entered by a mean back-door, are instantly
obliged to ascend again by another flight, - by stairs sufficiently
appropriate to a back entrance, but altogether unfitted for the chief
approach to such a building. It may, of course, be said that persons
who are particular in such matters should go in at the front door and
not at the back; but one must take these things as one finds them.
The entrance by which the Capitol is approached is such as I have
described. There are mean little brick chimneys at the left hand as
one walks in, attached to modern bakeries which have been constructed
in the basement for the use of the soldiers; and there is on
the other hand the road by which waggons find their way to the
underground region with fuel, stationery, and other matters desired
by senators and representatives, - and at present by bakers also.

In speaking of the front I have spoken of it as it was originally
designed and built. Since that period very heavy wings have been
added to the pile; - wings so heavy that they are or seem to be much
larger than the original structure itself. This, to my thinking, has
destroyed the symmetry of the whole. The wings, which in themselves
are by no means devoid of beauty, are joined to the centre by
passages so narrow that from exterior points of view the light can be
seen through them. This robs the mass of all oneness, of all entirety
as a whole, and gives a scattered straggling appearance where there
should be a look of massiveness and integrity. The dome also has been
raised, a double drum having been given to it. This is unfinished
and should not therefore yet be judged; but I cannot think that the
increased height will be an improvement. This again, to my eyes,
appears to be straggling rather than massive. At a distance it
commands attention, and to one journeying through the desert places
of the city gives that idea of Palmyra which I have before mentioned.

Nevertheless, and in spite of all that I have said, I have had
pleasure in walking backwards and forwards, and through the grounds
which lie before the eastern front of the Capitol. The space for the
view is ample, and the thing to be seen has points which are very
grand. If the Capitol were finished and all Washington were built
around it, no man would say that the house in which Congress sat
disgraced the city.

Going west, but not due west, from the Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue
stretches in a right line to the Treasury Chambers. The distance is
beyond a mile, and men say, scornfully, that the two buildings have
been put so far apart in order to save the Secretaries who sit in
the bureaux from a too rapid influx of members of Congress. This
statement I by no means indorse; but it is undoubtedly the fact that
both senators and representatives are very diligent in their calls
upon gentlemen high in office. I have been present on some such
occasions, and it has always seemed to me that questions of patronage
have been paramount. This reach of Pennsylvania Avenue is the quarter
for the best shops of Washington, - that is to say, the frequented
side of it is so, - that side which is on your right as you leave the
Capitol. Of the other side the world knows nothing. And very bad
shops they are. I doubt whether there be any town in the world at all
equal in importance to Washington, which is in such respects so ill
provided. The shops are bad and dear. In saying this I am guided by
the opinions of all whom I heard speak on the subject. The same thing
was told me of the hotels. Hearing that the city was very full at the
time of my visit - full to overflowing - I had obtained private rooms
through a friend before I went there. Had I not done so, I might have
lain in the streets, or have made one with three or four others in a
small room at some third-rate inn. There had never been so great a
throng in the town. I am bound to say that my friend did well for me.
I found myself put up at the house of one Wormley, a coloured man, in
I Street, to whose attention I can recommend any Englishman who may
chance to want quarters in Washington. He has an hotel on one side of
the street, and private lodging-houses on the other in which I found
myself located. From what I heard of the hotels I conceived myself
to be greatly in luck. Willard's is the chief of these, and the
everlasting crowd and throng of men with which the halls and passages
of the house were always full, certainly did not seem to promise
either privacy or comfort. But then there are places in which
privacy and comfort are not expected, - are hardly even desired, - and
Washington is one of them.

The Post-office and the Patent-office lie a little away from
Pennsylvania Avenue in F Street, and are opposite to each other. The
Post-office is certainly a very graceful building. It is square, and

Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeNorth America — Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 35)