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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 com-
partments, ornamented by historical pictures. Four of these
have for their subjects prominent events in the revolutionary
struggle. They were painted by Colonel Trumbull, him-
self 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
Cnpitol ; 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 now.

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 con-
siderably 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 exceed-
ingly 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

I was sometimes asked, in my progress through other
places, whether I had not been very much impressed by the
heads of the law-makers at Washington ; meaning not their
chiefs and leaders, but literally their individual and personal
heads, whereon their hair grew, and whereby the phreno-
logical 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. 11 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 develop-
ment 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 Con-
stitution, 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 tempera-
ment, amounting to iciness, in such matters ; and therefore
my impressions of the live pillars of the Capitol at Washing-
ton 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 last-
ing 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 Inalien-
able 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 ne\v 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 perver-
sion of virtuous Political Machinery that the worst tools ever
wrought. Despicable trickery at elections ; under-handed
tarn peri ngs 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 degradation.

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 imy 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 accus-
tomed to exchange in any civilised society of which we have
record : but farm-yard imitations have not as yet been im-
ported 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 pro-
ceedings 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 accommo-
dated, 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 fendei;,
which was more convenient, and may have suited his purpose


- The Patent Office at Washington, furnishes an extraor-
dinary 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 struc-
ture 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 depart-
ments, among a collection of rare and curious articles, arc
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 burn-
ing 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 ten-ace which com-
manded 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 him.

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

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. Arid
indeed all these gentlemen were so very persevering and ener-
getic 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

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, gentle-
manly, and agreeable. I thought that in his whole carriage
and demeanour, he became his station singularly well.

Being advised that the sensible etiquette of the repub-
lican 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, Avith 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 stand-still 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 exclusive.

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 accom-
plished 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 atten-
dants, 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

That these visitors, too, whatever their station, were not
without some refinement of taste and appreciation of intel-
lectual 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. T

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

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 13 of 43)