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of six feet high and upwards, like a lighthouse walking
among lamp-posts.


Within a few minutes afterwards, we were out of the canal,
and in the Ohio river again.

The arrangements of the boat were like those of the Mes-
senger, and the passengers were of the same order of people.
We fed at the same times, on the same kind of viands, in
the same dull manner, and with the same observances. The
company appeared to be oppressed by the same tremendous
concealments, and had as little capacity of enjoyment or
light-heartedness. I never in my life did see such listless,
heavy dulness as brooded over these meals : the very recollec-
tion of it weighs me down, and makes me, for the moment,
wretched. Reading and writing on my knee, in our little
cabin, I really dreaded the coming of the hour that summoned
us to table ; and was as glad to escape from it again, as if it
had been a penance or a punishment. Healthy cheerfulness
and good spirits forming a part of the banquet, I could soak
my crusts in the fountain with Le Sage's strolling player,
and revel in their glad enjoyment: but sitting down Avith
so many fellow-animals to ward off thirst and hunger as
a business ; to empty, each creature, his Yahoo's trough as
quickly as he can, and then slink sullenly away ; to have
these social sacraments stripped of everything but the mere
greedy satisfaction of the natural cravings; goes so against
the grain with me, that I seriously believe the recollection
of these funeral feasts will be a waking nightmare to me
all my life.

There was some relief in this boat, too, which there had
not been in the other, for the captain (a blunt good-natured
fellow) had his handsome wife with him, who was disposed
to be lively and agreeable, as were a few other lady-passengers
who had their seats about us at the same end of the table.
But nothing could have made head against the depressing
influence of the general body. There was a magnetism of
dulness in them which would have beaten down the most
facetious companion that the earth ever knew. A jest would
have been a crime, and a smile would have faded into a


grinning horror. Such deadly leaden people ; such systematic
plodding weary insupportable heaviness; such a mass of
animated indigestion in respect of all that was genial, jovial,
frank, social, or hearty; never, sure, was brought together
elsewhere since the world began.

Nor was the scenery, as we approached the junction of the
Ohio and Mississippi rivers, at all inspiriting in its influence.
The trees were stunted in their growth ; the banks were low
and flat; the settlements and log cabins fewer in number:
their inhabitants more wan and wretched than any we had
encountered yet. No songs of birds were in the air, no
pleasant scents, no moving lights and shadows from swift
passing clouds. Hour after hour, the changeless glare of the
hot, unwinking sky, shone upon the same monotonous objects.
Hour after hour, the river rolled along, as wearily and slowly
as the time itself.

At length, upon the morning of the third day, we arrived
at a spot so much more desolate than any we had yet beheld,
that the forlornest places we had passed, were, in comparison
with it, full of interest. At the junction of the two rivers,
on ground so flat and low and marshy, that at certain seasons
of the year it is inundated to the house-tops, lies a breeding-
place of fever, ague, and death ; vaunted in England as a
mine of Golden Hope, and speculated in, on the faith of
monstrous representations, to many people's ruin. A dismal
swamp, on which the half-built houses rot away : cleared here
and there for the space of a few yards ; and teeming, then,
with rank unwholesome vegetation, in whose baleful shade
the wretched wanderers who are tempted hither, droop, and
die, and lay their bones ; the hateful Mississippi circling and
eddying before it, and turning off* upon its southern course
a slimy monster hideous to behold ; a hotbed of disease, an
ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise :
a place without one single quality, in earth or air or water,
to commend it : such is this dismal Cairo.

But what words shall describe the Mississippi, great father


of rivers, who (praise be to Heaven) has no young children
like him ! An enormous ditch, sometimes two or three miles
wide, running liquid mud, six miles an hour : its strong and
frothy current choked and obstructed everywhere by huge logs
and whole forest trees: now twining themselves together in
great rafts, from the interstices of which a sedgy lazy foam
works up, to float upon the water's top ; now rolling past like
monstrous bodies, their tangled roots showing like matted
hair ; now glancing singly by like giant leeches ; and now
writhing round and round in the vortex of some small whirl-
pool, like wounded snakes. The banks low, the trees dwarfish,
the marshes swarming with frogs, the wretched cabins few
and far apart, their inmates hollow-cheeked and pale, the
weather very hot, mosquitoes penetrating into every crack and
crevice of the boat, mud and slime on everything : nothing
pleasant in its aspect, but the harmless lightning which
flickers every night upon the dark horizon.

For two days we toiled up this foul stream, striking con-
stantly against the floating timber, or stopping to avoid those
more dangerous obstacles, the snags, or sawyers, which are
the hidden trunks of trees that have their roots below the
tide. When the nights are very dark, the look-out stationed
in the head of the boat, knows by the ripple of the water if
any great impediment be near at hand, and rings a bell beside
him, which is the signal for the engine to be stopped : but
always in the night this bell has work to do, and after every
ring, there comes a blow which renders it no easy matter to
remain in bed.

The decline of day here was very gorgeous ; tingeing the
firmament deeply with red and gold, up to the very keystone
of the arch above us. As the sun went down behind the
bank, the slightest blades of grass upon it seemed to become
as distinctly visible as the arteries in the skeleton of a leaf;
and when, as it slowly sank, the red and golden bars upon
the water grew dimmer, and dimmer yet, as if they were
sinking too ; and all the glowing colours of departing day


paled, inch by inch, before the sombre night; the scene
became a thousand times more lonesome and more dreary
than before, and all its influences darkened with the sky.

We drank the muddy water of this river while we were
upon it. It is considered wholesome by the natives, and is
something more opaque than gruel. I have seen water like
it at the Filter- shops, but nowhere else.

On the fourth night after leaving Louisville, we reached
St. Louis, and here I witnessed the conclusion of an incident,
trifling enough in itself, but very pleasant to see, which had
interested me during the whole journey.

There was a little woman on board, with a little baby ;
and both little woman and little child were cheerful, good-
looking, bright-eyed, and fair to see. The little woman had
been passing a long time with her sick mother in New York,
and had left her home in St. Louis, in that condition in
which ladies who truly love their lords desire to be. The
baby was born in her mother's house; and she had not seen
her husband (to whom she was now returning), for twelve
months : having left him a month or two after their marriage.

Well, to be sure, there never was a little woman so full
of hope, and tenderness, and love, and anxiety, as this little
woman was : and all day long she wondered whether " He "
would be at the wharf; and whether "He" had got her
letter ; and whether, if she sent the baby ashore by somebody
else, " He " would know it, meeting it in the street : which,
seeing that he had never set eyes upon it in his life, was not
very likely in the abstract, but was probable enough, to the
young mother. She was such an artless little creature; and
was in such a sunny, beaming, hopeful state ; and let out all
this matter clinging close about her heart, so freely ; that all
the other lady passengers entered into the spirit of it as much
as she; and the captain (who heard all about it from his
wife) was wondrous sly, I promise you : inquiring, every time
we met at table, as in forgetfulness, whether she expected
anybody to meet her at St. Louis, and whether she would


want to go ashore the night we reached it (but he supposed
she wouldn't), and cutting many other dry jokes of that
nature. There was one little weazen, dried-apple-faced old
woman, who took occasion to doubt the constancy of husbands
in such circumstances of bereavement ; and there was another
lady (with a lap-dog) old enough to moralize on the lightness
of human affections, and yet not so old that she could help
nursing the baby, now and then, or laughing with the rest,
when the little woman called it by its father's name, and
asked it all manner of fantastic questions concerning him in
the joy of her heart.

It was something of a blow to the little woman, that when
we were within twenty miles of our destination, it became
clearly necessary to put this baby to bed. But she got over
it with the same good humour; tied a handkerchief round
her head; and came out into the little gallery with the rest.
Then, such an oracle as she became in reference to the locali-
ties ! and such facetiousness as was displayed by the married
ladies ! and such sympathy as was shown by the single ones !
and such peals of laughter as the little woman herself (who
would just as soon have cried) greeted every jest with !

At last, there were the lights of St. Louis, and here was
the wharf, and those were the steps : and the little woman
covering her face with her hands, and laughing (or seeming
to laugh) more than ever, ran into her own cabin, and shut
herself up. I have no doubt that in the charming incon-
sistency of such excitement, she stopped her ears, lest she
should hear " Him " asking for her : but I did not see her
do it.

Then, a great crowd of people rushed on board, though
the boat was not yet made fast, but was wandering about,
among the other boats, to find a landing-place : and every-
body looked for the husband : and nobody saw him : when,
in the midst of us all Heaven knows how she ever got there
there was the little woman clinging with both arms tight
round the neck of a fine, good-looking, sturdy young fellow !

ST. LOUIS. 207

and in a moment afterwards, there she was again, actually
clapping her little hands for joy, as she dragged him through
the small door of her small cabin, to look at the baby as he
lay asleep !

We went to a large hotel, called the Planter's House : built
like an English hospital, with long passages and bare walls,
and skylights above the room-doors for the free circulation
of air. There were a great many boarders in it ; and as many
lights sparkled and glistened from the windows down into
the street below, when we drove up, as if it had been illumi-
nated on some occasion of rejoicing. It is an excellent house,
and the proprietors have most bountiful notions of providing
the creature comforts. Dining alone with my wife in our
own room, one day, I counted fourteen dishes on the table
at once.

In the old French portion of the town, the thoroughfares
are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very
quaint and picturesque : being built of wood, with tumble-
down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs or
rather ladders from the street. There are queer little barbers'
shops and drinking-houses too, in this quarter; and abun-
dance of crazy old tenements with blinking casements, such as
may be seen in Flanders. Some of these ancient habitations,
with high garret gable-windows perking into the roofs, have a
kind of French shrug about them ; and being lop-sided with
age, appear to hold their heads askew, besides, as if they were
grimacing in astonishment at the American Improvements.

It is hardly necessary to say, that these consist of wharfs
and warehouses, and new buildings in all directions ; and of a
great many vast plans which are still " progressing." Already,
however, some very good houses, broad streets, and marble-
fronted shops, have gone so far a-head as to be in a state of
completion ; and the town bids fair in a few years to improve
considerably : though it is not likely ever to vie, in point of
elegance or beauty, with Cincinnati.

The Roman Catholic religion, introduced here by the early


French settlers, prevails extensively. Among the public insti-
tutions are a Jesuit college ; a convent for " the Ladies of the
Sacred Heart ; " and a large chapel attached to the college,
which was in course of erection at the time of my visit, and
was intended to be consecrated on the second of December in
the next year. The architect of this building, is one of the
reverend fathers of the school, and the works proceed under
his sole direction. The organ will be sent from Belgium.

In addition to these establishments, there is a Roman
Catholic cathedral, dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier ; and a
hospital, founded by the munificence of a deceased resident,
who was a member of that church. It also sends missionaries
from hence among the Indian tribes.

The Unitarian church is represented, in this remote place,
as in most other parts of America, by a gentleman of great
worth and excellence. The poor have good reason to remem-
ber and bless it ; for it befriends them, and aids the cause of
rational education, without any sectarian or selfish views. It
is liberal in all its actions ; of kind construction ; and of wide

There are three free-schools already erected, and in full
operation in this city. A fourth is building, and will soon
be opened.

No man ever admits the unhealthiness of the place he
dwells in (unless he is going away from it), and I shall there-
fore, I have no doubt, be at issue with the inhabitants of St.
Louis, in questioning the perfect salubrity of its climate, and
in hinting that I think it must rather dispose to fever, in the
summer and autumnal seasons. Just adding, that it is very
hot, lies among great rivers, and has vast tracts of undrained
swampy land around it, I leave the reader to form his own

As I had a great desire to see a Prairie before turning
back from the furthest point of my wanderings ; and as some
gentlemen of the town had, in their hospitable consideration,
an equal desire to gratify me; a day was fixed, before my


departure, for an expedition to the Looking-Glass Prairie,
which is within thirty miles of the town. Deeming it possible
that my readers may not object to know what kind of thing
such a gipsy party may be at that distance from home, and
among what sort of objects it moves, I will describe the jaunt
in another chapter.



I MAY premise that the word Prairie is variously pronounced
paraaer, parearer, and paroarer. The latter mode of pronun-
ciation is perhaps the most in favour.

We were fourteen in all, and all young men : indeed it is
a singular though very natural feature in the society of these
distant settlements, that it is mainly composed of adventurous
persons in the prime of life, and has very few grey heads
among it. There were no ladies : the trip being a fatiguing
one: and we were to start at five o'clock in the morning

I was called at four, that I might be certain of keeping
nobody waiting; and having got some bread and milk for
breakfast, threw up the window and looked down into the
street, expecting to see the whole party busily astir, and
great preparations going on below. But as everything was
very quiet, and the street presented that hopeless aspect with
which five o'clock in the morning is familiar elsewhere, I
deemed it as well to go to bed again, and went accordingly.

I woke again at seven o'clock, and by that time the party
had assembled, and were gathered round, one light carriage,
with a very stout axletree; one something on wheels like an
amateur carrier's cart ; one double phaeton of great antiquity
and unearthly construction ; one gig with a great hole in
its back and a broken head ; and one rider on horseback


who was to go on before. I got into the first coach with
three companions ; the rest bestowed themselves in the other
vehicles; two large baskets were made fast to the lightest;
two large stone jars in wicker cases, technically known as
demi-johns, were consigned to the "least rowdy" of the party
for safe-keeping; and the procession moved off to the ferry-
boat, in which it was to cross the river bodily, men, horses,
carriages, and all, as the manner in these parts is.

We got over the river in due course, and mustered again
before a little wooden box on wheels, hove down all aslant in
a morass, with " MERCHANT TAILOR " painted in very large
letters over the door. Having settled the order of proceed-
ing, and the road to be taken, we started off once more and
began to make our way through an ill-favoured Black Hollow,
called, less expressively, the American Bottom.

The previous day had been not to say hot, for the term
is weak and lukewarm in its power of conveying an idea of
the temperature. The town had been on fire ; in a blaze.
But at night it had come on to rain in torrents, and all
night long it had rained without cessation. We had a pair
of very strong horses, but travelled at the rate of little more
than a couple of miles an hour, through one unbroken slough
of black mud and water. It had no variety but in depth.
Now it was only half over the wheels, now it hid the axletree,
and now the coach sank down in it almost to the windows.
The air resounded in all directions with the loud chirping
of the frogs, who, with the pigs (a coarse, ugly breed, as
unwholesome-looking as though they were the spontaneous
growth of the country), had the whole scene to themselves.
Here and there we passed a log hut : but the wretched cabins
were wide apart and thinly scattered, for though the soil is
very rich in this place, few people can exist in such a deadly
atmosphere. On either side of the track, if it deserve the
name, was the thick " bush ; " and everywhere was stagnant,
slimy, rotten, filthy water.

As it is the custom in these parts to give a horse a gallon


or so of cold water whenever he is in a foam with heat, we
halted for that purpose, at a log inn in the wood, far removed
from any other residence. It consisted of one room, bare-
roofed and bare-walled of course, with a loft above. The
ministering priest was a swarthy young savage, in a shirt of
cotton print like bed-furniture, and a pair of ragged trousers.
There were a couple of young boys, too, nearly naked, lying
idle by the well; and they, and he, and the traveller at the
inn, turned out to look at us.

The traveller was an old man with a grey gristly beard
two inches long, a shaggy moustache of the same hue, and
enormous eyebrows ; which almost obscured his lazy, semi-
drunken glance, as he stood regarding us with folded arms :
poising himself alternately upon his toes and heels. On being
addressed by one of the party, he drew nearer, and said,
rubbing his chin (which scraped under his horny hand like
fresh gravel beneath a nailed shoe), that he was from Dela-
ware, and had lately bought a farm "down there," pointing
into one of the marshes where the stunted trees were thickest.
He was "going, 11 he added, to St. Louis, to fetch his family,
whom he had left behind ; but he seemed in no great hurry
to bring on these incumbrances, for when we moved away, he
loitered back into the cabin, and was plainly bent on stopping
there so long as his money lasted. He was a great politician
of course, and explained his opinions at some length to one
of our company; but I only remember that he concluded
with two sentiments, one of which was, Somebody for ever;
and the other, Blast everybody else ! which is by no means
a bad abstract of the general creed in these matters.

When the horses were swollen out to about twice their
natural dimensions (there seems to be an idea here, that this
kind of inflation improves their going), we. went forward
again, through mud and mire, and damp, and festering heat,
and brake and bush, attended always by the music of the
frogs and pigs, until nearly noon, when we halted at a place
called Belleville.


Belleville was a small collection of wooden houses, huddled
together in the very heart of the bush and swamp. Many
of them had singularly bright doors of red and yellow; for
the place had been lately visited by a travelling painter,
"who got along,"" as I was told, "by eating his way." The
criminal court was sitting, and was at that moment trying
some criminals for horse-stealing : with whom it would most
likely go hard : for live stock of all kinds being necessarily
very much exposed in the woods, is held by the community
in rather higher value than human life ; and for this reason,
juries generally make a point of finding all men indicted for
cattle-stealing, guilty, whether or no.

The horses belonging to the bar, the judge, and witnesses,
were tied to temporary racks set up roughly in the road ; by
which is to be understood, a forest path, nearly knee-deep in
mud and slime.

There was an hotel in this place, which, like all hotels in
America, had its large dining-room for the public table. It
was an odd, shambling, low-roofed out-house, half-cowshed
and half-kitchen, with a coarse brown canvas table-cloth, and
tin sconces stuck against the walls, to hold candles at supper-
time. The horseman had gone forward to have coffee and
some eatables prepared, and they were by this time nearly
ready. He had ordered " wheat-bread and chicken fixings,"
in preference to "corn-bread and common doings." The
latter kind of refection includes only pork and bacon. The
former comprehends broiled ham, sausages, veal cutlets,
steaks, and such other viands of that nature as may be sup-
posed, by a tolerably wide poetical construction, "to fix" a
chicken comfortably in the digestive organs of any lady or

On one of the door-posts at this inn, was a tin plate,
whereon was inscribed in characters of gold, " Doctor Crocus ; "
and on a sheet of paper, pasted up by the side of this plate,
was a written announcement that Dr. Crocus would that
evening deliver a lecture on Phrenology for the benefit of


the Belleville public; at a charge, for admission, of so much
a head.

Straying up-stairs, during the preparation of the chicken
fixings, I happened to pass the doctor's chamber; and as the
door stood wide open, and the room was empty, I made bold
to peep in.

It was a bare, unfurnished, comfortless room, with an un-
framed portrait hanging up at the head of the bed ; a like-
ness, I take it, of the Doctor, for the forehead was fully
displayed, and great stress was laid by the artist upon its
phrenological developments. The bed itself was covered with
an old patch-work counterpane. The room was destitute of
carpet or of curtain. There was a damp fireplace without
any stove, full of wood ashes ; a chair, and a very small table ;
and on the last-named piece of furniture was displayed, in
grand array, the doctor's library, consisting of some half-dozen
greasy old books.

Now, it certainly looked about the last apartment on the
whole earth out of which any man would be likely to get
anything to do him good. But the door, as I have said,
stood coaxingly open, and plainly said in conjunction with
the chair, the portrait, the table, and the books, " Walk
in, gentlemen, walk in ! Don't be ill, gentlemen, when you
may be well in no time. Doctor Crocus is here, gentlemen,
the celebrated Dr. Crocus ! Doctor Crocus has come all this
way to cure you, gentlemen. If you haven't heard of Dr.
Crocus, it's your fault, gentlemen, who live a little way out
of the world here : not Dr. Crocus's. Walk in, gentlemen,
walk in ! "

In the passage below, when I went down-stairs again, was
Dr. Crocus himself. A crowd had flocked in from the Court
House, and a voice from among them called out to the land-
lord, " Colonel ! introduce Doctor Crocus,"

" Mr. Dickens," says the colonel, " Doctor Crocus."

Upon which Doctor Crocus, who is a tall, fine-looking
Scotchman, but rather fierce and warlike in appearance for a

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 18 of 43)