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blew dead against us ; a hard frost prevailed on shore ; and
the cold was most severe. Yet the air was so intensely clear,
and dry, and bright, that the temperature was not only
endurable, but delicious.

How I remained on deck, staring about me, until we came
alongside the dock, and how, though I had had as many eyes
as Argus, I should have had them all wide open, and all
employed on new objects are topics which I will not prolong
this chapter to discuss. Neither will I more than hint at my
foreigner-like mistake in supposing that a party of most active
persons, who scrambled on board at the peril of their lives
as we approached the wharf, were newsmen, answering to that
industrious class at home ; whereas, despite the leathern wallets
of news slung about the necks of some, and the broad sheets
in the hands of all, they were Editors, who boarded ships in
person (as one gentleman in a worsted comforter informed
me), " because they liked the excitement of it." Suffice it in
this place to say, that one of these invaders,* with a ready
courtesy for which I thank him here most gratefully, went



A CAPITAL DINNER. 27

on before to order rooms at the hotel; and that when I
followed, as I soon did, I found myself rolling through the
long passages with an involuntary imitation of the gait of
Mr. T. P. Cooke, in a new nautical melodrama.

" Dinner, if you please," said I to the waiter.

" When ? " said the waiter.

"As quick as possible," said I.

" Right away ? " said the waiter.

After a moment's hesitation, I answered " No," at hazard.

11 Not right away?" cried the waiter, with an amount of
surprise that made me start

I looked at him doubtfully, and returned, " No ; I would
rather have it in this private room. I like it very much."

At this, I really thought the waiter must have gone out
of his mind : as I believe he would have done, but for the
interposition of another man, who whispered in his ear,
" Directly."

" Well ! and that's a fact ! " said the waiter, looking
helplessly at me : " Right away."

I saw now that " Right away " and " Directly " were one
and the same thing. So I reversed my previous answer, and
sat down to dinner in ten minutes afterwards ; and a capital
dinner it was.

The hotel (a very excellent one) is called the Tremont
House. It has more galleries, colonnades, piaz/as, and
passages than I can remember, or the reader would believe.



CHAPTER III.

BOSTON.

IN all the public establishments of America, the utmost courtesy
prevails. Most of our Departments are susceptible of con-
siderable improvement in this respect, but the Custom-house
above all others would do well to take example from the
United States and render itself somewhat less odious and
offensive to foreigners. The servile rapacity of the French
officials is sufficiently contemptible ; but there is a surly
boorish incivility about our men, alike disgusting to all
persons who fall into their hands, and discreditable to the
nation that keeps such ill-conditioned curs snarling about its
gates.

When I landed in America, I could not help being strongly
impressed with the contrast their Custom-house presented,
and the attention, politeness and good humour with which
its officers discharged their duty.

As we did not land at Boston, in consequence of some
detention at the wharf, until after dark, I received my first
impressions of the city in walking down to the Custom-house
on the morning after our arrival, which was Sunday. I am
afraid to say, by the way, how many offers of pews and seats
in church for that morning were made to us, by formal note
of invitation, before we .had half finished our first dinner in
America, but if I may be allowed to make a moderate guess,
without going into nicer calculation, I should say that at



FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE CITY. 29

least as many sittings were proffered us, as would have
accommodated a score or two of grown-up families. The
number of creeds and forms of religion to which the pleasure
of our company was requested, was in very fair proportion.

Not being able, in the absence of any change of clothes, to
go to church that day, we were compelled to decline these
kindnesses, one and all ; and I was reluctantly obliged to
forego the delight of hearing Dr. Channing, who happened
to preach that morning for the first time in a very long
interval. I mention the name of this distinguished and
accomplished man (with whom I soon afterwards had the
pleasure of becoming personally acquainted), that I may have
the gratification of recording my humble tribute of admira-
tion and respect for his high abilities and character ; and for
the bold philanthropy with which he has ever opposed him-
self to that most hideous blot and foul disgrace Slavery.

To return to Boston. When I got into the streets upon
this Sunday morning, the air was so clear, the houses were so
bright and gay ; the signboards were painted in such gaudy
colours ; the gilded letters were so very golden ; the bricks
were so very red, the stone was so very white, the blinds and
area railings were so very green, the knobs and plates upon the
street doors so marvellously bright and twinkling ; and all so
slight and unsubstantial in appearance that every thorough-
fare in the city looked exactly like a scene in a pantomime.
It rarely happens in the business streets that a tradesman, if
I may venture to call anybody a tradesman, where everybody
is a merchant, resides above his store ; so that many occupa-
tions are often carried on in one house, and the whole front is
covered with boards and inscriptions. As I walked along, I
kept glancing up at these boards, confidently expecting to see
a few of them change into something ; and I never turned a
corner suddenly without looking out for the clown and pan-
taloon, who, I had no doubt, were hiding in a doorway or
luliind some pillar close at hand. As to Harlequin and
Columbine, I discovered immediately that they lodged (they



30 AMERICAN NOTES.

are always looking after lodgings in a pantomime) at a very
small clockmaker's one story high, near the hotel ; which, in
addition to various symbols and devices, almost covering the
whole front, had a great dial hanging out to be jumped
through, of course.

The suburbs are, if possible, even more unsubstantial-
looking than the city. The white wooden houses (so white
that it makes one wink to look at them), with their green
jalousie blinds, are so sprinkled and dropped about in all
directions, without seeming to have any root at all in the
ground ; and the small churches and chapels are so prim, and
bright, and highly varnished; that I almost believed the
whole affair could be taken up piecemeal like a child's toy,
and crammed into a little box.

The city is a beautiful one, and cannot fail, I should
imagine, to impress all strangers very favourably. The
private dwelling-houses are, for the most part, large and
elegant ; the shops extremely good ; and the public buildings
handsome. The State House is built upon the summit of a
hill, which rises gradually at first, and afterwards by a steep
ascent, almost from the water's edge. In front is a green
enclosure, called the Common. The site is beautiful: and
from the top there is a charming panoramic view of the
whole town and neighbourhood. In addition to a variety of
commodious offices, it contains two handsome chambers ; in
one the House of Representatives of the State hold their
meetings : in the other, the Senate. Such proceedings as I
saw here, were conducted with perfect gravity and decorum ;
and were certainly calculated to inspire attention and respect.

There is no doubt that much of the intellectual refinement
and superiority of Boston, is referable to the quiet influence
of the University of Cambridge, which is within three or four
miles of the city. The resident professors at that university
are gentlemen of learning and varied attainments ; and are,
without one exception that I can call to mind, men who
would shed a grace upon, and do honour to, any society in



NOBLE PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS. 31

the civilised world. Many of the resident gentry in Boston
;uul its neighbourhood, and I think I am not mistaken in
adding, a large majority of those who are attached to the
liberal professions there, have been educated at this same
school. Whatever the defects of American universities may
be, they disseminate no prejudices ; rear no bigots ; dig up
the buried ashes of no old superstitions ; never interpose
between the people and their improvement; exclude no man
because of his religious opinions ; above all, in their whole
course of study and instruction, recongise a world, and a
broad one too, lying beyond the college walls.

It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe
the almost imperceptible, but not less certain effect, wrought
by this institution among the small community of Boston ;
and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires
it has engendered; the affectionate friendships to which it
has given rise; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has
dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a
pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts
of that vast counting-house which lies beyond the Atlantic ;
and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively
insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.

Above all, I sincerely believe that the public institutions
and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly
perfect, as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and
humanity, can make them. I never in my life was more
affected by the contemplation of happiness, under circum-
stances of privation and bereavement, than in my visits to
these establishments.

It is a great and pleasant feature of all such institutions
in America, that they are either supported by the State or
assisted by the State ; or (in the event of their not needing
its helping hand) that they act in concert with it, and are
emphatically the peopled. I cannot but think, with a view
to the principle and its tendency to elevate or depress the
character of the industrious classes, that a Public Charity is



32 AMERICAN NOTES.

immeasurably better than a Private Foundation, no matter
how munificently the latter may be endowed. In our own
country, where it has not, until within these later days, been
a very popular fashion with governments to display any
extraordinary regard for the great mass of the people or to
recognise their existence as improvable creatures, private
charities, unexampled in the history of the earth, have arisen,
to do an incalculable amount of good among the destitute
and afflicted. But the government of the country, having
neither act nor part in them, is not in the receipt of any
portion of the gratitude they inspire ; and, offering very little
shelter or relief beyond that which is to be found in the
workhouse and the jail, has come, not unnaturally, to be looked
upon by the poor rather as a stern master, quick to correct
and punish, than a kind protector, merciful and vigilant in
their hour of need.

The maxim that out of evil cometh good, is strongly
illustrated by these establishments at home ; as the records of
the Prerogative Office in Doctors'* Commons can abundantly
prove. Some immensely rich old gentleman or lady, sur-
rounded by needy relatives, makes, upon a low average, a will
a-week. The old gentleman or lady, never very remarkable
in the best of times for good temper, is full of aches and
pains from head to foot ; full of fancies and caprices ; full of
spleen, distrust, suspicion, and dislike. To cancel old wills,
and invent new ones, is at last the sole business of such a
testator's existence ; and relations and friends (some of whom
have been bred up distinctly to inherit a large share of the
property, and have been, from their cradles, specially dis-
qualified from devoting themselves to any useful pursuit, on
that account) are so often and so unexpectedly and sum-
marily cut off, and re-instated, and cut off again, that the
whole family, down to the remotest cousin, is kept in a per-
petual fever. At length it becomes plain that the old lady
or gentleman has not long to live ; and the plainer this
becomes, the more clearly the old lady or gentleman perceives



ASYLUM FOR THE BLIND. 33

that everybody is in a conspiracy against their poor old
dying relative; wherefore the old lady or gentleman makes
another last will positively the last this time conceals the
same in a china teapot, and expires next day. Then it turns
out, that the whole of the real and personal estate is divided
between half-a-dozen charities; and that the dead and gone
testator has in pure spite helped to do a great deal of
good, at the cost of an immense amount of evil passion and
misery.

The Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the
Blind, at Boston, is superintended by a body of trustees who
make an annual report to the corporation. The indigent
blind of that state are admitted gratuitously. Those from
the adjoining state of Connecticut, or from the states of
Maine, Vermont, or New Hampshire, are admitted .by a
warrant from the state to which they respectively belong;
or, failing that, must find security among their friends, for
the payment of about twenty pounds English for their first
year's board and instruction, and ten for the second. " After
the first year," say the trustees, "an account current will be
opened with each pupil ; he will be charged with the actual
cost of his board, which will not exceed two dollars per
week ; " a trifle more than eight shillings English ; " and he
will be credited with the amount paid for him by the state,
or by his friends; also with his earnings over and above the
cost of the stock which he uses ; so that all his earnings over
one dollar per week will be his own. By the third year it
will be known whether his earnings will more than pay the
actual cost of his board ; if they should, he will have it at
his option to remain and receive his earnings, or not. Those
who prove unable to earn their own livelihood will not be
retained ; as it is not desirable to convert the establish-
ment into an almshouse, or to retain any but working bees
in the hive. Those who by physical or mental imbecility
are disqualified from work, are thereby disqualified from
being members of an industrious community ; and they



34 AMERICAN NOTES.

can be better provided for in establishments fitted for the
infirm."

I went to see this place one very fine winter morning : an
Italian sky above, and the air so clear and bright on every
side, that even my eyes, which are none of the best, could
follow the minute lines and scraps of tracery in distant build-
ings. Like most other public institutions in America, of the
same class, it stands a mile or two without the town, in a
cheerful healthy spot; and is an airy, spacious, handsome
edifice. It is built upon a height, commanding the harbour.
When I paused for a moment at the door, and marked how
fresh and free the whole scene was what sparkling bubbles
glanced upon the waves, and welled up every moment to the
surface, as though the world below, like that above, were
radiant with the bright day, and gushing over in its fulness
of light : when I gazed from sail to sail away upon a ship at
sea, a tiny speck of shining white, the only cloud upon the
still, deep, distant blue and, turning, saw a blind boy with
his sightless face addressed that way, as though he too had
some sense within him of the glorious distance : I felt a
kind of sorrow that the place should be so very light, and a
strange wish that for his sake it were darker. It was but
momentary, of course, and a mere fancy, but I felt it keenly
for all that.

The children were at their daily tasks in different rooms,
except a few who were already dismissed, and were at play.
Here, as in many institutions, no uniform is worn ; and I was
very glad of it, for two reasons. Firstly, because I am sure
that nothing but senseless custom and want of thought would
reconcile us to the liveries and badges we are so fond of at
home. Secondly, because the absence of these things presents
each child to the visitor in his or her own proper character,
with its individuality unimpaired ; not lost in a dull, ugly,
monotonous repetition of the same unmeaning garb : which is
really an important consideration. The wisdom of encouraging
a little harmless pride in personal appearance even among the



CHEERFULNESS AND GOOD ORDER. 35

blind, or the whimsical absurdity of considering charity and
leather breeches inseparable companions, as we do, requires
no comment.

Good order, cleanliness, and comfort, pervaded every corner
of the building. The various classes, who were gathered
round their teachers, answered the questions put to them
with readiness and intelligence, and in a spirit of cheerful
contest for precedence which pleased me very much. Those
who were at play, were gleesome and noisy as other children.
More spiritual and affectionate friendships appeared to exist
among them, than would be found among other young persons
suffering under no deprivation ; but this I expected and was
prepared to find. It is a part of the great scheme of Heaven's
merciful consideration for the afflicted.

In a portion of the building, set apart for that purpose,
are workshops for blind persons whose education is finished,
and who have acquired a trade, but who cannot pursue it in
an ordinary manufactory because of their deprivation. Several
people were at work here ; making brushes, mattresses, and
so forth ; and the cheerfulness, industry, and good order
discernible in every other part of the building, extended to
this department also.

On the ringing of a bell, the pupils all repaired, without
any guide or leader, to a spacious music-hall, where they took
their seats in an orchestra erected for that purpose, and
listened with manifest delight to a voluntary on the organ,
played by one of themselves. At its conclusion, the performer,
a boy of nineteen or twenty, gave place to a girl ; and to her
accompaniment they all sang a hymn, and afterwards a sort
of chorus. It was very sad to look upon and hear them,
happy though their condition unquestionably was ; and I saw
that one blind girl, who (being for the time deprived of the
use of her limbs, by illness) sat close beside me with her face
towards them, wept silently the while she listened.

It is strange to watch the faces of the blind, and see how
free they are from all concealment of what is passing in their



36 AMERICAN NOTES.

thoughts ; observing which, a man with eyes may blush to
contemplate the mask he wears. Allowing for one shade of
anxious expression which is never absent from their counte-
nances, and the like of which we may readily detect in our
own faces if we try to feel our way in the dark, every idea,
as it rises within them, is expressed with the lightning's speed
and nature's truth. If the company at a rout, or drawing-
room at court, could only for one time be as unconscious of
the eyes upon them as blind men and women are, what secrets
would come out, and what a worker of hypocrisy this sight,
the loss of which we so much pity, would appear to be !

The thought occurred to me as I sat down in another room,
before a girl, blind, deaf, and dumb ; destitute of smell ; and
nearly so of taste : before a fair young creature with every
human faculty, and hope, and power of goodness and affection,
inclosed within her delicate frame, and but one outward sense
the sense of touch. There she was, before me ; built up, as
it were, in a marble cell, impervious to any ray of light, or
particle of sound ; with her poor white hand peeping through
a chink in the wall, beckoning to some good man for help,
that an Immortal soul might be awakened.

Long before I looked upon her, the help had come. Her
face was radiant with intelligence and pleasure. Her hair,
braided by her own hands, was bound about a head, whose
intellectual capacity and development were beautifully expressed
in its graceful outline, and its broad open brow ; her dress,
arranged by herself, was a pattern of neatness and simplicity ;
the work she had knitted, lay beside her; her writing-book
was on the desk she leaned upon. From the mournful ruin
of such bereavement, there had slowly risen up this gentle,
tender, guileless, grateful-hearted being.

Like other inmates of that house, she had a green ribbon
bound round her eyelids. A doll she had dressed lay near
upon the ground. I took it up, and saw that she had made
a green fillet such as she wore herself, and fastened it about
its mimic eyes



LAURA BRIDGMA.VS HISTORY. 37

She was seated in a little enclosure, made by school-desks
and forms, writing her daily journal. But soon finishing this
pursuit, she engaged in an animated communication with a
teacher who sat beside her. This was a favourite mistress
with the poor pupil. If she could see the face of her fair
instructress, she would not love her less, I am sure.

I have extracted a few disjointed fragments of her history,
from an account, written by that one man who has made her
what she is. It is a very beautiful and touching narrative ;
and I wish I could present it entire.

Her name is Laura Bridgman. " She was born in Hanover,
New Hampshire, on the twenty-tint of December, 1829. She
is described as having been a very sprightly and pretty infant,
with bright blue eyes. She was, however, so puny and feeble
until she was a year and a half old, that her parents hardly
hoped to rear her. She was subject to severe fits, which
seemed to rack her frame almost beyond her power of endur-
ance : and life was held by the feeblest tenure : but when a
year and a half old, she seemed to rally ; the dangerous
symptoms subsided ; and at twenty months old, she was
perfectly well.

" Then her mental powers, hitherto stinted in their growth,
rapidly developed themselves ; and during the four months of.
health which she enjoyed, she appears (making due allowance
for a fond mother's account) to have displayed a considerable
degree of intelligence.

" But suddenly she sickened again ; her disease raged with
great violence during five weeks, when her eyes and ears were
inflamed, suppurated, and their contents were discharged. But
though sight and hearing were gone for ever, the poor child's
sufferings were not ended. The fever raged during seven
weeks; for five months she was kept in bed in a darkened
room ; it was a year before she could walk unsupported, and
two years before she could sit up all day. It was now observed
that her sense of smell was almost entirely destroyed ; and,
consequently, that her taste was much blunted.



38 AMERICAN NOTES.

" It was not until four years of age that the poor child's
bodily health seemed restored, and she was able to enter upon
her apprenticeship of life and the world.

" But what a situation was hers ! The darkness and the
silence of the tomb were around her : no mother's smile called
forth her answering smile, no father's voice taught her to
imitate his sounds : they, brothers and sisters, were but forms
of matter which resisted her touch, but which differed not
from the furniture of the house, save in warmth, and in the
power of locomotion ; and not even in these respects from
the dog and the cat.

" But the immortal spirit which had been implanted within
her could not die, nor be maimed nor mutilated ; and though
most of its avenues of communication with the world were
cut off, it began to manifest itself through the others. As
soon as she could walk, she began to explore the room, and
then the house ; she became familiar with the form, density,
weight, and heat, of every article she could lay her hands
upon. She followed her mother, and felt her hands and arms,
as she was occupied about the house ; and her disposition to
imitate, led her to repeat everything herself. She even learned
to sew a little, and to knit."

The reader will scarcely need to be told, however, that the
opportunities of communicating with her, were very, very
limited ; and that the moral effects of her wretched state soon
began to appear. Those who cannot be enlightened by
reason, can only be controlled by force ; and this, coupled
with her great privations, must soon have reduced her to a
worse condition than that of the beasts that perish, but for
timely and unhoped-for aid.

" At this time, I was so fortunate as to hear of the child,
and immediately hastened to Hanover to see her. I found
her with a well-formed figure; a strongly-marked, nervous-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 4 of 43)