American Notes for General Circulation, Charles Dickens
American Notes for General Circulation
Charles Dickens
12:17 h History Lvl 8.53
American Notes for General Circulation is a travelogue by Charles Dickens detailing his trip to North America from January to June 1842. While there he acted as a critical observer of North American society, almost as if returning a status report on their progress. Throughout the narrative, finding much to admire in Americans he met and in their way of life, he also notes what he sees as their faults, sometimes jocularly. Then, in a conclusion, he gives his considered analysis of what he views as major flaws in US society.

American Notes for General Circulation

by
Charles Dickens


Preface to the First Cheap Edition of “American Notes”

It is nearly eight years since thisbook was first published. I present it, unaltered, in theCheap Edition; and such of my opinions as it expresses, are quiteunaltered too.

My readers have opportunities of judging for themselveswhether the influences and tendencies which I distrust inAmerica, have any existence not in my imagination. They canexamine for themselves whether there has been anything in thepublic career of that country during these past eight years, orwhether there is anything in its present position, at home orabroad, which suggests that those influences and tendenciesreally do exist. As they find the fact, they will judgeme. If they discern any evidences of wrong-going in anydirection that I have indicated, they will acknowledge that I hadreason in what I wrote. If they discern no such thing, theywill consider me altogether mistaken.

Prejudiced, I never have been otherwise than in favour of theUnited States. No visitor can ever have set foot on thoseshores, with a stronger faith in the Republic than I had, when Ilanded in America.

I purposely abstain from extending these observations to anylength. I have nothing to defend, or to explain away. The truth is the truth; and neither childish absurdities, norunscrupulous contradictions, can make it otherwise. Theearth would still move round the sun, though the whole CatholicChurch said No.

Ihave many friends in America, and feel a grateful interest in thecountry. To represent me as viewing it with ill-nature,animosity, or partisanship, is merely to do a very foolish thing,which is always a very easy one; and which I have disregarded foreight years, and could disregard for eighty more.

London, June 22, 1850.


Preface to the “Charles Dickens” Edition of “American Notes”

My readers have opportunities ofjudging for themselves whether the influences and tendencieswhich I distrusted in America, had, at that time, any existencebut in my imagination. They can examine for themselveswhether there has been anything in the public career of thatcountry since, at home or abroad, which suggests that thoseinfluences and tendencies really did exist. As they findthe fact, they will judge me. If they discern any evidencesof wrong-going, in any direction that I have indicated, they willacknowledge that I had reason in what I wrote. If theydiscern no such indications, they will consider me altogethermistaken — but not wilfully.

Prejudiced, I am not, and never have been, otherwise than infavour of the United States. I have many friends inAmerica, I feel a grateful interest in the country, I hope andbelieve it will successfully work out a problem of the highestimportance to the whole human race. To represent me asviewing AMERICA with ill-nature, coldness, or animosity, ismerely to do a very foolish thing: which is always a very easyone.


Chapter I
Going Away

I shall never forget the one-fourthserious and three-fourths comical astonishment, with which, onthe morning of the third of Januaryeighteen-hundred-and-forty-two, I opened the door of, and put myhead into, a ‘state-room’ on board the Britanniasteam-packet, twelve hundred tons burthen per register, bound forHalifax and Boston, and carrying Her Majesty’s mails.

That this state-room had been specially engaged for‘Charles Dickens, Esquire, and Lady,’ was renderedsufficiently clear even to my scared intellect by a very smallmanuscript, announcing the fact, which was pinned on a very flatquilt, covering a very thin mattress, spread like a surgicalplaster on a most inaccessible shelf. But that this was thestate-room concerning which Charles Dickens, Esquire, and Lady,had held daily and nightly conferences for at least four monthspreceding: that this could by any possibility be that small snugchamber of the imagination, which Charles Dickens, Esquire, withthe spirit of prophecy strong upon him, had always foretold wouldcontain at least one little sofa, and which his lady, with amodest yet most magnificent sense of its limited dimensions, hadfrom the first opined would not hold more than two enormousportmanteaus in some odd corner out of sight (portmanteaus whichcould now no more be got in at the door, not to say stowed away,than a giraffe could be persuaded or forced into a flower-pot):that this utterly impracticable, thoroughly hopeless, andprofoundly preposterous box, had the remotest reference to, orconnection with, those chaste and pretty, not to say gorgeouslittle bowers, sketched by a masterly hand, in the highlyvarnished lithographic plan hanging up in the agent’scounting-house in the city of London: that this room of state, inshort, could be anything but a pleasant fiction and cheerful jestof the captain’s, invented and put in practice for thebetter relish and enjoyment of the real state-room presently tobe disclosed: — these were truths which I really could not,for the moment, bring my mind at all to bear upon orcomprehend. And I sat down upon a kind of horsehair slab,or perch, of which there were two within; and looked, without anyexpression of countenance whatever, at some friends who had comeon board with us, and who were crushing their faces into allmanner of shapes by endeavouring to squeeze them through thesmall doorway.

We had experienced a pretty smart shock before coming below,which, but that we were the most sanguine people living, mighthave prepared us for the worst. The imaginative artist towhom I have already made allusion, has depicted in the same greatwork, a chamber of almost interminable perspective, furnished, asMr. Robins would say, in a style of more than Eastern splendour,and filled (but not inconveniently so) with groups of ladies andgentlemen, in the very highest state of enjoyment andvivacity. Before descending into the bowels of the ship, wehad passed from the deck into a long narrow apartment, not unlikea gigantic hearse with windows in the sides; having at the upperend a melancholy stove, at which three or four chilly stewardswere warming their hands; while on either side, extending downits whole dreary length, was a long, long table, over each ofwhich a rack, fixed to the low roof, and stuck full ofdrinking-glasses and cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rollingseas and heavy weather. I had not at that time seen theideal presentment of this chamber which has since gratified me somuch, but I observed that one of our friends who had made thearrangements for our voyage, turned pale on entering, retreatedon the friend behind him, smote his forehead involuntarily, andsaid below his breath, ‘Impossible! it cannot be!’ orwords to that effect. He recovered himself however by agreat effort, and after a preparatory cough or two, cried, with aghastly smile which is still before me, looking at the same timeround the walls, ‘Ha! the breakfast-room,steward — eh?’ We all foresaw what the answermust be: we knew the agony he suffered. He had often spokenof the saloon; had taken in and lived upon the pictorialidea; had usually given us to understand, at home, that to form ajust conception of it, it would be necessary to multiply the sizeand furniture of an ordinary drawing-room by seven, and then fallshort of the reality. When the man in reply avowed thetruth; the blunt, remorseless, naked truth; ‘This is thesaloon, sir’ — he actually reeled beneath the blow.

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