Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
Mr. Trollope loved to travel and write books about his experiences. In 1861 he was curious about America, the new country, and how the occupants were dealing with the Civil War. He and Mrs. T crossed the Atlantic in one of the new Cunard liners and landed in Boston after a short stop in Halifax. They were met by several friends “that he never knew before”, and wined and dined at several hostelries. The talk was mostly of politics and the war. Many of the people they conversed with were in favor of sending the Southern Slaves back to Africa. Anthony thought that secession would probably occur, and the South would form an independent country, rather equivalent to those states in Europe that had borders in common. But most of his hosts declared that America would never be divided, and that it was likely that it would expand to occupy the whole continent.
The Trollopes were tormented by mosquitos in Boston, so they took the train to Newport. They had rather a lonely time of it there, as they were ensconced in a large hotel that had only 25 guests registered, instead of the 66o it had been designed for. Anthony was also upset because he couldn’t go swimming in the ocean as it was inaccessible from their location. He loved swimming nude, especially in salt water. One of the fellow residents he talked to raved about “contractors robbing the army and incompetent generals” wasting the substance of the state.
At some point Mrs. Trollope returned to England and Anthony went on by himself. The next visit was to Portland, Maine, where T admired the straight streets and the good food, but complained of too much sand on the roads. He soon boarded the Grand Trunk Railway and traveled west over the White mountains, admiring the fall colors as he went. At one stop, he rented a pony and rode to the top of Mt. Washington. Continuing on to Montreal, he noted that Canada seemed less prosperous than America, and that if they had a king, they would be happier and better off. Stopping in Quebec he deplored the state of the city streets, consisting of either mud or wooden boards with large holes worn in them. The same was true in Montreal.
Back aboard the train, they passed lovely Massawhippi lake on the way to Ottawa, currently under construction as the intended national capitol city. He observed that some of the “lower class” members seemed quite rude, but later speculated that this behavior was related to the citizenry’s democratic ideas, showing in an obvious way that equality was the possession of all the people, not just the upper classes. Stepping off the train at an unspecified station, one of the porters gave him a big smile and tossed his portable desk about seven feet so that it shattered on some rocks. Irate at first, Trollope ascribed the action as merely a demonstration of the perpetrator’s sense of parity and tried to ignore it.
Toronto had a rather square appearance: the streets were built at right angles and parallel to each other. Trollope was troubled by this: he preferred the style of English villages, with winding lanes and unregulated housing dispositions. At Niagara Falls, he took a ferry to Goat Island and sat for a long time at the end of it, entranced by the roaring waters and the huge volume of water rushing by. He thought the Falls the most glorious spectacle on earth.
He traveled by ship to Detroit and was awed by the American penchant for inventing labor-saving devices. The hot and cold water available in the hotels was remarkable, except that the hot water faucet was so hot he couldn’t turn it off. Arriving in Milwaukie, he thought it was much more civilized than Detroit. The population was mostly German and Irish, and they appeared industrious and energetic in exemplifying “frontier mind”: an attitude of endless ambition and greed for money. He saw that as the railroads expanded, they opened up more land for immigrants, who avidly took advantage of the increasing availability of opportunities for farming and ranching. It was quite common for a family to work up a patch of land, with cabin and basic improvements, only to abandon the place and move further west, where the prospect of new horizons drew them with a sort of instinctive magnetism.
Moving on to Dubuque and St. Paul, he commented that westerners didn’t talk, they just chewed tobacco. He thought the scenery on the upper Mississippi river unparalleled with it’s rolling hills interspersed with pleasant tree-clad valleys. But he also learned that the Indians, having discovered that the War was draining the local resources and men, used the opportunity to raid and plunder unprotected homesteads and to ambush travelers and supply trains. But he thought there was a sort of cosmic justice in this, as the local residents were habitually much involved in cheating and swindling each other, as well as the Indians.
Passing through Dixon, Illinois, corn processing complex for the area, he arrived in Chicago, city of “big shoulders” (Sandburg) which even then was the major meat processing center for the area, and continued on to Cleveland. Here he found decorative tree lined streets and saw the penchant possessed by the city fathers for erecting pretentious architectural novelties: colonnades, columns, and classical facades. After Buffalo (grain elevators) he came to West Point, the military school. He wrote quite a bit about the school, it’s cadets, the requirements to graduate, and the daily grind of the students, which seemed to him inhuman and too draconian for any normal person to keep up with.
Back in New York and with time to rest, Trollope reflected on his experiences thus far and came to some convictions: the Americans he had seen were pale, skinny, and apparently under-nourished, all of which he attributed to the universal system of heating their house and hotels with hot water pipes. He had suffered from over-heated rooms during the entire trip and concluded that many of the illnesses and diseases afflicting the inhabitants would be relieved if they’d just turn down the heat. He thought the chief glory of New York was Central Park. He could see that although there was nothing much there at present, in the future it would be an immeasurably pleasurable resource and comfort for the residents. But T was more than a bit irate at the condition and quality of the commuting vehicles. Trams and horse-drawn carriages were dirty and never on time, the whole industry being in the greedy hands of certain entrepreneurs who ignored the public and grabbed the money.
The next leg of his expedition was through Philadelphia, Cambridge, Lowell, and, finally, Baltimore. The latter city was Anthony’s favorite of all he’d seen. It had a sort of English quality and he felt quite at home there. There were fox hunts and they ate terrapin and canvasback duck. Baltimore was a southern city, but held the nation’s capitol, and so suffered the presence of Northern troops. Families were split up and martial law was introduced, to the misfortune of the citizens, who saw their city groan under the iron heel of incompetent generals. One of them gloated about having enough cannon to level the entire municipality, and was only restrained with difficulty from doing so.
Trollope moved on to Washington DC. He noted that the whole place was built on a swamp with knee deep mud serving for streets. Fever and ague were common. He saw an equestrian statue of General Washington that lurched to one side and the rider seemed drunk. T did visit Mt. Vernon, which he described as a rather moderate dwelling, undistinguished by any outstanding features. He admired the Capitol building, lauding its appropriateness for political wrangling, but decried the presence of “huge daubs” decorating the walls: paintings of assorted politicos.
He toured through Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Frankfort, St. Louis and Cairo; the latter he described as “the most wretched town in America”, partly because he was called at 3:30 AM to catch a train and had to carry his own luggage through the mud and the dark. After investigating Louisville and Baltimore again, he returned to Boston at last , where he spent a few final days in the company of those who he opined were the most civilized in the country. He added a list of the talented denizens, including Hawthorne, Melville, and many others. A few days later he made his way to New York, complaining of the piles of snow inhibiting he entrance to the ferry terminal which he had to forge through to get to his Cunard liner. Then he sailed, gratefully, one has the feeling, to Liverpool.
I should state that although this volume was a shortened version of the original, it still seemed like a cohesive production. Robert Mason was the editor and Penguin was the publisher. I think they did a good job, although it would be entertaining to peruse the original version sometime. This book was Trollope to a T, with his Tory outlook and prejudices on full view. Many of his opinions have been belied by the passing years, but Trollope is one of those writers who proffer a subliminal sense of comfort and reliability. I enjoyed it for the most part, except when he would occasionally rant on about a pet theory or supposition.