Saturday, May 05, 2018

Fanny T slumming in Cincinnati

"Are any of you ill? our landlord asked.
No. We are all quite well.
"Then madam; I must tell you, that I cannot accomodate you on these terms; we have no family tea-drinkings here, and you must live either with me and my wife or not at all in my house.”
This was said with an air of authority that almost precluded reply, but I ventured a sort of apologetic hint that we were strangers, and unaccustomed to the manners of the country. 
"Our manners are very good manners, and we don't wish any changes from England,” rejoined our sturdy landlord, with an aspect that assuredly did not indicate any very affectionate partiality to the country he named. I thought of mine host of the Washington afterwards, when reading Scott’s Anne of Geierstein; he, in truth, strongly resembled the innkeeper therein immortalised, who made his guests eat, drink, and sleep, just where, when, and how he pleased. I made no further-remonstrance but determined to hasten my removal. This we achieved the next day to our great satisfaction. We were soon settled in our‘new dwelling, which looked neat and comfortable enough; but we speedily found that it was devoid of nearly all the accommodation that Europeans conceive necessary to decency and comfort. No pump, no cistern, no drain of any kind, no dustman s cart or any other visible means of getting rid of the rubbish, which vanishes with such celerity in London that one has no time to think of its existence; but which accumulated so rapidly at Cincinnati that I sent for my landlord to know in what manner refuse of all kinds was to be disposed of. ‘ Your help will just have to fix them all into the middle of the street; but you must mind, old woman, that it is the middle. I expect you don't know as we have got a law what forbids throwing such things at the sides of the streets; they must all be cast right into the middle, and the pigs soon takes them off."
In truth the pigs are constantly seen doing Herculean Service in this way through every quarter of the City: and though it is not very agreeable to live surrounded by herds of these unsavoury animals, it is well they are so numerous, and so active in their capacity of scavengers; for without them the streets would soon be choked up with all sorts 'of substances, in every stage of decomposition'. 

We had heard so much of Cincinnati, its beauty, wealth, and unequalled prosperity, that when we left Memphis to go thither... for three dreary months we beheld no other architecture than what our ship furnished, and except at New Orleans, hardly a trace of human habitations. The sight of bricks and mortar was really refreshing, and a house of 3 stories looked splendid. 

The “ simple ” manner of living in Western America was more distasteful to me from its levelling effects on the manners of the people, than from the Personal privations that it rendered necessary; and yet, till I was without them, I was in no degree aware of the many pleasurable sensations derived from the little elegances and refinements enjoyed by the middle classes in Europe. There were many circumstances, too trifling even for my gossiping pages, Which pressed themselves daily and hourly upon us, and which forced us to remember painfully that we were not at home. It requires an abler pen than mine to trace the connection which I am persuaded exists between these deficiencies and the minds and manners of the people. All animal wants are supplied profusely at Cincinnati, and at a very easy rate; but, alas! these go but a little way in the history of a day's enjoyment. The total and universal want of good, or even pleasing, manners, both in males and females, is so remarkable, that I was constantly endeavouring to account for it. It certainly does not proceed from want of intellect: have Iistened to much dull and heavy conversation in America, but rarely to any that I could strictly call silly (if I except the everywhere privileged class of very young ladles). They appear to me to have clear heads and active intellects-to be more ignorant on subjects that are only of conventional value, than on such as are of intrinsic importance; but there is no charm, no grace in their conversation. I very seldom, during my whole stay in the country, heard a sentence elegantly turned, and correctly pronounced from the lips of an American. 
There is always something either in the expression or the accent that jars the feelings and shocks the taste.

But the fate of the more dignified personages, who are left In the other room, is extremely disrnal. The gentlemen spit, talk of elections and the price of produce, and spit again, The ladies look at each other’s dresses till they know every pin by heart; talk of Parson Somebody’s last sermon on the day of judgment, on Dr. T’otherbody's new pills for dyspepsia, till the “tea” is announced, when they all console themselves together for whatever they may have suffered in keeping awake, by taking more tea, coffee, hot cake and custard, hoe cake, johnny cake, waffle cake, and dodger cake, pickled peaches and preserved cucumbers, ham, turkey, hung beef, apple-sauce, and pickled oysters, than ever were prepared in any other country of the known world. After this massive meal is over, they return to the drawing-room, and it always appeared to me that they remained together as long as they could bear it, and then they rise en masse, cloak, bonnet, shawl, and exit.

Perhaps the most advantageous feature in Cincinnati is its market, which, for excellence, abundance, and cheapness, can hardly, I should think, be surpassed in any part of the world, if I except the luxury of fruits, which are very inferior to any I have seen in Europe. There are no butchers, fishmongers, or indeed any shops for eatables, except bakeries, as they are called, in the town; everything must be purchased at market.

Cincinnati boasts two museums of natural history; both of these contain many respectable specimens, particularly that of Mr. Dorfeuille who has moreover, some highly interesting Indian antiquities. He is a man of taste and Science, but a collection formed strictly according to their dictate would by no means satisfy the western metropolis. The people have a most extravagant passion for wax figures and the two museums vie with each other in displaying specimens of this barbarous branch of art. As Mr Dorfeuille cannot trust to his science for attracting the citizens, he has put his ingenuity into requisition, and this has proved to him the surer aid of the two. He has constructed a pandemonium in an upper story of his museum, in which he has congregated all the images of horror that his fertile fancy could devise; dwarfs that by machinery grow into giants before the eyes of the spectator; imps of ebony with eyes of flame; monstrous reptiles devouring youth and beauty; lakes of fire, and mountains of ice; in short, wax, paint, and springs have done wonders. “ To give the scheme some more effect ”, he makes it visible only through a grate of massive iron bars, among which are arranged wires connected with an electrical machine in a neighbouring chamber; should any daring hand or foot obtrude itself within the bars, it receives a smart shock, that often passes through many of the crowd, and the cause being unknown, the effect is exceedingly comic; terror, astonishment, curiosity, all are set in action, and all contribute to make "Dorfeuille’s Hell ” one of the most amusing exhibitions imaginable. 

I never saw any people who appeared to live so much without amusement as the Cincinnatians. Billiards are forbidden by law so are cards. To sell a pack of cards in Ohio subjects the seller to a penalty of fifty dollars. They have no concerts. They have no dinner parties.

They have a theatre, which is, in fact the only public amusement of this little town. It is very poorly attended. Ladies are rarely seen there, and by far the larger proportion of females deem it an offence against religion to witness the representation of a play. It is in the churches and chapels of the town that the ladies are to be seen in full costume: and I am tempted to believe that a stranger from the continent would be inclined, on first reconnoitering the city, to suppose that the places of worship were the theatres and caf├ęs of the place. 

No evening in the week but brings throngs of the young and beautiful to the chapels and meeting-houses, all dressed with care, ‘and sometimes with great pretension; it is there that all display is made, and all fashionable distinction sought. The proportion of gentlemen attending these evening meetings is very small, but often, as might be expected, a sprinkling of smart young clerks makes this sedulous display of ribbons and ringlets intelligible and natural. Were it not for the churches, indeed, I think there might be a general bonfire of best bonnets, for I never could discover any other use for them. 

The ladies are too actively employed in the interior of that houses to permit much parading in full dress for morning visits. There are no public gardens or lounging shops of fashionable resort, and were it not for public worship, and private tea-drinkings, all the ladies in Cincinnati would be in danger of becoming perfect recluses. 

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