THE VISIT OF CHARLES DICKENS TO HARRISBURG
WE PICK UP CHARLES DICKENS AMERICAN NOTES IN 1842
The scenery, which had been tame enough at first, was, for the last ten or twelve miles, beautiful. Our road wound through the pleasant valley of the Susquehanna; the river, dotted with innumerable green islands, lay upon our right; and on the left, a steep ascent, craggy with broken rock, and dark with pine trees. The mist, wreathing itself into a hundred fantastic shapes, moved solemnly upon the water; and the gloom of evening gave to all an air of mystery and silence which greatly enhanced its natural interest.
LEONARD-THIS IS EXTREMELY WELL WRITTEN PHRASE THAT’S SIMILAR TO SCENES IN M0VIES AND TELEVISION. DEPENDING ON THE PERSON IT GIVES FEARS OR INSPIRATION OF NOT KNOWING WHAT’S AHEAD. HE PROBABLY APPRECIATES THE SUSQUEHANNA MORE THAN THE RIVERS HE HAS SEEN IN OTHER AREA. DICKENS WENT TO HARRISBURG AFTER GOING THROUGH THE BOSTON TO RICHMOND CORRIDOR.
We crossed this river by a wooden bridge, roofed and covered in on all sides, and nearly a mile in length. It was profoundly dark; perplexed, with great beams, crossing and recrossing it at every possible angle; and through the broad chinks and crevices in the floor, the rapid river gleamed, far down below, like a legion of eyes. We had no lamps; and as the horses stumbled and floundered through this place, towards the distant speck of dying light, it seemed interminable. I really could not at first persuade myself as we rumbled heavily on, filling the bridge with hollow noises, and I held down my head to save it from the rafters above, but that I was in a painful dream; for I have often dreamed of toiling through such places, and as often argued, even at the time, ‘this cannot be reality.’
LEONARD-WE HAVE ALL HAVE HAD NIGHTMARES SIMILAR TO WHAT DICKENS JUST SPOKE ABOUT. HE IS OF COURSE TALKING ABOUT THE MARKET STREET OR CAMELBACK BRIDGE LEADING TO CENTER CITY HARRISBURG. THE CROSSING HAS NONE OF THE ROMANCE ASSOCIATED WITH THE RIVER. IT SEEMS QUITE DANGEROUS AND MUST HAVE SEEMED LIKE HOURS RATHER THAN MINUTES CROSSING THE RIVERS.
At length, however, we emerged upon the streets of Harrisburg,whose feeble lights, reflected dismally from the wet ground, did not shine out upon a very cheerful city. We were soon established in a snug hotel, which though smaller and far less splendid than many we put up at, it raised above them all in my remembrance, by having for its landlord the most obliging, considerate, and gentlemanly person I ever had to deal with.
LEONARD-STREET LIGHTING NEVER GETS THE ATTENTION IN SMALL CITIES THAN IT DOES IN LARGER ONES. THIS IS UNFAIR BECAUSE SAME NEEDS EXIST. IN 1842, HARRISBURG HAD BEEN THE CAPITAL FOR 30 YEARS AND THE STREETS SHOULD HAVE SHINED. CHARLES DICKENS STAYED AT THE SITE OF THE WARNER HOTEL ON MARKET SQUARE . IN LATER YEARS, THE PLACE HAD A BLUE KEYSTONE POLE IN FRONT AND A METAL MARKER ON THE BUILDING NOTING DICKENS’ PRESENCE . AT ONE TIME, THE HOTEL CATERED TO INDIVIDUALS AND LEGISLATORS. IN THE MID 60s, COMPETITION CAME FROM SUBURBAN AREAS, THE WARNER FELL IN TO DISREPAIR, AND IT WAS AN EYESORE. THE CITY DEMOLISHED THE WARNER HOTEL IN THE MID 80s FOR A PARKING LOT FOR THE HARRISBURG HILTON.
As we were not to proceed upon our journey until the afternoon, I walked out, after breakfast the next morning, to look about me; and was duly shown a model prison on the solitary system, just erected, and as yet without an inmate; the trunk of an old tree to which Harris, the first settler here (afterwards buried under it), was tied by hostile Indians, with his funeral pile about him, when he was saved by the timely appearance of a friendly party on the opposite shore of the river; the local legislature (for there was another of those bodies here again, in full debate); and the other curiosities of the town.
LEONARD-DICKENS, AS A SOCIAL REFORMER WAS INTERESTED IN PRISONS SAW THIS NEW PRISON JUST AFTER SEEING THE ONE IN PHILADELPHIA. HE ALSO SAW THE STORY OF JOHN HARRIS BUT THERE ARE DOUBTS ABOUT THE STORY.
I was very much interested in looking over a number of treaties made from time to time with the poor Indians, signed by the different chiefs at the period of their ratification, and preserved in the office of the Secretary to the Commonwealth. These signatures, traced of course by their own hands, are rough drawings of the creatures or weapons they were called after. Thus, the Great Turtle makes a crooked pen-and-ink outline of a great turtle; the Buffalo sketches a buffalo; the War Hatchet sets a rough image of that weapon for his mark. So with the Arrow, the Fish, the Scalp, the Big Canoe, and all of them.
I could not but think – as I looked at these feeble and tremulous productions of hands which could draw the longest arrow to the head in a stout elk-horn bow, or split a bead or feather with a rifle- ball – of Crabbe’s musings over the Parish Register, and the irregular scratches made with a pen, by men who would plowa lengthy furrow straight from end to end. Nor could I help bestowing many sorrowful thoughts upon the simple warriors whose hands and hearts were set there, in all truth and honesty; and who only learned in course of time from white men how to break their faith, and quibble out of forms and bonds. I wonder, too, how many times the credulous Big Turtle, or trusting Little Hatchet, had put his mark to treaties which were falsely read to him; and had signed away, he knew not what, until it went and cast him loose upon the new possessors of the land, a savage indeed.
LEONARD-THE INDIANS HAD THE SKILL OF ART RATHER THAN WORDS AND THE SKETCHES WERE INTERESTING. THE BROKEN TREATIES WITH THE INDIANS IS UNFORTUNATELY PART OF AMERICAN FOLKLORE. THE IMPORTANT POINT IS IT WAS NOT CONFINED TO THE WEST.
Our host announced, before our early dinner, that some members of the legislative body proposed to do us the honor of calling. He had kindly yielded up to us his wife’s own little parlor, and when I begged that he would show them in, I saw him look with painful apprehension at its pretty carpet; though, being otherwise occupied at the time, the cause of his uneasiness did not occur to me.
It certainly would have been more pleasant to all parties concerned, and would not, I think, have compromised their independence in any material degree, if some of these gentlemen had not only yielded to the prejudice in favor of spittoons, but had abandoned themselves, for the moment, even to the conventional absurdity of pocket-handkerchiefs. It still continued to rain heavily, and when we went down to the Canal Boat (for that was the mode of conveyance by which we were to proceed) after dinner, the weather was as unpromising and obstinately wet as one would desire to see. Nor was the sight of this canal boat, in which we were to spend three or four days, by any means a cheerful one; as it involved some uneasy speculations concerning the disposal of the passengers at night, and opened a wide field of inquiry touching the other domestic arrangements of the establishment, which was sufficiently disconcerting.
LEONARD-CHARLES DICKENS WAS OBVIOUSLY REFERRING TO CHEWING TOBACCO. USING TOBACCO AND LEAVING THE JUICE ON THE RUG IS CRUDE BUT COMMON GUESS IN THOSE DAYS.
However, there it was – a barge with a little house in it, viewed from the outside; and a caravan at a fair, viewed from within: the gentlemen being accommodated, as the spectators usually are, in one of those locomotive museums of penny wonders; and the ladies being partitioned off by a red curtain, after the manner of the dwarfs and giants in the same establishments, whose private lives are passed in rather close exclusiveness.
We sat here, looking silently at the row of little tables, which extended down both sides of the cabin, and listening to the rain as it dripped and pattered on the boat, and plashed with a dismal merriment in the water, until the arrival of the railway train, for whose final contribution to our stock of passengers, our departure was alone deferred. It brought a great many boxes, which were bumped and tossed upon the roof, almost as painfully as if they had been deposited on one’s own head, without the intervention of a porter’s knot; and several damp gentlemen, whose clothes, on their drawing round the stove, began to steam again. No doubt it would have been a thought more comfortable if the driving rain, which now poured down more soaringly than ever, had admitted of a window being opened, or if our number had been something less than thirty; but there was scarcely time to think as much, when a train of three horses was attached to the tow-rope, the boy upon the leader smacked his whip, the rudder creaked and groaned complainingly, and we had begun our journey.