Charles Dickens in Philadelphia I

The journey from New York to Philadelphia, is made by railroad, and two ferries; and usually occupies between five and six hours. It was a fine evening when we were passengers in the train: and watching the bright sunset from a little window near the door by which we sat, my attention was attracted to a remarkable appearance issuing from the windows of the gentleman’s car immediately in front of us, which I supposed for some time was occasioned by a number of industrious persons inside, ripping open feather-beds,and giving the feathers to the wind. At length it occurred to me that they were only spitting, which was indeed the case; though how any number of passengers which it was possible for that car to contain, could have maintained such a playful and incessant shower of expectoration, I am still at a loss to understand:notwithstanding the experience in all salivary phenomena which I afterwards acquired.

LEONARD-HOW COULD DICKENS CONFUSE FEATHERS WITH SALIVA? MAYBE HE WAS REFERRING TO SPITTOONS HE WOULD LATER SEE.

I made acquaintance, on this journey, with a mild and modest young Quaker, who opened the discourse by informing me, in a grave whisper, that his grandfather was the inventor of cold-drawn castor oil. I mention the circumstance here, thinking it probable that this is the first occasion on which the valuable medicine in question was ever used as a conversational piece.

LEONARD-CONVERSATIONS AND EVEN DEEP FRIENDSHIP DO BEGIN OVER TRIVIAL ITEMS. I DON’T KNOW WHAT COLD DRAWN CASTOR OIL MEANS.

We reached the city, late that night. Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished.  It was the Tomb of Many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.

LEONARD-THE UNITED STATES BANK WAS CONTROVERSIAL. SOME THOUGHT IT IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN THE CREDIT OF COUNTRY AND AS A SOURCE OF INVESTMENT. OTHERS THOUGHT A TOOL OF THE WEALTHY JUST TO MANIPULATE THE ECONOMY IN THEIR OWN INTEREST. LIKE MOST THINGS, THIS DEPENDS AND THE ETHICS AND INTELLIGENCE OF THE GOVERNMENT. I DO LIKE CLASSICAL ARCHITECTURE. IT CAN SEEN COLD AND UNFEELING. SOMETIMES COLDNESS IS A VIRTUE IF IT IMPLIES AN UNDEVIATING SET OF VALUES, OBJECTIVITY, AND LONGEVITY. JUST AS COLDNESS PROTECTS FOOD IT CAN ALSO PROTECT THE ECONOMY.

The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet abjured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits. It is a handsome city, but distractingly regular. After walking about it for an hour or two, I felt that I would have given the world for a crooked street. The collar of my coat appeared to stiffen, and the brim of my bat to expand, beneath its Quackeryk influence. My hair shrunk into a sleek short crop, my hands folded themselves upon my breast of their own calm accord, and thoughts of taking lodgings in Mark Lane over against the Market Place, and of making a large fortune by speculations in corn, came over me involuntarily.

LEONARD-THE FIRST STATEMENT HERE IS OPEN TO QUESTION. HISTORIANS HAVE DISAGREED FOR YEARS ABOUT THE BANK, ITS CLOSURE, AND ITS ROLE IN THE DEPRESSION. QUAKERS LAID OUT THE CITY IN A GRID AND FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND PHILADELPHIA TO THIS DAY IS EASY. THE QUAKER DRESS HOW ALWAYS BEEN PLAIN. THEY COME DIRECTLY TO THE POINT IN CONVERSATIONS. THIS FACILITATES THE CONDUCT OF BUSINESS BY REMOVING FRILLS AND WORDY COMPLICATED NARRATIVES. IT CAN SEEM BORING IT MUST HAVE MADE DICKENS FEEL UNEASY. HOWEVER, QUAKERS HAD FOR THEIR TIME A VERY LIBERAL AGENDA. THEY JUST VIEWED ACTUAL WORK AND ITS RESULTS NOT MEANINGLESS IMAGES, STATEMENTS, OR LONG WINDED SPEECHES. MAYBE WE COULD USE A DOSE OF THAT TO DAY.

Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water, which is showered and jerked about, and turned on, and poured off,everywhere. The Waterworks, which are on a height near the city,are no less ornamental than useful, being tastefully laid out as a public garden, and kept in the best and neatest order. The river is dammed at this point, and forced by its own power into certain high tanks or reservoirs, whence the whole city, to the top stories of the houses, is supplied at a very trifling expense.

LEONARD-THE PHILADELPHIA WATERWORKS IN FAIRMOUNT PARK ARE WELL KNOWN. SOME PEOPLE DO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE TASTE. PHILADELPHIA WATER WAS REGARDED AS THE BEST IN THE 13 COLONIES.

There are various public institutions. Among them a most excellent Hospital – a Quaker establishment, but not sectarian in the great benefits it confers; a quiet, quaint old Library, named after Franklin; a handsome Exchange and Post Office; and so forth. In connection with the Quaker Hospital, there is a picture by West,which is exhibited for the benefit of the funds of the institution.The subject is, our savior healing the sick, and it is, perhaps, as favorable a specimen of the master as can be seen anywhere. Whether this be high or low praise, depends upon the reader’s taste.

LEONARD-PHILADELPHIA WAS THE LEADING CITY IN COLONIAL TIMES FOR MEDICAL CARE, OVERALL CULTURE, AND COMMUNICATIONS. THIS REFLECTS THE LEGACY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND THE QUAKERS. FRANKLIN WAS THE INNOVATOR IN THE POST OFFICE AND EXCHANGE. HE INITIATED SO MANY OTHERS PROGRAMS THAT HISTORIANS REGARD HIM AS THE FIRST AMERICAN. QUAKERS PREACH THAT JUST BECAUSE THERE IS A HEREAFTER, IT DOES MEAN THAT WE ARE IN THIS WORLD TO SUFFER. LOOKING AFTER THE TEMPORAL NEEDS OF MAN IS ALSO A SACRED MANDATE.

In the same room, there is a very characteristic and life-like portrait by Mr. Sully, a distinguished American artist.My stay in Philadelphia was very short, but what I saw of its society, I greatly liked. Treating of its general characteristics, I should be disposed to say that it is more provincial than Boston or New York, and that there is afloat in the fair city, an assumption of taste and criticism, savoring rather of those genteel discussions upon the same themes, in connection with Shakespeare and the Musical Glasses, of which we read in the Vicar of Wakefield. Near the city, is a most splendid unfinished marble structure for the Girard College, founded by a deceased gentleman of that name and of enormous wealth, which, if completed according to the original design, will be perhaps the richest edifice of modern times. But the bequest is involved in legal disputes, and pending them the work has stopped; so that like many other great undertakings in America, even this is rather going to be done one of these days, than doing now.

GIRARD COLLEGE IS NOW WITHIN THE CITY. MANY MIGHT THINK THAT BOSTON IS LESS PROVINCIAL THAN PHILADELPHIA STEMMING FROM THE FOLLOWING:
–PHILADELPHIA LOST POLITICAL CLOUT WHILE BOSTON REMAINED THE SAME;
–BEAN TOWN IS THE ONLY MAJOR CITY IN NEW ENGLAND. THERE ARE OTHER CITIES IN THE MID-ATLANTIC BESIDE PHILADELPHIA;
–PHILADELPHIA SHARES POWER AND POPULATION WITH ANOTHER CITY, PITTSBURGH, IN THEIR STATE.

In the outskirts, stands a great prison, called the Eastern Penitentiary: conducted on a plan peculiar to the state of Pennsylvania. The system here, is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. In its intention, I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who devised this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentlemen who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing. I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay. I hesitated once, debating with myself, whether, if I had the power of saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ I would allow it to be tried in certain cases, where the terms of imprisonment were short; but now, I solemnly declare, that with no rewards or honors could I walk a happy man beneath the open sky by day, or lie me down upon my bed at night, with the consciousness that one human creature, for any length of time, no matter what, lay suffering this unknown punishment in his silent cell, and I the cause, or I consenting to it in the least degree.

–CHARLES DICKENS IS EMPHATICALLY DENOUNCING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. THE MENTAL SUFFERING IS OF COURSE NOT AS VISIBLE AS PHYSICAL BUT IT CAN HURT JUST AS BAD. WE HAVE MADE GREAT STRIDES IN HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY AND ITS INTER-ACTION WITH THE LAW. MANY STILL ARE CYNICAL WITH REGARD THE MIND AND THE FACTOR IT PLAYS IN CRIME. HERE I DO THINK THAT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT LONG-TERM IS NOT THE ANSWER. PRISON OFFICIALS STILL MUST OFTEN USE THIS OPTION AT LEAST IN THE EARLY STAGES OF CONFINEMENT. THEY EVALUATE THE PRISONER AND DETERMINE IF HE POSES A DANGER TO OTHER INMATES AND THE OVERALL PROGRESS OR LACK OF IT. I THINK THE STAFF ALLOWS PRISON ALLOW TO INTERACT WITH A DOG. FOR THE MOST PART, THEY ARE GERMAN SHEPHERDS AND DOBERMANS. PLAYING, FEEDING, AND WALKING WITH A DOG SEEM TO REVEAL THE GENTLER NATURE IN ALL OF US.

I was accompanied to this prison by two gentlemen officially connected with its management, and passed the day in going from cell to cell, and talking with the inmates. Every facility was afforded me, that the utmost courtesy could suggest. Nothing was concealed or hidden from my view, and every piece of information that I sought, was openly and frankly given. The perfect order of the building cannot be praised too highly, and of the excellent motives of all who are immediately concerned in the administration of the system, there can be no kind of question.

LEONARD-THIS SOUNDS A LITTLE TOO IDEAL. HOWEVER, DICKENS WAS CONCERNED ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE.

Between the body of the prison and the outer wall, there is a spacious garden. Entering it, by a wicket in the massive gate, we pursued the path before us to its other termination, and passed into a large chamber, from which seven long passages radiate. On  either side of each, is a long, long row of low cell doors, with a certain number over every one. Above, a gallery of cells like those below, except that they have no narrow yard attached (as those in the ground tier have), and are somewhat smaller. The possession of two of these, is supposed to compensate for the absence of so much air and exercise as can be had in the dull strip attached to each of the others, in an hour’s time every day; and therefore every prisoner in this upper story has two cells,adjoining and communicating with, each other.

LEONARD-I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PICTURE THIS.

Standing at the central point, and looking down these dreary passages, the dull repose and quiet that prevails, is awful. Occasionally, there is a drowsy sound from some lone weaver’s shuttle, or shoemaker’s last, but it is stifled by the thick walls and heavy dungeon-door, and only serves to make the general stillness more pronounced. Over the head and face of every prisoner who comes into this melancholy house, a black hood is drawn; and in this dark shroud, an emblem of the curtain dropped between him and the living world, he is led to the cell from which he never again comes forth, until his whole term of imprisonment has expired. He never hears of wife and children; home or friends; the life or death of any single creature. He sees the prison-officers, but with that exception he never looks upon a human countenance, or hears a human voice. He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in the slow round of years; and in the mean time dead to everything but torturing anxieties and horrible despair.

LEONARD-THIS IS WHAT BEING IN PRISON IS LIKE. A LIFE OF CRIME BEGINS USUALLY WITH SOME SMALL ACT, SUCH AS SHOPLIFTING, VANDALISM, OR USING ILLEGAL DRUGS. CRIMES HAVE A TENDENCY TO SNOWBALL. AFTER THE FIRST UNLAWFUL ACT, THE SECOND AND FURTHER ACTS GET EASIER. THIS IS EXACTLY HOW A PRISONER FEELS WITH NO HUMAN CONTACT. AT FIRST THIS CONFINEMENT SEEMS CRUEL. HOWEVER, DEPENDING ON THE CRIME, IT COULD BE DANGEROUS FOR CERTAIN INMATES TO INTERACT WITH OTHERS. STAYING ALONE VIRTUALLY ALL THE TIME CAN IS A HORRIBLE CONDITION. COUNSELING AND TREATMENT SHOULD BE AVAILABLE IN THIS CASE. ODDLY ENOUGH BY COPING WITH BEING ALONE, INMATES COULD FIND A WAY TO INTERACT WITH OTHERS.

His name, and crime, and term of suffering, are unknown, even to the officer who delivers him his daily food. There is a number over his cell-door, and in a book of which the governor of the prison has one copy, and the moral instructor another: this is the index of his history. Beyond these pages the prison has no record of his existence: and though he live to be in the same cell ten weary years, he has no means of knowing, down to the very last hour, in which part of the building it is situated; what kind of men there are about him; whether in the long winter nights there are living people near, or he is in some lonely corner of the great jail, with walls, and passages, and iron doors between him and the nearest sharer in its solitary horrors.

LEONARD-THE WHOLE THING IS VERY IMPERSONAL AND THE PRISONERS DO NOT EVEN KNOW THE TYPE OF BUILDING THEY ARE IN AND THEIR SPECIFIC LOCATION.

Every cell has double doors: the outer one of sturdy oak, the other of grated iron, wherein there is a trap through which his food is handed. He has a Bible, and a slate and pencil, and, under certain restrictions, has sometimes other books, provided for the purpose, and pen and ink and paper. His razor, plate, and can, and basin, hang upon the wall, or shine upon the little shelf. Fresh water is laid on in every cell, and he can draw it at his pleasure. During the day, his bedstead turns up against the wall, and leaves more space for him to work in. His loom, or bench, or wheel, is there; and there he labors, sleeps and wakes, and counts the seasons as they change, and grows old.

LEONARD-EVIDENTLY THE PRISONER EITHER HAD A TRADE BEFORE THE ARREST OR LEARNED ONE.

The first man I saw, was seated at his loom, at work. He had been there six years, and was to remain, I think, three more. He had been convicted as a receiver of stolen goods, but even after his long imprisonment, denied his guilt, and said he had been hardly dealt by. It was his second offense. He stopped his work when we went in, took off his spectacles, and answered freely to everything that was said to him, but always with  a strange kind of pause first, and in a low, thoughtful voice. He wore a paper hat of his own making, and was pleased to have it noticed and commanded. He had very ingeniously manufactured a sort  of Dutch clock from some disregarded odds and ends; and his vinegar-bottle served for the pendulum. Seeing me interested in  this contrivance, he looked up at it with a great deal of pride, and said that he had been thinking of improving it, and that he  hoped the hammer and a little piece of broken glass beside it ‘would play music before long.’ He had extracted some colors from the yarn with which he worked, and painted a few poor figures on the wall. One, of a female, over the door, he called ‘The Lady of  the Lake.’

LEONARD-HERE IS AN INMATE WITH ALLOT OF INGENUITY. HE CAN USE HIS HANDS VERY WELL BY MAKING THINGS FROM RANDOM OBJECTS AND BY PAINTING. THIS WILL BE A BIG FACTOR IN DETERMINING A EARLY RELEASE DATE AND THE PRISON SHOULD ASSIST IN HELPING HIM GET A JOB WITH THESE TALENTS.

He smiled as I looked at these contrivances to while away the time; but when I looked from them to him, I saw that his lip trembled, and could have counted the beating of his heart. I forget how it  came about, but some allusion was made to his having a wife. He shook his head at the word, turned aside, and covered his face with  his hands.

THIS SHOWS THE REGRET FOR BRINGING SHAME TO HIS FAMILY AS WELL AS HIMSELF. IT LOOKS LIKE HE MAY HAVE HAD A PROMISING LIFE. NOTICING HIS LIP TREMBLING SHOW THAT DICKENS WAS VERY OBSERVANT.

But you are resigned now!’ said one of the gentlemen after a short  pause, during which he had resumed his former manner. He answered  with a sigh that seemed quite reckless in its hopelessness, ‘ Oh yes, oh yes! I am resigned to it.’ ‘And are a better man, you think?’ ‘Well, I hope so: I’m sure I hope I may be.’ ‘And time goes pretty quickly?’ ‘Time is very long gentlemen, within these four walls!’ He gazed about him – Heaven only knows how wearily! – as he said these words; and in the act of doing so, fell into a strange stare as if he had forgotten something. A moment afterwards he sighed heavily, put on his spectacles, and went about his work again.

LEONARD-THE PRISONER HAS SOME OBVIOUS TALENT BUT STILL JAIL TIME MOVES VERY SLOWLY.

In another cell, there was a German, sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for larceny, two of which had just expired. With colors procured in the same manner, he had painted every inch of the walls and ceiling quite beautifully. He had laid out the few feet of ground, behind, with exquisite neatness, and had made a little bed in the center, that looked, by-the-bye, like a grave.  The taste and ingenuity he had displayed in everything were most  extraordinary; and yet a more dejected, heart-broken, wretched creature, it would be difficult to imagine. I never saw such a picture of forlorn affliction and distress of mind. My heart bled for him; and when the tears ran down his cheeks, and he took one of  the visitors aside, to ask, with his trembling hands nervously clutching at his coat to detain him, whether there was no hope of  his dismal sentence being commuted, the spectacle was really too painful to witness. I never saw or heard of any kind of misery that impressed me more than the wretchedness of this man.

LEONARD RACHIELE-ONCE AGAIN SOME OBVIOUS TALENT IN PRISON AND THE LONELINESS INVOLVED. HE IS PLANNING FOR ACTIVITY AFTER THE PRISON TERM.

In a third cell, was a tall, strong black, a burglar, working at his proper trade of making screws and the like. His time was nearly out. He was not only a very dexterous thief, but was notorious for his boldness and hardihood, and for the number of his  previous convictions. He entertained us with a long account of his achievements, which he narrated with such infinite relish, that he actually seemed to lick his lips as he told us racy anecdotes of  stolen plate, and of old ladies whom he had watched as they sat at windows in silver spectacles (he had plainly had an eye to their metal even from the other side of the street) and had afterwards  robbed. This fellow, upon the slightest encouragement, would have mingled with his professional recollections the most detestable cant; but I am very much mistaken if he could have surpassed the  unmitigated hypocrisy with which he declared that he blessed the day on which he came into that prison, and that he never would commit another robbery as long as he lived.

THIS INMATE IS A PETTY THIEF STEALING SMALL ITEMS JUST FOR THE CHALLENGE. HE IS NOT A KLEPTOMANIAC;QUITE THE CONTRARY HE SEEMS PROUD OF WHAT HE HAS DONE. CHARLES

There was one man who was allowed, as an indulgence, to keep rabbits. His room having rather a close smell in consequence, they  called to him at the door to come out into the passage. He complied of course, and stood shading his haggard face in the  unwonted sunlight of the great window, looking as wan and unearthly as if he had been summoned from the grave. He had a white rabbit in his breast; and when the little creature, getting down upon the  ground, stole back into the cell, and he, being dismissed, crept timidly after it, I thought it would have been very hard to say in  what respect the man was the nobler animal of the two.

LEONARD-THE RABBIT GAVE THE PRISONER ALLOT OF JOY AND COMFORT. ALL PETS DO LIKEWISE FOR THEIR OWNERS. THIS SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ALLOWED. RATS, SENSING THE FOUL ORDER, ARE NOT DOUBT NEAR BY. THIS IS AN OBVIOUS DANGER TO THE HEALTH OF THE PRISONERS. DICKENS DOES NOT MENTION WHY THE PRISONER WAS SUMMONED. SINCE THE PRISONER LEFT THE AREA, OFFICIALS EVIDENTLY DID NOTHING ABOUT THIS DANGEROUS SITUATION.

There was an English thief, who had been there but a few days out of seven years: a villainous, low-browed, thin-lipped fellow, with  a white face; who had as yet no relish for visitors, and who, but for the additional penalty, would have gladly stabbed me with his  shoemaker’s knife. There was another German who had entered the jail but yesterday, and who started from his bed when we looked in, and pleaded, in his broken English, very hard for work. There was  a poet, who after doing two days’ work in every four-and-twenty hours, one for himself and one for the prison, wrote verses about  ships (he was by trade a mariner), and ‘the maddening wine-cup,’and his friends at home. There were very many of them. Some reddened at the sight of visitors, and some turned very pale. Some  two or three had prisoner nurses with them, for they were very sick; and one, a fat old negro whose leg had been taken off within  the jail, had for his attendant a classical scholar and an  accomplished surgeon, himself a prisoner likewise. Sitting upon the stairs, engaged in some slight work, was a pretty colored boy.  ‘Is there no refuge for young criminals in Philadelphia, then?’
said I. ‘Yes, but only for white children.’ Noble aristocracy in crime.

LEONARD-HERE DICKENS SEES A WIDE VARIETY OF INMATES. THEIR REACTION TO BEING PRISONERS WAS WITH NO COMMON GROUND. RIGHT HERE I WOULD WANT TO KNOW HOW THE SURGEON GOT IN JAIL. THE IMPRISONMENT OF THE YOUNG BOY WITH HARDENED CRIMINALS MUST HAVE STUCK DICKENS SENSE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE.

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