Charles Dickens at 200

Dickens' American Notes

illustration from American Notes

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On his first American tour in 1842, Dickens Charles visited numerous major American cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore. He also traveled in the northeast to Boston, New Haven, Hartford, and even Springfield, Massachusetts. Dickens' gradual disillusionment found its way into his American Notes, in which he was critical of the American press, sanitary conditions in the cities, slavery, and American manners.

Dickens arrived by rail in early February in Springfield. His comments continue about his travel to Hartford,

... a distance of only five-and-twenty miles, but at that time of the year the roads were so bad that the journey would probably have occupied ten or twelve hours. Fortunately, however, the winter having been unusually mild, the Connecticut River was "open," or, in other words, not frozen. The captain of a small steamboat was going to make his first trip for the season that day (the second February trip, I believe, within the memory of man) ... The river was full of blocks of ice, which were constantly crunching and cracking under us. ... The Connecticut River is a fine stream; and the banks in summer-time are, I have no doubt, beautiful ...

Dickens returned to the U.S. just two years before his death to present a series of public readings. On March 20, 1868, he arrived again in Springfield, this time (ironically) during a raging snowstorm.

Dickens sent many letters to friends in England during his American trip, and these became a source for the resulting publication, American Notes. He wrote vehemently against slavery and also included a chapter on the Eastern Penitentiary in the outskirts of Philadelphia.

American Notes [etc.]
The Nonesuch Dickens, volume one
Bloomsbury, London: The Nonesuch Press, 1938


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