Dickens in Washington (continued)

Charles Dickens visited both houses of Congress nearly every day, during his stay in Washington, and left his impressions in ‘American Notes’, published in 1842.

John_Tyler-2

John Tyler, U.S. President in 1842.

The House of Representatives is a beautiful and spacious hall, of semicircular shape, supported by handsome pillars. One part of the gallery is appropriated to the ladies, and there they sit in front rows, and come in, and go out, as at a play or concert.

The chair is canopied, and raised considerably above the floor of the House; and every member has an easy chair and a writing desk to himself: which is denounced by some people out of doors as a most unfortunate and injudicious arrangement, tending to long sittings and prosaic speeches. It is an elegant chamber to look at, but a singularly bad one for all purposes of hearing. The Senate, which is smaller, is free from this objection, and is exceedingly well adapted to the uses for which it is designed. …..

Did I see among them the intelligence and refinement: the true, honest, patriotic heart of America? Here and there were drops of its blood and life, but they scarcely coloured the stream of desperate adventurers which sets that way for profit and for pay. It is the game of these men, and of their profligate organs, to make the strife of politics so fierce and brutal, and so destructive of all self-respect in worthy men, that sensitive and delicate-minded persons shall be kept aloof, and they, and such as they, be left to battle out their selfish views unchecked. And thus this lowest of all scrambling fights goes on, and they who in other countries would, from their intelligence and station, most aspire to make the laws, do here recoil the farthest from that degradation.

That there are, among the representatives of the people in both Houses, and among all parties, some men of high character and great abilities, I need not say. ….
It will be sufficient to add that to the most favourable accounts that have been written of them, I more than fully and most heartily subscribe; and that personal intercourse and free communication have bred within me …. increased admiration and respect.

There are more quarrels than with us, and more threatenings than gentlemen are accustomed to exchange in any civilised society of which we have record: but farm-yard imitations have not as yet been imported from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The feature in oratory which appears to be the most practised, and most relished, is the constant repetition of the same idea or shadow of an idea in fresh words; and the inquiry out of doors is not, “What did he say?” but, “How long did he speak?”

Dickens went on to describe, at length, the universal habit of chewing tobacco in both houses and spitting – with “disregard of the spittoon” – but I’ll spare you that to avoid causing nausea and putting you right off your food!

Wellington architecture #3 – the evolution of Parliament.

When New Zealand’s capital, or Seat of Government as it was known then, moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865 Parliament’s “House of Assembly” moved in to the existing Provincial Council Chambers.

mini_magick20171209-28193-35dyzh

Photo: ATL – Swan, George Henry, 1833-1913. Provincial Council building, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-003739-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22494909

It was a convenient place to start but obviously not big enough. Additions to accommodate debating chambers for Upper and Lower Houses, committee rooms, the members’ restaurant (very important) and offices were added in stages until the original became part of a much bigger complex.

mini_magick20171209-28193-1kjdywc

Photo: ATL – Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-011625-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22795018

Restricted by Sydney Street on the left and Hill Street on the right, architects had to build over the back yard. Twenty years later, the side view from Sydney Street looked like a Gothic fantasy castle made in wood.

Parl buildings_S

In the 1890s, when the overflowing Parliamentary library demanded a new fireproof home, architect Thomas Turnbull went full circle and put his masonry extension in front of the original Provincial Council Chamber.

Pre 1907 postcard image of Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

It should have been a three storey building but political bickering over cost saw it redesigned by the Government’s architect with two storeys. Turnbull resigned from the project and asked for his name to be removed from the foundation stone. Fortunately, fireproof rooms and doors remained part of the design, despite budget cuts.

Parliament fire

On 11th December 1907, the tinder-dry wooden buildings burned down. The library and most of its contents survived, was rebuilt, and can still be seen today.

Parl library

The destruction of everything else disrupted Parliament for years to come and brought about a dramatic change in the landscape. The Governor abandoned his official residence, Government House (see previous post), and it became a “temporary” House of Assembly. An architectural competition for a new building was won by John Campbell – the Government’s own architect – with a grandiose design. The shallow gully that was Sydney Street was filled in and the site levelled to accomodate it. Construction began in 1912. And then came the Great War.

Work dragged on despite the lack of manpower available but when the war ended enthusiasm waned. An already small population had been decimated by conflict and the Spanish flu pandemic, materials became difficult to source, and the country was short of funds – again. Construction stopped in 1922 when the new House of Assembly was literally half the building it was meant to be. It has never been completed.

Parliament buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.

The building you see today is only half of the original concept, which is why the entrance steps are at the left instead of in the centre. The “Beehive” Executive Wing was added in the late 1960s to make a bold statement about “modern” New Zealand.

Whether or not you think these buildings “work” together is a matter of personal taste, but they have their own story to tell and represent three distinct periods in the architectural history of Wellington.

Kaiser Bill

This cartoon from 1902 shows that German Emperor Wilhelm II was seen as a subject for ridicule in Britain well before the Great War, when ridicule turned to hatred.

Kaiser cartoon

With his love of military uniforms – he was rumoured to own 600, some of which he designed himself – his arrogant attitude, and that absurd upturned moustache which he sometimes waxed into spikes, perhaps he was an easy target. The image comes from a little-known collection of twenty satirical cartoons called ‘The Coronation Nonsense Book’ by “Caroline Lewis” and illustrated by “S. R.” 1902 was the coronation year of Edward VII who was Kaiser Wilhelm’s uncle. The two detested each other.

The top caption alleges the Kaiser “has never been crowned” and suggests “For months past the fullest details as to arrangements and procedure have been telegraphed to his Majesty.” The main caption (for those with small screens) says – There was a Teutonic Tom-Tit, who said “I must certainly fit To myself all this Pomp.” But they cried “It will swamp Your Exchequer!” He said “Not a bit!”

If your wildlife knowledge is a little rusty, a Tom-tit is an old 17th century name for the Bluetit, a small but colourful bird found all over Europe. In a few lines the writer has skewered the man’s vanity and suggested that, although the British Empire can afford a lavish ceremony, Germany could not.

“Caroline Lewis” was Harold Begbie (1871-1929) and “S.R.” was fellow journalist J. Stafford Ransome (1860-1931). They are better remembered for their satirical novel ‘Clara in Blunderland’ published earlier in the same year.

If you believe that history repeats, you might be interested in this comparison of Kaiser Bill with a modern head of state.

Postcard politics

This postcard from the 1930s is for all those British subjects who will vote in the General election today – or not, as the case may be.

Vintage Bamforth comic postcard.

I suspect this might be a rare Bamforth card because it doesn’t involve sex, large middle-aged women and their henpecked husbands, or Scotsmen, their kilts, and speculation about what lies beneath. Those were simpler times!

The King of Uganda

The photograph below has been cropped from a postcard published by J. Valentine in 1913 and shows a small party of tourists on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle. A caption on the original card says “Figure in White is King of Uganda.” The amount of P.R. “spin” that might be incorporated in the syndicated report that follows is open to conjecture.

King of Uganda

Daudi C[h]wa, the young King of Uganda, who has never before left his home, arrived recently in England, accompanied by his English tutor, Mr. J. C. R. Sturrock, of Oxford. The visit is unofficial and undertaken for educational purposes. It is possible that a tour will be made through the manufacturing districts. The young king also intends to visit France and Germany.

Daudi – which means David – is seventeen years of age. Next year he will, according to present arrangements, attain his majority and take up the reins of rulership. Meanwhile the Prime Minister – Sir Apolo Kag[g]wa, the only negro knight – acts on his behalf in the Native Council, according to an agreement drawn up when a British protectorate was declared over Uganda in 1894.

King Daudi is quiet and unassuming. Of fine physique, and over six feet in height, he is extremely fond of British sports. He has adopted European habits and customs, but is a non-smoker and a teetotaller. He speaks and writes English well, and has read English books of adventure with great relish. He plays an excellent game of golf, and has a motorcycle, which he often uses, as there are excellent roads in his kingdom. He is also an enthusiastic photographer.

He has been brought up in the Anglican faith, and regularly attends the mission service at Mengo, on one of the seven hills that comprise Kampala, where he lives. His palace is on one of the hills. The King is entitled to a salute of nine guns on ceremonial occasions, the only time when he puts away his European clothes for his state costume. The national dress of Uganda is of “bark cloth” (obtained from the bark of a fig tree) wrapped loosely round the body, but many of the chiefs and people now wear European clothes. He is a great favorite among Europeans, and is very popular in his own kingdom.

Though King David shows great partiality to many kinds of English foods, he has not forsaken the staple food of Uganda – the banana, of which fruit there are twenty different varieties in his country. The natives bake the banana and then make it into a stew. The variety used for cooking is not suitable for eating when raw. He has his own private band of thirty drums, which are kept in tune by specially appointed drummers, who play at sundown each evening.

The question of the King’s marriage has not been forgotten. It is probable that he will chose a wife from among his own people, or a Princess from one of the other Uganda kingdoms of Unyoro or Toro, though inter-marriage between tribes is not customary.

David’s father, Mwanga, was a clever but despotic King, and ended his days in exile in the Seychelles Islands, whither he was banished after the Mohammedan rebellion in Uganda in 1898. The Waganda trace back their kings in a direct line for about 1000 years.
‘Hawera & Normanby Star’ (N.Z.). 30 August 1913.

Daudi Chwa was knighted by King George V on this visit and, before his coronation the following year, married the first of multiple wives (despite his alleged Anglican faith) who bore him 14 children. Caught between the British Colonial administration and a Prime Minister who didn’t want to relinquish control, he was never allowed to be more than a figurehead, to his eternal frustration. In his later years the teetotaller found a taste for alcohol and withdrew from public life. He died of heartfailure on 22nd November 1939.
Source – Dictionary of African Biography, Vol. 1. Oxford University Press.

The politics of tourism

1925 postcard of Piazza Cordusio, Milan, Italy.

A postcard of Milan, Italy, registered in November 1925

From ‘Propaganda Boom’, A. J. Mackenzie, LL.B. The Right Book Club, London, 1938.
Fascist Italy set up in 1925 a special body for systematising ‘the healthy and advantageous employment of leisure’. Known as the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro, this organisation has grown remarkably, although membership is voluntary. For the student of propaganda, its chief interest lies in the political development of tourism for which it is responsible.

Tourism is now, as always, one of Italy’s major industries and no efforts are spared to attract foreign visitors. The organisation of the hotels on the ‘coupon’ system, under which travellers buy coupons in any one of five categories whenever they cross the frontier, is a boon to the holiday-maker, for constant inspection ensures that even the cheapest of these registered hotels are reasonably clean and comfortable. During the height of the bitter anti-British campaign [in Italy], readers of British newspapers were constantly being tempted by large and attractive State-sponsored advertisements to pay a visit to Italy. On the other hand, for years no Italian paper was permitted to publish articles dealing with the attractions of foreign holiday resorts.

An exception to this ban has now been made for Germany. In May 1937 a tourist agreement was arranged by Italy and Germany, and special concessions allowed visitors from each country to take with them a larger amount of money than is permitted when they are travelling to non-Fascist countries. The scheme is organised on the Italian side by the Dolopavoro, and in Germany by the ‘Strength through Joy’ movement which is building a special fleet of large ships to carry the 150,000 holiday-makers who go cruising under its auspices from Germany every year.

One of the ‘Strength Through Joy’ liners came into prominence in April 1938 when used as a polling booth on the high seas for German residents in Britain who wished to take part in the Austrian plebiscite.

Both organisations have a high propaganda value since State subsidies enable extraordinarily low fares to be charged. They cater for all classes, and undoubtedly enable the working classes to enjoy holidays which compare very favourably with those within the reach of British workers.

Beating the Big Drum

A blatantly aggressive spirit in a nation, as in many individuals, is frequently the product of a deep-rooted inferiority complex. By beating the big drum, by feverish window-dressing, it strives to convince both its own people and foreigners that here is a force to be reckoned with. It makes a parade of arrogance to impress the world. On the other hand, a people who, despite differences of opinion on many important points, are conscious of a fundamental unity, do not feel compelled to indulge in perpetual heroics.

In an autocracy or dictatorship the rulers aim always to link the power of the State with the dogma of their own indispensability…….. To provide an animate link between the emotions of the herd and the abstract entity of the State, the leader emerges and on him is concentrated the frenzied adulation of the people.

Linked with this combative instinct is the emotion of fear. When people are afraid the foundations of the social order are crumbling, they willingly surrender the right to decide their own destinies. The strong hand is welcome and if the minority rebels the strong hand is ruthless. Later, if the mutterings of revolt become ominously loud, the orthodox solution is to unearth a new terror beyond the frontiers. This point is too obvious, has been too frequently illustrated, to require emphasis. The psychology of the nursery has time and again been utilised by the propagandist to cow a restive people. They are hushed: the bogey-man is near.

‘Propaganda Boom’, A.J. MacKenzie, The Right Book Club, London. 1938.