Mr. Dickens goes to Washington

Charles Dickens visited Washington D.C. in 1842 and found it still under construction.

800px-Charles_Dickens_sketch_1842-2It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be termed the City of Magnificent Intentions; for it is only on taking a bird’s-eye view of it from the top of the Capitol that one can at all comprehend the vast designs of its projector, an aspiring Frenchman.

Spacious avenues, that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere; streets, mile-long, that only want houses, roads and inhabitants; public buildings that need but a public to be complete; and ornaments of great thoroughfares which only lack great thoroughfares to ornament – are its leading features.

One might fancy the season over, and most of the houses gone out of town forever with their masters. To the admirers of cities it is a …. pleasant field for the imagination to rove in; a monument raised to a deceased project, with not even a legible inscription to record its departed greatness.

Such as it is, it is likely to remain. It was originally chosen for the seat of Government, as a means of averting the conflicting jealousies and interests of the different States; and very probably, too, as being remote from mobs: a consideration not to be slighted, even in America. It has no trade or commerce of its own; having little or no population beyond the President and his establishment; the members of the legislature who reside there during the session; the Government clerks and officers employed in the various departments; the keepers of the hotels and boarding-houses; and the tradesmen who supply their tables.

It is very unhealthy. Few people would live in Washington, I take it, who were not obliged to reside there; and the tides of emigration and speculation, those rapid and regardless currents, are little likely to flow at any time towards such dull and sluggish water.

The principal features of the Capitol, are, of course, the two houses of Assembly ……
(more on those in the next post).

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Australian invasion

This piece was written in 1850, at the height of the Californian gold rush, but the rhetoric seems oddly familiar.

Immigration from New South Wales – A paragraph in our last paper, in reference to a late arrival from Sydney, and an intimation of the disreputable character of a large portion of the passengers, seems to have produced no small excitement in certain quarters; and any quantity of indignant comment has been made thereupon by those who are supposed to have decided preferences and sympathies for the people of that celebrated locality.

Now, we hold it to be the duty of the press, as the conservator of the morals, and defender of the rights and interests of the people, to throw its vast power and influence into the scale in favour of whatever is beneficial ; and to expose, fearlessly, and without regard to threats designed to intimidate or restrain it from the fulfilment of that duty, whatever is detrimental to the public welfare.

sailing shipIn the case alluded to, we had reason to believe the statement made was correct ; — for the facts came to us from the most reliable and different sources. Subsequent investigation, however, showed that our paragraph was premature, — that we were entirely in error, in regard to the character of the passengers in the vessel in question, who are represented as of the most respectable people in Sydney. To the females, whom our statement was calculated to injure, it is due that the amende honorable should be made, and we cheerfully make it. We have much too high a regard for virtuous and respectable females, to wantonly cast an imputation upon their reputation ; and regret that in the present instance, we were led to do so unintentionally.

In regard to the foreign immigration now daily landing upon our shores, it is not to be denied that there are many persons of individual excellence ; and it would be strange indeed, if this were not so in relation even to individuals from Sydney. But while we welcome to our State “all good people,” to whatever nation they belong, we confess to the entertainment of fears that a sufficient watchfulness is not exercised to exclude the hordes of scoundrels who are tempted by the prospect of gold or plunder to crowd upon us from the world’s ends, making California the receptacle of the stews of every nation.

We said that our paragraph was “premature;” but that an importation of persons of the very character depreciated is daily expected to arrive from Sydney, we have good authority for believing. That British colony contains a population of about 150,000 persons, of whom over 10,000 are convicts, and nearly 60,000 are unable to read. It is not the place, therefore, from which we can hope to receive the most intelligent class of immigrants, notwithstanding the respectability of those who have arrived during the past week from that port, numbering over five hundred persons. It behoves all good citizens to see that we are not overwhelmed by the tide of corruption that thirst for lucre is hastening to our shores, and to frown upon those shipowners who are willing to become the agents of spreading moral disease and crime into the young State, whose welfare we have so much at heart. — Pacific News, February 21.
Reproduced in the ‘New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian’, 29 June 1850.

Hordes of scoundrels, tide of corruption, moral disease and crime. Maybe they should have built a wall along the Pacific coast.

Hawaii ’81

1981 is a more recent subject than my usual offerings but it certainly is the “past” (‘history’ to anyone less than 36 years old) and these are some of my “impressions”.

Hawaii 1981. Scan from Kodachrome.

Hawaii 1981. Scan from Kodachrome.

Hawaii 1981. Scan from Kodachrome.

hawaii-surfboards

Hawaii 1981. Scan from Kodachrome.

Scans from original Kodachromes. All images copyright Mike Warman.