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Dickens on Philly: Expectorating Quakers With a Crap Prison

Tomorrow marks Charles Dickens' 200th birthday, and the city has been celebrating for months with reading groups, a display at the Free Library, and a party at Clark Park, where a rare statue of Dickens (and his beloved Little Nell) stands. Dickens' chronicled his first visit to Philadelphia in his American Notes—a sort of early version of Stephen Fry in America. But what about the rest of has the city changed since Dickens' visit? Let's take a look:

DIFFERENT: TRAVEL TIME
"The journey from New York to Philadelphia, is made by railroad, and two ferries; and usually occupies between five and six hours."

THE SAME: PHILADELPHIANS SPIT
"... though how any number of passengers ... could have maintained such a playful and incessant shower of expectoration, I am still at a loss to understand: notwithstanding the experience in all salivatory phenomena which I afterwards acquired."
THE SAME: GRID CITY MADE BY QUAKERS
"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 hat to expand, beneath its quakery influence. My hair shrunk into a sleek short crop, my hands folded themselves upon my breast of their own calm accord, and thoughts of ... making a large fortune by speculations in corn, came over me involuntarily."

DIFFERENT: CHEAP AND PLENTIFUL WATER
"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."

THE SAME: PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL'S ARTWORK
"In connection with the quaker Hospital, there is a picture by [Benjamin] West, which is exhibited for the benefit of the funds of the institution. The subject is, our Saviour healing the sick, and it is, perhaps, as favourable a specimen of the master as can be seen anywhere. Whether this be high or low praise, depends upon the reader's taste. In the same room, there is a very characteristic and life-like portrait [of Benjamin Rush] by Mr. [Thomas] Sully, a distinguished American artist."

DIFFERENT: UNFINISHED GIRARD COLLEGE
"Near the city, is a most splendid unfinished marble structure ... 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."

THE SAME: COMPARISONS TO NY
"Treating of its general characteristics, I should be disposed to say that [Philadelphia] is more provincial than Boston or New York ...

DIFFERENT: CERTAIN ASSUMPTIONS
" ... and that there is afloat in the fair city, an assumption of taste and criticism"

After these general observations, Dickens uses most of the space devoted to Philadelphia to discuss his experience at Eastern State Penitentiary and its use of solitary confinement, to which he was strenuously opposed. To read more about his visit to the prison, go here. He'd be very glad to know Eastern State was closed—but so much more depressed by the penal system that has taken its place.
· Philadelphia Celebrates Dickens' 200th Birthday [CBS News]

Eastern State Penitentiary

2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19130