Chapter IV; an excerpt from With Thackeray in America by Eyre Crowe (1893)

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In the fourth chapter of With Thackeray in America (1893), the British artist Eyre Crowe describes his travels to Virginia, South Carolina, and New York in 1852 and 1853. Crowe was serving as the personal secretary to the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, who was on a six-month lecture tour. While attending a slave auction in Richmond, Crowe sketched and later painted the scene, calling it Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia .


With Thackeray in America (1893)

Richmond, Va.—A Slave Sale—Houdon’s Statue of Washington—Petersburg, Va.—Charleston—An Empty Valise—Savannah—New York Once More.

After a three weeks’ stay at Washington we left it at night, always a dreary time of exit. It was necessary to do so to catch the steamer which was to waft us down the Potomac. There were plenty of fine Rembrandtesque night-effects to be noted. Amid the general bustle, and in the motley groups hurrying on board, you could dimly see the man at the tiller, in a small cabin amidships. The idea—at first entertained—of sleeping on board proved illusory. A lusty negro rang the bell announcing supper, consisting of oyster soup. Another deck-hand invited “gentlemen to take de tickets”—clapper going again; then another summons to have luggage labelled. Someone stated we were near the “Dismal Swamp;” this seemed to chime in with our lowered spirits, deafened as we were by tintinabulary sounds. 

With dawn these revived, and the sun lifted the misty veil. The eyes, jaded by the somewhat bleak scenery of Washington and its neighbourhood at this

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season of the year, were refreshed by vistas of green leafage. I sketched the distant outline of Washington‘s home, Mount Vernon. We tried to spot the “New Castlewood,” which was raised on the beautiful banks of the Potomac. The delightful season alluded to in the same passage, called the Indian summer, though belonging to late autumn, seemed to have its counterpart in March, for the heat of the day was considerable as we neared Richmond, after changing from steamboat into cars once more.

We came into Richmond, as it were, on the day after the fair; some hitch in the communication had caused a day’s delay. The hall at Richmond was crammed with an expectant audience, who had to be politely informed that the lecture was postponed till the next evening. They took it in good part when informed of the unlucky missing of the train, and dispersed after receiving a telegraphic apology.

As if it were but yesterday, the trite incidents of travel crop up at times in the memory. Thus I remember, at a station between Fredericksburg and Richmond, which was on a steepish gradient, two stalwart negroes arresting the train’s movement downwards by periodical thrusts of wooden logs, giving the cars and ourselves quite pleasing jerks in the process, treating these vehicles as a waggoner does his team on going downhill. (There were no brakes

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here in these days.) We were glad to reach our final destination, Richmond, and to enter its comfortable hotel. The next day’s paper was somewhat mixed in its announcements of fashionable arrivals, thus: “Mr. Thackeray, the celebrated author; Mr. Anderson, Wizard of the North;” to which, as far as I recollect, were added some species of prodigy and a wild buffalo. If one was inclined to wince, at first, at this not quite dignified medley of caterers for public amusement, the feeling soon wore off into one of positive liking for the unpretending and cheerful conversation of the conjurer. He was surrounded by quite a troup of young wizards, who all helped him in his sleight of hand and evolutions. The black waiters wore stiff white bows round their necks, and appeared in black coat-tails, and plied the company with all the delicacies, including the luscious banana, much relished in its fresh state. This feasting on the ordinary fare was many times relieved by the unceasing kindliness of some of the notables, who threw open their hearts and their homes to the welcome personator of English literature, not excluding self for the nonce. The English intonation was heard once more, owing to the traditional British schooling still kept up in those days in Virginia.

This State, as all know, is especially endeared to the British tar by furnishing him with the toothsome

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“quid”—with which he has ever been plentifully regaled from the fields of the district, at the rate of about 130 dollars profit per acre. The tobacco-leaf fluctuates somewhat in quality. In my peregrinations through the business part of the town I came across the scene depicted on p. 127. The experts of the trade were to be seen grasping in their arms several of the choicest specimens of the brands, whilst muscular negroes, armed with crowbars, lifted each of the compressed parcels, so as to test them at the central portions. The mass of these emitted a pleasant honey-dew smell, and evolved mental calculations as to the prodigious amount of mastication ensuing. This, however,

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if I could trust a voluntary informant afterwards, was not, after all, so vast as imagined. He said, “But for the income it brings in, we could easily chew the whole Virginia plant ourselves.” No wonder, then, is it to see the capacious hotel expectorators generally festooned with the ejected, well-moistened leafage. Hitched on one of the rafters of the room was noticeable a trophy of the late Presidential campaign, in the shape of a small picture of the favourite candidate mounted upon a prancing charger; this was fastened to a pole, and bore the inscription—”In General Pierce we put a manly trust.” It was paraded thus at the hustings as a party emblem, and their man had won the day.

The departing trains for the South cross the brawling rocky bed of the James river by a wooden bridge. Here it is, overleaf, in the immediate foreground of the sketch; beyond, is given the general aspect of Richmond, with its houses capped by the classic-shaped Capitol as it looked forty years ago, a fair notion of its aspect at that period. Somehow these rough-looking storehouses and unpretending tenements are always more pleasing to the artistic sense than are the stately fabrics of more modern-looking towns. The handsome verdure-surrounded villas are here out of sight.

The 3rd of March, 1853, is a date well imprinted on

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my memory. I was sitting at an early table d’hôte breakfast by myself, reading the ably conducted local newspaper, of which our kind friend was the editor. It was not, however, the leaders or politics which attracted my eye, so much as the advertisement columns, containing the announcements of slave sales, some of which were to take place that morning in Wall Street, close at hand, at eleven o’clock.

Ideas of a possibly dramatic subject for pictorial illustration flitted across my mind; so, with small notepaper and pencil, I went thither, inquiring my way to the auction rooms. They consisted, I soon discovered, of low rooms, roughly white-washed, with worn and dirty flooring, open, as to doors and windows, to the street, which they lined in succession. The buyers clustered first in one dealer’s premises, then moved on in a body to the next store, till the whole of the tenants of these separate apartments were disposed of. The sale was announced by hanging out a small red flag on a pole from the doorway. On each of these was pinned a manuscript notice of the lot to be sold. Thus I read:—”Fifteen likely negroes to be disposed of between half-past nine and twelve—five men, six women, two boys, and two girls.” Then followed the dealer’s signature, which corresponded to that inscribed over the doorway. When I got

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into the room I noticed, hanging on the wall, a quaintly framed and dirty lithograph, representing two horsemen galloping upon sorry nags, one of the latter casting its shoe, and his companion having a bandaged greasy fetlock; the marginal inscription on the border was to this effect:—”Beware of what you are about.” I have often thought since how foolish it was, on my part, not to have obeyed this premonitory injunction to act prudently in such a place as this was. The ordeal gone through by the several negroes began by making a stalwart hand pace up and down the compartment, as would

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be done with a horse, to note his action. This proving satisfactory, some doubt was expressed as to his ocular soundness. This was met by one gentleman unceremoniously fixing one of his thumbs into the socket of the supposed valid eye, holding up a hair by his other hand, and asking the negro to state what was the object held up before him. He was evidently nonplussed, and in pain at the operation, and he went down in the bidding at once. More hands were put up; but by this time feeling a wish for fresh air, I walked out, passing intervening stores and the grouped expectant negroes there.

I got to the last and largest end store, and thinking the sales would occupy a certain time, I thought it might be possible to sketch some of the picturesque figures awaiting their turn. I did so. On rough benches were sitting, huddled close together, neatly dressed in grey, young negro girls with white collars fastened by scarlet bows, and in white aprons. The form of a woman clasping her infant, ever touching, seemed the more so here. There was a muscular field-labourer sitting apart; a rusty old stove filled up another space. Having rapidly sketched these features, I had not time to put my outline away before the whole group of buyers and dealers were in the compartment. I thought the

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 best plan was to go on unconcernedly; but, perceiving me so engaged, no one would bid. The auctioneer, who had mounted his table, came down and asked me whether, “if I had a business store, and someone came in and interrupted my trading, I should like it.” This was unanswerable; I got up with the intention of leaving quietly, but, feeling this would savour of flight, I turned round to the now evidently angry crowd of dealers, and said, “You may turn me away, but I can recollect all I have seen.” I lingered in a neighbouring vacated store, to give myself the attitude of leisurely retreat, and I left this stifling atmosphere of human traffic. “Crowe has been very imprudent,” Thackeray wrote to a friend afterwards. And, in truth, I soon reflected it was so. It might have led to unpleasant results to the lecturer himself, bound, as he went South, not to be embroiled in any untoward accident involving interference with the question of slavery, then at fever-heat, owing to Mrs. Stowe’s fiery denunciations in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Though I have no real ground for the assumption, it has often occurred to me that the incident was allowed to drop quietly, owing to the timely intervention of friends, who threw oil upon these troubled waters, and buried their wrath in oblivion.

The narrative here given is so simple as to bear the stamp of truth which needs no further corroboration.

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Still, by way of amplification of scenes subsequent to my withdrawal—or flight, if the reader prefers, though I was not sensible of it—I herewith give the account, which I found published exactly a week after in the New York Daily Tribune of March 10th, written by someone who, unknown to myself, was present on this occasion:—

Extract of part of a letter in the New York Daily Tribune of March 10th, 1853, written by a New Yorker on Southern tour. The letter is dated “Richmond, Va., Thursday, March 3rd, 1853:”—

A Slave Auction In Virginia.

[After describing the previous sales, he comes to the last one.]

“A scene occurred in this room which ‘may yet be heard from.’ Just before the sale commenced, a young well-dressed gentleman entered the room—placing himself in one corner of the room—began to take a sketch, and had proceeded quite far before he was noticed by anyone but myself. At last he attracted the attention of some of the bystanders, until full twenty or more were looking over his shoulder. They all seemed pleased with what he was doing, so long as the sketch was a mere outline, but as he began to finish up the picture, and form his groups of figures, they began to see what he was about, and then someone went up privately to the auctioneer (who had by this time got one or two sold), and informed him what the man was doing. He came down from the stand, went and overlooked what he was doing for a moment, and saw himself written down for the first time in his life. He inquired of the man what he was doing. The answer was, ‘I do not know that I am bound to answer your inquiry.’ Mr.

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 Auctioneer took his stand again, but was evidently so enraged that he could not go on, for by this time the whole company was aware of what was being done. And some proclaimed with a loud oath that the likeness was ‘d—d fine,’ ‘most splendid;’ others were for ‘footing’ him. The artist took the hint, however, without the kick, and left the room. But now we had a specimen of Southern bravery. They were all sure that he was an Abolitionist, and they all wanted to ‘lend a foot’ to kick him, while one small gentleman said he would pay twenty-five dollars to hire a negro to do it. The excitement soon passed over; not, however, without leaving on my mind the truth of the maxim that ‘He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day.'”

After these sales we saw the usual exodus of negro slaves, marched under escort of their new owners across the town to the railway station, where they took places, and “went South.” They held scanty bundles of clothing, their only possession. These were the scenes which in a very short number of years made one realise the sources of the fiercest of civil wars, and which had their climax when General Grant mustered his forces upon this spot as a centre against the equally gallant General Lee. Placid enough at the time I speak of were the avocations of this place, which is built on a slope, as is its English namesake. Towering above the rest of the houses was the Capitol, inside which was an antiquated stove, which had done service ever so long ago. All genuine works of art stamp a place as quite out of the common.

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The State House at Richmond so excels, and Houdon’s statue of General Washington stands there as a great masterpiece. The story is pleasantly told on the occasion of the famous French sculptor’s visit to Mount Vernon. So scrupulous were these great craftsmen they disdained heroics, but they gave alike the exact measurement of the stature, the simple pose, the serene smile, and the imperishable marble form of those before them. One wonders why these

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noble versions are not simply reproduced, instead of modern caracoling equestrian statues filling squares, which give no mortal any pleasure to look at. The clean-shaven face of the “Father of his Country” has doubtless had the effect of giving encouragement to all good Americans—his children—to do likewise.

Exemplifying this, here is the quaint posture of nearly horizontal rest in which the barber plies the razor upon the cheeks and chins of most of his customers, that curious excrescence—the goatee—

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betwixt lip and chin, forming the exception to the usually clean-shaven face.

Petersburg (Virginia) sharing with Richmond in strategic importance during the Civil War, and since that adding its record of valorous defence, was at this time a somewhat somnolent-looking town. I went thither, and made all due arrangements for lecturing. I recollect carrying off in triumph from a drug store a high desk enamelled in white, the MS. leaves of the lecture needing this kind of support, generally dispensed with by extempore speakers. The walls were placarded with announcements of the discourse; the papers were full of advertisements that the lecture would take place.

Thackeray came down by an afternoon train. On inquiry at the ticket offices it was found that very few seats had been taken; the advertisements in the papers had remained unheeded for the most part. As the evening was warm, the hall windows were left open; and as I took a seat on a bench in the square below, I could hear the well-known sentences as they fell from the lecturer’s lips, and issued, over well-nigh empty benches, into the calm air of the outside square, where, lounging sadly, I heard them. We philosophised over this queer breach in the hitherto continuous spell of successes, as he afterwards whiffed his cigar, without anyone joining us, in the hotel parlour.

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 In the early morning I felt myself seeking relief from enforced mutism by button-holing a negro whom I watched digging in a small field. To my query he replied he was working upon an allotment-plot, many of his fellows having the same small ownership of the soil for small market produce, given them by liberal landlords. We took the very earliest train to Richmond, glad to get once more amongst friends and to cheerful converse. The sketch of Petersburg presented overleaf (a view which is a little way from the street pavements) gives a notion of the place, at that time quite innocent of forts—unconscious of coming warfare, and that they would bear the brunt of a good deal of it hereafter.

The Easter Monday holiday was here kept, as with us, by popular dolce far niente rambles and quiet enjoyments of all factory and other hands, clad in their best.

I sketched one of the factories on the banks of the Appomattox, to which a bare tree was the picturesque foreground. I had time only to indicate the sand collectors and their carts in the front of it.

The night-travelling in the cars in the South, as usual, only admits of snatches of broken rest. You doze perhaps, and you are aroused by the negro fireman, who comes and rakes out the cinders choking

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up the stove-grate, and playfully sending a considerable part of the ashes flying into the air you breathe. He, however, relieved your sensations of being parched, by then bringing a large bucket full of water and a huge wooden long-handled ladle. All who are clustered for warmth round the stove, and who had stretched out grimy stockinged toes towards this centre, refresh themselves, turn round, and become somnolent once more. There is a fine democratic air of simplicity about the whole arrangement. As dawn comes, you are rewarded by seeing

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through the many-paned windows of the car—which, in fact, are on all sides of it—by witnessing the roseate rays of the rising sun illuminating the pine forests, superbly decked out in rime. You are inclined on these occasions to side with the humoristic views of Mr. Rudyard Kipling’s latest doctrine, and to pronounce these magical fleeting effects as transcending more enduring canvas-smearings in interest. The calm Sunday’s rest came as we settled at the journey’s end at Wilmington, North Carolina. The devout congregation of negroes in the gallery of the church there dwells in the mind long after the sermon and its text

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have been forgotten. Their cheerful faces were a homily.

The next day we took tickets in the small steamer plying between Wilmington and Charleston. The dolphins were rolling over in the shallow waters in aquatic somersaults. Our captain, trumpet in hand, looked so rotund, you felt that, if thrown overboard by ill-fate, he also would have rotated. He, however, did his business of steering us at the rate of seventeen knots an hour steadily over the billows. Skilfully threading his way through shoals and shallows, passing sea-girt forts of the old war pattern—so soon to be replaced by newer ones, and to hoist the Confederate standard in gallant defence—we got safely into Charleston harbour, and found rooms in the huge “Charleston Hotel.”

A time-worn copy of the Charleston Daily Courier, dated Tuesday morning, March 8th, 1853, is before me as I write these lines. It contains this announcement:—”Passengers yesterday (7th) arrived per steamer Governor Dudley from Wilmington, North Carolina.” Here follow the names, “Thackery” (sic),

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“Crowe,” coming at the close. The faulty spelling is, however, amended in the small leader announcing the arrival at “Charleston Hotel,” which adds:—”This evening, at the Hibernian Hall, at 7.30, he will begin a course of three lectures, viz., on Tuesday (8th), Thursday (10th), and Friday (11th); tickets for the course, 1 dollar; single lecture, 50 cents.” These were, of course, highly relished by the élite of Charleston. They gave full vent to their well-known hospitalities, and much lionising was the result. Thackeray made here several drawings with his gold nib, some of which have been published and facsimiled by the wonderful new processes. Borrowing of him the same invaluably pointed pen, I made a few sketches in this city. First is the “Réveille!” sounded by fife and drum, calling out the negroes, secluded within doors during the darkness of night, and issuing at this call to the factories in the early morning. The rousing summons reverberated round the Guard House, plentifully decorated with manual shackles at the time I speak of, some of which we were allowed to handle on the previous night over a pleasant palaver with the captain in command. This rule of nocturnal retirement was obviously relaxed whenever a negro ball was given. We had the privilege of being invited to see one of these amusements. The saltatory features of

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the scene here given were quaint yet picturesque. The minstrels were embowered in greenery as they played waltzes and quadrilles, which were danced with great zest, and the hall rang with good-humoured laughter. The refreshments were limited to spruce-beer, of which we drank thankfully, as administering a novel sensation to the jaded palate. The striking features of negro evening dress consisted in astonishing turbans with marabou feathers, into which odd accessories of squib shape and other forms were inserted, which gave the ladies the appearance of going off, but not in the sense usually attached by chaperons to the term. We went home in high humour. Truth compels me to state that if a prize had to be awarded for expectorators, Charleston, at this time, would have carried off the palm. The spectacle has been, however, depicted on a previous page.

More exhilarating groups call for notice. The entrance hall of the hotel presents rather an animated scene, Charleston being the rendezvous of several lines of communication from New York, Havannah, or elsewhere. The piles of trunks form perfect barricades, which can be contemplated from

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the convenient lounging-benches on all sides by the numerous smokers there assembled.

I asked a young negress to come and have her likeness taken at the hotel, and she did so. She was a pea-nut seller, was quite modest and retiring, but she confided to us her great grievance against one of the known ordinances of slavery. She wished to go and see a play, but was not allowed the privilege at that time. A friend came in, to whom I showed the sketch, who corroborated her statement. I suppose this disability has since been rescinded, and has ceased to be an order enforced.

Amongst the pleasant remembrances of this time was that of meeting Professor Agassiz, who was then lecturing upon such subjects as Cryptogamous Plants, and Scientific Surveys of Pine and Fir Species. It is terrible to think that the instructive discourse of such a master of science falls on the non-scientific mind with no responsive chord, from sheer incompetence to assimilate the abstruse matters under discussion.

Passing now from gay science to dull fact, the scene of the Charleston slave auction is here given, as a contrast to the Richmond version. Here it was in the open air, and by its picturesque elements lost many of its dismal features. The hands to be disposed

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of were fine strapping sons of toil. There were ninety of them, all coming from an estate which was being sold off. They had been employed in the rice-fields of the Combahee river, flowing past the Beaufort and Colleton districts towards the Atlantic. I was much attracted by the group of women, especially by a stout matron clasping her infant in her arms, whose points the dealer indicated with emphasising forefinger. On the right hand was to be seen the emblematic tree of the State, the graceful palmetto, protected by a square bar-grating. Further away was an earth-imbedded howitzer, acting as prop to the lounger. Throw in the old Exchange walls as a background, the tall masts of the cotton-laden liners in the far distance, and the not inharmonious dresses of the slaves, and you have a picture, painful it is true, but also quite curious, as a record of bygone slavery times, actually reproduced as it was, and not the result of imaginary composition.

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Leaving these throngs of labour for those of fashion, here is a sketch of one of the principal streets of Charleston, the chief feature of it being St. Michael’s Church, built in the middle of the last century by a pupil of Wren’s. This gives it quite an old English air, also consonant with other lingering Old World traditions yet found here, such as often sending children to be educated in Europe, as was done by their forefathers.

But for the change in the lady’s attire as to her bonnet, as you see her issuing from the stationer’s shop, attended by a negro servant, and ready to step upon the semicircular stone into her carriage, the whole scene reminds one of the old prints of our squares (where some of these stepping-stones still survive) a hundred years ago.

On the Charleston Quays the negro population affords opportunities for the pencil in their physiognomy, their dresses, and their callings. Look, for example, at the youth, with brush in hand, dipping it into a tar-pot, in order to mark the proper hieroglyphics upon the side of the compressed cotton bale. There he sits enthroned—not a bad emblem of the saying “Cotton is king.” Other boys, whose faces reveal varying coloured parentage, please by a sort of general good-humoured intelligence. You trace these, and also types of stalwart men marked by the same

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characteristics. To these may be joined the tripartite sketch of “Little Rebecca,” though hailing from another community, yet of kindred race, and beaming with a sort of self-contentment always pleasant to witness.

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Farther away, when leaving haunts of the hard toilers, you notice market women awaiting the chance customers for their sweet potatoes, luscious bananas, and other products of that generous soil, till tired, and passing labyrinths of tiled houses, you get back to rest at the caravansary.

The balmy April atmosphere had brought with it the freshly imported spring toilettes from Paris, had enhanced the famed complexions of the feminine portion of the community, and had enticed them abroad to air both under the protecting parasols which they carried about with them in Broadway, or in the Carolinian lounge of King Street,

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or beneath the ampler shop-awnings, screening the already fierce sun’s rays. In church pews, too, the winsome faces were also noticeable, and later on at the dining-rooms of the Clarendon Hotel. The building, topped by the two “Stars and Stripes” flagstaffs, seen in the Broadway sketch (on p. 163), is the then newly opened Metropolitan Hotel of brown stone.

American hotels are generally well placarded with warning notices enjoining visitors to be on their guard against the depredations of the thieves frequenting them in search of their prey, also an Old World institution. A young English Engineer officer, Rankin by name, a distant relative of Thackeray, whom we had met on the boat coming from Wilmington, fell a victim to their wiles. After taking a ride out of Charleston, he came back to find that he had been dévalisé. His luggage ransacked

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and his money gone, he appealed to Thackeray, his kinsman, who, with wonted liberality, allowed his young friend to get back to his regiment at the end of his furlough. As a sequel he and his brother gave me a banquet in Paris at the Maison Dorée, as he was passing through on his way to the Crimea. The dinner was sumptuous, but on examining the menu the critical garçon exclaimed, horrified: “Pas de rôti, monsieur?” as if the absence of the pièce de résistance was a breach of the known laws of gastronomy. This exclamation increased our joviality. This note must be closed with a sad appendix as to

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the fate of this promising officer. He was one of the gallant band told off to explode the docks of Sebastopol. There seemed to be a hitch and a delay in the firing of the mine; he rushed to examine the cause, and it immediately burst up, killing him on the spot. He was the last victim of this lengthy siege and of the operations in the Crimea, I believe.

Leaving Charleston and its gallant host of convivial friendships, we went thence to Savannah in Georgia, the furthest goal of our journey. We reached it in a small steamer—of low draught, owing to the numerous shallows in the red-coloured river leading to this capital. We now arrived in a land unpavcd and without kerbstones to the gangways, which were mere sand-tracks. These had the great advantage of being noiseless. We were driven to

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a primitive hotel, the home, as we soon discovered, of legions of fleas and other questionable gentry. Those who had the ”White Squall” ballad by heart were reminded of the passage:

“Then all the fleas in Jewry
Jumped up and bit like fury;”

or of that Punch cartoon of an “Arabian Night’s Entertainment.” The next morning, on coining into the chief’s bed-room, I noticed the floor and chairs strewn with lucifers, ignited during the night to try and catch these disturbers of peace. His face and limbs were blotched and bumped with the horrid marks of the fray; but balm and salve appeared in the form of our cheery and hospitable English Consul, Mr. Low, who insisted on harbouring first Thackeray

— page 161 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

and then myself in his delightful private residence, during our stay here. There was one never-failing barometer of contentment noticeable in Titmarshian avocations, which was whenever he took up his gold nib for illustration of whatever struck his fancy at the time. At Mr. Low’s quarters many such were produced. One of these, for instance, has been reproduced in fac-simile in Miss Adelaide Procter’s pleasant publication the “Victoria Regia” for 1861. It is a capital sketch of a little negro servant, for whom the descriptive text invents the apt word of “Black-a-moorkin,” not as yet adopted into the latest dictionaries of the English language. I am unaware whether this sketch was done on the occasion of his first visit, or on the second lecturing tour, as no date is affixed to it. But whether this is so or not, I give, as it were, a faint pictorial echo of mine of the same subject, as it includes the interesting figure of a Chinese divinity-student, upon whose pigtail the pickaninny had looked with undisguised wonderment as he presented him with a cup of coffee. He used to give a backward scrape of his bare foot, by way of acknowledgment, when a coin came out of the Thackerayan open purse.

The endeavours to sketch the juvenile negroes in the streets I found almost impossible, owing to their extra restlessness of limb and feature, as the mere

— page 162 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

fact of staring at them set them off into laughter-convulsions.

In the afternoon, at school-closing time, we met the gleeful groups of boys, both black and white, escaping from their class-rooms. Accosting one of the small negro-boys, Thackeray asked him, with a view less of testing his knowledge than of

— page 163 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

— page 164 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

benevolent purpose, to spell Con-stan-ti-no-ple. This proving beyond him, he missed his tip, and went off tumbling head over heels in the sand-tracked street.

More steady were the old hands, some of whom ministered to the juvenile cravings for pea-nuts and for ground-cake. Here (p. 165) is one of them I noticed sitting on the corner of Calhoun Street, as she chats with an old crony asking after her health. Her answer, I recollect, was, “Thank you, I’m mending smart.”

Fires flare here, even more fiercely than in other towns of the States, the buildings being mostly constructed of wood. Thirty years before this time whole

— page 165 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

sections had been swept away, yet a few buildings that were spared have the picturesque construction of old plaster-and-beam architecture.

The quays were piled with cotton-bales, testifying to the industry of the negro – hands; and to the staple production of the district, which was whisked about on trollies, the charioteer standing bolt upright on his booted legs, holding the reins.

The town outskirts afford pleasant walks.

Four miles from Savannah is one of the sights to which everyone trends. It is called Bonaventura, which seems somewhat of a misnomer. That Tuscan patron-saint wrote a book with the title of “Lignum Vitæ,” i.e., the Cross, which he decks miraculously with foliage. Here, by an odd freak of arboriculture, the tree’s foliage is covered over by

— page 166 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

 a drooping funereal lichen resembling a perpetual downpour of rain; well suited, however, to the destination of the cemetery, which it shelters with its lachrymose fronds. The trees are live oaks, with a parasitical growth which I have not noticed elsewhere. I tried to catch its effect in appropriate water-colour.

Towards the end of March the lecturing was over. We bade farewell to the kindest of hosts, Mr. Low, our Consul at Savannah. Though the mosquito as yet did not worry, the weather began to be unpleasantly hot.

We returned to Charleston, which was also getting

— page 167 —
With Thackeray in America (1893)

a dash of summer sun at this early time. Our eyes, freshened by green Georgian pastures, now felt the effects of too prolonged contemplation of brick-and-mortar frontages. If you happen to be yourself sleepless at night, the snoring slumbers heard through thin partitions seem to aggravate your restlessness. We therefore left hospitable Charleston, and returned once more to our comfortable quarters at the “Clarendon Hotel,” New York. Not without disquiet Thackeray heard there of the precarious health of some of the elder members of his family in Europe.

When we returned to New York, making a final stay there of about a fortnight, it was partly with the intention of going to Canada as a lecturing finale; but by repetition the task had grown wearisome, as before hinted. This and other reasons finally prevailing against further venture, the notion was abandoned. This two weeks’ interval was pleasantly filled up. I made a few sketches for the Appleton firm, who paid me liberally. I also painted a portrait of Mr. Henry James, the father of the renowned novelist-playwright, now amongst us, which was pronounced very like; and I did this con amore, not only with a view to please Mrs. James, to whom it was presented, but being personally delighted to limn the features of one who had proved himself so doughty a champion and admirer of Thackeray in the press of that day.

With Thackeray in America by Eyre Crowe is published, documenting the author's six-month trip to the United States, in 1852 and 1853, as personal secretary to the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, who was on a lecture tour.
APA Citation:
Crowe, Eyre. Chapter IV; an excerpt from With Thackeray in America by Eyre Crowe (1893). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Crowe, Eyre. "Chapter IV; an excerpt from With Thackeray in America by Eyre Crowe (1893)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 29 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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