thumbnail of They bent our ear; Charles Dickens
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Americans are by nature Frank brave called draw hospitable and affectionate. These qualities are natural I implicitly believe to the whole people. One great blemish however is universal distrust. Yet the American citizen who was himself upon a spirit as an instance of the great sagacity and acuteness of the people and their superior shrewdness and independence. They bend our ear travelers to America. From the 1820s to the evil of the Civil War and Europeans came to America in a steady flow. They travel through the United States driven by an irresistible curiosity. Later many of them wrote books. About their travels to tell you about what they had seen in the
new world of Jacksonian democracy. Some were friendly. Some were highly critical. All were meticulous observers of detail. In they bend our ear written by Perry Miller professor of American literature and Harvard University. You will meet some of the travelers to America who will bend our ear with their criticism their advice. Their praise or their philosophy. You already know others are new acquaintances at all times. The travellers speak in their own words quoted directly from their writing. They vent how air is produced and recorded by the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council under a grant from the educational television and radio center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's encounter is with Charles Dickens who had a few things to say about the United States after his first visit here in 1840 to Professor Perry
Miller as your host and now a writer. On the afternoon of Saturday January 22nd 1840 Charles Dickens stood on deck in the clear dry frosty air as the British Steam Packet Britannia out of Liverpool entered Boston Harbor. His amazement began at once with a dozen men who came leaping on board at the peril of their lives with great bundles of newspapers under that says I. This is like our London Bridge. But even Of course that these visits is when he was boys. But what do you think of their being edited and what do you think about tearing violently up to me and beginning to shake hands like madmen. If you could have seen how I wrung their wrists and you would have hated one man in a very
dirty gait ism with protruding deep who said to all comers off at him. So you've been introduced. Dickens I have as well is so different so clearly I think a party of welcoming dignitaries conveyed him by carriage to Tremont Rollo in the Tremont House already bounded into the lobby shouting hello. Not since the stately American Progress of Lafayette in 1824 had any visitor to these shores received so tumultuous a welcome as this Boz was Nicholas Nickleby it was at that very moment the drama dies the Drama Theatre. Dickens was snowed under by invitations Mayor Jonathan Chapman saw his company Mr. Dickens Will you dine with me. I'm sorry I mean gauge when you're sup with me but I mean gauged. Will you have breakfast with me then. I'm engaged. Well will you sleep with me. Thank you with the greatest pleasure. Nothing could gratify me more than to accept an invitation to sleep thus
exhaustingly began Charles Dickens first visit to America. His journey was to take him as far west as St. Louis and was to furnish the stuff not only for countless letters to friends at home but for the American note published in 1842 for an extended sanction of Martin Chuzzlewit published in 1843. His American host everywhere greeted him with rapture as a result of the more outrage when the publication of these volumes disclosed that vase had not found them universally admirable. At the outset however and in Boston I believe you found almost every prospect pleasing you not Mr. Bacon. Well indeed. This is a beautiful one. On the morning after our arrival which was Sunday and not being able in the absence of any change of clothes to go to church I went out into the streets. The air was so clear. The houses were so bright and gay the sign boards were
painted in such gaudy colors. The gilded letters were so very golden bricks were so very red the stones were so very white that the blinds and aerial railings were so very green. The knobs and plates upon the street doors so marvelously bright and twinkling and all souce slight and unsubstantial in appearance that every thought affair in the city looked exactly like a sea in a pantomime. I never turned a corner suddenly without looking out for the clown and Pantaloon as to Harlequin and Columbine. I discovered them immediately they had lodged at a very small clockmakers one story high near the hotel so we can see the beginnings of Charles Dickens American tour were indeed all specious and agreeable to both guests and hosts. To be sure there were slight comfort long at a dinner given him by Governor Davis on his last night in Massachusetts. Dickens noted that he had found Boston
pronunciations sometimes odd. Did they see the hashish. I beg your pardon what did you say. Did the Boston pronunciation sound hash to you. Excuse me but I do not understand your excellences question I asked if those peculiarities sounded hashish to your ear. He means to ask if they greet you don't you worry as if they were disagreeable to you. I'm here from Boston to New York was more than a passage down the Connecticut Valley and across Long Island Sound. It was a translation to a different world. They had they stretched out before us confused heaps of buildings a forest of massed ships steam ferry boats laden with people coaches horses wagons baskets boxes the clinking of capstans the ringing of bells the barking of dogs the clattering of wheedles Wall Street the stock exchange and Lombard street of New York. By the waterside with the bow spits of ships
stretch across the footway and almost thrust themselves into the windows lightened the noble American vessels which have made their packet service the finest in the world. The beautiful metropolis of America but by no means so clean a city as Boston. I have been told it was the dickens that you were astounded by the press of people in the street. Heaven save elate is how they dress and the man the young gentleman are fond of turning down their shirt collars and cultivating their whiskers Byron's of the desk and coming to have you remained long enough in New York sir to determine what are the amusements of all this humanity. Yes that is a lecture room across the way from the hotel. Ladies who have a passion for attending lectures are to be found or among all classes and all conditions. The lecture has at least the merits of always being new. One doctor treads so quickly on the heels of another that none are remembered in the course of this month may be safely repeated next to the charm of novelty unbroken. Indeed my young friend Martin Chuzzlewit almost at once upon his arrival in New York encountered one of these
blue ladies over the teacups set in Mrs. Jefferson Brick who was clearly devoted to the more exalted philosophers. What course of lectures are you attending now and the philosophy of the so on going on Mondays or the philosophy of crying on Fridays. The philosophy of victimhood. You know you've forgotten Thursdays the philosophy of government my dear. That's. So it is the philosophy of matter on Thursdays of course obviously that ladies are fully employed. But what of the gentleman. Well the young gentleman there is the counting house the store in the bar room the latter pretty for amusements. What do these suckers of cigars and swallowers of strong drinks whose hats and legs we see in every possible arising of twists doing but me was ing themselves was one of the fifty newspapers which those precious urchins are bawling down the streets
not amusements not that good water issue amusements but good strong stuff dealing in round and laggard names pulling off the roofs of houses private houses pimping and pandering for all degrees of vicious taste imputing to every man in public life costliest and violence motives only attend to this gentleman Colonel dive editor of The New York Journal an acquaintance of young total wits. It is in such an unlikely means that the bubbling passions of my country find a vent. How do you really like our country. I'm hardly prepared to answer that question hands where I should expect you were not prepared to be hoed such signs of national prosperity. Lou York wrote the journal is as I expect you know you're all going to vote out a stock recy in this city there is an aristocracy here. Then what is it can both be
TV's of intelligence and that you know the necessary consequence in this republic. Douglas I give you the rowdy Journal the wit of truth who was a black from being composed of printer's ink like quite clear enough for my country to behold the shadow of her destiny and if it did and what Mr. Dickens is your impression of that destiny I feared it is not everywhere to appear glorious in this city. There are many by streets almost as positive in dirty colors as by streets in London and it is one quarter commonly called the Five Points which in respect of filth and wretchedness may be safely backed against Seven Dials or any other part of Fame's and dials. But come with me the five points. They lie I believe on the east side a few blocks up Chatham street from the city hall. If one would go there it is needful first to take an escort of two heads of the
police. These narrow way uses diverging to the right and left wreak everywhere with dirt and filth costs and bloated faces at the Dawes debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. This squalid street conducts us to a kind of square out of leprous hoses as in these pitch dark stairs heedful of a false footing on the trembling boards and grope your way into this warm fish den where neither a ray of light nor breath of air appears to come. A negro lad startled from his sleep bestows himself to light a candle. The match flickers for a moment and shows great mountains of dusty rags upon the floor. The mounds of rags seem to be a source and rise slowly up from every corner something crawls half awakened as if the
judgment hour near at hand and every obscene grave giving up its dead. But dogs would home to lie women and men and boys slink off to sleep forcing the dislodge rats to move away in quest of better lodging and soul should we move away from this place of vice neglect and deviltry. I trust your impressions of New York of not all been black. There are in New York excellent hospitals and schools literary institutions and libraries. The Park and bowery theaters are large elegant in Henson buildings the country around New York is a passingly exquisite and picturesque. The tone of the best society in the city is like that of Boston here and there it may be with a greater infusion of the mercantile spirit but generally polished and refined and always most hospitable. The houses and tables are elegant and was later than moderate Guiche
and there is perhaps a greater spirit of contention in reference to appearances and the display of wealth and costly living. The ladies are singularly beautiful. Wherever his travels took him Mr. Dickens continued his visits to public establishments to prison hospitals schools work houses. His observation of that chiefest of American institutions the federal government brought him to Washington in the middle of March. He was not impressed by the city's aspect when he was shown about by an acquaintance from New England. It is sometimes called the City of magnificent distances marred with great propriety be termed the city of magnificent intentions spacious avenues that begin in nothing and leave no streets along it only want houses roads and inhabitants. Hell of course it's going to be much larger. So I'm told of almost every town and village I've hospital. It was recently chosen for the seat of
government as a means of averting the conflicting jealousies and interests of the different states and very probably towards being remote from mobs a consideration I believe not to be slighted even in America. Truly I think it probable that such as it is and it is likely to remain. It has no trade or commerce of its own and it is very unhealthy. The tides of emigration and speculation likely to flow at any time toward such dull and sluggish waters. But the principal features of the capital are of course the two houses of assembly. I have visited both houses nearly every day during my stay in Washington. Did I recognize in this assembly a body of men who applying themselves in a new word to correct some of the falsehoods and vices of the old purified the avenues to public life debated and made laws for the common good and had no party but their country. I saw in them the wheels that move the
meanest perversion of virtuous political machinery. Despicable treachery at elections underhanded tampering with public offices. Currently attacks upon opponents with scurrilous newspapers for shields and hired pens for daggers. Shameful truck clings to Mystery naves aiding and abetting of every bad intonation in the popular mind. In a word dishonest faction in its most deprived the most unblushing forms tear out from every corner of the crowded horse it is not the republic I came to see. This is not the republic of my imagination. But the most part it is the game of these men and of their profit organs to make the strife of politics so fierce and brutal and so destructive of all so for suspect in would be a man that sensitive and delicate minded person should be kept aloof. And they and such as they be left to battle out their selfish views unchecked.
But I must insist that there are among the representatives of people in both houses. Some men of high character and great abilities. The gentleman whom I presented to you as we left your quarters at Willets hotel. That is one of the most remarkable men in our country. They are also I have scarcely met a man since my arrival who wasn't one of the most remarkable men in the country. I may be pardoned I hope if such a theme as the general character of the American people in the general character of their social system as presented to a stranger's eyes I express my own opinions. The Americans are by nature Frank brave cordial hospitable and affectionate. These qualities are natural I implicitly believe to the whole people that they are however sadly Sept. and blighted in their growth among the mass is a truth that ought to be told. Pray give me particular one great blemish and the prolific parent of an innumerable brood of
evils. It is universal distrust. Yet the American citizen plumes himself upon the spirit. That's freedom of opinion here. You know every man thinks for himself. We are not easily to be overreached. That's our BE book aim to be suspicious. But are you not often overreached because of your love of smarts which kills over many a swindle on both occasions. You know by passing that ill fated to Cairo on the Mississippi. I recall remarking on the bad effects such gross deceits must have had when they exploded in generating a want of confidence. But I was given to understand that this was a very smart scheme by which so-and-so had made a deal of money. Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such an enjoyed be tolerated and abetted by all citizens here. Public nuisance is you not. Yes sir you're a convicted liar yes sir and he is
utterly dishonorable debased and profit. Yes sir in the name of wonder then what is his merit. Well also he's a smart man. There is a further evil work by such dishonest usages. The pitiful betrayal of the hopes of many wretched emigrants in Ohio we encountered a solitary broken down wagon full of some new settlers goods. It was a pitiful sight to see this very vehicle deep in the mire. The axle tree broken the wheel lying idle by its side. The man gone miles away to look for assistance. The woman seated among their wandering household gods with a baby at her breast. A picture of four law and ject in patience. The team of oxen crouching down mournfully in the mud and breathing for such clouds of vapor from their mouths and nostrils that all the dead mist and fog around seemed to have come direct from them.
Yes but still Mr. Dickens not all the hardships of the Pioneer are caused by the land agents. These are inescapable accompaniments of opening a new territory. You have travelled through these rough distances and know the discomforts. Indeed coach travel in those parts is exceedingly painful. You also proceeded by canal and river about their native packets are unlike anything we are in the habit of seeing on water except that they are in the water and display a couple of paddle boxes that might be intended for anything that appears to the contrary to perform some unknown service high and dry upon a mountain top. Buzzing one of these boats at night and seen the great body of fire exposed to that rages and roars beneath the frail pile of painted wood. The machinery not warded off in any way but doing its work in the midst of the crowd of idlers and emigrants and children. One feels the wonder is not that there should be so many
people accidents but that any journey should be made safely. What impression did you receive of your fellow travelers. The people are all alike. There is no diversity of character. They travel about on the same Adams say and do the same things in exactly the same manner and follow in the same cheerless round a dinner that has no conversation no laughter no cheerfulness no sociality. But no man sits down until the ladies are seated. Nor did I even once on any occasion anywhere see a woman exposed to the slightest act of rudeness. What do you attribute the defects in our national manners to the prevailing seriousness and melancholy air of business. It would be well. There can be no doubt what the American people as a whole. If they loved the real Les and the ideal somewhat more
and received greater encouragement to likeness of heart and gayety there is one other head on which I wish to offer to remark at yet another the one great blemish to the stranger's eyes and that from which most of the others take their fall growth is as I have remarked in the past a licentious press among the herd of journals which are published in the states that are some of character and credit but the name of these is a few. And of the others Legion while that press has its evil eye in every house and its black hand in every appointment in the state from a president to a postman. Why with Ribble slander for its only stock in trade. It is the standard literature out of an enormous class who must find their reading in a newspaper or they will not read it all so long must its odium be upon the country's head. And so long must the evil it works be plainly visible in the Republic.
Mr. Dickens embark for home on the sailing vessel GEORGE WASHINGTON June 7. The New York Press noted only that he had sailed VOZ left quietly and quietness was soon jotter when a lady in 1842 advance sheets of the American Notes reached this country denunciations from his erstwhile host for immediate car a ship's Captain Marriott and Mrs. trollop praised the book. It was 24 years later here in 1868 the dickens returned to America as you know 1840 to where he was tendered many elegant dinners. The most elegant the most distinguished of which was given on April 18th at Delmonico's in New York by the American press. But this was not the licentious press he had excoriated. This was Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune whom
William Curtis of Harper's monthly George H broker of Philadelphia author of fun just going to Rimini violent resentment of the American notes had been assuaged but its strictures were not entirely forgotten. Mr. Curtis if in the pursuit of his calling he came to us who loved and all of him. He still faithfully and frankly reported his observations fidelity through his own observations is all we can ask of any reporter. Naturally we did not find every part of his report very entertaining but neither I suppose did Sir Leicester Dedlock find Bleak House very amusing. Mr. BOWKER it has been said by many of our critical writers that Mr. Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit in the American Notes was not altogether just to us but I can only say whenever he comes in however he comes we will welcome you here. Oh OK. Mr. Dickens. I have been astounded by the
amazing changes that I have seen around me on every side changes in the graces and amenities of life changes in the press. Without whose advancement no advancement can take place anywhere. Nor am I so arrogant as to suppose that in the five and twenty years that have been no changes in me and that I have nothing to learn and no extreme impressions to correct. When I was here first. What I have resolved upon is my return to England by the hoof of my countryman to bear such testimony to the gigantic changes in this country as I have hinted at tonight also. The code that I have been received with a man's possible politeness delicacy sweet tempered consideration. This testimony so long as I live
and so long as my descendants have any legal right in my books I shall cause to be republished as an appendix to every copy of those two books of mine in which I have referred to America and this I will cause to be dumb not in love and thankfulness but because I regard it as an act of plain justice and honor. Robert. Bravo indeed Mr. Dickens. But was anything further need for after all than Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley his farewell to America before I was called upon to paint the American a girl's hair should I do it painted just like any good records I suppose. No that wouldn't do for me. I should want to draw it like a bet but it shortsightedness like a bent him for it's braggin
like a magpie for it's only stay like a peacock for it's vanity like an ostrich putting its aid in the mud and thinking nobody sees it. And like the phoenix or its poet of springing from the ashes of its faults and vices and soaring up anew into the sky. Travelers to America they bend our ear. You have been listening to Charles Dickens impressions of this country as reported in his American notes. And Martin chose a wet. And adapted by Perry Miller the fastener of American literature or Harvard University. The cast included Thomas Ponce Edward Sam and Robert Evans the victor John Peters Edward Finnegan and Fred Warren. As Dickens Professor Mello was the narrator original theme music by Raymond Wilding.
Mike this has been the ninth broadcast and I bend our ear the stories told by the host of travel. To America during the period from the 1820s to 1850. And subsequent broadcasts you will meet more such travellers. At all times they speak in their own words quoted directly from their writing. Next week we meet a Scotsman who came to this country as correspondent for a London newspaper during the Mexican War. Alexander Mikhail. They bend our ear is produced and directed by Allison Ridley for the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council production supervisor Lawrence Prescott. This series has been recorded in the studios of station WGBH FM. And produced under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
They bent our ear
Charles Dickens
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-9g5gg327).
Episode Description
This program focuses on the writings of Charles Dickens and his experiences in the United States.
Other Description
Dramatic readings of 14 travelers who came to the United States in 1820-1850 and wrote of what they saw.
Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870--Travel--United States.
Media type
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Producer: Lowell Institute
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Writer: Miller, Perry, 1905-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 56-6-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:14
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “They bent our ear; Charles Dickens,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 29, 2022,
MLA: “They bent our ear; Charles Dickens.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 29, 2022. <>.
APA: They bent our ear; Charles Dickens. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from