The Utopian community went bust. Instead Mrs. Trollope traveled throughout the U.S. with her youngest children, starting small businesses, closing them down, and being received everywhere as a genteel visitor from England. Basically, she was in the 1827 version of the rubber-chicken circuit.
She repaid this hospitality by returning to England and describing us exactly as we appeared to her, in that particularly decided tone of writing that the English do so well. The only American of record who thought she was right was Mark Twain: in his opinion, she captured us dead on. I also have a high opinion of her; she seems to have made her way on two continents, starting businesses, making some money, failing and trying again. She is also very interesting to read on the American diet of the time, and the manners--such as the extreme segregation of the sexes--which she thought not conducive to good behavior or good conversation.
"I observed every where throughout the slave states that all articles which can be taken and consumed are constantly locked up, and in large families where the extent of the establishment multiplies the number of keys, these are deposited in a basket, and consigned to the care of a little negress, who is constantly seen following her mistress's steps with this basket on her arm . . . not only that the keys be on hand, but . . . should they be out of sight for one moment, that moment would infallibly be employed for purposes of plunder. It seemed to me . . . that the close personal attendance of these sable shadows, must be very annoying; but whenever I mentioned it, I was assured that no such feeling existed, and that use rendered them almost unconscious of their presence.
"I had, indeed, frequent opportunities of observing their habitual indifference to the presence of their slaves. They talk of them, of their condition, of their faculties, of their conduct, exactly as if they were incapable of hearing. I once saw a young lady, who, when seated at table between a male and a female, was induced by her modesty to intrude on the chair of her female neighbour to avoid the indelicacy of touching the elbow of a man. I once saw this very young lady lacing her stays with the most perfect composure before a negro footman. A Virginian gentleman told me that ever since he had married, he had been accustomed to have a negro girl sleep in the same chamber with himself and his wife. I asked for what purpose this nocturanl attendance was necessary? "Good heaven!" was the reply, "if I wanted a glass of water during the night, what would become of me?"I know, it almost sounds like the man was pulling her leg. I think it more likely the nocturnal attendant was there to get rid of the chamber pot. It would also be an interesting question of household security . . . to go to the kitchen for a glass of water . . . and so forth.
This book is one of the reasons that England believed the genteel South to be full of un-admirable people. Another such author who influenced England's stance in the Civil War was Fanny Kemble . . . stay tuned.
Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, Penguin Books. Available.
Photo: Cincinnnati Library