Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Ramble of Six Thousand Miles through the United States of America - by S. A. (Simon Ansley) Ferrall

A Ramble of Six Thousand Miles through the United States of America by S. A. (Simon Ansley) Ferrall published in 1832 (US Edition) (UK Edition)

You know I love travel books.  This gentleman sent a series of entertaining letters from America to his friends in England.  They became the basis for this book.

In Europe, the name of America is so associated with the idea of emigration, that to announce an intention of crossing the Atlantic, rouses the interfering propensity of friends and acquaintances, and produces such a torrent of queries and remonstrances, as will require a considerable share of moral courage to listen to and resist.

That is a promising start.  He goes on to say.

“All are on the tiptoe of expectation, to hear what the inducements can possibly be for travelling in America. America!! every one exclaims--what can you possibly see there? A country like America--little better than a mere forest--the inhabitants notoriously far behind Europeans in refinement--filled with wild Indians, rattle-snakes, bears, and backwoodsmen; ferocious hogs and ugly negros; and every other species of noxious and terrific animal!”

We would all be laughing here, but for the ugly language.  Racism is a hazard of these early books, as is a sort of racism by omission.  We are usually reading about Caucasians.  I am not going to say not to read classic books, but I do think it is right to be fortified against what you will read.  Some of his descriptions are very offensive.

He is informative:

“The inhabitants of that part of New York nearest the shipping, are extremely sallow and unhealthy looking, and many have a most cadaverous aspect. Malaria certainly exists here in some degree. A man will tell you that the city is perfectly healthy, whilst his own appearance most unquestionably indicates disease.”

The author is hard on New York:

“The police regulations appear not to be so severe as they ought to be, for droves of hogs are permitted to roam about the streets, to the terror of fine ladies, and the great annoyance of all pedestrians.”

Going through Indiana:

The gloom and pitchy darkness of an American forest at night, cannot be conceived by the inhabitants of an open country, and the traversing a narrow path interspersed with stumps and logs is both fatiguing and dangerous. Our horse seemed so well aware of this danger, that whenever the night set in, he could not be induced to move, unless one of us walked a little in advance before him, when he would rest his nose on our arm and then proceed.

He is a home boy at heart:

A great many respectable English yeomen have at different periods settled in Illinois, which has contributed not a little to improve the state of society; for the inhabitants of these prairies, generally speaking, are much more agreeable than those of most other parts of the western country.

When we read these books and read the above, which is funny, or read the racism – which is over the top – we just need to remind ourselves that the 1830’s were far different from today, but they could be back again tomorrow if we are not vigilant.

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