Slidell and Mason; Trent Affair; Washington, D. C: Dark and Despairing Tone (Reasons for Depression); Congress; The Albert Bierstadt in Trollope; Niagara Falls; Bradbury's Trans-Atlantic Mythologies; Fanny Trollope Once Again

Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002
Subject: [Trollope-l] North America: Slidell and Mason

Dear all

Reading 'North America' Volume 2, Chapter 2, I found myself getting very confused by Trollope's discussion of the Slidell and Mason affair - I didn't know the facts of this episode and so couldn't follow his commentary properly. I found a useful short account at and thought I would pass it on in case anybody else shares my confusion:

Trent Affair

Incident in the diplomatic relations between the United States and Great Britain, which occurred during the American Civil War. On Nov. 8, 1861, the British mail packet Trent,carrying James M. Mason and John Slidell , Confederate commissioners to London and Paris respectively, was halted in the Bahama Channel by the U.S. warship San Jacinto,commanded by Capt. Charles Wilkes . The commissioners and their secretaries were forcibly removed from the Trent and taken to Boston, where they were interned in Fort Warren. This act was strictly opposed to the laws of the sea as they had been previously upheld by the United States, since Wilkes did not seize the vessel and bring it in for admiralty adjudication but merely exercised search and seizure of the men. Nevertheless, Wilkes's action was greeted with wild acclaim and he was thanked by the U.S. House of Representatives. In Great Britain the act aroused popular indignation. The British drafted a sharp note to the U.S. government, the terms of which were softened by Prince Albert; they demanded the release of the commissioners and an explanation. A seven-day limit was set for reply. It seemed for a time that Great Britain would not only recognize the Confederacy but declare war against the Union. However, Lord Lyons, the British minister to the United States, delayed presentation of the note for several days, meanwhile notifying Secretary of State William H. Seward of its contents. The note was presented Dec. 23, 1861. By that time popular feeling in the United States had died down, and the prospect of war with Britain was anything but welcome. A cabinet meeting on Dec. 26 led to a decision to send to Britain a note by Seward disavowing Wilkes's act and promising to release the prisoners. They were released in Jan., 1862, and probable war with Great Britain was averted.

Bye for now

Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 18:04:44 +0100 'North America' Vol. 2 Chapters 1 (Washington) and 2 (Congress)

Dear all

Turning from the Trollope novel I'm reading at the moment ('The Three Clerks') to this week's chapters of 'North America', I was struck by the difference between the two and the bleakness of Trollope's tone in this section of the travel book. Going from one to the other, you almost feel the same sort of contrast you do when you put the Dickens of 'Pickwick' against the darkness and despair of 'Hard Times'.

Trollope's account of Washington is shot through with depression, loneliness, homesickness - all this comes across in his descriptions of the mud everywhere, the starving cows lined up to be the soldiers' dinner, the unfinished streets which he can't help comparing to those of London. He believed at this point in his journey that Britain was within hours of entering the war on the Southern side over the Trent Affair, and this of course added to his concern.

Earlier we've seen him writing with an eye on both British and American readers. Here he is comparing everything with home and writing for British readers, measuring the houses and the public buildings against those in England and finding them wanting. Even when he does find something he admires, such as the front entrance to the Capitol, his thoughts are drawn to the mud and cramped streets at the back entrance.

Reading this section, I found myself thinking of the high-spirited announcement at the start of 'North America': "It has been the ambition of my literary life to write a book about the United States..." Trollope had dreamed of the visit for years before he got there, but at this point he must have felt as if the dream was turning sour indeed, with all the misery of the civil war around him. A disillusioned Dickens wrote: "This was not the republic of my imagination" - and I get the same sort of feeling from Trollope here. This was not the republic of his imagination, either.

Ellen has written about how Fanny keeps her personal problems (the marital troubles, shortage of money, family illnesses) out of 'Domestic Manners', but all these pressures still affected the tone of the book. I wondered if Anthony also had personal troubles which were depressing him at this point in his journey, and, looking at Victoria Glendinning and Michael Sadleir's biographies, that seems to be the case. He was in Washington at Christmas - but there is no mention of any festivities in his description, and, in the midst of war, people can't have felt much like celebrating. Rose had gone home at the end of November, as Trollope briefly mentions, but at the start of December he had also parted with Kate Field. Glendenning quotes his entry in his journal "oh that morning".

He was also ill in Washington - he suggests the climate is unhealthy in his book, and Sadleir gives a letter he wrote to Kate on December 17 - I'll quote part of it, which includes more about the Trent affair :

"I am in a lamentable position. I have an anthrax (Glendinning describes this as a boil) on my forehead and can not get out of the house. I have been to see no one since I came here and am all alone in my lodgings. A doctor has chopped it across twice, as you see in the following picture (he has drawn a cartoon of his forehead). The cross means the two chops. But the chops will keep healing and the thing which has collected itself inside will not come out. Tomorrow it is to be chopped again and the chops contused to prevent them healing. All this is unpleasant, especially as I am anxious to get out and see the people before war is declared. I wish you were here to condole with me and get yourself scolded.

There will be war if those two horrid men are not given up. I wish Wilkes and his whole cargo had gone to the bottom. I am no lawyer, but I felt from the first that England would not submit to have her ships stopped and her passengers hauled about and taken off. The common-sense of the thing is plain, let all the wigged fogies of the Admiralty courts say what they will. Because you quarrel with your wife nobody else is to be allowed to walk the streets quietly.

I expect we shall be in Boston before long, shaking hands with you and embracing and crying, as I get on board the Cunard boat with my head tied up in a huge linseed poultice - as it is now."

All this might be jokey, but it is clear he is unhappy and under strain. In the Autobiography he says that at one stage he thought he would have to leave Washington at an hour's notice if Britain did declare war on the United States.

Looking at the description of Washington, Trollope's criticism of the way the city has been pre-planned contrasts with the approving way he has written about some other American cities earlier. Here he thinks the streets will never be completed and the houses never filled. His comments on the post office are especially heartfelt - it offends him to see people having to queue at just one office for the letters, and finding it difficult to buy stamps, when, with all his professional expertise, he can see so clearly how things could be better managed.

He visits all the main sights, the White House, Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian Institution, but there is a sense of disappointment about the whole account - even where he praises, he isn't very enthusiastic. I was a bit surprised that he didn't manage to meet the President, which he says would have been difficult to arrange. Is this modesty on Trollope's part, not wanting to push himself forward? Perhaps, but it could also again be an effect of the war. At this sort of period, wining and dining a literary lion would not be a top priority.

One of the saddest passages so far in the book is his description of Alexandria, where he says more than half the male population was in the Southern army, but the town had been turned into a hospital for northern soldiers. His picture of this community shows the devastating effects of the war, as does the portrayal of the shivering soldiers on the streets of Washington in the following chapter.

Bye for now
Judy Geater

Date: Wed, 01 May 2002

For those who can, I do recommend the exhibition (The American Sublime) at Tate Britain in London. It's on til May 19th and is a wonderful collection of vast canvasses conveying the beauty of American landscape in the 19th century. It was the stunning paintings of Niagara Falls which made me think of recent readings on this list and that people might like to see it.

There is something about the exhibition at :

American Sublime

and you can see some of the Niagara pictures at:

Frederick Edwin Church Prints


Date: Wed, 1 May 2002

Dear all

Thanks to Angela for the information on the 'American Sublime' exhibition and links to the Tate website. It sounds wonderful and I hope I will be able to catch the exhibition before it ends.

Purely by chance, I was lucky enough to find a copy of Malcolm Bradbury's book 'Dangerous Pilgrimages: Trans-Atlantic Mythologies and the Novel' at a remaindered bookshop in the town. This is the fruit of a lifetime's work by Bradbury, published only a few years before his death, and I can't really do his argument justice here, but it is wonderfully detailed and looks at the mutual influence and crossover between American and European writers. He suggests that European travellers helped to cast America first as a mythical Utopia, then as the forward-driving New World, while American writers helped to create the image of Britain in particular as the mother country and old world, frozen in time. I was interested to see that he thinks Dickens was heavily influenced by Washington Irving, and drew on his Sketch-book in his early picaresque novels, with the Christmas scenes and other pictures of a traditional, old-fashioned Britain.

In the first chapter of his book, Bradbury explains how important Niagara Falls was to early European visitors to America, and how they repeatedly wrote about it in travel books and works of fiction. He says Cheataubriand gave Niagara an important role in his novel Atala, which was later adapted by Verdi in a romantic opera. Bradbury writes:

"Chateaubriand could see two old empires, one European and one Indian, sharing a common decline. Thus his Indians are not simply noble savages but European citizens of the world... and they together mourn their tragic demise beside that great cosmic flood, the Niagara falls." In a footnote, he adds: "For the powerful role of Niagara Falls in the iconography of America, see Elizabeth McKinsey, 'Niagara Falls: Icon of the American Sublime' (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1965)."

Talk of Niagara reminds me that I'm looking forward to our subgroup read of Howells's book 'A Hazard of New Fortunes' this summer. This is actually the third in a trilogy of books about the March family, although I gather they are quite loosely linked and it won't be a problem. Still, I thought it would be interesting to read the first two books in the series, 'Their Wedding Journey' and 'Their Silver Wedding Journey', so, as both of these are all but impossible to find in my part of Britain, I'm trying to read them online, slowly.

Fortunately there are good etexts, complete with illustrations, at the wonderful Howells website. I'm reading 'Their Wedding Journey' at this address:

Howell's Their Wedding Journey

I haven't quite reached the couple's visit to Niagara yet, but it is imminent. I'm five chapters in and so far very little has happened on the surface of the story, but I'm really enjoying Howells's style, which is somewhere between Trollope, Twain and Henry James! This is the first novel I've read by him but I'm looking forward to more - thanks to those who recommended his work.

Bye for now
Judy Geater

To Trollope-l

May 1, 2002

Re: North America: The Albert Bierstadt in Trollope

I finally managed to read this week's chapters (in the Knopf edition, Chapters 20 and 21, ""Washington & Congress"), and and have now read Judy's postings which I must say are superb. I had not thought to myself about the underlying causes of Trollope's perspective on Washington, how this fit into the perspective on the US in the book as a whole, his life at that moment (his wife had left, he had parted from Kate Fields after that; skin eruptions are today often thought to be psychsomatic, the result of intense stress) and his great hopes for his trip which felt all blasted by that time. Judy's close reading of these two chapters of North America in context is about the most perceptive thing about Trollope's text I've come across anywhere.

Since I'm reading the book not with The Three Clerks but after having listened to The Way We Live Now I was (naturally) not struck by his sadness or bleakness; on the two other lists I am active on I have been reading George Sand's positively scathing travel- memoir about Majorca and Richard Holmes's portrait of Samuel Johnson's sardonic life of the self-lacerating and appropriately named Richard Savage, so once again North America did not emerge as disillusioned, but I can see just what Judy means. If you go back to the earlier parts of the book (Niagara), and think about all that Trollope has to say about the US and its culture, you can see her assessment is right. Perhaps though, as George Sand says at the opening of her Winter in Majorca where she writes the sweetest, happiest journeys are those we make in our imagination by our own fireplace over, say, a book, these mental journeys are "equally pleasant and a thousand times more poetic" than Sand's "posting across seas and mountains, lakes and valleys." She asks why people travel - and since Trollope was a travelling man, this is relevant: they do so to escape, says she, "Which of us has not some sorrow to dull, or some yoke to cast off?" And Fanny Trollope certainly had this as her motive too. Ironically though, all the while we know and re-find out every time that we are chasing a dream that haunts us, and when we get there are made yet more disillusioned by reality. But "Nevertheless, divine Hope still pursues her way, assauging our tormented hearts" with a "constant whisper" that over the next hill the horizon we seek will be found at last.

I'll give a more prosaic sceptical response to these chapters as well as a personal one. I too was puzzled about Slidell and Mason: I am no Civil War historian and knew vaguely that it was about an American captain stopping a British ship and taking two Confederacy people prisoners and putting them in jail. Throughout this book Trollope is very exercised over the civil war -- in the next chapter he once again ruminates over its causes, settling for the truth that it was fought over slavery, but going on and on over other elements probably because the results of this war were going on around him all the time. In the case of Slidell and Mason he comes out for the necessity of political posturing. I have been reading Machiavelli's The Prince with two classes of students this week and I am reminded of how Machiavelli argues that since the average intelligence of the citizenry is pretty low and their aggression, meanness, selfishness, blindness and intensity of what we'd call imagined nationalisms (false stupid pride) so high, politicians are even when they know better forced into wreaking havoc on the very people who drive them to it. I could only wish that Trollope would present the case for posturing with a bit of irony instead of himself taking this posturing seriously -- especially as he sees what nonsence the game-playing really is.

The personal one comes from living in Alexandria for the last 22 years, 22 years in which I have had many occasions to go to Washington DC. I do my research in two of its great research libraries; I taught at The American University for about 6 years: it's in Northwestern Washington. My husband and I go out to the theatre, to movies, to eat, and sometimes to shop there. There are some good museums, one of which about three years ago had a wonderful show of some of the paintings Angela Richardson has recommended to us this morning: rooms and rooms of the National Gallery were filled top to toe with these exhilaratingly vast canvasses of Albert Bierstadt, heroic displays of vistas the viewer might want to to leap into except that they are so clearly unaccommodating to people. All the more are they alluring, for after all what George Sand and both Trollopes are complaining about in their trips are people and what people make of this earth. I bought a book of Bierstadt's pictures (one of these catalogues which accompany exhibitions nowadays).

Anyway Mr Trollope was wrong about Washington. It has filled out. The muddy streets he walked are now in the middle of the city which, like London or New York, has long since outgrown its original borders. The Washington Monument is finished: I'm not keen on such places, but it is complete and has been redone more than once and tourists (like sheep to an attraction I suppose) flock to it. He describes the grid very well. He was there when it was under siege and to go to Congress was to find oneself in a government house half of whose members had decamped. His description of Congress brings home to the reader how much the Civil War was also a power struggle between local people to maintain their control over their territories and their wealth. It's just not true that government agencies and social planning cannot develop cities, places, businesses, wealth, and a place where the people of a country can live comfortable fulfilling lives. Quite the contrary.

Naturally the few paragraphs directly on Alexandria attracted my attention. The results of Alexandria's peculiar position in the Civil War are still visible today: you can visit historic places, look at remnants of this or that happening, see statues; there are pictures of what Alexandria looked like during the Civil War in our local museum. Up the road from where I live is an expensive mansion in private hands which is called Shooter's Hill. I have been told it was the site of a major battle and later was used as a hospital; it may be the hospital Trollope describes (Knopf ed, "Washington", Ch 20, p. 322, paragraph beginning "We landed also on this occasion at Alexandria, and saw as melancholy and miserable a town as the mind of man can conceive"). Alexandria was a southern town; it was filled with people on the side of slavery who were secessionists; since it is right next to Washington, it was very important that the Northern Army take it and take Alexandria the Unionists did. The result were that trade died, and people who lived here were very angry.

Washington was probably a very melancholy place to be in at the time. I like that Trollope does not tell us how war brings out the best in people. His dislike of war is very strong, his attitude towards conscription and using men as fodder (even when they go ever so willingly -- violence is hard-wired in the human gene) is part of what makes his various discussions of the civil war humane.

His long description of Mount Vernon is good and as accurate (and unpestered by prophecies) as his account of the grid in the DC. Mount Vernon is about 20 minutes away from my house by car. I am sorry to say that a museum is being built on the property. Washington's house will remain as it has been (preserved quietly and not a circus like place at all); so too the slave cabins (important to see even in their prettied up state); it stands on a bluff whose landscape is attractive. But near it will be this museum which will probably alter the character of the place significantly because some of the things planned are circus like and theme-park manufactured objects and "experiences". From what he writes of Niagara Falls (and William Dean Howells too) it's clear to me Trollope would have agreed with me that the wise thing when you go to this place to do once the museum-themepark stuff is up is keep clear of it. Trollope dwelt among the waters in his time at Niagara. He would have loved the Albert Bierstadt paintings; indeed they come from the 1860s, just the same time as Trollope was travelling through the US. It was these dreams, the spirit inhabited by Bierstadt paintings that Trollope has perhaps sought in his mind and only occasionally found in an individual here and there, a moment in the city- and landscapes he took himself through.

Cheers to all,

May 2, 2002

Re: Trollope's North America and Trans-Atlantic Mythologies

Judy G's posting on Bradbury's book of real interest. Not only do we find the same attitudes of mind on the two sides of the Atlantic (the "mutual influence and cross-over between American and European writers she summarized) but she suggests that Bradbury also enables us to see the cross-over between kinds of art, so that paintings by Bierstadt can be seen as picturing the same point of view and inner life which drives all these visits to Niagara and deep into the American western countryside. The myth of the noble savage is even now not quite gone: we see it in the romanticization that lies behind multiculturalism when multiculturalism celebrates tribal and irrational values and the ways of constricted life and looking at the world which help keep these in place.


Date: Sun, 5 May 2002
Re: Fanny Trollope Once Again

I think what Fanny was most reacting to in her America book was the lack of a unifying culture yet, that this nation was a raw, unformed adolescent at 55 years of age. Even back only to 1817, Pres. Jackson threw a public reception at the White House for his inauguration, and the damage done by the hordes was second only to the British attack of 1812 (kind of like the orgies of eating and drinking in my town, now, at art galleries).

Also, her liberalism theortically vs. her actual behavior is not far from that of many humans of the liberal persuasion (or, any persuasion). People are loftier in their writing--it's a higher thinking process than that shown in daily living/ //Theo N.//

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