The Army of the North; Back to Boston; Cairo to Baltimore to Boston; Snow; Railways & NYC; External Conformity a Substitute for Class

Date: Sun, 19 May 2002

Dear all

We've just been reading about Trollope's visit to Cairo in 'North America'. Here's a link to the very interesting Historic Cairo, Illinois website, which includes a whole section about the Civil War:

It also has a short list of famous people who visited Cairo, but sadly neither Fanny nor Anthony Trollope gets a look-in!

Bye for now
Judy Geater

Date: Sun, 19 May 2002

Dear all

Here are a few thoughts on this week's chapters of 'North America', Volume 2 Chapter 7: The Army of the North and Chapter 8: Back to Boston.

In the last couple of chapters I felt that Trollope's narration had become more lively, especially when he told us of the physical hardships he underwent as a traveller. There are touches of the same kind of thing in Chapter 7, especially when he tells us how he stayed with the Northern army, sleeping in a tent, and couldn't cope with the frost:

"I slept in a tent, and managed to keep my body warm by an enormous overstructure of blankets and coats; but I could not keep my head warm. Throughout the night, I had to go down, like a fish beneath the water, for protection, and come up for air at intervals, half-smothered. I had a stove in my tent, but the heat of that when lighted was more terrible than the severity of the frost."

This humorous description brings home the physical difficulties of living at one of the army camps - especially when you think that many of the men may not have had that stove in their tent, or the mountain of blankets and coats.

Another point which struck Trollope was the plight of the horses, who were mostly left outside in the cold and wet with no shelter at all. In his novels he is always keen to see horses properly cared for, and he was clearly disturbed to see these in such a sorry condition. But it was probably hard enough to shelter the men.

I was interested to see that measles and smallpox were "very prevalent" in the army camps. This week, a number of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan have had to be flown home with a vomiting bug, some of them seriously ill - at first it was feared it might be chemical warfare but apparently it is just a normal stomach upset which has affected them badly. I think this suggests how illnesses can spread in military camps. I'm puzzled, though, by Trollope saying that the smallpox was "not of a virulent description". I thought smallpox was always virulent - does anybody know if there were different types? Or perhaps it wasn't virulent because the men had been vaccinated?

Once again, he comments on the soldiers being extremely well-fed - something he has also mentioned in earlier chapters. All I can say is that I bet you needed a good dinner to withstand the mud, frost and general hardship. There is also a striking description of the families caught in no-man's-land, living in a small strip of land between the enemy lines, and unable to travel more than a few miles in either direction. This somehow reminded me of Ambrose Bierce's Gothic stories set in the Civil War - his characters often seem to be caught between the lines.

However, to get back to Trollope, this chapter is not just a personal account of what he saw in the camps. Once again, there is also general discussion of the war and the conduct of the army, which can get repetitive and wordy. Trollope puts forward a convincing argument that the soldiers are not particularly well-paid and have certainly not joined up for mercenary motives - but Ihe labours the point rather, and goes into great detail about the exact wages paid to every rank of soldier. There is also a long section about corruption among politicians and quarter-masters who had clearly embezzled money supposed to be used to supply the army. Trollope writes with powerful indignation, but, although these descriptions would have shocked contemporary readers, they are quite hard to plough through now. I feel as though at this point he is really writing journalism meant to have an immediate impact, which has inevitably lost its force over the course of 140 years.

In Chapter 8 Trollope starts the return journey, which is recounted quickly. He makes some interesting comments about how central and important the railway was to the development of America, and how settlements tended to grow up immediately around the lines. There is a very mixed attitude towards the railway here, as he admires its power, but at the same time describes it as ugly and dangerous.

I've been trying to think if there are any of Trollope's novels which show railways being built - we're just reading 'Dombey and Son' on my Dickens list, where it's an important theme. I know there is the railway in 'The Way We Live Now', but there is no sign of that one actually being built. Can anybody think of any examples?

Anthony's return visit to Cincinnati once again recalls Fanny's account as he writes scathingly about the smell from the large numbers of pigs, something she also criticises in 'Domestic Manners'. It looks as if he had a row with his unnamed "friend", (anybody know who this was?) who took him for a walk through the countryside where they had to put up with the smell, and then fell ill with fever, which Trollope appears to think he brought on himself. "I did not tell him that his illness was deserved as well as natural, but that was my feeling on the matter."

He is more enthusiastic about Baltimore, saying that this city or Boston would be where he would live if he "were called upon to live in America." It's interesting that he liked Baltimore so much even though he met Southerners there and argued with them about politics. He says he found the manners there especially English, which again suggests a degree of homesickness.

The rest of the chapter is quite repetitive, when he returns to Washington and once again complains about the mud, before yet again going over the arguments on both the northern and southern sides. He then tells how he returned to a snow-bound Boston. This is really the end of his journey. The rest of the chapters look at general themes, from the US constitution to American literature.

Bye for now
Judy Geater

PS I've been interested to see how much snow and frost Trollope encountered on his winter journey through America. In Britain, we tend to assume that we get more snow than people do in the US - but we mostly get just a dusting. I have never seen snow a foot deep, as Trollope describes in Boston.

To Trollope-l

May 19, 2002

Re: North America: The Army of the North, Cairo to Baltimore to Boston; Snow

Judy and all,

In my experience it does snow a lot more in the US than in England -- well in the Northern US. I only lived in England for a couple of years but my husband says what I saw was typical: you rarely get snowstorms of 10 inches and 18 would count as highly atypical. While the 10 inch snowstorm is not an every day occurrence south of mid- New York State, it is not uncommon. Here in Virginia 8 inches stops traffic but we don't get excited. Everything shuts down for a day or so, and usually the sun comes out and melts it all; if not, we just live with piles of snow everywhere. I remember numbers of snowstorms in NYC where it snowed for 2 and 1/2 days (what it takes to get to 18 inches). In England 3 inches seemed to be a big deal; this is not to say there is not the rare 4 to 6 incher (my husband remembers these, but he says it's rare). Now once you go to north of mid-New York State you find a couple of feet of snow dumped on the ground regularly. I have never been on a big sleigh though. A key scene in Howells's A Modern Instance occurs between the hero and heroine while they are out together in a big sleigh. Here is a place young people could be alone. Trollope has a short story where he takes a young lady out for a sleigh ride. "Miss Ophelia Gledd" is a transparent retelling of an incident that occurred between him and Kate Field. We read and comment on this on Trollope-l some four years ago now.

Trollope is also right on about the mud. Virginia is very muddy. In summer it's hot swamp. The death toll of Bull Run makes the mud problem seem trivial, but it was probably not so to those who fought and died there.

I thank Judy for telling us about the Cairo site: this shows that Trollope's choice of Cairo was partly dictated by his desire to investigate the war, to be where the war was, to experience it. His incessant discussion of it comes from his sense it is an important event which tells a good deal about US culture. This sense is right. I can add to Judy's remarks about his time with the army that I much admired his distaste for war, his refusal to talk of glory and honor, his sense of the use of the men as fodder, his dislike of conscription:

These pomps and circumstances are not glorious in my eyes. They affect me with a melancholy which I cannot avoid ... When I have seen a thousand men together, moving their feet hiether at one sound and thither at another, throwing their muskets about awkwardly, prodding at the air with their bayonets, trotting twenty paces here and backing ten paces there, wheeling round in uneven lines, and looking as they did so, miserably conscious of the absurdity of their own performances, I have always been inclined to think how little theworld can have advanced in civilization, while grown-up men are still forced to spend their days in such grotesque performances (Knopf North America, Ch 26, p. 425)

I thought he brought up the horses for the same reason they were used in an older anti-war film The Americanization of Emily (this starred Julie Andrews and James Gardner). To picture the miseries and deaths of horses is to show up how much smarter and saner are animals than man. They are being killed for something they have nothing to do with, which they wouldn't have started. Many of Trollope's commments in this and other chapters testify consciously to his sense that these men want to go to war to go to war: they like the excitement; they like the group identity. Trollope's admittedly over-detailed exposure of the chicanery and corruption of the war suppliers, of people high in government growing rich on the misery of these men clinches his argument against war. I was reminded of his Palliser and other political stories: he finds in the US an unscrupulous patronage system which leaks through the British system in his novels. He says he is writing to make this story public (yes he is being a journalist here) though since he is not an American, his motives may be impugned. The indignation is the same feeling that lies behind his story of Melmotte:

the names of those should be execrated who have robbed their country when pretending to serve it; who have taken its wages in the days of its great struggle, and at the same time filched from its coffers (Ch 27, p 456).

His comment that he felt more at home in Baltimore and Boston because these places looked more like the England he came from reminded me of why my husband chose to live near Old Town Alexandria. The central part of the city resembles an older English town -- rows of attached older houses, many dating from the 18th and 19th century cover many areas of the city proper. The following is such a Trollopian comment: "Trifles do bear upon our happiness in a manner that we do not ourselves understand, and of which we are unconscious" (Ch 27, p 452). He knows this outward resemblance is not a trifle.

I thought his comments perceptive that since railways came to England after a road and town system had been built up, they seemed external, a nuisance, something which intruded; while since in the US it was around railway junctions that towns formed, a far more comfortable and positive set of associations attach themselves to railways for US people:

[Railways are] the backbone of existence from whence spring, and by which are protected all the vital organs and functions of the community (Ch 27, p 448).

Before the automobile, people in the US who lived beyond the railway lived a very isolated life; if you were close to a railway, you could always reach neighbors and help. Trollope points out how stranded are communities away from the railway. Myself I love a bridge, the bigger the better (there's are Hart Crane poems on bridges) and find trains and great large train stations appealing too.

I am impressed by how well known Trollope is. Mullen mentions the names of the people who introduced him to people and the name of a man who could have gotten him into the Confederacy and with whom he spent time in Baltimore. But neither he, nor N. John Hall nor the editors of the Knopf edition of NA name the man he travelled with -- at least I cannot find such a name. Maybe no one knows. If so, that's interesting. But maybe I just am too tired tonight to spot the name.


Re: Trollope's North America: Railways & NYC

In response to Rory,

Nowadays on the East Coast of the US, when it comes to small towns or smallish cities, the railway lines run through the industrial or much poorer residential areas of town. They take the visitor by the edge of town and out again. In big or bigger and older cities the railway will run into the center -- rather like it does in London -- but then line then goes underground and comes out around the edge of the city. Railways are noisy, and not "pretty" in the natural sense so they are not desirable in neighborhoods. Trollope is accurate for the 19th century, though, and his analysis seeks to tell us something about the attitudes Americans have towards large scale hardware and modern communications.

I was struck by Trollope's comment that New York City is the most American of cities. He says that while he's there too. It is a place where money counts, and counts big; it's fast-moving, life on the street is impersonal to abrasive; until recently there was little attempt to preserve anything old; it's an immigrant city.


Date: Mon, 20 May 2002

At 05:20 20/05/02, Ellen Moody wrote:

I thought his comments perceptive that since railways came to England after a road and town system had been built up, they seemed external, a nuisance, something which intruded; while since in the US it was around railway junctions that towns formed, a far more comfortable and positive set of associations attach themselves to railways for US people:

[Railways are] the backbone of existence from whence spring, and by which are protected all the vital organs and functions of the community

Some years ago, travelling in UK, a thought struck me about their, and by extension perhaps also European railways. It was this:

Roads lead from the main centre to the main centres of civilization, passing the faces of such society. In the UK the railway has a "ceremonial" entrance - a major architectural feature, perhaps in classical mode, at each end. Then it runs along the back side of civilization, looking into the backs of houses, running through industrial areas, until the passengers emerge at their journey end through the ceremonial exit. It is as if one is not supposed to advert to the intermediate stages of the journey. Something I read recently on developments in Victorian life attributed the rise in reading of novels and of magazines in part to the need for rail passengers not to look out the windows at this "underbelly" of society.

Date: Tue, 21 May 2002

I'm puzzled, though, by Trollope saying that the smallpox was "not of a virulent description". I thought smallpox was always virulent - does anybody know if there were different types? Or perhaps it wasn't virulent because the men had been vaccinated?

I wondered if this wasn't really smallpox, but cowpox. This illness used to be used in inocculations because it gave immunity to smallpox without the scarring that so often came with inocculations with live virus. Problem is, that the immunity incurred is not invariably reliable.

PS I've been interested to see how much snow and frost Trollope encountered on his winter journey through America. In Britain, we tend to assume that we get more snow than people do in the US - but we mostly get just a dusting. I have never seen snow a foot deep, as Trollope describes in Boston.

As Ellen said, the amount of snow depends largely on where you live. Communities within an hour or so south of the Great Lakes tend to have a "snow belt" effect, with much more snow than communities only a few miles to their south. I saw huge amounts of snow when I lived in Michigan; storms with four feet of snow were not unusual. Once when I was working during a blizzard (I worked nights as a nurse) I looked out the window during a lull and saw an immensely pregnant woman coming up Michigan Avenue on a snowmobile; it was the only way she could get to the hospital in those pre-SUV days. I now have a friend who lives in upstate New York, where the usual snowfalls seem to resemble those I found in Michigan.

OTOH, the winters do seem to be milder than they were during the nineteenth century. I have seen photographs of Niagara Falls where the falls actually froze over, and people could be seen picnicing on the ice at the base of the falls. Lake Erie used to routinely freeze over, and there was a lot of driving of horse-drawn sleighs across the lake to Canada.

--Jill Spriggs

Mike Powe wrote in response to another posting by Jill Spriggs's about Niagara Falls in the snow. He wrote of how tourist spots are exploited and how a false sense of security and pleasure (complacency) is offered through these theme parks. He connected this to our supposed lack of a class system. I've lost his posting (as I have a number of postings from this read). I do have my reply to Mike where I repeated his points.

To Trollope-l

Re: Trollope's North America: External Conformity a Substitute for Class

Like Mike, I see Americans seeking isolation as a false way of getting privacy and securing safety. He cites the dramatic increase in surveillance activity by the people who run governmental agencies in the US and UK as a reality which shows how useless are the gates that surround these rich enclaves of "jumbo-houses" (the term is of course derogatory). He cites the availability of whatever is put on the Net to the British government; her in the US we could cite various changes in what the Justice Department is now allowed to do to individual citizens under the leadership of Bush/Ashcroft.

There is another way of looking at this picture, one which has reference to the perspective we are familiar with in Trollope's novels: rather than global/political, it's social and concerned with status. One reason TWWLN and other of Trollope's novels are still respected, read, can be the material for a great deal of money to be spent in producing dramatized films is they speak to us today with relevant commentary on us. Two days in a row this week I read about suicides of people high in corporations which like Enron and its accounting accomplices; these people had been running scams in California which through manipulation of private property managed to shut down the electricity of thousands of Californians by running up the price of electricity enormously through causing false shortages; they had run other scams in Texas. Over the past couple of decades de-regulation and other pro-capitalist conservative measures have weakened laws to the point that the kind of games Melmotte played can be played today -- and when the house of cards collapses individuals caught in the spotlight do commit suicide. It's interesting that it is precisely this kind of suicide Trollope is most interested in depicting. Melmotte, Harcourt in The Bertrams, Lopez in The Prime Minister, Dobbs-Broughton in The Last Chronicle of Barset -- are all rich men whose ego was to them to be identified with the respect and power they gained from everyone around them because they are thought to be superrich. When it's found out that in fact they have been fleecing all the gulls around them, they can't face the ignominy nor hatred. People hate particularly strongly those who show them they are cheated gulls.

The question that hovers over North America is, Is it relevant? Do the values that Trollope discerns as central to the American psyche and culture at the time describe realities? De Toqueville's book on the US is still read because it's felt that what he saw in Americans, in their culture, the fabric of their government describes, and even much importantly -- can explain and predicts what we see today. Some of Trollope's insights are right on in this way. He names three countries he is visiting, not one; but today this country is built up far more extensively than the land mass and societies he visited and we can discern nine. He talks of individualism which is understood to be destructive of the culture of deference to which Trollope belongs and for education for all ("equal opportunity" is the way it's put in the US today), entrepreneurship, the centrality of money. He sees the intense racism which the abolition of slavery will leave behind. He sees that women have a much stronger position implicitly can this can be used to move into jobs and places of power. First Wave feminism (as it's now called) was making its way through the US culture at the time of his visit.

But there is something he does leave out: the lack of a secure class system. In a country dependent on money to give status and all that money brings that becomes the substitute for what in England and other European countries born rank, connections you are born to, manners instilled by your biological family and by those they hire to habituate you to their rituals, customs, ways of behaving can do to secure a permanent place in society. People are such intensely hierarchical beings; in their imagination they are endlessly placing themselves. James Baldwin did write about this brilliantly: he called it the paranoiac results of fluidity. The demand for external conformity in neighborhoods is couched in terms of "property values." It's a good term because it's just not money that is at stake, or, to put it another way, the money that people pay to move into the neighborhood with its immense green lawns is money paid down to move up in rank. Again and again in local neighborhoods in my area local people try to put in ordinances to stop people having things like basketball courts in their driveways. This may seem comic but what is happening is a demand for dignified behavior outside the house. It was comic to me to read the stories about the paved-over lawns for there was a lot of talk about what is outside the house not being an individual matter but affecting us all. These jumbo-houses with their gates and walls have very intense kinds of local rules which insist on conformity. In daily life among Americans you will find variants of this for clothing, for appearances of hygiene.

Probably the reason Trollope misses this is he only gets close to really upper class and powerful people who when they are with him would not manifest these insecurities. He also spends time with the intellectuals of the day; they too would not be bothered with such nonsense -- or would see it for what it is.


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