Dickens on U.S. 'meritocracy'

Carl Remick carlremick at hotmail.com
Fri Aug 11 09:12:34 PDT 2000

>Dickens hated US culture because they did not pay royalties on his books.
>Michael Perelman

That was certainly a key reason but far from the only one. Dickens was horrified by slavery, dismayed by Americans' self-satisfaction and lack of curiosity about the rest of the world, and disgusted by Americans' slobbish behavior.

Here's some of what he had to say about slavery:

(21 March 1842)

At Washington again, Monday, March the twenty-first.

We had intended to go to Baltimore from Richmond, by a place called Norfolk: but one of the boats being under repair, I found we should probably be detained at this Norfolk two days. Therefore we came back here yesterday, by the road we had travelled before; lay here last night; and go on to Baltimore this afternoon, at four o'clock. It is a journey of only two hours and a half. Richmond is a prettily situated town; but, like other towns in slave districts (as the planters themselves admit), has an aspect of decay and gloom which to an unaccustomed eye is most distressing. In the black car (for they don't let them sit with the whites), on the railroad as we went there, were a mother and family, whom the [ ?owner] was conveying away, to sell; retaining the man (the husband and father I mean) on his plantation. The children cried the whole way. Yesterday, on board the boat, a slave owner and two constables were our fellow-passengers. They were coming here in search of two negroes who had run away on the previous day. On the bridge at Richmond there is a notice against fast driving over it, as it is rotten and crazy: penalty--for whites, five dollars; for slaves, fifteen stripes. My heart is lightened as if a great load had been taken from it, when I think that we are turning our backs on this accursed and detested system. I really don't think I could have borne it any longer. It is all very well to say "be silent on the subiect." They won't let you be silent. They will ask you what you think of it; and will expatiate on slavery as if it were one of the greatest blessings of mankind. "It's not," said a hard, bad-looking fellow to me the other day, "it's not the interest of a man to use his slaves ill. It's damned nonsense that you hear in England."---I told him quietly that it was not a man's interest to get drunk, or to steal, or to game, or to indulge in any other vice, but he did indulge in it for all that. That cruelty, and the abuse of irresponsible power, were two of the bad passions of human nature, with the gratification of which, considerations of interest or of ruin had nothing whatever to do; and that, while every candid man must admit that even a slave might be happy enough with a good master, all human beings knew that bad masters, cruel masters, and masters who disgraced the form they bore, were matters of experience and history, whose existence was as undisputed as that of slaves themselves. He was a little taken aback by this, and asked me if I believed in the bible. Yes, I said, but if any man could prove to me that it sanctioned slavery, I would place no further credence in it. "Well then," he said, "by God, sir, the n-words must be kept down, and the whites have put down the coloured people wherever they have found them." "That's the whole question" said I. "Yes, and by God," says he, "the British had better not stand out on that point when Lord Ashburton comes over, for I never felt so warlike as I do now,--and that's a fact."


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