The excessive use of tobacco ~ American food and their manner of eating
The speech of the Americans ~ The observance of holidays

Tobacco chewing was easily the Europeans' number one hated habit of the Americans. None of the journalists fail to mention how it disgusted and sickened them. The Americans spit tobacco juice on floors, rugs, out windows, and into the streets with little care for who was in the line of fire. The habit was a national pastime, but was even more popular in the southern states. The practice of chewing and spitting tobacco did much to further the European notion that the United States was a rough country with rough manners.

"The spitting is really more abominable than I can find words to express. Some bad practices one gets, if not reconciled to, at least less annoyed by them with the habit of seeing them daily, but the spitting makes me more sick everytime that I am condemned to see it" (Hall, 65).

"Of the tobacco and its consequences, I will say nothing but that the practice is at too bad a pass to leave hope that anything that could be said in books would work a cure. If the floors of boarding-houses, and the decks of steam-boats, and the carpets of the Capitol, do not sicken the Americans into a reform; if the warnings of physicians are of no avail, what remains to be said? I dismiss the nauseous subject" (Martineau, 279).

"The clergy were distributed in the houses of these benevolent hosts; but the latter soon found their furniture and carpets distressingly damaged by the floods of tobacco juice which the clergy from the country districts poured out remorselessly upon them" (Combe, 152).

Tobacco use was not the only American habit that promoted the image of the new republic as a rough and dirty place in need of manners. The Europeans thought American eating habits bordered on barbaric. American meals were hurried and demanding, full of abundant but badly cooked food on an improperly set table. Margaret Hall speaks for almost all the travelers in saying, "By the by, I do not think I have yet mentioned one very striking peculiarity of the Americans, which is, I believe, universal, the extreme quickness with which they eat" (37). Thomas Hamilton contrasts the quiet manners of the English breakfast table to that of the rushed Americans, where "all was hurry, bustle, clamour and voracity and the business of repletion went forward with a rapidity altogether unexampled" (14). At dinner, he is horrified to find the same scene repeated. "Around, I beheld the same scene of gulping and swallowing, as if for a wager, which my observations at breakfast prepared me to expect" (25). Frederick Gustorf, the German teacher, experiences the same scarfing approach of the Americans toward their dinners. "[for] the first time in two years I saw people eat decently without the slightest confusion (Americans habitually shovel the food into their mouths as rapidly as possible)" (114).

Not only did the Europeans find the American manner of eating uncouth, they also found the manner of service to be less than they had expected. Fanny Kremble thought her food good enough, but not its presentation:

"...the things were put on the table in a slovenly outlandish fashion, fish, soup, and meat all at once, and puddings and tarts and cheese all at once. No finger glasses, and a patched tablecloth--in short a want of style and neatness which is found in every hotel in England" (14).

"The dinner at Niblo's--which may be considered the London Tavern of New York--was certainly more excellent in point of material than of cookery or arrangement...There was no attempt to serve this chaotic entertainment in courses, a fashion, indeed, but little prevalent in the United States" (Hamilton, 12).

Food in the United States varied considerably for the travelers. At times they were offered abundant fruits vegetables and meats and in other instances, it was only bread and cheese. The consensus among the travelers was the same however: American food was not prepared well. It was too greasy and rich, with "rivers of butter and fat." Margaret Hall remarked that "'God sends meat and the Devil send cooks' is a saying which applies with full force to this country. There is food in abundance, but it is dressed after a manner that is enough to appaul even a hungary stomach" (55). Traveling through the boarding houses of Cincinnati, Gustorf simply remarks, "I have learned to live without good food and clean beds" (94).

It must be kept in mind the situation of the tourists, lest we think that all 1830's Americans nearly stabbed themselves with a fork trying to shovel the food into their mouths. All of the travelers are eating their meals at a common table in a hotel or boarding house. The food was served family style with many people trying to fill their plates from a minimum of common dishes. No doubt, this setting does not equally reflect the average American family around the dinner table, a scene many of the travelers experienced through their letters of recommendation. Harriot Martineau see this relation clearly and disagrees with the other travelers.

"I need only testify that I do not think the Americans eat faster than other people, on the whole. The celerity at hotel tables is remarkable; but so it is in stage coach travellers in England, who are allowed ten minutes...for dining. In private houses, I was never aware of being hurried" (283).
If the other travelers eventually saw that table manners differed in the private homes of Americans, as Martineau did, they never account for them. Their first impression of Americans eating at a common table in a New York hotel never quite diminishes and few of the writers realize that they have only observed one segment of "eating Americans."

The English tourists can never quite bring themselves to treat America as a wholly different country than their own. Nowhere is their national prejudice more apparent than in the British travelers' descriptions of American speech. Indeed, every description of the travelers is comparative, but in other cases the tourists at least accept that things can be done a different way. In regards to language, this is not so. The English consider their language strictly their own, and any alteration of it, especially by inferior Americans, is utterly wrong. Even President Jackson is not immune from attack. According to Hamilton, "He makes sad havoc of the King's English" (xxiii). The English are upset by the grammar, accent, rate, and clarity of American speech, but perhaps most of all by the misuse of English words. They do not appreciate the differences in accent and dialect as something uniquely American, rather, they see it as another inferiority to Great Britain.

Since all of the travelers disembark in New York City, they immediately report encountering the nasal New England twang.

"...with a double dose of the nasal twang which they have one and all, more or less. When I heard people in England counterfeit the American snivel I thought they surely charicatured, but the original goes far beyond any imitation I ever heard" (Hall, 20).

"Their utterance, too, is marked by a peculiar modulation, partaking of a snivel and a drawl, which, I confess, to my ear, is by no means laudable on the score of euphony" (Hamilton, 8).

Not only is the pronunciation of words dissonant to the English ear, but the American manner of conversing is also not pleasant.

"He [Judge Story] is certainly the most fluent man we have met in America. He would be esteemed so anywhere, but here where people are so slow and make such dreadful pauses between their words the contrast is particular striking" (Hall, 191).

"I admit there is a plainness, and even bluntness in American manners somewhat startling at first to a sophisticated European. Questions are asked with regard to one's habits, family, pursuits, connections, and circumstances which are never put in England except in the witness-box after the ceremony of swearing on the four Evangelists" (Hamilton, 70).
Harriot Martineau is the only one of the travelers who comes to enjoy and appreciate the American manner of speaking on its own terms and for its own merits.
"The most common mode of conversation in America I should distinguish as prosy, but withal rich and droll. For some weeks, I found it difficult to keep awake during the entire reply to any question I happened to ask...I presently found the information I obtained in conversation so full impartial, and accurate, and the shrewdness and drollery with which it was conveyed so amusing, that I became a great admirer of the American way of talking before six months were out" (279).

The feature of American speech that the English find most infuriating is the misuse of English words.

"The Americans have chosen arbitrarily to change the meaning of certain old and established English words, for reasons they cannot explain, and which I doubt any European philologist could understand. The word clever is a case in point..." (133)
Hamilton goes on to site the several uses he has heard for the word clever: clever house, clever sum of money, clever ship, clever voyage, clever cargo. He laments, "and of the sense attached to the word in these various combinations, I could gain nothing like a satisfactory explanation" (133).

Some find democratic ideals at the root of the American tongue, "it appears that the spirit of social equality has left no other signification to the terms "gentleman" and 'lady' but that of 'male' and 'female'" (Lyell, 37). "If I had been dressed in rags I would have been called a gentleman" (Gustorf, 57).

All the journalists notice the interesting uses of common words. The following is a sample of the different phrases and their distinctly American connotations:

"sick" and not ill, the frequent use of handsome, "fine" woman refers to her mentality and morality not her beauty, use of "ladies" and "females" and not "women", "swap", superlative expressions such as "terrible handy" and "powerful weak" (Martineau, 281).

"Stranger", "a mighty wrack of misery", "a heap of pain, "drink" of water instead of "glass" (Gustorf, 57).

use of "fix", instead of "to do" (Lyell, 39).

"for in America everything is 'genteel' or 'ungenteel'" (Hall, 89).

"I learned that, in the dialect of this country, the term 'fine woman' refers exclusively to intellect," "expect", "reckon", "guess", "calculate"(Hamilton, 134).

The King's English is doomed in America, according to the opinions of the travelers. Thomas Hamilton gives up any pretense of non-prejudice and expresses his disgust, predicting dire times ahead for American letters.

"I will not go on with this unpleasant subject; nor should I have alluded to it, but that I deem it something of a duty to express the natural feeling of an Englishman at finding the language of Shakespeare and Milton thus gratuitously degraded. Unless the present progress of change be arrested by an increase of taste and judgment in the more educated classes, there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will be come utterly unintelligible to an Englishman, and that the nation will be cut off from the advantages arising form their participation in British literature. If they contemplate such an event with complacency, let them go on and prosper; they have only to 'progress' in their present course, and their grandchildren bid fair to speak a jargon as novel and peculiar as the most patriotic American linguist can desire" (135).

Since most travelers to the United States were in the country for a year or more, they had plenty of time to see the passing of the seasons and the celebration of the holidays. The festivities most frequently mentioned in the travel narratives were uniquely American celebrations such as Evacuation Day (when the British left New York City), anniversaries of battles, and George Washington's birthday. This is natural since the travelers would have celebrated the religious holidays, such as Easter or Christmas, privately with their families or traveling companions. Generally, the Europeans were disappointed in American holidays. There was not the enthusiasm or driving spirit they expected from such a young country.

Thomas Hamilton attends the festivities of Evacuation Day in New York City on November 25th, 1830. This particular year, the celebration planned to honor the French and the revolution that had just occurred in their country. Hamilton describes the event at length with the earnestness of a foreigner making an effort to feel and understand the spirit of the moment. There is a parade, military displays complete with mismatched hats and uniforms, a marching band, and groups of various artisans and professionals of the city. After the parade there is an speech given in the center of town. The festivities are well-attended, but Hamilton finds them somehow lacking in spirit.

"In truth, I had calculated on a site altogether different. I expected to see a vast multitude animated by one pervading feeling of generous enthusiasm; to hear the air rent by the triumphant shouts of tens of thousands of freemen hailing the bloodless dawn of liberty in a mighty member of the brotherhood of nations. As it was, I witnessed nothing so sublime. Throughout the day there was not the smallest demonstration of enthusiasm on the part of the vast concourse of spectators. There was no cheering, no excitement, no general expression of feeling of any sort...the moral of the display, if I may so speak, was utterly overlooked" (40).
Margaret Hall reports the same feeling when she attends a ball and is puzzled to find some of the men dressed in bits and scraps of military uniforms. After asking several people, she finally discerns that the occasion is Washington's birthday.

Evacuation Day was an amusing spectacle to actress Fanny Kremble as she watches the parade pass from her hotel window. The militia are not dressed to match, hats are askew and weapons are carried every which way. She is captivated most of all by the cavalry.

"Bold would have been the man who did not edge backwards into the crowd, as flock of these worthies on horse-back came down the street, some trotting, some galloping, some ambling, each and all 'witching the world with wondrous horsemanship'.
         If anything might be properly called wondrous, the riders and their accoutrements deserve that title. Some wore boots, some wore shoes, and one independent hero had on grey stockings and slippers! Some had bright yellow feathers, and some red and black feathers. I remember particularly, a doctor in a black suit, Hessian boots, a cocked hat and bright yellow guantlets" (91).

If Kremble found the display of Evacuation Day quite comical, she finds the observance of Christmas in the United States downright sad. She even uses Thomas Hamilton's word--moral--to describe what she finds missing.

"There is a species of home religion, so to speak, which is kept alive by the gathering together of families at stated periods of joy and festivity, which has a far deeper moral than people imagine. The merry-making at Christmas, the watching out of the old year and in the new, the keeping of birthdays, and the anniversaries of weddings, are things, which, may savour of childishness or superstition, but they tend to promote and keep alive some of the sweetest charities and kindliest sympathies of our poor nature...In this country I have been mournfully struck with the absence of anything like this home-clinging. Here are comparatively no observance of tides and times. Christmas day is no religious day, and hardly a holiday with them. New Year's day is perhaps a little, but only a little more so" (124).

None of the writers explain the lack of spirit or moral in the celebrations of Americans, but it does not go unnoticed. Historians such as Michael Kammen have noted that America at this time was a young, raw country, unsure of how to deal with its short collective past. Certainly, by the descriptions the Europeans have written, this feeling of unsureness can be seen. But it is only with the benefit of hindsight that it can be explained. At the time, the travelers could not understand why a country so young and vigorous had trouble commemorating its very recent and definitive triumphs.



Introduction ~ The Travelers and Their Writings ~ On the Road ~ Character
Education ~ The Press ~ Nature, Industry and the American West