day four (Dec 24 – 25, 1838)

Fanny Kemble's Journey

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Wilmington, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina

It was bright morning, and drawing toward one o'clock, when we rose, and were presently summoned to the "public dinner." The dirt and discomfort of everything was so intolerable, that I could not eat; and having obtained some tea, we set forth to walk to the steamboat Governor Dudley, which was to convey us to Charleston. The midday sun took from Wilmington some of the desolateness which the wintry darkness of the morning gave it; yet it looked to me like a place I could sooner die than live in—ruinous, yet not old—poor, dirty, and mean, and unvenerable in its poverty and decay. The river that runs by it is called Cape Fear River; above, on the opposite shore, lies Mount Misery—and heaven-forsaken enough seemed place and people to me. How good one should be to live in such places! How heavenly would one's thoughts and imaginations of hard necessity become, if one existed in Wilmington, North Carolina! The afternoon was beautiful, golden, mild, and bright—the boat we were in extremely comfortable and clean, and the captain especially courteous. The whole furniture of this vessel was remarkably tasteful, as well as convenient—not forgetting the fawn-colored and blue curtains to the berths.

 

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But what a deplorable mistake it is—be-draperying up these narrow nests, so as to impede the poor meagre mouthfuls of air which their dimensions alone necessarily limit one to. These crimson and yellow, or even fawn-colored and blue silk suffocators, are a poor compensation for free ventilation; and I always look at these elaborate adornments of sea beds as ingenious and elegant incentives to seasickness, graceful emetics in themselves, all provocation from the water set aside. The captain's wife and ourselves were the only passengers; and, after a most delightful walk on deck in the afternoon, and comfortable tea, we retired for the night, and did not wake till we bumped on the Charleston bar on the morning of Christmas Day [Tuesday, December 25, 1838].

The William Seabrook, the boat which is to convey us from hence to Savannah, only goes once a week. . . . This unfrequent communication between the principal cities of the great Southern states is rather a curious contrast to the almost unintermitting intercourse which goes on between the Northern towns. The boat itself, too, is a species of small monopoly being built and chiefly used for the convenience of certain wealthy planters residing on Edisto Island, a small insulated tract between Charleston and Savannah, where the finest cotton that is raised in this country grows. This city is the oldest I have yet seen in America—I should think it must be the oldest in it. I cannot say that the first impression produced by the wharf at which we landed, or the streets we drove through in reaching our hotel, was particularly lively. Rickety, dark, dirty, tumble-down streets and warehouses, with every now and then a mansion of loftier pretensions, but equally neglected and ruinous in its appearance, would probably not have been objects of special admiration to many people on this side the water; but I belong to that infirm, decrepit, bedridden old country, England, and must acknowledge, with a blush for the stupidity of the prejudice, that it is so very long since I have seen anything old, that the lower streets of Charleston, in all their dinginess and decay, were a refreshment and a rest to my spirit.

I have had a perfect red-brick and white-board fever ever since I came to this country; and once more to see a house which looks as if it had stood long enough to get warmed through, is a balm to my senses, oppressed with newness. Boston had two or three fine old dwelling houses, with antique gardens and old-fashioned courtyards; but they have come down to the dust before the improving spirit of the age. One would think, that after ten years a house gets weak in the knees. Perhaps these houses do; but I have lodged under rooftrees that have stood hundreds of years, and may stand hundreds more—marry, they have good foundations.


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