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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Frances Milton Trollope (1780–1863)

Republican Equality and Freedom

From “Domestic Manners of the Americans”

MY general appellation amongst my neighbours was “the English old woman,” but in mentioning each other they constantly employed the term “lady”; and they evidently had a pleasure in using it, for I repeatedly observed, that in speaking of a neighbour, instead of saying Mrs. Such-a-one, they described her as “the lady over the way what takes in washing,” or as “that there lady, out by the gully, what is making dip-candles.” Mr. Trollope was as constantly called “the old man,” while draymen, butchers’ boys, and the labourers on the canal were invariably denominated “them gentlemen.” Nay, we once saw one of the most gentleman-like men in Cincinnati introduce a fellow in dirty shirtsleeves, and all sorts of detestable et cetera, to one of his friends, with this formula, “D——, let me introduce this gentleman to you.”

Our respective titles certainly were not very important; but the eternal shaking hands with these ladies and gentlemen was really an annoyance, and the more so, as the near approach of the gentlemen was always redolent of whisky and tobacco.

But the point where this republican equality was the most distressing was in the long and frequent visitations that it produced. No one dreams of fastening a door in western America; I was told that it would be considered as an affront by the whole neighbourhood. I was thus exposed to perpetual and most vexatious interruptions from people whom I had often never seen, and whose names still oftener were unknown to me.

Those who are native there, and to the manner born, seem to pass over these annoyances with more skill than I could ever acquire. More than once I have seen some of my acquaintance beset in the same way, without appearing at all distressed by it; they continued their employment or conversation with me, much as if no such interruption had taken place; when the visitor entered, they would say, “How do you do?” and shake hands.

“Tolerable, I thank ye, how be you?” was the reply.

If it was a female, she took off her hat; if a male, he kept it on, and then taking possession of the first chair in their way, they would retain it for an hour together, without uttering another word. At length, rising abruptly, they would again shake hands, with, “Well, now I must be going, I guess,” and so take themselves off, apparently well contented with their reception.

I could never attain this philosophical composure; I could neither write nor read, and I always fancied I must talk to them. I will give the minutes of a conversation which I once set down after one of their visits, as a specimen of their tone and manner of speaking and thinking. My visitor was a milkman.

“Well now, so you be from the old country? Aye, you’ll see sights here, I guess.”

“I hope I shall see many.”

“That’s a fact. I expect your little place of an island don’t grow such dreadful fine corn as you sees here?”

“It grows no corn at all, sir.”

“Possible! No wonder, then, that we reads such awful stories in the paper of your poor people being starved to death.”

“We have wheat, however.”

“Aye, for your rich folks, but I calculate the poor seldom gets a belly full.”

“You have certainly much greater abundance here.”

“I expect so. Why, they do say, that if a poor body contrives to be smart enough to scrape together a few dollars, that your King George always comes down upon ’em, and takes it all away. Don’t he?”

“I do not remember hearing of such a transaction.”

“I guess they be pretty close about it. Your papers ben’t like ourn, I reckon? Now we says and prints just what we likes.”

“You spend a good deal of time in reading the newspapers.”

“And I’d like you to tell me how we can spend it better. How should freemen spend their time, but looking after their government, and watching that them fellers as we gives office to doos their duty, and gives themselves no airs?”

“But I sometimes think, sir, that your fences might be in more thorough repair, and your roads in better order, if less time was spent in politics.”

“The Lord! to see how little you knows of a free country! Why, what’s the smoothness of a road, put against the freedom of a free-born American? And what does a broken zigzag signify, comparable to knowing that the men what we have been pleased to send up to Congress speaks handsome and straight, as we chooses they should?”

“It is from a sense of duty, then, that you all go to the liquor store to read the papers?”

“To be sure it is, and he’d be no true-born American as didn’t. I don’t say that the father of a family should always be after liquor, but I do say that I’d rather have my son drunk three times in a week, than not look after the affairs of his country.”