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Tobacco-Tinctured Saliva or Dickens in America

February 15, 2012 by
Filed under: Charles Dickens 

Charles DickensThe BBC has just published an interesting article on the travels of Charles Dickens to America.   To say that the first visit didn’t go well would be an understatement.  Dickens found many reasons to fault his American hosts.

Here’s a quote from American Notes on just one aspect of his visit:

As Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva, the time is come when I must confess, without any disguise, that the prevalence of those two odious practices of chewing and expectorating began about this time to be anything but agreeable, and soon became most offensive and sickening. In all the public places of America, this filthy custom is recognised. In the courts of law, the judge has his spittoon, the crier his, the witness his, and the prisoner his; while the jurymen and spectators are provided for, as so many men who in the course of nature must desire to spit incessantly. In the hospitals, the students of medicine are requested, by notices upon the wall, to eject their tobacco juice into the boxes provided for that purpose, and not to discolour the stairs. In public buildings, visitors are implored, through the same agency, to squirt the essence of their quids, or ‘plugs,’ as I have heard them called by gentlemen learned in this kind of sweetmeat, into the national spittoons, and not about the bases of the marble columns. But in some parts, this custom is inseparably mixed up with every meal and morning call, and with all the transactions of social life. The stranger, who follows in the track I took myself, will find it in its full bloom and glory, luxuriant in all its alarming recklessness, at Washington. And let him not persuade himself (as I once did, to my shame) that previous tourists have exaggerated its extent. The thing itself is an exaggeration of nastiness, which cannot be outdone.

Another troubling issue was the lack of an international copyright law. It didn’t exist then and Dickens was enough of a business man to realize what it cost him.  Our partner site, Charles Dickens – Gad’s Hill Place, has a good article on the subject of Dickens and copyright laws.


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