Language Paper 2 – Charles Dickens in America – 1842

In 1842, Charles Dickens travelled through parts of the USA. In this extract he describes the town of Cairo; no – not the capital of Egypt, but a small town wedged between two mighty rivers in the middle of America.

A visit to scenic Cairo, Illinois, USA!

Charles_Dickens_Part_5_Why_did_Dickens_books_based_in_America_do_so_poorly_770x433I’m going to send this passage to the Cairo, Illinois, tourism bureau; they may want to use it in some of their promotional material:

cairoThe scenery as we approached the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, was not at all inspiring in its influence. The trees were stunted in their growth; the banks were low and flat; the settlements and log cabins fewer in number; their inhabitants more pale and wretched than any we had encountered yet.

No songs of birds were in the air, no pleasant scents, no moving lights and shadows from swift- passing clouds. Hour after hour, the changeless glare of the hot, unwinking sky shone upon the same monotonous objects. Hour after hour, the river rolled along as wearily and slowly as the time itself.

At length, upon the morning of the third day, we arrived at a spot so much more desolate than any we had yet beheld that the most miserable places we had passed were, in comparison with it, full of interest.

cairopersmapAt the junction of the two rivers, on ground so flat and low that at certain seasons of the year it is flooded to the housetops, lies a breeding place of fever, disease and death.

A dismal swamp, on which the half-built houses rot away; cleared here and there for the space of a few yards; and teeming then with rank, unwholesome vegetation, in whose gloomy shade the wretched wanderers who are tempted there droop and die and lay their bones.

The hateful Mississippi circling and swirling before it, and turning off upon its southern course, a slimy monster hideous to behold; a hotbed of disease, an ugly tomb, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise: a place without one single quality, in earth or air or water to commend it: such is this dismal Cairo.”