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Domestic Manners

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had Mrs. Frances Trollope remained true to her original intention of writing about the domestic manners of the Americans, she would have ended with a single-fold brochure rather than a four-hundred-page book. She found that Americans had almost no manners whatsoever.

Mrs. Trollope was the mother of the English novelist, Anthony Trollope. In November of 1827 she set sail for New Orleans, intending to ascend the Mississippi to Memphis, and the go up the Ohio to Cincinnati, build a grand department store, and replenish the family fortunes.

She was relieved when her ship finally reached the mouth of the Mississippi, but not for long. The 120 miles from the mouth to New Orleans was full of mud flats, shipwrecks and crocodiles. Alongshore, every single tree of whatever species had been turned into weeping willows by Spanish moss. "There might be some beauty to the Mississippi, she wrote, but it too subtle to describe. The Mississippi reminded her of Dante's Inferno—minus the variety.

New Orleans was no better. Mosquito attacks were so incessant and tormenting that she remained in her hotel, subject to attacks from Americans, such as the gentleman who spoke only in aphorisms: "Ignorance is the only devil," "Man makes his own existence."

Aboard the steamboat to Memphis, she was subjected close up to the American habit of spitting incessantly and remorselessly. Then, they ate entirely with their knives, inserting the blade in their mouths all the way to the hilt. "I would infinitely prefer sharing an apartment of a party of well-conditioned pigs," she said.  Many American men would be handsome, she admitted, were not so many of them disfigured by red hair.

The Mississippi Valley, Mrs. Trollope decided, was a region condemned by nature, a string of dreary towns with pompous Greek and Roman names.

And Memphis was even worse. She was invited to a dinner attended by all the merchants in town, and even by the mayor, and given a seat near the head table. She was just preparing to be impressed when she noticed the most outrageous breech of manners yet: her servant, William, was seated almost opposite her, instead of in the next room.

By the time she left for Cincinnati, she had all but given up on Americans.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.