This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 12.2 (October 2008) 131–48
Topics and Keywords
Niagara Falls, Transatlantic Tourism, Environmental Aesthetics, Indigenous Culture, Dickens
By the time Dickens visited Niagara in the early 1840s, he encountered a place so thoroughly transformed by tourism, clichéd sentiment, and tawdry spectacle that he could not contain his disgust at aspects of it. A major target of the great novelist’s ire was the hackneyed verse that tourists had composed for guestbooks displayed in a tourist guide’s cottage on the American side: ‘It is humiliating’, he lamented, ‘to know that there are among men brutes so obscene and worthless, that they can delight in laying their miserable profanations upon the very steps of Nature’s greatest altar’. Although we cannot be exactly certain which entries Dickens had read in the offending guestbook, samples of its writings were subsequently published in a much-reprinted volume entitled Table Rock Album and Sketches of the Falls and Scenery Adjacent (1848), including the following inelegant quatrain, presumably composed, as the editors of Transatlantic Romanticism note, by a New York banker:
I came from Wall Street,
To see this water sheet;
Having seen this water sheet,
I return to Wall Street.
One hesitates to over-read such effusions; ….
About the author
Kevin Hutchings, University of Northern British Columbia