Universal Disregard of the Spittoon

I mentioned in an earlier entry that when Charles Dickens, back in 1842, asked a chief of the Choctaw who had recently been in Washington what he thought of Congress, the chief replied politely, “It wanted [lacked] dignity in an Indian’s eyes.”

Let’s take a look at Dickens’ own observations:

“Both Houses are handsomely carpeted; but the state to which these carpets are reduced by the universal disregard of the spittoon with which every honorable member is accomodated, and the extraordinary improvements on the pattern which are squirted and dabbled upon it in every direction, do not admit of being described.

“I will merely observe, that I strongly recommend all strangers not to look at the floor; and if they happen to drop anything, though it be their purse, not on any account to pick it up with an ungloved hand…

“I was surprised to observe that even steady old chewers of great experience are not always good marksmen, which has rather inclined me to doubt that general proficiency with the rifle, of which we have heard so much in England. Several gentlemen called upon me who, in the course of conversation, frequently missed the spittoon at five paces.”

This disregard for the spittoon apparently prevailed in the state legislatures as well. When he was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he stayed with a landlord whom he found “obliging, considerate, and gentlemanly.”

“Our host announed, before our early dinner,” Dickens writes,” that some members of the legislative body proposed to do us the honor of calling. He had kindly yielded up to us his wife’s own little parlor, and when I begged that he would show them in, I saw him look with painful apprehension at its pretty carpet; though, being otherwise occupied at the time, the cause of his uneasiness did not occur to me…”

Sure enough, the pretty carpet’s pattern got some serious “improvements.”