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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Travelers on a Mississippi Steamboat

An  Englishman traveling through the American South in the mid-19th century gave an account of his conversation with a few travelers on a Mississippi riverboat in Odd Neighbors (1865):
"You seem to know New Orleans well, gentlemen," said I, after listening to two or three  anecdotes, the scene of which was invariably laid in the metropolis of the Western Delta.

"No place like it!" cried one of the younger men, with a sort of enthusiasm; "it's right down, thorough going, and slick through, the cream of all creation. Life goes faster there than in other places."

"So I have heard," said I, with a smile, but rather diffidently; "life, I understand, goes a good deal more abruptly than is pleasant. In duels I mean," added I, seeing that I was not understood.

"Sir," said another of the party, "you have been misinformed. Not that I insinuate that our free citizens will tamely brook affront. No, sir! But there is great exaggeration prevalent on the score of duels and fatal affrays, pretended to be of continual occurrence down South. We have chivalry, sir, we have fire, but we air not the monsters we air depicted."

I told him I had always understood that the state of Mississippi in especial was renowned for its lawless condition, and for the slight value set on human life by its inhabitants. The four gentlemen shook their heads with one accord.

"These air slanders," said one of the seniors of the party, whose name I understood to be Alphonso P. C. Jones—"these air slanders, I give you my sacred word of honour. We live, it is true, in a land where the blushing bloom of Eden has not yet wholly faded away; in a land where the luxuriant beauty of airth sometimes attracts the spoiler and the rowdy, and occasional difficulties will happen. But peace is our idol, and the olive- branch ---"

Here some confusion was caused to the orator by the trifling circumstance of his bowie-knife tumbling from its concealment somewhere in the roll-collar of his waistcoat, and coming with a bang on the mahogany table. He turned very red, and was shuffling the unwelcome implement away, when I stretched out my hand, saying, "Would you allow me to look at it ? I have often wished to inspect a bowie-knife."

Mr. Alphonso P. C. Jones solemnly handed over the weapon in its shagreen sheath, and I looked with great interest at the sharp and heavy blade, the strong cross-bar to increase the purchase in close conflict, and the silver mountings of haft and scabbard. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones muttered something about the necessity of self-preservation, and the number of Irish and Germans about.

"You must often have found this sort of thing useful in your mode of life," said I, poising the heavy dagger as I gave it back.

"What way of life? What might you mean?"

Such were the questions rather fiercely propounded, and every brow was overcast.


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