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[newspaper clipping]
  My first impressions of Charleston were extremely
agreeable.  It was a pleasant thing to find an Ameri-
can city containing so many memorials of the times
colonial, and not wearing the appearance of having
been all built yesterday.  The atmosphere, charged
with an unusual dampness in consequence of the low
position of the town on coast and river bank, helps ma-
terially to deepen the marks of years: soon discoloring
the paint upon the houses and facilitating the progress
of the green moss, which here is ever creeping over the 
norther side of the roofs and walls.  The whole town looks
picturesquely dingy, and the greater number of build-
ings have assumed something of the appearance of Eu-
ropean antiquity.  The heavy brick walls and the high
gateways are such as one sees in London or Paris.
Many front doors and piazzas had been wrought after
the graceful models brought from England in the old
colonial period.  The verandas, story above
story, and generally looking toward the south
or the sea, form another pleasant feature
in the prevailing style of building.  Nor less attractive
are the gardens and courtyards invariably attached to
the best houses, where, in Winter, the hedges are green
with pitsphorum and the dwarf orange, and where
blow the first fragrant violets and daffodils of Spring.
Here, in February, I beheld with delight the open rose,
and camellias so numerous as to redden the ground they
fell upon; also, the wild orange bursting with white
buds, and the peach trees in full blossom, as well as the
humble strawberry at its foot.  Stopping at one of these
lofty gateways, and looking through the quaint, old-
fashioned gratings, I could not help repeating the lines
of Goethe:
	 Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
	  Die Myrte still und hock der Lorber steht. 
  These charming gardens, in connection with the 
piazzas resting on ornamental pillars, make the whole
town graceful.  One sits, in the morning, in these open
chambers, inhaling the refreshing air from the sea, its
perfume mingled with that of the flowers below; and, at
midday, closing the Venetian shutters to exclude the
sun, he rests in grateful shade.  Here, too, throughout
the longer portion of the year, may be spread, at even-
ing, the tea-table; while the heavens still glow with the
purple and amber of the sunset.  And here lingers the
family until the bells from the tower of St. Michael s,
sweetly ringing their silver chimes through the calm,
starry air, announce at last the hour of repose.
  Many invalids from the North, delighted with these
Southern balconies and these melodious evening bells,
with this soft air and genial sunshine, with the lovely
promenade of the ever grass-green Battery, and with 
the pleasing prospect of the bay, never the same with
its coming and going ships, are tempted to linger here
the Winter through, nor go father Southward in their
search for health or pleasure.  But the climate of
Charleston, if soft soft, even, as that of Rome is
damp and exceedingly variable.  The consumptive in-
valid, therefore, should never dally long with these sea
breezes, nor stay to pluck these flowers.  He should pro-
ceed onward as far as St. Augustine, or inland to the
dry, sandy hill country.
  In Winter, many of the wealthy South Carolinian
planters come to Charleston to enjoy the gay season
of February; and a few spend several months here
for the sake of the greater advantages in educating
their children.  But all come to town with less pa-
rade than did the grand seigneurs of the generation
preceding.  For a quarters of a century the number
of coaches and four has been gradually diminishing.
Fewer outriders herald the planter s advance.  The
family carriage has grown a little rickety, and the
worse for wear, though the horses are still well blooded,
and Sambo holds the reins with cheeks as full, and
shoulders as widely spreading.  Comparatively few are
the masters who nowadays pass through the country
with a retinue of from fifteen to twenty servants; who,
at a wedding, or other festive occasion, open wide their
doors to all comers, entertaining troops of friends, two-
score and more, with for every one a coach, as well as
for every one a month s welcome.  Fiddling, indeed, has
not died out; and Pompey still draws his bow, and beats
his banjo with as much ardor as in the days of yore.
At the merry-makings, there is dancing every night in
the parlor, as well as plenty of giggling and roaring in
the kitchen.  Five-and-twenty varieties of corn cake
may be served at breakfast; the pot of hominy, like the
widow s cruse, is inexhaustible; the bacon makes the ta-
ble groan; though certainly the number of pipes of 
wine annually laid down is getting every year less; nor
do I belleve there can be many nabobs left, who, in pur-
chasing their supplies in town at the beginning of the
season, do not fail to include a hogshead of castor oil
for their little negroes.
  The February balls in Charleston are scarcely less
known to fame than the races.  The most select and
fashionable are those of Saint Cecilia, and they have
been given here from times running back past the mem-
ory of all the dancers now living.  Only the gentry and
the more favored strangers are admitted.  They go at
ten and stay until three.  The attendance, however, is
principally confined to the younger portion of the
fashionable community, who, before settling off for the
dance, see the mammas and papas comfortably to bed.
I observed that even the young married ladies attracted
but little attention from the beaux; and, in fact, I was
repeatedly told that whenever a bride was led to the
altar, she, afterward, went in society, as a matter of
course, to the wall.  Even the bride, who comes from
other parts of the country to find in this hospitable city a
home, runs imminent risk of receiving but few marks
of courtesy from any gentleman not married.  She may 
be beautiful, accomplished, and elegantly dressed; but
the beaux will look at her, if they deign to look at her
at all, with blank, mute admiration.  This, in a city so
famed as Charleston is for gallantry of manners, struck
me as a little singular.  I saw many fair young ladies
among the dancers, and the prevailing style of toilet
was characterized by simplicity as well as elegance.
Some waltzing, also, I noticed, as graceful as
that which may be seen in the countries where
the waltz is at home.  Of flowers, however, whether
as an ornament for a person, or the apartments, there
were quite too few; and it seemed as though the pro-
fusion with which nature, in the more genial seasons of
the year, furnishes these decorations, had led to the neg-
lect of their cultivation by artificial means in Winter.
  From the presence of two races, the streets of Charles-
ton have a pepper-and-salt aspect.  The blacks are al-
most as numerous as the whites, but are generally of
smaller stature.  I saw very few slaves, either male or
female, who were of large size: still fewer who were
good-looking.  As an exception, however, in the mat-
ter of size, I noticed one portly dame striding down the
street in broad-brimmed hat, and staff, who appropri-
ated to her own use nearly the whole of the sidewalk,
and swaggered with an importance which plainly marked
her as having the authority in the kitchen of one of the 
proudest families in Charleston.  On Sunday, the ne-
groes I saw airing themselves on their way to church
appeared to good advantage, being respectful in man-
ners, and, for the most part, becomingly plain in dress.
The aged dames were in turbans containing only a few
modest stripes, though worn pretty high.  The younger
damsels showed, of course, more love for dressing like
white folks.  One dainty miss, with large, liquid eyes,
and the deep red breaking through her colored cheek,
like the vermilion streaming through dark clouds that
lie athwart the sunset, made herself gay in a French
cashmere; another displayed her jaunty modesty in
Canton crape; while the principal colored belle of the
promenade held up her rich black silk to exhibit an
elaborately embroidered petticoat.  The other sex were
decently clad, and scarcely in a single instance that came
under my observation, grotesquely.  They showed, oc-
casionally, a little red in their cravats sometimes a
little buff.  But not even on the coach-box did Pompey
go much beyond a brass buckle in his hat, and purple
plush in his waistcoat.  On the whole, therefore, the
colored palmetto gentry seemed to me to have learned
demureness from their betters; though there was, per-
haps, as much grinning and giggling as was decent on
a Sunday.
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Fourteen: page one hundred and eighty
Description:Newspaper clipping describing a newcomer's first impressions of Charleston.
Subject:African Americans; Clothing and dress; Food; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Slavery; Women
Coverage (City/State):Charleston, South Carolina; London, [England]; Paris, [France]; Rome, [Italy]
Scan Date:2010-04-30

 

Volume
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Fourteen
Description:Includes descriptions of attending a lecture by J.H. Siddons on Queen Victoria; seeing tightrope walker Charles Blondin perform; boarding house living; his freelance writing and drawing work; visits to the Edwards family and his friendship with Sally Edwards; a visit of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII of Great Britain, to New York; his work as a reporter for ''The New York World;'' a visit to a dog fighting establishment; an evening spent at the 4th Ward police station awaiting 1860 election returns; and Gunn's experience as a correspondent for ""The New York Evening Post"" in Charleston, South Carolina, in the aftermath of South Carolina's secession from the federal government.
Subject:Boardinghouses; Civil War; Elections; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Journalism; Military; Police; Publishers and publishing; Secession; Slavery; Slaves; Travel
Coverage (City/State):New York, New York; Charleston, South Carolina
Note:Thomas Butler Gunn was born February 15, 1826, in Banbury, England, and came to New York in 1849. During the Civil War he worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and the New York Evening Post. He returned to England in 1863, and died in Birmingham in April 1903. The collection includes twenty-one volumes of his diaries, including newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, sketches, and various other items inserted by Gunn. Diary entries date from July 7, 1849, to April 7, 1863, and include his experiences with the New York publishing and literary world, his descriptions of boarding houses, his travels throughout the United States, and his experiences traveling with the Federal army as a Civil War correspondent.
Publisher:Missouri History Museum
Rights:Copyright 2010 Missouri History Museum.
Source:Page images, transcriptions, and metadata of the Thomas Butler Gunn diaries have been provided by the Missouri History Museum.