North America - Volume 2 By Anthony Trollope 




















































































































































 -   There had never been so great a throng in the town.  I am
bound to say that my friend did - Page 5
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There Had Never Been So Great A Throng In The Town.

I am bound to say that my friend did well for me.

I found myself put up at the house of one Wormley, a colored man, in I Street, to whose attention I can recommend any Englishman who may chance to want quarters in Washington. He has a hotel on one side of the street and private lodging-houses on the other, in which I found myself located. From what I heard of the hotels, I conceived myself to be greatly in luck. Willard's is the chief of these; and the everlasting crowd and throng of men with which the halls and passages of the house were always full certainly did not seem to promise either privacy or comfort. But then there are places in which privacy and comfort are not expected - are hardly even desired - and Washington is one of them.

The Post-office and the Patent-office, lie a little away from Pennsylvania Avenue in I Street, and are opposite to each other. The Post-office is certainly a very graceful building. It is square, and hardly can be said to have any settled front or any grand entrance. It is not approached by steps, but stands flush on the ground, alike on each of the four sides. It is ornamented with Corinthian pilasters, but is not over-ornamented. It is certainly a structure creditable to any city. The streets around it are all unfinished; and it is approached through seas of mud and sloughs of despond, which have been contrived, as I imagine, to lessen, if possible, the crowd of callers, and lighten in this way the overtasked officials within. That side by which the public in general were supposed to approach was, during my sojourn, always guarded by vast mountains of flour barrels. Looking up at the windows of the building, I perceived also that barrels were piled within, and then I knew that the Post-office had become a provision depot for the army. The official arrangements here for the public were so bad as to be absolutely barbarous. I feel some remorse in saying this, for I was myself treated with the utmost courtesy by gentlemen holding high positions in the office, to which I was specially attracted by my own connection with the post-office in England. But I do not think that such courtesy should hinder me from telling what I saw that was bad, seeing that it would not hinder me from telling what I saw that was good. In Washington there is but one post-office. There are no iron pillars or wayside letter-boxes, as are to be found in other towns of the Union - no subsidiary offices at which stamps can be bought and letters posted. The distances of the city are very great, the means of transit through the city very limited, the dirt of the city ways unrivaled in depth and tenacity, and yet there is but one post-office. Nor is there any established system of letter-carriers. To those who desire it letters are brought out and delivered by carriers, who charge a separate porterage for that service; but the rule is that letters should be delivered from the window. For strangers this is of course a necessity of their position; and I found that, when once I had left instruction that my letters should be delivered, those instructions, were carefully followed. Indeed, nothing could exceed the civility of the officials within; but so also nothing can exceed the barbarity of the arrangements without. The purchase of stamps I found to be utterly impracticable. They were sold at a window in a corner, at which newspapers were also delivered, to which there was no regular ingress and from which there was no egress, it would generally be deeply surrounded by a crowd of muddy soldiers, who would wait there patiently till time should enable them to approach the window. The delivery of letters was almost more tedious, though in that there was a method. The aspirants stood in a long line, en cue, as we are told by Carlyle that the bread-seekers used to approach the bakers' shops at Paris during the Revolution. This "cue" would sometimes project out into the street. The work inside was done very slowly. The clerk had no facility, by use of a desk or otherwise, for running through the letters under the initials denominated, but turned letter by letter through his hand. To one questioner out of ten would a letter be given. It no doubt may be said in excuse for this that the presence of the army round Washington caused, at that period, special inconvenience; and that plea should of course be taken, were it not that a very trifling alteration in the management within would have remedied all the inconvenience. As a building, the Washington Post-office is very good; as the center of a most complicated and difficult department, I believe it to be well managed; but as regards the special accommodation given by it to the city in which it stands, much cannot, I think, be said in its favor.

Opposite to that which is, I presume, the back of the Post-office, stands the Patent-office. This also is a grand building, with a fine portico of Doric pillars at each of its three fronts. These are approached by flights of steps, more gratifying to the eye than to the legs. The whole structure is massive and grand, and, if the streets round it were finished, would be imposing. The utilitarian spirit of the nation has, however, done much toward marring the appearance of the building, by piercing it with windows altogether unsuited to it, both in number and size. The walls, even under the porticoes, have been so pierced, in order that the whole space might be utilized without loss of light; and the effect is very mean. The windows are small, and without ornament - something like a London window of the time of George III.

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