Sunday, March 21, 2010

Difficulties of a Visiting Mesmerist

My memory of that Walt Whitman book by David S. Reynolds was correct: cantankerous pigs roamed free in the streets of New York. I found them in the index, under "animals, street." Writes Reynolds: "Manhattan and Brooklyn had a terrible problem with animals in the streets. Hogs rooted in the garbage that was heaped in the gutters. Efforts to remove them were repeatedly thwarted, because, in the absence of systematized garbage removal, they were useful as scavengers." Reynolds goes on to quote a visiting British mesmerist (!) who complains that the pigs have taken over not only the streets but "the sidewalks, frequently stopping the pedestrian in his course, and not unfrequently tripping people of meditation upon their noses." Before moving on to the problem of cows in the streets, Reynolds reminds us that "Charles Dickens in AMERICAN NOTES drew an amusing sketch of trying to cross Broadway while negotiating with eight fat sows."