Mrs. Trollope on American audiences
Just a few years before Tocqueville's ''Democracy in America'' summed up the nation as a French visitor saw it, Frances Trollope offered an English traveler's view in ''Domestic Manners of the Americans'' (1832), sampled here. It not only outraged US opinion but launched her own literary career long before son Anthony became a famous novelist. m
The theatre at Cincinnati is small, and not very brilliant in decoration, but in the absence of every other amusement our young men frequently attended it, and in the bright clear nights of autumn and winter, the mile and a half of distance was not enough to prevent the less enterprising members of the family from sometimes accompanying them. The great inducement to this was the excellent acting of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Drake, the managers. Nothing could be more distinct than their line of acting, but the great versatility of their powers enabled them often to appear together. Her cast was the highest walk of tragedy, and his broadest comedy; but yet, as Goldsmith says of his sister heroines, I have known them change characters for a whole evening together, and have wept with him and laughed with her, as it was their will and pleasure to ordain. . . .
It was painful to see these excellent performers playing to a miserable house , not a third full, and the audience probably not including half a dozen persons who would prefer their playing to that of the vilest strollers. In proof of this , I saw them, as managers, give place to paltry third-rate actors from London, who would immediately draw crowded houses, and be overwhelmed with applause. . . .
The theatre was really not a bad one, though the very poor receipts rendered it impossible to keep it in high order; but an annoyance infinitely greater than decorations indifferently clean, was the style and manner of the audience. Men came into the lower tier of boxes without their coats; and I have seen shirt sleeves tucked up to the shoulder; the spitting was incessant, and the mixed smell of onions and whiskey was enough to make one feel even the Drakes' acting dearly bought by the obligation of enduring its accompaniments.
The bearing and attitudes of the men are perfectly indescribable; the heels thrown higher than the head, the entire rear of the person presented to the audience, the whole length supported on the benches, are among the varieties that these exquisite posture-masters exhibit. The noises, too were perpetual, and of the most unpleasant kind; the applause is expressed by cries and thumping with the feet, instead of clapping; and when a patriotic fit seized them, and ''Yankee Doodle'' was called for, every man seemed to think his reputation as a citizen depended on the noise he made.