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We tarried here, four days. The town is beautifully situated in a basin of green hills; the soil is rich, well-wooded, and carefully improved. It is the seat of the local legislature of Connecticut, which sage body enacted, in bygone times, the renowned code of 'Blue Laws,' in virtue whereof, among other enlightened provisions, any citizen who could be proved to have kissed his wife on Sunday, was punishable, I believe, with the stocks. Too much of the old Puritan spirit exists in these parts to the present hour; but its influence has not tended, that I know, to make the people less hard in their bargains, or more equal in their dealings. As I never heard of its working that effect anywhere else, I infer that it never will, here. Indeed, I am accustomed, with reference to great professions and severe faces, to judge of the goods of the other world pretty much as I judge of the goods of this; and whenever I see a dealer in such commodities with too great a display of them in his window, I doubt the quality of the article within.
In Hartford stands the famous oak in which the charter of King Charles was hidden. It is now inclosed in a gentleman's garden. In the State House is the charter itself. I found the courts of law here, just the same as at Boston; the public institutions almost as good. The Insane Asylum is admirably conducted, and so is the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.
I very much questioned within myself, as I walked through the Insane Asylum, whether I should have known the attendants from the patients, but for the few words which passed between the former, and the Doctor, in reference to the persons under their charge. Of course I limit this remark merely to their looks; for the conversation of the mad people was mad enough.
There was one little, prim old lady, of very smiling and good- humoured appearance, who came sidling up to me from the end of a long passage, and with a curtsey of inexpressible condescension, propounded this unaccountable inquiry:
'Does Pontefract still flourish, sir, upon the soil of England?'
'He does, ma'am,' I rejoined.
'When you last saw him, sir, he was - '
'Well, ma'am,' said I, 'extremely well. He begged me to present his compliments. I never saw him looking better.'
At this, the old lady was very much delighted. After glancing at me for a moment, as if to be quite sure that I was serious in my respectful air, she sidled back some paces; sidled forward again; made a sudden skip (at which I precipitately retreated a step or two); and said:
'I am an antediluvian, sir.'
I thought the best thing to say was, that I had suspected as much from the first. Therefore I said so.
'It is an extremely proud and pleasant thing, sir, to be an antediluvian,' said the old lady.
'I should think it was, ma'am,' I rejoined.
The old lady kissed her hand, gave another skip, smirked and sidled down the gallery in a most extraordinary manner, and ambled gracefully into her own bed-chamber.
In another part of the building, there was a male patient in bed; very much flushed and heated.
'Well,' said he, starting up, and pulling off his night-cap: 'It's all settled at last. I have arranged it with Queen Victoria.'
'Arranged what?' asked the Doctor.
'Why, that business,' passing his hand wearily across his forehead, 'about the siege of New York.'
'Oh!' said I, like a man suddenly enlightened. For he looked at me for an answer.
'Yes. Every house without a signal will be fired upon by the British troops. No harm will be done to the others. No harm at all. Those that want to be safe, must hoist flags. That's all they'll have to do. They must hoist flags.'
Even while he was speaking he seemed, I thought, to have some faint idea that his talk was incoherent. Directly he had said these words, he lay down again; gave a kind of a groan; and covered his hot head with the blankets.
There was another: a young man, whose madness was love and music. After playing on the accordion a march he had composed, he was very anxious that I should walk into his chamber, which I immediately did.
By way of being very knowing, and humouring him to the top of his bent, I went to the window, which commanded a beautiful prospect, and remarked, with an address upon which I greatly plumed myself:
'What a delicious country you have about these lodgings of yours!'
'Poh!' said he, moving his fingers carelessly over the notes of his instrument: 'Well enough for such an Institution as this!'
I don't think I was ever so taken aback in all my life.
'I come here just for a whim,' he said coolly. 'That's all.'
'Oh! That's all!' said I.
'Yes. That's all. The Doctor's a smart man. He quite enters into it. It's a joke of mine. I like it for a time. You needn't mention it, but I think I shall go out next Tuesday!'
I assured him that I would consider our interview perfectly confidential; and rejoined the Doctor. As we were passing through a gallery on our way out, a well-dressed lady, of quiet and composed manners, came up, and proffering a slip of paper and a pen, begged that I would oblige her with an autograph, I complied, and we parted.
'I think I remember having had a few interviews like that, with ladies out of doors. I hope she is not mad?'
'On what subject? Autographs?'
'No. She hears voices in the air.'
'Well!' thought I, 'it would be well if we could shut up a few false prophets of these later times, who have professed to do the same; and I should like to try the experiment on a Mormonist or two to begin with.'
In this place, there is the best jail for untried offenders in the world. There is also a very well-ordered State prison, arranged upon the same plan as that at Boston, except that here, there is always a sentry on the wall with a loaded gun. It contained at that time about two hundred prisoners. A spot was shown me in the sleeping ward, where a watchman was murdered some years since in the dead of night, in a desperate attempt to escape, made by a prisoner who had broken from his cell. A woman, too, was pointed out to me, who, for the murder of her husband, had been a close prisoner for sixteen years.
'Do you think,' I asked of my conductor, 'that after so very long an imprisonment, she has any thought or hope of ever regaining her liberty?'
'Oh dear yes,' he answered. 'To be sure she has.'
'She has no chance of obtaining it, I suppose?'
'Well, I don't know:' which, by-the-bye, is a national answer. 'Her friends mistrust her.'
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American Notes -- by Charles Dickens