The first impressions of The Hub by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy and American Notes (1877), Chapter III, "Boston," 295. Wood-engraving, 4 ⅛ by 5 ¼ inches (10.5 cm high by 13.5 cm wide), vignetted. Descriptive headline: "Boston and its Suburbs" (295).

Passage Illustrated: Capturing Dickens's Initial Impressions of Boston

To return to Boston. When I got into the streets upon this Sunday morning, the air was so clear, the houses were so bright and gay: the signboards were painted in such gaudy colours; the gilded letters were so very golden; the bricks were so very red, the stone was so very white, the blinds and area railings were so very green, the knobs and plates upon the street doors so marvellously bright and twinkling; and all so slight and unsubstantial in appearance — that every thoroughfare in the city looked exactly like a scene in a pantomime. It rarely happens in the business streets that a tradesman, if I may venture to call anybody a tradesman, where everybody is a merchant, resides above his store; so that many occupations are often carried on in one house, and the whole front is covered with boards and inscriptions. As I walked along, I kept glancing up at these boards, confidently expecting to see a few of them change into something; and I never turned a corner suddenly without looking out for the clown and pantaloon, who, I had no doubt, were hiding in a doorway or behind some pillar close at hand. As to Harlequin and Columbine, I discovered immediately that they lodged (they are always looking after lodgings in a pantomime) at a very small clockmaker’s one story high, near the hotel; which, in addition to various symbols and devices, almost covering the whole front, had a great dial hanging out — to be jumped through, of course. [Chapter III: "Boston," pp. 294-95]


Nast may not have been familiar with the characters of English pantomime to which Dickens refers here. Nast, however, would have been aware of Londoner Charles Dickens's apprehending that the stores and streets of Boston's centre possessed a somewhat theatrical appearance and were almost preternaturally clean compared to his experience of such streets in London. This area of Boston which Dickens visited in 1842 had come by the 1870s to be known as "The Hub." American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes had applied this nickname to the downtown core of the City of Boston: "The Hub of the Solar System."

Related Material

Relevant Marcus Stone illustrations for American Notes

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Dickens, Charles. American Notes. Works, New York: Peter Fenelon Collier & Son, 1890.

__________. Chapter III, "Boston." Pictures from Italy, Sketches by Boz and American Notes. Illustrated by Thomas Nast and Arthur B. Frost. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877 (copyrighted in 1876). 294-309.

__________. Chapter III, "Boston." American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by J. Gordon Thomson and A. B. Frost. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880. 208-44.

Created 20 May 2019

Last modified 8 June 2020