An American Car by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy and American Notes (1877), Chapter IV, "An American Railroad. — Lowell and its Factory System," 309. Descriptive headline: "American Railway-Cars" (309). Wood-engraving, 4 ⅛ by 5 ¼ inches (10.7 cm high by 13.4 cm wide), vignetted.

Passage Illustrated: Dickens's Comparison of British and American Railway Passenger Cars

There are no first and second class carriages as with us; but there is a gentleman’s car and a ladies’ car: the main distinction between which is that in the first, everybody smokes; and in the second, nobody does. As a black man never travels with a white one, there is also a negro car; which is a great, blundering, clumsy chest, such as Gulliver put to sea in, from the kingdom of Brobdingnag. There is a great deal of jolting, a great deal of noise, a great deal of wall, not much window, a locomotive engine, a shriek, and a bell.

The cars are like shabby omnibuses, but larger: holding thirty, forty, fifty, people. The seats, instead of stretching from end to end, are placed crosswise. Each seat holds two persons. There is a long row of them on each side of the caravan, a narrow passage up the middle, and a door at both ends. In the centre of the carriage there is usually a stove, fed with charcoal or anthracite coal; which is for the most part red-hot. It is insufferably close; and you see the hot air fluttering between yourself and any other object you may happen to look at, like the ghost of smoke.

In the ladies’ car, there are a great many gentlemen who have ladies with them. There are also a great many ladies who have nobody with them: for any lady may travel alone, from one end of the United States to the other, and be certain of the most courteous and considerate treatment everywhere. The conductor or check-taker, or guard, or whatever he may be, wears no uniform. He walks up and down the car, and in and out of it, as his fancy dictates; leans against the door with his hands in his pockets and stares at you, if you chance to be a stranger; or enters into conversation with the passengers about him. A great many newspapers are pulled out, and a few of them are read. [Chapter IV: "An American Railroad. — Lowell and its Factory System," 309-10]


Nast makes a literary allusion in order to satirize his fellow New York City journalists since the paper that passenger J. Smith of is reading in the foreground, The New York Sewer, is one of the many daily papers that the newsboys hawk on the deck of The Screw when Young Martin and Mark Tapley arrive in New York harbour in Dickens's 1843-44 picaresque novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. In the British Household Edition volume of that novel, published in London in 1872, Fred Barnard realizes the scene aboard the steamship in "It is in such enlightened means," said a voice, almost in Martin's ear, "That the bubbling passions of my country find a vent.".

The Relevant Illustration from the British Household Edition

Above: A. B. Frost in a realistic re-interpretation of the same scene, Railway Dialogue (1880), focusses on Dickens's conversations with Americans while travelling on railways.

Satirical Cartoons about Railways from Fun

Related Material

Relevant Marcus Stone illustrations for American Notes

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Dickens, Charles. Chapter IV: "An American Railroad. — Lowell and its Factory System." 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). pp. 309-12.

_______. Chapter IV: "An American Railroad. — Lowell and its Factory System." American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by J. Gordon Thomson and A. B. Frost. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880. Pp. 245-262.

Created 20 May 2019

Last modified 11 June 2020