Snippets 72. Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) had a varied and successful life, in the fields of politics (as Consul to Tunis), journalism (founding The National Advocate, New York Enquirer, Evening Star and Sunday Times) and writing. He is considered to be the first nationally famous Jewish American, and the first major Jewish American writer. In 1813 he travelled the England and wrote about his experiences in Travels in England, France, Spain, and the Barbary States, in the Years 1813-14 and 15, published in 1819. The following is his opinion of Plymouth, and a comparison of hospitality in England and America.
Plymouth has nothing to boast of, in point of situation or appearance; the streets are crooked and the houses ancient, some improvements however, which are making at the entrance of the town, consisting of a new theatre, hotel, etc, together with a few modern buildings, will contribute in time, to divest it of that dull and heavy appearance arising from narrow streets, and that never ending gothic style of architecture.
Our hotel was commodious, and every thing wore the appearance of comfort. It was here, for the first time, we had occasion to observe the difference between American and English taverns, and to draw conclusions not very favourable to our own country. Our host of the King’s Arms, was called Windsor, he was the most attentive man in the world, always active, obliging, and the very quintessence of politeness; his habits of “booing and booing,” had given him an apparent warp in the back; and he accustomed himself to return thanks so frequently, that he forgot to ascertain whether any order was given, or favour bestowed, which required acknowledgement. We experimented upon this force of habit, and interested pliancy of temper, and would occasionally ask, “what time of day is it, Mr. Windsor?” to which he would reply, with a very low bow, “eight o’clock, sir, I’m very much obliged to you.” A stranger could not fail to mark the difference, between the close attention of an English tavern-keeper and his family, and the distant civility and too careless indifference of an American landlord.
In Part 3 of Journals 5, we looked at Max O’Rell’s highly negative opinions of American hotels, in the year 1890, which forms an interesting comparison with this snippet. It seems that the contrasting attitudes of those working in hospitality were long-entrenched by the time of O’Rell’s writings.
The theatre in Plymouth mentioned in the quote is the Theatre Royal, built between 1811 and 1813 to replace the old theatre from 1758. The building was demolished in 1937 due to a decline in popularity, with the strong competition of cinema.
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