Illinois History Minutes

April 11 Illinois History Minute


It’s April 11th, and on this day in 1842, Charles Dickens was in the middle of a tour of the United States that reached its low point when the English novelist came to southern Illinois.

The river town of Cairo, where English investors had lost money in a failed development scheme, was in Dickens’ words, “a dismal swamp, on which the half-built houses rot away.” Belleville was “a small collection of wooden houses, huddled together in the very heart of the bush and swamp”.

Dickens called the Mississippi River a “foul stream” of “running liquid mud”. And he would write that Illinois’ Looking Glass Prairie suffered from “excessive flatness”. Dickens found one thing to like in Illinois, the Mermaid House, an inn that is still standing in the town of Lebanon. Dickens wrote that you couldn’t find a better alehouse of its type in England.