OBSERVATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
BY WILLIAM ARCHER
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1899
I. The Straits of New York—When is a Ship not a Ship?—Nationality of Passengers—A Dream Realized
II. Fog in New York Harbor—The Customs—The Note-Taker's Hyperaesthesia—A Literary Car-Conductor—Mr. Kipling and the American Public—The City of Elevators
III. New York a much-maligned City—Its Charm—Mr. Steevens' Antithesis—New York compared with Other Cities—Its Slums—Advertisements—Architecture in New York and Philadelphia
IV. Absence of Red Tape—"Rapid Transit" in New York—The Problem and its Solution—The Whirl of Life—New York by Night—The "White Magic" of the Future
V. Character and Culture—American Universities—Is the American "Electric" or Phlegmatic?—Alleged Laxity of the Family Tie—Postscript: The University System
VI. Washington in April—A Metropolis in the Making—The White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress—The Symbolism of Washington
VII. American Hospitality—Instances—Conversation and Story-Telling—Overprofusion In Hospitality—Expensiveness of Life in America—The American Barber—Postscript: An Anglo-American Club
VIII. Boston—Its Resemblance to Edinburgh—Concord, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow—Is the "Yankee" Dying Out?—America for the Americans—Detroit and Buffalo—The "Middle West"
IX. Chicago—Its Splendour and Squalour—Mammoth Buildings—Wind, Dust, and Smoke—Culture—Chicago's Self-Criticism—Postscript: Social Service in America
X. New York in Spring—Central Park—New York not an Ill-Governed City—The United States Post Office—The Express System—Valedictory
North and South, I
North and South, II
North and South, III
North and South, IV
The Republic and The Empire, I
The Republic and The Empire, II
The Republic and The Empire, III
The Republic and The Empire, IV
The American Language, I
The American Language, II
The American Language, III
The American Language, IV
The letters and essays which make up this volume appeared in the London Pall Mall Gazette and Pall Mall Magazine respectively, and are reprinted by kind permission of the editors of these periodicals. The ten letters which were sent to the Pall Mall Gazette appeared also in the New York Times.
The Straits of New York—When is a Ship not a Ship?—Nationality of Passengers—A Dream Realized.
The Atlantic Ocean is geographically a misnomer, socially and politically a dwindling superstition. That is the chief lesson one learns—and one has barely time to take it in—between Queenstown and Sandy Hook. Ocean forsooth! this little belt of blue water that we cross before we know where we are, at a single hop-skip-and-jump! From north to south, perhaps, it may still count as an ocean; from east to west we have narrowed it into a strait. Why, even for the seasick (and on this point I speak with melancholy authority) the Atlantic has not half the terrors of the Straits of Dover; comfort at sea being a question, not of the size of the waves, but of the proportion between the size of the waves and the size of the ship. Our imagination is still beguiled by the fuss the world made over Columbus, whose exploit was intellectually and morally rather than physically great. The map-makers, too, throw dust in our eyes by their absurd figment of two "hemispheres," as though Nature had sliced her orange in two, and held one half in either hand. We are slow to realise, in fact, that time is the only true measure of space, and that London to-day is nearer to New York than it was to Edinburgh a hundred and fifty years ago. The essential facts of the case, as they at present stand, would come home much more closely to the popular mind of both continents if we called this strip of sea the Straits of New York, and classed our liners, not as the successors of Columbus's caravels, but simply as what they are: giant ferry-boats plying with clockwork punctuality between the twin landing-stages of the English-speaking world.
To-morrow we shall be in New York harbour; it seems but yesterday that we slipped out of the Cove of Cork. As I look at the chart on the companion staircase, where our daily runs are marked off, I feel the abject poverty of our verbs of speed. We have not rushed, or dashed, or hurtled along—these words do grave injustice to the majesty of our progress. I can think of nothing but the strides of some Titan, so vast as to beggar even the myth-making imagination. It is not seven-league, no, nor hundred-league boots that we wear—we do our 520, 509, 518, 530 knots at a stride. Nor is it to be imagined that we are anywhere near the limit of speed. Already the Lucania's record is threatened by the Oceanic; and the Oceanic, if she fulfils her promises, will only spur on some still swifter Titan to the emprise.[A] Then, again, it is hard to believe that the difficulties are insuperable which as yet prevent us from utilising, as a point of arrival and departure, that almost mid-Atlantic outpost of the younger world, Newfoundland—or at the least Nova Scotia. By this means the actual waterway between the two continents will be shortened by something like a third. What with the acceleration of the ferry-boats and the narrowing of the ferry, it is surely no visionary Jules-Vernism to look forward to the time when one may set foot on American soil, within, say, sixty-five hours of leaving the Liverpool landing-stage; supposing, that is to say, that steam navigation be not in the meantime superseded.
As yet, to be sure, the Atlantic possesses a certain strategic importance as a coal-consuming force. To contract its time-width we have to expand our coal-bunkers; and the ship which has crossed it in six days, be she ferryboat or cruiser, is apt to arrive, as it were, a little out of breath. But even this drawback can scarcely be permanent. Science must presently achieve the storage of motive-power in some less bulky form than that of crude coal. Then the Atlantic will be as extinct, politically, as the Great Wall of China; or, rather, it will retain for America the abiding significance which the "silver streak" possesses for England—an effectual bulwark against aggression, but a highway to influence and world-moulding power.
Think of the time when the Lucania shall have fallen behind in the race, and shall be plying to Boston or Philadelphia, while larger and swifter hotel-ships shall put forth almost daily from Liverpool, Southampton, and New York! Think of the growth of intercourse which even the next ten years will probably bring, and the increase of mutual comprehension involved in it! Is it an illusion of mine, or do we not already observe in England, during the past year, a new interest and pride in our trans-Atlantic service, which now ranks close to the Navy in the popular affections? It dates, I think, from those first days of the late war, when the Paris was vainly supposed to be in danger of capture by Spanish cruisers, and when all England was wishing her god-speed.
For my own taste, this sumptuous hotel-ship is rather too much of a hotel and too little of a ship. I resent the absolute exclusion of the passengers from even the most distant view of the propelling and guiding forces. Practically, the Lucania is a ship without a deck; and the deck is to the ship what the face is to the human being. The so-called promenade-deck is simply a long roofed balcony on either side of the hotel building. It is roofed by the "shade deck," which is rigidly reserved "for navigators only." There the true life of the ship goes on, and we are vouchsafed no glimpse of it. One is reminded of the Chinaman's description of a three-masted screw steamer with two funnels: "Thlee piecee bamboo, two piecee puff-puff, walk-along inside, no can see." Here the "walk-along," the motive power, is "inside" with a vengeance. I have not at this moment the remotest conception where the engine-room is, or where lies the descent to that Avernus. Not even the communicator-gong can be heard in the hotel. I have not set eyes on an engineer or a stoker, scarcely on a sailor. The captain I do not even know by sight. Occasionally an officer flits past, on his way up to or down from the "shade deck"; I regard him with awe, and guess reverently at his rank. The ship's company, as I know it, consists of the purser, the doctor, and the army of stewards and stewardesses. The roof of the promenade-deck weighs upon my brain. It shuts off the better half of the sky, the zenith. In order even to see the masts and funnels of the ship one has to go far forward or far aft and crane one's neck upward. Not a single human being have I ever descried on the "shade-deck" or on the towering bridge. The genii of the hundred-league boots remain not only inaccessible but invisible. The effect is inhuman, uncanny. All the luxury of the saloons and staterooms does not compensate for the lack of a frank, straightforward deck. The Lucania, in my eyes, has no individuality as a ship. It—I instinctively say "it," not "she"—is merely a rather low-roofed hotel, with sea-sickness superadded to all the comforts of home. But a first-class hotel it is: the living good and plentiful, if not superfine, the service excellent, and the charges, all things considered, remarkably moderate.
What chiefly strikes one about the passengers is their homogeneity of race. Apart from a small (but influential) Semitic contingent, the whole body is thoroughly Anglo-Saxon in type. About half are British, I take it, and half American; but in most cases the nationality is to be distinguished only by accent, not by any characteristic of appearance or of demeanour. The strongly-marked Semites always excepted, there is not a man or woman among the saloon passengers who strikes me as a foreigner, a person of alien race. I do not feel my sympathies chill toward my very agreeable table-companion because he drinks ice-water at breakfast; and he views my tea with an eye of equal tolerance. It is not till one looks at the second-class passengers that one sees signs of the heterogeneity of the American people; and then one remembers with misgivings the emigrants who crowded on board at Queenstown, with their household goods done up in bundles and gaping, ill-roped boxes. The thought of them recalls an anecdote which was new to me the other day, and may be fresh to some of my readers. In any case it will bear repetition. An Irishman coming to America for the first time, found New York gay with bunting as he sailed up the harbour. He asked an American fellow-passenger the reason of the display, and was told it was in honour of Evacuation Day. "And what's that?" he inquired. "Why, the day the British troops evacuated New York." Presently an Englishman came up to the Irishman and asked him if he knew what the flags were for. "For Evacuation Day, to be sure!" was the reply. "What is Evacuation Day?" asked the Sassenach. "The day we drove you blackguards out of the country, bedad!" was the immediate reply. If not literally true, the story is at least profoundly typical.
There is a light on our starboard bow: my first glimpse, for two and twenty years, of America. It has been literally the dream of my life to revisit the United States. Not once, but fifty times, have I dreamed that the ocean (which loomed absurdly large even in my waking thoughts) was comfortably crossed, and I was landing in New York. I can clearly recall at this moment some of the fantastic shapes the city put on in my dreams—utterly different, of course, from my actual recollections of it. Well, that dream is now realised; the gates of the Western world are opening to me. What experience awaits me I know not; but this I do know, that the emotion with which I confront it is not one of idle curiosity, or even of calmly sympathetic interest. It is not primarily to my intelligence, but to my imagination, that the word "America" appeals. To many people that word conveys none but prosaic associations; to me it is electric with romance. Only one other word in existence can give me a comparable thrill; the word one sees graven on a roadside pillar as one walks down the southern slope of an Alpine pass: ITALIA. But that word carries the imagination backward only, whereas AMERICA stands for the meeting-place of the past and the future. What the land of Cooper and Mayne Reid was to my boyish fancy, the land of Washington and Lincoln, Hawthorne and Emerson, is to my adult thoughts. Does this mean that I approach America in the temper of a romantic schoolboy? Perhaps; but, bias for bias, I would rather own to that of the romantic schoolboy than to that of the cynical Old-Worldling.
[Footnote A: The Oceanic, it appears, is designed to break the record in punctuality, not in speed. Nevertheless there are several indications that our engineers are not resting on their oars, but will presently put on another spurt. The very shortest Atlantic passage, I understand, has been made by a German ship. Surely England and America cannot long be content to leave the record for speed, of all things, in the hands of Germany.]
Fog in New York Harbour—The Customs—The Note-Taker's Hyperaesthesia—a Literary Car-Conductor—Mr. Kipling and the American Public—The City of Elevators.
By way of making us feel quite at home, New-York receives us with a dank Scotch mist. On the shores of Staten Island the leafless trees stand out grey and gaunt against the whity-grey snow, a legacy, no doubt, from the great blizzard. Though I keep a sharp look-out, I can descry no Liberty Enlightening the World. Liberty (absit omen!) is wrapped away in grimy cotton-wool. There, however, are the "sky-scraper" buildings, looming out through the mist, like the Jotuns in Niflheim of Scandinavian mythology. They are grandiose, certainly, and not, to my thinking, ugly. That word has no application in this context. "Pretty" and "ugly"—why should we for ever carry about these aesthetic labels in our pockets, and insist on dabbing them down on everything that comes in our way? If we cannot get, with Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Boese, we might at least allow our souls an occasional breathing-space in a region "Back of the Beautiful and the Ugly," as they say in President's English. While I am trying to formulate my feelings with regard to this deputation of giants which the giant Republic sends down to the waterside to welcome us, behold, we have crept up abreast of the Cunard wharf, and there stands a little crowd of human welcomers, waving handkerchiefs and American flags. An energetic tug-boat butts her head gallantly into the flank of the huge liner, in order to help her round. She glides up to her berth, the gangway is run out, and at last I set foot upon American—lumber.
What are my emotions? I have only one; single, simple, easily-expressed: dread of the United States Custom House. Its terrors and its tyrannies have been depicted in such lurid colours on the other side that I am almost surprised to observe no manifest ogres in uniform caps, but only, it would seem, ordinary human beings. And, on closer acquaintanceship, they prove to be civil and even helpful human beings, with none of the lazy superciliousness which so often characterises the European toll-taker. At first the scene is chaotic enough, but, by aid of an arrangement in alphabetical groups, cosmos soon emerges. The system by which you declare your dutiable goods and are assigned an examiner, and if necessary an appraiser, is admirably simple and free from red-tape. I shall not describe it, for it would be more tedious in description than in act. Enough that the whole thing is conducted, so far as I could see, promptly, efficiently, and with perfect good temper. One brief discussion I heard, between an official and an American citizen, who was heavily assessed on some article or articles which he declared to have been manufactured in America and taken out of the country by himself only a few months before. The official insisted that there was no proof of this; but just as the discussion threatened to become an altercation (a "scrap" they would call it here) some one found a way out. The goods were forwarded in bond to the traveller's place of residence (Hartford, I think) where he declared that he could produce proof of their American origin. For myself, I had to pay two dollars and a half on some magic-lantern slides. I could have imported the lantern, had I owned one, free of charge, as a philosophical instrument used in my profession; but the courts have held, it appears, that though the lantern comes under that rubric, the slides do not. I cannot pretend to grasp the distinction, or to admire the system which necessitates it. But whatever the economic merits or demerits of the tariff, I take pleasure in bearing testimony to the civility with which I found it enforced.
My companion and I express our baggage to our hotel and jump on the platform of a horse-car on West-street, skirting the wharves. The roadway is ill paved, certainly, and the clammy atmosphere has congealed on its surface into an oily black mud; while in the middle of the side streets one can see relics of the blizzard in the shape of little grubby glaciers slowly oozing away. The prospect is not enlivening; nor do the low brick houses, given up to nondescript longshore traffic, and freely punctuated with gilt-lettered saloons, add to its impressiveness. Squalid it is without doubt, this particular aspect of New York; but what is the squalor of West-street to that of Limehouse or Poplar? Are our own dock thoroughfares always paved to perfection? And if we had a blizzard like that of three weeks ago, how long would its vestiges linger in the side-streets of Millwall? Even as I mark the grimness of the scene, I am conscious of a sort of hyperaesthesia against which one ought to be on guard. The note-taking traveller is very apt to forget that the mere act of note-taking upsets his normal perceptivity. He becomes feverishly observant, morbidly critical. He compares incommensurables, and flies to ideal standpoints. He is so eager to descry differences, that he overlooks similarities—nay, identities. Thus only can I account for many statements about New York, occurring in the pages of recent and reputable travellers, both French and English, which I find to be exaggerated almost to the point of monstrosity. What should we say of an American who should criticise the Commercial Road from the point of view of Fifth Avenue? After a week's experience of New York, I cannot but fancy that certain travellers I could mention have been guilty of similar errors of proportion.
To return to our street-car platform. The conductor gathers from our conversation that we have just landed from the English steamer, and he at once overflows upon the one great topic of all classes in New York. "I s'pose you've heard," he says, "that Kipling has been very ill?" Yes, we had heard of his illness before we left England. "He's pulling through now, though," says the conductor with heartfelt satisfaction. That, too, we had ascertained on board. "He ought to be the next poet-laureate," our friend continues eagerly; "he don't follow no beaten tracks. He cuts a road for himself, every time, right through; and a mighty good road, too." He then proceeded to make some remarks, which in the rattle of the street I did not quite catch, about "carpet-bag knights." I gathered that he held a low opinion of the present wearer of the bays, and confounded him (not inexcusably) with one or other of his titled compeers. My companion and I were too much taken aback to pursue the theme and ascertain our friend's opinions on Mr. Ruskin, Mr. Meredith, Mrs. Humphry Ward, and Miss Marie Corelli. Think of it! We have travelled three thousand miles to find a tram-conductor whose eyes glisten as he tells us that Kipling is better, and who discusses with a great deal of sense and acuteness the question of the English poet-laureateship! Could anything be more marvellous or more significant? Said I not well when I declared the Atlantic Ocean of less account than the Straits of Dover?
This was indeed a welcome to the New World. Fate could not have devised a more ingenious and at the same time tactful way of making us feel at home; though at home, indeed, a Mile End 'bus conductor is scarcely the authority one would turn to for enlightened views upon the Laureateship. The mere fact of our friend's having heard of Mr. Kipling's existence struck us as surprising enough, until we learned that the poet of Tommy Atkins is at the present moment quite the most famous person in the United States. When his illness was at its height, hourly bulletins were posted in factories and workshops, and people meeting in the streets asked each other, "How is he?" without deeming it necessary to supply an antecedent to the pronoun. It was grammatically as well as spiritually a case of "Kipling understood."
At a low music-hall into which I strayed one evening, one of the nigger corner-men sang a song of which the nature may be sufficiently divined from the refrain, "And the tom-cat was the cause of it all." This lyric being loudly encored, the performer came forward, and, to my astonishment, began to recite a long series of doggerel verses upon Mr. Kipling's illness, setting forth how
"His strong will made him famous, and his strong will pulled him through."
They were imbecile, they were maudlin, they were in the worst possible taste. So far as the reciter was concerned, they were absolutely insincere clap-trap. But the crowded audience received them with rapture; and the very fact that an astute caterer should serve up this particular form of clap-trap showed how the sympathy with Mr. Kipling had permeated even the most un-literary stratum of the public. To an Englishman, nothing can be more touching than to find on every hand this enthusiastic affection for the poet of the Seven Seas—a writer, too, who has not dealt over-tenderly with American susceptibilities, and has, by sheer force of genius, lived down a good deal of unpopularity.
For the moment, neither President McKinley nor Mr. Fitzsimmons can vie with him in notoriety. His sole rival as a popular hero is Admiral Dewey, whose name is in every mouth and on every boarding. He is the one living celebrity whom the Italian image-vendors admit to their pantheon, where he rubs shoulders with Shakespeare, Dante, Beethoven, and the Venus of Milo. It is related that, at a Camp of Exercise last year, President McKinley chanced to stray beyond bounds, and on returning was confronted by a sentry, who dropped his rifle and bade him halt. "I have forgotten the pass-word," said Mr. McKinley, "but if you will look at me you will see that I am the President." "If you were George Dewey himself," was the reply, "you shouldn't get by here without the pass-word." This anecdote has a flavour of ancient history, but it is aptly brought up to date.[B]
We bid adieu to our poetical conductor, take a cross-town car, and are presently pushing at the revolving doors—a draught-excluding plate-glass turn-stile—of a vast red-brick hotel, luxurious and labyrinthine. A short colloquy with the clerk at the bureau, and we find ourselves in a gorgeously upholstered elevator, whizzing aloft to the thirteenth floor. Not the top floor—far from it. If you could slice off the stories above the thirteenth, as you slice off the top of an egg, and plant them down in Europe, they would of themselves make a biggish hotel according to our standards. This first elevator voyage is the prelude to how many others! For the past week I seem to have spent the best part of my time in elevators. I must have travelled miles on miles at right angles to the earth's surface. If all my ascensions could be put together, they would out-top Olympus and make Ossa a wart.
This is the first sensation of life in New York—you feel that the Americans have practically added a new dimension to space. They move almost as much on the perpendicular as on the horizontal plane. When they find themselves a little crowded, they simply tilt a street on end and call it a sky scraper. This hotel, for example (the Waldorf-Astoria), is nothing but a couple of populous streets soaring up into the air instead of crawling along the ground. When I was here in 1877, I remember looking with wonder at the Tribune building, hard by the Post Office, which was then considered a marvel of architectural daring. Now it is dwarfed into absolute insignificance by a dozen Cyclopean structures on every hand. It looks as diminutive as the Adelphi Terrace in contrast with the Hotel Cecil. I am credibly informed that in some of the huge down-town buildings they run "express" elevators, which do not stop before the fifteenth, eighteenth, twentieth floor, as the case may be. Some such arrangement seems very necessary, for the elevator Bummelzugs, which stop at every floor, take quite an appreciable slice out of the average New York day. I wonder that American ingenuity has not provided a system of pneumatic passenger-tubes for lightning communication with these aerial suburbs, these "mansions in the sky."
[Footnote B: A similar story is told of the Confederate President. Challenged by a sentinel, he said, "Look at me and you will see that I am President Davis." "Well," said the soldier, "you do look like a used postage-stamp. Pass, President Davis!"]
New York a much-maligned City—Its Charm—Mr. Steevens' Antitheses—New York compared with Other Cities—Its Slums—Advertisements—Architecture in New York and Philadelphia.
Many superlatives have been applied to New York by her own children, by the stranger within her gates, and by the stranger without her gates, at a safe distance. I, a newcomer, venture to apply what I believe to be a new superlative, and to call her the most maligned city in the world. Even sympathetic observers have exaggerated all that is uncouth, unbeautiful, unhealthy in her life, and overlooked, as it seems to me, her all-pervading charm. One must be a pessimist indeed to feel no exhilaration on coming in contact with such intensity of upward-striving life as meets one on every hand in this league-long island city, stretching oceanward between her eastern Sound and her western estuary, and roofed by a radiant dome of smokeless sky. "Upward-striving life," I say, for everywhere and in every branch of artistic effort the desire for beauty is apparent, while at many points the achievement is remarkable and inspiriting. I speak, of course, mainly of material beauty; but it is hard to believe that so marked an impulse toward the good as one notes in architecture, painting, sculpture, and literature, can be unaccompanied by a cognate impulse toward moral beauty, even in relation to civic life. The New Yorker's pride in New York is much more alert and active than the Londoner's pride in London; and this feeling must ere long make itself effective and dominant. For the great advantage, it seems to me, that America possesses over the Old World is its material and moral plasticity. Even among the giant structures of this city, one feels that there is nothing rigid, nothing oppressive, nothing inaccessible to the influence of changing conditions. If the buildings are Cyclopean, so is the race that reared them. The material world seems as clay on the potter's wheel, visibly taking on the impress of the human spirit; and the human spirit, as embodied in this superbly vital people, seems to be visibly thrilling to all the forces of civilisation.
One of the latest, and certainly one of the most keen-sighted, of English travellers in America is Mr. G.W. Steevens, a master journalist if ever there was one. I turn to his Land of the Dollar and I find New York writ down "uncouth, formless, piebald, chaotic." "Never have I seen," says Mr. Steevens, "a city more hideous.... Nothing is given to beauty; everything centres in hard utility." Mr. Steevens must forgive me for saying that this is simply libellous. It is true, I do not quote him fairly: I omit his laudatory antitheses. The truncated phrase in the above passage reads in the original "more hideous or more splendid," and after averring that "nothing is given to beauty," Mr. Steevens immediately proceeds to celebrate the beauty of many New York buildings. Are we to understand, then, that the architects thought of nothing but "hard utility," and that it was some aesthetic divinity that shaped their blocks, rough-hew them how they might? For my part, I cannot see how truth is to result from the clash of contradictory falsehoods. There are a few cities more splendid than New York; many more hideous. In point of concentrated architectural magnificence, there is nothing in New York to compare with the Vienna Ringstrasse, from the Opera House to the Votive Church.
In the splendour which proceeds from ordered uniformity and spaciousness, Paris is, of course, incomparable; while a Scotchman may perhaps be excused for holding that, as regards splendour of situation, Edinburgh is hard to beat. Nor is there any single prospect in New York so impressive as the panorama of London from Waterloo Bridge, when it happens to be visible—that imperial sweep of river frontage from the Houses of Parliament to the Tower. Except in the new region, far up the Hudson, New York shares with Dublin the disadvantage of turning her meaner aspects to her river fronts, though the majesty of the rivers themselves, and the grandiose outlines of the Brooklyn Bridge, largely compensate for this defect. In the main, then, the splendour of New York is as yet sporadic. It is emerging on every hand from comparative meanness and commonplace. At no point can one as yet say, "This prospect is finer than anything Europe can show." But everywhere there are purple patches of architectural splendour; and one can easily foresee the time when Fifth Avenue, the whole circuit of Central Park, and the up-town riverside region will be magnificent beyond compare.
As for the superlative hideousness attributed by Mr. Steevens to New York, I can only inquire, in the local idiom: "What is the matter with Glasgow?" Or, indeed, with Hull? or Newcastle? or the north-east regions of London? No doubt New York contains some of the very worst slums in the world. That melancholy distinction must be conceded her. But simply to the outward eye the slums of New York have not the monotonous hideousness of our English "warrens of the poor." In spite of her hard winter, New York cannot quite forget that her latitude is that of Madrid and Naples, not of London, or even of Paris. Her slums have a Southern air about them, a variety of contour and colour—in some aspects one might almost say a gaiety—unknown to Whitechapel or Bethnal Green. For one thing, the ubiquitous balconies and fire escapes serve of themselves to break the monotony of line, and lend, as it were, a peculiar texture to the scene; to say nothing of the oportunities they afford for the display of multifarious shreds and patches of colour. Then the houses themselves are often brightly, not to say loudly, painted; so that in the clear, sparkling atmosphere characteristic of New York, the most squalid slum puts on a many-coloured Southern aspect, which suggests Naples or Marseilles rather than the back streets of any English city. Add to this that the inhabitants are largely of Southern origin, and are apt, whenever the temperature will permit, to carry on the main part of their daily lives out of doors; and you can understand that, appalling as poverty may be in New York, the average slum is not so dank, dismal, and suicidally monotonous as a street of a similar status in London.
"The whole city," says Mr. Steevens, "is plastered, and papered, and painted with advertisements;" and he instances the huge "H-O" (whatever that may mean) which confronts one as one sails up the harbour, and the omnipresent "Castoria" placards. Here Mr. Steevens shows symptoms of the note-taker's hyperaesthesia. The facts he states are undeniable, but the implication that advertisement is carried to greater excess in New York than in London and other European cities seems to me utterly groundless. The "H-O" advertisement is not one whit more monstrous than, for instance, the huge announcements of cheap clothing-shops, &c., painted all over the ends of houses, that deface the railway approaches to Paris; nor is it so flagrant and aggressive as the illuminated advertisements of whisky and California wines that vulgarise the august spectacle of the Thames by night. It is true that the proprietors of "Castoria" have occupied nearly every blank wall that is visible from Brooklyn Bridge; but their advertisements are so far from garish that I should scarcely have noticed them had not Mr. Steevens called my attention to them. Sky-signs, as Mr. Steevens admits, are unknown in New York; so are the flashing out-and-in electric advertisements which make night hideous in London. One or two large steady-burning advertisements irradiate Madison Square of an evening; but being steady they are comparatively inoffensive. Twenty years ago, when I crossed the continent from San Francisco, I noticed with disgust the advertisements stencilled on every second rock in the canyons of Nevada, and defacing every coign of vantage around Niagara. Whether this abuse continues I know not; but I know that the pill placards and sauce puffs which blossom in our English meadows along every main line of railway are quite as offensive. Far be it from me to deny that advertising is carried to deplorable excesses in America; but in picking this out as a differentia, Mr. Steevens shows that his intentness of observation in New York has for the moment dimmed his mental vision of London. It is a case, I fancy, in which the expectation was father to the thought.
Similarly, Mr. Steevens notes, "No chiropodist worthy of the name but keeps at his door a modelled human foot the size of a cab-horse; and other trades go and do likewise." The "cab-horse" is a monumental exaggeration; but it is true that some chiropodists use as a sign a foot of colossal proportions—the size of a small sheep, let us say, if we must adopt a zoological standard. So far good; but the implication that the streets of New York swarm, like a scene in a harlequinade, with similarly Brobdingnagian signs is quite unfounded. Thus it is, I think, that travellers are apt to seize on isolated eccentricities or extravagances (have we no monstrous signs in England?) and treat them as typical. Mr. Steevens came to America prepared to find everything gigantic, and the chiropodist's foot so agreeably fulfilled his expectation that he thought it unnecessary to look any further—"ex pede Herculem."[C]
The architecture of New York, according to Mr. Steevens, is "the outward expression of the freest, fiercest individualism.... Seeing it, you can well understand the admiration of an American for something ordered and proportioned—for the Rue de Rivoli or Regent Street." I heard this admiration emphatically expressed the other day by one of the foremost and most justly famous of American authors; but, unlike Mr. Steevens, I could not understand it. "What!" I said, "you would Haussmannise New York! You would reduce the glorious variety of Fifth Avenue to the deadly uniformity of the Avenue de l'Opera, where each block of buildings reproduces its neighbour, as though they had all been stamped by one gigantic die!" Such an architectural ideal is inconceivable to me. It is all very well for a few short streets, for a square or two, for a quadrant like that of Regent Street, or a crescent or circus like those of Bath or Edinburgh. But to apply it throughout a whole quarter of a city, or even throughout the endless vistas of a great American street, would be simply maddening. Better the most heaven-storming or sky-scraping audacity of individualism than any attempt to transform New York into a Fourierist phalanstery or a model prison. I do not doubt that there will one day be some legal restriction on Towers of Babel, and that the hygienic disadvantages of the microbe-breeding "well" or air-shaft will be more fully recognised than they are at present. A time may come, too, when the ideal of an unforced harmony in architectural groupings may replace the now dominant instinct of aggressive diversity. But whatever developments the future may have in store, I must own my gratitude to the "fierce individualism" of the present for a new realisation of the possibilities of architectural beauty in modern life. At almost every turn in New York, one comes across some building that gives one a little shock of pleasure. Sometimes, indeed, it is the pleasure of recognising an old friend in a new place—a patch of Venice or a chunk of Florence transported bodily to the New World. The exquisite tower of the Madison Square Garden, for instance, is modelled on that of the Giralda, at Seville; while the new University Club, on Fifth Avenue, is simply a Florentine fortress-palace of somewhat disproportionate height. But along with a good deal of sheer reproduction of European models, one finds a great deal of ingenious and inventive adaptation, to say nothing of a very delicate taste in the treatment of detail. New York abounds, it is true, with monuments of more than one bygone and detestable period of architectural fashion; but they are as distinctly survivals from a dead past as is the wooden shanty which occupies one of the best sites on Fifth Avenue, in the very shadow of the new Delmonico's. I wish tasteless, conventional, and machine-made architecture were as much of a "back-number" in England as it is here. A practised observer could confidently date any prominent building in New York, to within a year or two, by its architectural merit; and the greater the merit the later the year.
In short, architecture is here a living art. Go where you will in these up-town regions, you can see imagination and cultured intelligence in the act, as it were, of impressing beauty of proportion and detail upon brick and terra-cotta, granite and marble. And domestic or middle-class architecture is not neglected. The American "master builders" do not confine themselves to towers and palaces, but give infinite thought and loving care to "homes for human beings." The average old-fashioned New York house, so far as I have seen it, is externally unattractive (the characteristic material, a sort of coffee-coloured stone, being truly hideous), and internally dark, cramped, and stuffy. But modern houses, even of no special pretensions, are generally delightful, with their polished wood floors and fittings, and their airy suites of rooms. The American architect has a great advantage over his English colleague in the fact that in furnace-heated houses only the bedrooms require to be shut off with doors. The halls and public rooms can be grouped so that, when the curtains hung in their wide doorways are drawn back, two, three, or four rooms are open to the eye at once, and charming effects of space and light-and-shade can be obtained. Of this advantage the modern house-planner makes excellent use, and I have seen more than one quite modest family house which, without any sacrifice of comfort, gives one a sense of almost palatial spaciousness. An architectural exhibition which I saw the other day proved that equal or even greater care and attention is being bestowed upon the country house, in which a characteristically American style is being developed, mainly founded, I take it, upon the suave and graceful classicism of Colonial architecture. The wide "piazza" is its most noteworthy feature, and the opportunity it offers for beautiful cloister-work is being utilised to the full. Furthermore, the large attendance at the exhibition showed what a keen interest the public takes in the art—a symptom of high vitality.
In Philadelphia, too, where I spent some time last week, there is a good deal of exquisite architecture to be seen. The old Philadelphia dwelling house, "simplex munditiis," with its plain red-brick front and white marble steps, has a peculiar charm for me; but it, of course, is not a product of the present movement. I do not know the date of some lovely white marble palazzetti scattered about the Rittenhouse Square region; but the Art Club on Broad Street, and the Houston Club for Students of the University of Pennsylvania, are both quite recent buildings, and both very beautiful. I could mention several other buildings that are, as they say here, "pretty good" (a phrase of high commendation); but I had better get safely out of New York before I enlarge on the merits of Philadelphia. There is only one city the New Yorker despises more than Philadelphia, and that is Brooklyn. The New York schoolboy speaks of Philadelphia as "the place the chestnuts go to when they die;" and to the most popular wit in New York at this moment (an Americanised Englishman, by the way) is attributed the saying, "Mr. So-and-so has three daughters—two alive, and one in Philadelphia." Six different people have related this gibe to me; it is only less admired than the same gentleman's observation as he alighted from an electric car at the further end of the Suspension Bridge, when he heaved a deep sigh, and remarked, "In the midst of life we are in Brooklyn." Another favourite anecdote in New York is that of the Philadelphian who went to a doctor and complained of insomnia. The doctor gave him a great deal of sage advice as to diet, exercise, and so forth, concluding, "If after that you haven't better nights, let me see you again." "But you mistake, doctor," the patient replied; "I sleep all right at night—it's in the daytime I can't sleep!"
[Footnote C: One method of advertisement which I observed in Chicago has not yet, so far as I know, been introduced into England. One of the windows of a vast dry-goods store on State Street was fitted up as a dentists parlour; and when I passed a young lady was reclining in the operating-chair and having her teeth stopped, to the no small delectation of a little crowd which blocked the side-walk.]
Absence of Red Tape—"Rapid Transit" in New York—The Problem and its Solution—The Whirl of Life—New York by Night—The "White Magic" of the Future.
Whatever turn her fiscal policy may take in the future, I hope America will keep an absolutely prohibitive duty upon the import of red tape, while at the same time discouraging the home manufacture of the article. The absence of red tape is, to me, one of the charms of life in this country. One gathers, indeed, that the art of running a Circumlocution Office is carried to a high pitch in the political sphere. But there it is exercised with a definite object; it is a means to an end, cunningly devised and skillfully applied; it is not a mere matter of instinct, inertia, and routine. The Tite Barnacles of Dickens's satire were perfectly honest people according to their lights. They were sincerely convinced that the British Empire would crumble to pieces the moment its ligaments of red tape were in the slightest degree relaxed. Their strength lay in the fact that they represented an innate tendency in the nation, or at any rate in the dominant class at the period of which Dickens wrote. In America there is no such innate tendency. The Tite Barnacles do not imagine or pretend that they are saving the Republic; they simply make use of a convenient political machinery to serve their private ends. Therefore their position, however strong it may seem for the moment, is insecurely founded. It rests upon no moral basis, it finds no stronghold in the national character. Outsiders may think the average American citizen strangely tolerant of abuses, and indeed I find him smiling with placid amusement at things which, were I in his place, would make my blood boil. But he is under no illusion as to the real nature of these things. An abuse remains an abuse in his eyes, though he may not for the moment see his way to rectifying it. The red tape which is used to embarrass justice or "tie up" reform commands no reverence even from the party that employs it. Cynicism may endure for the night, but indignation ariseth in the morning.
The American character, in a word, does not naturally run to red tape. Observe, for instance, the system of transit in New York: it is admirably successful in grappling with a very difficult problem, and its success proceeds from the absence of by-laws and restrictions, the omnipresence of good-nature and common-sense. The problem is rendered difficult, not only by the enormous numbers to be conveyed, but by the stocking-like configuration of Manhattan Island. The business quarter of New York is in the foot, the residential quarters in the calf and knee. Therefore there is a great rush of people down to the foot in the morning and up to the knee in the afternoon. The business quarter of London is like the hub of a wheel, from which the railway and omnibus lines radiate like spokes. In New York there is very little radiation or dispersion of the multitude. Practically the whole tide sets down a narrow channel in the morning, and up again in the evening. At the time, then, of these tidal waves, it is a flat impossibility that transit can be altogether comfortable. The "elevated" trains and electric trolleys are overcrowded, certainly; but you can always find a place in them, and they carry you so rapidly that the discomfort is rendered as little irksome as possible. A society has been formed, I see, to agitate against this overcrowding; but it seems to me it will only waste its pains. Let it agitate for an underground railway, by all means; and if, as I gather, the underground railway scheme is obstructed by self-seeking vested interests, let it do its best to break down the obstruction. Until some altogether new means of transport are provided, the attempt to restrict the number of passengers which a car or trolley may carry is, I think, antisocial, and must prove futile. The force of public convenience would break the red-tape barrier like a cobweb. The trains and trolleys follow each other at the very briefest intervals; it does not seem possible that a greater number should be run on the existing lines; and, that being so, there is no alternative between overcrowding and the far greater inconvenience of indefinite delay. Fancy having to "take a number," as they do in Paris, and await your turn for a seat! New York would be simply paralysed. It is needless to point out, of course, that where steam or electricity is the motive power there is no cruelty to animals in overcrowding.
The American people, rightly and admirably as it seems to me, choose the lesser of two evils, and minimise it by good temper and mutual civility. At a certain hour of every morning, the "L" railroad trains are as densely packed as our Metropolitan trains on Boat-Race Day. There are people clinging in clusters to each of the straps, and even the platforms between the cars are crowded to the very couplings. It often appears hopelessly impossible for any new-comer to squeeze in, or for those who are wedged in the middle of a long car to force their way out. Yet when the necessity arises, no force has to be applied. People manage somehow or other to "welcome the coming, speed the parting guest." Every one recognises that cantankerous obstructiveness would only make matters worse, nay, absolutely intolerable. The first comer makes no attempt to insist upon his position of advantage, because he knows that to-morrow he may be the last comer. The sense of individual inconvenience is swamped in the sense of general convenience. People laugh and rather enjoy the joke when a too sudden start or an abrupt curve sends a whole group of them cannoning up against one another. It must be remembered that the transit is rapid, so that there is no irritating sense of wasted time: and that the cars are brilliantly lighted, and, on the whole, well ventilated, so that there is no fog, smoke, or sulphurous air to get on the nerves and strain the temper. The scene as a whole, even on a wet, disagreeable evening, is not depressing, but rather cheerful. For my part, I regard it with positive pleasure, as a manifestation of the national character. Less admirable, to be sure, is the public acquiescence in the political manoeuvring, which blocks the proposed underground railway. Yet the opponents of the scheme have doubtless something to say on their side. It appears, at any rate, that the profits of the "L" road are not exorbitant. It is said to be only through overcrowding that it pays at all. The passengers it seats barely suffice to cover expenses, and "the profits hang on to the straps."
Idealists hope that when the underground comes, the elevated will go; but I, as an outsider, cannot share his hope. In the first place, I don't see how the mere substitution of one line for another is to relieve the congestion of traffic; in the second place, the elevated seems to me an admirable institution, which it would be a great pity to abolish. Even aesthetically there is much to be said for it. The road, itself, to be sure, does not add to the beauty of the avenues along which it runs, but it is not by any means the eyesore one might imagine; and the trains, with their light, graceful, and elegantly-proportioned cars, so different from our squat and formless railway carriages, seem to me a positively beautiful feature of the city life. They are not very noisy, they are not very smoky, and they will be smokeless and almost noiseless when they are run by electricity. The discomfort they cause, to dwellers on the avenues is, I am sure, greatly exaggerated. People who do not live on the avenues suffer in their sympathetic imagination much more than the actual martyrs to the "L" road suffer in fact. Imagination makes cowards of us all. For my part, I endured agonies from the rush, whirl and clatter of New York before I left London; but here I find nothing that, to healthy nerves, is not rather enjoyable than otherwise. Neither up town nor down town is the traffic so dense, the roar and bustle so continuous, as that of London; while the service of trains and cars is so excellent and so simply arranged that it costs much less thought, effort, and worry to "get about" in Manhattan than in Middlesex. In saying this I may perhaps offend American susceptibilities. There is nothing we moderns are more apt to brag of than the nervous overstrain of our life. But sincerity comes before courtesy, and I must gently but firmly decline to allow New York a monopoly of neurasthenia, or of the conditions that produce it.
One great difference is, I take it, that while New York exhausts it also stimulates, whereas the days of the year when there is any positive stimulus in the air of London may be counted on the ten fingers. Muggy and misty days do occur here, it is true; but though the natives tell me that this month of March has been exceptionally unpleasant, the prevailing impression I have received is that of a lofty and radiant vault of sky, with keen, sweet, limpid air that one drank in eagerly, like sparkling wine. More than once, after a slight snowfall, I have seen the air full of dancing particles of light, like the gold leaf in Dantzic brandy. One of the most impressive things I ever saw, though I did not then realise its tragic significance, was the huge column of smoke that rose into the clear blue air from the Windsor Hotel fire. I happened to come out on Fifth Avenue, close to the Manhattan Club, just as the tail of the St. Patrick's Day procession was passing; and, looking up the avenue after it, I was ware of a gigantic white pillar standing motionless, as it seemed to me, and cleaving the limitless blue dome almost to the zenith. The procession moved quietly on; no one appeared to take any notice; and as fires are ineffective in the daylight, I turned down the avenue instead, of up, and saw no more of the spectacle. But I shall never forget that "pillar of cloud by day," standing out in the sunshine, white as marble or sea foam.
At night, again, under the purple, star-lit sky, street life in the central region of New York is indescribably exhilarating. From Union Square to Herald Square, and even further up, Broadway and many of the cross streets flash out at dusk into the most brilliant illumination. Theatres, restaurants, stores, are outlined in incandescent lamps; the huge electric trolleys come sailing along in an endless stream, profusely jewelled with electricity; and down the thickly-gemmed vista of every cross street one can see the elevated trains, like luminous winged serpents, skimming through the air.[D] The great restaurants are crowded with gaily-dressed merry-makers; and altogether there is a sense of festivity in the air, without any flagrantly meretricious element in it, which I plead guilty to finding very enjoyable. From the moral, and even from the loftily aesthetic point of view, this gaudy, glittering Vanity Fair is no doubt open to criticism. What reconciles me to it aesthetically is the gemlike transparency of its colouring. Garish it is, no doubt, but not in the least stifling, smoky, or lurid. The application of electricity—light divorced from smoke and heat—to the beautifying of city life is as yet in its infancy. Even the Americans have scarcely got beyond the point of making lavish use of the raw material. But the raw material is beautiful in itself, and in this pellucid air (the point to which one always returns) it produces magical effects.
The other night, at a restaurant, I sat at the next table to Mr. Edison, and could not but look with interest and admiration at his furrowed, anxious, typically American and truly beautiful face. Here, if you like, was an example of nervous overstrain; but the soft and yet brilliant light of the restaurant was in itself a sufficient reminder that the overstrain had not been incurred for nothing. Electricity is the true "white magic" of the future; and here, with his pallid face and silver hair, sat the master magician—one of the great light-givers of the world. A light-giver, I think, in more than a merely material sense. The moral influence of the electric lamp, its effect upon the hygiene of the soul, has not yet been duly estimated. But even in a merely material sense, what has not the Edison movement, as it may be called, done for this city of New York! Its influence is felt on every hand, in comfort, convenience, and beauty. The lavish use of electricity, both as an illuminant and as a motive power, combines with its climate, its situation, and its architecture to make New York one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Why, good Americans, when they die, should go to Paris, is a theological enigma which more and more puzzles me.
POSTSCRIPT.—Since my return to England, I have carefully reconsidered my impression that the rush, whirl, and clamour of street life is greater in London than in New York. Every day confirms it. On our main thoroughfares, the stream of omnibuses is quite as unbroken as the stream of electric and cable cars in New York; our van traffic is at least as heavy; and we have in addition the host of creeping "growlers" and darting hansoms, which is almost without counterpart in New York. I know of no crossing in New York so trying to the nerves as Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross (Trafalgar Square). The intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, at Madison Square, is the nearest approach to these bewildering ganglia of traffic. It must be owned, too, that the Bowery, with its two "elevated" tracks and four lines of trolley-cars, is a place where one cannot safely let one's wits go wool-gathering, especially on a rainy evening when the roadway is under repair. Let me add that there is one place in New York where the whirl of traffic ("whirl" in a literal sense) is unique and amazing. I mean the covered area at the New York end of Brooklyn Bridge where the transpontine electric cars, in an incessant stream, swoop down the curves of the bridge and sweep round on their return journey. The scene at night is indescribable. The air seems supersaturated with electricity, flashing and crackling on every hand. One has a sense of having strayed unwittingly into the midst of a miniature planetary system in full swing, with the boom of the trolleys, in their mazy courses, to represent the music of the spheres.
[Footnote D: I find the same idea (a sufficiently obvious one) finely expressed by Mr. Richard Hovey in his book of poems entitled Along the Trail:
Look, how the overhead train at the Morningside curve Loops like a sea-born dragon its sinuous flight. Loops in the night in and out, high up in the air, Like a serpent of stars with the coil and undulant reach of waves.]
Character and Culture—American Universities—Is the American "Electric" or Phlegmatic?—Alleged Laxity of the Family Tie—Postscript; the University System.
It is four weeks to-day since I landed in New York, and, save for forty hours in Philadelphia and four hours in Brooklyn, I have spent all that time in Manhattan Island. Yet, to my shame be it spoken, I am not prepared with any generalisation as to the American character. It has been my good fortune to see a great deal of literary and artistic New York, and, comparing it with literary and artistic London, I am inclined to say "Pompey and Caesar berry much alike—specially Pompey!" The New Yorker is far more cosmopolitan than the Londoner; of that there is no doubt. He knows all that we know about current English literature. He knows all that we do not know about current American literature. He is much more interested in and influenced by French literature and art than the average educated Englishman—so much so that the leading French critics, such as M. Brunetiere and M. Rod, lecture here to crowded and appreciative audiences. Moreover an excellent German theatre permanently established in the city keeps the literary world well abreast of cosmopolitanism of the educated New Yorker the dramatic movement in Germany. But the merely means that he has everything in common with the educated Londoner—and a little over. His traditions are ours, his standards are ours, his ideals are ours. He is busied with the same problems of ethics, of aesthetics, of style, even of grammar. I had not been three days in New York when I found myself plunged in a hot discussion of the "split infinitive," in which I was ranged with two Americans against a recreant Briton who defended the collocation. "It is a mistake to regard it is an Americanism," said one of the Americans. "It is as old as the English language, or at least as old as Wickliff. But it is unnecessary, and the best modern practice discountenances it." I felt like falling on the neck of an ally of half an hour's standing, and swearing eternal friendship. What matters Alaska, or Venezuela, or Nicaragua, "or all the stones of stumbling in the world," so long as we have a common interest in (and some of us a common distaste for) the split infinitive? To put the matter briefly, while the outlook of the New Yorker is wider than ours, his standpoint is the same. We gather from a well-known anecdote that some, at least, of the cultivated Americans of Thackeray's time were inclined to "think of Tupper." To-day they do not "think of Tupper" any more than we do—and by Tupper I mean, of course, not the veritable Martin Farquhar, but the Tuppers of the passing hour. In America as in England, no doubt, there is a huge half-educated public, ravenous for doughnuts of romance served up with syrup of sentiment. The enthusiasms of the American shopgirl, I take it, are very much the same as those of her English sister. But the line of demarkation between the educated and the half-educated is just as clear in New York as in London. For the cultivated American of to-day, the Boomster booms and the Sibyl sibyllates in vain. I find no justification, in this city at any rate, for the old saying which described America as the most common-schooled and least educated country in the world. If we must draw distinctions, I should say that the effect of the American system of university education was to raise the level of general culture, while lowering the standard of special scholarship. I believe that the general American tendency is to insist less than we do on sheer mental discipline for its own sake, whether in classics or mathematics, to allow the student a wider latitude of choice, and to enable him to specialise at an earlier point in his curriculum upon the studies he most affects, or which are most likely to be directly useful to him in practical life. Thus the American universities, probably, do not turn out many men who can "read Plato with their feet on the hob," but many who can, and do, read and understand him as Colonel Newcome read Caesar—"with a translation, sir, with a translation." The width of outlook which I have noted as characteristic of literary New York is deliberately aimed at in the university system, and most successfully attained. The average young man of parts turned out by an American university has a many-sided interest in, and comprehension of, European literature and the intellectual movement of the world, which may go far to compensate for his possible or even probable inexpertness in Greek aorists and Latin elegiacs.
The academic and literary New Yorker, I am well aware, is not "the American." But who is "the American?" I turn to Mr. G.W. Steevens, and find that "the American is a highly electric Anglo-Saxon. His temperament is of quicksilver. There is as much difference in vivacity and emotion between him and an Englishman as there is between an Englishman and an Italian." Well, Mr. Steevens is a keener observer than I; when he wrote this, he had been two months in America to my one; and he had travelled far and wide over the continent. I am not rash enough, then, to contradict him; but I must own that I have not met this "American," or anything like him, in the streets, clubs, theatres, restaurants, or public conveyances of New York. On the contrary, as I take my walks abroad between Union Square and Central Park, or hang on to the straps of an Elevated train or cable car, I am all the time occupied in trying—and failing—to find marked differences of appearance and manners between the people I see here and the people I should expect to see under similar circumstances in London. Differences of dress and feature there are, of course—but how trifling! Difference of manners there is none, unless it lie in the general good-nature and unobtrusive politeness of the American crowd, upon which I have already remarked. We all know that there is a distinctively American physical type, recognisable especially in the sex which aims at self-development, instead of self-suppression, in its attire. When one meets her in Bloomsbury (where she abounds in the tourist season) one readily distinguishes the American lady; but here specific distinctions are obsorbed in generic identity, and the only difference between American and English ladies of which I am habitually conscious lies in the added touch of Parisian elegance which one notes in the costumes on Fifth Avenue. The average of beauty is certainly very high in New York. I will not say higher than in London, for there too it is remarkable; but this I will say, that night after night I have looked round the audiences in New York theatres, and found a clear majority of notably good-looking women. There are few European cities where one could hope to make the same observation. It is especially to be noted, I think, that the American lady has the art of growing old with comely dignity. She loses her complexion, indeed, but only to put on a new beauty in the contrast between her olive skin and her silvering or silver hair. This contrast may almost be called the characteristic feature of the specially American type, which is much more clearly discernible in middle-aged and old than in young women.
As for the men, what strikes one in New York is the total absence of the traditional "Yankee" type. It must have a foundation in fact, since the Americans themselves have accepted it in political caricature. No doubt I shall find it in its original habitat—New England. It has certainly not penetrated into New York. On close examination, the average man-in-the-street is distinguishable from his fellow in London by certain trifling differences in "the cut of his jib"—his fashion in hats, in moustaches, in neckties. But the intense electricity that Mr. Steevens discovers in him has totally eluded my observation. The fault may be mine, but assuredly I have failed to "faire jaillir l'etincelle." I have looked in vain for any symptom of the "temperament of quicksilver." Mr. Steevens, it is true, made his observations during the last Presidential election. Perhaps the quicksilver is generated in the American citizen by political excitement, and when that is over "runs out at the heels of his boots."
But, surely, it is a monstrous exaggeration to state in general terms that the difference in "vivacity and emotion" between the average American and the average Englishman is as great as the difference between an Englishman and an Italian. By what inconceivable error, does it happen, then, that the American of fiction and drama—English, Continental, and American to boot—is always represented as outdoing John Bull himself in Anglo-Saxon phlegm? In the courts of ethnology, I shall be told, "what the caricaturist says is not evidence;" but no caricature could ever have gained such world-wide acceptance without a substratum of truth to support it. The probabilities of the case are greatly against the development of any special "vivacity" of temperament, for though there has no doubt been a large Keltic admixture in the Anglo-Saxon stock, there has been a large Teutonic infusion (German and Scandinavian) to counterbalance it. Simply as a matter of observation, the differences between English and Italian manners hit you in the eye, while the differences between American and English manners are really microscopic; and manners, I take it, are the outward and visible signs of temperament. A Scotchman by birth, a Londoner by habit, I walk the streets of New York undetected, to the best of my belief, until I begin to speak; in Rome, on the contrary, every one recognises me at a glance as an "Inglese," unless they mistake me for an "Americano." To me it is amazing how inessential is the change produced by the Anglo-Saxon type and temperament by influences of climate and admixture of foreign blood. There are great foreign cities in New York—German, Italian, Yiddish, Bohemian, Hungarian, Chinese—but the New York of the New Yorker is scarcely, to the Englishman, a foreign city.
The other day I heard an Englishman, who has lived for twenty-five years in America, maintaining very emphatically that the chief difference between England and America lay in the greater laxity of the family bond on this side of the Atlantic. He declared that, in the main, "home" meant less to the American than to the Englishman, and especially that the American boy between thirteen and twenty was habitually insurgent against home influences. It would be ludicrous, of course, to set up the observations of a month against the experience of a quarter of a century; yet I cannot but feel that either I have been miraculously fortunate in the glimpses I have obtained of American home life, or else there is something amiss with my friend's generalisation. Perhaps he brought away with him from England in the early seventies a conception of the "patria potestas" which he would now find out of date there as well as here. No doubt the migratory habit is stronger in America than in England, and family life is not apt to flourish in hotels or boarding-houses. The Saratoga trunk is not the best cornerstone for the home: so much we may take for granted. But the American families who are content to go through life without a threshold and hearthstone of their own must, after all, be in a vanishing minority. They very naturally cut a larger figure in fiction than in fact. It has been my privilege to see something of the daily life of a good many families living under their own roof-tree, and in every case without exception I have been struck with the beauty and intimacy of the relation between parents and children. When my friend laid down his theory of the intractable American boy, I could not but think of a youth of twenty whom I had seen only two days before, whose manner towards his father struck me as an ideal blending of affectionate comradeship with old-fashioned respect.[E] True, this was in Philadelphia, "the City of Homes," and even there it may have been an exceptional case. I am not so illogical as to pit a single observation against (presumably) a wide induction; I merely offer for what it is worth one item of evidence.
Again, it has been my good fortune here in New York to spend an evening in a household which suggested a chapter of Dickens in his tenderest and most idyllic mood. It was the home of an actor and actress. Two daughters, of about eighteen and twenty, respectively, are on the stage, acting in their father's company; but the master of the house is a bright little boy of seven or eight, known as "the Commodore." As it happened, the mother of the family was away for the day; yet in the hundred affectionate references made to her by the father and daughters, not to me, but to each other, I read her character and influence more clearly, perhaps, than if she had been present in the flesh. A more simple, natural, unaffectedly beautiful "interior" no novelist could conceive. If the family tie is seriously relaxed in America, it seems an odd coincidence that I should in a single month have chanced upon two households where it is seen in notable perfection, to say nothing of many others in which it is at least as binding as in the average English home.
POSTSCRIPT.—The American university system is a very large subject, to which none but a specialist could do justice, and that in a volume, not a postscript. Nevertheless I should like slightly to supplement the above allusion to it. In the first place, let me quote from the Spectator (February 12, 1898) the following passage:—
"Some of the American Universities, in our judgment, come nearer to the ideal of a true University than any of the other types. Beginning on the old English collegiate system, they have broadened out into vast and splendidly endowed institutions of universal learning, have assimilated some German features, and have combined successfully college routine and discipline with mature and advanced work. Harvard and Princeton were originally English colleges; now, without entirely abandoning the college system, they are great semi-German seats of learning. Johns Hopkins at Baltimore is purely of the German type, with no residence and only a few plain lecture rooms, library, and museums. Columbia, originally an old English college (its name was King's, changed to Columbia at the Revolution), is now perhaps the first University in America, magnificently endowed, with stately buildings, and with a school of political and legal science second only to that of Paris. Cornell, intended by its generous founder to be a sort of cheap glorified technical institute, has grown into a great seat of culture. The quadrangles and lawns of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton almost recall Oxford and Cambridge; their lecture-rooms, laboratories, and post-graduate studies hint of Germany, where nearly all American teachers of the present generation have been educated."
Some authorities, however, deplore the Germanising of American education. A Professor of Greek, himself trained in Germany, and recognised as one of the foremost of American scholars, confessed to me his deep dissatisfaction with the results achieved in his own teaching. His students did good work on the scientific and philological side, but their relation to Greek literature as literature was not at all what he could desire. This bears out the remark which I heard another authority make, to the effect that American scholarship was entirely absorbed in the counting of accents, and the like mechanical details; while it seems to run counter to the above suggestion that the university system tends to raise the level of culture while lowering the standard of erudition. At the same time there can be no doubt that the immense width of the field covered by university teaching in America must, in some measure, make for "superficial omniscience" rather than for concentration and research. The truth probably is that the system cuts both ways. The average student seeks and finds general culture in his university course, while the born specialist is enabled to go straight to the study he most affects and concentrate upon it.
To exemplify the latitude of choice offered to the American student, let me give a list of the "course" in English and Literature at Columbia University, New York, extracted from the Calendar for 1898-99:
RHETORIC AND ENGLISH COMPOSITION
1. English Composition. Lectures, daily themes, and fortnightly essays. Professor G.R. CARPENTER. Three hours[F] first half-year.
2. English Composition. Essays, lectures, and discussions in regard to style. Professor G.R. CARPENTER. Three hours, second half-year.
3. English Composition, Advanced Course. Essays, lectures and consultations. Dr. ODELL. Two hours.
4. Elocution. Lectures and Exercises. Mr. PUTNAM. Two hours.
[5. The Art of English Versification. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Not given in 1898-9.]
6. Argumentative Composition. Lectures, briefs, essays, and oral discussions. Mr. BRODT. Three hours.
7. Seminar. The topics discussed in 1898-9 will be: Canons of rhetorical propriety (first half-year); the teaching of formal rhetoric in the secondary school (second half-year). Professor G.R. CARPENTER.
ENGLISH AND LITERATURE
1 and 2. Anglo-Saxon Language and Historical English Grammar. Mr. SEWARD. Two hours.
3. Anglo-Saxon Literature: Poetry and Prose. Professor JACKSON. Two hours.
4. Chaucer's Language, Versification, and Method of Narrative Poetry. Professor JACKSON. Two hours.
[5. English Language and Literature of the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Centuries. Professor PRICE. Not given in 1898-9.]
[6. English Language and Literature of the Fourteenth Century, exclusive of Chaucer, and of the Fifteenth Century; Reading of authors, with investigation of special questions and writing of essays. Professor Price. Not given in 1898-9.]
7. English Language and Literature of the Sixteenth Century; Reading of authors, with investigation of special questions and writing of essays. Professor Jackson. Two hours.
Courses 5, 6, and 7 are designed for the careful study of the language and literature of Early and Middle English periods: Course 6 was given in 1897-8.
[8. Anglo-Saxon Prose and Historical English Syntax. Investigation of special questions and writing of essays. Professor Price. Not given in 1898-9. To be given in 1899-1900.]
[10. English Verse-Forms: Study of their historical development. Professor Price. Not given in 1898-9.]
11. History of English Literature from 1789 to the death of Tennyson: Lectures. Professor Woodberry. Three hours.
12. History of English Literature from 1660 to 1789: Lectures. Mr. Kroeber. Three hours.
[13. History of English Literature from the birth of Shakespeare to 1660, with special attention to the origin of the drama in England and to the poems of Spenser and Milton. Professor Woodberry. Not given in 1898-9.]
Courses 12 and 13 are given in alternate years.
[14. Pope: Language, Versification, and Poetical Method. Professor Price. Not given in 1898-9.]
15. Shakespeare: Language, Versification, and Method of Dramatic Poetry. Text: Cambridge Text of Shakespeare. Professor JACKSON. Two hours.
16. American Literature. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Two hours.
[17. The Poetry, Lyrical, Narrative, and Dramatic, of Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold. Professor PRICE. Not given in 1898-9.]
1. The History of Modern Fiction. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Two hours.
2. The Theory, History, and Practice of Criticism, with special attention to Aristotle, Boileau, Lessing, and English and later French writers, and a study of the great works of imagination. Professor WOODBERRY. Three hours.
[3. Epochs of the Drama. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Not given in 1898-9.]
4. Dramatists of the Nineteenth Century. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Two hours.
[5. Moliere and Modern Comedy. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Not given in 1898-9.]
[6. The Evolution of the Essay. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS. Not given in 1898-9.]
7. Studies in Literature, mainly Critical: Selected Works, in Prose and Verse, illustrating the Character and Development of Natural Literature. Lectures. Professor WOODBERRY. Three hours.
8. Studies in Literature, mainly Historical: Narrative Poetry of the Middle Ages. Lectures and Conferences. Mr. TAYLOR. Two hours.
[9. The Lyrical Poetry of the Middle Ages. Professor G.R. CARPENTER. Not given in 1898-9.]
10. Hellenism: Its Origin, Development, and Diffusion with some account of the Civilisations that preceded it. Lectures and Conferences. Mr. TAYLOR Three hours.
11. Literary Phases of the Transition from Paganism to Christianity, with illustrations from the other Arts of Expression. Lectures and Conferences. Mr. TAYLOR. One hour.
Seminar in Literature. Professor WOODBERRY. Seminar in the History of the Drama. Professor BRANDER MATTHEWS.
A "seminar" is an institution borrowed from Germany. The professor and a small number of students (six or eight at the outside) sit together round a table, with their books at hand, and pass an hour in co-operative study and discussion. In going through the noble library of Columbia University, I came upon an alcove devoted to Scandinavian literature, with a table on which lay some Danish books. The gentleman who was guiding me round happened to be an instructor in the Scandinavian languages. He pointed to the books and said, "I have just been having a seminar here, in Danish literature." Seeing on the shelves an edition of Holberg, I asked him if he had ever considered the question why Holberg's comedies, so delightful in the original, appeared to be totally untranslatable into English. "One of my students," he said, "put the same question to me only to-day." One could scarcely desire a better example of the all-embracing range of the studies which an American University provides for and encourages. I have heard it said, with a sneer, that "You can take an honours degree in Marie Corelli." If you can graduate with honours in Holberg, your time, in so far, has certainly not been misemployed.
Whatever the drawbacks of the German influence which is so marked in America, I cannot doubt that in one thing, at any rate, the Americans are far ahead of us—in the careful study they devote to the science of education. No fewer than twenty courses of lectures on the theory and practice of education were given in Columbia College during 1898-99. Teaching, I take it, is an art founded upon, and intimately associated with, the science of psychology. Why should we be content with antiquated and rule-of-thumb methods, instead of going to the root of the thing, studying its principles, and learning to apply them to the best advantage?
[Footnote E: "Affectionate comradeship" rather than "old-fashioned respect" is exemplified in the following anecdote of young America. A Professor of Pedagogy in a Western university brings up his children on the most advanced principles. Among other things, they are encouraged to sink the antiquated terms "father" and "mother," and call their parents by their Christian names. On one occasion, the children, playing in the bathroom, turned on the water and omitted to turn it off again. Observing it percolating through the ceiling of his study, their father rushed upstairs to see what was the matter, flung open the bathroom door, and was greeted by the prime mover in the mischief, a boy of six, with the remark, "Don't say a word, John—bring the mop!"]
[Footnote F: That is, three hours a week; so, too, in all subsequent instances.]
Washington in April—A Metropolis in the Making—The White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress—The Symbolism of Washington.
To profess oneself disappointed with Washington in this first week of April, 1899, would be like complaining of the gauntness of a rosebush in December. What would you have? It is not the season, either politically or atmospherically. Congress is gone, and spring has not come. In the city of leafy avenues there is not a leaf to be seen, and, except the irrepressible crocus, not a flower. A fortnight hence, as I am assured, the capital of the Great Republic will have put on a regal robe of magnolia and other blossoms, that will "knock spots out of" Solomon in all his glory. In the meantime, the trees line the avenues in skeleton rows, like a pyrotechnic set-piece before it is ignited. It is useless to pretend, then, that I have seen Washington. The trumpet of March has blown, the pennon of May is not yet unfurled; and even the cloudless sunshine of the past two days has only reduplicated the skeleton trees in skeleton shadows. Washington is not responsible for the tardiness of the spring. It would be unjust to take umbrage at the city because one finds none in its avenues.
Yet I cannot but feel that I have, so to speak, found Washington out. I have chanced upon her without her make-up, and seen the real face of the city divested of its wig of leafage and rouge of blossoms. Here, for the first time, at any rate, I am impressed by that sense of rawness and incompleteness which is said to be characteristic of America. Washington will one day be a magnificent city, of that there is no doubt; but for the present it is distinctly unfinished. The very breadth of its avenues, contrasted with the comparative lowness of the buildings which line them, gives it the air rather of a magnified and glorified frontier township than of a great capital on the European scale. Here, for the first time, I am really conscious of the newness of things. The eastern cities—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore—are, in effect, not a whit newer than most English towns. Oxford and Cambridge, no doubt, and a few cathedral cities, give one a habitual consciousness of dwelling among the relics of the past. They are our Nuremburg or Prague, Siena or Perugia. In most English cities, on the other hand, as in London itself, one has no habitual sense of the antiquity of one's surroundings. Apart from a few tourist-haunted monuments, which the resident passes with scarcely a glance, the general run of buildings and streets, if not palpably modern, can at most lay claim to a respectable, or disreputable, middle-age. Now, an eminently respectable middle-age is precisely the characteristic of the central regions of Philadelphia and Baltimore; while in New York both reputable and disreputable middle-age are amply represented. One may almost say that these Eastern cities are fundamentally old-fashioned, and that all their modern mechanism of electric cars, telephone wires, and what not, is but a thin and transparent outer network, through which the older order of things is everywhere peering. And from this very contrast between the old and the new, this sense of visible time-strata in the structure of a city, there results a very real effect of age.
Here, in Washington, one instinctively craves for something of that uniformity which one instinctively deprecates as an ideal for New York. The buildings on the main streets are too haphazard, like the books on an ill-arranged shelf: folios, quartos, and duodecimos huddled pell-mell together. But when some approach to a definite style is achieved, how noble will be the radiating vistas of this spacious city! The plan of the avenues and streets, as has been aptly said, suggests a cartwheel superimposed upon a gridiron—an arrangement, by the way, which may be studied on a small scale in Carlsruhe. The result is dire bewilderment to the traveller; my bump of locality, usually not ill-developed, seems to shrink into a positive indentation before the problems presented in such formulas as "K Street, corner of 13th Street, N.E." But from the Capitol, whence most of the avenues spread fanwise, the views they offer are superb; and Pennsylvania Avenue, leading to the Government offices and the White House, will one day, undoubtedly, be one of the great streets of the world. For the present its beauty is not heightened by the new Postal Department, a massive but somewhat forbidding structure in grey granite, which dominates and frowns upon the whole street. From certain points of view, it seems almost to dwarf the Washington Obelisk, the loftiest stone structure in the world. It is a pity that this fine monument should be placed in such a low situation, on the very shore of the Potomac. From the central parts of the city it loses much of its effect, but seen from the distance it stands forth impressively.
People are discontented, it would seem, with the White House, and talk of replacing it with a larger and showier edifice. The latter change, at any rate, would be a change for the worse. There could not be a more appropriate and dignified residence for the Chief Magistrate of a republic. On the other hand, one cannot but foresee a gradual enrichment and ennoblement of the interior of the Capitol. Externally it is magnificent, especially now that the side towards the city has been terraced and balustraded; but internally its decorations are quite unworthy of modern America. The floors, the doors, the cornices and mouldings are cheap in material, dingily garish in colour. Especially painful are the crude blue-and-yellow mosaic tiles of the corridors. The mural decorations belong to several artistic periods, all equally debased. On the whole, it is inconceivable that Congress should for long content itself with an abode which, without being venerable, is simply out of date. The main architectural proportions of the interior are dignified enough. What is wanted is merely the transmutation of stucco into marble, painted pine into oak, and pseudo-Italian arabesques into American frescoes and mosaics. Why should Congress itself be more meanly housed than its Library?
This new Library of Congress is certainly the crown and glory of the Washington of to-day. It is an edifice and an institution of which any nation might justly boast. It is simple in design, rich in material, elaborate, and for the most part beautiful, in decoration. The general effect of the entrance hall and galleries is at first garish, and some details of the decoration will scarcely bear looking into. Yet the building is, on the whole, in fresco, mosaic, and sculpture, a veritable treasure-house of contemporary American art. Even in this clear Southern climate, the effect of gaudiness will in time pass off. Fifty years hence, perhaps, when there are no living susceptibilities to be hurt, some of the less successful panels and medallions may be "hatched over again, and hatched different." But many of the decorations, I am convinced, will prove possessions for ever to the American people. As for the Rotunda Reading Room, it is, I think, almost above criticism in its combination of dignity with splendour. Far be it from me to belittle that great and liberal institution, the British Museum Reading Room. It is considerably larger than this one; it is no less imposing in its severe simplicity; and it offers the serious student a vaster quarry of books to draw upon, together with wider elbow-room and completer accommodations. But the Library of Congress is still more liberal, for it admits all the world without even the formality of applying for a ticket; and it substitutes for the impressiveness of simplicity the allurements of splendour. It is impossible to conceive a more brilliant spectacle than this Rotunda when it is lighted at night by nearly fifteen-hundred incandescent lamps. Nor is it possible for me to describe in this place the mechanical marvels of the institution—the huge underground boiler-house, with its sixteen boilers; the electrician's room, clean and bright as a new dollar, with its "purring dynamos" and its immense switch-board; the tunnel through which books are delivered by electric trolley to the legislators in the Capitol, within eight minutes of the time they are applied for; and, most wonderful of all, the endless chain, with its series of baskets, whereby books are not only brought down to the reading room, but re-delivered, at the mere touch of a button on whatever "deck" of the nine-storied "book-stacks" they happen to belong to. So ingenious is this triumph of mechanism that the baskets seem positively to go through complex processes of thought and selection. Talking of thought and selection, by the way, every one connected with the library speaks with enthusiasm of President McKinley's wise and public-spirited choice of the new chief librarian. Mr. Herbert Putnam, late of the Boston Public Library, is the ideal man for the post, and his appointment was made, not only without suspicion of jobbery, but in the teeth of strong political influence. Mr. McKinley's action in this matter is considered to be not only right in itself, but an invaluable precedent.
Let me not be understood, I beg, to make light of the National Capital. I merely say that to the outward eye it is not yet the city it is manifestly destined to become. Its splendid potentialities do some wrong to its eminently spacious and seemly actuality. But to the mind's eye, to the ideal sense, it has the imperishable beauty of absolute fitness. Omniscient Baedeker informs us that when it was founded there was some thought of calling it "Federal City." How much finer, in its heroic and yet human associations, is the name it bears! Since Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon race has produced no loftier or purer personality than George Washington, and his country could not blazon on her shield a more inspiring name. Carlyle's treatment of Washington is, perhaps, the most unpardonable of his many similar offences. One almost wonders at the forgiving spirit in which the decorators of the Library of Congress have inscribed upon the walls of the new building certain maxims from the splenetic Sage. And if the city is named with exquisite fitness, so are its radiating avenues. Each of them takes its name from one of the States of the Union—names which, as Stevenson long ago pointed out, form an unrivalled array of "sweet and sonorous vocables." In its whole conception, Washington is an ideal capital for the United States—not least typical, perhaps, in its factitiousness, since this Republic is not so much a product of natural development as a deliberate creation of will and intelligence. It represents the struggle of an Idea against the crude forces of nature and human nature. The Capitol, with its clear and logical design, is as aptly symbolic of its history and function as are our Houses of Parliament, with their bewildering but grandiose agglomeration of shafts and turrets, spires and pinnacles; and the two buildings should rank side by side in the esteem of the English-speaking peoples, as the twin foci of our civilisation.
American Hospitality—Instances—Conversation and Story-Telling—Over-Profusion in Hospitality—Expensiveness of Life in America—The American Barber—Postscript: An Anglo-American Club.
Much has been said of American hospitality; too much cannot possibly be said. Here am I in Boston, the guest of one of the foremost clubs of the city. I sit, as I write, at my bedroom window, with a view over the whole of Boston Common, and the beautiful spires of the Back-Bay region beyond. I step out on my balcony, and the gilded dome of the State House—"the Hub of the Universe"—is but a stone's-throw off. Through the leafless branches of the trees I can see the back of St. Gaudens' beautiful Shaw Monument, and beyond it the graceful dip of upper Beacon-street. My room is as spacious and luxurious as heart can desire, lighted by half a dozen electric lamps, and with a private bath-room attached, which is itself nearly as large as the bedroom assigned me in the "swagger" hotel of New York—an establishment, by the way, of which it has been wittily said that its purpose is "to provide exclusiveness for the masses." All the comforts of the club are at my command; the rooms are delightful, the food and service excellent. In short, I could not be more conveniently or agreeably situated. Of course I pay the club charges for my room and meals, but it is mere hospitality to allow me to do so. And how do I come to be established in these quarters? The little story is absolutely commonplace, but all the more typical.
In Washington I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who invited me to lunch at the leading diplomatic and social club. I had no claim upon him of any sort, beyond the most casual introduction. He regaled me with little-neck clams, terrapin, and all the delicacies of the season, and invited to meet me half a dozen of the most interesting men in the city, all of them strangers to me until that moment. I found myself seated next an exceedingly amiable man, whose name I had not caught when we were introduced. One of the first things he asked me was—not "What did I think of America?" no one ever asked me that—but "Where was I going next?" To Boston.
"Where was I going to put up?" I thought of going to the T—— Hotel. "Much better go to the U—— Club," he replied; "I've no doubt they will be able to give you a room. As soon as lunch is over, I shall telegraph to the club and make sure that everything is ready for you." I, of course, thanked him warmly. "But what credentials shall I present?" "You don't require any—just present your card. I shall make it all right for you." This was a man whom I had met ten minutes before, whose name I did not know, and to whom I had been introduced by a man whom I barely knew! It did not appear that he, on his side, knew or cared about anything I had said or done in the world. He simply obeyed the national instinct of courtesy and helpfulness. And he was as good as his word. Arriving in Boston at a somewhat unearthly hour in the morning, I found my room allotted me and the club servants ready to receive me with every attention. I felt like the Prince in the fairy tale, only that I had done nothing whatever to oblige the good fairy.
Another example. I had a letter of introduction to the Governor of one of the States of the Union, probably (what does not always happen) the most universally respected man in the State, and a member of one of its oldest and most distinguished families. I left the letter, with my card, at this gentleman's house, and in the course of a few hours received a note from his wife, telling me that, owing to a death in the family, they were not then entertaining at all, but saying that the Governor would call upon me to offer me any courtesy or assistance in his power. And so he did. He called, not once, but twice. He presented me with a card for one of the leading clubs of the city, and if my time had allowed me to avail myself of his courtesy, he would have put me in the way of seeing any or all of the State institutions to the best advantage. The governorship of an American State, let me add, is no ornamental sinecure. This was not only a man in high position, but a very busy man. Is there any other country where a mere letter of introduction is so generously honoured? If so, it is to me an undiscovered country.
These are but two cases out of a hundred. The Americans are said to be the busiest people in the world (I have my doubts on that point), but they have always leisure to give a stranger "a good time." Even, be it noted, during the working hours of the day. My evenings being occupied with theatre-going, I could not accept invitations to dinner; wherefore those who were hospitably inclined towards me had to invite me to lunch; and a luncheon party in America invariably absorbs the best part of an afternoon. A score of these delightful gatherings will always remain in my memory. The "bright" American is, to my thinking, the best talker in the world—certainly the best talker in the English language. A light and facile humour, a power of giving a pleasant little sparkle even to sufficiently commonplace sayings, is in this country the rule and not the exception. I must have met at these luncheon parties, and actually conversed with, at least a hundred different men of all ages and occupations, and I do not remember among them a single dull, pompous, morose, or pedantic person. The parties did not usually exceed six or eight in number, so that there was no necessity for breaking up into groups. The shuttlecock of conversation was lightly bandied to and fro across the round table. Each took his share and none took more. All topics—even the, burning question of "expansion"—were touched upon gaily, humorously, and in perfect good temper.