- Transcriber's note: In this text the breve has been represented with [ua] [ue] [uo]. -
AS A CHINAMAN
PASSAGES FROM HIS LETTERS TO A FRIEND AT HOME
NEW YORK AND LONDON APPLETON AND COMPANY 1916
COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
Since the publication in 1832 of that classic of cynicism, The Domestic Manners of the Americans, by Mrs. Trollope, perhaps nothing has appeared that is more caustic or amusing in its treatment of America and the Americans than the following passages from the letters of a cultivated and educated Chinaman. The selections have been made from a series of letters covering a decade spent in America, and were addressed to a friend in China who had seen few foreigners. The writer was graduated from a well-known college, after he had attended an English school, and later took special studies at a German university. Americans have been informed of the impressions they make on the French, English, and other people, but doubtless this is the first unreserved and weighty expression of opinion on a multiplicity of American topics by a Chinaman of cultivation and grasp of mind.
It will be difficult for the average American to conceive it possible that a cultivated Chinaman, of all persons, should have been honestly amused at our civilization; that he should have considered what Mrs. Trollope called "our great experiment" in republics a failure, and our institutions, fashions, literary methods, customs and manners, sports and pastimes as legitimate fields for wit and unrepressed jollity. Yet in the unbosoming of this cultivated "heathen" we see our fads and foibles held up as strange gods, and must confess some of them to be grotesque when seen in this yellow light.
It is doubtless true that the masses of Americans do not take the Chinaman seriously, and an interesting feature of this correspondence is the attitude of the Chinaman on this very point and his clever satire on our assumption of perfection and superiority over a nation, the habits of which have been fixed and settled for many centuries. The writer's experiences in society, his acquaintance with American women of fashion and their husbands, all ingeniously set forth, have the hall-mark of actual novelty, while his loyalty to the traditions of his country and his egotism, even after the Americanizing process had exercised its influence over him for years, add to the interest of the recital.
In revising the correspondence and rearranging it under general heads, the editor has preserved the salient features of it, with but little essential change and practically in its original shape. If the reader misses the peculiar idioms, or the pigeon-English that is usually placed in the mouth of the Chinaman of the novel or story, he or she should remember that the writer of the letters, while a "heathen Chinee," was an educated gentleman in the American sense of the term. This fact should always be kept in mind because, as the author remarks, to many Americans whom he met, it was "incomprehensible that a Chinaman can be educated, refined, and cultivated according to their own standards."
With pardonable pride he tells how, on one occasion, when a woman in New York told him she knew her ancestral line as far back as 1200 A. D., he replied that he himself had "a tree without a break for thirty-two hundred years." He was sure she did not believe him, but he found her "indeed!" delightful. The author's name has been withheld for personal reasons that will be sufficiently obvious to those who read the letters. The period during which he wrote them is embraced in the ten years from 1892 to 1902.
HENRY PEARSON GRATTON.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, May 10th, 1904.
I. THE AMERICAN, WHO HE IS 1
II. THE AMERICAN MAN 16
III. AMERICAN CUSTOMS 40
IV. THE AMERICAN WOMAN 63
V. THE SUPERSTITIONS OF THE AMERICAN 92
VI. THE AMERICAN PRESS 99
VII. THE AMERICAN DOCTOR 106
VIII. PECULIARITIES AND MANNERISMS 118
IX. LIFE IN WASHINGTON 131
X. THE AMERICAN IN LITERATURE 164
XI. THE POLITICAL BOSS 185
XII. EDUCATION IN AMERICA 200
XIII. THE ARMY AND NAVY 212
XIV. ART IN AMERICA 229
XV. THE DARK SIDE OF REPUBLICANISM 237
XVI. SPORTS AND PASTIMES 261
XVII. THE CHINAMAN IN AMERICA 279
XVIII. THE RELIGIONS OF THE AMERICANS 303
AS A CHINAMAN SAW US
THE AMERICAN—WHO HE IS
Many of the great powers believe themselves to be passing through an evolutionary period leading to civic and national perfection. America, or the United States, has already reached this state; it is complete and finished. I have this from the Americans themselves, so there can be no question about it; hence it requires no little temerity to discuss, let alone criticize, them.
Yet I am going to ask you to behold the American as he is, as I honestly found him—great, small, good, bad, self-glorious, egotistical, intellectual, supercilious, ignorant, superstitious, vain, and bombastic. In truth, so very remarkable, so contradictory, so incongruous have I found the American that I hesitate. Shall I give you a satire; shall I devote myself to eulogy; shall I tear what they call the "whitewash" aside and expose them to the winds of excoriation; or shall I devote myself to an introspective, analytical divertissement? But I do not wish to educate you on the Americans, but to entertain, to make you laugh by the recital of comical truths; so without system I am going to tell you of these Americans as I found them, day by day, month by month, officially, socially; in their homes, in politics, trade, sorrow, despair, and in their pleasures.
You will remember when the Evil Spirit is asked by the modest Spirit of Good to indicate his possessions he tucks the earth under one arm, drops the sun into one pocket, the moon into another, and the stars into the folds of his garment. In a word, to use the saying of my friends, he "claims everything in sight"; and this is certainly a characteristic of the American: he is all-perspective, he claims to have all the virtues, and in his ancestry embraces the entire world. At a dinner at the —— in Washington during the egg stage of my experience I sat next to a charming lady; and having been told that it was a custom of the French to compliment women, I remarked that her cheeks bloomed like our poppy of the Orient. She laughed, and responded, "Yes, I get that from my English grandfather." "But your eyes are like black pearls," I continued, seeing that I was on what a general on my right called the "right trail." "I got them from my Italian grandmother," she replied. "And your hair?" I pressed. "Must be Irish," was the answer, "for my paternal grandmother was Irish and her husband Scotch." It is true that this charmingly beautiful and composite goddess (at least she would have been one had she not been naked like a geisha at a men's dinner) was the product of a dozen nations, and a typical American.
The original Americans appear to have been English, despite the fact that the Spaniards discovered the country, though a high official, a Yankee whom I met at a reception, told me that this was untrue. His ancestor had discovered North America, and I believe he had written a book to prove it. (En passant, all Americans write books; those who have not, fully intend to write one.) I listened complacently, then said, "My dear ——, if I am not mistaken the Chinese discovered America." I recalled the fact to his mind that the northwestern Eskimos and the Indians were essentially Asiatic in type; and it is true that he had never heard of the ethnologic map at his National Museum, which shows the location of Chinese junks blown to American shores within a period of three hundred years. I explained that junks had been blown over to America for the last three thousand years, and that in my country there were many records of voyages to the Western land, ages before 1492.
You see I soon began to be Americanized and to claim things. China discovered America and gave her the compass as well as gunpowder. The first Americans were in the nature of emigrants; men and women who did not succeed well in their own country and so sought new fields, just as people are doing to-day. They came over in a ship called the "Mayflower," and were remarkably prolific, as I have met thousands who hail from this stock. At one time England sent her criminals to Virginia—one of the United States—and many of the refuse of the home country were sent to other parts of America in the early days. Younger sons of good families were also sent over for various reasons. Women of all classes were sent by the ship-load, and sold for wives. I reminded a lady of this, who was lamenting the fact that in China some women are sold for wives. She was absolutely ignorant of this well-known fact in American history, and forgot the selling of black women. Among the men were many representatives of old and noble families; but the bulk, I judge from their colonial histories, were people of low degree. Very soon other countries began to ship people to America. Italy, Germany, Russia, Norway, Sweden, and other lands were drawn upon for constantly increasing numbers as years went by. All tumbled into the American hopper. Imagine a coffee-grinder into which have been thrown Greek, Roman, Jew, Gentile, and all the rest, and then let what they call Uncle Sam—a heroic, paternal, and comical figure, representing the government—turn the handle and grind out the American who is neither Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman, Russe, or Swede, but a new product, sui generis, and mostly Methodist.
This process has never ceased for an hour. America has been from 1492 to the present time, in the language of the American "press," the "dumping-ground" of the nations of the world, the real open door; yet this grinding assimilation has gone on. It is, perhaps, due to the climate, perhaps the water, or the air; but the product of these people born on the soil is described by no other word than American. It may be Irish-American, very offensive; Dutch-American, very strenuous, like the Vice-President; Jewish-American, very commercial; Italian-American, very dirty and reeking with garlic; but it is American, totally unlike its progenitor, a something into which is blown a tremendous energy, that is very wearisome, a bombast which is the sum of that of all nations, and a conceit like that possessed by —— alone. You see it is incurable, also offensive—at least to the Oriental mind. Yet I grant you the American is great; I have it from him and from her; it must be so.
You have the spectacle here of the nations of the world pouring a stream, that is not pactolean, and not perfumed with the gums of Araby, flowing in and peopling the country. In time they had grievances more fancied than real, yet grievances. They rose against the home government, threw off the English yoke, and became a republic with a division into States, which I will write of when I tell you of the American politician. This was the first trust—what they call a merger—but it occurred in politics. They have killed off a fair percentage of the actual owners of the soil, the Indians, swindling them out of the balance, and driving them back to a sort of ever-changing dead-line. Without delay they assumed the form of a dominant nation, and announced themselves the greatest nation on the earth.
Immigration was resumed, and all nations again sent their refuse population to America. I have facts showing that for years English poorhouses and hospitals were emptied of their inmates and shipped to America. It was a distinct policy of the anti-home-rule party in Ireland to encourage the poor Irish to go to America; and now when there are more Irish in America than in Ireland the fate of Ireland is assured. Yet the American air takes the fight out of the Irishman, the rose from his cheek, and makes a natural-born politician out of him. America still continued to receive immigrants, and not satisfied with the natural flow of the human current, began to import African slaves to a country founded for the benefit of those who desired an asylum where they could enjoy religious and political freedom. The Africans were sold in the cotton belt, their existence virtually creating two distinct political parties. America long remained a dumping-ground for nearly all the nations of the world having an excess of population. Great navigation companies were built up, to a large extent, on this trade. They sent agents to every foreign country, issued pamphlets in every European language, and uncounted thousands were brought over—the scum of the earth in many instances. There was no restriction to immigration until the Chinese were barred out. After accepting the outlaws of every European state, the poor of all lands, they shut the door on our "coolie" countrymen.
In this way, briefly, America has grown to her present population of 80,000,000. The remarkable growth and assimilation is still going on—a menace to the world, but in a constantly decreasing ratio, which has become so marked that the leading Americans, the class which corresponds to our scholars, are aghast at the singular conditions which exist. Non-assimilation shows itself in labor riots, in the murder of two Presidents—Garfield and Lincoln—in socialistic outbreaks in every quarter, and in signal outbreaks in various sections, at lynchings, and other unlawful performances. I am attempting to give you an idea of the constituents of America to-day; but so interesting is the subject, so prolific in its warnings and possibilities, that I find myself wandering.
To glance at conditions at the present time, about 600,000 aliens are coming to America yearly. What is the result? I was invited to meet a distinguished German visiting in New York last month, and at the dinner a young lady who sat by my side said to me, "I wish I could puzzle him." "Why?" I asked, in amazement. "Oh," was her reply, "he looks so cram full of knowledge; I would like to take him down." "Ah," I said. "Ask him which is the third largest German city in the world. It is New York; he will never guess it." She did so, and I assure you he was "puzzled," and would scarcely believe it until a well-known man assured him it was true. There are more Germans in Chicago than in Leipsic, Cologne, Dresden, Munich, or a dozen small towns joined in one. Half of the Chicago Germans speak their own tongue. This city is the third Swedish city of the world in population. It is the fourth Polish city and the second Bohemian city. I was informed by a professor in the University of Chicago that, in that strange city, the number of people who speak the language of the Bohemians equaled the combined inhabitants of Richmond, Atlanta, Portland, and Nashville—all large cities. "What do you think of it?" I asked. "We are up against it," was the reply. I can not explain this retort so that you would understand it, but it had great significance. The professor, a distinguished philologist, was worried, and he looked it. A lady who was a club woman—and by this I do not mean that she was armed with a club, but merely a member of clubs or societies for educational advancement and social aggrandizement—said it was merely his digestion.
I learned from my friend, the dyspeptic professor, that over forty dialects are spoken in Chicago. About one-half only of the total population speak or understand English. There are 500,000 Germans, 125,000 Poles, 100,000 Swedes, 90,000 Bohemians, 50,000 Yiddish, 25,000 Dutch, 25,000 Italians, 15,000 French, 10,000 Irish, 10,000 Servians, 10,000 Lutherans, 7,000 Russians, and 5,000 Hungarians in Chicago. You will be surprised to learn that numbers do not count. The 500,000 Germans are not the dominating power, nor are the 100,000 Swedes. The 10,000 Irish are said absolutely to control the political situation. You will ask if I believe that this monster foreign element can be reduced to a homogeneous unit. I reply, yes. Fifty years from to-day they will all be Americans, and a majority will, doubtless, show you their family tree, tracing their ancestry back to the Mayflower.
 This passage was written just before the assassination of President McKinley.
THE AMERICAN MAN
Hash—and I do not mean by this word a corruption of hasheesh—is a term indicating in America a food formed of more than one article chopped and cooked together. I was told by a very witty and charming lady that hash was a synonym for E pluribus unum (one from many), the motto of the Government, but I did not find it on the American arms. This was an American "dinner joke," of which more anon; nevertheless, hash represents the American people of to-day. The millions of all nations, which have swarmed here since 1492, may be represented by this delectable dish, which, after all, has a certain homogeneity. Englishmen are at once recognized here, and so are Chinamen. You would never mistake one of our people for a Japanese; an Italian you would know across the way; but an American not always in America. He may be a Swede, a German, or a Canadian; he is not an American until he opens his mouth. Then there is no mistake as to what he is. He has a nasal tone that is purely American.
All the old cities, as Boston, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia, have certain nasal peculiarities or variants. The Bostonian affects the English. The New Englander, especially in the north, has a comical twang, which you can produce by holding the nose tightly and attempting to speak. When he says down it sounds like daoun. It is impossible for him not to overvowel his words, and nothing is more amusing than to hear the true Yankee countryman talk. The Philadelphian is quite as marked in tone and enunciation. A well-educated Philadelphian will say where is me wife for my. I have also been asked by a Philadelphian, "Where are you going at?" It would be impossible to mistake the intonation of a Philadelphian, even though you met him in the wilds of Manchuria in the depths of night.
Among the most charming and delightfully cultured people I met in America were Philadelphians of old families. The New Yorker is more cosmopolitan, while the Southern men, to a certain extent, have caught the inflection of the negro, who is the nurse in the South for all white children. The Americans are taught that the principal and chief end of man is to make a fortune and get married; but to accomplish this it is necessary first to "sow wild oats," become familiar with the vices of drink, smoking, and other forms of dissipation, a sort of test of endurance possibly, such as is found among many native races; yet one scarcely expects to find it among the latest and highest exponents of perfection in the human race.
The American pretends to be democratic; scoffs at England and other European lands, but at heart he is an aristocrat. His tastes are only limited by his means, and not always then. Any American, especially a politician, will tell you that there is but one class—the people, and that all are born equal. In point of fact, there are as many classes as there are grades of pronounced individuality, and all are very unequal, as every one knows. They are included in a general way in three classes: the upper class (the refined and cultivated); the middle class (represented by the retail shop-keepers); and last, the rest. The cream of society will be found in all the cities to be among the professional men, clergymen, presidents of colleges, long-rich wholesale merchants, judges, authors, etc.
The distinctions in society are so singular that it is almost impossible for a foreigner to understand them. There are persons who make it a life study to prepare books and papers on the subject, and whose opinions are readily accepted; yet such a person might not be accepted in the best society. What constitutes American society and its divisions is a mystery. In a general sense a retail merchant, a man who sold shoes or clothes, a tailor, would under no circumstances find a place in the first social circles; yet if these same tradesmen should change to wholesalers and give up selling one article at a time, they would become eligible to the best society. They do not always get in, however. At a dinner my neighbor, an attractive matron, was much dismayed by my asking if she knew a certain Mr. ——, a well-known grocer. "I believe our supplies (groceries) come from him," was her chilly reply. "But," I ventured, "he is now a wholesaler." "Indeed!" said madam; "I had not heard of it." The point, very inconceivable to you, perhaps, was that the grocer, whether wholesale or retail, was not readily accepted; yet the man in the wholesale business in drugs, books, wine, stores, fruit, or almost anything else, had the entree, if he was a gentleman. The druggist, the hardware man, the furniture dealer, the grocer, the retailer would constitute a class by themselves, though of course there are other subtle divisions completely beyond my comprehension.
At some of the homes of the first people I would meet a president of a university, an author of note, an Episcopal bishop, a general of the regular army (preferably a graduate of the West Point Academy), several retired merchants of the highest standing, bankers, lawyers, a judge or two of the Supreme Bench, an admiral of good family and connections. I have good reason to think that a Methodist bishop would not be present at such a meeting unless he was a remarkable man. There were always a dozen men of well-known lineage; men who knew their family history as far back as their great-grandparents, and whose ancestors were associated with the history of the country and its development. The men were all in business or the professions. They went to their offices at nine or ten o'clock and remained until twelve; lunched at their clubs or at a restaurant, returned at one, and many remained until six before going to their homes. The work is intense. A dominating factor or characteristic in the American man is his pursuit of the dollar. That he secures it is manifest from the miles of beautiful residences, the show of costly equipages and plate, the unlimited range of "stores" or shops one sees in large cities. The millionaire is a very ordinary individual in America; it is only the billionaire who now really attracts attention. The wealth and splendors of the homes, the magnificent tout ensemble of these establishments, suggests the possibility of degeneracy, an appearance of demoralization; but I am assured that this is not apparent in very wealthy families.
It is not to be understood that wealth always gives social position in America. By reading the American papers you might believe that this is all that is necessary. Some wealth is of course requisite to enable a family to hold its own, to give the social retort courteous, to live according to the mode of others; yet mere wealth will not buy the entree to the very best society, even in villages. Culture, refinement, education, and, most important, savoir faire, constitute the "open sesame." I know a billionaire, at least this is his reputation, who has no standing merely because he is vulgar—that is, ill-bred. I have met another man, a great financier, who would give a million to have the entree to the very best houses. Instances could be cited without end.
Such men and women generally have their standing in Europe; in a word, go abroad for the position they can not secure at home. A family now allied to one of the proudest families in Europe had absolutely no position in America previous to the alliance, and doubtless would not now be taken up by some. You will understand that I am speaking now of the most exclusive American society, formed of families who have age, historical associations, breeding, education, great-grandparents, and always have had "manners." There are other social sets which pass as representative society, into which all the ill-mannered nouveau riche can climb by the golden stairs; but this is not real society. The richest man in America, Rockefeller, quoted at over a billion, is a religious worker, and his indulgences consist in gifts to universities. Another billionaire, Mr. Carnegie, gives his millions to found libraries. Mr. Morgan, the millionaire banker, attends church conventions as an antipodal diversion. There is no conspicuous millionaire before the American public who has earned a reputation for extreme profligacy.
There is a leisure class, the sons of wealthy men, who devote their time to hunting and other sports; but in the recent war this class surged to the front as private soldiers and fought the country's battles. I admire the American gentleman of the select society class I have described. He is modest, intelligent, learned in the best sense, magnanimous, a type of chivalry, bold, vigorous, charming as a host, and the soul of honor. It is a regret that this is not the dominating and best-known class in America, but it is not; and the alien, the stranger coming without letters of introduction, would fall into other hands. A man might live a lifetime in Philadelphia or Boston and never meet these people, unless he had been introduced by some one who was of the same class in some other city. Such strange social customs make strange bedfellows. Thus, if you came to America to-day and had letters to the Vice-President, you would, without doubt, if properly accredited, see the very best society. If, on the other hand, you had letters to the President at his home in the State of Ohio you would doubtless meet an entirely different class, eminently respectable, yet not the same. It would be impossible to ignore the inference from this. The Vice-President is in society (the best); the President is not. Where else could this hold? Nowhere but in America.
The Americans affect to scorn caste and sect, yet no nation has more of them. Sets or classes, even among men, are found in all towns where there is any display of wealth. The best society of a small town consists of its bank presidents, its clergymen, its physicians, its authors, its lawyers. No matter how educated the grocer may be, he will not be received, nor the retail shoe dealer, though the shoe manufacturer, the dealer in many shoes, may be the virtual leader, at least among the men. Each town will have its clubs, the members ranging according to their class; and while it seems a paradox, it is true that this classification is mainly based upon the refinement, culture, and family of the man. A well-known man once engaged me in conversation with a view to finding out some facts regarding our social customs, and I learned from him that a dentist in America would scarcely be received in the best society. He argued, that to a man of refinement and culture, such a profession, which included the cleaning of teeth, would be impossible; consequently, you would not be likely to find a really cultivated man who was a dentist. On the same grounds an undertaker would not be admitted to the first society.
With us a gentleman is born; with Americans it is possible to create one, though rarely. An American gentleman is described as a product of two generations of college men who have always had association with gentlemen and the advantages of family standing. Political elevation can not affect a man's status as a gentleman. I heard a lady of unquestioned position say that she admired President McKinley, but regretted that he was not a gentleman. She meant that he was not an aristocrat, and did not possess the savoir faire, or the family associations, that completely round out the American or English gentleman. I asked this lady to indicate the gentlemen Presidents of the country. There were very few that I recall. There were Washington, Harrison, Adams, and Arthur. Doubtless there were others, which have escaped me. Lincoln, the strongest American type, she did not consider in the gentlemen class, and General Grant, the nation's especial pride, did not fulfil her ideas of what a gentleman should be.
You will perceive, then, that what some American people consider a gentleman and what its most exclusive society accepts for one, comprise two entirely different personages. I found this emphasized especially in the old society of Washington, which takes its traditions from Washington's time or even the pre-Revolutionary period. For such society a self-made man was impossible. Such are the remarkable, indeed astounding, ramifications of the social system of a people who cry to heaven of their democracy. "Americans are all equal—this is one of the gems in our diadem." This epigram I heard drop from the lips of a senator who was the recognized aristocrat of the chamber; yet a man of peculiar social reserve, who would have nothing to do with the other "equals." In a word, all the talk of equality is an absurd figure of speech. America is at heart as much an aristocracy as England, and the social divisions are much the same under the surface.
You will understand that social rules and customs are all laid down and exacted by women and from women. From them I obtained all my information. No American gentleman would talk (to me at least) on the subject. Ask one of them if there is an American aristocracy, and he will pass over the question in an engaging manner, and tell you that his government is based on the principle of perfect equality—one of the most transparent farces to be found in this interesting country. I have outlined to you what I conceived to be the best society in each city, and in the various sections of the country. In morality and probity I believe them to stand very high; lapses there may be, but the general tone is good. The women are charming and refined; the men chivalrous, brave, well-poised, and highly educated. Unfortunately, the Americans who compose this "set" are numerically weak. They are not represented to the extent of being a dominating body, and oddly enough, the common people, the shopkeepers, the people in the retail trades, do not understand them as leaders from the fact that they are so completely aloof that they never meet them. A sort of inner "holy of holies" is the real aristocracy of America. What goes for society among the people, the mob, and the press is the set (and a set means a faction, a clique) known as the Four Hundred, so named because it was supposed to represent the "blue blood" of New York ten years ago in its perfection. This Four Hundred has its prototype in all cities, and in some cities is known as the "fast set." In New York it is made up often of the descendants of old families, the heads of whom in many instances were retail traders within one hundred and fifty years ago; but the modern wealthy representatives endeavor to forget this or skip over it. It is, however, constantly kept alive by what is termed the "yellow press," which delights in picturing the ancestor of one family as a pedler and an itinerant trader, and the head of another family as a vegetable vender, and so on, literally venting its spleen upon them.
In my studies in American sociology I asked many questions, and obtained the most piquant replies from women. One lady, a leader in New York in what I have termed the exclusive set, informed me with a laugh that the ancestor of a well-known family of to-day, one which cuts a commanding figure in society, was an ordinary laborer in the employ of her grandfather. "Yet you receive them?" I suggested. The reply was a shrug of charming shoulders, which, translated, meant that great wealth had here enabled them to "bore" into the exclusive circle. I found that even among these people, the creme de la creme in the eyes of the people, there were inner circles, and these were not on intimate terms with the others. Here I met a member of the Washington and Lee family, a descendant of Bishop Provoost, the first Episcopal bishop of New York, and friend of Washington and Hamilton. This latter family is notable for an ancestry running back to the massacre of St. Bartholomew and even beyond. I astonished its charming descendant, who very delicately informed me that she knew her ancestry as far back as 1200 A. D., when I told her that I had my "family tree," as they call it, without a break for thirty-two hundred years. I am confident she did not believe me, but her "Indeed!" was delightful. In fact, I assure you I have lost my heart to these American women. I met representatives of the Adams, Dana, Madison, Lee, and other families identified with American history in a most honorable way.
The continuity of the Four Hundred idea as a logical system was broken by the quality of some of its members. Compared to the society I have previously mentioned it was as chaff. There was a total lack of intellectuality. Degeneracy marked some of their acts; divorce blackened their records, and shameless affairs marked them. In this "set," and particularly its imitators throughout the United States, the divorce rate is appalling. Men leave their wives and obtain a divorce for no other reason than that a woman falls in love with another woman's husband. On a yacht we will say there is some scandal. A divorce ensues, and afterward the parties are remarried. Or we will say a wife succumbs to the blandishments of another man. The conjugal arrangements are rearranged, so that, as a very merry New York club man told me, "It is difficult to tell where you are at." In a word, the morale of the men of this set is low, their standard high, but not always lived up to. I believe that I am not doing the American of the middle class wrong and the ultra-fashionable class an injustice in saying that it is as a class immoral.
Americans make great parade of their churches. Spires rise like the pikes of an army in every town, yet the morality of the men is low. There are in this land 600,000 prostitutes—ruined women. But this is not due entirely to the Four Hundred, whose irregularities appear to be confined to inroads upon their own set. Nearly all these men are club men; two-thirds are in business as brokers, bankers, or professional men; and there is a large percentage of men of leisure and vast wealth. They affect English methods, and are, as a rule, not highly intelligent, but blase, often effeminate, an interesting spectacle to the student, showing that the downfall of the American Republic would come sooner than that of Rome if the "fast set" were a dominating force, which it is not.
In the great middle class of the American men I find much to admire; half educated, despite their boasted school system, they put up, to quote one of them, "a splendid bluff" of respectability and morality, yet their statistics give the lie to it. Their divorces are phenomenal, and they are obtained on the slightest cause. If a man or woman becomes weary of the other they are divorced on the ground of incompatibility of temper.
A lady, a descendant of one of the oldest families, desired to marry her friend's husband. He charged his wife with various vague acts, one of which, according to the press, was that she did not wear "corsets"—a sort of steel frame which the American women wear to compress the waist. This was not accepted by the learned judge, and the wife then left her husband and went away on a six or eight months' visit. This enabled the husband to put in a claim of desertion, and the decree of divorce was granted. A quicker method is to pretend to throw the breakfast dishes at your wife, who makes a charge of "extreme incompatibility," and a divorce is at once obtained. Certain Territories bank on their divorce laws, and the mismated have but to go there and live a few months to obtain a separation on almost any claim. Many of the most distinguished statesmen have been charged with certain moral lapses in the heat of political fights, which, in almost every instance, are ignored by the victims, their silence being significant to some, illogical to others; yet the fact remains that the press goes to the greatest extremes. No family secret is considered sacred to the American politician in the heat of a campaign; to win, he would sacrifice the husband, father, mother, and children of his enemy. So remarkable is the rage for divorce that many of the great religious denominations have taken up arms against it. Catholics forbid it. Episcopalians resent it by ostracism if the cause is trivial, and a "separation" is denounced in the pulpit.
The American is an interesting, though not always pleasant, study. His perfect equipoise, his independence, his assumption that he is the best product of the best soil in the world, comes first as a shock; but when you find this but one of the many national characteristics it merely amuses you. One of the extraordinary features of the American is his attitude toward the Chinese, who are taken on sufferance. The lower classes absolutely can conceive of no difference between me and the "coolie." As an example, a boy on the street accosts me with "Hi, John, you washee, washee?" Even a representative in Congress insisted on calling me "John." On protesting to another man, he laughed, and said, "Oh, the man don't know any better." "But," I replied, "if he does not know any better how is it he is a lawmaker in your lower house?" "I give it up," was his answer, and he ordered what they term a "high-ball." After we had tried several, he laughed and asked, "Shall we consider the matter a closed incident?" Many diplomatic, social, and political questions are often settled with a "high-ball."
It is inconceivable to the average American that there can be an educated Chinese gentleman, a man of real refinement. They know us by the Cantonese laundrymen, the class which ranks with their lowest classes. At dinners and receptions I was asked the most atrocious questions by men and women. One charming young girl, who I was informed was the relative of a Cabinet officer, asked me if I would not sometime put up my "pig-tail," as she wished to photograph me. Another asked if it was really true that we privately considered all Americans as "white devils." All had an inordinate curiosity to know my "point of view"; what I thought of them, how their customs differed from my own. Of course, replies were manifestly impossible. At a dinner a young man, who, I learned, was a sort of professional diner-out, remarked to a lady: "None of the American girls will have me for a husband; do you not think that if I should go to China some pretty Chinese girl would have me?" This was said before all the company. Every one was silent, waiting for the response. Looking up, she replied, with charming naivete, "No, I do not think so," which produced much laughter. Now you would have thought the young man would have been slightly discomfited, but not at all; he laughed heartily, and plumed himself upon the fact that he had succeeded in bringing out a reply.
American men have a variety of costumes for as many occasions. They have one for the morning, which is called a sack-coat, that is, tailless, and is of mixed colors. With this they wear a low hat, an abomination called the derby. After twelve o'clock the frock-coat is used, having long tails reaching to the knees. Senators often wear this costume in the morning—why I could not learn, though I imagine they think it is more dignified than the sack. With the afternoon suit goes a high silk hat, called a "plug" by the lower classes, who never wear them. After dark two suits of black are worn: one a sack, being informal, the other with tails, very formal. They also have a suit for the bath—a robe—and a sleeping-costume, like a huge bag, with sleeves and neck-hole. This is the night-shirt, and formerly a "nightcap" was used by some. There is also a hat to go with the evening costume—a high hat, which crushes in. You may sit on it without injury to yourself or hat. I know this by a harrowing experience.
Many of the customs of the Americans are strange. Their social life consists of dinners, receptions, balls, card-parties, teas, and smokers. At all but the last women are present. At the dinner every one is in evening dress; the men wear black swallowtail coats, following the English in every way, low white vest, white starched shirt, white collar and necktie, and black trousers. If the dinner does not include women the coat-tails are eliminated, and the vest and necktie are black. Exactly why this is I do not understand, nor do the Americans. The dinner is begun with the national drink, the "cocktail"; then follow oysters on the half-shell, which you eat with an object resembling the trident carried in the ceremony of Ah Dieu at the Triennial. Each course of the dinner is accompanied by a different wine, an agreeable but exhilarating custom. The knife and fork are used, the latter to go into the mouth, the former not, and here you see a singular ethnologic feature. Class distinctions may at times be recognized by the knife or fork. Thus I was informed that you could at once recognize a person of the gentleman class by his use of the knife and fork. "This is infallible," said my young lady companion. If he is a commoner, he eats with his knife; if a gentleman, with his fork. This was a very nice distinction, and I looked carefully for a knife eater, but never saw one.
There is a vast amount of ceremony and etiquette about a dinner and various rules for eating, to break which is a social offense. I heard that a certain Madam —— gave lessons in "good form" after the American fashion, so that one could learn what was expected, and at my first dinner I regretted that I had not availed myself of the services of the lady, as at each plate there were nearly a dozen solid silver articles to be used in the different courses, but I endeavored to escape by watching my companion and following her example. But here the impossibility of an American girl resisting a joke caused my downfall. She at once saw my dilemma, and would take up the wrong implement, and when I followed suit she dropped it and took another, laughing in her eyes in a way in which the American girl is a prodigious adept; but completely deceived by her nearly every time, knowing that she was amusing herself at my expense, I said nothing. The Americans have a peculiar term for the mental attitude I had during this trial. I "sawed wood." The saying was particularly applicable to my situation. My young companion was most engaging, and presently began to talk of the superiority of America, her inventions, etc., mentioning the telephone, printing, and others. "Yes, wonderful," I replied; "but the Chinese had the telephone ages ago. They invented printing, gunpowder, the mariner's compass, and it would be difficult," I said, "for you to mention an object which China has not had for ages." She was amazed that I, a Chinaman, should "claim everything in sight."
There is a peculiar etiquette relating to every course in a dinner. The soup is eaten with a bowl-like spoon, and it is the grossest breach to place this in your mouth, or approach it, endwise. You approach the side and suck the soup from it. To make a noise would attract attention. The etiquette of the fish is to eat it with a fork; to use the knife even to cut the fish would be unpardonable, or to touch it to take out the bones; the fork alone must be used. The punch course is often an embarrassment to the previous wines, and is followed by what the French call the entree. In fact, while the Americans boast that everything American is the best, French customs are followed at banquets invariably, this being one of the strange inconsistencies of the Americans. Their clothes are copied from the English, though they will claim in the same breath that their tailors are the best in the world. For wines they claim to be unsurpassed, producing the finest; yet the wines on their tables are French or bear French labels. Game is served—a grouse or perhaps a hare, and then a vast roast, possibly venison, or beef, and there are vegetables, followed by a salad of some kind. Then comes the dessert—an iced cream, cakes, nuts, raisins, cheese, and coffee with brandy, and then cigars and vermuth or some cordial. After such a dinner of three hours a Southern gentleman clapped me on the back and said, "Great dinner, that; but let's go and get a drink of something solid," and I saw him take what he termed "two fingers" of Kentucky Bourbon whisky—a very stiff drink. I often wondered how the guests could stand so much.
The dinner has no attendant amusement, no dancing, no professional entertainers, and rarely lasts over two hours. Some houses have stringed bands concealed behind barriers of flowers playing soft music, but in the main the dinner is a jollification, a symposium of stories, where the guests take a turn at telling tales. Story-tellers can not be hired, and the guest at the proper moment says (after having prepared himself beforehand), "That reminds me of a story," and he relates what he has learned with great eclat and applause, as every American will applaud a good story, even if he has heard it time and again. At one dinner which I attended in New York story-telling had been going on for some time when a well-known man came in late. He was received with applause, and when called on for a speech told exactly the same story, by a strange coincidence, that had been told by the last speaker. Not a guest interfered; he was allowed to proceed, and at the end the point was greeted with a roar of laughter. This appeared to me to be an excellent quality in the American character. I was informed that these stories, forming so important a feature of American dinners, are the product mainly of drummers and certain prominent men; but why men that drum are more skilful in story inventing I failed to learn. President Lincoln and a lawyer named Daniel Webster originated a large percentage of the current stories. It is difficult to understand exactly what the Americans mean.
The American story is incomprehensible to the average foreigner, but it is good form to laugh. I will relate several as illustrative of American wit, and I might add that many of these have been published in books for the benefit of the diner-out. A Cabinet minister told of a prisoner who was called to the bar and asked his name. The man had some impediment in his speech, one of the hundred complaints of the tongue, and began to hiss, uttering a strange stuttering sound like escaping steam. The judge listened a few moments, then turning to the guard said, "Officer, what is this man charged with?" "Soda-water, I think, your honor," was the reply. This was unintelligible to me until my companion explained it. You must understand that soda-water is a drink that is charged with gas and makes a hissing, spluttering noise when opened. Hence when the judge asked what the prisoner was charged with the policeman, an Irishman, retorted with a joke, the story-teller disregarding the fact that it was an impertinence.
A distinguished New York judge told the following: Two tenement harridans look out of their windows simultaneously. "Good-morning, Mrs. Moriarity," says one. "Good-morning, Mrs. Gilfillan," says the other, adding, "not that I care a d——, but just to make conversation." This was considered wit of the sharpest kind, and was received with applause. In their stories the Americans spare neither age, sex, nor relatives. The following was related by a general of the army. He said he took a friend home to spend the night with him, the guest occupying the best room. When he came down in the morning he turned to the hostess and said, "Mrs. ——, that was excellent tooth-powder you placed at my disposal; can you give me the name of the maker?" The hostess fairly screamed. "What," she exclaimed, "the powder in the urn?" "Yes," replied the officer, startled; "was it poison?" "Worse, worse," said she; "you swallowed Aunt Jane!" Conceive of this wretched taste. The guest had actually cleaned his teeth with the cremated dust of the general's aunt; yet he told the story before a dinner assemblage, and it was received with shouts of laughter.
I did not hear the intellectual conversation at dinner I had expected. Art, science, literature, were rarely touched upon, although I invariably met artists, litterateurs, and scientific men at these dinners. They all talked small talk or "told stories." I was informed that if I wished to hear the weighty questions of the day discussed I must go to the women's clubs, or to Madam ——'s Current Topics Society. The latter is an extraordinary affair, where society women who have no time to read the news of the day listen to short lectures on the news of the preceding week, discussed pro and con, giving these women in a nutshell material for intelligent conversation when they meet senators and other men at the various receptions before which they wish to make an agreeable impression.
The American has many clubs, but is not entirely at home in them. He uses them as places in which to play poker or whist, to dine his men friends, and in a great measure because it is the "proper thing." At many a room is set apart for the national game of poker—a fascinating game to the player who wins. Poker was never mentioned in my presence that some did not make a joke on a supposed Chinaman named Ah Sin; but the obscurity of the joke and my lack of knowledge regarding American literature caused the point to elude me at first, which was true of many jokes. The Americans are preeminently practical jokers, and the ends to which they go is beyond belief. I heard of jokes which, if perpetrated in China, would have resulted in the loss of some one's head. To illustrate this, in the Spanish-American War the camps at Tampa were besieged with newspaper reporters, and one from a large journal was constantly trying to secure secret news by entertaining certain officers with wine and cigars; so they determined to get rid of his importunities, and what is known as a "job" in America was "put up" on him. He was told that Colonel —— had a detailed map of the forthcoming battle, and if he could get the officer intoxicated he doubtless could secure the map. This looked very easy to the correspondent, so the story goes, and he dropped into the colonel's tent one night with a basket of wine, and began to celebrate its arrival from some friends. Soon the colonel pretended to become communicative, and the map was brought out and finally loaned to the correspondent under the promise that it would not be used. This was sufficient. The correspondent hied him to his tent, wrote an article and sent the map to his paper in one of the large cities, where it was duly published. It proved to be what dressmakers call a "Butterick pattern," a maze of lines for cutting out dresses for women. The lines looked like roads, and the practical jokers had merely added towns and forts and bridges here and there.
The Americans are excellent parents, though small families are general. The domestic life is charming. The family is denied nothing needed, the only limit being the purse of the head of the family, so called, the real head in many cases being the wife, who does not fail to assert herself if the proper occasion opens. Well-to-do families have every luxury, and no nation is apparently so well off, so completely supplied with the necessities of life as the American. One is impressed by their business sagacity, their cleverness in finance, their complete grasp of all questions, yet no people are easier gulled or more readily victimized. An instance will suffice. In making my investigations regarding methods of managing railroads, I not only obtained information from the road officials, but questioned the employees whenever it happened that I was traveling. One day, observing that it was the custom to "tip" the porters (give money), I asked the conductor what the men were paid. "Little or nothing," was the reply; "they get from seventy-five to one hundred dollars a month out of the passengers on a long run." "But the passengers paid the road for the service?" "Yes, and they pay the salary of the porter also," said the man. With that in view the men are poorly paid, and the railroad knows that the people will make up their salaries, as they do. If you refused you would have no service.
This rule holds everywhere, in hotels and restaurants. Servants receive little pay where the patronage is rich, with the understanding that they will make it up out of the customers. Thus if you go to a hotel you fee the bell-boy for bringing you a glass of water. If you order one of the seductive cocktails you fee the man who brings it; you fee the chambermaid who attends to your room. Infinite are the resources of these servants who do not receive a fee. You fee the elevator or lift boy, or he will take the opportunity to jerk you up as though shot out of a gun. You fee the porter for taking up your trunk, and give a special fee for unstrapping it. You fee the head waiter, and when you fee the table waiter he whispers in your ear that a slight fee will be acceptable to the cook, who will see that the Count or the Judge will be cared for as becomes his station. When you leave, the sidewalk porter expects a fee; if he does not receive it the door of the carriage may possibly be slammed on the tail of your coat. Then you pay the cabman two dollars to carry you to the station, and fee him. Arriving at the station, he hands you over to a red-hatted porter, who carries your baggage for a fee. He puts you in charge of the railroad porter, who is feed at the rate of about fifty cents per diem.
The American submits to this robbery without a murmur; yet he is sagacious, prudent. I can only explain his gullibility on the ground of his innate snobbery; he thinks it is the "thing to do," and does it, and for this reason it is carried to the most merciless lengths. To illustrate. In the season of 1902, when I was at Newport, Mr. ——, a conspicuous member of the New York smart set, known as the "Four Hundred," lost his hat in some way and rode to his home without one. The ubiquitous reporter saw him, and photographed him, bareheaded, and his paper, the New York ——, gave a column the following day to a description of the new fad of going without a hat. Thus the fashion started, and the amazing spectacle was seen the summer following of men and women of fashion riding and walking for miles without hats. This is beyond belief, yet it attracted no attention from the common people, who perhaps got the cast-off hats. Despite this, the Americans are hard-fisted, shrewd, and as a nation a match for any in the field of cunning.
I can explain it in no way than by assuming that it is due to overanxiety to do the correct thing. Their own actors satirize them, one especially taking them off in a jingle which read, "It's English, quite English, you know." It is said of the men of the "Four Hundred" that they turn up their trousers when it rains in London, special reports of the weather being sent to the clubs for the purpose; but I cannot vouch for this. I have seen the trousers turned up in all weathers, and found no one who could explain why he did so. What can you make of so contradictory a people?
THE AMERICAN WOMAN
The most remarkable feature of America is the women. Divest your mind of any woman you know in order to prepare yourself to receive my impressions. To begin with, the American woman ranks with her husband; indeed, she is his superior in that all men render her homage and deference. It is accounted a point of chivalry to stand as the defender of the weaker sex. The American girl is educated with the boys in the public school, grows up with them, and studies their studies, that she may be their intellectual equal, and there is a strong party, led by masculine women, who contend for complete political rights for women. In some States they vote, and in nearly all may be elected to boards of various kinds and to minor offices. The Government departments are filled with women clerks, and all, from the lowest to the highest, are equal; hence, it is a difficult matter to find a native-born American who will become a servant. They all aspire to be ladies, and even aliens become salesladies, cook ladies, laundry ladies. They are on their dignity, and able to protect it from any point of attack.
The lower classes are particularly uninteresting, for they have no individuality, and ape the class above them, the result being a cheap, ludicrous imitation of a lady—an absurd abstraction. The women of the lower classes who are unmarried work in shops, factories, and restaurants, often in situations the reverse of sanitary; yet prefer this to good situations in families as servants, service being beneath their dignity and tending to disturb the balance of equality. I doubt if a native-born woman would permit herself to be called a servant; indeed, all the servants are Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, French, German, or negroes; the American girls fill the factories and the sweat-shops of the great cities. When I refer these girls to the lower classes it is merely to classify them, as morally and intellectually they are sometimes the equal of the higher classes. The middle-class women or girls are an attractive type, well educated and often beautiful. You obtain an idea of them in the great shops and bazaars of the great cities, where they fill every conceivable position and receive from five to six dollars per week.
But it is with the higher classes that you will be most interested, and when I say that the American girl, the product of the first families, is at once beautiful, refined, cultured, charming physically and mentally, I have but faintly expressed it; yet the most pronounced characteristic is their "daring," or temerity. There is no word exactly to cover it. I frequently met women at dinners. With few exceptions, it appears impossible for the American girl to take one of our race, an Oriental, seriously. She can not conceive that he may be a man of intelligence and education, and I can not better describe her than to sketch in its detail a dinner to which I was invited by the —— at Washington. The invitation was engraved on a small card and read "The —— and Mrs. —— request the honor of the presence of the —— at dinner on Wednesday at eight o'clock, etc." I immediately sent my valet with an acceptance and a basket of orchids to the hostess, this being the mode among the men who are au fait.
A week later I went to the dinner, and was taken up to the dressing-room for men, where I found a dozen or more, all in the conventional evening dress I have described—now with tails, it being a ladies' affair. In a corner was a table, and by it stood a negro, also in a dress suit, identical with that of the others. I was cordially greeted by a guest, who said, "Let me introduce you to our American minister to Ijiji and Zanzibar," and he presented me to the tall negro, who was turning out some bottled "cocktail." I shook hands with him, and he laughed, showing a set of teeth like an elephant's tusks, and asked me "what I would have." He was a servant dealing out "appetizers," and this was an American joke. The perpetrator of this joke was a minor official in the State Department, yet the entire party apparently considered it a good joke. Fortunately, I could disguise my real feeling, and I merely relate the incident to give you an idea of the sense of the proprieties as entertained by certain Americans. All that winter the story of the American minister to Zanzibar was told at my expense without doubt.
Having been "fortified," and some of the men took two or three "cocktails" before they became "tuned up," we went down to the drawing-room, where I paid my respects to the host and hostess, who stood at the end of a beautiful room. As I approached the lady greeted me with a charming smile, extending her gloved hand almost on a direct line with her face, grasping it firmly, not shaking it, saying, "Very kind of you, ——. Delighted, I am sure. General"—turning to her husband—"you know the ——, of course," and the general shook my hand as he would a pump-handle, and whispered, "Our minister to Zanzibar treated you all right, eh?" and with a wink indescribable, closing the right eye for a second, passed me on. The story had got down-stairs before me. Americans of the official class have, as a rule, an absolute lack of savoir faire and social refinement; lack them so utterly as to become comical.
I now joined other groups of officers and officials, there being about thirty guests, half of whom were ladies. The latter were all in what is termed full dress. Why "full" I do not know. Here you see one of the most extraordinary features of American life—the dress of women. The Americans make claim to being among the most modest, the most religious, the most proper people in the world, yet the appearance of the ladies at many public functions is beyond belief. All the women in this house were beautiful and covered with jewels. They wore gowns in the French court fashion, with trains a yard or two in length, but the upper part cut so low that a large portion of the neck and shoulders was exposed. I was embarrassed beyond expression; such an exhibition in China could only be made by a certain class. These matrons were of the highest respectability. This remarkable custom of a strange people, who deluge China with missionaries from every sect under the sun and at home commit the grossest solecisms, is universal, and not thought of as improper. There was not much opportunity for introspective analysis, yet I could not but believe that such a custom must have its moral effect upon a nation in the long run.
It was a mystery to me how the upper part of some of the gowns was supported. In some instances there was no strap over the shoulders, the upper third of these alabaster torsos and arms being absolutely naked, save for a band of pearls, diamonds, or other gems, of a size rarely seen in the Orient; but I learned later that the bone or steel corset, which molds the form, constituted the support of the gown. I gradually became habituated to the custom, and did not notice it. My friend ——, an artist of repute, explained that it all depends on the point of view. "Our people are essentially artistic," he said. "There is nothing more beautiful than the divine female contour; the American women realize this, and sacrifice themselves at the altar of art." Yet the Americans are such jokers that exactly what my friend had in mind it was difficult to arrive at.
After being presented to these marvelously arrayed ladies we passed into the dining-room, where I found myself with one of the most charming of divinities, a woman famous for her wit and literary success. I have described the typical dinner, so I need not repeat my words. My companion held the same extraordinary attitude toward me that all American women do; amused, half laughing, refusing absolutely to take me seriously, and probing me with so many absurd questions that I was forced to ask some very pointed ones, which only succeeded in making her laugh. The conversation proceeded something as follows: "I am charmed that I have fallen to your Highness." "Equally charmed," I replied; "but my rank does not admit the adjective you do me the honor to apply." "No?" was the answer. "Well, I'll wager you anything that when the butler pours your wine in the first course he will call you Count, and in the next Prince. You see, they become exhilarated as the dinner progresses. But tell me, how many wives have you in China, you look very wicked?" Imagine this! But I rallied, and replied that I had none—a statement received with incredulity. Her next question was, "Have you ever been a highbinder?" Ministers of grace! and this from a people who profess to know more than any nation on earth! I explained that a highbinder ranked with a professional murderer in this country, whereupon she again laughed, and, turning to General ——, in a loud voice said, "General, I have been calling the —— a highbinder," at which the company laughed at my expense. In China, as you know, a guest or a host would have killed himself rather than commit so gross a solecism; but this is America.
The second course was oysters served in the shell, and my companion, assuming that I had never seen an oyster [ignorant that our fathers ate oysters thousands of years before America was heard of and when the Anglo-Saxon was living in a cave], in a confidential and engaging whisper remarked, "This, your 'Highness,' is the only animal we eat alive." "Why alive?" I asked, looking as innocent as possible; "why not kill them?" "Oh, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will not permit it," was her reply. "You see, if they are swallowed alive they are immediately suffocated, but if you cut them up they suffer horribly while the soup is being served. How large a one do you think you can swallow?" Fancy the daring of a young girl to joke with a man twice her age in this way! I did not undeceive her, and allowed her to enlighten me on various subjects of contemporaneous interest. "It's so strange that the Chinese never study mathematics," she next remarked. "Why, all our public schools demand higher mathematics, and in the fourth grade you could not find a child but could square the circle."
In this manner this volatile young savage entertained me all through the dinner, utterly superficial herself, yet possessed of a singular sharpness and wit, mostly at my expense; yet she was so charming I forgave her. There is no denying that you become enraged, insulted, chagrined by these women, who, however, by a look, dispel your annoyance. I do not understand it. I found that while an author of a novel she was grossly ignorant of the literature of her own country, yet she possessed that consummate American froth by which she could convince the average person that she was brilliant to the point of scintillation. I fancy that any keen, well-educated woman must have seen that I was laughing at her, yet so inborn was her belief that a Chinaman must be an imbecile that she was ever joking at my expense. The last story she told me illustrates the peculiar fancy for joking these women possess. I had been describing a storm at Manchester-by-the-Sea and the splendor of the ocean. "Did you see the tea-leaves?" she asked, solemnly. "No," I replied. "That is strange," she said. "I fear you are not very observing. After every storm the tea-leaves still wash up all along Massachusetts Bay," alluding to the fact that loads of tea on ships were tossed over by the Americans during the quarrel with England before the Revolution.
The daring of the American woman impressed me. This same lady asked me not to remain with the men to smoke but go on the veranda with her, where tete-a-tete she produced a gold cigarette-case and offered me a cigarette. This I found not uncommon. American women of the fast sets drink at the clubs; an insidious drink—the "high-ball"—is a common one, yet I never saw a woman under the influence of wine or liquor. The amount of both consumed in America, is amazing. The consumption per head in the United States for beer alone is ten and a half gallons for each of the eighty millions. My friend, a prohibitionist, a member of a political party whose object is to ruin the wine industry of the world, put it stronger, and, backed by facts, said that if the wine, beer, whisky, gin, and alcoholic drinks of all kinds and the tea and coffee drank yearly by the Americans could be collected it would make a lake two miles square and ten feet deep. The alcoholic drinks alone if collected would fill a canal one hundred miles long, one hundred feet wide, and ten feet deep. May their saints propitiate this insatiate thirst!
It would amuse you to hear the American women of literary tendency boast of their schools, yet when educational facilities are considered the average American is ignorant. They are educated in lines. Thus a girl graduate will speak French with a good accent, or she will converse in Milwaukee German. She can prove her statement in conic sections or algebra, but when it comes to actual knowledge she is deficient. This is due to the ignorance of the teachers in the public schools and their lack of inborn culture. No better test of the futility of the American public-school education can be seen than the average girl product of the public school of the lower class in a city like Chicago or New York. Americans affect to despise Chinese methods because the Chinese girl or boy is not crammed with a thousand thoughts of no relative value. China has existed thousands of years; her people are happy; happiness and content are the chief virtues, and if China is ever overthrown it will be not because, as the Americans put it, she is behind the times, but because the fever of unrest and the craze for riches has become a contagion which will react upon her. The development of China is normal, that of America hysterical. Our growth has been along the line of peace; that of other nations has been entirely opposed to their own religious teaching, showing it to be farcical and pure sophistry.
If I should tell you how many American women asked me why Chinese women bandage their feet you would be amazed; yet every one of these submitted to and practised a deformity that has seriously affected the growth and development of the race. I am no iconoclast, but listen to the story of the American woman who, with one hand, deforms her waist in the most barbarous fashion, while waving the other in horror at her Chinese sister with the bound feet. American women change their fashions twice a year or more. Fashions are in the hands of the middle classes, and the highest lady in the land is completely at their mercy; to disobey the mandates of fashion is to become ridiculous. The fashion is set in Paris and various cities by men and women who have skilled artists to draw patterns and paint pictures showing the new mode. These are published in certain papers and issued by millions, republished in America, and no woman here would have the temerity to ignore them. The laws of the Medes and Persians are not more inexorable.
It is not a suggestion but an order, a fiat, a command, so we see this free nation really truckling to or dominated by a class of tradesmen. The object of the change of style is to create a sale for new goods, give work for laborers, and enable the producer to reach the pocketbook of the rich man; but the "fashions" have become so fixed, so thoroughly a national feature, that they affect rich and poor, and we have the spectacle of every woman studying these guides and conforming to them with a servility beyond belief. I once said to a lady, "The Chinese lady dresses richer than the American, but her styles have been very much the same for thousands of years," but I believe she doubted it. It would be futile, indeed impossible, for me to explain the extravagances of American fashion. Their own press and stage use it as a standard butt. At the present time tablets or plates of fashion insist upon an outline which shows the form completely, the antipodes of a Chinese woman; and this is intensified by some of the women who, when in the street, grasp the skirt and in an ingenious way wrap it about so that the outline of the American divinity is sufficiently well defined to startle one. Such a trick in China could but originate with the demimonde, yet it is taken up by certain of the Americans who are constantly seeking for variety. There can be no question but that the middle-class fashion designer revenges himself upon the beau monde. They will not receive him socially, so he forces them to wear his clothes.
Some years ago women were made to wear "hoops," pictures of which I have seen in old publications. Imagine, if you can, a bird-cage three feet high and four feet across, formed of bone of the whale or some metal. This was worn beneath the dress, expanding it on either side so that it was difficult to approach a lady. A later order was given to wear a camel-like "hump" at the base of the vertebral column, which was called the "bustle"—a contrivance calculated to unnerve the wearer, not to speak of the looker-on; yet the American woman adopted it, distorted her body, and aped the gait of the kangaroo, the form being called the "Grecian bend." This lasted six months or more; first adopted by the aristocracy, then by the common people, and by the time the latter had it well in hand the bon ton had cast it aside and were trying something else.
A close study of this mad dressing shows that there is always a "hump." At one time it went all around; later appeared only behind, like an excrescence on a bilbol-tree. At the present time the designer has drawn his picture showing it as a pendent bag from the "shirtwaist," like the pouch of the bird pelican. A few years ago the designer, in a delirium, placed the humps on the tops of the sleeves, then snatched them away and tipped them upside down. Finally he appeared to go utterly mad with the desire to humiliate the woman, and created a fashion that entailed dragging the skirt on the ground from one to two feet.
Did the American woman resent the insult; did she refuse to adopt a custom not only disgusting but really filthy, one that a Chinese lady would have died rather than have accepted? By no means; she seized upon it with the ardor of a child with a new toy, and for a year the side-paths of the great cities of the country were swept by women's skirts, clouds of dust following them. The press took up the question, but without effect; the fashion dragged its nauseating and frightful course from rich and poor, and I was told by an official that it was impossible to stop it or to force a glimmer of reason into the minds of these women. Then they gave it up, and passed a law making it a statutory offense, with heavy fines, for any one to "expectorate" on the sidewalk or anywhere else where the saliva could be swept up by the trains of the women of nearly all classes who followed the fashion. The American woman, as I have said, looks askance at the footgear of the Chinese—high, warm, dry, sanitary, yet revels in creations which cramp the feet and distort the anatomy. The shoes are made of leather, inflexible, pointed; and to enable them to deceive the men into the belief that they have high insteps (a sign of good blood here) the women wear stilt-like heels, which throw the foot forward and elevate the heel from two to three inches above the ground.
But all this is but a bagatelle to the fashions in deformity which we find among nearly all American women. There are throughout the country numbers of large manufactories which make "corsets"—a peculiar waist and lung compressor, used by nearly every woman in America. These men are as dogmatic as the designers of the fashion-plates. They also issue plates or guides showing new changes, and the women, like sheep, adopt them. The American woman believes that a narrow waist enhances her beauty, and the corset-maker works upon the national weakness and builds creations that put to shame and ridicule the bound feet of the aristocratic Chinese woman. The corset is a lace and ribbon-decorated armor, made either of steel ribs or whale-bone, which fits the waist and clings to the hips. It is laced up, and the degree of tightness depends upon the will or nerve of the wearer. It compresses the heart and lungs, and wearing it is a most barbarous custom—a telling argument against the assumption of high intelligence on the part of the Americans, who, in this respect, rank with the flat-headed Indians of the northwest American coast, whose heads I have seen in their medical offices side by side with a diagram showing the abnormal conditions caused by the corset.
A year ago the fiat went forth that the American woman must have wide hips. Presto! there appeared especially devised machinery, advertised in all the journals, accomplishing the condition for those whom nature had not well endowed. Now the dressmaker has decided that they must be narrow-hipped, and half a million dollars in false hips, rubber pads, and other properties are cast aside. No extravaganza is too absurd for these people who are abject slaves to the whimsicalities of the designer, who is a wag in his way, as has been well shown in a story told to me. The designers for a famous man dressmaker in Paris had a habit of taking sketches of the latest creations to their club meetings. One evening a clever caricaturist took a caricature of a fashion showing a woman with enormous and outlandish sleeves. It created a laugh. "As impossible as it is," said the artist, "I will wager a dinner that if I present it seriously to a certain fashion paper they will take it up." This is said to be the history of the "big-sleeve" fashion that really amazed the Americans themselves.
The customs of women here are so at variance with those of China that they are not readily understood. Our ways are those culled from a civilization of thousands of years; theirs from one just beginning; yet they have the temerity to speak of China as effete and behind the times. In writing, the women affect the English round hand and write across from left to right, and then beginning at the left of the page again. They are fond of perfumes, especially the lower classes, and display a barbaric taste for jewels. It is not uncommon to see the wife of a wealthy man wear half a million pounds sterling in diamonds or rubies at the opera. I was told that one lady wore a $5,000 diamond in her garter. The utterly strange and contradictory customs of these women are best observed at the beach and bath. In China if a woman is modest she is so at all times; but this is not true with some Americans, who appear to have the desire to attract attention, especially that of men, by an appeal to the beautiful in nature and art; at least this is the impression the unprejudiced looker-on gains by a sojourn in the great cities and fashionable resorts. If you happen to be riding horseback, or walking in the street with a lady, and any accident occurs to her costume whereby her neck, her leg, or her ankle is exposed, she will be mortified beyond expression; yet the night previous you might have sat in the box with her at the opera, when her decollete gown had made her the mark for hundreds of lorgnettes. Again, this lady the next morning might bathe with me at the beach and lie on the sand basking in the sun like a siren in a costume that would arrest the attention of a St. Anthony.
Let me describe such a costume: A pair of skin-tight black stockings, then a pair of tights of black silk and a flimsy black skirt that comes just to the knee; a black silk waist, armless, and as low in the neck as the moral law permits, beneath which, to preserve her contour, is a water-proof corset. Limbs, to expose which an inch on the street were a crime, are blazoned to the world at Newport, Cape May, Atlantic City, and other resorts, and often photographed and shown in the papers. To explain this manifest contradiction would be beyond the powers of an Oriental, had he the prescience of the immortal Confucius and the divination of a Mahomet and Hilliel combined.
THE SUPERSTITIONS OF THE AMERICANS
Among the many topics I have discussed with Americans, our alleged superstitions, or our belief in so-called dragons, genii, ghosts, etc., seem to have made the deepest impression. A charming American woman, whom I met at the —— Embassy at dinner, told me with seriousness that our people may be intelligent, but the fact that in San Francisco and Los Angeles they at certain times drag through the streets a dragon five hundred feet long to exorcise the evil spirits, showed that the Chinese were grossly superstitious. If I had told my companion that she was the victim of a thousand superstitions, she would have taken it as an affront, because, according to American usage, it is not proper to dispute with a lady. The Americans are the most superstitious people in the world. They will not sit down to a dinner-table when there are thirteen persons. No hostess would attempt such a thing, the belief being general that some one of the guests would die within a year. I was a guest at a dinner-party when a lady suddenly remarked, "We are thirteen." Several of the guests were evidently much annoyed, and the hostess, a most pleasing woman, apologized, and replied that she had invited fourteen, but one guest had failed her. It was apparent that something must be done, and this was cleverly solved by the hostess sending for her mother, who joined the party, and the dinner proceeded. I do not think all the guests believed in this absurd superstition, but they were all very uncomfortable. I do not believe I met a society woman in Washington or New York who would walk through a cemetery or graveyard at midnight alone. I asked several ladies if they would do this, and all were horrified at the idea, though strongly denying any belief in ghosts or spirits.
In nearly every American city one or more houses may be found haunted by ghosts, which Americans believe have made the places so disagreeable that the houses have been in consequence deserted. So well-defined is the superstition, and so recurrent are the beliefs in ghosts and spirits, that the best-educated people have found it necessary to establish a society, called the Society for Psychical Research, in order to demonstrate that ghosts are not possible. I believe I am not overstepping the bounds when I say that this vainglorious people, who claim to have the finest public-school system in the world, are, considering their advantages, the most superstitious of all the white races. Out of perhaps thirty men, whom I asked, not one was willing to say he could pass through a graveyard at night without fear at heart, an undefined nervous feeling, due to innate superstition. The middle-class woman who stumbles upstairs considers it to mean that she will not marry. To break a mirror, or receive as a present a knife, also means bad luck. Many people wear amulets, safe-guards, and good-luck stones. Several millions of the Catholic sect wear a charm, which they think will save them from sudden death. All Catholics believe that some of their churches own the bones of saints, which have the power to give them health and other good things. Many Americans wear the seed of the horse-chestnut, and many others wear lucky coins. Belief in the luck of the four-leaf clover, instead of that with three leaves, is so strong that people will spend hours in hunting for one. They are designed into pins and certain insignia, and used in a hundred other ways.
But more remarkable than all is the old horseshoe superstition. I have seen beautifully gowned ladies stop their driver, descend from the carriage, and pick up such a shoe and carry it home, telling me that they never failed to pick up one, as it brought good luck; yet this lady laughed at our dragon! In the country, horseshoes are commonly seen over the doors of stables, and even of houses. These same people once hung women for witchcraft, and slaughtered women for persisting in certain religious beliefs. I had the pleasure of meeting a well-known man, who stated that he had the power of the "evil eye." Innumerable people believe the paw of an animal called the rabbit to contain sovereign good luck. They carry it about, and can buy it in shops. Indeed, I could fill a volume, much less a letter, with the absurd superstitions of these people who send women to China to convert the "Heathen Chinee," who may be "peculiar," as Mr. Harte states in his poem; but the Chinaman certainly has not the marvelous variety of superstitions possessed by the American, who does not allow cats about rooms where there are infants, fearing that they will suck the child's breath; who believe that certain snakes milk cows, and that mermen are possible. I stood in a tent last summer at Atlantic City—a large seaside resort—and watched a line of middle-class people passing to see a "Chinese mermaid," of the kind the Japanese manufacture so cleverly. It was to be seen on the water. All, so far as I could judge, accepted it as real. So much for the influence of the American public school, where physiology is taught.
THE AMERICAN PRESS
One feature of American life is so peculiar that I fear I can not present it to you clearly, as there is nothing like it under the sun. I refer to the newspapers. If such an institution should appear in any Oriental country, or even in Russia, many heads would fall to the ground for treason or gross disrespect to the power of the throne. The American must not only have the news of his neighbor, but the news of the world every hour in the day, and the newspapers furnish it. In the villages they appear weekly, in the towns daily, in the great cities hourly, boys screaming their names, shouting and yelling like demons. Yesterday beneath the window a boy screamed, "The Empress of China elopes with her coachman!" I bought the paper, in which a column was devoted to it. Fancy this in Pekin. Shades of ——! I can not better describe these papers than to say they have absolute license as to what to print, this freedom being a principle, but it is grossly abused by blackmailers. The papers have no respect for man, woman, or child, the President or the Deity. The most flagrant attacks are made upon private persons. Rarely is an editor shot or imprisoned. The President may be called vile names, his appearance may become the butt of ridicule in opposition papers, and cartoonists, employed at large salaries, draw insulting pictures of him and his Cabinet. One would think that the way to obtain patronage of a person would be to praise him, but this would be considered an orientalism. The real way to secure readers in America is to abuse, insult, and outrage private feelings, the argument being that people will buy the journal to see what is said about them. All the American press is not founded upon this system of virtual blackmail. There are respectable papers, conservative and honorable; but I believe I am not overstating it when I say that every large city has at least one paper where the secrets of a family and its most sacred traditions are treated as lawful game.
The actual heads of papers have often been men of high standing, as Horace Greeley, Henry J. Raymond, E. L. Godkin, Henry Watterson, the late Charles A. Dana, James Gordon Bennett, and William Cullen Bryant. But in the modern newspaper the man in control is a managing editor, whose tenure of office depends upon his keeping ahead of all others. The press, then, with its telegraphic connection with the world, with its thousands of readers, is a power, and in the hands of a man of small mind becomes a menace to civilization and easily drifts into blackmail. This is displayed in a thousand ways, especially in politics. The editor desires to obtain "influence," the power to secure places for his favorites, and, if he is slighted, he intimates to the men in power, "Appoint my candidate or I will attack you." This is a virtual threat. In this way the editor intimidates the office-holder. I was informed by a good authority of two journals of standing in America which he knew were started as "blackmailing sheets"; and certainly the license of the press is in every way diabolical, a result of the American dogma of free speech. When one arrives in America he is met with dozens of representatives of the press, who ask a thousand and one personal and impertinent questions, which, if one does not answer, one is attacked in some insidious way. One man I know refused to listen to a very importunate newspaper man, and was congratulating himself on his escape, when on the following day an article appeared in the paper giving several libelous pictures of him, the object being to show that he had nothing to say because he was mentally deficient. He appealed to the editor, but was told that his only recourse was to sue. As one walks down the gangplank of a ship he may become the mark for ten or fifteen cameras, which photograph him without permission, and whose owners will "poke fun" at his resistance.