The Land of Contrasts - A Briton's View of His American Kin
by James Fullarton Muirhead
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An American football player in full armour resembles a deep-sea diver or a Roman retiarius more than anything else. The dress itself consists of thickly padded knickerbockers, jersey, canvas jacket, very heavy boots, and very thick stockings. The player then farther protects himself by shin guards, shoulder caps, ankle and knee supporters, and wristbands. The apparatus on his head is fearful and wonderful to behold, including a rubber mouthpiece, a nose mask, padded ear guards, and a curious headpiece made of steel springs, leather straps, and India rubber. It is obvious that a man in this cumbersome attire cannot move so quickly as an English player clad simply in jersey, short breeches, boots, and stockings; and I question very much whether—slugging apart—the American assumption that the science of Yale would simply overwhelm the more elementary play of an English university is entirely justified. Anyone who has seen an American team in this curious paraphernalia can well understand the shudder of apprehension that shakes an American spectator the first time he sees an English team take the field with bare knees.

Certainly the spirit and temper with which football is played in the United States would seem to indicate that the over-elaborate way in which it has been handled has not been favourable to a true ideal of manly sport. On this point I shall not rely on my own observation, but on the statements of Americans themselves, beginning with the semi-jocular assertion, which largely belongs to the order of true words spoken in jest, that "in old English football you kicked the ball; in modern English football you kick the man when you can't kick the ball; in American football you kick the ball when you can't kick the man." In Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, and possibly some other States, bills to prohibit football have actually been introduced in the State Legislatures within the past few years. The following sentences are taken from an article in the Nation (New York), referring to the Harvard and Yale game of 1894:

The game on Saturday at Springfield between the two great teams of Harvard and Yale was by the testimony—unanimous, as far as our knowledge goes—of spectators and newspapers the most brutal ever witnessed in the United States. There are few members of either university—we trust there are none—who have not hung their heads for shame in talking over it, or thinking of it.

In the first place, we respectfully ask the governing body of all colleges what they have to say for a game between youths presumably engaged in the cultivation of the liberal arts which needs among its preliminaries a supply on the field of litters and surgeons? Such preparations are not only brutal, but brutalising. How any spectator, especially any woman, can witness them without a shudder, so distinctly do they recall the duelling field and the prize ring, we are unable to understand. But that they are necessary and proper under the circumstances the result showed. There were actually seven casualties among twenty-two men who began the game. This is nearly 33 per cent. of the combatants—a larger proportion than among the Federals at Cold Harbor (the bloodiest battle of modern times), and much larger than at Waterloo or at Gravelotte. What has American culture and civilisation to say to this mode of training youth? "Brewer was so badly injured that he had to be taken off the field crying with mortification." Wright, captain of the Yale men, jumped on him with both knees, breaking his collar bone. Beard was next turned over to the doctors. Hallowell had his nose broken. Murphy was soon badly injured and taken off the field on a stretcher unconscious, with concussion of the brain. Butterworth, who is said nearly to have lost an eye, soon followed. Add that there was a great deal of "slugging"—that is, striking with the fist and kicking—which was not punished by the umpires, though two men were ruled out for it.

* * * * *

It may be laid down as a sound rule among civilised people that games which may be won by disabling your adversary, or wearing out his strength, or killing him, ought to be prohibited, at all events among its youth. Swiftness of foot, skill and agility, quickness of sight, and cunning of hands, are things to be encouraged in education. The use of brute force against an unequally matched antagonist, on the other hand, is one of the most debauching influences to which a young man can be exposed. The hurling of masses of highly trained athletes against one another with intent to overcome by mere weight or kicking or cuffing, without the possibility of the rigid superintendence which the referee exercises in the prize ring, cannot fail to blunt the sensibilities of young men, stimulate their bad passions, and drown their sense of fairness. When this is done in the sight of thousands, under the stimulation of their frantic cheers and encouragement, and in full view of the stretchers which carry their fellows from the field, for aught they know disabled for life, how, in the name of common sense, does it differ in moral influence from the Roman arena?

Now, the point in the above notice is that it is written of "gentlemen"—of university men. It is to be feared that very similar charges might be brought against some of the professionals of our association teams: but our amateurs are practically exempt from any such accusation. The climax of the whole thing is the statement by a professor of a well-known university, that a captain of one of the great football teams declared in a class prayer-meeting "that the great success of the team the previous season was in his opinion due to the fact that among the team and substitutes there were so many praying men." The true friends of sport in the United States must wish that the football mania may soon disappear in its present form; and the Harvard authorities are to be warmly congratulated on the manly stand they have taken against the evil. And it is to be devoutly hoped that no president of a college in the future will ever, as one did in 1894, congratulate his students on the fact "that their progress and success in study during the term just finished had been fully equal to their success in intercollegiate athletics and football!".[15]

I have, however, no desire to pose as the British Pharisee, and I am aware that, though we make the better showing in this instance, there are others in which our record is at least as bad. The following paragraph is taken from the Field (December 7th, 1895):

HIGHCLERE.—As various incorrect reports have been published of the shooting at Highclere last week, Lord Carnarvon has desired me to forward the enclosed particulars of the game shot on three days: November 26, 27, and 29, James McCraw (13, Berkeley-square, w.). November 26, Grotto (Brooks) Beat, 5 partridges, 1,160 pheasants, 42 hares, 2,362 rabbits, 7 various; total, 3,576. November 27, Highclere Wood (Cross) Beat, 5 partridges, 1,700 pheasants, 1 hare, 1,702 rabbits, 4 woodcock, 16 various; total, 3,428. November 29, Beeches (Cross) Beat, 6 partridges, 2,811 pheasants, 969 rabbits, 2 wild fowl, 15 various; total, 3,803. Grand total: 16 partridges, 5,671 pheasants, 43 hares, 5,033 rabbits, 4 woodcock, 2 wild fowl, 38 various; total, 10,807. The shooters on the first two days were Prince Victor Duleep Singh, Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Lord de Grey, Lord Ashburton, Lord Carnarvon, and Mr. Chaplin. On November 29 Mr. Rutherford took the place of Mr. Chaplin.

A little calculation will show that each of the six gentlemen mentioned in the paragraph must have killed one head of game every minute or two. This makes it impossible that there could have been many misses. This in turn makes it certain that the pheasants in the bag must have been nearly as tame as barndoor fowl. The shooting, then, must have been one long drawn-out massacre of semi-tame animals, with hardly a breathing interval. I confess such a record seems to me as absolutely devoid of sport and as full of brutality as the worst slugging match between Princeton and Yale; and it, moreover, lacks the element of physical courage which is certainly necessary in the football match. Besides, the English sinners are grown men and members of the class which is supposed to set the pattern for the rest of the nation; the university footballers, in spite of their own sense of importance, are after all raw youths, to whom reason does not altogether forbid us to hope that riper years may bring more sense and more true manliness.

Two of the most popular outdoor amusements in the United States are driving and sailing. I do not know how far statistics would bear me out, but one certainly gets the impression that more people keep horses for pleasure in America than in England. Horses are comparatively cheap, and their keep is often lower than with us. The light buggies must cost less than the more substantial carriages of England. Hence, if a man is so fond of driving as to be willing to be his own coachman and groom, the keeping of a horse and shay is not very ruinous, especially in the country or smaller towns. As soon as the element of wages enters into the question the result is very different: carriage-hire is usually twice as high as in England and often more. However that may be, it is certainly very striking to see the immense number of one-horse "teams" that turn out for an afternoon or evening spin in the parks and suburban roads of places like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Many of these teams are of a plainness, not to say shabbiness, which would make an English owner too shamefaced to exhibit them in public. The fact that the owner is his own stableman is often indicated by the ungroomed coat of his horse, and by the month-old mud on his wheels. The horse, however, can generally do a bit of smart trotting, and his owner evidently enjoys his speed and grit. The buggies, unsubstantial as they look, are comfortable enough when one is seated; but the access, between, through, and over the wheels, is unpleasantly suggestive for the nervous. So fond are the Americans of driving that they evidently look upon it as a form of active exercise for themselves as well as for their nags. One man said to me: "I am really getting too stout; I must start a buggy."

I am almost ashamed to avow that I spent five years in the United States without seeing a trotting-race, though this was owing to no lack of desire. The only remark that I shall, therefore, venture to make about this form of sport is that the American claim that it has a more practical bearing than the English form of horse-racing seems justified. It is alleged indeed that the English "running" races are of immense importance in keeping up the breed of horses; but it may well be open to question whether the same end could not be better attained by very different means. What is generally wanted in a horse is draught power and ability to trot well and far. It is not clear to the layman that a flying machine that can do a mile in a minute and a half is the ideal parent for this form of horse. On the other hand, the famous trotting-horses of America are just the kind of animal that is wanted for the ordinary uses of life. Moreover, the trot is the civilised or artificial gait as opposed to the wild and natural gallop. There are 1,500 trotting-tracks in the United States, owned by as many associations, besides those at all county and State fairs as well as many private tracks at brood-farms and elsewhere. Stakes, purses, and added moneys amount to more than $3,000,000 annually; and the capital invested in horses, tracks, stables, farms, etc., is enormous. The tracks are level, with start and finish directly in front of the grand stand, and are either one mile or one-half mile in length. They are always of earth, and are usually elliptical in shape, though the "kite-shaped track" was for a time popular on account of its increased speed. In this there is one straight stretch of one-third mile, then a wide turn of one-third mile, and then a straight run of one-third mile back to the start and finish. The horses are driven in two-wheeled "sulkies" of little weight, and the handicapping is exclusively by time-classes. Records of every race are kept by two national associations. Horses that have never trotted a mile in less than two minutes and forty seconds are in one class; those that have never beaten 2.35 in another; those that have never beaten 2.30 in a third; and so on down to 2.05, which has been beaten but a dozen times. Races are always run in heats, and the winner must win three heats. With a dozen entries (or even six or eight, the more usual number) a race may thus occupy an entire afternoon, and require many heats before a decision is reached. Betting is common at every meeting, but is not so prominent as at running tracks.

The record for fast trotting is held at present by Mr. Morris Jones' mare "Alix," which trotted a mile in two minutes three and three-quarters seconds at Galesburg in 1894. Turfmen confidently expect that a mile will soon be trotted in two minutes. The two-minute mark was attained in 1897 by a pacing horse.

Sailing is tremendously popular at all American seaside resorts; and lolling over the ropes of a "cat-boat" is another form of active exercise that finds innumerable votaries. Rowing is probably practised in the older States with as much zest as in Great Britain, and the fresh-water facilities are perhaps better. Except as a means to an end, however, this mechanical form of sport has never appealed to me. The more nearly a man can approximate to a triple-expansion engine the better oarsman he is; no machine can be imagined that could play cricket, golf, or tennis.

The recent development of golf—perhaps the finest of all games—both in England and America might give rise to a whole series of reflections on the curious vicissitudes of games and the mysterious reasons of their development. Golf has been played universally in Scotland for hundreds of years, right under the noses of Englishmen; yet it is just about thirty years ago that (except Blackheath) the first golf-club was established south of the Tweed, and the present craze for it is of the most recent origin (1885 or so). Yet of the eight hundred golf-clubs of the United Kingdom about four hundred are in England. The Scots of Canada have played golf for many years, but the practice of the game in the United States may be dated from the establishment of the St. Andrew's Club at Yonkers in 1888. Since then the game has been taken up with considerable enthusiasm at many centres, and it is estimated that there are now at least forty thousand American golfers. There is, perhaps, no game that requires more patience to acquire satisfactorily than golf, and the preliminary steps cannot be gobbled. It is therefore doubtful whether the game will ever become extensively popular in a country with so much nervous electricity in the air. I heartily wish that this half-prophecy may prove utterly mistaken, for no better relief to overcharged nerves and wearied brains has ever been devised than a well-matched "twosome" or the more social "foursome;" and the fact that golf gently exercises all the muscles of the body and can be played at all ages from eight to eighty gives it a unique place among outdoor games. The skill already attained by the best American players is simply marvellous; and it seems by no means beyond the bounds of possibility that the open champion of (say) the year 1902 may not have been trained on American soil. The natural impatience of the active-minded American makes him at present very apt to neglect the etiquette of the game. The chance of being "driven into" is much larger on the west side of the Atlantic than on the conservative greens of Scotland; and it seems almost impossible to make Brother Jonathan "replace that divot." I have seen three different parties holing out at the same time on the same putting green. In one open handicap tournament I took part in near Boston the scanty supply of caddies was monopolized by the members of the club holding the tournament, and strangers, who had never seen the course, were allowed to go round alone and carrying their own clubs. On another occasion a friend and myself played in a foursome handicap tournament and were informed afterwards that the handicaps were yet to be arranged! As the match was decided in our favour it would be ungracious to complain of this irregularity. Those little infringements of etiquette are, after all, mere details, and will undoubtedly become less and less frequent before the growing knowledge and love of the game.

Lacrosse, perhaps the most perspicuous and fascinating of all games to the impartial spectator, is, of course, chiefly played in Canada, but there is a Lacrosse League in the Atlantic cities of the United States. The visitor to Canada should certainly make a point of seeing a good exposition of this most agile and graceful game, which is seen at its best in Montreal, Toronto, or Ottawa. Unfortunately it seems to be most trying to the temper, and I have more than once seen players in representative matches neglect the game to indulge in a bout of angry quarter-staff with their opponents until forcibly stopped by the umpires, while the spectators also interfere occasionally in the most disgraceful manner. Another drawback is the interval of ten minutes between each game of the match, even when the game has taken only two minutes to play. This absurd rule has been promptly discarded by the English Lacrosse Clubs, and should certainly be modified in Canada also.

Lawn tennis is now played almost everywhere in the United States, and its best exponents, such as Larned and Wrenn, have attained all but—if not quite—English championship form. The annual contest for the championship of America, held at Newport in August, is one of the prettiest sporting scenes on the continent. Polo and court tennis also have their headquarters at Newport. Hunting, shooting, and fishing are, of course, immensely popular (at least the last two) in the United States, but lie practically beyond the pale of my experience.

Bowling or ten-pins is a favourite winter amusement of both sexes, and occupies a far more exalted position than the English skittles. The alleys, attached to most gymnasia and athletic-club buildings, are often fitted up with great neatness and comfort; and even the fashionable belle does not disdain her "bowling-club" evening, where she meets a dozen or two of the young men and maidens of her acquaintance. Regular meetings take place between the teams of various athletic associations, records are made and chronicled, and championships decided. If the game could be naturalised in England under the same conditions as in America, our young people would find it a most admirable opportunity for healthy exercise in the long dark evenings of winter.

Track athletics (running, jumping, etc.) occupy very much the same position in the United States as in England; and outside the university sphere the same abuses of the word "amateur" and the same instances of selling prizes and betting prevail. Mr. Caspar Whitney says that "amateur athletics are absolutely in danger of being exterminated in the United States if something is not done to cleanse them." The evils are said to be greatest in the middle and far West. There are about a score of important athletic clubs in fifteen of the largest cities of the United States, with a membership of nearly 25,000; and many of these possess handsome clubhouses, combining the social accommodations of the Carlton or Reform with the sporting facilities of Queen's. The Country Club is another American institution which may be mentioned in this connection. It consists of a comfortably and elegantly fitted-up clubhouse, within easy driving distance of a large city, and surrounded by facilities for tennis, racquets, golf, polo, baseball, racing, etc. So far it has kept clear of the degrading sport of pigeon shooting.

Training is carried out more thoroughly and consistently than in England, and many if not most of the "records" are held in America. The visits paid to the United States by athletic teams of the L.A.C. and Cambridge University opened the eyes of Englishmen to what Americans could do, the latter winning seventeen out of twenty events and making several world's records. Indeed, there is almost too much of a craze to make records, whereas the real sport is to beat a competitor, not to hang round a course till the weather or other conditions make "record-making" probable. A feature of American athletic meetings with which we are unfamiliar in England is the short sprinting-races, sometimes for as small a distance as fifteen yards.

Bicycling also is exposed, as a public sport, to the same reproaches on both sides of the Atlantic. The bad roads of America prevented the spread of wheeling so long as the old high bicycle was the type, but the practice has assumed enormous proportions since the invention of the pneumatic-tired "safety." The League of American Wheelmen has done much to improve the country roads. The lady's bicycle was invented in the United States, and there are, perhaps, more lady riders in proportion in that country than in any other. As evidence of the rapidity with which things move in America it may be mentioned that when I quitted Boston in 1893 not a single "society" lady so far as I could hear had deigned to touch the wheel; now (1898) I understand that even a house in Beacon Street and a lot in Mt. Auburn Cemetery are not enough to give the guinea-stamp of rank unless at least one member of the family is an expert wheelwoman. An amazing instance of the receptivity and adaptability of the American attitude is seen in the fact that the outsides of the tramway-cars in at least one Western city are fitted with hooks for bicycles, so that the cyclist is saved the unpleasant, jolting ride over stone pavements before reaching suburban joys.


[13] I wish to confess my obligation to this interesting book for much help in writing the present chapter.

[14] A match played in no less aristocratic a place than Newport on Sept. 2, 1897, between the local team and a club from Brockton, ended in a general scrimmage, in which even women joined in the cry of "Kill the umpire!"

[15] It is, perhaps, only fair to quote on the other side the opinion of Mr. Rudolf Lehmann, the well-known English rowing coach, who witnessed the match between Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in 1897. He writes in the London News: "I have never seen a finer game played with a manlier spirit. The quickness and the precision of the players were marvellous.... The game as I saw it, though it was violent and rough, was never brutal. Indeed, I cannot hope to see a finer exhibition of courage, strength, and manly endurance, without a trace of meanness."

And to Mr. Lehmann's voice may be added that of a "Mother of Nine Sons," who wrote to the Boston Evening Transcript in 1897, speaking warmly of the advantages of football in the formation of habits of self-control and submission to authority.


The Humour of the "Man on the Cars"

"A difference of taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections." So wrote George Eliot in "Daniel Deronda." And the truth of the apothegm may account for much of the friction in the intercourse of John Bull and Brother Jonathan. For, undoubtedly, there is a wide difference between the humour of the Englishman and the humour of the American. John Bull's downrightness appears in his jests also. His jokes must be unmistakable; he wants none of your quips masquerading as serious observations. A mere twinkle of the eye is not for him a sufficient illumination between the serious and the comic. "Those animals are horses," Artemus Ward used to say in showing his panorama. "I know they are—because my artist says so. I had the picture two years before I discovered the fact. The artist came to me about six months ago and said, 'It is useless to disguise it from you any longer—they are horses.'"[16] This is the form of introduction that John Bull prefers for his witticisms. He will welcome a joke as hospitably as a visitor, if only the credentials of the one as of the other are unimpeachable.

Now the American does not wish his joke underlined like an urgent parliamentary whip. He wants something left to his imagination; he wants to be tickled by the feeling that it requires a keen eye to see the point; he may, in a word, like his champagne sweet, but he wants his humour dry. His telephone girls halloo, but his jokes don't. In this he resembles the Scotsman much more than the Englishman; and both European foreigners and the Americans themselves seem aware of this. Thus, Max O'Rell writes:

De tous les citoyens du Royaume plus ou moins Uni l'ami Donald est le plus fini, le plus solide, le plus positif, le plus perseverant, le plus laborieux, et le plus spirituel.

Le plus spirituel! voila un grand mot de lache. Oui, le plus spirituel, n'en deplaise a l'ombre de Sydney Smith.... J'espere bien prouver, par quelques anecdotes, que Donald a de l'esprit, de l'esprit de bon aloi, d'humour surtout, de cet humour fin subtil, qui passerait a travers la tete d'un Cockney sans y laisser la moindre trace, sans y faire la moindre impression.

The testimony of the American is equally explicit.

The following dialogue, quoted from memory, appeared some time since in one of the best American comic journals:

Tomkyns (of London).—I say, Vanarsdale, I told such a good joke, don't you know, to MacPherson, and he didn't laugh a bit! I suppose that's because he's a Scotsman?

Vanarsdale (of New York).—I don't know; I think it's more likely that it's because you are an Englishman!

An English audience is usually much slower than an American or Scottish one to take up a joke that is anything less than obvious. I heard Max O'Rell deliver one of his witty orations in London. The audience was good humored, entirely with the lecturer, and only too ready to laugh. But if his joke was the least bit subtle, the least bit less apparent than usual, it was extraordinary how the laughter hung fire. There would be an appreciable interval of silence; then, perhaps, a solitary laugh in a corner of the gallery; then a sort of platoon fire in different parts of the house; and, finally, a simultaneous roar. So, when Mr. John Morley, in his admirable lecture on the Carlyle centenary celebration (Dec. 5, 1895), quoted Carlyle's saying about Sterling: "We talked about this thing and that—except in opinion not disagreeing," there was a lapse of half-a-minute before the audience realised that the saying had a humorous turn. In an American audience, and I believe also in a Scottish one, the report would have been simultaneous with the flash.

Perhaps the Americans themselves are just a little too sure of their superiority to the English in point of humour, and indeed they often carry their witticisms on the supposed English "obtuseness" to a point at which exaggeration ceases to be funny. It is certainly not every American who scoffs at English wit that is entitled to do so. There are dullards in the United States as well as elsewhere; and nothing can well be more ghastly than American humour run into the ground. On the other hand their sense of loyalty to humour makes them much more free in using it at their own expense; and some of their stories show themselves up in the light usually reserved for John Bull. I remember, unpatriotically, telling a stock story (to illustrate the English slowness to take a joke) to an American writer whose pictures of New England life are as full of a delicate sense of humour as they are of real and simple pathos. It was, perhaps, the tale of the London bookseller who referred to his own coiffure the American's remark apropos of the two-volume English edition of a well-known series of "Walks in London"—"Ah, I see you part your Hare in the middle." Whatever it was, my hearer at once capped it by the reply of a Boston girl to her narration of the following anecdote: A railway conductor, on his way through the cars to collect and check the tickets, noticed a small hair-trunk lying in the forbidden central gangway, and told the old farmer to whom it apparently belonged that it must be moved from there at once. On a second round he found the trunk still in the passage, reiterated his instructions more emphatically, and passed on without listening to the attempted explanations of the farmer. On his third round he cried: "Now, I gave you fair warning; here goes;" and tipped the trunk overboard. Then, at last, the slow-moving farmer found utterance and exclaimed: "All right! the trunk is none o' mine!" To which the Boston girl: "Well, whose trunk was it?" We agreed, nem. con., that this was indeed Anglis ipsis Anglior.

These remarks as to the comparative merits of English and American humour must be understood as referring to the average man in each case—the "Man on the Cars," as our cousins have it. It would be a very different position, and one hardly tenable, to maintain that the land of Mark Twain has produced greater literary humorists than the land of Charles Lamb. In the matter of comic papers it may also be doubted, even by those who most appreciate American humour, whether England has altogether the worst of it. It is the fashion in the States to speak of "poor old Punch," and to affect astonishment at seeing in its "senile pages" anything that they have to admit to be funny. Doubtless a great deal of very laborious and vapid jesting goes on in the pages of the doyen of English comic weeklies; but at its best Punch is hard to beat, and its humours have often a literary quality such as is seldom met with in an American journal of the same kind. No American paper can even remotely claim to have added so much to the gaiety of nations as the pages that can number names like Leech and Thackeray, Douglas Jerrold and Tom Hood, Burnand and Charles Keene, Du Maurier and Tenniel, Linley Sambourne and the author of "Vice Versa," among its contributors past and present. And besides—and the claim is a proud one—Punch still remains the only comic paper of importance that is always a perfect gentleman—a gentleman who knows how to behave both in the smoking-room and the drawing-room, who knows when a jest oversteps the boundary line of coarseness, who realises that a laugh can sometimes be too dearly won. Punch is certainly a comic journal of which the English have every reason to be proud; but if we had to name the paper most typical of the English taste in humour we should, perhaps, be shamefacedly compelled to turn to Ally Sloper.

The best American comic paper is Life, which is modelled on the lines of the Muenchener Fliegende Blaetter, perhaps the funniest and most mirth-provoking of all professedly humorous weeklies. Among the most attractive features are the graceful and dignified drawings of Mr. Charles Dana Gibson, who has in its pages done for American society what Mr. Du Maurier has done for England by his scenes in Punch; the sketches of F.G. Attwood and S.W. Van Schaick; and the clever verses of M.E.W. The dryness, the smart exaggeration, the point, the unexpectedness of American humour are all often admirably represented in its pages; and the faults and foibles of contemporary society are touched off with an inimitable delicacy of satire both in pencil and pen work. Life, like Punch, has also its more serious side; and, if it has never produced a "Song of the Shirt," it earns our warm admiration for its steadfast championing of worthy causes, its severe and trenchant attacks on rampant evils, and its eloquent tributes to men who have deserved well of the country. On the other hand, it not unfrequently publishes jokes the birth of which considerably antedates that of the United States itself; and it sometimes descends to a level of trifling flatness and vapidity which no English paper of the kind can hope to equal. It is hard—for a British critic at any rate—to see any perennial interest in the long series of highly exaggerated drawings and jests referring to the gutter children of New York, a series in which the same threadbare motifs are constantly recurring under the thinnest of disguises. And occasionally—very occasionally—there is a touch of coarseness in the drawings of Life which suggests the worst features of its German prototype rather than anything it has borrowed from England.

Among the political comic journals of America mention may be made of Puck, the rough and gaudy cartoons of which have often what the Germans would call a packende Derbheit of their own that is by no means ineffective. Of the other American—as, indeed, of the other British—comic papers I prefer to say nothing, except that I have often seen them in houses and in hands to which they seemed but ill adapted.

Among the characteristics of American humour—the humour of the average man, the average newspaper, the average play—are its utter irreverence, its droll extravagance, its dry suggestiveness, its naivete (real or apparent), its affectation of seriousness, its fondness for antithesis and anti-climax. Mark Twain may stand as the high priest of irreverence in American humour, as witnessed in his "Innocents Abroad" and his "Yankee at the Court of King Arthur." In this regard the humour of our transatlantic cousins cannot wholly escape a charge of debasing the moral currency by buffoonery. It has no reverence for the awful mystery of death and the Great Beyond. An undertaker will place in his window a card bearing the words: "You kick the bucket; we do the rest." A paper will head an account of the hanging of three mulattoes with "Three Chocolate Drops." It has no reverence for the names and phrases associated with our deepest religious feelings. Buckeye's patent filter is advertised as thoroughly reliable—"being what it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be." Mr. Boyesen tells of meeting a venerable clergyman, whose longevity, according to his introducer, was due to the fact that "he was waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity." One of the daily bulletins of the captain of the large excursion steamer on which I visited Alaska read as follows: "The Lord only knows when it will clear; and he won't tell." And none of the two hundred passengers seemed to find anything unseemly in this official freedom with the name of their Creator. On a British steamer there would almost certainly have been some sturdy Puritan to pull down the notice. One of the best newspaper accounts of the Republican convention that nominated Mr. J.G. Blaine for President in 1884 began as follows: "Now a man of God, with a bald head, calls the Deity down into the melee and bids him make the candidate the right one and induce the people to elect him in November." If I here mention the newspaper head-line (apropos of a hanging) "Jerked to Jesus," it is mainly to note that M. Blouet saw it in 1888 and M. Bourget also purports to have seen it in 1894. Surely the American journalist has a fatal facility of repetition or—?

American humour has no reverence for those in high position or authority. An American will say of his chief executive, "Yes, the President has a great deal of taste—and all of it bad." A current piece of doggerel when I was in Washington ran thus:

"Benny runs the White House, Levi keeps a bar, Johnny runs a Sunday School— And, damme, there you are!"

The gentlemen named are the then President, Mr. Harrison; the Vice-President, Mr. Morton, who was owner or part owner of one of the large Washington hotels; and Mr. Wanamaker, Postmaster General, well known as "an earnest Christian worker."

I have seen even the sacred Declaration of Independence imitated, both in wording and in external form, as the advertisement of a hotel.

A story current in Philadelphia refers to Mr. Richard Vaux, an eminent citizen and member of a highly respected old Quaker family, who in his youth had been an attache of the American Legation in London. One of his letters home narrated with pardonable pride that he had danced with the Princess Victoria at a royal ball and had found her a very charming partner. His mother replied: "It pleaseth me much, Richard, to hear of thy success at the ball in Buckingham Palace; but thee must remember it would be a great blow to thy father to have thee marry out of meeting."

Philosophy, art, and letters receive no greater deference at the hands of the American humorist. Even an Oliver Wendell Holmes will say of metaphysics that it is like "splitting a log; when you have done, you have two more to split." A poster long used by the comedians Crane and Robson represented these popular favourites in the guise of the two lowermost cherubs in the Sistine Madonna. Bill Nye's assertion that "the peculiarity of classical music is that it is so much better than it sounds" is typical of a whole battalion of quips. Scenery, even when associated with poetry, fares no better. The advertising fiend who defaces the most picturesque rocks with his atrocious announcements is, perhaps, hardly entitled to the name of humorist; but the man who affixed the name of Minniegiggle to a small fall near the famous Minnehaha evidently thought himself one. So, doubtless, did one of my predecessors in a dressing-cabin at Niagara, who had inscribed on its walls:

"Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered! But the man who descinds Through the Cave of the Winds Can give points to the noble six hundred."

Of the extravagant exaggeration of American humour it is hardly necessary to give examples. This, to the ordinary observer, has perhaps been always its salient feature; and stock examples will occur to everyone. It is easy to see how readily this form of humour can be abused, and as a matter of fact it is abused daily and hourly. Many would-be American humorists fail entirely to see that exaggeration alone is not necessarily funny.

To illustrate: the story of the woman who described the suddenness of the American cyclone by saying that, as she looked up from her gardening, "she saw the air black with her intimate friends," seems to me a thoroughly humorous application of the exaggeration principle. So, too, is the description of a man so terribly thin that he never could tell whether he had the stomach-ache or the lumbago. But the jester who expects you to laugh at the tale of the fish that was so large that the water of the lake subsided two feet when it was drawn ashore simply does not know where humour ends and drivelling idiocy begins.

The dry suggestiveness of American humour is also a well-known feature. In its crudest phase it assumes such forms as the following: "Mrs. William Hankins lighted her fire with coal oil on February 23. Her clothes fit the present Mrs. Hankins to a T." The ordinary Englishman will see the point of a jest like this (though his mind will not fly to it with the electric rapidity of the American's), but the more delicate forms of this allusive style of wit will often escape him altogether. Or, if he now begins to "jump" with an almost American agility it is because the cleverest witticisms of the Detroit Free Press are now constantly served up to him in the comic columns of his evening paper. We have got the length of being consumers if not producers of this style of jest.

In its higher developments this quality of humour melts imperceptibly into irony. This has been cultivated by the Americans with great success—perhaps never better than in the columns of that admirable weekly journal the Nation. Anyone who cares to search the files of about eight or ten years back will find a number of ironical leaders, which by their subtlety and wit delighted those who "caught on," while, on the other hand, they often deceived even the elect Americans themselves and provoked a shower of innocently approving or depreciatory letters.

Apart altogether from the specific difference between American and English humour we cannot help noticing how humour penetrates and gives savour to the whole of American life. There is almost no business too important to be smoothed over with a jest; and serio-comic allusions may crop up amongst the most barren-looking reefs of scrip and bargaining. It is almost impossible to imagine a governor of the Bank of England making a joke in his official capacity, but wit is perfected in the mouth of similar sucklings in New York. Of recent prominent speakers in America all except Carl Schurz and George William Curtis are professed humorists.

When Professor Boyesen, at an examination in Columbia College, set as one of the questions, "Write an account of your life," he found that seventeen out of thirty-two responses were in a jocular vein. Fifteen of the seventeen students bore names that indicated American parentage, while all but three of the non-jokers had foreign names. Abraham Lincoln is, of course, the great example of this tendency to introduce the element of humour into the graver concerns of life; and his biography narrates many instances of its most happy effect. All the newspapers, including the religious weeklies, have a comic column.

The tremendous seriousness with which the Englishman takes himself and everything else is practically unknown in America; and the ponderous machinery of commercial and political life is undoubtedly facilitated in its running by the presence of the oil of a sub-conscious humorous intention. The American attitude, when not carried too far, seems, perhaps, to suggest a truer view of the comparative importance of things; the American seems to say: "This matter is of importance to you and for me, but after all it does not concern the orbit of a planet and there is no use talking and acting as if it did." This sense of humour often saves the American in a situation in which the Englishman would have recourse to downright brutality; it unties the Gordian knot instead of cutting it. A too strong conviction of being in the right often leads to conflicts that would be avoided by a more humorous appreciation of the relative importance of phenomena. To look on life as a jest is no doubt a deep of cynicism which is not and cannot lead to good, but to recognise the humorous side, the humorous possibilities running through most of our practical existence, often works as a saving grace. To his lack of this grace the Englishman owes much of his unpopularity with foreigners, much of the difficulty he experiences in inducing others to take his point of view, even when that point of view is right. You may as well hang a dog as give him a bad name; and a sense of humour which would prevent John Bull from calling a thing "un-English," when he means bad or unpractical, would often help him smoothly towards his goal. To his possession of a keen sense of humour the Yankee owes much of his success; it leads him, with a shrug of his shoulders, to cease fighting over names when the real thing is granted; it may sometimes lean to a calculating selfishness rather than spontaneous generosity, but on the whole it softens, enriches, and facilitates the problems of existence. It may, however, be here noted that some observers, such as Professor Boyesen, think that there is altogether too much jocularity in American life, and claim that the constant presence of the jest and the comic anecdote have done much to destroy conversation and eloquence.

Humour also acts as a great safety-valve for the excitement of political contests. When I was in New York, just before the election of President Harrison in 1888, two great political processions took place on the same day. In the afternoon some thirty thousand Republicans paraded the streets between lines of amused spectators, mostly Democrats. In the evening as many Democrats carried their torches through the same thoroughfares. No collisions of any kind took place; no ill humour was visible. The Republicans seemed to enjoy the jokes and squibs and flaunting mottoes of the Democrats; and when a Republican banner appeared with the legend, "No frigid North, no torrid South, no temperate East, no Sackville West," nobody appeared to relish it more than the hard-hit Democrat. The Cleveland cry of "Four, four, four years more" was met forcibly and effectively with the simple adaptation, "Four, four, four months more," which proved the more prophetic of that gentleman's then stay at the White House. At midnight, three days later, I was jammed in the midst of a yelling crowd in Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, watching the electoral returns thrown by a stereopticon light, as they arrived, on large white sheets. Keener or more interested partisans I never saw; but at the same time I never saw a more good-humored crowd. If I encountered one policeman that night that was all I did see; and the police reports next morning, in a city of a million inhabitants let loose in the streets on a public holiday, reported the arrest of five drunk men and one pickpocket!

Election bets are often made payable in practical jokes instead of in current coin. Thus, after election day you will meet a defeated Republican wheeling his Democratic friend through the chuckling crowd in a wheelbarrow, or walking down the Bond Street of his native town with a coal-black African laundress on his arm. But in such forms of jesting as in "White Hat Day," at the Stock Exchange of New York, Americans come perilously near the Londoner's standard of the truly funny.

In comparing American humour with English we must take care that we take class for class. Those of us who find it difficult to get up a laugh at Judge, or Bill Nye, or Josh Billings, have at least to admit that they are not quite so feeble as Ally Sloper and other cognate English humorists. When we reach the level of Artemus Ward, Ik Marvel, H.C. Bunner, Frank Stockton, and Mark Twain, we may find that we have no equally popular contemporary humorists of equal excellence; and these are emphatically humorists of a pure American type. If humour of a finer point be demanded it seems to me that there are few, if any, living English writers who can rival the delicate satiric powers of a Henry James or the subtle suggestiveness of Mr. W.D. Howells' farces, for an analogy to which we have to look to the best French work of the kind. But this takes us beyond the scope of this chapter, which deals merely with the humour of the "Man on the Cars."


[16] In an English issue of Artemus Ward, apparently edited by Mr. John Camden Hotten (Chatto and Windus), this passage is accompanied with the following gloss: "Here again Artemus called in the aid of pleasant banter as the most fitting apology for the atrocious badness of the painting."

This note is an excellent illustration of English obtuseness—if needed, on the part of the reading public; if needless, on the part of the editor.


American Journalism—A Mixed Blessing

The average British daily newspaper is, perhaps, slightly in advance of its average reader; if we could imagine an issue of the Standard, or the Daily Chronicle, or the Scotsman metamorphosed into human form, we should probably have to admit that the being thus created was rather above the average man in taste, intelligence, and good feeling. Speaking roughly, and making allowances for all obvious exceptions, I should be inclined to say that a similar statement would not be as universally true of the American paper and the American public, particularly if the female citizen were included under the latter head. If the intelligent foreigner were to regard the British citizen as practically an incarnation of his daily press, whether metropolitan or provincial, he would be doing him more than justice; if he were to apply the same standard to the American press and the American citizen, it would not be the latter who would profit by the assumption. The American paper represents a distinctly lower level of life than the English one; it would often seem as if the one catered for the least intelligent class of its readers, while the other assumed a standard higher than most of its readers could reach. The cultivated American is certainly not so slangy as the paper he reads; he is certainly not keenly interested in the extremely silly social items of which it contains several columns. Such journals as the New York Evening Post and the Springfield Republican are undoubtedly worthy of mention alongside of our most reputable dailies; but journals of their admirably high standard are comparatively rare, and no cultivated English visitor to the United States can have been spared a shock at the contrast between his fastidious and gentlemanly host and the general tone of the sheet served up with the matutinal hot cakes, or read by him on the cars and at the club.

Various causes may be suggested for this state of affairs. For one thing, the mass of half-educated people in the United States—people intelligent enough to take a lively interest in all that pertains to humanity, but not trained enough to insist on literary form—is so immense as practically to swamp the cultivated class and render it a comparatively unimportant object for the business-like editor. In England a standard of taste has been gradually evolved, which is insisted on by the educated class and largely taken on authority by others. In America practically no such standard is recognised; no one there would continue to take in a paper he found dull because the squire and the parson subscribed for it. The American reader—even when himself of high education and refinement—is a much less responsible being than the Englishman, and will content himself with a shrug of his shoulders where the latter would write a letter of indignant protest to the editor. I have more than once asked an American friend how he could endure such a daily repast of pointless vulgarity, slipshod English, and general second-rateness; but elicited no better answer than that one had to see the news, that the editorial part of the paper was well done, and that a man had to make the best of what existed. This is a national trait; it has simply to be recognised as such. Perhaps the fact that there is no metropolitan press in America to give tone to the rest of the country may also count for something in this connection. The press of Washington, the political capital, is distinctly provincial; and the New York papers, though practically representative of the United States for the outside world, can hardly be said to play a genuinely metropolitan role within the country itself.

The principal characteristics of American journalism may be summed up in the word "enterprise." No one on earth is more fertile in expedients than an American editor, kept constantly to the collar by a sense of competing energies all around him. No trouble, or expense, or contrivance is spared in the collection of news; scarcely any item of interest is overlooked by the army of alert reporters day and night in the field. The old-world papers do not compete with those of the new in the matter of quantity of news. But just here comes in one of the chief faults of the American journal, one of the besetting sins of the American people,—their well-known love of "bigness," their tendency to ask "How much?" rather than "Of what kind?" There is a lack of discrimination in the daily bill of fare served up by the American press that cannot but disgust the refined and tutored palate. It is only the boor who demands a savoury and a roast of equal bulk; it is only the vulgarian who wishes as much of his paper occupied by brutal prize-fights or vapid "personals" as by important political information or literary criticism. There is undoubtedly a modicum of truth in Matthew Arnold's sneer that American journals certainly supply news enough—but it is the news of the servants' hall. It is as if the helm were held rather by the active reporter than by the able editor. It is said that while there are eight editors to one reporter in Denmark, the proportion is exactly reversed in the United States. The net of the ordinary American editor is at least as indiscriminating as that of the German historiographer: every detail is swept in, irrespective of its intrinsic value. The very end for which the newspaper avowedly exists is often defeated by the impossibility of finding out what is the important news of the day. The reporter prides himself on being able to "write up" the most intrinsically uninteresting and unimportant matter. The best American critics themselves agree on this point. Mr. Howells writes: "There are too many things brought together in which the reader can and should have no interest. The thousand and one petty incidents of the various casualties of life that are grouped together in newspaper columns are profitless expenditure of money and energy."

The culminating point of this aimless congeries of reading matter, good, bad, and indifferent, is attained in the Sunday editions of the larger papers. Nothing comes amiss to their endless columns: scandal, politics, crochet-patterns, bogus interviews, puerile hoaxes, highly seasoned police reports, exaggerations of every kind, records of miraculous cures, funny stories with comic cuts, society paragraphs, gossip about foreign royalties, personalities of every description. In fact, they form the very ragbag of journalism. An unreasonable pride is taken in their very bulk—as if forty pages per se were better than one; as if the tons of garbage in the Sunday issue of the Gotham Gasometer outweighed in any valuable sense the ten or twelve small pages of the Parisian Temps. Not but that there is a great deal of good matter in the Sunday papers. Wer vieles bringt wird manchem etwas bringen; and he who knows where to look for it will generally find some edible morsel in the hog-trough. It has been claimed that the Sunday papers of America correspond with the cheaper English magazines; and doubtless there is some truth in the assertion. The pretty little tale, the interesting note of popular science, or the able sketch of some contemporary political condition is, however, so hidden away amid a mass of feebly illustrated and vulgarly written notes on sport, society, criminal reports, and personal interviews with the most evanescent of celebrities that one cannot but stand aghast at this terrible misuse of the powerful engine of the press. It is idle to contend that the newspaper, as a business undertaking, must supply this sort of thing to meet the demand for it. It is (or ought to be) the proud boast of the press that it leads and moulds public opinion, and undoubtedly journalism (like the theatre) is at least as much the cause as the effect of the depravity of public taste. Enterprising stage-managers have before now proved that Shakespeare does not spell ruin, and there are admirable journals in the United States which have shown themselves to be valuable properties without undue pandering to the frivolous or vicious side of the public instinct.[17]

A straw shows how the wind blows; let one item show the unfathomable gulf in questions of tone and taste that can subsist between a great American daily and its English counterparts. In the summer of 1895 an issue of one of the richest and most influential of American journals—a paper that such men as Mr. Cleveland and Mr. McKinley have to take account of—published under the heading "A Fortunate Find" a picture of two girls in bathing dress, talking by the edge of the sea. One says to the other: "How did you manage your father? I thought he wouldn't let you come?" The answer is: "I caught him kissing the typewriter." It is, of course, perfectly inconceivable that any reputable British daily could descend to this depth of purposeless and odious vulgarity. If this be the style of humour desiderated, the Thunderer may take as a well-earned compliment the American sneer that "no joke appears in the London Times, save by accident." If another instance be wanted, take this: Major Calef, of Boston, officiated as marshal at the funeral of his friend, Gen. Francis Walker. In so doing he caught a cold, of which he died. An evening paper hereupon published a cartoon showing Major Calef walking arm in arm with Death at General Walker's funeral.

Americans are also apt to be proud of the number of their journals, and will tell you, with evident appreciation of the fact, that "nearly two thousand daily papers and fourteen thousand weeklies are published in the United States." Unfortunately the character of their local journals does not altogether warrant the inference as to American intelligence that you are expected to draw. Many of them consist largely of paragraphs such as the following, copied verbatim from an issue of the Plattsburg Sentinel (September, 1888):

George Blanshard, of Champlain, an experienced prescription clerk and a graduate of the Albany School of Pharmacy, has accepted a position in Breed's drug-store at Malone.

Clerk Whitcomb, of the steamer "Maquam," has finished his season's work in the boat, and has resumed his studies at Burlington.

I admit that the interest of the readers of the Sentinel in the doings of their friends Mr. Blanshard and Mr. Whitcomb is, perhaps, saner and healthier than that of the British snob in the fact that "Prince and Princess Christian walked in the gardens of Windsor Castle and afterwards drove out for an airing." But that is the utmost that can be said for the propagation of such utter vapidities; and the man who pays his five cents for the privilege of reading them can scarcely be said to produce a certificate of intelligence in so doing. If the exhibition of such intellectual feebleness were the worst charge that could be brought against the American newspaper, there would be little more to say; but, alas, "there are some among the so-called leading newspapers of which the influence is wholly pernicious because of the perverted intellectual ability with which they are conducted." (Prof. Chas. E. Norton, in the Forum, February, 1896.)

The levity with which many—perhaps most—American journals treat subjects of serious importance is another unpleasant feature. They will talk of divorces as "matrimonial smash-ups," or enumerate them under the caption "Divorce Mill." Murders and fatal accidents are recorded with the same jocosity. Questions of international importance are handled as if the main purpose of the article was to show the writer's power of humour. Serious speeches and even sermons are reported in a vein of flippant jocularity. The same trait often obtrudes into the review of books of the first importance. The traditional "No case—abuse the plaintiff's attorney" is translated into "Can't understand or appreciate this—let's make fun of it."

By the best papers—and these are steadily multiplying—the "interview" is looked upon as a serious opportunity to obtain in a concise form the views of a person of greater or less eminence on subjects of which he is entitled to speak with authority. By the majority of journals, however, the interview is abused to an inordinate extent, both as regards the individual and the public. It is used as a vehicle for the cheapest forms of wit and the most personal attack or laudation. My own experience was that the interviewer put a series of pre-arranged questions to me, published those of my answers which met his own preconceptions, and invented appropriate substitutes for those he did not honour with his approval. A Chicago reporter made me say that English ignorance of America was so dense that "a gentleman of considerable attainments asked me if Connecticut was not the capital of Pittsburgh and notable for its great Mormon temple,"—an elaborate combination due solely to his own active brain. The same ingenuous (and ingenious) youth caused me to invent "an erratic young Londoner, who packed his bag and started at once for any out-of-the-way country for which a new guide-book was published." Another, with equal lack of ground, committed me to the unpatriotic assertion that neither in Great Britain nor in any other part of Europe was there any scenery to compare with that of the United States. But perhaps the unkindest cut of all was that of the reporter at Washington who made me introduce my remarks by the fatuous expression "Methought"! Mr. E.A. Freeman was much amused by a reporter who said of him: "When he don't know a thing, he says he don't. When he does, he speaks as if he were certain of it." Mr. Freeman adds: "To the interviewer this way of action seemed a little strange, though he clearly approved of the eccentricity." This gentleman's mental attitude, like his superiority to grammar, is, unfortunately, characteristic of hundreds of his colleagues on the American press.

The distinction between the editorial and reportorial functions of a newspaper are apt to be much less clearly defined in the United States than in England. The English reporter, as a rule, confines himself strictly to his report, which is made without bias. A Conservative speech is as accurately (though perhaps not as lengthily) reported in a Liberal paper as in one of its own colour. All comment or criticism is reserved for the editorial columns. This is by no means the case in America. Such an authority as the Atlantic Monthly admits that wilful distortion is not infrequent: the reporter seems to consider it as part of his duty to amend the record in the interest of his own paper or party. The American reporter, in a word, may be more active-minded, more original, more amusing, than his English colleague; but he is seldom so accurate. This want of impartiality is another of the patent defects of the American daily press. It is a too unscrupulous partisan; it represents the ethics of the ward politician rather than the seeker after truth.

If restraint be a sign of power, then the American press is weak indeed. There is no reticence about it. Nothing is sacred to an American reporter; everything that can be in any sense regarded as an item of news is exposed to the full glare of publicity. It has come to be so widely taken for granted that one likes to see his name in the papers, that it is often difficult to make a lady or gentleman of the American press understand that you really prefer to have your family affairs left in the dusk of private life. The touching little story entitled "A Thanksgiving Breakfast," in Harper's Magazine for November, 1895, records an experience that is almost a commonplace except as regards the unusually thin skin of the victim and the unusual delicacy and good feeling of the operator. The writer of an interesting article in the Outlook (April 25, 1896), an admirable weekly paper published in New York, sums it up in a sentence: "It is no exaggeration to say that the wanton and unrestricted invasion of privacy by the modern press constitutes in certain respects the most offensive form of tyranny which the world has ever known." The writer then narrates the following incident to illustrate the length to which this invasion of domestic privacy is carried:

A cultivated and refined woman living in a boarding-house was so unfortunate as to awaken the admiration of a young man of unbalanced mind who was living under the same roof. He paid her attentions which were courteously but firmly declined. He wrote her letters which were at first acknowledged in the most formal way, and finally ignored. No woman could have been more circumspect and dignified. The young man preserved copies of his own letters, introduced the two or three brief and formal notes which he had received in reply, made a story of the incident, stole the photograph of the woman, enclosed his own photograph, mailed the whole matter to a New York newspaper, and committed suicide. The result was a two or three column report of the incident, with portraits of the unfortunate woman and the suicide, and an elaborate and startling exaggeration of the few inconspicuous, insignificant, and colorless facts from which the narrative was elaborated. That a refined woman in American society should be exposed to such a brutal invasion of her privacy as that which was committed in this case reflects upon every gentleman in the country.

No doubt, as the Outlook goes on to show, the American people are themselves largely responsible for this attitude of the press. They have as a whole not only less reverence than Europeans for the privacy of others, but also less resentment for the violation of their own privacy. The new democracy has resigned itself to the custom of living in glass houses and regards the desire to shroud one's personal life in mystery as one of the survivals of the dark ages. The newspaper personalities are largely "the result of the desperate desire of the new classes, to whom democratic institutions have given their first chance, to discover the way to live, in the wide social meaning of the word."

One regrettable result of the way in which the American papers turn liberty into license is that it actually deters many people from taking their share in public life. The fact that any public action is sure to bring down upon one's head a torrent of abuse or adulation, together with a microscopic investigation of one's most intimate affairs, is enough to give pause to all but the most resolute. Leading journals go incredible lengths in the way they speak of public men. One of the best New York dailies dismissed Mr. Bryan as "a wretched, rattle-pated boy." Others constantly alluded to Mr. Cleveland as "His Corpulency." For weeks the New York Sun published a portrait of President Hayes with the word FRAUD printed across the forehead.

Such competent observers as Mr. George W. Smalley (Harper's Magazine, July, 1898) bear testimony to the fact that the irresponsibility of the press has seriously diminished its influence for good. Thus he points out that "the combined and active support given by the American press to the Anglo-American Arbitration Treaty weighed as nothing with the Senate." In recent mayoralty contests in New York and in Boston, almost the whole of the local press carried on vigorous but futile campaigns against the successful candidates. Several public libraries and reading-rooms have actually put some of the leading journals in an Index Expurgatorius.[18]

The moral and intellectual defects of the American newspaper are reflected in its outward dress. Neither the paper nor the printing of a New York or Boston daily paper is so good as that of the great English dailies. American editors are apt to claim a good deal of credit for the illustrations with which the pages of their journals are sprinkled; but a less justifiable claim for approbation was surely never filed. In nine cases out of ten the wood-cuts in an American paper are an insult to one's good taste and sense of propriety, and, indeed, form one of the chief reasons for classing the American daily press as distinctly lower than that of England. The reason of this physical inferiority I do not pretend to explain. It is, however, a strange phenomenon in a country which produces the most beautiful monthly magazines in the world, and also holds its own in the paper, printing, and binding of its books. But, as Mr. Freeman remarks, the magazines and books of England and America are merely varieties of the same species, while the daily journals of the two countries belong to totally different orders. Many of the better papers are now beginning to give up illustrations. A bill to prevent the insertion in newspapers of portraits without the consent of the portrayed was even brought before the New York Legislature. An exasperating feature of American newspapers, which seems to me to come also under the head of physical inferiority, is the practice of scattering an article over the whole of an issue. Thus, on reaching the foot of a column on page 1 we are more likely than not to be directed for its continuation on page 7 or 8. The reason of this is presumably the desire to have all the best goods in the window; i.e., all the most important head-lines on the front page; but the custom is a most annoying one to the reader.

It is frequently asserted by Americans that their press is very largely controlled by capitalists, and that its columns are often venal. On such points as these I venture to make no assertion. To prove them would require either a special knowledge of the back-lobbies of journalism or so intimate an understanding of the working of American institutions and the evolution of American character as to be able to decide definitely that no other explanation can be given of the source of such-and-such newspaper actions and attitude. I confine myself to criticism on matters such as he who runs may read. It is, however, true that, contrary to the general spirit of the country, such questions as socialism and the labour movement seldom receive so fair and sympathetic treatment as in the English press.

So many of the journalists I met in the United States were men of high character, intelligence, and breeding that it may seem ungracious and exaggerated to say that American newspaper men as a class seem to me distinctly inferior to the pressmen of Great Britain. But I believe this to be the case; and indeed a study of the journals of the two countries would alone warrant the inference. The trail of the reporter is over them all. Not that I, mindful of the implied practicability of the passage of a needle's eye by a camel, believe it impossible for reporters to be gentlemen; but I do say that it is difficult for a reporter on the American system to preserve to the full that delicacy of respect for the mental privacy of others which we associate with the idea of true gentlemanliness. Mr. Smalley, in a passage controverting the general opinion that a journalist should always begin at the lowest rung of the ladder, admits that a modern reporter has often to approach people in a way that he will find it hard to reconcile with his own self-respect or the dignity of his profession. The representative of the press whom one meets in English society and clubs is very apt to be a university graduate, distinguished from his academic colleagues, if at all, by his superior ability and address. This is also true of many of the editorial writers of large American journals; but side by side with these will be found a large number of men who have worked their way up from the pettiest kind of reporting, and who have not had the advantage, at the most impressionable period of their career, of associating with the best-mannered men of the time. It is, of course, highly honourable to American society and to themselves that they have and take the opportunity of advancement, but the fact remains patent in their slipshod style and the faulty grammar of their writings, and in their vulgar familiarity of manner. It has been asserted that journalism in America is not a profession, and is "subject to none of the conditions that would entitle it to the name. There are no recognised rules of conduct for its members, and no tribunal to enforce them if there were."

The startling contrasts in America which suggested the title of the present volume are, of course, well in evidence in the American press. Not only are there many papers which are eminently unobnoxious to the charges brought against the American press generally, but different parts of the same paper often seem as if they were products of totally different spheres (or, at any rate, hemispheres). The "editorials," or leaders, are sometimes couched in a form of which the scholarly restraint, chasteness of style, moral dignity, and intellectual force would do honour to the best possible of papers in the best possible of worlds, while several columns on the front page of the same issue are occupied by an illustrated account of a prize-fight, in which the most pointless and disgusting slang, such as "tapping his claret" and "bunging his peepers," is used with blood-curdling frequency.

In a paper that lies before me as I write, something like a dozen columns are devoted to a detailed account of the great contest between John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett (Sept. 7, 1892), while the principal place on the editorial page (but only one column) is occupied by a well-written and most appreciative article on the Quaker poet Whittier, who had gone to his long home just about the time the pugilists were battering each other at New Orleans.[19]

It would give a false impression of American journalism as a whole if we left the question here. While American newspapers certainly exemplify many of the worst sides of democracy and much of the rawness of a new country, it would be folly to deny that they also participate in the attendant virtues of both the one and the other. The same inspiring sense of largeness and freedom that we meet in other American institutions is also represented in the press: the same absence of slavish deference to effete authority, the same openness of opportunity, the same freshness of outlook, the same spontaneity of expression, the same readiness in windbag-piercing, the same admiration for talent in whatever field displayed. The time-honoured alliance of dulness and respectability has had its decree nisi from the American press. Several of our own journalists have had the wit to see and the energy to adopt the best feature of the American style; and the result has been a distinct advance in the raciness and readableness of some of our best-known journals. The "Americanisation of the British press" is no bugbear to stand in awe of, if only it be carried on with good sense and discrimination. We can most advantageously exchange lessons of sobriety and restraint for suggestions of candour, humour, and point; and America's share in the form of the ideal English reading journal of the future will possibly not be the smaller.

The Nation, a political and literary weekly, and the religious or semi-religious weekly journals like the Outlook and the Independent, are superior to anything we have in the same genre; and the high-water mark even of the daily political press, though not very often attained, is perhaps almost on a level with the best in Europe. Richard Grant White found a richness in the English papers, due to the far-reaching interests of the British empire, which made all other journalism seem tame and narrow; but perhaps he would now-a-days hesitate to attach this stigma to the best journals of New York. And, in conclusion, we must not forget that American papers have often lent all their energies to the championship of noble causes, ranging from the enthusiastic anti-slavery agitation of the New York Tribune, under Horace Greeley, down to the crusade against body-snatching, successfully carried on by the Press of Philadelphia, and to the agitation in favour of the horses of the Fifth-avenue stages so pertinaciously fomented by the humorous journal Life.

* * * * *

I cannot resist the temptation of printing part of a notice of "Baedeker's Handbook to the United States," which will show the almost incredible lengths to which the less cultured scribes of the American press carry their "spread-eagleism" even now. It is from a journal published in a city of nearly 100,000 inhabitants, the capital (though not the largest city) of one of the most important States in the Union. It is headed "A Blind Guide:"

It is simply incomprehensible that an author of so much literary merit in his preparation of guides to European countries should make the absolute failure that he has in the building of a guide to the United States intended for European travellers. As a guide, it is a monstrosity, fully as deceptive and misleading in its aims as it is ridiculous and unworthy in its criticisms of our people, our customs and habitations. It is not a guide in any sense, but a general tirade of abuse of Americans and their country; a compilation of mean, unfair statements; of presumed facts that are a tissue of transparent falsehoods; of comparisons with Europe and Europeans that are odius (sic). Baedeker sees very little to commend in America, but a great deal to criticise, and warns Europeans coming to this country that they must use discretion if they expect to escape the machinations of our people and the snares with which they will be surrounded. Any person who has ever travelled in Europe and America will concede that in the United States the tourist enjoys better advantages in every way than he can in Europe. Our hotels possess by far better accommodations, and none of that "flunkeyism" which causes Americans to smile as they witness it on arrival. Our railway service is superior in every respect to that of Europe. As regards civility to strangers the Americans are unequalled on the face of the globe. In antiquity Europe excels; but in natural picturesque scenery the majestic grandeur of our West is so far ahead of anything to be seen in Europe, even in beautiful Switzerland, that the alien beholder cannot but express wonder and admiration. Baedeker has made a mistake in his attempt to underrate America and Americans, its institutions and their customs. True, our nation is in a crude state as compared with the old monarchies of Europe, but in enterprise, business qualifications, politeness, literary and scientific attainments, and in fact all the essential qualities that tend to constitute a people and a country, America is away in the advance of staid, old foggy (sic) Europe, and Baedeker will find much difficulty to eradicate that all-important fact.

I hasten to assure my English readers that this is no fair sample of transatlantic journalism, and that nine out of ten of my American acquaintances would deem it as unique a literary specimen as they would. At the same time I may remind my American readers that the scutcheon of American journalism is not so bright as it might be while blots of this kind occur on it, and that it is the blatancy of Americans of this type that tends to give currency to the distorted opinion of Uncle Sam that prevails so widely in Europe.

Perhaps I shall not be misunderstood if I say that this review is by no means typical of the notice taken by American journals of "Baedeker's Handbook to the United States." Whatever other defects were found in it, reviewers were almost unanimous in pronouncing it fair and free from prejudice. Indeed, the reception of the Handbook by the American press was so much more friendly than I had any right to expect that it has made me feel some qualms in writing this chapter of criticism, while it must certainly relieve me of any possible charge of a wish to retaliate.


[17] Writing of theatrical managers, the Century (November, 1895) says: "One of the greatest obstacles in the way of reform is the inability of these same men to discern the trend of intelligent, to say nothing of cultivated, public opinion, or to inform themselves of the existence of the widespread craving for higher and better entertainment."

[18] The so-called "Yellow Press" has reached such an extreme of extravagance during the progress of the Spanish-American war that it may be hoped that it has at last dug its own grave. On the other hand, many journals were perceptibly steadied by having so vital an issue to occupy their columns, and the tone of a large section of the press was distinctly creditable.

[19] It may be doubted, however, whether any American author of similar standing would devote a chapter to the loathsome details of the prize-ring, as Mr. George Meredith does in his novel "The Amazing Marriage."


Some Literary Straws

By far the most popular novel of the London season of 1894 was "The Manxman," by Mr. Hall Caine. Its sale is said to have reached a fabulous number of thousands of copies, and the testimony of the public press and the circulating library is unanimous as to the supremacy of its vogue. In the United States the favourite book of the year was Mr. George Du Maurier's "Trilby." To the practical and prosaic evidence of the eager purchase of half a million copies we have to add the more romantic homage of the new Western towns (Trilbyville!) and patent bug exterminators named after the heroine. It may, possibly, be worth while examining the predominant qualities of the two books with a view to ascertain what light their similarities and differences may throw upon the respective literary tastes of the Englishman and the American.

There has, I believe, been no important critical denial of the right of "The Manxman" to rank as a "strong" book. The plot is drawn with consummate skill—not in the sense of a Gaborian-like unravelment of mystery, but in its organic, natural, inevitable development, and in the abiding interest of its evolution. The details are worked in with the most scrupulous care. Rarely, in modern fiction, have certain elemental features of the human being been displayed with more determination and pathos.

The central motif of the story—the corrosion of a predominantly righteous soul by a repented but hidden sin culminating in an overwhelming necessity of confession—is so powerfully presented to us that we forget all question of originality until our memory of the fascinating pages has cooled down. Then we may recall the resemblance of theme in the recent novel entitled "The Silence of Dean Maitland," while we find the prototype of both these books in "The Scarlet Letter" of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who has handled the problem with a subtlety and haunting weirdness to which neither of the English works can lay any claim. As our first interest in the story farther cools, it may occur to us that the very perfection of plot in "The Manxman" gives it the effect of a "set piece;" its association with Mr. Wilson Barrett and the boards seems foreordained. It may seem to us that there is a little forcing of the pathos, that a certain artificiality pervades the scene. In a word, we may set down "The Manxman" as melodrama—melodrama at its best, but still melodrama. Its effects are vivid, positive, sensational; its analysis of character is keen, but hardly subtle; it appeals to the British public's love of the obvious, the full-blooded, the thorough-going; it runs on well-tried lines; it is admirable, but it is not new.

"Trilby" is a very different book, and it would be a catholic palate indeed that would relish equally the story of the Paris grisette and the story of the Manx deemster. In "Trilby" the blending of the novel and the romance, of the real and the fantastic, is as much of a stumbling-block to John Bull as it is, for example, in Ibsen's "Lady from the Sea." "The central idea," he might exclaim, "is utterly extravagant; the transformation by hypnotism of the absolutely tone-deaf girl into the unutterably peerless singer is unthinkable and absurd." The admirers of "Trilby" may very well grant this, and yet feel that their withers are unwrung. It is not in the hypnotic device and its working out that they find the charm of the story; it is not the plot that they are mainly interested in; it is not even the slightly sentimental love-story of Trilby and Little Billee. They are willing to let the whole framework, as it were, of the book go by the board; it is not the thread of the narrative, but the sketches and incidents strung on it, that appeals to them. They revel in the fascinating novelty and ingenuousness of the Du Maurier vein, the art that is superficially so artless, the exquisitely simple delicacy of touch, the inimitable fineness of characterisation, the constant suggestion of the tender and true, the keen sense of the pathetic in life and the humour that makes it tolerable, the lovable drollery that corrects the tendency to the sentimental, the subtle blending of the strength of a man with the naivete of the child, the ambidextrous familiarity with English and French life, the kindliness of the satire, the absence of all straining for effect, the deep humanity that pervades the book from cover to cover.

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