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The Land of Contrasts - A Briton's View of His American Kin
by James Fullarton Muirhead
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The Land of Contrasts

A Briton's View of his American Kin

By

James Fullarton Muirhead

Author of Baedeker's Handbooks to Great Britain and the United States

Lamson, Wolffe and Company Boston, New York and London MDCCCXCVIII.

Copyright, 1898 By Lamson, Wolffe and Company All rights reserved

Press of Rockwell and Churchill BOSTON, U.S.A.

To The Land That has given me What makes Life most worth living



Contents

Chapter Page

I. Introductory 1

II. The Land of Contrasts 7

III. Lights and Shadows of American Society 24

IV. An Appreciation of the American Woman 45

V. The American Child 63

VI. International Misapprehensions and National Differences 74

VII. Sports and Amusements 106

VIII. The Humour of the "Man on the Cars" 128

IX. American Journalism—A Mixed Blessing 143

X. Some Literary Straws 162

XI. Certain Features of Certain Cities 190

XII. Baedekeriana 219

XIII. The American Note 273



Author's Note

My first visit to the United States of America—a short one—was paid in 1888. The observations on which this book is mainly based were, however, made in 1890-93, when I spent nearly three years in the country, engaged in the preparation of "Baedeker's Handbook to the United States." My work led me into almost every State and Territory in the Union, and brought me into direct contact with representatives of practically every class. The book was almost wholly written in what leisure I could find for it in 1895 and 1896. The foot-notes, added on my third visit to the country (1898), while I was seeing the chapters through the press, have at least this significance, that they show how rapidly things change in the Land of Contrasts.

No part of the book has been previously published, except some ten pages or so, which appeared in the Arena for July, 1892. Most of the matter in this article has been incorporated in Chapter II. of the present volume.

So far as the book has any general intention, my aim has been, while not ignoring the defects of American civilisation, to dwell rather on those features in which, as it seems to me, John Bull may learn from Brother Jonathan. I certainly have not had so much trouble in finding these features as seems to have been the case with many other British critics of America. My sojourn in the United States has been full of benefit and stimulus to myself; and I should like to believe that my American readers will see that this book is substantially a tribute of admiration and gratitude.

J.F.M.



I

Introductory

It is not everyone's business, nor would it be everyone's pleasure, to visit the United States of America. More, perhaps, than in any other country that I know of will what the traveller finds there depend on what he brings with him. Preconception will easily fatten into a perfect mammoth of realisation; but the open mind will add immeasurably to its garner of interests and experiences. It may be "but a colourless crowd of barren life to the dilettante—a poisonous field of clover to the cynic" (Martin Morris); but he to whom man is more than art will easily find his account in a visit to the American Republic. The man whose bent of mind is distinctly conservative, to whom innovation always suggests a presumption of deterioration, will probably be much more irritated than interested by a peregrination of the Union. The Englishman who is wedded to his own ideas, and whose conception of comfort and pleasure is bounded by the way they do things at home, may be goaded almost to madness by the gnat-stings of American readjustments—and all the more because he cannot adopt the explanation that they are the natural outcome of an alien blood and a foreign tongue. If he expects the same servility from his "inferiors" that he has been accustomed to at home, his relations with them will be a series of electric shocks; nay, his very expectation of it will exasperate the American and make him show his very worst side. The stately English dame must let her amusement outweigh her resentment if she is addressed as "grandma" by some genial railway conductor of the West; she may feel assured that no impertinence is intended.

The lover of scenery who expects to see a Jungfrau float into his ken before he has lost sight of a Mte. Rosa; the architect who expects to find the railway time-table punctuated at hourly intervals by a venerable monument of his art; the connoisseur who hopes to visit a Pitti Palace or a Dresden Picture Gallery in every large city; the student who counts on finding almost every foot of ground soaked with historic gore and every building hallowed by immemorial association; the sociologist who looks for different customs, costumes, and language at every stage of his journey;—each and all of these will do well to refrain his foot from the soil of the United States. On the other hand, the man who is interested in the workings of civilisation under totally new conditions; who can make allowances, and quickly and easily readjust his mental attitude; who has learned to let the new comforts of a new country make up, temporarily at least, for the loss of the old; who finds nothing alien to him that is human, and has a genuine love for mankind; who can appreciate the growth of general comfort at the expense of caste; who delights in promising experiments in politics, sociology, and education; who is not thrown off his balance by the shifting of the centre of gravity of honour and distinction; who, in a word, is not congealed by conventionality, but is ready to accept novelties on their merits,—he, unless I am very grievously mistaken, will find compensations in the United States that will go far to make up for Swiss Alp and Italian lake, for Gothic cathedral and Palladian palace, for historic charters and time-honoured tombs, for paintings by Raphael and statues by Phidias.

Perhaps, in the last analysis, our appreciation of America will depend on whether we are optimistic or pessimistic in regard to the great social problem which is formed of so many smaller problems. If we think that the best we can do is to preserve what we have, America will be but a series of disappointments. If, however, we believe that man's sympathies for others will grow deeper, that his ingenuity will ultimately be equal to at least a partial solution of the social question, we shall watch the seething of the American crucible with intensest interest. The solution of the social problem, speaking broadly, must imply that each man must in some direction, simple or complex, work for his own livelihood. Equality will always be a word for fools and doctrinaires to conjure with, but those who believe in man's sympathy for man must have faith that some day relative human justice will be done, which will be as far beyond the justice of to-day as light is from dark.[1] And it would be hard to say where we are to look for this consummation if not in the United States of America, which "has been the home of the poor and the eccentric from all parts of the world, and has carried their poverty and passions on its stalwart young shoulders." We may visit the United States, like M. Bourget, pour reprendre un peu de foi dans le lendemain de civilisation.

The paragraph on a previous page is not meant to imply that the United States are destitute of scenic, artistic, picturesque, and historic interest. The worst that can be said of American scenery is that its best points are separated by long intervals; the best can hardly be put too strongly. Places like the Yosemite Valley (of which Mr. Emerson said that it was the only scenery he ever saw where "the reality came up to the brag"), the Yellowstone Park, Niagara, and the stupendous Canon of the Colorado River amply make good their worldwide reputation; but there are innumerable other places less known in Europe, such as the primeval woods and countless lakes of the Adirondacks, the softer beauties of the Berkshire Hills, the Hudson (that grander American Rhine), the Swiss-like White Mountains, the Catskills, the mystic Ocklawaha of Florida, and the Black Mountains of Carolina that would amply repay the easy trouble of an Atlantic passage under modern conditions. The historic student, too, will find much that is worthy of his attention, especially in the older Eastern States; and will, perhaps, be surprised to realise how relative a term antiquity is. In a short time he will find himself looking at an American building of the seventeenth century with as much reverence as if it had been a contemporary of the Plantagenets; and, indeed, if antiquity is to be determined by change and development rather than by mere flight of time, the two centuries of New York will hold their own with a cycle of Cathay. It is, as Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked to the present writer, like the different thermometrical scales; it does not take very long to realise that twenty-five degrees of Reaumur mean as great a heat as ninety degrees of Fahrenheit. Such a city as Boston amply justifies its inclusion in a "Historic Towns" series, along with London and Oxford; and it is by no means a singular instance. Even the lover of art will not find America an absolute Sahara. To say nothing of the many masterpieces of European painters that have found a resting-place in America, where there is at least one public picture gallery and several private ones of the first class, the best efforts of American painters, and perhaps still more those of American sculptors, are full of suggestion and charm; while I cannot believe that the student of modern architecture will anywhere find a more interesting field than among the enterprising and original works of the American school of architecture.

This book will be grievously misunderstood if it is supposed to be in any way an attempt to cover, even sketchily, the whole ground of American civilisation, or to give anything like a coherent appreciation of it. In the main it is merely a record of personal impressions, a series of notes upon matters which happened to come under my personal observation and to excite my personal interest. Not only the conditions under which I visited the country, but also my own disqualifications of taste and knowledge, have prevented me from more than touching on countless topics, such as the phenomena of politics, religion, commerce, and industry, which would naturally find a place in any complete account of America. I have also tried to avoid, so far as possible, describing well-known scenery, or in other ways going over the tracks of my predecessors. The phenomena of the United States are so momentous in themselves that the observation of them from any new standpoint cannot be wholly destitute of value; while they change so rapidly that he would be unobservant indeed who could not find something new to chronicle.

It is important, also, to remember that the generalisations of this book apply in very few cases to the whole extent of the United States. I shall be quite contented if any one section of the country thinks that I cannot mean it in such-and-such an assertion, provided it allows that the cap fits some other portion of the great community. As a rule, however, it may be assumed that unqualified references to American civilisation relate to it as crystallised in such older communities as New York or Philadelphia, not to the fermenting process of life-in-the-making on the frontier.

In the comparisons between Great Britain and the United States I have tried to oppose only those classes which substantially correspond to each other. Thus, in contrasting the Lowell manufacturer, the Hampshire squire, the Virginian planter, and the Manchester man, it must not be forgotten that the first and the last have many points of difference from the second and third which are not due to their geographical position. Many of the instances on which my remarks are based may undoubtedly be called extreme; but even extreme cases are suggestive, if not exactly typical. There is a breed of poultry in Japan, in which, by careful cultivation, the tail-feathers of the cock sometimes reach a length of ten or even fifteen feet. This is not precisely typical of the gallinaceous species; but it is none the less a phenomenon which might be mentioned in a comparison with the apteryx.

Finally, I ought perhaps to say, with Mr. E.A. Freeman, that I sometimes find it almost impossible to believe that the whole nation can be so good as the people who have been so good to me.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I have some suspicion that this ought to be in quotation marks, but cannot now trace the passage.



II

The Land of Contrasts

When I first thought of writing about the United States at all, I soon came to the conclusion that no title could better than the above express the general impression left on my mind by my experiences in the Great Republic. It may well be that a long list of inconsistencies might be made out for any country, just as for any individual; but so far as my knowledge goes the United States stands out as preeminently the "Land of Contrasts"—the land of stark, staring, and stimulating inconsistency; at once the home of enlightenment and the happy hunting ground of the charlatan and the quack; a land in which nothing happens but the unexpected; the home of Hyperion, but no less the haunt of the satyr; always the land of promise, but not invariably the land of performance; a land which may be bounded by the aurora borealis, but which has also undeniable acquaintance with the flames of the bottomless pit; a land which is laved at once by the rivers of Paradise and the leaden waters of Acheron.

If I proceed to enumerate a few of the actual contrasts that struck me, in matters both weighty and trivial, it is not merely as an exercise in antithesis, but because I hope it will show how easy it would be to pass an entirely and even ridiculously untrue judgment upon the United States by having an eye only for one series of the startling opposites. It should show in a very concrete way one of the most fertile sources of those unfair international judgments which led the French Academician Jouey to the statement: "Plus on reflechit et plus on observe, plus on se convainct de la faussete de la plupart de ces jugements portes sur un nation entiere par quelques ecrivains et adoptes sans examen par les autres." The Americans themselves can hardly take umbrage at the label, if Mr. Howells truly represents them when he makes one of the characters in "A Traveller from Altruria" assert that they pride themselves even on the size of their inconsistencies. The extraordinary clashes that occur in the United States are doubtless largely due to the extraordinary mixture of youth and age in the character of the country. If ever an old head was set upon young shoulders, it was in this case of the United States—this "Strange New World, thet yit was never young." While it is easy, in a study of the United States, to see the essential truth of the analogy between the youth of an individual and the youth of a State, we must also remember that America was in many respects born full-grown, like Athena from the brain of Zeus, and cooerdinates in the most extraordinary way the shrewdness of the sage with the naivete of the child. Those who criticise the United States because, with the experience of all the ages behind her, she is in some points vastly defective as compared with the nations of Europe are as much mistaken as those who look to her for the fresh ingenuousness of youth unmarred by any trace of age's weakness. It is simply inevitable that she should share the vices as well as the virtues of both. Mr. Freeman has well pointed out how natural it is that a colony should rush ahead of the mother country in some things and lag behind it in others; and that just as you have to go to French Canada if you want to see Old France, so, for many things, if you wish to see Old England you must go to New England.

Thus America may easily be abreast or ahead of us in such matters as the latest applications of electricity, while retaining in its legal uses certain cumbersome devices that we have long since discarded. Americans still have "Courts of Oyer and Terminer" and still insist on the unanimity of the jury, though their judges wear no robes and their counsel apply to the cuspidor as often as to the code. So, too, the extension of municipal powers accomplished in Great Britain still seems a formidable innovation in the United States.

The general feeling of power and scope is probably another fruitful source of the inconsistencies of American life. Emerson has well said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds; and no doubt the largeness, the illimitable outlook, of the national mind of the United States makes it disregard surface discrepancies that would grate horribly on a more conventional community. The confident belief that all will come out right in the end, and that harmony can be attained when time is taken to consider it, carries one triumphantly over the roughest places of inconsistency. It is easy to drink our champagne from tin cans, when we know that it is merely a sense of hurry that prevents us fetching the chased silver goblets waiting for our use.

This, I fancy, is the explanation of one series of contrasts which strikes an Englishman at once. America claims to be the land of liberty par excellence, and in a wholesale way this may be true in spite of the gap between the noble sentiments of the Declaration of Independence and the actual treatment of the negro and the Chinaman. But in what may be called the retail traffic of life the American puts up with innumerable restrictions of his personal liberty. Max O'Rell has expatiated with scarcely an exaggeration on the wondrous sight of a powerful millionaire standing meekly at the door of a hotel dining-room until the consequential head-waiter (very possibly a coloured gentleman) condescends to point out to him the seat he may occupy. So, too, such petty officials as policemen and railway conductors are generally treated rather as the masters than as the servants of the public. The ordinary American citizen accepts a long delay on the railway or an interminable "wait" at the theatre as a direct visitation of Providence, against which it would be useless folly to direct cat-calls, grumbles, or letters to the Times. Americans invented the slang word "kicker," but so far as I could see their vocabulary is here miles ahead of their practice; they dream noble deeds, but do not do them; Englishmen "kick" much better, without having a name for it. The right of the individual to do as he will is respected to such an extent that an entire company will put up with inconvenience rather than infringe it. A coal-carter will calmly keep a tramway-car waiting several minutes until he finishes his unloading. The conduct of the train-boy, as described in Chapter XII., would infallibly lead to assault and battery in England, but hardly elicits an objurgation in America, where the right of one sinner to bang a door outweighs the desire of twenty just persons for a quiet nap. On the other hand, the old Puritan spirit of interference with individual liberty sometimes crops out in America in a way that would be impossible in this country. An inscription in one of the large mills at Lawrence, Mass., informs the employees (or did so some years ago) that "regular attendance at some place of worship and a proper observance of the Sabbath will be expected of every person employed." So, too, the young women of certain districts impose on their admirers such restrictions in the use of liquor and tobacco that any less patient animal than the native American would infallibly kick over the traces.

In spite of their acknowledged nervous energy and excitability, Americans often show a good deal of a quality that rivals the phlegm of the Dutch. Their above-mentioned patience during railway or other delays is an instance of this. So, in the incident related in Chapter XII. the passengers in the inside coach retained their seats throughout the whole experiment. Their resemblance in such cases as this to placid domestic kine is enhanced—out West—by the inevitable champing of tobacco or chewing-gum, than which nothing I know of so robs the human countenance of the divine spark of intelligence. Boston men of business, after being whisked by the electric car from their suburban residences to the city at the rate of twelve miles an hour, sit stoically still while the congested traffic makes the car take twenty minutes to pass the most crowded section of Washington street,—a walk of barely five minutes.[2]

Even in the matter of what Mr. Ambassador Bayard has styled "that form of Socialism, Protection," it seems to me that we can find traces of this contradictory tendency. Americans consider their country as emphatically the land of protection, and attribute most of their prosperity to their inhospitable customs barriers. This may be so; but where else in the world will you find such a volume and expanse of free trade as in these same United States? We find here a huge section of the world's surface, 3,000 miles long and 1,500 miles wide, occupied by about fifty practically independent States, containing seventy millions of inhabitants, producing a very large proportion of all the necessities and many of the luxuries of life, and all enjoying the freest of free trade with each other. Few of these States are as small as Great Britain, and many of them are immensely larger. Collectively they contain nearly half the railway mileage of the globe, besides an incomparable series of inland waterways. Over all these is continually passing an immense amount of goods. The San Francisco News Letter, a well-known weekly journal, points out that of the 1,400,000,000 tons of goods carried for 100 miles or upwards on the railways of the world in 1895, no less than 800,000,000 were carried in the United States. Even if we add the 140,000,000 carried by sea-going ships, there remains a balance of 60,000,000 tons in favor of the United States as against the rest of the world. It is, perhaps, impossible to ascertain whether or not the actual value of the goods carried would be in the same proportion; but it seems probable that the value of the 800,000,000 tons of the home trade of America must considerably exceed that of the free portion of the trade of the British Empire, i.e., practically the whole of its import trade and that portion of its export trade carried on with free-trade countries or colonies. The internal commerce of the United States makes it the most wonderful market on the globe; and Brother Jonathan, the rampant Protectionist, stands convicted as the greatest Cobdenite of them all!

We are all, it is said, apt to "slip up" on our strongest points. Perhaps this is why one of the leading writers of the American democracy is able to assert that "there is no country in the world where the separation of the classes is so absolute as ours," and to quote a Russian revolutionist, who lived in exile all over Europe and nowhere found such want of sympathy between the rich and poor as in America. If this were true it would certainly form a startling contrast to the general kind-heartedness of the American. But I fancy it rather points to the condition of greater relative equality. Our Russian friend was accustomed to the patronising kindness of the superior to the inferior, of the master to the servant. It is easy, on an empyrean rock, to be "kind" to the mortals toiling helplessly down below. It costs little, to use Mr. Bellamy's parable, for those securely seated on the top of the coach to subscribe for salve to alleviate the chafed wounds of those who drag it. In America there is less need and less use of this patronising kindness; there is less kindness from class to class simply because the conscious realisation of "class" is non-existent in thousands of cases where it would be to the fore in Europe. As for the first statement quoted at the head of this paragraph, I find it very hard of belief. It is true that there are exclusive circles, to which, for instance, Buffalo Bill would not have the entree, but the principle of exclusion is on the whole analogous to that by which we select our intimate personal friends. No man in America, who is personally fitted to adorn it, need feel that he is automatically shut out (as he might well be in England) from a really congenial social sphere.

Another of America's strong points is its sense of practical comfort and convenience. It is scarcely open to denial that the laying of too great stress on material comfort is one of the rocks ahead which the American vessel will need careful steering to avoid; and it is certain that Americans lead us in countless little points of household comfort and labour-saving ingenuity. But here, too, the exception that proves the rule is not too coy for our discovery. The terrible roads and the atrociously kept streets are amongst the most vociferous instances of this. It is one of the inexplicable mysteries of American civilisation that a young municipality,—or even, sometimes, an old one,—with a million dollars to spend, will choose to spend it in erecting a most unnecessarily gorgeous town-hall rather than in making the street in front of it passable for the ordinarily shod pedestrian. In New York itself the hilarious stockbroker returning at night to his palace often finds the pavement between his house and his carriage more difficult to negotiate than even the hole for his latch-key; and I have more than once been absolutely compelled to make a detour from Broadway in order to find a crossing where the icy slush would not come over the tops of my boots.[3] The American taste for luxury sometimes insists on gratification even at the expense of the ordinary decencies of life. It was an American who said, "Give me the luxuries of life and I will not ask for the necessities;" and there is more truth in this epigram, as characteristic of the American point of view, than its author intended or would, perhaps, allow. In private life this is seen in the preference shown for diamond earrings and Paris toilettes over neat and effective household service. The contrast between the slatternly, unkempt maid-servant who opens the door to you and the general luxury of the house itself is sometimes of the most startling, not to say appalling, description. It is not a sufficient answer to say that good servants are not so easily obtained in America as in England. This is true; but a slight rearrangement of expenditure would secure much better service than is now seen. To the English eye the cart in this matter often seems put before the horse; and the combination of excellent waiting with a modest table equipage is frequent enough in the United States to prove its perfect feasibility.

In American hotels we are often overwhelmed with "all the discomforts that money can procure," while unable to obtain some of those things which we have been brought up to believe among the prime necessaries of existence. It is significant that in the printed directions governing the use of the electric bell in one's bedroom, I never found an instance in which the harmless necessary bath could be ordered with fewer than nine pressures of the button, while the fragrant cocktail or some other equally fascinating but dangerous luxury might often be summoned by three or four. The most elaborate dinner, served in the most gorgeous china, is sometimes spoiled by the Draconian regulation that it must be devoured between the unholy hours of twelve and two, or have all its courses brought on the table at once. Though the Americans invent the most delicate forms of machinery, their hoop-iron knives, silver plated for facility in cleaning, are hardly calculated to tackle anything harder than butter, and compel the beef-eater to return to the tearing methods of his remotest ancestors. The waiter sometimes rivals the hotel clerk himself in the splendour of his attire, but this does not render more appetising the spectacle of his thumb in the soup. The furniture of your bedroom would not have disgraced the Tuileries in their palmiest days, but, alas, you are parboiled by a diabolic chevaux-de-frise of steam-pipes which refuse to be turned off, and insist on accompanying your troubled slumbers by an intermittent series of bubbles, squeaks, and hisses. The mirror opposite which you brush your hair is enshrined in the heaviest of gilt frames and is large enough for a Brobdignagian, but the basin in which you wash your hands is little larger than a sugar-bowl; and when you emerge from your nine-times-summoned bath you find you have to dry your sacred person with six little towels, none larger than a snuff-taker's handkerchief. There is no carafe of water in the room; and after countless experiments you are reduced to the blood-curdling belief that the American tourist brushes his teeth with ice-water, the musical tinkling of which in the corridors is the most characteristic sound of the American caravanserai.

If there is anything the Americans pride themselves on—and justly—it is their handsome treatment of woman. You will not meet five Americans without hearing ten times that a lone woman can traverse the length and breadth of the United States without fear of insult; every traveller reports that the United States is the Paradise of women. Special entrances are reserved for them at hotels, so that they need not risk contamination with the tobacco-defiled floors of the public office; they are not expected to join the patient file of room-seekers before the hotel clerk's desk, but wait comfortably in the reception-room while an employee secures their number and key. There is no recorded instance of the justifiable homicide of an American girl in her theatre hat. Man meekly submits to be the hewer of wood, the drawer of water, and the beast of burden for the superior sex. But even this gorgeous medal has its reverse side. Few things provided for a class well able to pay for comfort are more uncomfortable and indecent than the arrangements for ladies on board the sleeping cars. Their dressing accommodation is of the most limited description; their berths are not segregated at one end of the car, but are scattered above and below those of the male passengers; it is considered tolerable that they should lie with the legs of a strange, disrobing man dangling within a foot of their noses.

Another curious contrast to the practical, material, matter-of-fact side of the American is his intense interest in the supernatural, the spiritualistic, the superstitious. Boston, of all places in the world, is, perhaps, the happiest hunting-ground for the spiritualist medium, the faith healer, and the mind curer. You will find there the most advanced emancipation from theological superstition combined in the most extraordinary way with a more than half belief in the incoherences of a spiritualistic seance. The Boston Christian Scientists have just erected a handsome stone church, with chime of bells, organ, and choir of the most approved ecclesiastical cut; and, greatest marvel of all, have actually had to return a surplus of $50,000 (L10,000) that was subscribed for its building. There are two pulpits, one occupied by a man who expounds the Bible, while in the other a woman responds with the grandiloquent platitudes of Mrs. Eddy. In other parts of the country this desire to pry into the Book of Fate assumes grosser forms. Mr. Bryce tells us that Western newspapers devote a special column to the advertisements of astrologers and soothsayers, and assures us that this profession is as much recognised in the California of to-day as in the Greece of Homer.

It seems to me that I have met in America the nearest approaches to my ideals of a Bayard sans peur et sans reproche; and it is in this same America that I have met flagrant examples of the being wittily described as sans pere et sans proche—utterly without the responsibility of background and entirely unacquainted with the obligation of noblesse. The superficial observer in the United States might conceivably imagine the characteristic national trait to be self-sufficiency or vanity (this mistake has, I believe, been made), and his opinion might be strengthened should he find, as I did, in an arithmetic published at Richmond during the late Civil War, such a modest example as the following: "If one Confederate soldier can whip seven Yankees, how many Confederate soldiers will it take to whip forty-nine Yankees?" America has been likened to a self-made man, hugging her conditions because she has made them, and considering them divine because they have grown up with the country. Another observer might quite as easily come to the conclusion that diffidence and self-distrust are the true American characteristics. Certainly Americans often show a saving consciousness of their faults, and lash themselves with biting satire. There are even Americans whose very attitude is an apology—wholly unnecessary—for the Great Republic, and who seem to despise any native product until it has received the hall-mark of London or of Paris. In the new world that has produced the new book, of the exquisite delicacy and insight of which Mr. Henry James and Mr. Howells may be taken as typical exponents, it seems to me that there are more than the usual proportion of critics who prefer to it what Colonel Higginson has well called "the brutalities of Haggard and the garlic-flavors of Kipling." While, perhaps, the characteristic charm of the American girl is her thorough-going individuality and the undaunted courage of her opinions, which leads her to say frankly, if she think so, that Martin Tupper is a greater poet than Shakespeare, yet I have, on the other hand, met a young American matron who confessed to me with bated breath that she and her sister, for the first time in their lives, had gone unescorted to a concert the night before last, and, mirabile dictu, no harm had come of it! It is in America that I have over and over again heard language to which the calling a spade a spade would seem the most delicate allusiveness; but it is also in America that I have summoned a blush to the cheek of conscious sixty-six by an incautious though innocent reference to the temperature of my morning tub. In that country I have seen the devotion of Sir Walter Raleigh to his queen rivalled again and again by the ordinary American man to the ordinary American woman (if there be an ordinary American woman), and in the same country I have myself been scoffed at and made game of because I opened the window of a railway carriage for a girl in whose delicate veins flowed a few drops of coloured blood. In Washington I met Miss Susan B. Anthony, and realised, to some extent at least, all she stands for. In Boston and other places I find there is actually an organised opposition on the part of the ladies themselves to the extension of the franchise to women. I have hailed with delight the democratic spirit displayed in the greeting of my friend and myself by the porter of a hotel as "You fellows," and then had the cup of pleasure dashed from my lips by being told by the same porter that "the other gentleman would attend to my baggage!" I have been parboiled with salamanders who seemed to find no inconvenience in a room-temperature of eighty degrees, and have been nigh frozen to death in open-air drives in which the same individuals seemed perfectly comfortable. Men appear at the theatre in orthodox evening dress, while the tall and exasperating hats of the ladies who accompany them would seem to indicate a theory of street toilette. From New York to Buffalo I am whisked through the air at the rate of fifty or sixty miles an hour; in California I travelled on a train on which the engineer shot rabbits from the locomotive, and the fireman picked them up in time to jump on the baggage-car at the rear end of the train. At Santa Barbara I visited an old mission church and convent which vied in quaint picturesqueness with anything in Europe; but, alas! the old monk who showed us round, though wearing the regulation gown and knotted cord, had replaced his sandals by elastic-sided boots and covered his tonsure with a common chummy.[4]

Few things in the United States are more pleasing than the widespread habits of kindness to animals (most American whips are, as far as punishment to the horse is concerned, a mere farce). Yet no American seems to have any scruple about adding an extra hundred weight or two to an already villainously overloaded horse-car; and I have seen a score of American ladies sit serenely watching the frantic straining of two poor animals to get a derailed car on to the track again, when I knew that in "brutal" Old England every one of them would have been out on the sidewalk to lighten the load.

In England that admirable body of men popularly known as Quakers are indissolubly associated in the public mind with a pristine simplicity of life and conversation. My amazement, therefore, may easily be imagined, when I found that an entertainment given by a young member of the Society of Friends in one of the great cities of the Eastern States turned out to be the most elaborate and beautiful private ball I ever attended, with about eight hundred guests dressed in the height of fashion, while the daily papers (if I remember rightly) estimated its expense as reaching a total of some thousands of pounds. Here the natural expansive liberality of the American man proved stronger than the traditional limitations of a religious society. But the opposite art of cheese-paring is by no means unknown in the United States. Perhaps not even canny Scotland can parallel the record of certain districts in New England, which actually elected their parish paupers to the State Legislature to keep them off the rates. Let the opponents of paid members of the House of Commons take notice!

Amid the little band of tourists in whose company I happened to enter the Yosemite Valley was a San Francisco youth with a delightful baritone voice, who entertained the guests in the hotel parlour at Wawona by a good-natured series of songs. No one in the room except myself seemed to find it in the least incongruous or funny that he sandwiched "Nearer, my God, to thee" between "The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo" and "Her golden hair was hanging down her back," or that he jumped at once from the pathetic solemnity of "I know that my Redeemer liveth" to the jingle of "Little Annie Rooney." The name Wawona reminds me how American weather plays its part in the game of contrasts. When we visited the Grove of Big Trees near Wawona on May 21, it was in the midst of a driving snow-storm, with the thermometer standing at 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Next day, as we drove into Raymond, less than forty miles to the west, the sun was beating down on our backs, and the thermometer marked 80 degrees in the shade.

There is probably no country in the world where, at times, letters of introduction are more fully honoured than in the United States. The recipient does not content himself with inviting you to call or even to dinner. He invites you to make his house your home; he invites all his friends to meet you; he leaves his business to show you the lions of the town or to drive you about the country; he puts you up at his club; he sends you off provided with letters to ten other men like himself, only more so. On the other hand, there is probably no country in the world where a letter of introduction from a man quite entitled to give it could be wholly ignored as it sometimes is in the United States. The writer has had experience of both results. No more fundamental contrast can well be imagined than that between the noisy, rough, crude, and callous street-life of some Western towns and the quiet, reticence, delicacy, spirituality, and refinement of many of the adjacent interiors.

The table manners of the less-educated American classes are hardly of the best, but where but in America will you find eleven hundred charity-school boys sit down daily to dinner, each with his own table napkin, as they do at Girard College, Philadelphia? And where except at that same institute will you find a man leaving millions for a charity, with the stipulation that no parson of any creed shall ever be allowed to enter its precincts?

In concluding this chapter, let me say that its object, as indeed the object of this whole book, will have been achieved if it convinces a few Britons of the futility of generalising on the complex organism of American society from inductions that would not justify an opinion about the habits of a piece of protoplasm.[5]

FOOTNOTES:

[2] The Boston Subway, opened in 1898, has impaired the truth of this sentence.

[3] It is only fair to say that this was originally written in 1893, and that matters have been greatly improved since then.

[4] This may be paralleled in Europe: "The Franciscan monks of Bosnia wear long black robes, with rope, black 'bowler hats,' and long and heavy military moustachios (by special permission of the Pope)."—Daily Chronicle, Oct 5, 1895.

[5] In the just-ended war with Spain, the United States did not fail to justify its character as the Land of Contrasts. From the wealthy and enlightened United States we should certainly have expected all that money and science could afford in the shape of superior weapons and efficiency of commissariat and medical service, while we could have easily pardoned a little unsteadiness in civilians suddenly turned into soldiers. As a matter of fact, the poverty-stricken Spaniards had better rifles than the Americans; the Commissariat and Medical Departments are alleged to have broken down in the most disgraceful way; the citizen-soldiers behaved like veterans.



III

Lights and Shadows of American Society

By "society" I do not mean that limited body which, whether as the Upper Ten Thousand of London or as the Four Hundred of New York, usually arrogates the title. Such narrowness of definition seems peculiarly out of place in the vigorous democracy of the West. By society I understand the great body of fairly well-educated and fairly well-mannered people, whose means and inclinations lead them to associate with each other on terms of equality for the ordinary purposes of good fellowship. Such people, not being fenced in by conventional barriers and owning no special or obtrusive privileges, represent much more fully and naturally the characteristic national traits of their country; and their ways and customs are the most fruitful field for a comparative study of national character. The daughters of dukes and princes can hardly be taken as typical English girls, since the conditions of their life are so vastly different from those of the huge majority of the species—conditions which deny a really natural or normal development to all but the choicest and strongest souls. So the daughter of a New York multimillionaire, who has been brought up to regard a British duke or an Italian prince as her natural partner for life, does not look out on the world through genuinely American spectacles, but is biassed by a point of view which may be somewhat paradoxically termed the "cosmopolitan-exclusive." As Mr. Henry James puts it: "After all, what one sees on a Newport piazza is not America; it is the back of Europe."

There are, however, reasons special to the United States why we should not regard the "Newport set" as typical of American society. Illustrious foreign visitors fall not unnaturally into this mistake; even so keen a critic as M. Bourget leans this way, though Mr. Bryce gives another proof of his eminent sanity and good sense by his avoidance of the tempting error. But, as Walt Whitman says, "The pulse-beats of the nation are never to be found in the sure-to-be-put-forward-on-such-occasions citizens." European fashionable society, however unworthy many of its members may be, and however relaxed its rules of admission have become, has its roots in an honourable past; its theory is fine; not all the big names of the British aristocracy can be traced back to strong ales or weak (Lucy) Waters. Even those who desire the abolition of the House of Peers, or look on it, with Bagehot, as "a vapid accumulation of torpid comfort," cannot deny that it is an institution that has grown up naturally with the country, and that it is only now (if even now) that it is felt with anything like universality to be an anomaly. The American society which is typified by the four hundred of New York, the society which marries its daughters to English peers, is in a very different position. It is of mushroom growth even according to American standards; it has theoretically no right to exist; it is entirely at variance with the spirit of the country and contradictory of its political system; it is almost solely conditioned by wealth;[6] it is disregarded if not despised by nine-tenths of the population; it does not really count. However seriously the little cliques of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia may take themselves, they are not regarded seriously by the rest of the country in any degree comparable to the attitude of the British Philistine towards the British Barbarian. Without the appropriate background of king and nobility, the whole system is ridiculous; it has no national basis. The source of its honour is ineradicably tainted. It is the reductio ad absurdum of the idea of aristocratic society. It is divorced from the real body of democracy. It sets no authoritative standard of taste. If anything could reconcile the British Radical to his House of Lords, it would be the rankness of taste, the irresponsible freaks of individual caprice, that rule in a country where there is no carefully polished noblesse to set the pattern. George William Curtis puts the case well: "Fine society is no exotic, does not avoid, but all that does not belong to it drops away like water from a smooth statue. We are still peasants and parvenues, although we call each other princes and build palaces. Before we are three centuries old we are endeavouring to surpass, by imitating, the results of all art and civilisation and social genius beyond the sea. By elevating the standard of expense we hope to secure select society, but have only aggravated the necessity of a labour integrally fatal to the kind of society we seek."

It would, of course, be a serious mistake to assume that, because there are no titles and no theory of caste in the United States, there are no social distinctions worth the trouble of recognition. Besides the crudely obvious elevation of wealth and "smartness" already referred to, there are inner circles of good birth, of culture, and so on, which are none the less practically recognised because they are theoretically ignored. Of such are the old Dutch clans of New York, which still, I am informed, regard families like the Vanderbilts as upstarts and parvenues. In Chicago there is said to be an inner circle of forty or fifty families which is recognised as the "best society," though by no means composed of the richest citizens. In Boston, though the Almighty Dollar now plays a much more important role than before, it is still a combination of culture and ancestry that sets the most highly prized hall-mark on the social items. And indeed the heredity of such families as the Quincys, the Lowells, the Winthrops, and the Adamses, which have maintained their superior position for generations, through sheer force of ability and character, without the external buttresses of primogeniture and entail, may safely measure itself against the stained lineage of many European families of high title. The very absence of titular distinction often causes the lines to be more clearly drawn; as Mr. Charles Dudley Warner says: "Popular commingling in pleasure resorts is safe enough in aristocratic countries, but it will not answer in a republic." There is, however, no universal theory that holds good from New York to California; and hence the generalising foreigner is apt to see nothing but practical as well as theoretical equality.

In spite of anything in the foregoing that may seem incompatible, the fact remains that the distinguishing feature of American society, as contrasted with the societies of Europe, is the greater approach to equality that it has made. It is in this sphere, and not in those of industry, law, or politics, that the British observer must feel that the American breathes a distinctly more liberal and democratic air than he. The processes of endosmose and exosmose go on under much freer conditions; the individual particle is much more ready to filtrate up or down to its proper level. Mr. W.D. Howells writes that "once good society contained only persons of noble or gentle birth; then persons of genteel or sacred callings were admitted; now it welcomes to its level everyone of agreeable manners or cultivated mind;" and this, which may be true of modern society in general, is infinitely more true in America than elsewhere. It might almost be asserted that everyone in America ultimately finds his proper social niche; that while many are excluded from the circles for which they think themselves adapted, practically none are shut off from their really harmonious milieu. The process of segregation is deprived to a large extent of the disagreeableness consequent upon a rigid table of precedence. Nothing surprises an American more in London society than the uneasy sense of inferiority that many a distinguished man of letters will show in the presence of a noble lord. No amount of philosophy enables one to rise entirely superior to the trammels of early training and hoary association. Even when the great novelist feels himself as at least on a level with his ducal interlocutor, he cannot ignore the fact that his fellow-guests do not share his opinion. Now, without going the length of asserting that there is absolutely nothing of this kind in the intercourse of the American author with the American railroad magnate, it may be safely stated that the general tone of society in America makes such an attitude rare and unlikely. There social equality has become an instinct, and the ruling note of good society is of pleasant cameraderie, without condescension on the one hand or fawning on the other. "The democratic system deprives people of weapons that everyone does not equally possess. No one is formidable; no one is on stilts; no one has great pretensions or any recognised right to be arrogant." (Henry James.) The spirit of goodwill, of a desire to make others happy (especially when it does not incommode you to do so), swings through a much larger arc in American society than in English. One can be surer of one's self, without either an overweening self-conceit or the assumption of brassy self-assertion.

The main rock of offence in American society is, perhaps, its tendency to attach undue importance to materialistic effects. Plain living with high thinking is not so much of an American formula as one would wish. In the smart set of New York, and in other places mutatis mutandis, this shows itself in an appallingly vulgar and ostentatious display of mere purchase power. We are expected to find something grand in the fact that an entertainment costs so much; there is little recognition of the truth that a man who spends $100 where $10 would meet all the demands of good taste is not only a bad economist, but essentially bourgeois and torne in soul. Even roses are vulgarised, if that be possible, by production in the almost obtrusively handsome variety known as the "American Beauty," and by being heaped up like hay-stacks in the reception rooms. At a recent fashionable marriage in New York no fewer than 20,000 sprays of lily of the valley are reported to have been used. A short time ago a wedding party travelled from Chicago to Burlington (Iowa) on a specially constructed train which cost L100,000 to build; the fortunes of the heads of the few families represented aggregated L100,000,000. The private drawing-room cars of millionaires are too handsome; they do not indicate so much a necessity of taste as a craving to spend. Many of the best hotels are characterised by a tasteless magnificence which annoys rather than attracts the artistic sense. At one hotel I stayed at in a fashionable watering-place the cheapest bedroom cost L1 a night; but I did not find that its costly tapestry hangings, huge Japanese vases, and elaborately carved furniture helped me to woo sweet slumber any more successfully than the simple equipments of an English village inn. Indeed, they rather suggested insomnia, just as the ominous name of "Macbeth," affixed to one of the bedrooms in the Shakespeare Hotel at Stratford-on-Avon, immediately suggested the line "Macbeth doth murder sleep."

This materialistic tendency, however, which its defenders call a higher standard of comfort, is not confined to the circles of the millionaires; it crops out more or less at all the different levels. Americans seem a little more dependent on bodily comforts than Englishmen, a little more apt to coddle themselves, a little less hardy. They are more susceptible to variations of temperature, and hence the prevalent over-heating of their houses, hotels, and railway-cars. A very slight shower will send an American into his overshoes.[7] There is more of a self-conscious effort in the encouragement of manly sports. Americans seldom walk when they can ride. The girls are apt to be annoyed if a pleasure-party be not carried out so as to provide in the fullest way for their personal comfort.

This last sentence suggests a social practice of the United States which, perhaps, may come under the topic we are at present discussing. I mean the custom by which girls allow their young men friends to incur expense in their behalf. I am aware that this custom is on the wane in the older cities, that the most refined girls in all parts of the Union dislike it, that it is "bad form" in many circles. In the bowling-club to which I had the pleasure to belong the ladies paid their subscriptions "like a man;" when I drove out on sleigh-parties, the girls insisted on paying their share of the expense. The fact, however, remains that, speaking generally and taking class for class, the American girl allows her admirers to spend their money on her much more freely than the English girl. A man is considered mean if he does not pay the car-fare of his girl companion; a girl will allow a man who is merely a "friend" to take her to the theatre, fetching her and taking her home in a carriage hired at exorbitant rates. The Illustrated American (Jan. 19, 1895) writes:

The advanced ideas prevalent in this country regarding the relations of the opposite sexes make it not only proper, but necessary, that a young man with serious intentions shall take his sweetheart out, give her presents, send her flowers, go driving with her, and in numberless little ways incur expense. This is all very delightful for her, but to him it means ruin. And at the end he may find that she was only flirting with him.

In fact, whenever a young man and a young woman are associated in any enterprise, it is quite usual for the young man to pay for both. On the whole, this custom seems an undesirable one. It is so much a matter of habit that the American girl usually plays her part in the matter with absolute innocence and unconsciousness; she feels no more obligation than an English girl would for the opening of a door. The young man also takes it as a matter of course, and does not in the least presume on his services. But still, I think, it has a slight tendency to rub the bloom off what ought to be the most delicate and ethereal form of social intercourse. It favours the well-to-do youth by an additional handicap. It throws another obstacle in the track of poverty and thrift. It is contrary to the spirit of democratic equality; the woman who accepts such attentions is tacitly allowing that she is not on the same footing as man. On reflection it must grate a little on the finest feelings. There seems to me little doubt that it will gradually die out in circles to which it would be strange in Europe.

On the whole, however, even with such drawbacks as the above, the social relationship of the sexes in the United States is one of the many points in which the new surpasses the old. The American girl is thrown into such free and ample relations with the American boy from her earliest youth up that she is very apt to look upon him simply as a girl of a stronger growth. Some such word as the German Geschwister is needed to embrace the "young creatures" who, in petticoats or trousers, form the genuine democracy of American youth. Up to the doors of college, and often even beyond them, the boy and girl have been "co-educated;" at the high school the boy has probably had a woman for his teacher, at least in some branches, up to his sixteenth or seventeenth year. The hours of recreation are often spent in pastimes in which girls may share. In some of the most characteristic of American amusements, such as the "coasting" of winter, girls take a prominent place. There is no effort on the part of elders to play the spy on the meetings of boy or girl, or to place obstacles in their way. They are not thought of as opposite sexes; it is "just all the young people together." The result is a spirit of absolute good comradeship. There is little atmosphere of the unknown or the mysterious about the opposite sex. The love that leads to marriage is thus apt to be the product of a wider experience, and to be based on a more intimate knowledge. The sentimental may cry fie on so clear-sighted a Cupid, but the sensible cannot but rejoice over anything that tends to the undoing of the phrase "lottery of marriage."

That the ideal attitude towards and in marriage has been attained in average American society I should be the last to assert. The way in which American wives leave their husbands toiling in the sweltering city while they themselves fleet the time in Europe would alone give me pause. But I am here concerned with the relative and not the absolute; and my contention is that the average marriage in America is apt to be made under conditions which, compared with those of other nations, increase the chances of happiness. A great deal has been said and written about the inconsistency of the marriage laws of the different States, and much cheap wit has been fired off at the fatal facility of divorce in the United States; but I could not ascertain from my own observation that these defects touched any very great proportion of the population, or played any larger part in American society, as I have defined it, than the differences between the marriage laws of England and Scotland do in our own island. M. Bourget, quite arbitrarily and (I think) with a trace of the proverbial Gallic way of looking at the relations of the sexes, has attributed the admitted moral purity of the atmosphere of American society to the coldness of the American temperament and the sera juvenum Venus. It seems to me, however, that there is no call to disparage American virtue by the suggestion of a constitutional want of liability to temptation, and that Mark Twain, in his somewhat irreverent rejoinder, is much nearer the mark when he attributes the prevalent sanctity of the marriage tie to the fact that the husbands and wives have generally married each other for love. This is undoubtedly the true note of America in this particular, though it may not be unreservedly characteristic of the smart set of New York. If the sacred flame of Cupid could be exposed to the alembic of statistics, I should be surprised to hear that the love matches of the United States did not reach a higher percentage than those of any other nation. One certainly meets more husbands and wives of mature age who seem thoroughly to enjoy each other's society.

There is a certain "snap" to American society that is not due merely to a sense of novelty, and does not wholly wear off through familiarity. The sense of enjoyment is more obvious and more evenly distributed; there is a general willingness to be amused, a general absence of the blase. Even Matthew Arnold could not help noticing the "buoyancy, enjoyment, and freedom from restraint which are everywhere in America," and which he accounted for by the absence of the aristocratic incubus. The nervous fluid so characteristic of America in general flows briskly in the veins of its social organism; the feeling is abroad that what is worth doing is worth doing well. There is a more general ability than we possess to talk brightly on the topics of the moment; there is less lingering over one subject; there is a constant savour of the humorous view of life. The more even distribution of comfort in the United States (becoming, alas! daily less characteristic) adds largely to the pleasantness of society by minimising the semi-conscious feeling of remorse in playing while the "other half" starves. The inherent inability of the American to understand that there is any "higher" social order than his own minimises the feeling of envy of those "above" him. "How dreadful," says the Englishman to the American girl, "to be governed by men to whom you would not speak!" "Yes," is the rejoinder, "and how delightful to be governed by men who won't speak to you!" From this latter form of delight American society is free. Henry James strikes a true note when he makes Miranda Hope (in "A Bundle of Letters") describe the fashionable girl she met at a Paris pension as "like the people they call 'haughty' in books," and then go on to say, "I have never seen anyone like that before—anyone that wanted to make a difference." And her feeling of impersonal interest in the phenomenon is equally characteristic. "She seemed to me so like a proud young lady in a novel. I kept saying to myself all day, 'haughty, haughty,' and I wished she would keep on so." Too much stress cannot easily be laid on this feeling of equality in the air as a potent enhancer of the pleasure of society. To feel yourself patronised—even, perhaps especially, when you know yourself to be in all respects the superior of the patroniser—may tickle your sense of humour for a while, but in the long run it is distinctly dispiriting. The philosopher, no doubt, is or should be able to disregard the petty annoyances arising from an ever-present consciousness of social limitation, but society is not entirely composed of philosophers, even in America; and the sense of freedom and space is unqualifiedly welcome to its members. It is not easy for a European to the manner born to realise the sort of extravagant, nightmare effect that many of our social customs have in the eyes of our untutored American cousins. The inherent absurdities that are second nature to us exhale for them the full flavour of their grotesqueness. The idea of an insignificant boy peer taking precedence of Mr. John Morley! The idea of having to appear before royalty in a state of partial nudity on a cold winter day! The necessity of backing out of the royal presence! The idea of a freeborn Briton having to get out of an engagement long previously formed on the score that "he has been commanded to dine with H.R.H." The horrible capillary plaster necessary before a man can serve decently as an opener of carriage-doors! The horsehair envelopes without which our legal brains cannot work! The unwritten law by which a man has to nurse his hat and stick throughout a call unless his hostess specially asks him to lay them aside!

Mr. Bryce commits himself to the assertion that "Scotchmen and Irishmen are more unlike Englishmen, the native of Normandy more unlike the native of Provence, the Pomeranian more unlike the Wurtemberger, the Piedmontese more unlike the Neapolitan, the Basque more unlike the Andalusian, than the American from any part of the country is to the American from any other." Max O'Rell, on the other hand, writes: "L'habitant du Nord-est des Etats Unis, le Yankee, differe autant de l'Americain de l'Ouest et du Midi que l'Anglais differe de l'Allemand ou de l'Espagnol." On this point I find myself far more in accord with the French than with the British observer, though, perhaps, M. Blouet rather overstates his case. Wider differences among civilised men can hardly be imagined than those which subsist between the creole of New Orleans and the Yankee of Maine, the Kentucky farmer and the Michigan lumberer. It is, however, true that there is a distinct tendency for the stamp of the Eastern States to be applied to the inhabitants of the cities, at least, of the West. The founders of these cities are so largely men of Eastern birth, the means of their expansion are so largely advanced by Eastern capitalists, that this tendency is easily explicable. [So far as my observation went it was to Boston rather than to New York or Philadelphia that the educated classes of the Western cities looked as the cynosure of their eyes. Boston seemed to stand for something less material than these other cities, and the subtler nature of its influence seemed to magnify its pervasive force.] None the less do the people of the United States, compared with those of any one European country, seem to me to have their due share of variety and even of picturesqueness. This latter quality is indeed denied to the United States not only by European visitors, but also by many Americans. This denial, however, rests on a limited and traditional use of the word picturesque. America has not the European picturesqueness of costume, of relics of the past, of the constant presence of the potential foeman at the gate. But apart altogether from the almost theatrical romance of frontier life and the now obsolescent conflict with the aborigines, is there not some element of the picturesque in the processes of readjustment by which the emigrants of European stock have adapted themselves and are adapting themselves to the conditions of the New World? In some ways the nineteenth century is the most romantic of all; and the United States embody and express it as no other country. Is there not a picturesque side to the triumph of civilisation over barbarism? Is there nothing of the picturesque in the long thin lines of gleaming steel, thrown across the countless miles of desert sand and alkali plain, and in the mighty mass of metal with its glare of cyclopean eye and its banner of fire-illumined smoke, that bears the conquerors of stubborn nature from side to side of the great continent? Is there not an element of the picturesque in the struggles of the Western farmer? Can anything be finer in its way than a night view of Pittsburg—that "Hell with its lid off," where the cold gleam of electricity vies with the lurid glare of the furnaces and smelting works? I say nothing of the Californian Missions; of the sallow creoles of New Orleans with their gorgeous processions of Mardi-Gras; or of the almost equally fantastic fete of the Veiled Prophet of St. Louis; or of the lumberers of Michigan; or of the Mexicans of Arizona; or of the German beer-gardens of Chicago; or of the swinging lanterns and banners of Chinatown in San Francisco and Mott street in New York; or of the Italians of Mulberry Bend in the latter city; or of the alternating stretches on a long railway journey of forest and prairie, yellow corn-fields and sandy desert; or of many other classes and conditions which are by no means void of material for the artist in pen or brush. All these lend hues that are anything but prosaic to my kaleidoscopic recollections of the United States; but more than all these, the characteristically picturesque feature of American life, stands out the omnipresent negro. It was a thrill to have one's boots blackened by a coloured "professor" in an alley-way of Boston, and to hear his richly intoned "as shoh's you're bawn." It was a delight to see the negro couples in the Public Garden, conducting themselves and their courting, as Mr. Howells has well remarked, with infinitely more restraint and refinement than their Milesian compeers, or to see them passing out of the Charles-street Church in all the Sunday bravery of broadcloth coats, shiny hats, wonderfully laundered skirts of snowy whiteness, and bodices of all the hues of the rainbow. And all through the Union their glossy black faces and gleaming white teeth shed a kind of dusky radiance over the traveller's path. Who but can recall with gratitude the expansive geniality and reassuring smile of the white-coated negro waiter, as compared with the supercilious indifference, if not positive rudeness, of his pale colleague? And what will ever efface the mental kodak of George (not Sambo any more) shuffling rapidly into the dining-room, with his huge flat palm inverted high over his head and bearing a colossal tray heaped up with good things for the guest under his charge? And shall I ever forget the grotesque gravity of the negro brakeman in Louisiana, with his tall silk hat? or the pair of gloves pathetically shared between two neatly dressed negro youths in a railway carriage in Georgia? or the pickaninnies slumbering sweetly in old packing-cases in a hut at Jacksonville, while their father thrummed the soft guitar with friendly grin? It has always seemed to me a reproach to American artists that they fill the air with sighs over the absence of the picturesque in the United States, while almost totally overlooking the fine flesh-tones and gay dressing of the coloured brother at their elbow.

The most conventional society of America is apt to be more or less shrouded by the pall of monotony that attends convention elsewhere, but typical American society—the society of the great mass of Americans—shows distinctly more variety than that of England. In social meetings, as in business, the American is ever on the alert for some new thing: and the brain of every pretty girl is cudgelled in order to provide some novelty for her next party. Hence the progressive euchre, the "library" parties, the "shadow" dances, the conversation parties, and the long series of ingenious games, the adoption of which, for some of us at least, has done much to lighten the deadly dulness of English "small and earlies." Even the sacro-sanctity of whist has not been respected, and the astonished shade of Hoyle has to look on at his favourite game in the form of "drive" and "duplicate." The way in which whist has been taken up in the United States is a good example of the national unwillingness to remain in the ruts of one's ancestors. Possibly the best club-players of England are at least as good as the best Americans, but the general average of play and the general interest in the game are distinctly higher in the United States. Every English whist-player with any pretension to science knows what he has to expect when he finds an unknown lady as his partner, especially if she is below thirty; but in America he will often find himself "put to his trumps" by a bright girl in her teens. The girls in Boston and other large cities have organised afternoon whist-clubs, at which all the "rigour of the game" is observed. Many of them take regular lessons from whist experts; and among the latter themselves are not a few ladies, who find the teaching of their favourite game a more lucrative employment than governessing or journalism. Even so small a matter as the eating of ice-cream may illustrate the progressive nature of American society. Elderly Americans still remember the time when it was usual to eat this refreshing delicacy out of economical wine-glasses such as we have still to be content with in England. But now-a-days no American expects or receives less than a heaping saucer of ice-cream at a time.

Americans are born dancers; they have far more quicksilver in their feet than their English cousins. Perhaps the very best waltzers I have ever danced with were English girls, who understood the poetry of the art and knew how to reflect not merely the time of the music, but its nuances of rhythm and tone. But dancers such as these are like fairies' visits, that come but once or twice in a lifetime; and a large proportion of English girls dance very badly. In America one seldom or never finds a girl who cannot dance fairly, and most of them can claim much warmer adverbs than that. The American invention of "reversing" is admirable in its unexaggerated form, but requires both study and practice; and the reason that it was voted "bad form" in England was simply that the indolence of the gilded youth prevented him ever taking the trouble to master it. Our genial satirist Punch hit the nail on the head: "Shall we—eh—reverse, Miss Lilian?" "Reverse, indeed; it's as much as you can do to keep on your legs as it is."

One custom at American dances struck me as singularly stupid and un-American in its inelasticity. I know not how widespread it is, or how fashionable, but it reigned in circles which seemed to my unsophisticated eyes quite comme il faut. The custom is that by which a man having once asked a lady to dance becomes responsible for her until someone else offers himself as her partner. It probably arose from the chivalrous desire not to leave any girl partnerless, but in practice it works out quite the other way. When a man realises that he may have to retain the same partner for several dances, or even for the greater part of the evening, he will, unless he is a Bayard absolutely sans peur et sans reproche, naturally think twice of engaging a lady from whom his release is problematical. Hence the tendency is to increase the triumphs of the belle, and decrease the chances of the less popular maiden. It is also extremely uncomfortable for a girl to feel that a man has (to use the ugly slang of the occasion) "got stuck" with her; and it takes more adroitness and self-possession than any young girl can be expected to possess to extricate herself neatly from the awkward position. Another funny custom at subscription balls of a very respectable character is that many of the matrons wear their bonnets throughout the evening. But this, perhaps, is not stranger than the fact that ladies wear hats in the theatre, while the men who accompany them are in evening dress—a curious habit which to the uninitiated observer would suggest that the nymphs belonged to a less fashionable stratum than their attendant swains. A parallel instance is that of afternoon receptions, where the hostess and her myrmidons appear in ball costume, while the visitors are naturally in the toilette of the street. The contrast thus evolved of low necks and heavy furs is often very comical. The British convention by which the hostess always dresses as plainly as possible so as to avoid the chance of eclipsing any of her guests, and so chooses to briller par sa simplicite, is in other cases also more honoured in the breach than in the observance in America.

A very characteristic little piece of the social democracy of America is seen at its best in Chicago, though not unknown in other large cities. On the evening of a hot summer day cushions and rugs are spread on the front steps of the houses, and the occupants take possession of these, the men to enjoy their after-dinner cigars, the women to talk and scan the passers-by. The general effect is very genial and picturesque, and decidedly suggestive of democratic sociability. The same American indifference to the exaggerated British love of privacy which leads John Bull to enclose his fifty-foot-square garden by a ten-foot wall is shown in the way in which the gardens of city houses are left unfenced. Nothing can be more attractive in its way than such a street as Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, where the pretty villas stand in unenclosed gardens, and the verdant lawns melt imperceptibly into each other without advertisement of where one leaves off and the other begins, while the fronts towards the street are equally exposed. The general effect is that of a large and beautiful park dotted with houses. The American is essentially gregarious in his instinct, and the possession of a vast feudal domain, with a high wall round it, can never make up to him for the excitement of near neighbours. It may seriously be doubted whether the American millionaire who buys a lordly demesne in England is not doing violence to his natural and national tastes every day that he inhabits it.

FOOTNOTES:

[6] Mrs. Burton Harrison reports that a young New York matron said to her, "Really, now that society in New York is getting so large, one must draw the line somewhere; after this I shall visit and invite only those who have more than five millions."

[7] I have seen a brakeman on a passenger train wear overshoes on a showery day, though his duties hardly ever compelled him to leave the covered cars.



IV

An Appreciation of the American Woman

Compared to the appearance of the American girl in books written about the United States, that of Charles I.'s head in Mr. Dick's memorial might perhaps be almost called casual. All down the literary ladder, from the weighty tomes of a Professor Bryce to the witty persiflage of a Max O'Rell, we find a considerable part of every rung occupied by the skirts appropriated to the gentler sex; and—what is, perhaps, stranger still—she holds her own even in books written by women. It need not be asserted that all the references to her are equally agreeable. That amiable critic, Sir Lepel Griffin, alludes to her only to assure us that "he had never met anyone who had lived long or travelled much in America who did not hold that female beauty in the States is extremely rare, while the average of ordinary good looks is unusually low," and even visitors of an infinitely more subtle and discriminating type, such as M. Bourget, mingle not a little vinegar with their syrup of appreciation. But the fact remains that almost every book on the United States contains a chapter devoted explicitly to the female citizen; and the inevitableness of the record must have some solid ground of reason behind or below it. It indicates a vein of unusual significance, or at the very least of unusual conspicuousness, in the phenomenon thus treated of. Observers have usually found it possible to write books on the social and economical traits of other countries without a parade of petticoats in the head-lines. This is not to say that one can ignore one-half of society in writing of it; but if you search the table of contents of such books as Mr. Philip Hamerton's charming "French and English," or Mr. T.H.S. Escott's "England: Its People, Polity, and Pursuits," you will not find the words "woman" or "girl," or any equivalent for them. But the writer on the United States seems irresistibly compelled to give woman all that cooerdinate importance which is implied by the prominence of capital letters and separate chapters.

This predominance of woman in books on America is not by any means a phase of the "woman question," technically so called. It has no direct reference to the woman as voter, as doctor, as lawyer, as the competitor of man; the subject of interest is woman as woman, the Ding an sich of German philosophical slang. No doubt the writer may have occasion to allude to Dr. Mary Walker, to the female mayors of Wyoming, to the presidential ambitions of Mrs. Belva Lockwood; but these are mere adjuncts, not explanations, of the question under consideration. The European visitor to the United States has to write about American women because they bulk so largely in his view, because they seem essentially so prominent a feature of American life; because their relative importance and interest impress him as greater than those of women in the lands of the Old World, because they seem to him to embody in so eminent a measure that intangible quality of Americanism, the existence, or indeed the possibility, of which is so hotly denied by some Americans.

Indeed, those who look upon the prominent role of the American woman merely as one phase of the "new woman" question—merely as the inevitable conspicuousness of woman intruding on what has hitherto been exclusively the sphere of man—are many degrees beside the point. The American note is as obvious in the girl who has never taken the slightest interest in polities, the professions, or even the bicycle, as in Dr. Mary Walker or Mrs. Lockwood. The prevalent English idea of the actual interference of the American woman in public life is largely exaggerated. There are, for instance, in Massachusetts 625,000 women entitled to vote for members of the school committees; and the largest actual vote recorded is 20,140. Of 175,000 women of voting age in Connecticut the numbers who used their vote in the last three years were 3,806, 3,241, and 1,906. These, if any, are typical American States; and there is not the shadow of a doubt that the 600,000 women who stayed at home are quite as "American" as the 20,000 who went to the poll. The sphere of the American woman's influence and the reason of her importance lie behind politics and publicity.

It seems a reasonable assumption that the formation of the American girl is due to the same large elemental causes that account for American phenomena generally; and her relative strikingness may be explained by the reflection that there was more room for these great forces to work in the case of woman than in the case of man. The Englishman, for instance, through his contact with public life and affairs, through his wider experience, through his rubbing shoulders with more varied types, had already been prepared for the working of American conditions in a way that his more sheltered womankind had not been. In the bleaching of the black and the grey, the change will be the more striking in the former; the recovery of health will be conspicuous in proportion to the gravity of the disease. America has meant opportunity for women even more in some ways than for men. The gap between them has been lessened in proportion as the gap between the American and the European has widened. The average American woman is distinctly more different from her average English sister than is the case with their respective brothers. The training of the English girl starts from the very beginning on a different basis from that of the boy; she is taught to restrain her impulses, while his are allowed much freer scope; the sister is expected to defer to the brother from the time she can walk or talk. In America this difference of training is constantly tending to the vanishing point. The American woman has never learned to play second fiddle. The American girl, as Mr. Henry James says, is rarely negative; she is either (and usually) a most charming success or (and exceptionally) a most disastrous failure. The pathetic army of ineffective spinsters clinging apologetically to the skirts of gentility is conspicuous by its absence in America. The conditions of life there encourage a girl to undertake what she can do best, with a comparatively healthy disregard of its fancied "respectability." Her consciousness of efficiency reacts in a thousand ways; her feet are planted on so solid a foundation that she inevitably seems an important constructive part of society. The contrast between the American woman and the English woman in this respect may be illustrated by the two Caryatides in the Braccio Nuovo at the Vatican. The first of these, a copy of one of the figures of the Erechtheum, seems to bear the superincumbent architrave easily and securely, with her feet planted squarely and the main lines running vertically. In the other, of a later period, the fact that the feet are placed close together gives an air of insecurity to the attitude, an effect heightened by the prevalence of curved lines in the folds of the drapery.

The American woman, too, has had more time than the American man to cultivate the more amiable—if you will, the more showy—qualities of American civilisation. The leisured class of England consists of both sexes, that of America practically of one only. The problem of the American man so far has mainly been to subdue a new continent to human uses, while the woman has been sacrificing on the altar of the Graces. Hence the wider culture and the more liberal views are often found in the sex from which the European does not expect them; hence the woman of New York and other American cities is often conspicuously superior to her husband in looks, manners, and general intelligence. This has been denied by champions of the American man; but the observation of the writer, whatever it may be worth, would deny the denial.

The way in which an expression such as "Ladies' Cabin" is understood in the United States has always seemed to me very typical of the position of the gentler sex in that country. In England, when we see an inscription of that kind, we assume that the enclosure referred to is for ladies only. In America, unless the "only" is emphasized, the "Ladies' Drawing Room" or the "Ladies' Waiting Room" extends its hospitality to all those of the male sex who are ready to behave as gentlemen and temporarily forego the delights of tobacco. Thus half of the male passengers of the United States journey, as it were, under the aegis of woman, and think it no shame to be enclosed in a box labelled with her name.

Put roughly, what chiefly strikes the stranger in the American woman is her candour, her frankness, her hail-fellow-well-met-edness, her apparent absence of consciousness of self or of sex, her spontaneity, her vivacity, her fearlessness. If the observer himself is not of a specially refined or delicate type, he is apt at first to misunderstand the cameraderie of an American girl, to see in it suggestions of a possible coarseness of fibre. If a vain man, he may take it as a tribute to his personal charms, or at least to the superior claims of a representative of old-world civilisation. But even to the obtuse stranger of this character it will ultimately become obvious—as to the more refined observer ab initio—that he can no more (if as much) dare to take a liberty with the American girl than with his own countrywoman. The plum may appear to be more easily handled, but its bloom will be found to be as intact and as ethereal as in the jealously guarded hothouse fruit of Europe. He will find that her frank and charming companionability is as far removed from masculinity as from coarseness; that the points in which she differs from the European lady do not bring her nearer either to a man on the one hand, or to a common woman on the other. He will find that he has to readjust his standards, to see that divergence from the best type of woman hitherto known to him does not necessarily mean deterioration; if he is of an open and susceptible mind, he may even come to the conclusion that he prefers the transatlantic type!

Unless his lines in England have lain in very pleasant places, the intelligent Englishman in enjoying his first experience of transatlantic society will assuredly be struck by the sprightliness, the variety, the fearless individuality of the American girl, by her power of repartee, by the quaint appositeness of her expressions, by the variety of her interests, by the absence of undue deference to his masculine dignity. If in his newly landed innocence he ventures to compliment the girl he talks with on the purity of her English, and assumes that she differs in that respect from her companions, she will patriotically repel the suggested accusation of her countrywomen by assuring him, without the ghost of a smile, "that she has had special advantages, inasmuch as an English missionary had been stationed near her tribe." If she prefers Martin Tupper to Shakespeare, or Strauss to Beethoven, she will say so without a tremor. Why should she hypocritically subordinate her personal instincts to a general theory of taste? Her independence is visible in her very dress; she wears what she thinks suits her (and her taste is seldom at fault), not merely what happens to be the fashionable freak of the moment. What Englishman does not shudder when he remembers how each of his womankind—the comely and the homely, the short and the long, the stout and the lean—at once assumed the latest form of hat, apparently utterly oblivious to the question of whether it suited her special style of beauty or not? Now, an American girl is not built that way. She wishes to be in the fashion just as much as she can; but if a special item of fashion does not set her off to advantage, she gracefully and courageously resigns it to those who can wear it with profit. But honour where honour is due! The English girl generally shows more sense of fitness in the dress for walking and travelling; she, consciously or unconsciously, realises that adaptability for its practical purpose is essential in such a case.

The American girl, as above said, strikes one as individual, as varied. In England when we meet a girl in a ball-room we can generally—not always—"place" her after a few minutes' talk; she belongs to a set of which you remember to have already met a volume or two. In some continental countries the patterns in common use seem reduced to three or four. In the United States every new girl is a new sensation. Society consists of a series of surprises. Expectation is continually piqued. A and B and C do not help you to induce D; when you reach Z you may imagine you find a slight trace of reincarnation. Not that the surprises are invariably pleasant. The very force and self-confidence of the American girl doubly and trebly underline the undesirable. Vulgarity that would be stolid and stodgy in Middlesex becomes blatant and aggressive in New York.

The American girl is not hampered by the feeling of class distinction, which has for her neither religious nor historical sanction. The English girl is first the squire's daughter, second a good churchwoman, third an English subject, and fourthly a woman. Even the best of them cannot rise wholly superior to the all-pervading, and, in its essence, vulgarising, superstition that some of her fellow-creatures are not fit to come between the wind and her nobility. Those who reject the theory do so by a self-conscious effort which in itself is crude and a strain. The American girl is, however, born into an atmosphere of unconsciousness of all this, and, unless she belongs to a very narrow coterie, does not reach this point of view either as believer or antagonist. This endues her, at her best, with a sweet and subtle fragrance of humanity that is, perhaps, unique. Free from any sense of inherited or conventional superiority or inferiority, as devoid of the brutality of condescension as of the meanness of toadyism, she combines in a strangely attractive way the charm of eternal womanliness with the latest aroma of a progressive century. It is, doubtless, this quality that M. Bourget has in view when he speaks of the incomparable delicacy of the American girl, or M. Paul Blouet when he asserts that "you find in the American woman a quality which, I fear, is beginning to disappear in Paris and is almost unknown in London—a kind of spiritualised politeness, a tender solicitude for other people, combined with strong individuality."

There is one type of girl, with whom even the most modest and most moderately eligible of bachelors must be familiar in England, who is seldom in evidence in the United States—she whom the American aborigines might call the "Girl-Anxious-to-be-Married." What right-minded man in any circle of British society has not shuddered at the open pursuit of young Croesus? Have not our novelists and satirists reaped the most ample harvest from the pitiable spectacle and all its results? A large part of the advantage that American society has over English rests in the comparative absence of this phenomenon. Man there does not and cannot bear himself as the cynosure of the female eye; the art of throwing the handkerchief has not been included in his early curriculum. The American dancing man does not dare to arrive just in time for supper or to lounge in the doorway while dozens of girls line the walls in faded expectation of a waltz. The English girl herself can hardly be blamed for this state of things. She has been brought up to think that marriage is the be-all and end-all of her existence. "For my part," writes the author of "Cecil, the Coxcomb," "I never blame them when I see them capering and showing off their little monkey-tricks, for conquest. The fault is none of theirs. It is part of an erroneous system." Lady Jeune expresses the orthodox English position when she asserts flatly that "to deny that marriage is the object of woman's existence is absurd." The anachronistic survival of the laws of primogeniture and entail practically makes the marriage of the daughter the only alternative for a descent to a lower sphere of society. In the United States the proportion of girls who strike one as obvious candidates for marriage is remarkably small. This may be owing to the art with which the American woman conceals her lures, but all the evidence points to its being in the main an entirely natural and unconscious attitude. The American girl has all along been so accustomed to associate on equal terms with the other sex that she naturally and inevitably regards him more in the light of a comrade than of a possible husband. She has so many resources, and is so independent, that marriage does not bound her horizon.

Her position, however, is not one of antagonism to marriage. If it were, I should be the last to commend it. It rather rests on an assurance of equality, on the assumption that marriage is an honourable estate—a rounding and completing of existence—for man as much as for woman. Nor does it mean, I think, any lack of passion and the deepest instincts of womanhood. All these are present and can be wakened by the right man at the right time. Indeed, the very fact that marriage (with or without love) is not incessantly in the foreground of an American girl's consciousness probably makes the awakening all the more deep and tender because comparatively unanticipated and unforeseen.

The marriages between American heiresses and European peers do not militate seriously against the above view of American marriage. It cannot be sufficiently emphasised that the doings of a few wealthy people in New York are not characteristic of American civilisation. The New York Times was entirely right when it said, in commenting upon the frank statement of the bridegroom in a recent alliance of this kind that it had been arranged by friends of both parties: "A few years ago this frankness would have cost him his bride, if his 'friends' had chosen an American girl for that distinction, and even now it would be resented to the point of a rupture of the engagement by most American girls."

The American girl may not be in reality better educated than her British sister, nor a more profound thinker; but her mind is indisputably more agile and elastic. In fact, a slow-going Britisher has to go through a regular course of training before he can follow the rapid transitions of her train of associations. She has the happiest faculty in getting at another's point of view and in putting herself in his place. Her imagination is more likely to be over-active than too sluggish. One of the most popular classes of the "Society for the Encouragement of Study at Home" is that devoted to imaginary travels in Europe. She is wonderfully adaptable, and makes herself at ease in an entirely strange milieu almost before the transition is complete. Both M. Blouet and M. Bourget notice this, and claim that it is a quality she shares with the Frenchwoman. The wife of a recent President is a stock illustration of it—a girl who was transferred in a moment from what we should call a quiet "middle-class" existence to the apex of publicity, and comported herself in the most trying situations with the ease, dignity, unconsciousness, taste, and graciousness of a born princess.

The innocence of the American girl is neither an affectation, nor a prejudiced fable, nor a piece of stupidity. The German woman, quoted by Mr. Bryce, found her American compeer furchtbar frei, but she had at once to add und furchtbar fromm. "The innocence of the American girl passes abysses of obscenity without stain or knowledge." She may be perfectly able to hold her own under any circumstances, but she has little of that detestable quality which we call "knowing." The immortal Daisy Miller is a charming illustration of this. I used sometimes to get into trouble with American ladies, who "hoped I did not take Daisy Miller as a type of the average American girl," by assuring them that "I did not—that I thought her much too good for that." And in truth there seemed to me a lack of subtlety in the current appreciation of the charming young lady from Schenectady, who is much finer than many readers give her credit for. And on this point I think I may cite Mr. Henry James himself as a witness on my side, since, in a dramatic version of the tale published in the Atlantic Monthly (Vol. 51, 1883), he makes his immaculate Bostonian, Mr. Winterbourne, marry Daisy with a full consciousness of all she was and had been. As I understand her, Miss Daisy Miller, in spite of her somewhat unpropitious early surroundings, was a young woman entirely able to appreciate the very best when she met it. She at once recognised the superiority of Winterbourne to the men she had hitherto known, and she also recognised that her "style" was not the "style" of him or of his associates. But she was very young, and had all the unreasonable pride of extreme youth; and so she determined not to alter her behaviour one jot or tittle in order to attract him—nay, with a sort of bravado, she exaggerated those very traits which she knew he disliked. Yet all the time she had the highest appreciation of his most delicate refinements, while she felt also that he ought to see that at bottom she was just as refined as he, though her outward mask was not so elegant. I have no doubt whatever that, as Mrs. Winterbourne, she adapted herself to her new milieu with absolute success, and yet without loss of her own most fascinating individuality.[8]

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