Your United States - Impressions of a first visit
by Arnold Bennett
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I sat with a melting ice on my plate, and my gaze on a very distant swinging door, through which came and went every figure except the familiar figure I desired. The figure of a woman came. She wore a pale-blue dress and a white apron and cap, and carried a dish in uplifted hands, with the gesture of an acolyte. On the bib of the apron were two red marks, and as she approached, tripping, scornful, unheeding, along the interminable carpeted aisle, between serried tables of correct diners, the vague blur of her face gradually developed into features, and the two red marks on her stomacher grew into two rampant lions, each holding a globe in its ferocious paws; and she passed on, bearing away the dish and these mysterious symbols, and lessened into a puppet on the horizon of the enormous hall, and finally vanished through another door. She was succeeded by men, all bearing dishes, but none of them so inexorably scornful as she, and none of them disappearing where she had disappeared; every man relented and stopped at some table or other. But the figure I desired remained invisible, and my ice continued to melt, in accordance with chemical law. The orchestra in the gallery leaped suddenly into the rag-time without whose accompaniment it was impossible, anywhere in the civilized world, to dine correctly. That rag-time, committed, I suppose, originally by some well-intentioned if banal composer in the privacy of his study one night, had spread over the whole universe of restaurants like a pest, to the exasperation of the sensitive, but evidently to the joy of correct diners. Joy shone in the elated eyes of the four hundred persons correctly dining together in this high refectory, and at the end there was honest applause!... And yet you never encountered a person who, questioned singly, did not agree and even assert of his own accord that music at meals is an outrageous nuisance!...

However, my desired figure was at length manifest. The man came hurrying and a little breathless, with his salver, at once apologetic and triumphant. My ice was half liquid. Had I not the right to reproach him, in the withering, contemptuous tone which correct diners have learned to adopt toward the alien serfs who attend them? I had not. I had neither the right nor the courage nor the wish. This man was as Anglo-Saxon as myself. He had, with all his deference, the mien of the race. When he dreamed of paradise, he probably did not dream of the caisse of a cosmopolitan Grand Hotel in Switzerland. When he spoke English he was not speaking a foreign language. And this restaurant was one of the extremely few fashionable Anglo-Saxon restaurants left in the world, where an order given in English is understood at the first try, and where the English language is not assassinated and dismembered by menials who despise it, menials who slang one another openly in the patois of Geneva, Luxembourg, or Naples. A singular survival, this restaurant!... Moreover, the man was justified in his triumphant air. Not only had he most intelligently brought me a fresh ice, but he had brought the particular kind of rusk for which I had asked. There were over thirty dishes on the emblazoned menu, and of course I had wanted something that was not on it: a peculiar rusk, a rusk recondite and unheard of by my fellow-diners. The man had hopefully said that he "would see." And here lay the rusk, magically obtained. I felicitated him, as an equal. And then, having consumed the ice and the fruits of the hot-house, I arose and followed in the path of the lion-breasted woman, and arrived at an elevator, and was wafted aloft by a boy of sixteen who did nothing else from 6 A.M. till midnight (so he said) but ascend and descend in that elevator. By the discipline of this inspiring and jocund task he was being prepared for manhood and the greater world!... And yet, what would you? Elevators must have boys, and even men. Civilization is not so simple as it may seem to the passionate reformer and lover of humanity.

Later, in the vast lounge above the restaurant, I formed one of a group of men, most of whom had acquired fame, and had the slight agreeable self-consciousness that fame gives; and I listened, against a background of the ever-insistent music, to one of those endless and multifarious reminiscent conversations that are heard only in such places. The companion on my right would tell how he had inhabited a house in Siam, next to the temple in front of which the corpses of people too poor to be burned were laid out, after surgical preliminaries, to be devoured by vultures, and how the vultures, when gorged, would flap to the roof of his house and sit there in contemplation. And the companion on my left would tell how, when he was unfamous and on his beam-ends, he would stay in bed with a sham attack of influenza, and on the day when a chance offered itself would get up and don his only suit—a glorious one—and, fitting an eye-glass into his eye because it made him look older, would go forth to confront the chance. And then the talk might be interrupted in order to consult the morning paper, and so settle a dispute about the exact price of Union Pacifics. And then an Italian engineer would tell about sport in the woods of Maine, a perfect menagerie of wild animals where it was advisable to use a revolver lest the excessive noise of a fowling-piece should disturb the entire forest, and how once he had shot seven times at an imperturbable partridge showing its head over a tree, and missed seven times, and how the partridge had at last flown off, with a flicker of plumage that almost said aloud, "Well, I really can't wait any longer!" And then might follow a simply tremendous discussion about the digestibility of buckwheat-cakes.

And then the conversation of every group in the lounge would be stopped by the entry of a page bearing a telegram and calling out in the voice of destiny the name of him to whom the telegram was addressed. And then another companion would relate in intricate detail a recent excursion into Yucatan, speaking negligently—as though it were a trifle—of the extraordinary beauty of the women of Yucatan, and in the end making quite plain his conviction that no other women were as beautiful as the women of Yucatan. And then the inevitable Mona Lisa would get onto the carpet, and one heard, apropos, of the theft of Adam mantelpieces from Russell Square, and of superb masterpieces of paint rotting with damp in neglected Venetian churches, and so on and so on, until one had the melancholy illusion that the whole art world was going or gone to destruction. But this subject did not really hold us, for the reason that, beneath a blase exterior, we were all secretly preoccupied by the beauty of the women of Yucatan and wondering whether we should ever get to Yucatan.... And then, looking by accident away, I saw the dim, provocative faces of girls in white jerseys and woolen caps peering from without through the dark double windows of the lounge. And I was glad when somebody suggested that it was time to take a turn. And outside, in the strong wind, abaft the four funnels of the Lusitania, a star seemed to be dancing capriciously around and about the masthead light. And it was difficult to believe that the masthead and its light, and not the star, were dancing.

From the lofty promenade deck the Atlantic wave is a little enough thing, so far down beneath you that you can scarcely even sniff its salty tang. But when the elevator-boy—always waiting for me—had lowered me through five floors, I stood on tiptoe and gazed through the thick glass of a porthole there; and the flying Atlantic wave, theatrically moonlit now, was very near. Suddenly something jumped up and hit the glass of the port-hole a fearful, crashing blow that made me draw away my face in alarm; and the solid ground on which I stood vibrated for an instant. It was the Atlantic wave, caressing. Anybody on the other side of this thin, nicely painted steel plate (I thought) would be in a rather hopeless situation. I turned away, half shivering, from the menace. All was calm and warm and reassuring within the ship.... In the withdrawn privacy of my berth, with the curtains closed over the door and Murray Gilchrist's new novel in my hand and a poised electric lamp over my head, I looked about as I lay, and everything was still except a towel that moved gently, almost imperceptibly, to and fro. Yet the towel had copied the immobility of the star. It alone did not oscillate. Forty-five thousand tons were swaying; but not that towel. The sense of actual present romance was too strong to let me read. I extinguished the light, and listened in the dark to the faint straining noises of the enormous organism. I thought: "This magic thing is taking me there! In three days I shall be on that shore." Terrific adventure! The rest of the passengers were merely going to America.

* * * * *

The magic thing was much more magic than I had conceived. The next morning, being up earlier than usual and wandering about on strange, inclosed decks unfamiliar to my feet, I beheld astonishing unsuspected populations of men and women—crowds of them—a healthy, powerful, prosperous, independent, somewhat stern and disdainful multitude, it seemed to me. Those muscular, striding girls in caps and shawls would not yield an inch to me in their promenade; they brushed strongly and carelessly past me; had I been a ghost they would have walked through me. They were, and had been, all living—eating and sleeping—somewhere within the vessel, and I had not imagined it! It is true that some ass in the saloon had already calculated for my benefit that there were "three thousand souls on board!" (The solemn use of the word "souls" in this connection by a passenger should stamp a man forever.) But such numerical statements do not really arouse the imagination. I had to see with my eyes. And I did see with my eyes. That afternoon a high officer of the ship, spiriting me away from the polite flirtations and pastimes of the upper decks, carried me down to more exciting scenes. And I saw a whole string of young women inoculated against smallpox, under the interested gaze of a crowd of men ranged on a convenient staircase. And a little later I saw a whole string of men inoculated against smallpox, under the interested gaze of a crowd of young women ranged on a convenient staircase.

"They're having their sweet revenge," said the high officer, indicating the young women. He was an epigrammatic and terse speaker. When I reflected aloud upon the order and discipline of service which was necessary to maintain more than a thousand roughish persons in idleness, cleanliness, health, peace, and content, in the inelastic forward spaces of the ship, he said with a certain grimness: "Everything has to be screwed up as tight as you can screw it. And you must keep to the round. What you do to-day you must do to-morrow. But what you don't do to-day you can't get done to-morrow."

Nevertheless, it proved to be a very human world, a world in which the personal equation counted. I remember that while some four hundred in one long hall were applauding "Home, Sweet Home," very badly fiddled by a gay man on a stool ("Home, Sweet Home"—and half of them Scandinavians!), and another four hundred or so were sitting expectant on those multifarious convenient staircases or wandering in and out of the maze of cubicles that contained fifteen hundred separate berths, and a third four hundred or so in another long hall were consuming a huge tea offered to them by a cohort of stewards in white—I remember that while all this was going forward and the complex mechanism of the kitchen was in full strain a little, untidy woman, with an infant dragging at one hand and a mug in the other, strolled nonchalantly into the breathless kitchen, and said to a hot cook, "Please will you give me a drop o' milk for this child?" And under the military gaze of the high officer, too! Something awful should have happened. The engines ought to have stopped. The woman ought to have been ordered out to instant execution. The engines did seem to falter for a moment. But the high officer grimly smiled, and they went on again. "Give me yer mug, mother," said the cook. And the untidy woman went off with her booty.

"Now I'll show you the first-class kitchens," the high officer said, and guided me through uncharted territories to chambers where spits were revolving in front of intense heat, and where a confectionery business proceeded, night and day, and dough was mixed by electricity, and potatoes peeled by the same, and where a piece of clockwork lifted an egg out of boiling water after it had lain therein the number of seconds prescribed by you. And there, pinned to a board, was the order I had given for a special dinner that night. And there, too, more impressive even than that order, was a list of the several hundred stewards, together with a designation of the post of each in case of casualty. I noticed that thirty or forty of them were told off "to control passengers." After all, we were in the midst of the Atlantic, and in a crisis the elevator-boys themselves would have more authority than any passenger, however gorgeous. A thought salutary for gorgeous passengers—that they were in the final resort mere fool bodies to be controlled! After I had seen the countless store-rooms, in the recesses of each of which was hidden a clerk with a pen behind his ear and a nervous and taciturn air, and passed on to the world of the second cabin, which was a surprisingly brilliant imitation of the great world of the saloon, I found that I held a much-diminished opinion of the great world of the saloon, which I now perceived to be naught but a thin crust or artificial gewgaw stuck over the truly thrilling parts of the ship.

It was not, however, till the next day that I realized what the most thrilling part of the ship was. Under the protection of another high officer I had climbed to the bridge—seventy-five feet above the level of the sea—which bridge had been very seriously disestablished by an ambitious wave a couple of years before—and had there inspected the devices for detecting and extinguishing fires in distant holds by merely turning a handle, and the charts and the telephones and the telegraphs, and the under-water signaling, and the sounding-tubes, and the officers' piano; and I had descended by way of the capstan-gear (which, being capable of snapping a chain that would hold two hundred and sixty tons in suspension, was suitably imprisoned in a cage, like a fierce wild animal) right through the length of the vessel to the wheel-house aft. It was comforting to know that if six alternative steering-wheels were smashed, one after another, there remained a seventh gear to be worked, chiefly by direct force of human arm. And, after descending several more stories, I had seen the actual steering—the tremendous affair moving to and fro, majestic and apparently capricious, in obedience to the light touch of a sailor six hundred feet distant. And then I had seen the four shafts, revolving lazily one hundred and eighty-four to the minute; and got myself involved in dangerous forests of greasy machinery, whizzing all deserted in a very high temperature under electric bulbs. Only at rare intervals did I come across a man in brown doing nothing in particular—as often as not gazing at a dial; there were dials everywhere, showing pressures and speeds. And then I had come to the dynamo-room, where the revolutions were twelve hundred to the minute, and then to the turbines themselves—insignificant little things, with no swagger of huge crank and piston, disappointing little things that developed as much as one-third of the horse-power required for all the electricity of New York.

And then, lastly, when I had supposed myself to be at the rock-bottom of the steamer, I had been instructed to descend in earnest, and I went down and down steel ladders, and emerged into an enormous, an incredible cavern, where a hundred and ninety gigantic furnaces were being fed every ten minutes by hundreds of tiny black dolls called firemen. I, too, was a doll as I looked up at the high white-hot mouth of a furnace and along the endless vista of mouths.... Imagine hell with the addition of electric light, and you have it!... And up-stairs, far above on the surface of the water, confectioners were making fancy cakes, and the elevator-boy was doing his work!... Yes, the inferno was the most thrilling part of the ship; and no other part of the ship could hold a candle to it. And I remained of this conviction even when I sat in the captain's own room, smoking his august cigars and turning over his books. I no longer thought, "Every revolution of the propellers brings me nearer to that shore." I thought, "Every shovelful flung into those white-hot mouths brings me nearer."

* * * * *

It is an absolute fact that, four hours before we could hope to disembark, ladies in mantles and shore hats (seeming fantastic and enormous after the sobriety of ship attire), and gentlemen in shore hats and dark overcoats, were standing in attitudes of expectancy in the saloon-hall, holding wraps and small bags: some of their faces had never been seen till then in the public resorts of the ship. Excitement will indeed take strange forms. For myself, although I was on the threshold of the greatest adventure of my life, I was unaware of being excited—I had not even "smelled" land, to say nothing of having seen it—until, when it was quite dark, I descried a queerly arranged group of different-colored lights in the distance—yellow, red, green, and what not. My thoughts ran instantly to Coney Island. I knew that Coney was an island, and that it was a place where people had to be attracted and distracted somehow, and I decided that these illuminations were a device of the pleasure-mongers of Coney. And when the ship began to salute these illuminations with answering flares I thought the captain was a rather good-natured man to consent thus to amuse the populace. But when we slowed, our propellers covering the calm sea with acres of foam, and the whole entire illuminations began to approach us in a body, I perceived that my Coney Island was merely another craft, but a very important and official craft. An extremely small boat soon detached itself from this pyrotechnical craft and came with a most extraordinary leisureness toward a white square of light that had somehow broken forth in the blackness of our side. And looking down from the topmost deck, I saw, far below, the tiny boat maneuver on the glinting wave into the reflection of our electricity and three mysterious men climb up from her and disappear into us. Then it was that I grew really excited, uncomfortably excited. The United States had stretched out a tentacle.

In no time at all, as it seemed, another and more formidable tentacle had folded round me—in the shape of two interviewers. (How these men had got on board—and how my own particular friend had got on board—I knew not, for we were yet far from quay-side.) I had been hearing all my life about the sublime American institution of the interview. I had been warned by Americans of its piquant dangers. And here I was suddenly up against it! Beneath a casual and jaunty exterior, I trembled. I wanted to sit, but dared not. They stood; I stood. These two men, however, were adepts. They had the better qualities of American dentists. Obviously they spent their lives in meeting notorieties on inbound steamers, and made naught of it. They were middle-aged, disillusioned, tepidly polite, conscientious, and rapid. They knew precisely what they wanted and how to get it. Having got it, they raised their hats and went. Their printed stories were brief, quite unpretentious, and inoffensive—though one of them did let out that the most salient part of me was my teeth, and the other did assert that I behaved like a school-boy. (Doubtless the result of timidity trying to be dignified—this alleged school-boyishness!)

I liked these men. But they gave me an incomplete idea of the race of interviewers in the United States. There is a variety of interviewers very different from them. I am, I think, entitled to consider myself a fairly first-class authority on all varieties of interviewer, not only in New York but in sundry other great cities. My initiation was brief, but it was thorough. Many varieties won my regard immediately, and kept it; but I am conscious that my sympathy with one particular brand (perhaps not numerous) was at times imperfect. The brand in question, as to which I was amiably cautioned before even leaving the steamer, is usually very young, and as often a girl as a youth. He or she cheerfully introduces himself or herself with a hint that of course it is an awful bore to be interviewed, but he or she has a job to do and he or she must be allowed to do it. Just so! But the point which, in my audacity, I have occasionally permitted to occur to me is this: Is this sort of interviewer capable of doing the job allotted to him? I do not mind slips of reporting, I do not mind a certain agreeable malice (indeed, I reckon to do a bit in that line myself). I do not even mind hasty misrepresentations (for, after all, we are human, and the millennium is still unannounced); but I do object to inefficiency—especially in America, where sundry kinds of efficiency have been carried farther than any efficiency was ever carried before.

Now this sort of interviewer too often prefaces the operation itself by the remark that he really doesn't know what question to ask you. (Too often I have been tempted to say: "Why not ask me to write the interview for you? It will save you trouble.") Having made this remark, the interviewer usually proceeds to give a sketch of her own career, together with a conspectus of her opinions on everything, a reference to her importance in the interviewing world, and some glimpse of the amount of her earnings. This achieved, she breaks off breathless and reproaches you: "But, my dear man, you aren't saying anything at all. You really must say something." ("My dear man" is the favorite form of address of this sort of interviewer when she happens to be a girl.) Too often I have been tempted to reply: "Cleopatra, or Helen, which of us is being interviewed?" When he has given you a chance to talk, this sort of interviewer listens, helps, corrects, advises, but never makes a note. The result the next morning is the anticipated result. The average newspaper reader gathers that an extremely brilliant young man or woman has held converse with a very commonplace stranger who, being confused in his or her presence, committed a number of absurdities which offered a strong and painful contrast to the cleverness and wisdom of the brilliant youth. This result apparently satisfies the average newspaper reader, but it does not satisfy the expert. Immediately after my first bout with interviewers I was seated at a table in the dining-saloon of the ship with my particular friend and three or four friendly, quiet, modest, rather diffident human beings whom I afterward discovered to be among the best and most experienced newspaper men in New York—not interviewers.

Said one of them:

"Not every interviewer in New York knows how to write—how to put a sentence together decently. And there are perhaps a few who don't accurately know the difference between impudence and wit."

A caustic remark, perhaps. But I have noticed that when the variety of interviewing upon which I have just animadverted becomes the topic, quiet, reasonable Americans are apt to drop into causticity.

Said another:

"I was a reporter for twelve years, but I was cured of personalities at an early stage—and by a nigger, too! I had been interviewing a nigger prize-fighter, and I'd made some remarks about the facial characteristics of niggers in general. Some other nigger wrote me a long letter of protest, and it ended like this: 'I've never seen you. But I've seen your portraits, and let me respectfully tell you that you're no Lillian Russell.'"

Some mornings I, too, might have sat down and written, from visual observation, "Let me respectfully tell you that you're no Lillian Russell."

Said a third among my companions:

"No importance whatever is attached to a certain kind of interview in the United States."

Which I found, later, was quite true in theory, but not in practice. Whenever, in that kind of interview, I had been made to say something more acutely absurd and maladroit than usual, my friends who watched over me, and to whom I owe so much that cannot be written, were a little agitated—for about half an hour; in about half an hour the matter had somehow passed from their minds.

"Supposing I refuse to talk to that sort of interviewer?" I asked, at the saloon table.

"The interviews will appear all the same," was the reply.

My subsequent experience contradicted this. On the rare occasions when I refused to be interviewed, what appeared was not an interview, but invective.

Let me not be misunderstood. I have been speaking of only one brand of American interviewer. I encountered a couple of really admirable women interviewers, not too young, and a confraternity of men who did not disdain an elementary knowledge of their business. One of these arrived with a written list of questions, took a shorthand note of all I said, and then brought me a proof to correct. In interviewing this amounts almost to genius.... I have indicated what to me seems a defect—trifling, possibly, but still a defect—in the brilliant organization of the great national sport of interviewing. Were this defect removed, as it could be, the institution might be as perfect as the American oyster. Than which nothing is more perfect.

* * * * *

"You aren't drinking your coffee," said some one, inspecting my cup at the saloon table.

"No," I answered, firmly; for when the smooth efficiency of my human machine is menaced I am as faddy and nervous as a marine engineer over lubrication. "If I did, I shouldn't sleep."

"And what of it?" demanded my particular friend, challengingly.

It was a rebuke. It was as if he had said, "On this great night, when you enter my wondrous and romantic country for the first time, what does it matter whether you sleep or not?"

I saw the point. I drank the coffee. The romantic sense, which had been momentarily driven back by the discussion of general ideas, swept over me again.... In fact, through the saloon windows could be seen all the Battery end of New York and the first vague visions of sky-scrapers.... Then-the moments refused to be counted—we were descending by lifts and by gangways from the high upper decks of the ship down onto the rocky ground of the United States. I don't think that any American ever set foot in Europe with a more profound and delicious thrill than that which affected me at that instant.... I was there!... The official and unofficial activities of the quay passed before me like a dream.... I heard my name shouted by a man in a formidably severe uniform, and I thought, "Thus early have I somehow violated the Constitution of these States?" But it was only a telegram for me.... And then I was in a most rickety and confined taxi, and the taxi was full to the brim with luggage, two friends, and me. And I was off into New York.

At the center of the first cross-roads I saw a splendid and erect individual, flashing forth authority, gaiety, and utter smartness in the gloom. Impossible not to believe that he was the owner of all the adjacent ground, disguised as a cavalry officer on foot.

"What is that archduke?" I inquired.

"He's just a cop."

I knew then that I was in a great city.

The rest of the ride was an enfevered phantasmagoria. We burst startlingly into a very remarkable deep glade—on the floor of it long and violent surface-cars, a few open shops and bars with commissionaires at the doors, vehicles dipping and rising out of holes in the ground, vistas of forests of iron pillars, on the top of which ran deafening, glittering trains, as on a tight-rope; above all that, a layer of darkness; and above the layer of darkness enormous moving images of things in electricity—a mastodon kitten playing with a ball of thread, an umbrella in a shower of rain, siphons of soda-water being emptied and filled, gigantic horses galloping at full speed, and an incredible heraldry of chewing-gum.... Sky-signs! In Europe I had always inveighed manfully against sky-signs. But now I bowed the head, vanquished. These sky-signs annihilated argument. Moreover, had they not been made possible by the invention of a European, and that European an intimate friend of my own?...

"I suppose this is Broadway?" I ventured.

It was. That is to say, it was one of the Broadways. There are several different ones. What could be more different from this than the down-town Broadway of Trinity Church and the crowded sky-scrapers? And even this Broadway could differ from itself, as I knew later on an election night.... I was overpowered by Broadway.

"You must not expect me to talk," I said.

We drew up in front of a huge hotel and went into the bar, huge and gorgeous to match, shimmering with white bartenders and a variegated population of men-about-town. I had never seen such a bar.

"Two Polands and a Scotch highball," was the order. Of which geographical language I understood not a word.

"See the fresco," my particular friend suggested. And from his tone, at once modestly content and artificially careless, I knew that that nursery-rhyme fresco was one of the sights of the pleasure quarter of New York, and that I ought to admire it. Well, I did admire it. I found it rather fine and apposite. But the free-luncheon counter, as a sight, took my fancy more. Here it was, the free-luncheon counter of which the European reads—generously loaded, and much freer than the air.

"Have something?"

I would not. They could shame me into drinking coffee, but they could not shame me into eating corned beef and granite biscuits at eleven o'clock at night. The Poland water sufficed me.

We swept perilously off again into the welter. That same evening three of my steamer companions were thrown out of a rickety taxi into a hole in the ground in the middle of New York, with the result that one of them spent a week in a hotel bed, under doctor and nurse. But I went scatheless. Such are the hazards of life.... We arrived at a terminus. And it was a great terminus. A great terminus is an inhospitable place. And just here, in the perfection of the manner in which my minutest comfort was studied and provided for, I began to appreciate the significance of American hospitality—that combination of eager good-nature, Oriental lavishness, and sheer brains. We had time to spare. Close to the terminus we had passed by a hotel whose summit, for all my straining out of the window of the cab, I had been unable to descry. I said that I should really like to see the top of that hotel. No sooner said than done. I saw the highest hotel I had ever seen. We went into the hotel, teeming like the other one, and from an agreeable and lively young dandy bought three cigars out of millions of cigars. Naught but bank-notes seemed to be current. The European has an awe of bank-notes, whatever their value.

Then we were in the train, and the train was moving. And every few seconds it shot past the end of a long, straight, lighted thoroughfare—scores upon scores of them, with a wider and more brilliant street interspersed among them at intervals. And I forgot at what hundredth street the train paused before rolling finally out of New York. I had had the feeling of a vast and metropolitan city. I thought, "Whatever this is or is not, it is a metropolis, and will rank with the best of 'em." I had lived long in more than one metropolis, and I knew the proud and the shameful unmistakable marks of the real thing. And I was aware of a poignant sympathy with those people and those mysterious generations who had been gradually and yet so rapidly putting together, girder by girder and tradition by tradition, all unseen by me till then, this illustrious, proud organism, with its nobility and its baseness, its rectitude and its mournful errors, its colossal sense of life. I liked New York irrevocably.



When I first looked at Fifth Avenue by sunlight, in the tranquillity of Sunday morning, and when I last set eyes on it, in the ordinary peevish gloom of a busy sailing-day, I thought it was the proudest thoroughfare I had ever seen anywhere. The revisitation of certain European capitals has forced me to modify this judgment; but I still think that Fifth Avenue, if not unequaled, is unsurpassed.

One afternoon I was driving up Fifth Avenue in the company of an architectural expert who, with the incredible elastic good nature of American business men, had abandoned his affairs for half a day in order to go with me on a voyage of discovery, and he asked me, so as to get some basis of understanding or disagreement, what building in New York had pleased me most. I at once said the University Club—to my mind a masterpiece. He approved, and a great peace filled our automobile; in which peace we expanded. He asked me what building in the world made the strongest appeal to me, and I at once said the Strozzi Palace at Florence. Whereat he was decidedly sympathetic.

"Fifth Avenue," I said, "always reminds me of Florence and the Strozzi.... The cornices, you know."

He stopped the automobile under the Gorham store and displayed to me the finest cornice in New York, and told me how Stanford White had put up several experimental cornices there before arriving at finality. Indeed, a great cornice! I admit I was somewhat dashed by the information that most cornices in New York are made of cast iron; but only for a moment! What, after all, do I care what a cornice is made of, so long as it juts proudly out from the facade and helps the street to a splendid and formidable sky-line? I had neither read nor heard a word of the cornices of New York, and yet for me New York was first and last the city of effective cornices! (Which merely shows how eyes differ!) The cornice must remind you of Italy, and through Italy of the Renaissance. And is it not the boast of the United States to be a renaissance? I always felt that there was something obscurely symbolic in the New York cornice—symbolic of the necessary qualities of a renaissance, half cruel and half humane.

The critical European excusably expects a very great deal from Fifth Avenue, as being the principal shopping street of the richest community in the world. (I speak not of the residential blocks north of Fifty-ninth Street, whose beauty and interest fall perhaps far short of their pretensions.) And the critical European will not be disappointed, unless his foible is to be disappointed—as, in fact, occasionally happens. Except for the miserly splitting, here and there in the older edifices, of an inadequate ground floor into a mezzanine and a shallow box (a device employed more frankly and usefully with an outer flight of steps on the East Side), there is nothing mean in the whole street from the Plaza to Washington Square. A lot of utterly mediocre architecture there is, of course—the same applies inevitably to every long street in every capital—but the general effect is homogeneous and fine, and, above, all, grandly generous. And the alternation of high and low buildings produces not infrequently the most agreeable architectural accidents: for example, seen from about Thirtieth Street, the pale-pillared, squat structure of the Knickerbocker Trust against a background of the lofty red of the AEolian Building.... And then, that great white store on the opposite pavement! The single shops, as well as the general stores and hotels on Fifth Avenue, are impressive in the lavish spaciousness of their disposition. Neither stores nor shops could have been conceived, or could be kept, by merchants without genuine imagination and faith.

And the glory of the thoroughfare inspires even those who only walk up and down it. It inspires particularly the mounted policeman as he reigns over a turbulent crossing. It inspires the women, and particularly the young women, as they pass in front of the windows, owning their contents in thought. I sat once with an old, white-haired, and serious gentleman, gazing through glass at Fifth Avenue, and I ventured to say to him, "There are fine women on Fifth Avenue." "By Jove!" he exclaimed, with deep conviction, and his eyes suddenly fired, "there are!" On the whole, I think that, in their carriages or on their feet, they know a little better how to do justice to a fine thoroughfare than the women of any other capital in my acquaintance. I have driven rapidly in a fast car, clinging to my hat and my hair against the New York wind, from one end of Fifth Avenue to the other, and what with the sunshine, and the flags wildly waving in the sunshine, and the blue sky and the cornices jutting into it and the roofs scraping it, and the large whiteness of the stores, and the invitation of the signs, and the display of the windows, and the swift sinuousness of the other cars, and the proud opposing processions of American subjects—what with all this and with the supreme imperialism of the mounted policeman, I have been positively intoxicated!

And yet possibly the greatest moment in the life of Fifth Avenue is at dusk, when dusk falls at tea-time. The street lamps flicker into a steady, steely blue, and the windows of the hotels and restaurants throw a yellow radiance; all the shops—especially the jewelers' shops—become enchanted treasure-houses, whose interiors recede away behind their facades into infinity; and the endless files of innumerable vehicles, interlacing and swerving, put forth each a pair of glittering eyes. Come suddenly upon it all, from the leafy fastnesses of Central Park, round the corner from the Plaza Hotel, and wait your turn until the arm of the policeman, whose blue coat is now whitened with dust, permits your restive chauffeur to plunge down into the main currents of the city.... You will have then the most grandiose impression that New York is, in fact, inhabited; and that even though the spectacular luxury of New York be nearly as much founded upon social injustice and poverty as any imperfect human civilization in Europe, it is a boon to be alive therein!... In half an hour, in three-quarters of an hour, the vitality is clean gone out of the street. The shops have let down their rich gathered curtains, the pavements are deserted, and the roadway is no longer perilous. And nothing save a fire will arouse Fifth Avenue till the next morning. Even on an election night the sole sign in Fifth Avenue of the disorder of politics will be a few long strips of tape-paper wreathing in the breeze on the asphalt under the lonely lamps.

* * * * *

It is not easy for a visiting stranger in New York to get away from Fifth Avenue. The street seems to hold him fast. There might almost as well be no other avenues; and certainly the word "Fifth" has lost all its numerical significance in current usage. A youthful musical student, upon being asked how many symphonies Beethoven had composed, replied four, and obstinately stuck to it that Beethoven had only composed four. Called upon to enumerate the four, he answered thus, the C minor, the Eroica, the Pastoral, and the Ninth. "Ninth" had lost its numerical significance for that student. A similar phenomenon of psychology has happened with the streets and avenues of New York. Europeans are apt to assume that to tack numbers instead of names on to the thoroughfares of a city is to impair their identities and individualities. Not a bit! The numbers grow into names. That is all. Such is the mysterious poetic force of the human mind! That curt word "Fifth" signifies as much to the New-Yorker as "Boulevard des Italiens" to the Parisian. As for the possibility of confusion, would any New-Yorker ever confuse Fourteenth with Thirteenth or Fifteenth Street, or Twenty-third with Twenty-second or Twenty-fourth, or Forty-second with One Hundred and Forty-second, or One Hundred and Twenty-fifth with anything else whatever? Yes, when the Parisian confuses the Champs Elysees with the Avenue de l'Opera! When the Parisian arrives at this stage—even then Fifth Avenue will not be confused with Sixth!

One day, in the unusual silence of an election morning, I absolutely determined to see something of the New York that lies beyond Fifth Avenue, and I slipped off westward along Thirty-fourth Street, feeling adventurous. The excursion was indeed an adventure. I came across Broadway and Sixth Avenue together! Sixth Avenue, with its barbaric paving, surely could not be under the same administration as Fifth! Between Sixth and Seventh I met a sinister but genial ruffian, proudly wearing the insignia of Tammany; and soon I met a lot more of them: jolly fellows, apparently, yet somehow conveying to me the suspicion that in a saloon shindy they might prove themselves my superiors. (I was told in New York, and by the best people in New York, that Tammany was a blot on the social system of the city. But I would not have it so. I would call it a part of the social system, just as much a part of the social system, and just as expressive of the national character, as the fine schools, the fine hospitals, the superlative business organizations, or Mr. George M. Cohan's Theater. A civilization is indivisibly responsible for itself. It may not, on the Day of Judgment, or any other day, lessen its collective responsibility by baptizing certain portions of its organism as extraneous "blots" dropped thereon from without.) To continue—after Seventh Avenue the declension was frank. In the purlieus of the Five Towns themselves—compared with which Pittsburg is seemingly Paradise—I have never trod such horrific sidewalks. I discovered huge freight-trains shunting all over Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, and frail flying bridges erected from sidewalk to sidewalk, for the convenience of a brave and hardy populace. I was surrounded in the street by menacing locomotives and crowds of Italians, and in front of me was a great Italian steamer. I felt as though Fifth Avenue was a three days' journey away, through a hostile country. And yet I had been walking only twenty minutes! I regained Fifth with relief, and had learned a lesson. In future, if asked how many avenues there are in New York I would insist that there are three: Lexington, Madison, and Fifth.

* * * * *

The chief characteristic of Broadway is its interminability. Everybody knows, roughly, where it begins, but I doubt if even the topographical experts of Albany know just where it ends. It is a street that inspires respect rather than enthusiasm. In the daytime all the uptown portion of it—and as far down-town as Ninth Street—has a provincial aspect. If Fifth Avenue is metropolitan and exclusive, Broadway is not. Broadway lacks distinction, it lacks any sort of impressiveness, save in its first two miles, which do—especially the southern mile—strike you with a vague and uneasy awe. And it was here that I experienced my keenest disappointment in the United States.

I went through sundry disappointments. I had expected to be often asked how much I earned. I never was asked. I had expected to be often informed by casual acquaintances of their exact income. Nobody, save an interviewer or so and the president of a great trust, ever passed me even a hint as to the amount of his income. I had expected to find an inordinate amount of tippling in clubs and hotels. I found, on the contrary, a very marked sobriety. I had expected to receive many hard words and some insolence from paid servants, such as train-men, tram-men, lift-boys, and policemen. From this class, as from the others, I received nothing but politeness, except in one instance. That instance, by the way, was a barber in an important hotel, whom I had most respectfully requested to refrain from bumping my head about. "Why?" he demanded. "Because I've got a headache," I said. "Then why didn't you tell me at first?" he crushed me. "Did you expect me to be a thought-reader?" But, indeed, I could say a lot about American barbers. I had expected to have my tempting fob snatched. It was not snatched. I had expected to be asked, at the moment of landing, for my mature opinion of the United States, and again at intervals of about a quarter of an hour, day and night, throughout my stay. But I had been in America at least ten days before the question was put to me, even in jest. I had expected to be surrounded by boasting and impatient vanity concerning the achievements of the United States and the citizens thereof. I literally never heard a word of national boasting, nor observed the slightest impatience under criticism.... I say I had expected these things. I would be more correct to say that I should have expected them if I had had a rumor—believing mind: which I have not.

But I really did expect to witness an overwhelming violence of traffic and movement in lower Broadway and the renowned business streets in its vicinity. And I really was disappointed by the ordinariness of the scene, which could be well matched in half a dozen places in Europe, and beaten in one or two. If but once I had been shoved into the gutter by a heedless throng going furiously upon its financial ways, I should have been content.... The legendary "American rush" is to me a fable. Whether it ever existed I know not; but I certainly saw no trace of it, either in New York or Chicago. I dare say I ought to have gone to Seattle for it. My first sight of a stock-market roped off in the street was an acute disillusionment. In agitation it could not have competed with a sheep-market. In noise it was a muffled silence compared with the fine racket that enlivens the air outside the Paris Bourse. I saw also an ordinary day in the Stock Exchange. Faint excitations were afloat in certain corners, but I honestly deemed the affair tame. A vast litter of paper on the floor, a vast assemblage of hats pitched on the tops of telephone-boxes—these phenomena do not amount to a hustle. Earnest students of hustle should visit Paris or Milan. The fact probably is that the perfecting of mechanical contrivances in the United States has killed hustle as a diversion for the eyes and ears. The mechanical side of the Exchange was wonderful and delightful.

The sky-scrapers that cluster about the lower end of Broadway—their natural home—were as impressive as I could have desired, but not architecturally. For they could only be felt, not seen. And even in situations where the sky-scraper is properly visible, it is, as a rule, to my mind, architecturally a failure. I regret for my own sake that I could not be more sympathetic toward the existing sky-scraper as an architectural entity, because I had assuredly no European prejudice against the sky-scraper as such. The objection of most people to the sky-scraper is merely that it is unusual—the instinctive objection of most people to everything that is original enough to violate tradition! I, on the contrary, as a convinced modernist, would applaud the unusualness of the sky-scraper. Nevertheless, I cannot possibly share the feelings of patriotic New-Yorkers who discover architectural grandeur in, say, the Flat Iron Building or the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building. To me they confuse the poetical idea of these buildings with the buildings themselves. I eagerly admit that the bold, prow-like notion of the Flat Iron cutting northward is a splendid notion, an inspiring notion; it thrills. But the building itself is ugly—nay, it is adverbially ugly; and no reading of poetry into it will make it otherwise.

Similarly, the Metropolitan Building is tremendous. It is a grand sight, but it is an ugly sight. The men who thought of it, who first conceived the notion of it, were poets. They said, "We will cause to be constructed the highest building in the world; we will bring into existence the most amazing advertisement that an insurance company ever had." That is good; it is superb; it is a proof of heroic imagination. But the actual designers of the building did not rise to the height of it; and if any poetry is left in it, it is not their fault. Think what McKim might have accomplished on that site, and in those dimensions!

Certain architects, feeling the lack of imagination in the execution of these enormous buildings, have set their imagination to work, but in a perverse way and without candidly recognizing the conditions imposed upon them by the sky-scraper form: and the result here and there has been worse than dull; it has been distressing. But here and there, too, one sees the evidence of real understanding and taste. If every tenant of a sky-scraper demands—as I am informed he does—the same windows, and radiators under every window, then the architect had better begin by accepting that demand openly, with no fanciful or pseudo-imaginative pretense that things are not what they are. The Ashland Building, on Fourth Avenue, where the architectural imagination has exercised itself soberly, honestly, and obediently, appeared to me to be a satisfactory and agreeable sky-scraper; and it does not stand alone as the promise that a new style will ultimately be evolved.

In any case, a great deal of the poetry of New York is due to the sky-scraper. At dusk the effect of the massed sky-scrapers illuminated from within, as seen from any high building up-town, is prodigiously beautiful, and it is unique in the cities of this world. The early night effect of the whole town, topped by the aforesaid Metropolitan tower, seen from the New Jersey shore, is stupendous, and resembles some enchanted city of the next world rather than of this. And the fact that a very prominent item in the perspective is a fiery representation of a frothing glass of beer inconceivably large—well, this fact too has its importance.

But in the sky-scrapers there is a deeper romanticism than that which disengages itself from them externally. You must enter them in order to appreciate them, in order to respond fully to their complex appeal. Outside, they often have the air of being nothing in particular; at best the facade is far too modest in its revelation of the interior. You can quite easily walk by a sky-scraper on Broadway without noticing it. But you cannot actually go into the least of them and not be impressed. You are in a palace. You are among marbles and porphyries. You breathe easily in vast and brilliant foyers that never see daylight. And then you come to those mysterious palisaded shafts with which the building and every other building in New York is secretly honeycombed, and the palisade is opened and an elevator snatches you up. I think of American cities as enormous agglomerations in whose inmost dark recesses innumerable elevators are constantly ascending and descending, like the angels of the ladder....

The elevator ejects you. You are taken into dazzling daylight, into what is modestly called a business office; but it resembles in its grandeur no European business office, save such as may have been built by an American. You look forth from a window, and lo! New York and the Hudson are beneath you, and you are in the skies. And in the warmed stillness of the room you hear the wind raging and whistling, as you would have imagined it could only rage and whistle in the rigging of a three-master at sea. There are, however, a dozen more stories above this story. You walk from chamber to chamber, and in answer to inquiry learn that the rent of this one suite-among so many-is over thirty-six thousand dollars a year! And you reflect that, to the beholder in the street, all that is represented by one narrow row of windows, lost in a diminishing chess-board of windows. And you begin to realize what a sky-scraper is, and the poetry of it.

More romantic even than the sky-scraper finished and occupied is the sky-scraper in process of construction. From no mean height, listening to the sweet drawl of the steam-drill, I have watched artisans like dwarfs at work still higher, among knitted steel, seen them balance themselves nonchalantly astride girders swinging in space, seen them throwing rivets to one another and never missing one; seen also a huge crane collapse under an undue strain, and, crumpling like tinfoil, carelessly drop its load onto the populous sidewalk below. That particular mishap obviously raised the fear of death among a considerable number of people, but perhaps only for a moment. Anybody in America will tell you without a tremor (but with pride) that each story of a sky-scraper means a life sacrificed. Twenty stories—twenty men snuffed out; thirty stories—thirty men. A building of some sixty stories is now going up—sixty corpses, sixty funerals, sixty domestic hearths to be slowly rearranged, and the registrars alone know how many widows, orphans, and other loose by-products!

And this mortality, I believe, takes no account of the long battles that are sometimes fought, but never yet to a finish, in the steel webs of those upper floors when the labor-unions have a fit of objecting more violently than usual to non-union labor. In one celebrated building, I heard, the non-unionists contracted an unfortunate habit of getting crippled; and three of them were indiscreet enough to put themselves under a falling girder that killed them, while two witnesses who were ready to give certain testimony in regard to the mishap vanished completely out of the world, and have never since been heard of. And so on. What more natural than that the employers should form a private association for bringing to a close these interesting hazards? You may see the leading spirit of the association. You may walk along the street with him. He knows he is shadowed, and he is quite cheerful about it. His revolver is always very ready for an emergency. Nobody seems to regard this state of affairs as odd enough for any prolonged comment. There it is! It is accepted. It is part of the American dailiness. Nobody, at any rate in the comfortable clubs, seems even to consider that the original cause of the warfare is aught but a homicidal cussedness on the part of the unions.... I say that these accidents and these guerrillas mysteriously and grimly proceeding in the skyey fabric of metal-ribbed constructions, do really form part of the poetry of life in America—or should it be the poetry of death? Assuredly they are a spectacular illustration of that sublime, romantic contempt for law and for human life which, to a European, is the most disconcerting factor in the social evolution of your States. I have sat and listened to tales from journalists and other learned connoisseurs till—But enough!

* * * * *

When I left New York and went to Washington I was congratulated on having quitted the false America for the real. When I came to Boston I received the sympathies of everybody in Boston on having been put off for so long with spurious imitations of America, and a sigh of happy relief went up that I had at length got into touch with a genuine American city. When, after a long pilgrimage, I attained Chicago, I was positively informed that Chicago alone was the gate of the United States, and that everything east of Chicago was negligible and even misleading. And when I entered Indianapolis I discovered that Chicago was a mushroom and a suburb of Warsaw, and that its pretension to represent the United States was grotesque, the authentic center of the United States being obviously Indianapolis.... The great towns love thus to affront one another, and their demeanor in the game resembles the gamboling of young tigers—it is half playful and half ferocious. For myself, I have to say that my heart was large enough to hold all I saw. While I admit that Indianapolis struck me as very characteristically American, I assert that the unreality of New York escaped me. It appeared to me that New York was quite a real city, and European geographies (apt to err, of course, in matters of detail) usually locate it in America.

Having regard to the healthy mutual jealousy of the great towns, I feel that I am carrying audacity to the point of foolhardiness when I state that the streets of every American city I saw reminded me on the whole rather strongly of the streets of all the others. What inhabitants of what city could forgive this? Yet I must state it. Much of what I have said of the streets of New York applies, in my superficial opinion, for instance, to the streets of Chicago. It is well known that to the Chinaman all Westerners look alike. No tourist on his first visit to a country so astonishing as the United States is very different from a Chinaman; the tourist should reconcile himself to that deep truth. It is desolating to think that a second visit will reveal to me the blindness, the distortions, and the wrong-headedness of my first. But even as a Chinaman I did notice subtle differences between New York and Chicago. As one who was brought up in a bleak and uncanny climate, where soft coal is in universal use, I at once felt more at home in Chicago than I could ever do in New York. The old instinct to wash the hands and change the collar every couple of hours instantly returned to me in Chicago, together with the old comforting conviction that a harsh climate is a climate healthy for body and spirit. And, because it is laden with soot, the air of Chicago is a great mystifier and beautifier. Atmospheric effects may be seen there that are unobtainable without the combustion of soft coal. Talk, for example, as much as you please about the electric sky-signs of Broadway—not all of them together will write as much poetry on the sky as the single word "Illinois" that hangs without a clue to its suspension in the murky dusk over Michigan Avenue. The visionary aspects of Chicago are incomparable.

Another difference, of quite another order, between New York and Chicago is that Chicago is self-conscious. New York is not; no metropolis ever is. You are aware of the self-consciousness of Chicago as soon as you are aware of its bitumen. The quality demands sympathy, and wins it by its wistfulness. Chicago is openly anxious about its soul. I liked that. I wish I could see a livelier anxiety concerning the municipal soul in certain cities of Europe.

Perhaps the least subtle difference between New York and Chicago springs from the fact that the handsomest part of New York is the center of New York, whereas the center of Chicago is disappointing. It does not impress. I was shown, in the center of Chicago, the first sky-scraper that the world had ever seen. I visited with admiration what was said to be the largest department store in the world. I visited with a natural rapture the largest book-store in the world. I was informed (but respectfully doubt) that Chicago is the greatest port in the world. I could easily credit, from the evidence of my own eyes, that it is the greatest railway center in the world. But still my imagination was not fired, as it has been fired again and again by far lesser and far less interesting places. Nobody could call Wabash Avenue spectacular, and nobody surely would assert that State Street is on a plane with the collective achievements of the city of which it is the principal thoroughfare. The truth is that Chicago lacks at present a rallying-point—some Place de la Concorde or Arc de Triomphe—something for its biggest streets to try to live up to. A convocation of elevated railroads is not enough. It seemed to me that Jackson Boulevard or Van Buren Street, with fine crescents abutting opposite Grant Park and Garfield Park, and a magnificent square at the intersection of Ashland Avenue, might ultimately be the chief sight and exemplar of Chicago. Why not? Should not the leading thoroughfare lead boldly to the lake instead of shunning it? I anticipate the time when the municipal soul of Chicago will have found in its streets as adequate expression as it has already found in its boulevards.

Perhaps if I had not made the "grand tour" of those boulevards, I might have been better satisfied with the streets of Chicago. The excursion, in an automobile, occupied something like half of a frosty day that ended in torrents of rain—apparently a typical autumn day in Chicago! Before it had proceeded very far I knew that there was a sufficient creative imagination on the shore of Lake Michigan to carry through any municipal enterprise, however vast, to a generous and final conclusion. The conception of those boulevards discloses a tremendous audacity and faith. And as you roll along the macadam, threading at intervals a wide-stretching park, you are overwhelmed—at least I was—by the completeness of the scheme's execution and the lavishness with which the system is in every detail maintained and kept up.

You stop to inspect a conservatory, and find yourself in a really marvelous landscape garden, set with statues, all under glass and heated, where the gaffers of Chicago are collected together to discuss interminably the exciting politics of a city anxious about its soul. And while listening to them with one ear, with the other you may catch the laconic tale of a park official's perilous and successful vendetta against the forces of graft.

And then you resume the circuit and accomplish many more smooth, curving, tree-lined miles, varied by a jolting section, or by the faint odor of the Stock-yards, or by a halt to allow the longest freight-train in the world to cross your path. You have sighted in the distance universities, institutions, even factories; you have passed through many inhabited portions of the endless boulevard, but you have not actually touched hands with the city since you left it at the beginning of the ride. Then at last, as darkness falls, you feel that you are coming to the city again, but from another point of the compass. You have rounded the circle of its millions. You need only think of the unkempt, shabby, and tangled outskirts of New York, or of any other capital city, to realize the miracle that Chicago has put among her assets ...

You descry lanes of water in the twilight, and learn that in order to prevent her drainage from going into the lake Chicago turned a river back in its course and compelled it to discharge ultimately into the Mississippi. That is the story. You feel that it is exactly what Chicago, alone among cities, would have the imagination and the courage to do. Some man must have risen from his bed one morning with the idea, "Why not make the water flow the other way?" And then gone, perhaps diffidently, to his fellows in charge of the city with the suggestive query, "Why not make the water flow the other way?" And been laughed at! Only the thing was done in the end! I seem to have heard that there was an epilogue to this story, relating how certain other great cities showed a narrow objection to Chicago draining herself in the direction of the Mississippi, and how Chicago, after all, succeeded in persuading those whom it was necessary to persuade that, whereas her drainage was unsuited to Lake Michigan, it would consort well with the current of the Mississippi.

And then, in the night and in the rain, you swerve round some corner into the straight, by Grant Park, in full sight of one of the most dazzling spectacles that Chicago or any other city can offer—Michigan Avenue on a wet evening. Each of the thousands of electric standards in Michigan Avenue is a cluster of six huge globes (and yet they will tell you in Paris that the Rue de la Paix is the best-lit street in the world), and here and there is a red globe of warning. The two lines of light pour down their flame into the pool which is the roadway, and you travel continually toward an incandescent floor without ever quite reaching it, beneath mysterious words of fire hanging in the invisible sky!... The automobile stops. You get out, stiff, and murmur something inadequate about the length and splendor of those boulevards. "Oh," you are told, carelessly, "those are only the interior boulevards.... Nothing! You should see our exterior boulevards—not quite finished yet!"



"Here, Jimmy!" said, briskly, a middle-aged administrative person in easy attire, who apparently had dominion over the whole floor beneath the dome. A younger man, also in easy attire, answered the call with an alert smile. The elder pointed sideways with his head at my two friends and myself, and commanded, "Run them through in thirty minutes!" Then, having reached the center of a cuspidor with all the precision of a character in a Californian novel, he added benevolently to Jimmy, "Make it a dollar for them." And Jimmy, consenting, led us away.

In this episode Europe was having her revenge on the United States, and I had planned it. How often, in half a hundred cities of Europe, had I not observed the American citizen seeing the sights thereof at high speed? Yes, even in front of the Michael Angelo sculptures in the Medici Chapel at Florence had I seen him, watch in hand, and heard him murmur "Bully!" to the sculptures and the time of the train to his wife in one breath! Now it was impossible for me to see Washington under the normal conditions of a session. And so I took advantage of the visit to Washington of two friends on business to see Washington hastily, as an excursionist pure and simple. I said to the United States, grimly: "The most important and the most imposing thing in all America is surely the Capitol at Washington. Well, I will see it as you see the sacred sights of Europe. By me Europe shall be revenged."

Thus it came about that we had hired a kind of carriage known as a "sea-going hack," driven by a negro in dark blue, who was even more picturesque than the negroes in white who did the menial work in the classic hotel, and had set forth frankly as excursionists into the streets of Washington, and presently through the celebrated Pennsylvania Avenue had achieved entrance into the Capitol.

It was a breathless pilgrimage—this seeing of the Capitol. And yet an impressive one. The Capitol is a great place. I was astonished—and I admit at once I ought not to have been astonished—that the Capitol appeals to the historic sense just as much as any other vast legislative palace of the world—and perhaps more intimately than some. The sequence of its endless corridors and innumerable chambers, each associated with event or tradition, begets awe. I think it was in the rich Senatorial reception-room that I first caught myself being surprised that the heavy gilded and marmoreal sumptuosity of the decorations recalled the average European palace. Why should I have been expecting the interior of the Capitol to consist of austere bare walls and unornamented floors? Perhaps it was due to some thought of Abraham Lincoln. But whatever its cause, the expectation was naive and derogatory. The young guide, Jimmy, who by birth and genius evidently belonged to the universal race of guides, was there to keep my ideas right and my eyes open. He was infinitely precious, and after his own fashion would have done honor to any public monument in the East. Such men are only bred in the very shadow of genuine history.

"See," he said, touching a wall. "Painted by celebrated Italian artist to look like bas-relief! But put your hand flat against it, and you'll see it isn't carved!" One might have been in Italy.

And a little later he was saying of other painting:

"Although painted in eighteen hundred sixty-five—forty-six years ago—you notice the flesh tints are as fresh as if painted yesterday!"

This, I think, was the finest remark I ever heard a guide make—until this same guide stepped in front of a portrait of Henry Clay, and, after a second's hesitation, threw off airily, patronizingly:

"Henry Clay—quite a good statesman!"

But I also contributed my excursionist's share to these singular conversations. In the swathed Senate Chamber I noticed two holland-covered objects that somehow reminded me of my youth and of religious dissent. I guessed that the daily proceedings of the Senate must be opened with devotional exercises, and these two objects seemed to me to be proper—why, I cannot tell—to the United States Senate; but there was one point that puzzled me.

"Why," I asked, "do you have two harmoniums?"

"Harmoniums, sir!" protested the guide, staggered. "Those are roll-top desks."

If only the floor could have opened and swallowed me up, as it opens and swallows up the grand piano at the Thomas concerts in Chicago!

Neither the Senate Chamber nor the Congress Chamber was as imposing to me as the much less spacious former Senate Chamber and the former Congress Chamber. The old Senate Chamber, being now transferred to the uses of supreme justice, was closed on the day of our visit, owing to the funeral of a judge. Europeans would have acquiesced in the firm negative of its locked doors. But my friends, being American, would not acquiesce. The mere fact that the room was not on view actually sharpened their desire that I should see it. They were deaf to refusals.... I saw that room. And I was glad that I saw it, for in its august simplicity it was worth seeing. The spirit of the early history of the United States seemed to reside in that hemicycle; and the crape on the vacated and peculiar chair added its own effect.

My first notion on entering the former Congress Chamber was that I was in presence of the weirdest collection of ugly statues that I had ever beheld. Which impression, the result of shock, was undoubtedly false. On reflection I am convinced that those statues of the worthies of the different States are not more ugly than many statues I could point to in no matter what fane, museum, or palace of Europe. Their ugliness is only different from our accustomed European ugliness. The most crudely ugly mural decorations in the world are to be found all over Italy—the home of sublime frescos. The most atrociously debased architecture in the world is to be found in France—the home of sober artistic tradition. Europe is simply peppered everywhere with sculpture whose appalling mediocrity defies competition. But when the European meets ugly sculpture or any ugly form of art in the New World, his instinct is to exclaim, "Of course!" His instinct is to exclaim, "This beats everything!" The attitude will not bear examination. And lo! I was adopting it myself.

"And here's Frances Willard!" cried, ecstatically, a young woman in one of the numerous parties of excursionists whose more deliberate paths through the Capitol we were continually crossing in our swift course.

And while, upon the spot where John Quincy Adams fell, I pretended to listen to the guide, who was proving to me from a distance that the place was as good a whispering-gallery as any in Europe, I thought: "And why should not Frances Willard's statue be there? I am glad it is there. And I am glad to see these groups of provincials admiring with open mouths the statues of the makers of their history, though the statues are chiefly painful." And I thought also: "New York may talk, and Chicago may talk, and Boston may talk, but it is these groups of provincials who are the real America." They were extraordinarily like people from the Five Towns—that is to say, extraordinarily like comfortable average people everywhere.

We were outside again, under one of the enormous porticos of the Capitol. The guide was receiving his well-earned dollar. The faithful fellow had kept nicely within the allotted limit of half an hour.

"Now we'll go and see the Congressional Library," said my particular friend.

But I would not. I had put myself in a position to retort to any sight-seeing American in Europe that I had seen his Capitol in thirty minutes, and I was content. I determined to rest on my laurels. Moreover, I had discovered that conventional sight-seeing is a very exhausting form of activity. I would visit neither the Library of Congress, nor the Navy Department, nor the Pension Bureau, nor the Dead-Letter Museum, nor the Zoological Park, nor the White House, nor the National Museum, nor the Lincoln Museum, nor the Smithsonian Institution, nor the Treasury, nor any other of the great spectacles of Washington. We just resumed the sea-going hack and drove indolently to and fro in avenues and parks, tasting the general savor of the city's large pleasantness. And we had not gone far before we got into the clutches of the police.

"I don't know who you are," said a policeman, as he stopped our sea-going hack. "I don't know who you are," he repeated, cautiously, as one accustomed to policing the shahs and grand viziers of the earth, "but it's my duty to tell you your coachman crossed over on the wrong side of the lamp-post. It's not allowed, and he knows it as well as I do."

We admitted by our shamed silence that we had no special "pull" in Washington; the wise negro said not a word; and we crept away from the policeman's wrath, and before I knew it we were up against the Washington Monument—one of those national calamities which ultimately happen to every country, and of which the supreme example is, of course, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

When I drove into the magnificent railway station late that night—true American rain was descending in sheets—I was carrying away with me an impression, as it were, of a gigantic plantation of public edifices in a loose tangle and undergrowth of thoroughfares: which seemed proper for a legislative and administrative metropolis. I was amused to reflect how the city, like most cities, had extended in precisely the direction in which its founders had never imagined it would extend; and naturally I was astonished by the rapidity of its development. (One of my friends, who was not old, had potted wild game in a marsh that is now a park close to the Capitol.) I thought that the noble wings of the Capitol were architecturally much superior to the central portion of it. I remembered a dazzling glimpse of the White House as a distinguished little building. I feared that ere my next visit the indefatigable energy of America would have rebuilt Pennsylvania Avenue, especially the higgledy-piggledy and picturesque and untidy portion of it that lies nearest to the Capitol, and I hoped that in doing so the architects would at any rate not carry the cornice to such excess as it has been carried in other parts of the town. And, finally, I was slightly scared by the prevalence of negroes. It seemed to me as if in Washington I had touched the fringe of the negro problem.

* * * * *

It was in a different and a humbler spirit that I went to Boston. I had received more warnings and more advice about Boston than about all the other cities put together. And, in particular, the greatest care had been taken to permeate my whole being with the idea that Boston was "different." In some ways it proved so to be. One difference forced itself upon me immediately I left the station for the streets—the quaint, original odor of the taxis. When I got to the entirely admirable hotel I found a book in a prominent situation on the writing-table in my room. In many hotels this book would have been the Bible. But here it was the catalogue of the hotel library; it ran to a hundred and eighty-two pages. On the other hand, there was no bar in the hotel, and no smoking-room. I make no comments; I draw no conclusions; I state the facts.

The warnings continued after my arrival. I was informed by I don't know how many persons that Boston was "a circular city," with a topography calculated to puzzle the simple. This was true. I usually go about in strange places with a map, but I found the map of Boston even more complex than the city it sought to explain. If I did not lose myself, it was because I never trusted myself alone; other people lost me.

Within an hour or so I had been familiarized by Bostonians with a whole series of apparently stock jokes concerning and against Boston, such as that one hinging on the phrase "cold roast Boston," and that other one about the best thing in Boston being the five o'clock train to New York (I do not vouch for the hour of departure). Even in Cambridge, a less jocular place, a joke seemed to be immanent, to the effect that though you could always tell a Harvard man, you could not tell him much.

Matters more serious awaited me. An old resident of Boston took me out for privacy onto the Common and whispered in my ear: "This is the most snobbish city in the whole world. There is no real democracy here. The first thing people do when they get to know you is to show you their family tree and prove that they came over in the Mayflower." And so he ran on, cursing Boston up hill and down dale. Nevertheless, he was very proud of his Boston. Had I agreed with the condemnation, he might have thrown me into the artificial brook. Another great Bostonian expert, after leading me on to admit that I had come in order to try to learn the real Boston, turned upon me with ferocious gaiety, thus: "You will not learn the real Boston. You cannot. The real Boston is the old Back Bay folk, who gravitate eternally between Beacon Street and State Street and the Somerset Club, and never go beyond. They confuse New England with the created universe, and it is impossible that you should learn them. Nobody could learn them in less than twenty years' intense study and research."

Cautioned, and even intimidated, I thought it would be safest just to take Boston as Boston came, respectfully but casually. And as the hospitality of Boston was prodigious, splendid, unintermittent, and most delightfully unaffected, I had no difficulty whatever in taking Boston as she came. And my impressions began to emerge, one after another, from the rich and cloudy confusion of novel sensations.

What primarily differentiates Boston from all the other cities I saw is this: It is finished; I mean complete. Of the other cities, while admitting their actual achievement, one would say, and their own citizens invariably do say, "They will be ..." Boston is.

Another leading impression, which remains with me, is that Boston is not so English as it perhaps imagines itself to be. An interviewer (among many) came to see me about Boston, and he came with the fixed and sole notion in his head that Boston was English. He would have it that Boston was English. Worn down by his persistency, I did, as a fact, admit in one obscure corner of the interview that Boston had certain English characteristics. The scare-head editor of the interviewing paper, looking through his man's copy for suitable prey, came across my admission. It was just what he wanted; it was what he was thirsting for. In an instant the scare-head was created: "Boston as English as a muffin!" An ideal scare-head! That I had never used the word "muffin" or any such phrase was a detail exquisitely unimportant. The scare-head was immense. It traveled in fine large type across the continent. I met it for weeks afterward in my press-cuttings, and I doubt if Boston was altogether delighted with the comparison. I will not deny that Boston is less strikingly un-English than sundry other cities. I will not deny that I met men in Boston of a somewhat pronounced English type. I will not deny that in certain respects old Kensington reminds me of a street here and there in Boston—such as Mount Vernon Street or Chestnut Street. But I do maintain that the Englishness of Boston has been seriously exaggerated.

And still another very striking memory of Boston—indeed, perhaps, the paramount impression!—is that it contains the loveliest modern thing I saw in America—namely, the Puvis de Chavannes wall-paintings on the grand staircase of the Public Library. The Library itself is a beautiful building, but it holds something more beautiful. Never shall I forget my agitation on beholding these unsurpassed works of art, which alone would suffice to make Boston a place of pilgrimage.

When afterward I went back to Paris, the painters' first question was: "Et les Puvis a Boston—vous les avez vus? Qu'est-ce que vous en dites?"

It was very un-English on the part of Boston to commission these austere and classical works. England would never have done it. The nationality of the greatest decorative painter of modern times would have offended her sense of fitness. What—a French painter officially employed on an English public building? Unthinkable! England would have insisted on an English painter—or, at worst, an American. It is strange that a community which had the wit to honor itself by employing Puvis de Chavannes should be equally enthusiastic about the frigid theatricalities of an E.A. Abbey or the forbidding and opaque intricate dexterity of a John Sargent in the same building. Or, rather, it is not strange, for these contradictions are discoverable everywhere in the patronage of the arts.

It was from the Public Library that some friends and I set out on a little tour of Boston. Whether we went north, south, east, or west I cannot tell, for this was one of the few occasions when the extreme variousness of a city has deprived me definitely of a sense of direction; but I know that we drove many miles through magnificent fenny parks, whose roads were reserved to pleasure, and that at length, after glimpsing famous houses and much of the less centralized wealth and ease of Boston, we came out upon the shores of the old harbor, and went into a yacht-club-house with a glorious prospect. Boston has more book-shops to the acre than any city within my knowledge except Aberdeen (not North Carolina, but Scotland). Its book-shops, however, are as naught to its yacht clubs. And for one yacht club I personally would sacrifice many book-shops. It was an exciting moment in my life when, after further wandering on and off coast roads, and through curving, cobbled, rackety streets, and between thunderous tram-cars and under deafening elevated lines, I was permitted to enter the celestial and calm precincts of the Boston Yacht Club itself, which overlooks another harbor. The acute and splendid nauticality of this club, all fashioned out of an old warehouse, stamps Boston as a city which has comprehended the sea. I saw there the very wheel of the Spray, the cockboat in which the regretted Slocum wafted himself round the world! I sat in an arm-chair which would have suited Falstaff, and whose tabular arms would have held all Falstaff's tankards, and gazed through a magnified port-hole at a six-masted schooner as it crossed the field of vision! And I had never even dreamed that a six-masted schooner existed! It was with difficulty that I left the Boston Yacht Club. Indeed, I would only leave it in order to go and see the frigate Constitution, the ship which was never defeated, and which assuredly, after over a hundred and ten years of buoyant life, remains the most truly English thing in Boston. The afternoon teas of Boston are far less English than that grim and majestic craft.

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