By Charles Whibley
William Blackwood & Sons - 1908
To land at Hoboken in a quiet drizzle is to sound the depths of desolation. A raw, half-finished, unkempt street confronts you. Along the roadway, roughly broken into ruts, crawls a sad tram. The dishevelled shops bear odd foreign-looking names upon their fronts, and the dark men who lounge at their doors suggest neither the spirit of hustling nor the grandeur of democracy. It is, in truth, not a street, but the awkward sketch of a street, in which all the colours are blurred and the lines drawn awry. And the sense of desolation is heightened by the memory of the immediate past. You have not yet forgotten the pomp of a great steamship. The gracious harbour of New York is still shining in your mind's eye. If the sentiment of freedom be dear to you, you are fresh from apostrophising the statue of Liberty, and you may have just whispered to yourself that you are breathing a clearer, larger air. Even the exquisite courtesy of the officer who has invited you in the blandest terms to declare that you have no contraband, has belied the voice of rumour and imparted a glow of satisfaction. And then you are thrown miserably into the leaden despair of Hoboken, and the vision of Liberty herself is effaced.
But Hoboken is an easy place where-from to escape, and the traveller may pass through it the more cheerfully, because it prepares him for the manifold and bewildering contrasts of New York. The towns of the old world have alternations of penury and affluence. In them also picturesque squalor obtrudes itself upon an ugly splendour. But New York, above all other cities, is the city of contrasts. As America is less a country than a collection of countries, so New York is not a city—it is a collection of cities. Here, on the narrow rock which sustains the real metropolis of the United States, is room or men and women of every faith and every race. The advertisements which glitter in the windows or are plastered upon the hoardings suggest that all nationalities meet with an equal and a flattering acceptance. The German regrets his fatherland the less when he finds a brilliant Bier-Halle waiting for his delight. The Scot no doubt finds the "domestic" cigar sweeter to his taste if a portrait of Robert Burns adorns the box from which he takes it. The Jew may be supposed to lose the sense of homesickness when he can read the news of every day in his familiar Yiddish. And it is not only in the contrast of nationalities that New York proves its variety. Though Germans, Italians, and Irish inhabit their own separate quarters and frequent their own separate haunts, there are many other lines of division. Nowhere in the world are there sharper, crueller distinctions of riches and poverty, of intelligence and boorish-ness, of beauty and ugliness. How, indeed, shall you find a formula for a city which contains within its larger boundaries Fifth Avenue and the Bowery, the Riverside Drive and Brooklyn, Central Park and Coney Island?
And this contrast of race and character is matched by the diversity of the city's aspect. Its architecture is as various as its inhabitants. In spite of demolition and utility, the history of New York is written brokenly upon its walls. Here and there you may detect an ancient frame-house which has escaped the shocks of time and chance, and still holds its own against its sturdier neighbours. Nor is the memory of England wholly obliterated. Is there not a homely sound in Maiden Lane, a modest thoroughfare not far from Wall Street? What Englishman can feel wholly abroad if he walk out to the Battery, or gaze upon the austere houses of Washington Square? And do not the two churches of Broadway recall the city of London, where the masterpieces of Wren are still hedged about by overshadowing office and frowning warehouse? St Paul's Chapel, indeed, is English both in style and origin. It might have been built in accord with Sir Christopher's own design; and, flanked by the thirty-two storeys of the Park Row Building, it has the look of a small and dainty toy. Though Trinity Church, dedicated to the glory of God and the Astors, stands in an equally strange environment, it is less incongruous, as it is less elegant, than St Paul's. Its spire falls not more than a hundred feet below the surrounding sky-scrapers, and were it not for its graveyard it might escape notice. Now its graveyard is one of the wonders of America. Rich in memories of colonial days, it is as lucid a piece of history as survives within the boundaries of New York. The busy mob of cosmopolitans, intent upon trusts and monopolies, which passes its time-worn stones day after day, may find no meaning in its tranquillity. The wayfarer who is careless of the hours will obey the ancient counsel and stay a while. The inscriptions carry him back to the days before the Revolution, or even into the seventeenth century. Here lies one Richard Churcher, who died in 1681, at the tender age of five. And there is buried William Bradford, who printed the first newspaper that ever New York saw, the forefather in a long line of the Yellowest Press on earth. And there is inscribed the name of John Watts, the last Royal Recorder of New York. Thus the wayfarer may step from Broadway into the graveyard of a British colony, and forget, in contemplating the familiar examples of a lapidary style, that there was a tea-party at Boston.
These contrasts are wayward and accidental. The hand of chance has been merciful, that is all; and if you would fully understand New York's self-conscious love of incongruity it is elsewhere that you must look. Walk along the Riverside Drive, framed by nature to be, what an enthusiast has called it, "the finest residential avenue in the world." Turn your back to the houses, and contemplate the noble beauty of the Hudson River. Look from the terrace of Claremont upon the sunlit scene, and ask yourself whether Paris herself offers a gayer prospect. And then face the "high-class residences," and humble your heart. Nowhere else will you get a clearer vision of the inappropriateness which is the most devoutly worshipped of New York's idols. The human mind cannot imagine anything less like "residences" than these vast blocks of vulgarity. The styles of all ages and all countries have been recklessly imitated. The homes of the millionaires are disguised as churches, as mosques, as medieval castles. Here you may find a stronghold of feudalism cheek by jowl with the quiet mansion of a colonial gentleman. There Touraine jostles Constantinople; and the climax is reached by Mr Schwab, who has decreed for himself a lofty pleasure-dome, which is said to resemble Chambord, and which takes its place in a long line of villas, without so much as a turnip-field to give it an air of seclusion or security. In this vainglorious craving for discomfort there is a kind of naivete which is not without its pathos. One proud lady, whose husband, in the words of a dithyrambic guide-book, "made a fortune from a patent glove-hook," boasts that her mansion has a glass-room on the second floor. Another vain householder deems it sufficient to proclaim that he spent two million dollars upon the villa which shelters him from the storm. In brief, there is scarcely a single palace on the Riverside which may not be described as an antic of wealth, and one wonders what sort of a life is lived within these gloomy walls. Do the inhabitants dress their parts with conscientious gravity, and sit down to dine with the trappings of costume and furniture which belong to their houses? Suppose they did, and, suppose in obedience to a signal they precipitated themselves upon the highway, there would be such a masquerade of fancy dress as the world has never seen. The Riverside Drive, then, is a sermon in stones, whose text is the uselessness of uncultured dollars. If we judged New York by this orgie of tasteless extravagance, we might condemn it for a parvenu among cities, careless of millions and sparing of discretion. We may not thus judge it New York, if it be a parvenu, is often a parvenu of taste, and has given many a proof of intelligence and refinement. The home of great luxury, it does not always, as on the Riverside, mistake display for beauty. There are houses in the neighbourhood of Fifth Avenue which are perfect in reticence and suitability. The clubs of New York are a splendid example even to London, the first home of clubs. In Central Park the people of New York possesses a place of amenity and recreation which Europe cannot surpass; and when you are tired of watching the antics of the leisurely chipmunk, who gambols without haste and without fear, you may delight in a collection of pictures which wealth and good management will make the despair and admiration of the world. Much, of course, remains to do, and therein New York is fortunate. Her growing interest in sculpture and architecture is matched by a magnificent opportunity. In the Old World all has been accomplished. Our buildings are set up, our memorials dedicated, our pictures gathered into galleries. America starts, so to say, from scratch; there is no limit to her ambition; and she has infinite money. If the past is ours, the future is hers, and we may look forward to it with curiosity and with hope.
The architects of America have not only composed works in accordance with the old traditions and in obedience to ancient models; they have devised a new style and a new method of their own. To pack a vast metropolis within a narrow space, they have made mountains of houses. When the rock upon which their city stands proved insufficient for their ambition, they conquered another kingdom in the air. The skyscrapers which lift their lofty turrets to the heaven are the pride of New York. It is upon them that the returning traveller gazes most eagerly, as he nears the shore. They hold a firmer place in his heart than even the Statue of Liberty, and the vague sentiment which it inspires. With a proper vanity he points out to the poor Briton, who shudders at five storeys, the size and grandeur of his imposing palaces. And his arrogance is just. The sky-scraper presents a new view of architecture. It is original, characteristic, and beautiful. Suggested and enforced, as I have said, by the narrowness of the rock, it is suitable to its atmosphere and environment. New York is a southern, sunlit city, which needs protection from the heat and need not fear obscurity. Even where the buildings are highest, the wayfarer does not feel that he is walking at the bottom of a well. But, let it be said at once, the sky-scraper would be intolerable in our grey and murky land. London demands a broad thoroughfare and low houses. These are its only defence against a covered sky and an enveloping fog, and the patriotic Americans who would transplant their sky-scrapers to England merely prove that they do not appreciate the logic and beauty of their own design.
What, then, is a sky-scraper? It is a giant bird-cage, whose interstices are filled with stone or concrete. Though its structure is concealed from the eye, it is impossible not to wonder at its superb effrontery. It depends for its effect, not upon ornament, which perforce appears trivial and inapposite, but upon its mass. Whatever approaches it of another scale and kind is dwarfed to insignificance. The Sub-Treasury of the United States, for instance, looks like a foolish plaything beside its august neighbours. Where sky-scrapers are there must be no commemorative statues, no monuments raised to merely human heroes. The effigy of Washington in Wall Street has no more dignity than a tin soldier. And as the skyscraper makes houses of a common size ridiculous, so it loses its splendour when it stands alone. Nothing can surpass in ugliness the twenty storeys of thin horror that is called the Flat-iron; and it is ugly because it is isolated in Madison Square, a place of reasonable dimensions. It is continuity which imparts a dignity to these mammoths. The vast masses which frown upon Wall Street and Broadway are austere, like the Pyramids. They seem the works of giants, not of men. They might be a vast phenomenon of nature, which was before the flood, and which has survived the shocks of earthquake and the passage of the years. And when their summits are lit by the declining sun, when their white walls look like marble in the glow of the reddening sky, they present such a spectacle as many a strenuous American crosses the ocean to see in Switzerland, and crosses it in vain.
New York, in truth, is a city of many beauties, and with a reckless prodigality she has done her best to obscure them all. Driven by a vain love of swift traffic, she assails your ear with an incessant din and your eye with the unsightliest railroad that human ingenuity has ever contrived. She has sacrificed the amenity of her streets and the dignity of her buildings to the false god of Speed. Why men worship Speed, a demon who lies in wait to destroy them, it is impossible to understand. It would be as wise and as profitable to worship Sloth. However, the men of New York, as they tell you with an insistent and ingenuous pride, are "hustlers." They must ever be moving, and moving fast. The "hustling," probably, leads to little enough. Haste and industry are not synonymous. To run up and down is but a form of busy idleness. The captains of industry who do the work of the world sit still, surrounded by bells and telephones. Such heroes as J. Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller are never surprised on train or trolley. They show themselves furtively behind vast expanses of plate-glass, and move only to eat or sleep. It is the common citizen of New York who is never quiet. He finds it irksome to stay long in the same place. Though his house may be comfortable, even luxurious, he is in a fever to leave it. And so it comes about that what he is wont to call "transportation" seems the most important thing in his life. We give the word another signification. To New York it means the many methods of conveying passengers from one point to another. And the methods, various as they are, keep pace with the desires of the restless citizen, who may travel at what pace and altitude he desires. He may burrow, like a rabbit, beneath the ground. If he be more happily normal in his tastes he may ride in a surface car. Or he may fly, like a bird through the air, on an overhead railway. The constant rattle of cars and railways is indescribable. The overhead lines pass close to the first-floor windows, bringing darkness and noise wherever they are laid. There are offices in which a stranger can neither hear nor be heard, and yet you are told that to the accustomed ear of the native all is silent and reposeful. And I can easily believe that a sudden cessation of din would bring an instant madness. Nor must another and an indirect result of the trains and trams which encircle New York be forgotten. The roads are so seldom used that they are permitted to fall into a ruinous decay. Their surface is broken into ruts and yawns in chasms. To drive "down-town" in a carriage is to suffer a sensation akin to sea-sickness; and having once suffered, you can understand that it is something else than the democratic love of travelling in common that persuades the people of New York to clamber on the overhead railway, or to take its chance in a tram-car.
Movement, then, noisy and incessant, is the passion of New York. Perhaps it is the brisk air which drives men to this useless activity. Perhaps it is no better than an ingrained and superstitious habit. But the drowsiest foreigner is soon caught up in the whirl. He needs neither rest nor sleep. He, too, must be chasing something which always eludes him. He, too, finds himself leaving a quiet corner where he would like to stay, that he may reach some place which he has no desire to see. Even though he mount to the tenth or the twentieth story, the throb of the restless city reaches him. Wall Street is "hustling" made concrete. The Bowery is crowded with a cosmopolitan horde which is never still. Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Ferry might be the cross-roads of the world. There a vast mob is passing hither and thither, on foot, on boats, on railroads. What are they doing, whither are they going, these scurrying men and women? Have they no business to pursue, no office-stool to sit upon, no typewriting machines to jostle? And when you are weary of transportation, go into the hall of a big hotel and you will find the same ceaseless motion. On all sides you will hear the click, click of telephone and telegram. On all sides you will see eager citizens scanning the tape, which brings them messages of ruin or success. Nowhere, save in a secluded bar or a stately club, will you find a single man content to be alive and to squander the leisure that God has given him.
And with all her undying haste New York is not content. She must still find other means of saving time. And to save time she has strained all the resources of civilisation. In that rather dismal thing called "material progress" she is easily ahead of the world. Never was the apparatus of life so skilfully turned and handled as in New York. There are no two fixed points which are not easily connected by iron lines. There seems no reason why a citizen of New York should ever walk. If stairs exist, he need not use them, for an express lift, warranted not to stop before the fifteenth floor, will carry him in a few seconds to the top of the highest building. If he open a cupboard door, the mere opening of it lights an electric lamp, and he need not grope after a coat by the dim light of a guttering candle. At his bed-head stands a telephone, and, if he will, he may speak to a friend a thousand miles away without moving from his pillow. But time is saved—of that there is no doubt. The only doubt is, whether it be worth saving. When New York has saved her time, what does she do with it? She merely squanders it in riotous movement and reckless "transportation." Thus she lives in a vicious circle—saving time that she may spend it, and spending it that again she may save it. Nor can this material progress be achieved without a loss of what the Old World prizes most highly. To win all the benefits which civilisation affords, you must lose peace and you must sacrifice privacy. The many appliances which save our useless time may be enjoyed only by crowds. The citizens of New York travel, live, and talk in public. They have made their choice, and are proud of it Englishmen are still reckless enough to waste their time in pursuit of individualism, and I think they are wise. For my part, I would rather lose my time than save it, and the one open conveyance of New York which in pace and conduct suits my inclination is the Fifth Avenue Stage.
But New York is unique. It baffles the understanding and defies observation. In vain you search for a standard of comparison. France and England set out many centuries ago from the same point and with the same intention. America has nothing in common, either of purpose or method, with either of these countries. To a European it is the most foreign city on earth. Untidy but flamboyant, it is reckless of the laws by which life is lived elsewhere. It builds beautiful houses, it delights in white marble palaces, and it thinks it superfluous to level its roads. Eager for success, worshipping astuteness as devoutly as it worships speed, it is yet indifferent to the failure of others, and seems to hold human life in light esteem. In brief, it is a braggart city of medieval courage and medieval cruelty, combining the fierceness of an Italian republic with a perfect faith in mechanical contrivance and an ardent love of material progress.
Here, then, are all the elements of interest and curiosity. Happy are the citizens who watch from day to day the fight that never before has been fought on the same terms. And yet more strangely baffling than the city are the citizens. Who are they, and of what blood and character? What, indeed, is a New Yorker? Is he Jew or Irish? Is he English or German? Is he Russian or Polish? He may be something of all these, and yet he is wholly none of them. Something has been added to him which he had not before. He is endowed with a briskness and an invention often alien to his blood. He is quicker in his movement, less trammelled in his judgment Though he may lose wisdom in sharpening his wit, the change he undergoes is unmistakable. New York, indeed, resembles a magic cauldron. Those who are cast into it are born again. For a generation some vague trace of accent or habit may remain. The old characteristics must needs hang about the newly-arrived immigrant. But in a generation these characteristics are softened or disappear, and there is produced a type which seems remote from all its origins. As yet the process of amalgamation is incomplete, and it is impossible to say in what this hubble-shubble of mixed races will result. Nor have we any clue of historical experience which we may follow. The Roman Empire included within its borders many lands and unnumbered nationalities, but the dominant race kept its blood pure. In New York and the other great cities of America the soil is the sole common factor. Though all the citizens of the great republic live upon that soil, they differ in blood and origin as much as the East of Europe differs from the West. And it is a mystery yet un-pierced that, as the generations pass, they approach nearer and nearer to uniformity, both in type and character. And by what traits do we recognise the citizen of New York? Of course there is no question here of the cultivated gentleman, who is familiar in Paris and London, and whose hospitality in his own land is an amiable reproach to our own too frequent thoughtlessness, but of the simpler class which confronts the traveller in street and train, in hotel and restaurant. The railway guard, the waiter, the cab-driver—these are the men upon whose care the comfort of the stranger depends in every land, and whose tact and temper are no bad index of the national character. In New York, then, you are met everywhere by a sort of urbane familiarity. The man who does you a service, for which you pay him, is neither civil nor uncivil. He contrives, in a way which is by no means unpleasant, to put himself on an equality with you. With a mild surprise you find yourself taking for granted what in your own land you would resent bitterly. Not even the curiosity of the nigger, who brushes your coat with a whisk, appears irksome. For the habit of years has enabled white man and black to assume a light and easy manner, which in an Englishman, born and trained to another tradition, would appear impertinence.
And familiarity is not the only trait which separates the plain man of New York from the plain man of London. The New Yorker looks upon the foreigner with the eye of patronage. To his superior intelligence the wandering stranger is a kind of natural, who should not be allowed to roam alone and at large. Before you have been long in the land you find yourself shepherded, and driven with an affability, not unmixed with contempt, into the right path. Again, you do not resent it, and yet are surprised at your own forbearance. A little thought, however, explains the assumed superiority. The citizen of New York has an ingenuous pride and pleasure in his own city and in his own prowess, which nothing can daunt. He is convinced, especially if he has never travelled beyond his own borders, that he engrosses the virtue and intelligence of the world The driver of a motor-car assured me, with a quiet certitude which brooked no contradiction, that England was cut up into sporting estates for the "lords," and that there the working man was doomed to an idle servility. "But," said he, "there is no room for bums here." This absolute disbelief in other countries, combined with a perfect confidence in their own, has persuaded the citizens of New York to look down with a cold and pitiful eye upon those who are so unfortunate as to be born under an effete monarchy. There is no bluster in their attitude, no insistence. The conviction of superiority is far too great for that. They belong to the greatest country upon earth; they alone enjoy the true blessings of freedom; they alone understand the dignity of labour and the spirit of in-dependence; and they have made up their minds kindly but firmly that you shall not forget it.
Thus you carry away from New York a memory of a lively air, gigantic buildings, incessant movement, sporadic elegance, and ingenuous patronage. And when you have separated your impressions, the most vivid and constant impression that remains is of a city where the means of life conquer life itself, whose citizens die hourly of the rage to live.
America, the country of contrasts, can show none more sudden or striking than that between New York and Boston. In New York progress and convenience reach their zenith. A short journey carries you back into the England of the eighteenth century. The traveller, lately puzzled by overhead railways and awed by the immensity of sky-scrapers, no sooner reaches Boston than he finds himself once more in a familiar environment. The wayward simplicity of the city has little in common with the New World. Its streets are not mere hollow tubes, through which financiers may be hastily precipitated to their quest for gold. They wind and twist like the streets in the country towns of England and France. To the old architects of Boston, indeed, a street was something more than a thoroughfare. The houses which flanked it took their places by whim or hazard, and were not compelled to follow a hard immovable line. And so they possess all the beauty which is born of accident and surprise. You turn a corner, and know not what will confront you; you dive down a side street, and are uncertain into what century you will be thrust. Here is the old wooden house, which recalls the first settlers; there the fair red-brick of a later period. And everywhere is the diversity which comes of growth, and which proves that time is a better contriver of effects than the most skilful architect.
The constant mark of Boston is a demure gaiety. An air of quiet festivity encompasses the streets. The houses are elegant, but sternly ordered. If they belong to the colonial style, they are exquisitely symmetrical. There is no pilaster without its fellow; no window that is not nicely balanced by another of self-same shape and size. The architects, who learned their craft from the designs of Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren, had no ambition to express their own fancy. They were loyally obedient to the tradition of the masters, and the houses which they planned, plain in their neatness, are neither pretentious nor inappropriate. Nowhere in Boston will you find the extravagant ingenuity which makes New York ridiculous; nowhere will you be disturbed by an absurd mimicry of exotic styles; nowhere are you asked to wonder at mountainous blocks of stone. Boston is not a city of giants, but of men who love their comfort, and who, in spite of Puritan ancestry, do not disdain to live in beautiful surroundings. In other words, the millionaire has not laid his iron hand upon New England, and, until he come, Boston may still boast of its elegance.
The pride of Boston is Beacon Street, surely one among the most majestic streets in the world. It recalls Piccadilly and the frontage of the Green Park. Its broad spaces and the shade of its dividing trees are of the natural beauty which time alone can confer, and its houses are worthy its setting. I lunched at the Somerset Club, in a white-panelled room, and it needed clams and soft-shell crabs to convince me that I was in a new land, and not in an English country-house. All was of another time and of a familiar place—the service, the furniture, the aspect. And was it possible to regard our sympathetic hosts as strange in blood or speech?
The Mall, in Beacon Street, if it is the pride, is also the distinguishing mark of Boston. For Boston is a city of parks and trees. The famous Common, as those might remember who believe that America sprang into being in a night, has been sacred for nearly three hundred years. Since 1640 it has been the centre of Boston. It has witnessed the tragedies and comedies of an eventful history. "There," wrote an English traveller as early as 1675, "the gallants walk with their marmalet-madams, as we do in Moorfields."
There malefactors were hanged; there the witches suffered in the time of their persecution; and it is impossible to forget, as you walk its ample spaces, the many old associations which it brings with it from the past.
For it is to the past that Boston belongs. No city is more keenly conscious of its origin. The flood of foreign immigration has not engulfed it. Its memories, like its names, are still of England, New and Old. The spirit of America, eagerly looking forward, cruelly acquisitive, does not seem to fulfil it The sentiment of its beginning has outlasted even the sentiment of a poignant agitation. It resembles an old man thinking of what was, and turning over with careful hand the relics of days gone by. If in one aspect Boston is a centre of commerce and enterprise, in another it is a patient worshipper of tradition, It regards the few old buildings which have survived the shocks of time with a respect which an Englishman can easily understand, but which may appear extravagant to the modern American. The Old South Meeting-House, to give a single instance, is an object of simple-hearted veneration to the people of Boston, and the veneration is easily intelligible. For there is scarcely an episode in Boston's history that is not connected, in the popular imagination, with the Old South Meeting-House. It stands on the site of John Winthrop's garden; it is rich in memories of Cotton and Increase Mather. Within its ancient walls was Benjamin Franklin christened, and the building which stands to-day comes down to us from 1730, and was designed in obedient imitation of English masters. There, too, were enacted many scenes in the drama of revolution; there it was that the famous tea-party was proposed; and thence it was that the Mohawks, drunk with the rhetoric of liberty, found their way to the harbour, that they might see how tea mixed with salt-water. If the sentiment be sometimes exaggerated, the purpose is admirable, and it is a pleasant reflection that, in a country of quick changes and historical indifference, at least one building will be preserved for the admiration of coming generations.
It is for such reasons as these that an Englishman feels at home in Boston. He is secure in the same past; he shares the same memories, even though he give them a different interpretation. Between the New and Old England there are more points of similarity than of difference. In each are the same green meadows, the same ample streams, the same wide vistas. The names of the towns and villages in the new country were borrowed from the old some centuries ago; everywhere friendly associations are evoked; everywhere are signs of a familiar and kindly origin. When Winthrop, the earliest of the settlers, wrote to his wife, "We are here in a paradise," he spoke with an enthusiasm which is easily intelligible. And as the little colony grew, it lived its life in accord with the habit and sentiment of the mother-country. In architecture and costume it followed the example set in Bristol or in London. Between these ports and Boston was a frequent interchange of news and commodities. An American in England was no stranger. He was visiting, with sympathy and understanding, the home of his fathers. The most distinguished Bostonians of the late eighteenth century live upon the canvases of Copley, who, in his son, gave to England a distinguished Chancellor, and whose career is the best proof of the good relations which bound England to her colony. Now Copley arrived in England in 1774, when his native Boston was aroused to the height of her sentimental fury, and he was received with acclamation. He painted the portraits of Lord North and his wife, who, one imagines, were not regarded in Boston with especial favour. The King and Queen gave him sittings, and neither political animosity nor professional rivalry stood in the way of his advancement. His temper and character were well adapted to his career. Before he left New England he had shown himself a Court painter in a democratic city. He loved the trappings of life, and he loved to put his sitters in a splendid environment. His own magnificence had already astonished the grave Boston-ians; he is described, while still a youth, as "dressed in a fine maroon cloth, with gilt buttons"; and he set the seal of his own taste upon the portraiture of his friends.
I have said that Boston loves relics. The relics which it loves best are the relics of England's discomfiture. The stately portraits of Copley are of small account compared to the memorials of what was nothing else than a civil war. Faneuil Hall, the Covent Garden of Boston, presented to the city by Peter Faneuil some thirty years before the birth of "Liberty," is now but an emblem of revolt. The Old South Meeting-Place is endeared to the citizens of Boston as "the sanctuary of freedom." A vast monument, erected a mere quarter of a century ago, commemorates the "Boston Massacre." And wherever you turn you are reminded of an episode which might easily be forgotten. To an Englishman these historical landmarks are inoffensive. The dispute which they recall aroused far less emotion on our side the ocean than on the other, and long ago we saw the events of the Revolution in a fair perspective. In truth, this insistence on the past is not wholly creditable to Boston's sense of humour. The passionate paeans which Otis and his friends sang to Liberty were irrelevant. Liberty was never for a moment in danger, if Liberty, indeed, be a thing of fact and not of watchwords. The leaders of the Revolution wrote and spoke as though it was their duty to throw off the yoke of the foreigner,—a yoke as heavy as that which Catholic Spain cast upon Protestant Holland.
But there was no yoke to be thrown off, because no yoke was ever imposed, and Boston might have celebrated greater events in her history than that which an American statesman has wisely called "the glittering and sounding generalities of natural right."
However, if you would forget the follies of politicians, you have but to cross the bridge and drive to Cambridge, which, like the other Cambridge of England, is the seat of a distinguished university. You are doubly rewarded, for not merely is Cambridge a perfect specimen of a colonial village, but in Harvard there breathes the true spirit of humane letters. Nor is the college a creation of yesterday. It is not far short of three centuries ago that John Harvard, once of Emmanuel College in England, endowed the university which bears his honoured name. The bequest was a poor L780, with 260 books, but it was sufficient to ensure an amiable immortality, and to bestow a just cause of pride upon the mother-college. The daughter is worthy her august parentage. She has preserved the sentiment of her birth; she still worships the classics with a constant heart; the fame of her scholars has travelled in the mouths of men from end to end of Europe. And Harvard has preserved all the outward tokens of a university. Her wide spaces and lofty avenues are the fit abode of learning. Her college chapel and her college halls could serve no other purpose than that for which they are designed. The West, I believe, has built universities on another plan and to another purpose. But Harvard, like her great neighbour Boston, has been obedient to the voice of tradition, and her college, the oldest, remains also the greatest in America.
Culture has always been at once the boast and the reproach of Boston. A serious ancestry and the neighbourhood of a university are enough to ensure a grave devotion to the things of the spirit, and Boston has never found the quest of gold sufficient for its needs. The Pilgrim Fathers, who first sought a refuge in New England, left their country in the cause of what they thought intellectual freedom, and their descendants have ever stood in need of the excitement which nothing save pietism or culture can impart. For many years pietism held sway in Boston. The persecution of the witches, conducted with a lofty eloquence by Cotton Mather, was but the expression of an imperious demand, and the conflict of warring sects, which for many years disturbed the peace of the city, satisfied a craving not yet allayed. Then, after a long interval, came Transcendentalism, a pleasant mixture of literature and moral guidance, and to-day Boston is as earnest as ever in pursuit of vague ideals and soothing doctrines.
But pietism has gradually yielded to the claim of culture. Though one of the largest buildings which frown upon the wayfarer in Boston is a temple raised to the honour of Christian Science and Mrs Eddy, literature is clearly the most fashionable anodyne. It is at once easier and less poignant than theology: while it imparts the same sense of superiority, it suggests the same emancipation from mere world-liness. It is by lectures that Boston attempts to slake its intellectual thirst—lectures on everything and nothing. Science, literature, theology—all is put to the purpose. The enterprise of the Lowell Institute is seconded by a thousand private ventures. The patient citizens are always ready to discuss Shakespeare, except when Tennyson is the subject of the last discourse, and zoology remains attractive until it be obscured by the newest sensation in chemistry. And the appetite of Boston is unglutted and insatiable. Its folly is frankly recognised by the wise among its own citizens. Here, for instance, is the testimony of one whose sympathy with real learning is evident. "The lecture system," says he, "in its best estate an admirable educational instrument, has been subject to dreadful abuse. The unbounded appetite of the New England communities for this form of intellectual nourishment has tempted vast hordes of charlatans and pretenders to try their fortune in this profitable field. 'The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.' The pay of the lecturer has grown more exorbitant in proportion to the dilution of his mixture, until professional jokers have usurped the places once graced by philosophers and poets; and to-day the lyceums are served by a new species of broker, who ekes out the failing literary material with the better entertainment of music and play-acting."
I am not sure whether the new species of broker is not better than the old. So long as music and play-acting do not masquerade in the worn-out duds of intellect, they do not inflict a serious injury upon the people. It is culture, false and unashamed, that is the danger. For culture is the vice of the intelligence. It stands to literature in the same relation as hypocrisy stands to religion. A glib familiarity with names does duty for knowledge. Men and women think it no shame to play the parrot to lecturers, and to pretend an acquaintance with books whose leaves they have never parted. They affect intellect, when at its best it is curiosity which drives them to lecture hall or institute—at its worst, a love of mental dram-drinking. To see manifest in a frock-coat a poet or man of science whose name is printed in the newspapers fills them with a fearful enthusiasm. To hear the commonplaces of literary criticism delivered in a lofty tone of paradox persuades them to believe that they also are among the erudite, and makes the sacrifice of time and money as light as a wind-blown leaf. But their indiscretion is not so trivial as it seems. Though every man and every woman has the right to waste his time (or hers) as may seem good, something else besides time is lost in the lecture hall. Sincerity also is squandered in the grey, dim light of sham learning, and nobody can indulge in a mixed orgie of "culture" without some sacrifice of honesty and truth.
Culture, of course, is not the monopoly of Boston. It has stretched its long arm from end to end of the American continent. Wherever you go you will hear, in tram or car, the facile gossip of literature. The whole world seems familiar with great names, though the meaning of the names escapes the vast majority. Now the earnest ones of the earth congregate in vast tea-gardens of the intellect, such as Chautauqua. Now the summer hotel is thought a fit place in which to pick up a smattering of literature or science; and there is an uneasy feeling abroad that what is commonly known as pleasure must not be unalloyed. The vice, unhappily, is not unknown in England. A country which had the ingenuity to call a penny reading "university extension," and to send its missionaries into every town, cannot be held guiltless. But our poor attempts at culture dwindle to a paltry insignificance in the light of American enterprise; and we would no more compare the achievement of England in the diffusion of learning with the achievement of the United States, than we would set a modest London office by the side of the loftiest sky-scraper in New York. America lives to do good or evil on a large scale, and we lag as far behind her in culture as in money-making.
When I left Boston for the West, I met in the train an earnest citizen of a not uncommon type. He was immensely and ingenuously patriotic. Though he had never left his native land, and had therefore an insufficient standard of comparison, he was convinced that America was superior in arms and arts to every other part of the habitable globe. He assured me, with an engaging simplicity, that Americans were braver, more energetic, and richer than Englishmen; that, as their buildings were higher, so also were their intelligence and their aspirations. He pointed out that in the vast continent of the West nothing was lacking which the mind of man could desire. Where, he asked, would you find harvests so generous, mines so abundant in precious metals, factories managed with so splendid an ingenuity? If wine and oil are your quest, said he, you have but to tap the surface of the munificent earth. One thing only, he confessed, was lacking, and that need a few years would make good. "Wait," said he, with an assured if immodest boastful-ness,—"wait until we get a bit degenerate, and then we will produce a Shakespeare"! I had not the heart to suggest that the sixteenth century in England was a period of birth, not of decay. I could only accept his statement in awful appreciation. And emboldened by my silence, he supported his argument with a hundred ingeniously chosen facts. He was sure that America would never show the smallest sign of decadence until she was tired of making money. The love of money was the best defence against degeneracy of every kind, and he gasped with simple-hearted pride when he thought of the millions of dollars which his healthy, primitive compatriots were amassing. But, he allowed, the weariness of satiety might overtake them; there might come a time when the ledger and counting-house ceased to be all-sufficient, and that moment of decay would witness the triumph of American literature. "Ben Jonson, Goldsmith, and those fellows," he asked, "lived in a degenerate age, didn't they?" I assented hastily. How could I contradict so agreeable a companion, especially as he was going, as fast as the train could carry him, to take a rest cure?
Such is one victim of the passion for culture. He had probably read nothing in his life save the newspapers and Dickens's 'American Notes,' a work to which he referred with the bitterest resentment. But he had attended lectures, and heard names, some of which remained tinkling in his empty head. To his confused mind English literature was a period of degeneracy, one and indissoluble, in which certain famous writers lived, devoting what time they could snatch from the practice of what he called the decadent vices to the worship of the bottle. There was no harm in him. He was, as the common phrase has it, his own enemy. But he would be better employed in looking at a game of baseball than in playing with humane letters, and one cannot but regret that he should suffer thus profoundly from a vicious system. Another victim of culture comes to my mind. He, too, was from Boston, and as his intelligence was far deeper than the other one's, his unhappiness was the greater. I talked to him for a long day, and he had no conversation but of books. For him the visible world did not exist. The printed page was the beginning and the end of existence. He had read, if not wisely, at least voraciously, and he displayed a wide and profound acquaintance with modern biography. He had all the latest Lives at his finger-tips. He knew where all our great contemporaries lived, and who were their friends; he had attended lectures on every conceivable subject; withal he was of a high seriousness, which nothing could daunt. For him, as is but natural, the works of Mr Arthur Benson held the last "message" of modern literature. He could not look upon books as mere instruments of pleasure or enjoyment. He wanted to extract from them that mysterious quality called "help" by the elect of the lecture hall; and without the smallest persuasion he told me which authors had "helped" him in his journey through the world. Shelley, of course, stood first on the list, then came Walt Whitman, and Pater was not far from the top. And there was nothing more strange in this apostle of aesthetics than his matter-of-fact air. His words were the words of a yearning spirit. His tone was the tone of a statistician. Had he really read the books of which he spoke? Did they really "help" him in the making of money, which was the purpose of his life, or did they minister to a mind diseased? I do not know. But I do know that there was a kind of pathos in his cold anxiety. Plainly he was a man of quick perception and alert intelligence. And he seemed to have wasted a vast amount of time in acquiring a jargon which certainly was not his own, and in attaching to books a meaning and purpose which they have never possessed.
Such are two widely different products of the lecture hall, and it is impossible not to see that, widely as their temperaments differ, they have been pushed through the same mill. And thus we arrive at the worst vice of enforced culture. Culture is, like the overhead railroad, a mere saviour of time. It is the tramway of knowledge which compels all men to travel by the same car, whatever may be their ultimate destination. It possesses all the inconvenience of pleasures taken or duties performed in common. The knowledge which is sincere and valuable must be acquired by each man separately; it must correspond to the character and disposition of him who acquires it, or it is a thin disguise of vanity and idleness. To what, then, may we attribute this passion for the lecture hall? Perhaps it is partly due to the provincialism characteristic of America, and partly to an invincible energy, which quickens the popular ambition and urges men to acquire information as they acquire wealth, by the shortest route, and with the smallest exertion.
Above all, culture is the craving of an experimental age, and America no doubt will outgrow it domination. Even now Boston, its earliest slave, is shaking off the yoke; and it is taking refuge in the more modern cities of the West. Chicago is, I believe, its newest and vastest empire. There, where all is odd, it is well to be thought a "thinker." There, we are told, the elect believe it their duty "to reach and stimulate others." But wherever culture is found Strange things are done in its name, and the time may come when by the light of Chicago's brighter lamp Boston may seem to dwell in the outer darkness.
America may be defined as the country where there are no railway porters. You begin a journey without ceremony; you end it without a welcome. No zealot, eager to find you a corner seat and to dispose of your luggage, meets you when you depart. You must carry your own bag when you stumble unattended from the train. This enforced dependence upon yourself is doubtless a result of democracy. The spirit of freedom, which permits a stealthy nigger to brush your hat, does not allow another to handle your luggage. To the enchained and servile mind of an Englishman these distinctions axe difficult to understand. A training in transatlantic liberty is necessary for their appreciation. However, no great evil is inflicted on the traveller. The ritual of checking your baggage may easily be learned, and the absence of porters has, by a natural process, evolved the "grip." The "grip," in fact, is the universal mark of America. It is as intimate a part of the citizen's equipment as a hat or coat, and it is not without its advantages. It is light to carry, it fills but a small space, and it ensures that the traveller shall not be separated from all his luggage. A far greater hardship than the carriage of a "grip" is the enforced publicity of an American train. The Englishman loves to travel in seclusion. The end of his ambition is a locked compartment to himself. Mr Pullman has ordained that his clients shall endure the dust and heat of a long journey in public; and when the voyager, wearied out by the rattle of the train, seeks his uncomfortable couch, he is forced to seek it under the general gaze.
These differences of custom are interesting, because they correspond to differences of temperament. There is a far deeper difference in the character of the country through which you travel. A journey in Europe is like a page of history. You pass from one century to another. You see a busy world through the window. As you sit in your corner a living panorama is unfolded before your eyes. The country changes with the sky. Town and mountain and cornfield follow one another in quick succession. At every turn you see that wonderful symbol of romance, the white road that winds over the hill, flecked perhaps by a solitary traveller. But it is always the work of man, not the beauty of nature, that engrosses you. You would, if you could, alight at every point to witness the last act of comedy, which is just beginning. Men and women, to whom you are an episode or an obstruction, flash by. Here is a group of boys bathing. There peasants gaze at the train as something inhuman. At the level crossing a horse chafes in his shafts. In an instant you are whizzed out of sight, and he remains. Then, as night falls, the country-side leaves its work; the eyes of the cottages gleam and flicker through the trees. Round the corner you catch sight of a village festival. The merry-go-rounds glint and clank under the shadow of a church. The mountains approach and recede; streams grow into mighty rivers. The grey sky is dark blue and inlaid with stars. And you sit still, tired and travel-stained, having shared in a day the life of hundreds.
Such is a journey in Europe. How different the experience in America! On the road to Chicago you pass through a wilderness. The towns are infrequent; there are neither roads nor hedges; and the rapidly changing drama of life escapes you. The many miles of scrub and underwood are diversified chiefly by crude advertisements. Here you are asked to purchase Duke's Mixture; there Castoria Toilet Powder is thrust upon your unwilling notice. In the few cities which you approach the frame-houses and plank-walks preserve the memory of the backwoods. In vain you look for the village church, which in Europe is never far away. In vain you look for the incidents which in our land lighten the tedium of a day's journey. All is barren and bleak monotony. The thin line of railway seems a hundred miles from the life of man. At one station I caught sight of an "Exposition Car," which bore the legend, "Cuba on Wheels," and I was surprised as at a miracle. Outside Niles, a little country town, a battered leather-covered shay was waiting to take wayfarers to the Michigan Inn; and the impression made by so simple a spectacle is the best proof of the railroad's isolation. There is but one interlude in the desolate expanse—Niagara.
Before he reaches the station called Niagara Falls, the tourist has a foretaste of what is in store for him. He is assailed in the train by touts, who would inveigle him into a hotel or let him a carriage, and to touts he is an unwilling prey so long as he remains within sight or hearing of the rapids. The trim little town which has grown up about the falls, and may be said to hang upon the water, has a holiday aspect. The sightseers, the little carriages, the summer-hotels, all wear the same garb of gaiety and leisure. There is a look of contented curiosity on the faces of all, who are not busy defacing the landscape with mills and power-stations, as of those about to contemplate a supreme wonder. And yet the sight of it brings the same sense of disappointment which the colossal masterpieces of nature always inspire. Not to be amazed at it would be absurd. To pretend to appreciate it is absurd also. "The Thunder of the Waters" can neither be painted upon canvas nor described in words. It is composed on a scale too large for human understanding. A giant might find some amusement in its friendly contemplation. A man can but stand aghast at its sound and size, as at some monstrous accident. He may compare the Fall on the American side with the Horse-shoe on the Canadian. He has no other standard of comparison, since Niagara not only transcends all other phenomena of its kind, but also our human vision and imagination. When you see the far-tossed spray lit up with a flash of iridescence, you catch at something which makes a definite impression; and you feel the same relief that a man may feel when he finds a friend in a mob of strangers. To heap up epithets upon this mysterious force is the idlest sport. Are you nearer to it when you have called it x "deliberate, vast, and fascinating"? You might as well measure its breadth and height, or estimate the number of gallons which descend daily from the broad swirling river above. A distinguished playwright once complained of Sophocles that he lacked human interest, and the charge may be brought with less injustice against Niagara. It is only through daring and danger that you can connect it with the human race; and you find yourself wondering where it was that Captain Webb was hurled to his death, or by what route the gallant little "Maid of the Mist" shot the rapids to escape the curiosity of the excise officer.
Nothing is more curious in the history of taste than the changed view which is taken to-day of natural scenery. Time was when the hand and mind of man were deemed necessary for a beautiful effect, A wild immensity of mountain or water was thought a mere form of ugliness; a garden was a waste if it were not trimmed to formality; and a savage moorland was fit only for the sheep to crop. The admiration of Father Hennepin, the companion of La Salle, and the first white man who ever gazed upon Niagara, was tempered by affright. "This wonderful Downfal," said he in 1678, "is compounded of Cross-streams of Water, and two Falls, with an Isle sloping along the middle of it. The Waters which fall from this horrible Precipice do foam and boyl after the most hideous manner imaginable, making an Outrageous Noise, more terrible than that of Thunder; for when the wind blows out of the South, their dismal roaring may be heard more than Fifteen Leagues off." These are the epithets of the seventeenth century,—"horrible," "hideous," "outrageous," "dismal." Now take the modern view, eloquently expressed in 1879 by the United States Commissioners, whose noble object was to preserve the Falls untouched for ever. "The value of Niagara to the world," they wrote, "and that which has obtained for it the homage of so many men whom the world reveres, lies in its power of appeal to the higher emotional and imaginative faculties, and this power is drawn from qualities and conditions too subtle to be known through verbal description. To a proper apprehension of these, something more than passing observation is necessary; to an enjoyment of them, something more than an instantaneous act of will." It is the old dispute between beauty and wonder, between classic and romantic. Who is in the right of it, the old priest or the modern commissioners? Each man will answer according to his temperament. For my part, I am on the side of Father Hennepin.
Niagara is not an inappropriate introduction to Chicago. For Chicago also is beyond the scale of human comprehension and endeavour. In mere size both are monstrous; it is in size alone that they are comparable. Long before he reaches "the grey city," as its inhabitants fondly call it, the traveller is prepared for the worst. At Pullman a thick pall already hangs over everything. The nearer the train approaches Chicago the drearier becomes the aspect. You are hauled through mile after mile of rubbish and scrap-heap. You receive an impression of sharp-edged flints and broken bottles. When you pass the "City Limits" you believe yourself at your journey's end. You have arrived only at the boundary of Chicago's ambition, and Chicago is forty minutes' distant. The station, which bears the name "102nd St.," is still in the prairies.
A little more patience and you catch a first glimpse of the lake—vast, smooth, and grey in the morning light. A jolt, and you are descending, grip in hand, upon the platform.
The first impression of Chicago, and the last, is of an unfinished monstrosity. It might be a vast railway station, built for men and women twenty feet high. The sky-scrapers, in which it cherishes an inordinate pride, shut out the few rays of sunlight which penetrate its dusky atmosphere. They have not the excuse of narrow space which their rivals in New York may plead. They are built in mere wantonness, for within the City Limits, whose distance from the centre is the best proof of Chicago's hopefulness, are many miles of waste ground, covered only with broken fences and battered shanties. And, as they raise their heads through the murky fog, these sky-scrapers wear a morose and sullen look. If they are not mere lumps, their ornament is hideously heavy and protrusive. They never combine, as they combine in New York, into an impressive whole. They clamour blatantly of their size, and that is all. And if the city be hideously aggressive, what word of excuse can be found for the outskirts, for the Italian and Chinese quarters, for the crude, new districts which fasten like limpets upon the formless mass of Chicago? These, to an enduring ugliness add a spice of cruelty and debauch, which are separate and of themselves.
In its suggestion of horror Chicago is democratic. The rich and the poor alike suffer from the prevailing lack of taste. The proud "residences" on the Lake Shore are no pleasanter to gaze upon than the sulky sky-scrapers. Some of them are prison-houses; others make a sad attempt at gaiety; all are amazingly unlike the dwelling-houses of men and women. Yet their owners are very wealthy. To them nothing is denied that money can buy, and it is thus that they prefer to express themselves and their ambitions. What, then, is tolerable in Chicago? Lincoln Park, which the smoke and fog of the city have not obscured, and the grandiose lake, whose fresh splendour no villainy of man can ever deface. And at one moment of the day, when a dark cloud hung over the lake, and the sun set in a red glory behind the sky-scrapers, each black, and blacker for its encircling smoke, Chicago rose superior to herself and her surroundings.
After ugliness, the worst foe of Chicago is dirt. A thick, black, sooty dust lies upon everything. It is at the peril of hands begrimed that you attempt to open a window. In the room that was allotted to me in a gigantic hotel I found a pair of ancient side-spring boots, once the property, no doubt, of a prominent citizen, and their apparition intensified the impression of uncleanness. The streets are as untidy as the houses; garbage is dumped in the unfinished roadways; and in or out of your hotel you will seek comfort in vain. The citizens of Chicago themselves are far too busy to think whether their city is spruce or untidy. Money is their quest, and it matters not in what circumstances they pursue it. The avid type is universal and insistent. The energy of New York is said to be mere leisure compared to the hustling of Chicago. Wherever you go you are conscious of the universal search after gold. The vestibule of the hotel is packed with people chattering, calculating, and telephoning. The clatter of the machine which registers the latest quotations never ceases. In the street every one is hurrying that he may not miss a lucrative bargain, until the industry and ambition of Chicago culminate in the Board of Trade.
The dial of the Board of Trade, or the Pit as it is called, is the magnet which attracts all the eyes of Chicago, for on its face is marked the shifting, changing price of wheat. And there on the floor, below the Strangers' Gallery, the gamblers of the West play for the fortunes and lives of men. They stand between the farmers, whose waving cornfields they have never seen, and the peasants of Europe, whose taste for bread they do not share. It is more keenly exciting to bet upon the future crop of wheat than upon the speed of a horse; and far larger sums may be hazarded in the Pit than on a racecourse. And so the livelong day the Bulls and Bears confront one another, gesticulating fiercely, and shouting at the top of their raucous voices. If on the one hand they ruin the farmer, or on the other starve the peasant, it matters not to them. They have enjoyed the excitement, and made perchance a vast fortune at another's expense. They are, indeed, the true parasites of commerce; and in spite of their intense voices and rapid gestures, there is an air of unreality about all their transactions. As I watched the fury of the combatants, I found myself wondering why samples of corn were thrown upon the floor. Perhaps they serve to feed the pigeons.
Materialism, then, is the frank end and aim of Chicago. Its citizens desire to get rich as quickly and easily as possible. The means are indifferent to them. It is the pace alone which is important. All they want is "a business proposition" and "found money." And when they are rich, they have no other desire than to grow richer. Their money is useless to them, except to breed more money. The inevitable result is a savagery of thought and habit. If we may believe the newspapers of Chicago, peaceful men of business are "held up" at noon in crowded streets. The revolver is still a potent instrument in this city of the backwoods. But savagery is never without its reaction. There has seldom been a community of barbarians which did not find relief in an extravagant sentimentality, and Chicago, in its hours of ease, is an enthusiastic patron of the higher life. As I have said, in culture it is fast outstripping Boston itself. It boasts more societies whose object is "the promotion of serious thought upon art, science, and literature" than any other city in the world. The clubs which it has established for the proper study of Ibsen and Browning are without number, It is as eager for the enlightenment of women as for sending up or down the price of corn. The craze, which is the mark of a crude society, will pass like many others, and, though it may appear sincere while it lasts, it is not characteristic. The one triumph of Chicago is its slang. It has invented a lingo more various and fuller of fancy than any known to man, and if it will forget Ibsen and exercise its invention after its own fashion, why should it not invent a new literature? Mr George Ade, the Shakespeare of Chicago, has already shown us what can be done with the new speech in his masterly 'Fables in Slang,' to read which is almost as good as a journey to the West; and there is no reason why he should not found a school.
Yet with all its faults and absurdities upon its face, Chicago is the happiest city in America. It is protected by the triple brass of pride against all the assaults of its enemies. Never in history was so sublime a vanity revealed; and it is hard for a stranger to understand upon what it is based. Chicago is Chicago—that is what its citizens say, with a flattered smile, which makes argument useless. Its dirt and dust do not disconcert its self-esteem. The oversized ugliness of its buildings are no disappointment to its candid soul, and if its peculiar virtue escape your observation, so much the worse for you. "The marvellous city of the West"—that is its own name, and it lives up to it without an effort. Its history, as composed by its own citizens, is one long paean of praise. One chronicler, to whose unconscious humour I am infinitely indebted, dedicates his work to "the children of Chicago, who, if the Lord spares them until they shall have attained the allotted span of life, will see this city the greatest metropolis on the globe." That is a modest estimate, and it makes us feel the inadequacy of our poor speech to hymn the glories of Chicago. And if you suggest a fault, its panegyrists are always ready with a counterstroke. Having no taste for slaughter, I did not visit Packing Town, but, without admitting all the grave charges brought against Chicago's grandest industry, one might have supposed that the sudden translation of herds of cattle into potted meat was not unattended with some inconvenience. This suspicion, you are told, is an insult to the city. What might disgust the traveller elsewhere has no terrors in Chicago. "This Packing-Town odor," we are told by a zealot, "has been unjustly criticised. To any one accustomed to it there is only a pleasant suggestion of rich, ruddy blood and long rows of tempting 'sides' hung up to cool." I prefer not to be tempted. I can only bow before the ingenuity of this eulogy. And if, more seriously, you reproach the cynicism of the Pit, which on this side or that may compel ruin, you are met with a very easy rejoinder. "The Chicago Board of Trade"—it is the same apologist who speaks—"is a world-renowned commercial organisation. It exercises a wider and a more potential influence over the welfare of mankind than any other institution of its kind in existence." This assurance leaves you dumb. You might as well argue with a brass band as with a citizen of Chicago; and doubtless you would wave the flag yourself if you stayed long enough in the wonderful West.
But the panegyrist of the Pit, already quoted, helps us to explain Chicago's vanity. "The fortunes made and lost within the walls of the great building," says he proudly, "astonish the world." If Chicago can only astonish the world, that is enough. Its citizens fondly hope that everything they do is on the largest scale. Size, speed, and prominence are the three gods of their idolatry. They are not content until they—the citizens—are all prominent, and their buildings are all the largest that cumber the earth. It is a great comfort to those who gamble away their substance in the Board of Trade to reflect that the weathercock that surmounts its tower is the biggest ever seen by human eye. There is not one of them that will not tell you, with a satisfied smile, that the slowest of their fire-engines can go from one end of the city to the other in five seconds. There is not one of them who, in the dark recesses of his mind, is not sure that New York is a "back number." They are proud of the senseless height of their houses, and of the rapidity with which they mount towards the sky. They are proud of the shapeless towns which spring up about them like mushrooms in a single night. In brief, they are proud of all the things of which they should feel shame; and even when their buildings have been measured and their pace has been recognised, their vanity is still a puzzle. For, when all the world has been satisfactorily amazed, what boast is left to the citizens of Chicago? They cannot take delight in the soil, since the most of them do not belong to it. The patriotism of the cosmopolitan horde which is huddled together amid their lofty Cliffs must perforce be an artificial sentiment. They cannot look with satisfaction upon the dishevelled suburbs in which they live. They need not suppose the slaughtering of pigs and beeves is the highest duty of man. But wherever they dwell and whatever they do, they are convinced of their own superiority. Their pride is not merely revealed in print; it is evident in a general familiarity of tone and manner. If your cabman wishes to know your destination, he prefaces his question with the immortal words, "Say, boys," and he thinks that he has put himself on amiable terms with you at once. Indeed, the newly-arrived stranger is instantly asked to understand that he belongs to a far meaner city than that in which he sojourns; and, even with the evidence of misapplied wealth before his eyes, he cannot believe it.
And what amiable visions do you carry away from Chicago besides the majesty of the lake, ever changing in colour and aspect, and the beauty of Lincoln Park? A single memory lingers in my mind. At sunset I saw a black regiment marching along Michigan Avenue,—marching like soldiers; and by its side on the pavement a laughing, shouting mob of negresses danced a triumphant cake-walk. They grinned and sang and chattered in perfect happiness and pride. They showed a frank pleasure in the prowess of their brothers and their friends. But, animated as the spectacle was, there was a sinister element in this joyous clatter. To an English eye it seemed a tragic farce—a veritable danse macabre.
Unhappy is the city which has no history; and what has Chicago to offer of history or tradition? What has it to tell the traveller? Once she was consumed, though she was not purified, by fire, and she still lives in the recollection. A visitor to a European city goes forth to admire a castle, a cathedral, a gallery of pictures. In Chicago he is asked to wonder at the shapeless residences of "prominent" citizens. And when the present civilisation fades and dies, what will be Chicago's ruins? Neither temple nor tower will be brought to the ground. There will be nothing to show the wandering New Zealander but a broken city, which was a scrap-heap before it was built; and the wandering New Zealander may be forgiven if he proclaim the uselessness of size and progress, if he ask how it has profited a city to buy and sell all the corn in the world, and in its destruction to leave not a wrack of comeliness behind.
If in a country town we find an Inn called New, it is a sure sign of ancientry. The fresh and fragrant name survives the passing centuries. It clings to the falling house long after it has ceased to have an intelligible meaning. Taverns with a nobler sign and more arrogant aspect obscure its simpler merits. But there is a pride in its name, a dignity in its age, which a changing fashion will never destroy. And as it is with Inns, so it is with countries. New is an epithet redolent of antiquity. The province which once was, and is still called, New England, is very old America. It cannot be judged by the standards which are esteemed in New York or Chicago. The broad stream of what is called progress has left it undisturbed in its patient backwater. It recks as little of sky-scrapers as of transportation. Its towns are not ashamed of being villages, and the vanity which it guards is not the vanity of shapeless size, but the rarer vanity of a quiet and decent life.
No sooner does the English traveller leave Boston for the north than he enters what seems a familiar country. The towns which he passes, the rivers which he crosses, bear names, as I have said, to prove the faithful devotion the old adventurers felt for their native land. If they sought their fortune across the ocean, they piously preserved the memories of other days. Austere as were the early Puritans, bitterly as they smarted under what they supposed a political grievance, they did not regard the country of their origin with the fierce hatred which has sometimes inspired their descendants. The love of the New did not extinguish the love of the Old England. In Appledore and Portsmouth, in London and Manchester, in Newcastle and Dover, the ancient sentiment lives and breathes. And the New Englanders, once proud of their source, still cherish a pride in their blood, which they have kept pure from the contamination of the foreigner. Fortunately for itself, New England has fallen behind in the march of progress. There is nothing in its peaceful recesses to tempt the cosmopolitan horde which throngs the great cities of America. The hope of gain is there as small as the opportunity of gambling. A quiet folk, devoted to fishery and agriculture, is not worth plundering.
So it is there, if anywhere, that you may surprise the true-born American, and when you have surprised him, he very much resembles your own compatriot. His type and gesture are as familiar to you as his surroundings. Slow of speech and movement, he has not yet acquired the exhausting, purposeless love of speed which devours the more modern cities. He goes about his work with a perfect consciousness that there are four-and-twenty hours in the day. And as he is not the victim of an undue haste, he has leisure for a gracious civility. It is not for him to address a stranger with the familiarity characteristic of New York or Chicago. Though he know it not, and perhaps would resent it if he knew it, he is profoundly influenced by his origin. He has not lost the high seriousness, the quiet gravity, which distinguished his ancestors.
His towns, in aspect and sentiment, closely resemble himself. Portsmouth, for instance, which has not the same reason for self-consciousness as Salem or Concord, has retained the authentic features of the mother-land. You might easily match it in Kent or Essex. The open space in the centre of the town, the Athenaeum—in style, name, and purpose, alike English—are of another age and country than their own. There is a look of trim elegance everywhere, which refreshes the eye; and over the streets there broods an immemorial peace, which even the echoing clangour of the Navy Yard cannot dispel. The houses, some of wood, built after the Colonial manner, others of red brick, and of a grave design, are in perfect harmony with their surroundings. Nothing is awry: nothing is out of place. And so severely consistent is the impression of age, that down on the sunlit quay, flanked by the lofty warehouses, the slope of whose roofs is masked by corbie-steps, you are surprised not to see riding at anchor the high-prowed galleons of the seventeenth century.
And, best of all, there is the quiet, simple Church of St John's, English in feeling as in origin. Though rebuilt a hundred years ago, on the site of an earlier church, it has remained loyal to its history, and is the true child of the eighteenth century. Is it not fitting that the communion-plate presented by Queen Caroline should be treasured here? That the sexton should still show you, even with a cold indifference, the stately prayer-books which once contained prayers for the king? That a bell, captured at Louisburg by Sir William Pepperell, should summon to the worship of God a people long forgetful of that proud achievement? Such are the evidences of an innate conservatism which has kept alive the old traditions of New England.
Thus for three hundred years Portsmouth has lived the happy life of a country town, and its historian sadly notes that until 1900 its population did not rise to 10,000. The historian need feel no regret: it is not by numbers that we may measure the stateliness of a city; and the dignity of Portsmouth is still plain for all to behold in the houses, to cite but two examples, of Governors Wentworth and Langdon, And then after this long spell of fortunate obscurity, Portsmouth became suddenly the centre of universal interest. By a curious irony this little, old-fashioned town was chosen to be the meeting-place of Russia and Japan, and the first experiment in modern diplomacy-was made in a place which has sacrificed nothing to a love of that intoxicant known as the spirit of the age. It was, in truth, a strange sight that Portsmouth saw a brief two years ago. Before its troubled eyes the stern conference of hostile nations was turned to comedy. A hundred and twenty eager reporters publicly put up their support for sale in exchange for information to the highest bidder. The representative of a great country was heard boasting to the gentlemen of the press of his own prowess. "The Japanese could not read in my face," said M. Witte, "what was passing in my heart." Isn't it wonderful? Would not the diplomatists of another age be ashamed of their confrere could they hear him brag of a rudimentary and long since dishonoured finesse? But the mere fact that M. Witte could make such a speech on American soil is a clear proof that the New World is not the proper field of diplomacy. The congresses of old were gay and secret. "Le congres," said the Prince de Ligne at Vienna, "ne marche pas; il danse." It danced, and it kept inviolate the obligation of silence. The Congress at Portsmouth did not talk—it chattered; and it was an open injustice to the unbroken history of New England that President Roosevelt should have chosen this tranquil and ancient spot for a bold experiment in diplomacy by journalism.
Across the river lies Battery, even more remote from the world of greed and competition than Portsmouth. Here at last you discover what so often eludes you in America—the real countryside. The rough pleasant roads like English lanes, the beautiful wooden houses half hidden amid towering trees, and the gardens (or yards as they are called) not trim, like our English gardens, but of an unkempt beauty all their own,—these, with the memory of a gracious hospitality, will never fade from my mind. At Kittery, as at Portsmouth, you live in the past. There is nothing save an electric trolley and the motor engines of the fishing-boats to recall the bustle of to-day. Here is Fort M'Clary, a block-house built two centuries ago to stay the incursion of the Indians. There is the house of Pepperell, the hero of Louis-burg. Thus, rich in old associations, happy in its present seclusion, Kittery has a kind of personal charm, which is intensified by an obvious and striking contrast.
It was from Newport that I went to Kittery, and passed in a few hours from the modern to the ancient world. Not even New York gives a more vivid impression of the inappropriateness which is America's besetting sin, than Newport, whose gay inhabitants are determined, at all costs, to put themselves at variance with time and place. The mansions, called "cottages" in proud humility, are entirely out of proportion to their site and purpose. On the one hand you see a house as large as Chatsworth, bleak and treeless, with nothing to separate it from its ambitious neighbours but a wooden palisade. It suggests nothing so much as that it has lost its park, and mislaid its lodges. On the other, you see a massive pile, whose castellated summit resembles nothing else than a county jail. And nowhere is there a possibility of ambush, nowhere a frail hint of secrecy. The people of Newport, moreover, is resolved to live up to its inappropriate environment. As it rejoices in the wrong kind of house, so it delights in the wrong sort of costume. The vain luxury of the place is expressed in a thousand strange antics. A new excitement is added to seabathing by the ladies, who face the waves in all the bravery of Parisian hats. To return unsullied from the encounter is a proof of the highest skill. Is it not better to preserve a deftly-poised hat from the mere contact of the waves than to be a tireless and intrepid swimmer?
Newport, in fact, has been haunted by a sort of ill-luck. It has never been able to make the best of itself. There was a time when its harbour bade fair to rival the harbour of New York, and when its inhabitants fondly believed that all the great ships of the world would find refuge under the splendid shadow of Rhode Island. And when this hope was disappointed for ever, Newport still possessed in herself all the elements of beauty. Whatever exquisite colour and perfect situation could give, was hers. What more can the eyes of man desire than green lawns and an incomparable sea? And there lies the old town to link the prosperity of to-day with the romance of yesterday. And there grow in wild profusion the scented hedges of honeysuckle and roses. And all of no avail. The early comers to Newport, it is true, understood that a real cottage of wood was in harmony with the place. They built their houses to the just scale of the landscape, and had they kept their own way how happy would have been the result! But beauty gave way to fashion; wealth usurped the sovereignty of taste; size was mistaken for grandeur,—in a word, the millionaire disfigured Newport to his whim.
And so it ceased to be a real place. It became a mere collection of opposing mansions and quarrelsome styles. If the vast "cottages," which raise their heads higher and higher in foolish rivalry, were swept away, no harm would be done. They are there by accident, and they will last only so long as a wayward fashion tolerates their presence. Battery, on the other hand, cannot be abolished by a caprice of taste. It is a village which has its roots in the past, and whose growth neither wealth nor progress has obscured. Above all, it possesses the virtue, great in towns as in men, of sincerity. It has not cut itself loose from its beginnings; its houses belong harmoniously to itself; and it has retained through two centuries the character of the old colonial days. Nor is it without an historical importance. Great names cling about it. The men of Battery fought on many a hard-won field against French and Indians, and, retired though it be from the broad stream of commerce and progress, it cannot dissipate the memory of loyal devotion to the crown and of military glory.