Roving East and Roving West
Part 2 out of 3
about the hill-sides among the little villages, or leaned over crazy
bridges to watch the waterfalls beneath; for there is water everywhere,
tumbling down to the distant ocean, a wedge of which can be seen from
the hotel windows. This Japanese valley might be in Switzerland, save
for the absence of any but human life. Not a cow, not a goat.
The labourers wear blue linen smocks, usually with some device upon
them, and they merge into the landscape as naturally as French or
Belgian peasants. These men, whether working on the soil or the roads,
or engaged in cutting bamboos or building houses, wear the large straw
hats that one sees in the old Japanese prints. Nothing has changed in
their dress. But the modernized Japanese, the dweller in the cities or
casual visitor to the country, pins his faith to the bowler. The bowler
is so much his favourite headgear that he wears it often with native
costume on his body. Perhaps it is to Japan that all the bowlers have
gone, now that London has taken to the soft Homburg. It was odd to meet
groups of these bizarre little men among the precipices: even stranger
perhaps were their little ladies, especially on Sunday, in the gayest
Japanese clothes, their faces plastered with rice powder and cigarettes
in their mouths. Too many of them are disfigured by gold teeth, which
are so common in Japan as to be almost the rule. An English resident
assured me that I must not assume that the Japanese teeth are therefore
unusually defective: often the gold is merely ostentation, a visible
sign that the owner of the auriferous mouth is both alive to American
progress and can afford it.
Even in Myanoshita Fujiyama has to be sought for and climbed for, the
walls of rock that form the valley being so high and enclosing. But the
result is worth every effort. Immediately above the hotel is a hill from
whose summit the upper part of the enchanted mountain can be seen, and I
ascended tortuously to this point within an hour of my arrival. The next
day I walked to Lake Hakone (where the Emperor has a summer palace),
some eight miles away, in the hope of getting Fuji's white crest
reflected on its surface; but a veil of mist enshrouded all. And then
twice I went to the edge of the watershed at the head of the valley:
once struggling through the snow to the Otome Pass, on an immemorial and
nearly perpendicular bridle path, and once by the modern road to the
tunnel which, with characteristic address, the Japanese have bored
through the rock, thus reducing a very steep gradient.
In the tunnel the icicles were hanging several feet long and as big as
masts, and the air was biting. But one emerged suddenly upon a prospect
the wonder of which probably cannot be excelled--a vast plain far below,
made up of verdure and villages and lakes, with distant surrounding
heights, and immediately in front, filling half the sky, Fuji himself.
It is from this point, and from the ancient Otome Pass, a mile or so
away on the same ridge, that the symmetry of the mountain is most
perfect; and here one can best appreciate the simplicity of it, the
quiet natural ease with which it rises above its neighbours. There was
more snow on the slopes than when I had seen it from the train a few
days before; and the sky again was without a cloud. I have never been so
conscious of majestic serenity, without any concomitant feeling of awe.
Fuji is both sublime and human.
No other country has a symbol like this. When the Japanese think of
Japan they visualise Fuji: returning exiles crowd the decks for the
first glimpse of it; departing exiles with tears in their eyes watch it
disappear. There is not a shop window but has Fuji in some
representation; it is found in every house; its contours are engraved on
teaspoons, embossed on ash-trays. You cannot escape from its
counterfeits; but if you have seen it you do not mind.
When on my way home I found myself in an American picture gallery,
either in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston or New York, I lingered longest
in the rooms where the coloured prints of the Japanese masters hang--and
America has very fine collections, particularly in Boston--and I stood
longest before those landscapes by Hokusai and Hiroshige in which Fuji
occurs. Hokusai in particular venerated the mountain, and in many of his
most beautiful pictures people are calling to each other to admire some
new and marvellous aspect of it. It was he who drew Fuji as seen through
the arch of a breaking wave! I was looking at the British Museum's
example of this daring print only a few days ago, and, doing so, living
my Myanoshita days again.
There is much in Japan that is petty, much that is too material and not
a little that is disturbing; but Fuji is there too, dominating all, calm
and wise and lovely beyond description, and it would be Fuji that lured
DEMOCRACY AT HOME
My first experience of democracy-in-being followed swiftly upon boarding
the steamboat for San Francisco, when "Show this man Number 231" was the
American steward's command to a cabin boy. I had no objection to being
called a man: far from it; but after years of being called a gentleman
it was startling. This happened at Yokohama; and when, in the Customs
House at San Francisco, a porter wheeling a truck broke through a queue
of us waiting to obtain our quittances, with the careless warning, "Out
of the way, fellers!" I knew that here was democracy indeed.
I confess to liking it, although I was to be brought up with another
jolt when a notice-board on a grass-plot suddenly confronted me, bearing
[Illustration: KEEP OFF. THIS MEANS YOU.]
But I like it. I like the tradition which, once your name is written in
the hotel reception book, makes you instantly "Mr. Lucas" to every one
in the place. There is a friendliness about it: the hotel is more of a
home, or at any rate, less of a barrack, because of it. And yet this
universal camaraderie has some odd lapses into formality. The members of
clubs in America are far more ceremonious with each other than we are in
England. In English clubs the prefix "Mr." is a solecism, but in
American clubs I have watched quite old friends and associates whose
greetings have been marked almost by pomposity and certainly by ritual.
Yet Americans, I should say, are heartier than we; more happy to be with
each other; less critical and exacting. They certainly spend less time
in discussing each other's foibles. That may be because the dollar is so
much more an absorbing theme, but more likely it is because America is a
democracy, and the theory of democracy, as I understand it, is to assume
that every man is a good fellow until the reverse is proved. I should
not like to say that the theory of those of us who live under a monarchy
is the opposite, but it seemed to me that Americans are more ready than
we to be sociable and tolerant.
Try as I might I could never be quick enough to get in first with that
delightful American greeting, "Pleased to meet you," or "Glad to know
you, Mr. Lucas." I pondered long on the best retort and at last
formulated this, but never dared to use it for fear that its genuineness
might be suspected: "I shall be sorry when we have to part."
It was in San Francisco that I learned--and very quickly--that it is as
necessary to visit America in order to know what Americans are like as
it is to leave one's own country in order to know more about that.
Americans when abroad are less hearty, less revealing. They are either
suffering from a constraint or an over-assertiveness; and both moods may
be due to not being at home. In neither case are they so natural as at
home. I suppose that on soil not our own we all tend to be a little
over-anxious to proclaim our nationality, to maintain the distinction.
In our hats can perhaps be too firmly planted the invisible flag of our
Be this as it may, I very quickly discerned a difference between
Americans in America and in England. I found them simple where I had
thought of them as the reverse, and now, after meeting others in various
parts of the country, even in complex and composite New York, I should
say that simplicity is the keynote of the American character. It is in
his simplicity that the American differs most from the European. Such
simplicity is perfectly consistent with the impatience, the desire for
novelty, for brevity, of the American people. We think of them as always
wishing to reduce life to formulae, as unwilling to express any
surprise, and these tendencies may easily be considered as signs of a
tiring civilisation. But in reality they are signs of youth too.
ROADS GOOD AND BAD
San Francisco I shall chiefly recollect (apart from personal reasons)
for the sparkling freshness and vigour of the air; for the extent and
variety of Golden Gate Park, where I found a bust of Beethoven, but no
sign of Bret Harte; for the vast reading-room in the library at
Berkeley, a university which is so enchantingly situated, beneath such a
sun, and in sight of such a bay, that I marvel that any work can be done
there at all; and for the miles and miles of perfect tarmac roads
fringed with burning eschscholtzias and gentle purple irises. That was
in April. I found elsewhere in America no roads comparable with these.
Even around Washington their condition was such that to ride in a motor-
car was to experience all the alleged benefits of horseback, while in
the Adirondacks, anywhere off the noble Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
Highway, with its "T.R." blazonings along the route, one's liver was
bent and broken. While I was in America the movement to purchase
Roosevelt's house as a national possession was in full swing, but this
Memorial Highway strikes the imagination with more force. That was an
inspiration, and I hope that the road will never be allowed to fall into
UNIVERSITIES, LOVE AND PRONUNCIATION
Watching the young men and maidens crowding to a lecture in the Hearst
Amphitheatre at Berkeley, under that glorious Californian sky, I was
struck by the sensible, frank intimacy of them all, and envied them the
advantages that must be theirs over the English methods of segregation
at the same age, which, by creating shyness and destroying familiarity,
tends to retard if not destroy the natural understanding which ought to
subsist between them and if it did would often make life afterwards so
I asked one of the professors to what extent marriages were made in
Berkeley, but he had no statistics. All he could say was that Cupid was
very little trouble to the authorities and that Mr. Hoover and Mrs.
Hoover first met each other as students at Stanford. And then I asked an
ex-member of one of the Sororities and she said that at college one was
a good deal in love and a good deal out of it. The romance rarely
persisted into later life.
She pronounced romance with the accent on the first syllable, whereas
somewhere half-way across the Atlantic the accent passes to the second;
and why such illogical things should be is a mystery. The differences
can be very disconcerting, especially if one refuses to give way. I had
an experience to the point when talking with some one in Chicago and
wishing to answer carefully his question as to the conditions under
which the poor of our great cities live. These are, in my observation,
infinitely worse in England than in America. Indeed I hardly saw any
poor in America at all--not poverty as we understand it. But I could not
frame my reply because "squalor" (which we pronounce as though it rhymed
with "mollor") was the only fitting epithet and he had just used it
himself, pronouncing it in the American way--or at any rate in his
American way--with a long "a." So I turned the subject.
Neither nation has any monopoly of reasonableness in pronunciation. The
American way of saying "advertisement" is more sensible than ours of
saying "adver´tisment," since we say "advertise" too. But then, although
the Americans say "inquire," just as we do, they illogically put the
stress on the first syllable when they talk about an "in´quiry." The
Tower of Babel is thus carried up one storey higher. The original idea
was merely to confuse languages; it cannot ever have been wished that
two friendly peoples should speak the same language differently.
But I have wandered far from Berkeley and Stanford. I am not sure as to
my course of conduct if I had a daughter of seventeen, but I am quite
convinced that if I had a son of that age I should send him to an
American university for two or three years after his English school. He
should then become a citizen of the Anglo-Saxon world indeed.
FIRST SIGNS OF PROHIBITION
We had met Prohibition first at Honolulu, not a few of the passengers
receiving the shock of their lives on learning at the hotel that only
"soft drinks" were permitted. Our second reminder of the new regime came
as we entered American waters off the Golden Gate and the ship's bar was
formally closed. And then, in San Francisco, we found "dry" land indeed.
In this connection let me say that in the hotel I made acquaintance with
an official of great power who was new to me: the buttoned boy who
rejoices in the proud title of Bell Captain. He gave me a private
insight into his precocity (but that is not the word, for all boys in
America are men too), and into his influence, by offering to supply me
with forbidden fruit, in the shape of whisky, at the modest figure of
$25 a bottle. He did not, however, say dollars: like most of his
compatriots (and it is a favourite word with them) he said something
between "dollars" and "dallars."
I had, a few days later, in Chicago, a similarly friendly offer from a
policeman of whom I had inquired the way. Recognizing an English accent,
he had instantly divined what my dearest wish must be. I then asked him
how prohibition was affecting the people on his beat. He said that a few
drunkards were less comfortable and a few wives more serene; but for the
most part he had seen no increase of happiness, and the extra money that
it provided was spent either on the movies, dress, or "other
foolishness." I did not allow him to refresh me. After a course of
American "tough" fiction, of which "Susan Lenox" remains most luridly in
the memory, I had a terror of all professional upholders of the law.
Coming by chance upon the Robert Louis Stevenson memorial at San
Francisco, on the edge of Chinatown, I copied its inscription, and in
case any reader of these notes may have forgotten its trend I copy it
again here; for I do not suppose that its application was intended to
cease with the Californian city. It is counsel addressed to the
individual, but since nations are but individuals in quantity such
ideals cannot be repeated amiss:
To be honest; to be kind; to earn a little; to spend a little less; to
make upon the whole a family happier for his presence; to renounce when
that shall be necessary and not to be embittered; to keep a few friends,
but these without capitulation; above all, on the same grim condition,
to keep friends with himself--here is a task for all that man has of
fortitude and delicacy.
It is a far cry from San Francisco to Saranac, yet Stevenson is their
connecting chain, with the late Harry Widener's amazing collection of
Stevensoniana, in his memorial library at Harvard, as a link. The
Saranac cottage, which on the day of my visit was surrounded by the
sweetest lilac blooms that ever perfumed the air, is still a place of
pilgrimage, and one by one new articles of interest are being added to
the collection. It was pleasant indeed to find an English author thus
honoured. Later, in Central Park, New York, I was to find statues of
Shakespeare, Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
It was, oddly enough, in the Adirondacks that I came upon my only
experience of simplified spelling in the land of its birth. It was in
that pleasant home from home, the Lake Placid Club, where one is adjured
to close the door "tyt" as one leaves a room; where one drinks "cofi";
and where that most necessary and mysterious of the functionaries of
life, the physician, is able to watch his divinity dwindle and his
dignity disappear under the style "fizisn."
STORIES AND HUMOURISTS
I heard many stories in America, where every one is a raconteur, but
none was better than this, which my San Francisco host narrated, from
his own experience, as the most perfect example of an honest answer ever
given. When a boy, he said, he was much in the company of an old trapper
in the Californian mountains. During one of their expeditions together
he noticed that a camp meeting was to be held, and out of curiosity he
persuaded Reuben to attend it with him. Perched on a back seat, they
were watching the scene when an elderly Evangelical sister placed
herself beside the old hunter, laid her hand on his arm, and asked him
if he loved Jesus. He pondered for some moments and then replied thus:
"Waal, ma'am, I can't go so far as to say that I love Him. I can't go so
far as that. But, by gosh, I'll say this--I ain't got nothin' agin Him."
The funniest spontaneous thing I heard said was the remark of a farmer
in the Adirondacks in reply to my question, Had they recovered up there,
from the recent war? "Yes," he said, they had; adding brightly, "Quite a
war, wasn't it?"
In a manner of speaking all Americans are humourists. Just as all French
people are wits by reason of the epigrammatic structure of their
language, so are all Americans humourists by reason of the national
stores of picturesque slang and analogy to which they have access. I
think that this tendency to resort to a common stock instead of striving
after individual exactitude and colour is to be deplored. It discourages
thought where thought should be encouraged. Adults are, of course,
beyond redemption, but parents might at least do something about it with
their children. One of the cleverest American writers whom I met made no
effort whatever to get beyond these accepted phrases as he narrated one
racy incident after another. With the pen in his hand (or, more
probably, the typewriter under his fingers) his sense of epithet is
precise; but in his conversational stories men were as mad "as Sam
Hill," injuries hurt "like hell," and a knapsack was as heavy "as the
devil." We all laughed; but he should have had more of the artist's
Three American professional humourists whom I had the good fortune to
meet and be with for some time were Irvin Cobb, Don Marquis, and Oliver
Herford, each authentic and each so different. Beneath Mr. Cobb's fun is
a mass of ripe experience and sagacity. However playful he may be on the
surface one is aware of an almost Johnsonian universality beneath. It
would not be extravagant to call his humour the bloom on the fruit of
the tree of knowledge (I am talking now only of the three as I found
them in conversation). Don Marquis, while equally serious (and all the
best humourists are serious at heart), has a more grotesque fancy and is
more of a reformer, or, at any rate, a rebel. His dissatisfaction with
hypocrisy provoked a scorn that Mr. Cobb is too elemental to entertain.
Some day perhaps Don Marquis will induce an editor to print the
exercises in unorthodoxy which he has been writing and which, in
extract, he repeated to us with such unction; but I doubt it. They are
too searching. But that so busy a man should turn aside from his work to
dabble in religious satire seemed to me a very interesting thing; for
nothing is so unprofitable--except to the honest soul of him who
One of Don Marquis's more racy stories which I recollect is of a loafer
in a country town who had the habit of dropping into the store every day
at the time the free cheese was set on the counter, and buying very
little in return. When the time came for the privilege to be withdrawn
the loafer was outraged and aghast. Addressing the storekeeper (his
friend for years) he summed up his ungenerosity in these terms: "Your
soul, Henry," he said, "is so mean, that if there were a million souls
like it in the belly of a flea, they'd be so far apart they couldn't
hear each other holler."
As for Oliver Herford, he is an elf, a sprite, a creature of fantasy,
who may be--and, I rejoice to say, is--in this world, but certainly is
not of it. This Oliver is in the line of Puck and Mercutio and Lamb and
Hood and other lovers and makers of nonsense, and it is we who ask for
"more." He had just brought out his irresponsible but very searching
exercise in cosmogony, "This Giddy Globe," dedicated to President Wilson
("with all his faults he quotes me still") and this was the first
indigenous work I read on American soil. Oliver Herford is perhaps best
known by his "Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten," and there is a kitten also
in "This Giddy Globe":
"Hurray!" cried the Kitten, "Hurray!"
As he merrily set the sails,
"I sail o'er the ocean to-day
To look at the Prince of Wales."
--this was when the Prince was making his triumphant visit to New York
"But, Kitten," I said dismayed,
"If you live through the angry gales
You know you will be afraid
To look at the Prince of Wales."
Said the Kitten, "No such thing!
Why should he make me wince?
If a Cat may look at a King
A Kitten may look at a Prince!"
This reminds me that the story goes that when the Prince expressed his
admiration for Fifth Avenue he was congratulated upon having "said a
mouthful." Beyond a mouthful, as an encomium of sagacity or
sensationalism in speech, there is but one advance and that is when one
says "an earful."
The journey from San Francisco to Chicago, once the fruit country is
passed, is drearily tedious, and I was never so tired of a train. The
spacious compartments that one travelled in on the Indian journeys,
where there are four arm-chairs and a bath-room, are a bad preparation
for the long narrow American cars packed with humanity, and for the very
inadequate washing-room, which is also the negro attendant's bed-
chamber: "Although," he explained to me, "when the car isn't full I
always sleep in Berth Number 1." If the night could be indefinitely
prolonged, these journeys would be more tolerable; but for the general
comfort the sleeping berths must be converted into seats at an early
hour. In addition to books, I had, as a means of beguilement, the
society of a returned exile from the Philippines, who told me the story
of his life, showed me the necklace he was taking home to his daughter's
wedding, and asked my advice as to the wisdom or unwisdom of marrying
again, the lady of his wavering choice having been at school with him in
New England and being now a widow in Nebraska with property of her own.
Besides being thus garrulous and open, he was the most helpful man I
ever met, acting as a nurse to the three or four restless children in
the car, and even producing from his bag a pair of scissors and a bottle
of gum with which to make dolls' paper clothes. Never in my life have I
called a stranger "Ed" on such short acquaintance; never have I been
called "Poppa" so often by the peevish progeny of others.
It was on this train that I began to realise how much thirstier the
Americans are than we. The passengers were continually filling and
emptying the little cups that are stacked beside the fountains in the
corridors, and long before we reached Chicago the cups had all been
used. In England only children drink water at odd times and they not to
excess. But in America every one drinks water, and the water is there
for drinking, pure and cold and plentiful. It is beside the bed, in the
corners of offices, awaiting you at meals, jingling down the passages of
hotels, bubbling in the streets. In English restaurants, water bottles
are rarely supplied until asked for; in our hotel bedrooms they seldom
bear lifting to the light. As to whether the general health of the
Americans is superior or inferior to ours by reason of this water-
drinking custom, I have no information; but figures would be
In Chicago the weather was wet and cold, and it was not until after I
had left that I learned of the presence there of certain literary
collections which I may now perhaps never see. But I spent much time in
the Museum, where there is one of the finest Hobbemas in the world, and
where two such different creative artists as Claude Monet and Josiah
Wedgwood are especially honoured. But the chief discovery for me was the
sincere and masterly work in landscape of George Inness, my first
impression of whom was to be fortified when I passed on to Boston, and
reinforced in the Hearn collection in the Metropolitan Museum in New
It was in Chicago, in the Marshall Field Book Department--which is to
ordinary English bookshops like a liner to a houseboat--that I first
realised how intense is the interest which America takes in foreign
contemporary literature. In England the translation has a certain vogue
--Mrs. Garnett's supple and faithful renderings of Turgenev, Tolstoi,
Dostoievski, and Tchekov have, for example, a great following--but we do
not adventure much beyond the French and the Russians; whereas I learn
that English versions of hundreds of other foreign books are eagerly
bought in America. Such curiosity seems to me to be very sensible. I was
surprised also to find tables packed high with the modern drama. In
England the printed play is not to the general taste.
It was in Chicago that I found "window-shopping" at its most
enterprising. In San Francisco the costumiers' windows were thronged all
Sunday, but in Chicago they are brilliantly lighted till midnight, long
after closing hours, so that late passers-by may mark down desirable
things to buy on the morrow.
The spirited equestrian statue of General John A. Logan, in a waste
space by Michigan Avenue, which I could see from my bedroom window, was
my first and by no means the least satisfying experience of American
sculpture on its native soil--to be face to face with St. Gaudens'
figure of "Grief" in Rock Creek Cemetery, at Washington, having long
been a desire. In time I came to see that beautiful conception, and I
saw also the fine Shaw monument in Boston, fine both in idea and in
execution; and the Sheridan, by the Plaza Hotel in New York; and the
Farragut in Madison Square; and the Pilgrim in Philadelphia--all the
work of the same firm, sensitive hand, a replica of whose Lincoln is now
to be seen at Westminster.
The statue seems almost as natural a part of civic ornament in America
as it is in France, and is not in England; and the standard as a rule is
high. In particular I like the many horsemen--Anthony Wayne dominating
the landscape at Valley Forge; and George Washington again and again,
and not least in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia (where there is also a
bronze roughrider realistically set on a cliff--as though from Ambrose
Bierce's famous story--by Frederic Remington). American painters can too
often suggest predecessors, usually French, but the sculptors have a
strength and directness of their own, and it would not surprise me if
some of the best statues of the future came from their country. No one
would say that all American civic sculpture is good. There is a gigantic
bust of Washington Irving behind New York's Public Library which would
be better away; nor are the lions that guard that splendid institution
superabundantly leonine; but the traveller is more charmed than
depressed by the marble and bronze effigies that meet his eye--and few
witnesses have been able to say that of England. Among the more
remarkable public works I might name the symbolical figures on the steps
of the Boston Free Library, and the frieze in deep relief on the
Romanesque church on Park Avenue in New York, and I found something big
and impressive in the Barnard groups at Harrisburg. Many of the little
bronzes in the Metropolitan Museum--at the other extreme--are exquisite.
We have our cinema theatres in England in some abundance, but the cinema
is not yet in the blood here as in America. In America picture-palaces
are palaces indeed--with gold and marble, and mural decorations, built
to seat thousands--and every newspaper has its cinema page, where the
activities of the movie stars in their courses are chronicled every
morning. Moreover, America is the home of the industry; and rightly so,
for it has, I should say, been abundantly proved that Americans are the
only people who really understand both cinema acting and cinema
production. Italy, France and England make a few pictures, but their
efforts are half-hearted: not only because acting for the film is a new
and separate art, but because atmospheric conditions are better in
America than in Europe.
It was in Chicago that I had my only opportunity of seeing cinema stars
in the flesh. The rain falling, as it seems to do there with no more
effort or fatigue to itself than in Manchester, I had, one afternoon, to
change my outdoor plans and take refuge at the matinee of a musical
comedy called "Sometime," with Frank Tinney in the leading part. Tinney,
I may say, during his engagement in London some years ago, became so
great a favourite that one performer has been flourishing on an
imitation of him ever since. The play had been in progress only for a
few minutes when Frank, in his capacity as a theatre doorkeeper, was
presented by his manager with a tip. A dialogue, which to the trained
ear was obviously more or less an improvisation, then followed:
_Manager_: "What will you do with that dollar, Frank?"
_Frank_: "I shall go to the movies. I always go to the movies when
there's a Norma Talmadge picture. Ask me why I always go to the movies
when there's a Norma Talmadge picture."
_Manager_: "Why do you always go to the movies when there's a Norma
Talmadge picture, Frank?"
_Frank_: "I go because, I go because she's my favourite actress.
(_Applause_.) Ask me why Norma Talmadge is my favourite actress."
_Manager_: "Why is Norma Talmadge your favourite actress, Frank?"
_Frank_: "Norma Talmadge is my favourite actress because she is
always saving her honour. I've seen her saving it seventeen times.
(_To the audience_) You like Norma Talmadge, don't you?" (_Applause
from the audience_.)
_Frank_: "Then wouldn't you like to see her as she really is?
(_To a lady sitting with friends in a box_.) Stand up, Norma, and
let the audience see you."
_Here a slim lady with a tense, eager, pale face and a mass of hair
stood up and bowed. Immense enthusiasm_.
_Frank_: "That's Norma Talmadge. You do like saving your honour,
don't you, Norma? And now (_to the audience_) wouldn't you like to
see Norma's little sister, Constance? (_More applause_.) Stand up,
Constance, and let the audience see you."
Here another slim lady bowed her acknowledgments and the play was
permitted to proceed.
What America is going to do with the cinema remains to be seen, but I,
for one, deplore the modern tendency of novelists to be lured by
American money to write for it. If the cinema wants stories from
novelists let it take them from the printed books. One has but to
reflect upon what might have happened had the cinema been invented a
hundred years ago, to realise my disturbance of mind. With Mr. Lasky's
millions to tempt them Dickens would have written "David Copperfield"
and Thackeray "Vanity Fair," not for their publishers and as an
endowment to millions of grateful readers in perpetuity, but as plots
for the immediate necessity of the film, with a transitory life of a few
months in dark rooms. Of what new "David Copperfields" and "Vanity
Fairs" the cinema is to rob us we shall not know; but I hold that the
novelist who can write a living book is a traitor to his art and
conscience if he prefers the easy money of the film. Readers are to be
considered before the frequenters of Picture Palaces. His privilege is
to beguile and amuse and refresh through the ages: not to snatch
momentary triumphs and disappear.
The evidence of the moment is more on the side of the pessimist than the
optimist. I found in America no trace of interest in such valuable
records as the Kearton pictures of African jungle life or the Ponting
records of the Arctic Zone. For the moment the whole energy of the
gigantic cinema industry seemed to be directed towards the filming of
human stories and the completest beguilement, without the faintest
infusion of instruction or idealism, of the many-headed mob. In short,
to provide "dope." Whether so much "dope" is desirable, is the question
to be answered. That poor human nature needs a certain amount, is beyond
doubt. But so much? And do we all need it, or at any rate deserve it? is
another question. Sometimes indeed I wonder whether those of us who have
our full share of senses ought to go to the cinema at all. It may be
that its true purpose is to be the dramatist of the deaf.
THE AMERICAN FACE
Perhaps it is one of the travellers' illusions (and we are very
susceptible to them), but I have the impression that American men are
more alike than the English are. It may be because there are fewer
idiosyncrasies in male attire, for in America every one wears the same
kind of hat; but I think not. In spite of the mixed origin of most
Americans, a national type of face has been evolved to which they seem
satisfied almost universally to pay allegiance. Again and again in the
streets I have been about to accost strangers to whom I felt sure I had
recently been introduced, discovering just in time that they were merely
doubles. In England I fancy there is more individuality in appearance.
If it is denied that American faces are more true to one type than ours,
I shall reopen the attack by affirming that American voices are beyond
question alike. My position in these two charges may be illustrated by
notices that I saw fixed to gates at the docks in San Francisco. On one
were the words "No Smoking"; on the other "Positively No Smoking."
And what about the science of physiognomy? I have been wondering if
Lavater is to be trusted outside Europe. In China and Japan I was
continually perplexed, for I saw so many men who obviously were
successful--leaders and controllers--but who were without more than the
rudiments of a nose on which to support their glasses; and yet I have
been brought up to believe that without a nose of some dimensions it was
idle to hope for worldly eminence. Again, in America, is it possible
that all these massive chins and firm aquiline beaks are ruling the
roost and reaching whatever goal they set out for? I doubt it.
The average American face is, I think, keener than ours and healthier.
One sees fewer ruined faces than in English cities, fewer men and women
who have lost self-respect and self-control. The American people as a
whole strike the observer as being more prosperous, more alert and
ambitious, than the English. Where I found mean streets they were always
in the occupation of aliens.
To revert to the matter of clothes, the American does as little as
possible to make things easy for the conjectural observer. In England
one can base guesses of some accuracy on attire. In a railway carriage
one can hazard without any great risk of error the theory that this man
is in trade and that in a profession, that another is a stockbroker, and
a fourth a country squire. But America is full of surprises, due to the
uniformity of clothing and a certain carelessness which elevates comfort
to a ritual. The man you think of as a millionaire may be a drummer, the
drummer a millionaire. Again, in England people are known to a certain
extent by the hotels they stay at, the restaurants they eat at, and the
class in which they travel. Such superficial guides fail one in America.
I can best indicate, without the mechanical assistance of dates, the
time of my sojourn in New York by saying that, during those few weeks,
Woodrow Wilson's successor was being sought, the possibility of the
repeal of the Prohibition Act was a matter of excited interest, and
"Babe" Ruth was the national hero. During this period I saw the
President sitting on the veranda of the White House; I had opportunities
of honouring Prohibition in the breach as well as in the observance; and
these eyes were everlastingly cheered and enriched by the spectacle of
the "Babe" (who is a baseball divinity) lifting a ball over the Polo
Ground pavilion into Manhattan Field. I hold, then, that I cannot be
said to have been unlucky or to have wasted my time.
I found (this was in the spring of 1920) Prohibition the universal
topic: could it last, and should it last? In England we are accused of
talking always of the weather. In America, where there is no weather,
nothing but climate, that theme probably was never popular. Even if it
once were, however, it had given way to Prohibition. At every lunch or
dinner table at which I was present Prohibition was a topic. And how
could it be otherwise?--for if my host was a "dry" man, he had to begin
by apologising for having nothing cheering to offer, and if he possessed
a cellar it was impossible not to open the ball by congratulating him on
his luck and his generosity. Meanwhile the guests were comparing notes
as to the best substitutes for alcoholic beverages, exchanging recipes,
or describing their adventures with private stills.
I visited a young couple in a charming little cottage in one of the
garden cities near New York, and found them equally divided in their
solicitude over a baby on the top floor and a huge jar in the basement
which needed constant skimming if the beer was to be worth drinking.
One effect of Prohibition which I was hoping for, if not actually
expecting, failed to materialise. I had thought that the standard of
what are called T.B.M. (Tired Business Men) theatrical shows might be
higher if the tendency of alcohol to make audiences more tolerant (as it
undoubtedly can do in London) were no longer operative. But these
entertainments seemed, under teetotallers, no better.
THE BALL GAME
After seeing my first ball game or so I was inclined to suggest
improvements; but now that I have attended more I am disposed to think
that those in authority know more about it than I do, and that such
blemishes as it appears to have are probably inevitable. For one thing,
I thought that the outfield had too great an advantage. For another, not
unassociated with that objection, I thought that the home-run hit was
not sufficiently rewarded above the quite ordinary hit--"bunch-hit," is
it?--that brings in a man or men. In the English game of "Rounders," the
parent of baseball, a home-run hit either restores life to a man already
out or provides the batting side with a life in reserve. To put a
premium of this kind on so noble an achievement is surely not fantastic.
So I thought. And yet I see now that the game must not be lengthened, or
much of its character would go. It is its concentrated American fury
that is its greatest charm. If a three-day cricket match were so packed
with emotion we should all die of heart failure.
I thought, too, that it is illogical that a ground stroke behind the
diamond should be a no-ball, and yet, should that ball be in the air and
caught, the striker should be out. I thought it an odd example of
lenience to allow the batsman as many strokes behind the catcher as he
chanced to make. But the more baseball I see the more it enchants me as
a spectacle, and these early questionings are forgotten.
Baseball and cricket cannot be compared, because they are as different
as America and England; they can only be contrasted. Indeed, many of the
differences between the peoples are reflected in the games; for cricket
is leisurely and patient, whereas baseball is urgent and restless.
Cricket can prosper without excitement, while excitement is baseball's
life-blood, and so on: the catalogue could be indefinitely extended.
But, though a comparison is futile, it may be interesting to note some
of the divergences between the games. One of the chief is that baseball
requires no specially prepared ground, whereas cricket demands turf in
perfect order. Bad weather, again, is a more serious foe to the English
than to the American game, for if the turf is soaked we cannot go on,
and hence the number of drawn or unfinished matches in the course of a
season. A two hours' game, such as baseball is, can, however, always be
In baseball the pitcher's ball must reach the batter before it touches
the ground; in cricket, if the ball did not touch the ground first and
reach the batsman on the bound, no one would ever be out at all, for the
other ball, the full-pitch as we call it, is, with a flat bat, too easy
to hit, for our bowlers swerve very rarely: it is the contact with the
ground which enables them to give the ball its extra spin or break.
Full-pitches are therefore very uncommon. In cricket a bowler who
delivered the ball with the action of a pitcher would be disqualified
for "throwing": it is one of the laws of cricket that the bowler's elbow
must not be bent.
In cricket (I mean in the first-class variety of the game) the decisions
of the umpire are never questioned, either by players or public.
In baseball there are but two strokes for the batter: either the
"swipe," or "slog," as we call it, where he uses all his might, or the
"bunt," usually a sacrificial effort; in cricket there are scores of
strokes, before the wicket, behind it, and at every angle to it. These
the cricketer is able to make because the bat is flat and wide, and he
holds it both vertically and at a slant, as occasion demands, and is
allowed, at his own risk, to run out to meet the ball. In the early days
of cricket, a hundred and fifty years ago, the bat was like a baseball
club, but curved, and the only strokes then were much what the only
baseball strokes are now--the full-strength hit and the stopping hit. So
long as the pitcher delivers the ball in the air it is probable that the
baseball club will remain as it is; but should the evolution of the game
allow the pitcher to make use of the ground, then the introduction of a
flattened club is probable. But let us not look ahead. All that we can
be sure of is that, since baseball is American, it will change.
To resume the catalogue of contrast. In baseball the batsman must run
for every fair hit; in cricket he may choose which hits to run for.
In baseball a man's desire is to hit the ball in the air beyond the
fielders; in cricket, though a man would like to do this, his side is
better served if he hits every ball along the ground.
In baseball no man can have more than a very small number of hits in a
match; in cricket he can be batting for a whole day, and then again
before the match is over. There are instances of batsmen making over 400
runs before being out.
Another difference between the games is that in cricket we use a new
ball only at the beginning of a fresh inning (of which there cannot be
more than four in a match) and when each 200 runs have been scored; and
(this will astonish the American reader) when the ball is hit among the
people it is returned. I have seen such rapid voluntary surrenders at
baseball very seldom, and so much of a "fan" have I become that the
spectacle has always been accompanied in my breast by pain and contempt.
I had the gratification of receiving from the burly John McGraw an
autograph ball as a souvenir of a visit to the Polo Ground. I put it in
my pocket hurriedly, conscious of the risk I ran among a nation of ball-
stealers in possessing such a trophy; and I got away with it. But I am
sure that had it been a ball hit out of the ground by the mighty "Babe"
Ruth, which--recovering it by some supernatural means--he had handed to
me in public, I should not have emerged alive, or, if alive, not in the
In cricket the wicket-keeper, who, like the baseball catcher, is
protected, although he has no mask, is the most difficult man to obtain,
because he has the hardest time and the least public approbation; in
baseball the catcher is a hero and every boy aspires to his mitt.
In cricket no player makes more than three hundred pounds a season,
unless it is his turn for his one and only benefit, when he may make a
thousand pounds more. But most players do not reach such a level of
success that a benefit is their lot. But baseballers earn enormous sums.
If a match could be arranged between eleven cricketers and eleven
baseballers, the cricketers to be allowed to bowl and the baseballers to
pitch, the cricketers to use their own bats and the baseballers their
own clubs, I fancy that the cricketers would win; for the difficulty of
hitting our bowling with a club would be greater than of hitting their
pitching with a bat. But their wonderful fielding and far more accurate
and swifter throwing than ours might just save them. Such throwing we
see only very rarely, for good throwing is no longer insisted upon in
cricket, much to the game's detriment. That old players should lose
their shoulders is natural--and, of course, our players remain in first-
class cricket for many years longer than ball champions--but there is no
excuse for the young men who have taken advantage of a growing laxity in
this matter. Chief of the few cricketers who throw with any of the
terrible precision of a baseball field is Hobbs. It must be borne in
mind, however, that cricket does not demand such constant throwing at
full speed as baseball does; for in cricket, as I have said, the batsman
may choose what hits he will run for, and if he chooses only the
perfectly safe ones the fieldsmen are never at high pressure. There is
also nothing in cricket quite to compare with base-stealing.
When it comes to catching, the percentage of missed catches is far
higher at cricket than at baseball; but there are good reasons for this.
One is that in baseball a glove is worn; another that in baseball all
catches come to the fieldsmen with long or sufficient notice. The
fieldsmen are all, except the catcher, in front of the batsmen; there is
nothing to compare with the unexpected nimbleness that our point and
slips have to display.
In the hypothetical contest that I have suggested, between baseballers
and cricketers, if the conditions were nominally equal and the
cricketers had to pitch like baseballers and the baseballers to use the
English bat, why then the baseballers would win handsomely.
Baseball, I fancy, will not be acclimatised in England. We had our
chance when London was full of American soldiers and we did not take it.
But we were very grateful to them for playing the game in our midst, for
the authorities were so considerate as to let them play on Sundays
(which we are never allowed to do) and I was one of those who hoped that
this might be the thin end of the wedge and Sunday cricket also be
permitted. But no; when the war was over and the Americans left us, the
old Sabbatarianism reasserted itself. If, however, we ever exchanged
national games, and cricket were played in America and baseball in
England, it is the English spectator who would have the better of the
exchange. I am convinced that although we should quickly find baseball
diverting, nothing would ever persuade an American crowd to be otherwise
than bored by cricket.
Perhaps if I had reached New York from the sea the skyscrapers would
have struck me more violently. But I had already seen a few in San
Francisco (and wondered at and admired the courage which could build so
high after the earthquake of 1906), and more in Chicago, all ugly; so
that when I came to New York and found that the latest architects were
not only building high, but imposing beauty on these mammoth structures,
surprise was mingled with delight. No matter how many more millions of
dollars are expended on that strange medley of ancient forms which go to
make up New York's new Cathedral, where Romanesque and Gothic seem
already to be ready for their divorce, the Woolworth Building will be
New York's true fane. Mr. Cass Gilbert, the designer of that graceful
immensity, not only gave commerce its most notable monument (to date),
but removed for ever the slur upon skyscrapers. The Woolworth Building
does not scrape the sky; it greets it, salutes it with a _beau
geste_. And I would say something similar of the Bush Building, with
its alabaster chapel in the air which becomes translucent at night; and
the Madison Square Tower (whose clock face, I noticed, has the amazing
diameter of three storeys); and the Burroughs Welcome Building on 41st
Street, with its lovely perpendicular lines; and that immense cube of
masonry on Park Avenue which bursts into flower, so to speak, at the top
in the shape of a very beautiful loggia. But even if these adornments
become, as I hope, the rule, one could not resent the ordinary
structural elephantiasis a moment after realising New York's physical
conditions. A growing city built on a narrow peninsula is unable to
expand laterally and must, therefore, soar. The problem was how to make
it soar with dignity, and the problem has been solved.
In the old days when brown stone was the only builders' medium New York
must have been a drab city indeed; or so I gather from the few ancient
typical residences that remain. There are a few that are new, too, but
for the most part the modern house is of white stone. Gayest of all is,
I suppose, that vermilion-roofed florist's on Fifth Avenue.
One has to ascend the Woolworth Building to appreciate at a blow with
what discretion the original settlers of New York made their choice. It
is interesting, too, to watch Broadway--which, for all I know, is the
longest street in the world--starting at one's feet on its lawless
journey to Albany: lawless because it is almost the only sinuous thing
in this city of parallelograms and has the effrontery to cross
diagonally both Fifth Avenue and Sixth. Before leaving the Woolworth
Building, I would say that there seemed to me something rather comically
paradoxical in being charged 50 cents for access to the top of a
structure which was erected to celebrate the triumph of a commercial
genius whose boast it was to have made his fortune out of articles sold
at a rate never higher than 10 cents.
Having dallied sufficiently on the summit--there are a trifle of fifty-
eight floors, but an express lift makes nothing of them--I continued the
implacable career of the tripper by watching for a while the deafening
kerb market, which presented on that morning an odd appearance, more
like Yarmouth beach than a financial centre, for there had been rain,
and all the street operators were in sou'westers and sea-boots. There
can be spasms of similar excitement in London, in the neighbourhood of
Capel Court, but we have nothing that compares so closely with this
crowd as Tattersall's Ring at Epsom just before the Derby.
A PLEA FOR THE AQUARIUM
It was a relief to resume my programme by entering that abode of the
dumb and detached--the aquarium in Battery Park. For the kerb uproar
"the uncommunicating muteness of fishes" was the only panacea. The Bronx
Zoo is not, I think, except in the matter of buffalo and deer paddocks,
so good as ours in London, but it has this shining advantage--it is
free. So also is the Aquarium in Battery Park, and it was pleasing to
see how crowded the place can be. In England all interest in living
fish, except as creatures to be coaxed towards hooks and occasionally
retained there, has vanished; on the site of old Westminster Aquarium
the Wesleyans now manage their finances and determine their circuits,
while the Brighton Aquarium, once famous all the world over, is a
variety hall with barely a fin to its name.
After seeing the aquarium in Honolulu, which is like a pelagic rainbow
factory, and the aquarium in New York with all its strange and beautiful
denizens, I am a little ashamed of our English apathy. To maintain
picture galleries, where, however beautiful and chromatic, all is dead,
and be insensitive to the loveliness of fish, in hue, in shape and in
movement, is not quite pardonable.
ENGLISH AND FRENCH INFLUENCES
In essentials America is American, but when it comes to inessentials, to
trimmings, her dependence on old England was noticeable again and again
as I walked about New York. The fashion which, at the moment, the print
shops were fostering was for our racing, hunting and coaching coloured
prints of a century ago, while in the gallery of the distinguished
little Grolier Club I found an exhibition of the work of Randolph
Caldecott and Kate Greenaway. In such old bookshops as I visited all the
emphasis was--just then--laid upon Keats and Lamb and Shelley, whose
first editions and presentation copies seem to be continually making the
westward journey. I had not been in New York twenty-four hours before
Keats' "Lamia," 1820--with an inscription from the author to Charles
Lamb--the very copy from which, I imagine, Lamb wrote his review, was in
my hands; but it would have been far beyond my means even if the pound
were not standing at 3.83. These "association" books, in which American
collectors take especial pleasure, can be very costly. At a sale soon
after I left New York, seven presentation copies of Dickens' books,
containing merely the author's signed inscription, realised 4870
dollars. To continue, in Wanamaker's old curiosity department I found
little but English furniture and odds and ends, at prices which in their
own country would have been fantastically high. In the "Vanity Fair"
department, however (as I think it is called), the source was French. I
suppose that French influence must be at the back of all the costumiers
and jewellers of New York, but the shops themselves are far more
spacious than those in Paris and not less well-appointed. Tiffany's is a
palace; all it lacks is a name, but its splendid anonymity is, I take
it, a point of honour.
It used to be said that good Americans when they died went to Paris. The
Parisian lure no doubt is still powerful; but every day I should guess
that more of Paris comes to America. The upper parts of New York have
boulevards and apartment houses very like the real thing, and I noticed
that the architecture of France exerts a special attraction for the rich
man decreeing himself a pleasure dome. There are millionaires'
residences in New York that might have been transplanted not only from
the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, but from Touraine itself; while when I
made my pilgrimage to Mr. Widener's, just outside Philadelphia, I found
Rembrandt's "Mill," and Manet's dead bull-fighter, and a Vermeer, and a
little meadow painted divinely by Corot, and El Greco's family group,
and Donatello's St. George, and one of the most lovely scenes that ever
was created by Turner's enchanted brush, all enshrined in a palace which
Louis Seize might have built.
But America is even more French than this. Her women can be not less
_soignees_ than those of France, although they suggest a cooler
blood and less dependence on male society; her bread and coffee are
better than France's best. Moreover, when it comes to night and the
Broadway constellations challenge the darkness, New York leaves Paris
far behind. For every cabaret and supper resort that Paris can provide,
New York has three; and for every dancing floor in Paris, New York has
thirty. Good Americans, however, will still remain faithful to their old
posthumous love, if only for her wine.
Apropos of American women, their position struck me as very different
from the position of women with us. English women are deferential to
their husbands; they are content to be relegated to the background on
all occasions when they are not wanted. They are dependent. They seldom
wear an air of triumph and rarely take the lead. But American women are
complacent and assured, they do most of the talking, make most of the
plans: if they are not seen, it is because they are in the background;
they are either active prominently elsewhere or are high on pedestals.
With each other they are mostly or often humorously direct, whereas with
men they seem to adopt an ironical or patronising attitude. American
women seem also to have a curious power of attracting to themselves
other women who admire them and foster their self-esteem. And, for all
that I know, these satellites have satellites too. Their federacy almost
amounts to a solid secret society; not so much against men, for men must
provide the sinews of war and other comforts, but for their own
satisfaction. Both sexes appear not to languish when alone.
SKY-SIGNS AND CONEY ISLAND
All visitors to New York speak of the exhilaration of its air, and I can
but repeat their testimony. After the first few days the idea of going
to bed became an absurdity.
Among the peculiarly beautiful effects that America produces, sky signs
must be counted high. I had seen some when in San Francisco against the
deep Californian night, and they captivated the startled vision; but the
reckless profusion and movement of the Great White Way, as I turned out
of 42nd Street on my first evening in New York, came as something more
than a surprise: a revelation of wilful gaiety. We have normally nothing
in England to compare with it. Nor can we have even our Earl's Court
exhibition imitations of it so long as coal is so rare and costly. But
though we had the driving power for the electricity we could never get
such brilliance, for the clear American atmosphere is an essential ally.
In our humid airs all the diamond glints would be blurred.
For the purest beauty of traceries of light against a blue background
one must go, however, not to Broadway, which is too bizarre, but to Luna
Park on Coney Island. Odd that it should be there, in that bewildering
medley of sound and restlessness, that an extreme of loveliness should
be found; but I maintain that it is so, that nothing more strangely and
voluptuously beautiful could be seen than all those minarets and domes,
with their lines and curves formed by myriad lamps, turning by contrast
the heavens into an ocean of velvet blue, mysterious and soft and
Only periodically--when we have exhibitions at Earl's Court or at
Olympia--is there in England anything like Coney Island. At Blackpool in
August, and on Hampstead Heath on Bank Holidays, a corresponding spirit
of revelry is attempted, but it is not so natural, and is vitiated by a
self-conscious determination to be gay and by not a little vulgarity.
The revellers of Steeplechase Park seemed to me to be more genuine even
than the crowds that throng the Fete de Neuilly; and a vast deal
One very striking difference between Coney Island and the French fair is
the absence of children from New York's "safety-valve," as some one
described it to me. I saw hardly any. It is as though once again the
child's birthday gifts had been appropriated by its elders; but as a
matter of fact the Parks of Steeplechase and Luna were, I imagine,
designed deliberately for adults. Judging by the popularity of the
chutes and the whips, the switchbacks and the witching waves, eccentric
movement has a peculiar attraction for the American holiday-maker. As
some one put it, there is no better way, or at any rate no more thorough
way, of throwing young people together. Middle-aged people, too. But the
observer receives no impression of moral disorder. High spirits are the
rule, and impropriety is the exception. Even in the auditorium at
Steeplechase Park, where the _cognoscenti_ assemble to witness the
discomfiture of the uninitiated, there is nothing but harmless laughter
as the skirts fly up before the unsuspected blast. Such a performance in
England, were it permitted, would degenerate into ugliness; in France,
too, it would make the alien spectator uncomfortable. But the essential
public chastity of the Americans--I am not sure that I ought not here to
write civilisation of the Americans--emerges triumphant.
It was at Coney Island that I came suddenly upon the Pig Slide and had a
new conception of what quadrupeds can do for man.
The Pig Slide, which was in one of the less noisy quarters of Luna Park,
consisted of an enclosure in which stood a wooden building of two
storeys, some five yards wide and three high. On the upper storey was a
row of six or eight cages, in each of which dwelt a little live pig, an
infant of a few weeks. In the middle of the row, descending to the
ground, was an inclined board, with raised edges, such as is often
installed in swimming-baths to make diving automatic, and beneath each
cage was a hole a foot in diameter. The spectators and participants
crowded outside the enclosure, and the thing was to throw balls, which
were hired for the purpose, into the holes. Nothing could exceed the
alert and eager interest taken by the little pigs in the efforts of the
ball-throwers. They quivered on their little legs; they pressed their
little noses against the bars of the cages; their little eyes sparkled;
their tails (the only public corkscrews left in America) curled and
uncurled and curled again: and with reason, for whereas if you missed--
as was only too easy--nothing happened: if you threw accurately the fun
began, and the fun was also theirs.
This is what occurred. First a bell rang and then a spring released the
door of the cage immediately over the hole which your ball had entered,
so that it swung open. The little pig within, after watching the
previous infirmity of your aim with dejection, if not contempt, had
pricked up his ears on the sound of the bell, and now smiled a gratified
smile, irresistible in infectiousness, and trotted out, and, with the
smile dissolving into an expression of absolute beatitude, slid
voluptuously down the plank: to be gathered in at the foot by an
attendant and returned to its cage all ready for another such adventure.
It was for these moments and their concomitant changes of countenance
that you paid your money. To taste the triumph of good marksmanship was
only a fraction of your joy; the greater part of it consisted in
liberating a little prisoner and setting in motion so much ecstasy.
America is a land of newspapers, and the newspapers are very largely the
same. To a certain extent many of them are exactly the same, for the
vastness of the country makes it possible to syndicalise various
features, so that you find Walt Mason's sagacious and merry and punctual
verse, printed to look like prose but never disappointing the ear, in
one of the journals that you buy wherever you are, in San Francisco,
Salt Lake City, Chicago or New York; and Mr. Montagu's topical rhymes in
another; and the daily adventures of Mutt and Jeff, who are national
heroes, in a third. Every day, for ever, do those and other regular
features occur in certain of the papers: which is partly why no American
ever seems to confine himself, as is our custom, to only one.
Another and admirable feature of certain American papers is a column
edited by a man of letters, whose business it is to fill it every day,
either with the blossoms of his own intelligence or of outside
contributors, or a little of each: such a column as Don Marquis edits
for _The Sun_, called "The Sundial," and Franklin R. Adams for
_The Tribune_, called "The Conning Tower," and Christopher Morley
for the New York _Evening Post_, called "The Bowling Green."
Perhaps the unsigned "Way of the World" in our _Morning Post_ is
the nearest London correlative.
These columns are managed with skill and catholicity, and they impart an
element of graciousness and fancy into what might otherwise be too
materialistic a budget. A journalist, like myself, is naturally
delighted to find editors and a vast public so true to their writing
friends. Very few English editors allow their subscribers the
opportunity of establishing such steady personal relations; and in
England, in consequence, the signed daily contribution from one literary
hand is very rare--to an American observer probably mysteriously so. The
daily cartoon is common with us; but in London, for example, I cannot
think of any similar literary feature that is signed in full. We have
C.E.B.'s regular verse in the _Evening News_ and "The Londoner's"
daily essay in the same paper, and various initials elsewhere; but, with
us, only the artists are allowed their names. Now, in America every
name, everywhere, is blazoned forth.
Whatever bushel measures may be used for in the United States the
concealing of light is no part of their programme.
Another feature of American daily journals comparatively unknown in
England is the so-called comic pictorial sequence. All the big papers
have from one to half a dozen of these sequences, each by a different
artist. Bud Fisher with "Mutt and Jeff" comes first in popularity, I
believe, and then there are his rivals and his imitators. Nothing more
inane than some of these series could be invented; and yet they persist
and could not, I am told, be dropped by any editor who thought first of
After the individual contributions have been subtracted, all the
newspapers are curiously alike. The same reporters might be on every
one; the same sub-editors; the same composers of head-lines. If we think
of Americans as too capable of cynical levity it is largely because of
these head-lines, which are always as epigrammatic as possible, always
light-hearted, often facetious, and often cruel. An unfortunate woman's
failure at suicide after killing her husband was thus touched off in one
of the journals while I was in New York:
POOR SHOT AT HERSELF
BUT SUCCEEDS IN LODGING BULLET
When it comes to the choice of news, one cannot believe that American
editors are the best friends of their country. I am holding no brief for
many English editors; I think that our papers can be common too, and can
be too ready to take things by the wrong handle; but I think that more
vulgarising of life is, at present, effected by American journalists
than by English. There are, however, many signs that we may catch up.
Profusion is a characteristic of the American newspaper. There is too
much of everything. And when Sunday comes with its masses of reading
matter proper to the Day of Rest one is appalled. One thing is certain--
no American can find time to do justice both to his Sunday paper and his
Maker. It is principally on Sunday that one realises that if Matthew
Arnold's saying that every nation has the newspapers it deserves is
true, America must have been very naughty. How the Sunday editions could
be brought out while the paper-shortage was being discussed everywhere,
as it was during my visit, was a problem that staggered me. But that the
shortage was real I was assured, and jokes upon it even got into the
music halls: a sure indication of its existence. "If the scarcity of
paper gets more acute," I heard a comedian say, "they'll soon have to
make shoes of leather again."
But it is not only the Sunday papers that are so immense. I used to hold
the _Saturday Evening Post_ in my hands, weighed down beneath its
bulk, and marvel that the nation that had time to read it could have
time for anything else. The matter is of the best, but what would the
prudent, wise and hard-working philosopher who founded it so many years
ago--Benjamin Franklin--say if he saw its lure deflecting millions of
readers from the real business of life?
When we come to consider the American magazines--to which class the
_Saturday Evening Post_ almost belongs--and the English, there is
no comparison. The best American magazines are wonderful in their
quality and range, and we have nothing to set beside them. It is
astonishing to think how different, in the same country, daily and
monthly journalism can be. Omitting the monthly reviews,
_Blackwood_ is, I take it, our finest monthly miscellany; and all
of _Blackwood_ could easily and naturally be absorbed in one of the
American magazines and be illustrated into the bargain, and still leave
room for much more. And the whole would cost less! Why England is so
poorly and pettily served in the matter of monthly magazines is
something of a mystery; but part of the cause is the rivalry of the
papers, and part the smallness of our population. But I shall always
hold that we deserve more good magazines than we have now.
TREASURES OF ART
I was fortunate in being in New York when the Metropolitan Museum
celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its birth, for I was therefore
able to enjoy not only its normal treasures but such others as had been
borrowed for birthday presents, which means that I saw Mrs. H. E.
Huntington's Vermeer, as well as the supreme Marquand example of that
master; more than the regular wealth of Rembrandts, Manet's "Still
Life," Gauguin's "Women by the River," El Greco's "View of Toledo,"
Franz Hals' big jovial Dutchman from Mr. Harry Goldman's walls, and
Bellini's "Bacchanale"--to say nothing of the lace in galleries 18 and
19, Mr. Morgan's bronze Eros from Pompeii, and the various cases of
porcelain from a score of collections. But without extra allurements I
should have been drawn again and again to this magnificent museum.
Two of the principal metropolitan donors--Altman and Hearn--were the
owners of big dry goods stores, while Marquand, whose little Vermeer is
probably the loveliest thing in America, was also a merchant. In future
I shall look upon all the great emporium proprietors as worthy of
patronage, on the chance of their being also beneficent collectors of
works of art. This thought, this hope, is more likely to get me into a
certain Oxford Street establishment than all the rhetoric and special
pleading of Callisthenes.
The Frick Gallery was not accessible; but I was privileged to roam at
will both in Mr. Morgan's library and in Mr. H. E. Huntington's, in each
of which I saw such a profusion of unique and unappraisable autographs
as I had not supposed existed in private hands. Rare books any one with
money can have, for they are mostly in duplicate; but autographs and
"association" books are unique, and America is the place for them. I had
known that it was necessary to cross the Atlantic in order to see the
originals of many of the pictures of which we in London have only the
photographs. I knew that the bulk of the Lamb correspondence was in
America, and at Mr. Morgan's I saw the author's draft of the essay on
"Roast Pig," and at Mr. Newton's, in Philadelphia, the original of
"Dream Children," an even more desirable possession; I knew that America
had provided an eager home for everything connected with Keats and
Shelley and Stevenson; but it was a surprise to find at Mr. Morgan's so
wide a range of MSS., extending from Milton to Du Maurier, and from
Bacon to "Dorian Gray"; while at Mr. Huntington's I had in my hands the
actual foolscap sheets on which Heine composed his "Florentine Nights."
I ought, you say, to have known this before. Maybe. But that ignorance
in such matters is no monopoly of mine I can prove by remarking that
many an American collector with whom I have talked was unaware that the
library of Harvard University is the possessor of all the works of
reference--mostly annotated--which were used by Thomas Carlyle in
writing his "Cromwell" and his "Frederick the Great," and they were
bequeathed by him in his will to Harvard University because of his
esteem and regard for the American people, "particularly the more silent
part of them."
My hours in these libraries, together with a glimpse of the Widener room
at Harvard and certain booksellers' shelves, gave me some idea of what
American collectors have done towards making the New World a treasury of
the Old, and I realised how more and more necessary it will be, in the
future, for all critics of art in whatever branch, and of literature in
whatever branch, and all students even of antiquity, if they intend to
be thorough, to visit America. This I had guessed at, but never before
The English traveller lighting upon so many of the essentially English
riches as are conserved in American libraries, and particularly when he
has not a meagre share of national pride, cannot but pause to wonder how
it came about--and comes about--that so much that ought to be in its own
country has been permitted to stray.
In England collectors and connoisseurs are by no means rare. What, then,
were they doing to let all these letters of Keats and Shelley, Burns and
Byron, Lamb and Johnson--to name for the moment nothing else--find their
resting-place in America? The dollar is very powerful, I know, but
should it have been as pre-eminently powerful as this? Need it have
defeated so much patriotism?
Pictures come into a different category, for every artist painted more
than one picture. I have experienced no shade of resentment towards
their new owners in looking at the superb collections of old and new
foreign masters in the American public and private galleries; for so
long as there are enough examples of the masters to go round, every
nation should have a share. With MSS., however, it is different.
Facsimiles, such as the Boston Bibliographical Society's edition of
Lamb's letters, would serve for the rest of the world, and the originals
should be in their author's native land. But that is a counsel of
perfection. The only thing to do is to grin and bear it, and feel happy
that these unique possessions are preserved with such loving pride and
care. Any idea of retaliation on America on the part of England by
buying up the MSS. of the great American writers, such as Franklin and
Poe, Hawthorne and Emerson, Thoreau and Lowell, Holmes and Whitman, was
rendered futile by the discovery that Mr. Morgan possesses these too. I
had in his library all the Breakfast Table series in my hands, together
with a play by Poe not yet published.
Mention of the beautiful solicitude with which these treasures are
surrounded, suggests the reflection that the old country has something
to learn from the new in the matter of distinguished custodianship. We
have no place of national pilgrimage in England that is so perfect a
model as Washington's home at Mount Vernon. It is perhaps through lack
of a figure of the Washington type that we have nothing to compare with
it; for any parallel one must rather go to Fontainebleau; but certain
shrines are ours and none of them discloses quite such pious
thoroughness as this. When I think of the completeness of the
preservation and reconstruction of Mount Vernon, where, largely through
the piety of individuals, a thousand personal relics have been
reassembled, so that, save for the sightseers, this serene and simple
Virginian mansion is almost exactly as it was, I am filled with
admiration. For a young people largely in a hurry to find time to be so
proud and so reverent is a significant thing.
Nor is this spirit of pious reverence confined to national memorials.
Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Massachusetts, although still only a
hostelry, compares not unfavourably with Dove Cottage at Grasmere and
Carlyle's house in Chelsea. The preservation is more minute. But to
return to Mount Vernon, the orderliness of the place is not its least
noticeable feature. There is no mingling of trade with sentiment, as at
Stratford-on-Avon, for example. Within the borders of the estate
everything is quiet. I have never seen Americans in church (not, I
hasten to add, because they abstain, but because I did), but I am sure
that they could not, even there, behave more as if the environment were
sacred. To watch the crowds at Mount Vernon, and to contemplate the
massive isolated grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial now being finished at
Washington, is to realise that America, for all its superficial
frivolity and cynicism, is capable of a very deep seriousness.
It would have been pedantic, while in America, to have abstained from an
effort at _vers libre_.
I had been to the Metropolitan Museum looking at beautiful things and
rejoicing in them.
And then I had to catch a train and go far into the country, to Paul
And as the light lessened and the brooding hour set in I looked out of
the window and reconstructed some of the lovely things I had seen--the
sculptures and the paintings, the jewels and the porcelain: all the fine
flower of the arts through the ages.
It seemed marvellous beyond understanding that such perfection could
exist, and I thought how wonderful it must be to be God and see His
creatures rising now and again to such heights.
And then I came to a station where there was to be a very long wait, and
I went to an inn for a meal.
It was a dirty neglected place, with a sullen unwashed man at the door,
who called raspingly to his wife within.
And when she came she was a slattern, with dishevelled hair and a soiled
dress and apron, and she looked miserable and worn out.
She prepared a meal which I could not eat, and when I went to pay for it
I found her sitting dejectedly in a chair looking with a kind of dumb
despair at the day's washing-up still to do.
And as I walked up and down the road waiting for the car I thought of
this woman's earlier life when she was happy.
I thought of her in her courtship, when her husband loved her and they
looked forward to marriage and he was tender and she was blithe.
They probably went to Coney Island together and laughed with the rest.
And it seemed iniquitous that such changes should come about and that
merry girls should grow into sluts and slovens, and ardent young
husbands should degenerate into unkempt bullies, and houses meant for
happiness should decay, and marriage promises all be forgotten.
And I felt that if the world could not be better managed than that I
never wanted to see any of God's artistic darlings at the top of their
form again and the Metropolitan Museum could go hang.
I believe that few statements about America would so surprise English
people as that it has beautiful architecture. I was prepared to find
Boston and Cambridge old-fashioned and homelike--Oliver Wendell Holmes
had initiated me; I had a distinct notion of the cool spaciousness of
the White House and the imposing proportions of the Capitol and, of
course, I knew that one had but to see the skyscrapers of New York to
experience the traditional repulsion! But of the church of St. Thomas on
Fifth Avenue I had heard nothing, nor of Mr. Morgan's exquisite library,
nor of the Grand Central terminus, nor of the Lincoln Memorial at
Washington, nor of the bland charm of Mount Vernon. Nor had I expected
to find Fifth Avenue so dignified and cordial a thoroughfare.
Even less was I prepared for such metal work and stone work as is to be
seen in some of the business houses--such as, for example, the new
Guaranty Trust offices, both on Broadway and in Fifth Avenue. Even the
elevators (for which we in England, in spite of our ancient lethargy,
have a one-syllable word) are often finished with charming taste.
Least of all did I anticipate the maturity of America's buildings. Those
serene facades on Beacon Street overlooking Boston Common, where the
Autocrat used to walk (and I made an endeavour to follow his identical
footsteps, for he was my first real author)--they are as satisfying as
anything in Georgian London. And I shall long treasure the memory of the
warm red brick and easy proportions of the Boston City Hall and Faneuil
Hall, and Independence Hall at Philadelphia seen through a screen of
leaves. But in England (and these buildings were English once) we still
have many old red brick buildings; what we have not is anything to
correspond with the spacious friendly houses of wood which I saw in the
country all about Boston and at Cambridge--such houses as that which was
Lowell's home--each amid its own greenery. Nowhere, however, did I see a
more comely manor house of the old Colonial style than Anthony Wayne's,
near Daylesford, in Pennsylvania. In England only cottages are built of
wood, and I rather think that there are now by-laws against that.
Not all the good country houses, big and little, are, however, old.
American architects in the past few years seem to have developed a very
attractive type of home, often only a cottage, and I saw a great number
of these on the slopes of the Hudson, all the new ones combining taste
with the suggestion of comfort. The conservation of trees wherever
possible is an admirable feature of modern suburban planning in America.
In England the new suburb too often has nothing but saplings. In
America, again, the houses, even the very small ones, are more often
detached than with us.
Once the lay-out of New York has been mastered--its avenues and numbered
cross streets--it is the most difficult city in the world in which to
lose one's way. But Boston is different. I found Boston hard to learn,
although it was a pleasant task to acquire knowledge, for I was led into
some of the quietest little Georgian streets I have ever been in, steep
though some of them were, and along one of the fairest of green walks--
that between the back of Beacon Street and the placid Charles.
Against Boston I have a certain grudge, for I could find no one to
direct me to the place where the tea was thrown overboard. But that it
was subjected to this indignity we may be certain--partly from the
testimony of subsequent events not too soothing to English feelings, and
partly from the unpopularity which that honest herb still suffers on
American soil. Coffee, yes; coffee at all times; but no one will take
any but the most perfunctory interest in the preparation of tea. I found
the harbour; I traversed wharf after wharf; but found no visible record
of the most momentous act of jettison since Jonah. In the top room,
however, of Faneuil Hall, in the Honourable Artillery Company's
headquarters, the more salient incidents of the struggle which followed
are all depicted by enthusiastic, if not too talented, painters; and I
saw in the distance the monument on Bunker's Hill.
My cicerone must be excused, for he was a Boston man, born and bred, and
I ought never to have put him to the humiliation of confessing his
natural ignorance. But the record is there, and legible enough. The
tablet (many kind correspondents have informed me since certain of these
notes appeared in the _Outlook_) is at 495 Atlantic Avenue, in the
water-front district, just a short walk from the South Station, and it
has the following inscription:
* * * * *
HERE FORMERLY STOOD
at which lay moored on Dec. 16, 1773, three British ships with cargoes
of tea. To defeat King George's trivial but tyrannical tax of three
pence a pound, about ninety citizens of Boston, partly disguised as
Indians, boarded the ships, threw the cargoes, three hundred and forty-
two chests in all, into the sea and made the world ring with the
patriotic exploit of the
BOSTON TEA PARTY
"No! ne'er was mingled such a draught
In palace, hall, or arbor,
As freemen brewed and tyrants quaffed
That night in Boston Harbor."
* * * * *
Boston has a remarkable art gallery and museum, notable for its ancient
Chinese paintings, its collection of Japanese prints--one of the best in
the world, I believe--and a dazzling wall of water-colours by Mr.
Sargent. It was here that I saw my first Winslow Homers--two or three
rapid sketches of fishermen in full excitement--and was conquered by his
verve and actuality. In the Metropolitan Museum in New York I found him
again in oils and my admiration increased. Surely no one ever can have
painted the sea with more vividness, power and truth! We have no example
of his work in any public gallery in London; nor have we anything by W.
M. Chase, Arthur B. Davies, Swain Gifford, J. W. Alexander, George
Inness, or De Forest Brush. It is more than time for another American
Exhibition. As it is, the only modern American artists of whom there is
any general knowledge in England are Mr. Sargent, Mr. Epstein and Mr.
Pennell, and the late E. A. Abbey, G. H. Boughton, and Whistler. Other
Americans painting in our midst are Mr. Mark Fisher, R.A., Mr. J. J.
Shannon, R.A., Mr. J. McLure Hamilton, and Mr. G. Wetherbee.
The Boston Gallery is the proud possessor of the rough and unfinished
but "speaking" likeness of George Washington by his predestined limner
Gilbert Stuart, and also a companion presentment of Washington's wife.
Looking upon this lady's countenance and watching a party of school
girls who were making the tour of the rooms, not uncomforted on their
arduous adventure by chocolate and other confections, it occurred to me
that if America increases her present love of eating sweets, due, I am
told, not a little to Prohibition, George Washington will gradually
disappear into the background and Martha Washington, who has already
given her name to a very popular brand of candy, will be venerated
instead, as the Sweet Mother of her Country.
An American correspondent sends me the following poem in order to
explain to me the deviousness of Boston's principal thoroughfare. The
poet is Mr. Sam Walter Foss:--
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then two hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day o'er hill and glade
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because 'twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed--do not laugh--
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wabbled when he walked.
The forest path became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And travelled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street,
And then before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis.
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in and forth and back
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the paths that others do.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach--But
I am not ordained to preach.
I was fortunate in the city over which William Penn, in giant effigy,
keeps watch and ward, in having as guide, philosopher and friend Mr. A.
Edward Newton, the Johnsonian, and the author of one of the best
examples of "amateur" literature that I know--"The Amenities of Book-
Collecting." Mr. Newton took me everywhere, even to the little
seventeenth-century Swedish church, which architecturally may be
described as the antipodes of Philadelphia's newer glory, the Curtis
Building, where editors are lodged like kings and can be attained to (if
at all) only through marble halls. We went to St. Peter's, where,
suddenly awaking during the sermon, one would think oneself to be in a
London city church, and to the Historical Museum, where I found among
the Quaker records many of my own ancestors and was bewildered amid such
a profusion of relics of Penn, Washington and Franklin. In the old
library were more traces of Franklin, including his famous electrical
appliance, again testifying to the white flame with which American hero-
worship can burn; and we found the sagacious Benjamin once more at the
Franklin Inn Club, where the simplicity of the eighteenth century
mingles with the humour and culture of the twentieth. We then drove
through several miles of Fairmount Park, stopping for a few minutes in
the hope of finding the late J. G. Johnson's Vermeer in the gallery
there; but for the moment it was in hiding, the walls being devoted to
his Italian pictures.
Finally we drew up at the gates of that strange and imposing Corinthian
temple which might have been dislodged from its original site and hurled
to Philadelphia by the first Quaker, Poseidon--the Girard College. This
solemn fane we were permitted to enter only on convincing the porter
that we were not ministers of religion--an easy enough task for Mr.
Newton, who wears with grace the natural abandon of a Voltairean, but a
difficult one for me. Why Stephen Girard, the worthy "merchant and
mariner" who endowed this institution, was so suspicious of the cloth,
no matter what its cut, I do not know; no doubt he had his reasons; but
his prejudices are faithfully respected by his janitor, whose eye is a
very gimlet of suspicion. However, we got in and saw the
philanthropist's tomb and his household effects behind those massive
That evening I spent in Mr. Newton's library among Blake and Lamb and
Johnson autographs and MSS., breaking the Tenth Commandment with a
recklessness that would have satisfied and delighted Stephen Girard's
gatekeeper; and the next day we were off to Valley Forge to see with
what imaginative thoughtfulness the Government has been transforming
Washington's camp into a national park and restoring the old landmarks.
It was a fine spring day and the woods were flecked with the white and
pink blossoms of the dogwood--a tree which in England is only an
inconspicuous hedgerow bush but here has both charm and importance and
some of the unexpectedness of a tropical growth. I wish we could
The memorial chapel now in course of completion on one of the Valley
Forge eminences seemed to me a very admirable example not only of modern
Gothic but of votive piety. And such a wealth of American symbolism
cannot exist elsewhere. But in the severe little cottage where
Washington made his headquarters, down by the stream, with all his
frugal campaigning furniture and accessories in their old places, I felt
more emotion than in the odour of sanctity. The simple reality of it
conquered the stained glass.
Looking back on it all I realise that America never struck me as a new
country, although its inhabitants often seemed to be a new people. The
cities are more mature than the citizens. New York, Chicago, Boston,
Philadelphia, Washington--all have an air of permanence and age. The
buildings, even the most fantastic, suggest indigenousness, or at least
stability; nor would the presence of more ancient structures increase
this effect. To the eye of the ordinary Englishman accustomed to work in
what we call the City, in Fleet Street, in the Strand, in Piccadilly, or
in Oxford Street, New York would not appear to be a younger place than
London, and Boston might easily strike him as older. Nor is London more
than a little older, except in spots, such as the Tower and the Temple
and the Abbey, and that little Tudor row in Holborn, all separated by
vast tracts of modernity. Indeed, I would almost go farther and say that
London sets up an illusion of being newer even than New York by reason
of its more disturbing street traffic both in the roads and on the
footways, and the prevalence of the gaily coloured omnibuses which
thunder along so many thoroughfares in notable contrast with the sedate
and sober vehicles that serve Fifth Avenue and are hardly seen
Meanwhile an illusion of antiquity is set up by New York's habit of
commingling business houses and private residences, which surely belongs
to an older order of society. In London we have done away with such a
blend. Our nearest approach to Fifth Avenue is, I suppose, Regent
Street; but there are no mansions among the shops of Regent Street. Our
shops are there and our mansions are elsewhere, far away, in what we
call residential quarters--such as Park Lane, Queen's Gate, Mayfair,
the Bayswater Road, and Grosvenor Square. To turn out of Fifth Avenue
into the quiet streets where people live is to receive a distinct
impression of sedateness such as New York is never supposed to convey.
One has the same feeling in the other great American cities.
But when it comes to their inhabitants there are to the English eye
fewer signs of maturity. I have never been able to get rid of the idea
that every one I have met in America, no matter how grave a senior,
instead of being really and self-consciously in the thick of life, is
only getting ready to begin. Perhaps this is due in part to the
pleasure--the excitement almost--which American business men--and all
Americans are business men--take in their work. They not merely do it,
but they enjoy doing it and they watch themselves doing it. They seem to
have a knack of withdrawing aside and observing themselves as from the
stalls, not without applause. In other words, they dramatise
continually. Now, one does not do this when one is old--it is a childish
game--and it is another proof that they are younger than we, who do not
enjoy our work, and indeed, most of us, are ashamed of it and want the
world to believe that we live like the lilies on private means.
Similarly, many Americans seem, when they talk, to be two persons: one
the talker, and the other the listener charmed by the quality of his
discourse. There is nothing detrimental in such duplicity. Indeed, I
think I have a very real envy of it. But one of the defects of the
listening habit is perhaps to make them too rhetorical, too verbose. It
is odd that the nation that has given us so much epigrammatic slang and
the telegraph and the telephone and the typewriter should have so little
of what might be called intellectual short-hand. But so it is. Too many
Americans are remorseless when they are making themselves clear.
Yet the passion for printed idiomatic sententiousness and arresting
trade-notices is visible all the time. You see it in the newspapers and
in the shops. I found a children's millinery shop in New York with this
laconic indication of its scope, in permanent letters, on the plate-
glass window: "Lids for Kids." A New York undertaker, I am told, has
affixed to all his hearses the too legible legend: "You may linger, but
I'll get you yet."
When it comes to descriptive new words, coined rapidly to meet
occasions, we English are nowhere compared with the Americans. Could
there be anything better than the term "Nearbeer" to reveal at a blow
the character of a substitute for ale? I take off my hat, too, to
"crape-hanger," which leaves "kill-joy" far in the rear. But "optience"
for a cinema audience, which sees but does not hear, though ingenious,
is less admirable.
Although I found the walls of business offices in New York and elsewhere
decorated with pithy counsel to callers, and discouragements to
irrelevance, such as "Come to the point but don't camp on it," "To hell
with yesterday," and so forth, I am very doubtful if with all these
suggestions of practical address and Napoleonic efficiency the American
business man is as quick and decisive as ours can be. There is more
autobiography talked in American offices than in English; more getting
ready to begin.
I have, however, no envy of the American man's inability to loaf and
invite his soul, as his great democratic poet was able to do. I think
that this unfamiliarity with armchair life is a misfortune. That article
of furniture, we must suppose, is for older civilisations, where men
have either, after earning the right to recline, taken their ease
gracefully, or have inherited their fortune and are partial to idleness.
It consorts ill with those who are still either continually and
restlessly in pursuit of the dollar or are engaged in the occupation of
watching dollars automatically arrive.
One of the things, I take it, for Americans to learn is how to transform
money into a friend. So many men who ought to be quietly rejoicing in
their riches seem still to be anxious and acquisitive; so many men who
have become suddenly wealthy seem to be allowing their gains to ruin
their happiness. For the nation's good nearly every one, I fancy, has
too much money.
My experience is that England has almost everything to learn from
America in the matter of hotels. I consider American second and third-
class hotels to be better in many ways than our best. Every American
restaurant, of each grade, is better than the English equivalent; the
appointments are better, the food is served with more distinction and
often is better too. When it comes to coffee, there is no comparison
whatever: American coffee is the best in the world. Only quite recently
has the importance of the complete suite entered the intelligence of the
promoters of English hotels, and in myriads of these establishments,
called first class, there is still but one bathroom to twenty rooms.
Heating coils and hot and cold water in the rooms are even more rare: so
rare as to be mentioned in the advertisements. Telephones in the rooms
are rarer. In too many hotels in England there is still no light at the
head of the bed. But we have certain advantages. For example, in English
restaurants there is always something on the table to eat at once--
_hors d'oeuvres_ or bread and butter. In America there is too often
nothing ready but iced water--an ungenial overture to any feast--and you
must wait until your order has been taken. Other travellers, even
Americans, have agreed with me that it would be more comfortable if the
convention which decrees that the waiter shall bring everything together
could be overruled. Something "to go on with" is a great ameliorative,
especially when one is hungry and tired.
In thus commending American hotels over English it is, however, only
right to admit that the American hotels are very much more expensive.
While on the subject of eating, I would say that for all their notorious
freedoms Americans have a better sense of order than we. Their policemen
may carry their batons drawn, and even swing them with a certain
insolent defiance or even provocation, but New York goes on its way with
more precision and less disturbance than London, and every one is
smarter, more alert. The suggestion of a living wage for all is
constant. It is indeed on this sense of orderliness that the success of
certain of the American time-saving appliances is built. The Automat
restaurants, for example, where the customer gets all his requirements
himself, would never do in London. The idea is perfect; but it requires
the co-operation of the customer, and that is what we should fail to
provide. The spotless cleanliness and mechanical exactitude of these
places in New York would cease in London, and gradually they would
decline and then disappear. At heart, we in England dislike well-managed
places. Nor can I see New York's public distribution of hot water
adopted in London. Such little geysers as expel steam at intervals
through the roadway of Fifth Avenue will never, I fear, be found in
Regent Street or Piccadilly. Our communism is very patchy.
There are some unexpected differences between America and England. It is
odd, for instance, to find a nation from whom we get most of our tobacco
and who have the reputation of even chewing cigars, with such strict
rules against smoking. In the Music Halls, which are, as a rule, better
than ours, smoking is permitted only in certain parts. Public decorum
again is, I should say, more noticeable in an American than an English
city, and yet both in San Francisco and New York I dined in restaurants
--not late--between 7 and 8--and not furtive hole-in-corner places,--
where girls belonging to the establishment, wearing almost nothing at
all, performed the latest dances, with extravagant and daring variations
of them, among the tables. In London this kind of thing is unknown. In
Paris it occurs only in the night cafes. It struck me as astonishing--
and probably not at all to the good--that it should be an ordinary
I was asked while I was in America to set down some of the chief things
that I missed. I might easily have begun with walking-sticks, for until
I reached New York I seemed to be the only man in America who carried
one, although a San Francisco friend confessed to sometimes "wearing a
cane" on Sundays. I missed a Visitors' Book either at the British
Embassy in Washington or at the White House. After passing through
India, where one's first duty is to enter one's name in these volumes,
it seemed odd that the same machinery of civility should be lacking. I
missed any system of cleaning boots during the night, in the hotels; but
I soon became accustomed to this, and rather enjoyed visiting the "shine
parlours," in one of which was this crisp notice: "If you like our work,
tell your friends; if you don't like it, tell us." I missed gum-chewing.
But it was on returning to England that I began really to take notice.
Then I found myself missing America's cleanliness, America's despatch,
its hotel efficiency, its lashings of cream, its ice on every hand. All
this at Liverpool! I missed later the petrol fountains all about the
roads, a few of which I had seen in India, at which the motorist can
replenish; but these surely will not be long in coming. I don't want
England to be Americanised; I don't want America to cease to be a
foreign country; but there are lessons each of us can learn.
If I were an American, although I travelled abroad now and then (and I
hold that it is the duty of a man to see other lands but live in his
own) I should concentrate on America. It is the country of the future. I
am glad I have seen it and now know something--however slight--about it
at first hand. I made many friends there and amassed innumerable
delightful memories. But what is the use of eight weeks? I am ashamed
not to have gone there sooner, and humiliated by the brevity of my stay.
I have had the opportunity only to lift a thousand curtains, get a
glimpse of the entertainment on the other side and drop them again. I
should like to go there every other year and have time: time to make the
acquaintance of a naturalist and learn from him the names of birds and
trees and flowers; time to loiter in the byways; time to penetrate into
deeper strata where intimacies strike root and the real discoveries are
made; time to discern beneath the surface, so hard and assured,
something fey, something wistful, the sense of tears.
Agra and its Fort
Aitken, E. H., his three books
America, its democracy
American painters in England
Americans, at home and abroad
Americans, their clothes
their disturbing wealth
Architecture in America
Baker, Mr. Herbert
Bam Bahadur, that great hunter
Baseball and cricket
Beecher, Henry Ward
Bernier on the Moguls
Birds in India
Blackbuck, the agile
Bombay--Towers of Silence
Butler, H.E., Sir Harcourt
its snake charmers
and the Maidan
and its English buildings
its old cemetery
Chicago, its hospitable policeman
Cobb, Mr. Irvin
Comparisons between America and England
Cow-worship in India
Cricket and baseball
Curzon, Lord, his preservation of ancient buildings
Dances in India and Japan
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