Short Stories and Essays
William Dean Howells

Part 1 out of 3

This etext was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]

LITERATURE AND LIFE--Short Stories and Essays

by William Dean Howells

Worries of a Winter Walk
Summer Isles of Eden
Wild Flowers of the Asphalt
A Circus in the Suburbs
A She Hamlet
The Midnight Platoon
The Beach at Rockaway
Sawdust in the Arena
At a Dime Museum
American Literature in Exile
The Horse Show
The Problem of the Summer
Aesthetic New York Fifty-odd Years Ago
From New York into New England
The Art of the Adsmith
The Psychology of Plagiarism
Puritanism in American Fiction
The What and How in Art
Politics in American Authors
"Floating down the River on the O-hi-o"


The other winter, as I was taking a morning walk down to the East River,
I came upon a bit of our motley life, a fact of our piebald civilization,
which has perplexed me from time to time, ever since, and which I wish
now to leave with the reader, for his or her more thoughtful


The morning was extremely cold. It professed to be sunny, and there was
really some sort of hard glitter in the air, which, so far from being
tempered by this effulgence, seemed all the stonier for it. Blasts of
frigid wind swept the streets, and buffeted each other in a fury of
resentment when they met around the corners. Although I was passing
through a populous tenement-house quarter, my way was not hindered by the
sports of the tenement-house children, who commonly crowd one from the
sidewalks; no frowzy head looked out over the fire-escapes; there were no
peddlers' carts or voices in the road-way; not above three or four shawl-
hooded women cowered out of the little shops with small purchases in
their hands; not so many tiny girls with jugs opened the doors of the
beer saloons. The butchers' windows were painted with patterns of frost,
through which I could dimly see the frozen meats hanging like hideous
stalactites from the roof. When I came to the river, I ached in sympathy
with the shipping painfully atilt on the rocklike surface of the brine,
which broke against the piers, and sprayed itself over them like showers
of powdered quartz.

But it was before I reached this final point that I received into my
consciousness the moments of the human comedy which have been an
increasing burden to it. Within a block of the river I met a child so
small that at first I almost refused to take any account of her, until
she appealed to my sense of humor by her amusing disproportion to the
pail which she was lugging in front of her with both of her little
mittened hands. I am scrupulous about mittens, though I was tempted to
write of her little naked hands, red with the pitiless cold. This would
have been more effective, but it would not have been true, and the truth
obliges me to own that she had a stout, warm-looking knit jacket on.
The pail-which was half her height and twice her bulk-was filled to
overflowing with small pieces of coal and coke, and if it had not been
for this I might have taken her for a child of the better classes, she
was so comfortably clad. But in that case she would have had to be
fifteen or sixteen years old, in order to be doing so efficiently and
responsibly the work which, as the child of the worse classes, she was
actually doing at five or six. We must, indeed, allow that the early
self-helpfulness of such children is very remarkable, and all the more so
because they grow up into men and women so stupid that, according to the
theories of all polite economists, they have to have their discontent
with their conditions put into their heads by malevolent agitators.

From time to time this tiny creature put down her heavy burden to rest;
it was, of course, only relatively heavy; a man would have made nothing
of it. From time to time she was forced to stop and pick up the bits of
coke that tumbled from her heaping pail. She could not consent to lose
one of them, and at last, when she found she could not make all of them
stay on the heap, she thriftily tucked them into the pockets of her
jacket, and trudged sturdily on till she met a boy some years older, who
planted himself in her path and stood looking at her, with his hands in
his pockets. I do not say he was a bad boy, but I could see in his
furtive eye that she was a sore temptation to him. The chance to have
fun with her by upsetting her bucket, and scattering her coke about till
she cried with vexation, was one which might not often present itself,
and I do not know what made him forego it, but I know that he did, and
that he finally passed her, as I have seen a young dog pass a little cat,
after having stopped it, and thoughtfully considered worrying it.

I turned to watch the child out of sight, and when I faced about towards
the river again I received the second instalment of my present
perplexity. A cart, heavily laden with coke, drove out of the coal-yard
which I now perceived I had come to, and after this cart followed two
brisk old women, snugly clothed and tightly tucked in against the cold
like the child, who vied with each other in catching up the lumps of coke
that were jolted from the load, and filling their aprons with them; such
old women, so hale, so spry, so tough and tireless, with the withered
apples red in their cheeks, I have not often seen. They may have been
about sixty years, or sixty-five, the time of life when most women are
grandmothers and are relegated on their merits to the cushioned seats of
their children's homes, softly silk-gowned and lace-capped, dear visions
of lilac and lavender, to be loved and petted by their grandchildren.
The fancy can hardly put such sweet ladies in the place of those nimble
beldams, who hopped about there in the wind-swept street, plucking up
their day's supply of firing from the involuntary bounty of the cart.
Even the attempt is unseemly, and whether mine is at best but a feeble
fancy, not bred to strenuous feats of any kind, it fails to bring them
before me in that figure. I cannot imagine ladies doing that kind of
thing; I can only imagine women who had lived hard and worked hard all
their lives doing it; who had begun to fight with want from their
cradles, like that little one with the pail, and must fight without
ceasing to their graves. But I am not unreasonable; I understand and I
understood what I saw to be one of the things that must be, for the
perfectly good and sufficient reason that they always have been; and at
the moment I got what pleasure I could out of the stolid indifference of
the cart-driver, who never looked about him at the scene which interested
me, but jolted onward, leaving a trail of pungent odors from his pipe in
the freezing eddies of the air behind him.


It is still not at all, or not so much, the fact that troubles me; it is
what to do with the fact. The question began with me almost at once, or
at least as soon as I faced about and began to walk homeward with the
wind at my back. I was then so much more comfortable that the aesthetic
instinct thawed out in me, and I found myself wondering what use I could
make of what I had seen in the way of my trade. Should I have something
very pathetic, like the old grandmother going out day after day to pick
up coke for her sick daughter's freezing orphans till she fell sick
herself? What should I do with the family in that case? They could not
be left at that point, and I promptly imagined a granddaughter, a girl of
about eighteen, very pretty and rather proud, a sort of belle in her
humble neighborhood, who should take her grandmother's place. I decided
that I should have her Italian, because I knew something of Italians, and
could manage that nationality best, and I should call her Maddalena;
either Maddalena or Marina; Marina would be more Venetian, and I saw that
I must make her Venetian. Here I was on safe ground, and at once the
love-interest appeared to help me out. By virtue of the law of
contrasts; it appeared to me in the person of a Scandinavian lover, tall,
silent, blond, whom I at once felt I could do, from my acquaintance with
Scandinavian lovers in Norwegian novels. His name was Janssen, a good,
distinctive Scandinavian name; I do not know but it is Swedish; and I
thought he might very well be a Swede; I could imagine his manner from
that of a Swedish waitress we once had.

Janssen--Jan Janssen, say-drove the coke-cart which Marina's grandmother
used to follow out of the coke-yard, to pick up the bits of coke as they
were jolted from it, and he had often noticed her with deep indifference.
At first he noticed Marina--or Nina, as I soon saw I must call her--with
the same unconcern; for in her grandmother's hood and jacket and check
apron, with her head held shamefacedly downward, she looked exactly like
the old woman. I thought I would have Nina make her self-sacrifice
rebelliously, as a girl like her would be apt to do, and follow the
cokecart with tears. This would catch Janssen's notice, and he would
wonder, perhaps with a little pang, what the old woman was crying about,
and then he would see that it was not the old woman. He would see that
it was Nina, and he would be in love with her at once, for she would not
only be very pretty, but he would know that she was good, if she were
willing to help her family in that way.

He would respect the girl, in his dull, sluggish, Northern way. He would
do nothing to betray himself. But little by little he would begin to
befriend her. He would carelessly overload his cart before he left the
yard, so that the coke would fall from it more lavishly; and not only
this, but if he saw a stone or a piece of coal in the street he would
drive over it, so that more coke would be jolted from his load.

Nina would get to watching for him. She must not notice him much at
first, except as the driver of the overladen, carelessly driven cart.
But after several mornings she must see that he is very strong and
handsome. Then, after several mornings more, their eyes must meet, her
vivid black eyes, with the tears of rage and shame in them, and his cold
blue eyes. This must be the climax; and just at this point I gave my
fancy a rest, while I went into a drugstore at the corner of Avenue B to
get my hands warm.

They were abominably cold, even in my pockets, and I had suffered past
several places trying to think of an excuse to go in. I now asked the
druggist if he had something which I felt pretty sure he had not, and
this put him in the wrong, so that when we fell into talk he was very
polite. We agreed admirably about the hard times, and he gave way
respectfully when I doubted his opinion that the winters were getting
milder. I made him reflect that there was no reason for this, and that
it was probably an illusion from that deeper impression which all
experiences made on us in the past, when we were younger; I ought to say
that he was an elderly man, too. I said I fancied such a morning as this
was not very mild for people that had no fires, and this brought me back
again to Janssen and Marina, by way of the coke-cart. The thought of
them rapt me so far from the druggist that I listened to his answer with
a glazing eye, and did not know what he said. My hands had now got warm,
and I bade him good-morning with a parting regret, which he civilly
shared, that he had not the thing I had not wanted, and I pushed out
again into the cold, which I found not so bad as before.

My hero and heroine were waiting for me there, and I saw that to be truly
modern, to be at once realistic and mystical, to have both delicacy and
strength, I must not let them get further acquainted with each other.
The affair must simply go on from day to day, till one morning Jan must
note that it was again the grandmother and no longer the girl who was
following his cart. She must be very weak from a long sickness--I was
not sure whether to have it the grippe or not, but I decided upon that
provisionally and she must totter after Janssen, so that he must get down
after a while to speak to her under pretence of arranging the tail-board
of his cart, or something of that kind; I did not care for the detail.
They should get into talk in the broken English which was the only
language they could have in common, and she should burst into tears, and
tell him that now Nina was sick; I imagined making this very simple, but
very touching, and I really made it so touching that it brought the lump
into my own throat, and I knew it would be effective with the reader.
Then I had Jan get back upon his cart, and drive stolidly on again, and
the old woman limp feebly after.

There should not be any more, I decided, except that one very cold
morning, like that; Jan should be driving through that street, and should
be passing the door of the tenement house where Nina had lived, just as a
little procession should be issuing from it. The fact must be told in
brief sentences, with a total absence of emotionality. The last touch
must be Jan's cart turning the street corner with Jan's figure sharply
silhouetted against the clear, cold morning light. Nothing more.

But it was at this point that another notion came into my mind, so antic,
so impish, so fiendish, that if there were still any Evil One, in a world
which gets on so poorly without him, I should attribute it to his
suggestion; and this was that the procession which Jan saw issuing from
the tenement-house door was not a funeral procession, as the reader will
have rashly fancied, but a wedding procession, with Nina at the head of
it, quite well again, and going to be married to the little brown youth
with ear-rings who had long had her heart.

With a truly perverse instinct, I saw how strong this might be made, at
the fond reader's expense, to be sure, and how much more pathetic, in
such a case, the silhouetted figure on the coke-cart would really be.
I should, of course, make it perfectly plain that no one was to blame,
and that the whole affair had been so tacit on Jan's part that Nina might
very well have known nothing of his feeling for her. Perhaps at the very
end I might subtly insinuate that it was possible he might have had no
such feeling towards her as the reader had been led to imagine.


The question as to which ending I ought to have given my romance is what
has ever since remained to perplex me, and it is what has prevented my
ever writing it. Here is material of the best sort lying useless on my
hands, which, if I could only make up my mind, might be wrought into a
short story as affecting as any that wring our hearts in fiction; and I
think I could get something fairly unintelligible out of the broken
English of Jan and Nina's grandmother, and certainly something novel.
All that I can do now, however, is to put the case before the reader, and
let him decide for himself how it should end.

The mere humanist, I suppose, might say, that I am rightly served for
having regarded the fact I had witnessed as material for fiction at all;
that I had no business to bewitch it with my miserable art; that I ought
to have spoken to that little child and those poor old women, and tried
to learn something of their lives from them, that I might offer my
knowledge again for the instruction of those whose lives are easy and
happy in the indifference which ignorance breeds in us. I own there is
something in this, but then, on the other hand, I have heard it urged by
nice people that they do not want to know about such squalid lives, that
it is offensive and out of taste to be always bringing them in, and that
we ought to be writing about good society, and especially creating
grandes dames for their amusement. This sort of people could say to the
humanist that he ought to be glad there are coke-carts for fuel to fall
off from for the lower classes, and that here was no case for sentiment;
for if one is to be interested in such things at all, it must be
aesthetically, though even this is deplorable in the presence of fiction
already overloaded with low life, and so poor in grades dames as ours.


It may be all an illusion of the map, where the Summer Islands glimmer a
small and solitary little group of dots and wrinkles, remote from
continental shores, with a straight line descending southeastwardly upon
them, to show how sharp and swift the ship's course is, but they seem so
far and alien from my wonted place that it is as if I had slid down a
steepy slant from the home-planet to a group of asteroids nebulous
somewhere in middle space, and were resting there, still vibrant from the
rush of the meteoric fall. There were, of course, facts and incidents
contrary to such a theory: a steamer starting from New York in the raw
March morning, and lurching and twisting through two days of diagonal
seas, with people aboard dining and undining, and talking and smoking and
cocktailing and hot-scotching and beef-teaing; but when the ship came in
sight of the islands, and they began to lift their cedared slopes from
the turquoise waters, and to explain their drifted snows as the white
walls and white roofs of houses, then the waking sense became the
dreaming sense, and the sweet impossibility of that drop through air
became the sole reality.


Everything here, indeed, is so strange that you placidly accept whatever
offers itself as the simplest and naturalest fact. Those low hills, that
climb, with their tough, dark cedars, from the summer sea to the summer
sky, might have drifted down across the Gulf Stream from the coast of
Maine; but when, upon closer inspection, you find them skirted with palms
and bananas, and hedged with oleanders, you merely wonder that you had
never noticed these growths in Maine before, where you were so familiar
with the cedars. The hotel itself, which has brought the Green Mountains
with it, in every detail, from the dormer-windowed mansard-roof, and the
white-painted, green-shuttered walls, to the neat, school-mistressly
waitresses in the dining-room, has a clump of palmettos beside it,
swaying and sighing in the tropic breeze, and you know that when it
migrates back to the New England hill-country, at the end of the season,
you shall find it with the palmettos still before its veranda, and
equally at home, somewhere in the Vermont or New Hampshire July. There
will be the same American groups looking out over them, and rocking and
smoking, though, alas! not so many smoking as rocking.

But where, in that translation, would be the gold braided red or blue
jackets of the British army and navy which lend their lustre and color
here to the veranda groups? Where should one get the house walls of
whitewashed stone and the garden walls which everywhere glow in the sun,
and belt in little spaces full of roses and lilies? These things must
come from some other association, and in the case of him who here
confesses, the lustrous uniforms and the glowing walls rise from waters
as far away in time as in space, and a long-ago apparition of Venetian
Junes haunts the coral shore. (They are beginning to say the shore is
not coral; but no matter.) To be sure, the white roofs are not accounted
for in this visionary presence; and if one may not relate them to the
snowfalls of home winters, then one must frankly own them absolutely
tropical, together with the green-pillared and green-latticed galleries.
They at least suggest the tropical scenery of Prue and I as one remembers
seeing it through Titbottom's spectacles; and yet, if one supplies roofs
of brown-red tiles, it is all Venetian enough, with the lagoon-like
expanses that lend themselves to the fond effect. It is so Venetian,
indeed, that it wants but a few silent gondolas and noisy gondoliers,
in place of the dark, taciturn oarsmen of the clumsy native boats, to
complete the coming and going illusion; and there is no good reason why
the rough little isles that fill the bay should not call themselves
respectively San Giorgio and San Clemente, and Sant' Elena and San
Lazzaro: they probably have no other names!


These summer isles of Eden have this advantage over the scriptural Eden,
that apparently it was not woman and her seed who were expelled, when
once she set foot here, but the serpent and his seed: women now abound in
the Summer Islands, and there is not a snake anywhere to be found. There
are some tortoises and a great many frogs in their season, but no other
reptiles. The frogs are fabled of a note so deep and hoarse that its
vibration almost springs the environing mines of dynamite, though it has
never yet done so; the tortoises grow to a great size and a patriarchal
age, and are fond of Boston brown bread and baked beans, if their
preferences may be judged from those of a colossal specimen in the care
of an American family living on the islands. The observer who
contributes this fact to science is able to report the case of a parrot-
fish, on the same premises, so exactly like a large brown and purple
cockatoo that, seeing such a cockatoo later on dry land, it was with a
sense of something like cruelty in its exile from its native waters.
The angel-fish he thinks not so much like angels; they are of a
transparent purity of substance, and a cherubic innocence of expression,
but they terminate in two tails, which somehow will not lend themselves
to the resemblance.

Certainly the angel-fish is not so well named as the parrot-fish; it
might better be called the ghostfish, it is so like a moonbeam in the
pools it haunts, and of such a convertible quality with the iridescent
vegetable growths about it. All things here are of a weird
convertibility to the alien perception, and the richest and rarest facts
of nature lavish themselves in humble association with the commonest and
most familiar. You drive through long stretches of wayside willows, and
realize only now and then that these willows are thick clumps of
oleanders; and through them you can catch glimpses of banana-orchards,
which look like dishevelled patches of gigantic cornstalks. The fields
of Easter lilies do not quite live up to their photographs; they are
presently suffering from a mysterious blight, and their flowers are not
frequent enough to lend them that sculpturesque effect near to, which
they wear as far off as New York. The potato-fields, on the other hand,
are of a tender delicacy of coloring which compensates for the lilies'
lack, and the palms give no just cause for complaint, unless because they
are not nearly enough to characterize the landscape, which in spite of
their presence remains so northern in aspect. They were much whipped and
torn by a late hurricane, which afflicted all the vegetation of the
islands, and some of the royal palms were blown down. Where these are
yet standing, as four or five of them are in a famous avenue now quite
one-sided, they are of a majesty befitting that of any king who could
pass by them: no sovereign except Philip of Macedon in his least judicial
moments could pass between them.

The century-plant, which here does not require pampering under glass,
but boldly takes its place out doors with the other trees of the garden,
employs much less than a hundred years to bring itself to bloom.
It often flowers twice or thrice in that space of time, and ought to take
away the reproach of the inhabitants for a want of industry and
enterprise: a century-plant at least could do no more in any air, and it
merits praise for its activity in the breath of these languorous seas.
One such must be in bloom at this very writing, in the garden of a house
which this very writer marked for his own on his first drive ashore from
the steamer to the hotel, when he bestowed in its dim, unknown interior
one of the many multiples of himself which are now pretty well dispersed
among the pleasant places of the earth. It fills the night with a heavy
heliotropean sweetness, and on the herb beneath, in the effulgence of the
waxing moon, the multiple which has spiritually expropriated the legal
owners stretches itself in an interminable reverie, and hears Youth come
laughing back to it on the waters kissing the adjacent shore, where other
white houses (which also it inhabits) bathe their snowy underpinning.
In this dream the multiple drives home from the balls of either hotel
with the young girls in the little victorias which must pass its sojourn;
and, being but a vision itself, fore casts the shapes of flirtation which
shall night-long gild the visions of their sleep with the flash of
military and naval uniforms. Of course the multiple has been at the
dance too (with a shadowy heartache for the dances of forty years ago),
and knows enough not to confuse the uniforms.


In whatever way you walk, at whatever hour, the birds are sweetly calling
in the way-side oleanders and the wild sage-bushes and the cedar-tops.
They are mostly cat-birds, quite like our own; and bluebirds, but of a
deeper blue than ours, and redbirds of as liquid a note, but not so
varied, as that of the redbirds of our woods. How came they all here,
seven hundred miles from any larger land? Some think, on the stronger
wings of tempests, for it is not within the knowledge of men that men
brought them. Men did, indeed, bring the pestilent sparrows which swarm
about their habitations here, and beat away the gentler and lovelier
birds with a ferocity unknown in the human occupation of the islands.
Still, the sparrows have by no means conquered, and in the wilder places
the catbird makes common cause with the bluebird and the redbird, and
holds its own against them. The little ground-doves mimic in miniature
the form and markings and the gait and mild behavior of our turtle-doves,
but perhaps not their melancholy cooing. Nature has nowhere anything
prettier than these exquisite creatures, unless it be the long-tailed
white gulls which sail over the emerald shallows of the landlocked seas,
and take the green upon their translucent bodies as they trail their
meteoric splendor against the midday sky. Full twenty-four inches they
measure from the beak to the tip of the single pen that protracts them a
foot beyond their real bulk; but it is said their tempers are shorter
than they, and they attack fiercely anything they suspect of too intimate
a curiosity concerning their nests.

They are probably the only short-tempered things in the Summer Islands,
where time is so long that if you lose your patience you easily find it
again. Sweetness, if not light, seems to be the prevailing human
quality, and a good share of it belongs to such of the natives as are in
no wise light. Our poor brethren of a different pigment are in the large
majority, and they have been seventy years out of slavery, with the full
enjoyment of all their civil rights, without lifting themselves from
their old inferiority. They do the hard work, in their own easy way, and
possibly do not find life the burden they make it for the white man, whom
here, as in our own country, they load up with the conundrum which their
existence involves for him. They are not very gay, and do not rise to a
joke with that flashing eagerness which they show for it at home. If you
have them against a background of banana-stems, or low palms, or feathery
canes, nothing could be more acceptably characteristic of the air and
sky; nor are they out of place on the box of the little victorias, where
visitors of the more inquisitive sex put them to constant question. Such
visitors spare no islander of any color. Once, in the pretty Public
Garden which the multiple had claimed for its private property, three
unmerciful American women suddenly descended from the heavens and began
to question the multiple's gardener, who was peacefully digging at the
rate of a spadeful every five minutes. Presently he sat down on his
wheelbarrow, and then shifted, without relief, from one handle of it to
the other. Then he rose and braced himself desperately against the tool-
house, where, when his tormentors drifted away, he seemed to the soft eye
of pity pinned to the wall by their cruel interrogations, whose barbed
points were buried in the stucco behind him, and whose feathered shafts
stuck out half a yard before his breast.

Whether he was black or not, pity could not see, but probably he was.
At least the garrison of the islands is all black, being a Jamaican
regiment of that color; and when one of the warriors comes down the white
street, with his swagger-stick in his hand, and flaming in scarlet and
gold upon the ground of his own blackness, it is as if a gigantic oriole
were coming towards you, or a mighty tulip. These gorgeous creatures
seem so much readier than the natives to laugh, that you wish to test
them with a joke. But it might fail. The Summer Islands are a British
colony, and the joke does not flourish so luxuriantly, here as some other

To be sure, one of the native fruits seems a sort of joke when you hear
it first named, and when you are offered a 'loquat', if you are of a
frivolous mind you search your mind for the connection with 'loquor'
which it seems to intimate. Failing in this, you taste the fruit, and
then, if it is not perfectly ripe, you are as far from loquaciousness as
if you had bitten a green persimmon. But if it is ripe, it is delicious,
and may be consumed indefinitely. It is the only native fruit which one
can wish to eat at all, with an unpractised palate, though it is claimed
that with experience a relish may come for the pawpaws. These break out
in clusters of the size of oranges at the top of a thick pole, which may
have some leaves or may not, and ripen as they fancy in the indefinite
summer. They are of the color and flavor of a very insipid little
muskmelon which has grown too near a patch of squashes.

One may learn to like this pawpaw, yes, but one must study hard. It is
best when plucked by a young islander of Italian blood whose father
orders him up the bare pole in the sunny Sunday morning air to oblige the
signori, and then with a pawpaw in either hand stands talking with them
about the two bad years there have been in Bermuda, and the probability
of his doing better in Nuova York. He has not imagined our winter,
however, and he shrinks from its boldly pictured rigors, and lets the
signori go with a sigh, and a bunch of pink and crimson roses.

The roses are here, budding and blooming in the quiet bewilderment which
attends the flowers and plants from the temperate zone in this latitude,
and which in the case of the strawberries offered with cream and cake at
another public garden expresses itself in a confusion of red, ripe fruit
and white blossoms on the same stem. They are a pleasure to the nose and
eye rather than the palate, as happens with so many growths of the
tropics, if indeed the Summer Islands are tropical, which some plausibly
deny; though why should not strawberries, fresh picked from the plant in
mid-March, enjoy the right to be indifferent sweet?


What remains? The events of the Summer Islands are few, and none out of
the order of athletics between teams of the army and navy, and what may
be called societetics, have happened in the past enchanted fortnight.
But far better things than events have happened: sunshine and rain of
such like quality that one could not grumble at either, and gales, now
from the south and now from the north, with the languor of the one and
the vigor of the other in them. There were drives upon drives that were
always to somewhere, but would have been delightful the same if they had
been mere goings and comings, past the white houses overlooking little
lawns through the umbrage of their palm-trees. The lawns professed to be
of grass, but were really mats of close little herbs which were not
grass; but which, where the sparse cattle were grazing them, seemed to
satisfy their inexacting stomachs. They are never very green, and in
fact the landscape often has an air of exhaustion and pause which it
wears with us in late August; and why not, after all its interminable,
innumerable summers? Everywhere in the gentle hollows which the coral
hills (if they are coral) sink into are the patches of potatoes and
lilies and onions drawing their geometrical lines across the brown-red,
weedless soil; and in very sheltered spots are banana-orchards which are
never so snugly sheltered there but their broad leaves are whipped to
shreds. The white road winds between gray walls crumbling in an amiable
disintegration, but held together against ruin by a network of maidenhair
ferns and creepers of unknown name, and overhung by trees where the
cactus climbs and hangs in spiky links, or if another sort, pierces them
with speary stems as tall and straight as the stalks of the neighboring
bamboo. The loquat-trees cluster--like quinces in the garden closes, and
show their pale golden, plum-shaped fruit.

For the most part the road runs by still inland waters, but sometimes it
climbs to the high downs beside the open sea, grotesque with wind-worn
and wave-worn rocks, and beautiful with opalescent beaches, and the black
legs of the negro children paddling in the tints of the prostrate

All this seems probable and natural enough at the writing; but how will
it be when one has turned one's back upon it? Will it not lapse into the
gross fable of travellers, and be as the things which the liars who swap
them cannot themselves believe? What will be said to you when you tell
that in the Summer Islands one has but to saw a hole in his back yard and
take out a house of soft, creamy sandstone and set it up and go to living
in it? What, when you relate that among the northern and southern
evergreens there are deciduous trees which, in a clime where there is no
fall or spring, simply drop their leaves when they are tired of keeping
them on, and put out others when they feel like it? What, when you
pretend that in the absence of serpents there are centipedes a span long,
and spiders the bigness of bats, and mosquitoes that sweetly sing in the
drowsing ear, but bite not; or that there are swamps but no streams, and
in the marshes stand mangrove-trees whose branches grow downward into the
ooze, as if they wished to get back into the earth and pull in after them
the holes they emerged from?

These every-day facts seem not only incredible to the liar himself, even
in their presence, but when you begin the ascent of that steep slant back
to New York you foresee that they will become impossible. As impossible
as the summit of the slant now appears to the sense which shudderingly
figures it a Bermuda pawpaw-tree seven hundred miles high, and fruiting
icicles and snowballs in the March air!


Looking through Mrs. Caroline A. Creevey's charming book on the Flowers
of Field, Hill, and Swamp, the other day, I was very forcibly reminded of
the number of these pretty, wilding growths which I had been finding all
the season long among the streets of asphalt and the sidewalks of
artificial stone in this city; and I am quite sure that any one who has
been kept in New York, as I have been this year, beyond the natural time
of going into the country, can have as real a pleasure in this sylvan
invasion as mine, if he will but give himself up to a sense of it.


Of course it is altogether too late, now, to look for any of the early
spring flowers, but I can recall the exquisite effect of the tender blue
hepatica fringing the centre rail of the grip-cars, all up and down
Broadway, and apparently springing from the hollow beneath, where the
cable ran with such a brooklike gurgle that any damp-living plant must
find itself at home there. The water-pimpernel may now be seen, by any
sympathetic eye, blowing delicately along the track, in the breeze of the
passing cabs, and elastically lifting itself from the rush of the cars.
The reader can easily verify it by the picture in Mrs. Creevey's book.
He knows it by its other name of brook weed; and he will have my delight,
I am sure, in the cardinal-flower which will be with us in August. It is
a shy flower, loving the more sequestered nooks, and may be sought along
the shady stretches of Third Avenue, where the Elevated Road overhead
forms a shelter as of interlacing boughs. The arrow-head likes such
swampy expanses as the converging surface roads form at Dead Man's Curve
and the corners of Twenty third Street. This is in flower now, and will
be till September; and St.-John's-wort, which some call the false golden-
rod, is already here. You may find it in any moist, low ground, but the
gutters of Wall Street, or even the banks of the Stock Exchange, are not
too dry for it. The real golden-rod is not much in evidence with us, for
it comes only when summer is on the wane. The other night, however, on
the promenade of the Madison Square Roof Garden, I was delighted to see
it growing all over the oblong dome of the auditorium, in response to the
cry of a homesick cricket which found itself in exile there at the base
of a potted ever green. This lonely insect had no sooner sounded its
winter-boding note than the fond flower began sympathetically to wave and
droop along those tarry slopes, as I have seen it on how many hill-side
pastures! But this may have been only a transitory response to the
cricket, and I cannot promise the visitor to the Roof Garden that he will
find golden-rod there every night. I believe there is always Golden
Seal, but it is the kind that comes in bottles, and not in the gloom of
"deep, cool, moist woods," where Mrs. Creevey describes it as growing,
along with other wildings of such sweet names or quaint as Celandine, and
Dwarf Larkspur, and Squirrel-corn, and Dutchman's breeches, and
Pearlwort, and Wood-sorrel, and Bishop's--cap, and Wintergreen, and
Indian-pipe, and Snowberry, and Adder's-tongue, and Wakerobin, and
Dragon-root, and Adam-and-Eve, and twenty more, which must have got their
names from some fairy of genius. I should say it was a female fairy of
genius who called them so, and that she had her own sex among mortals in
mind when she invented their nomenclature, and was thinking of little
girls, and slim, pretty maids, and happy young wives. The author tells
how they all look, with a fine sense of their charm in her words, but one
would know how they looked from their names; and when you call them over
they at once transplant themselves to the depths of the dells between our
sky-scrapers, and find a brief sojourn in the cavernous excavations
whence other sky-scrapers are to rise.


That night on the Roof Garden, when the cricket's cry flowered the dome
with golden-rod, the tall stems of rye growing among the orchestra sloped
all one way at times, just like the bows of violins, in the half-dollar
gale that always blows over the city at that height. But as one turns
the leaves of Mrs. Creevey's magic book-perhaps one ought to say turns
its petals--the forests and the fields come and make themselves at home
in the city everywhere. By virtue of it I have been more in the country
in a half-hour than if I had lived all June there. When I lift my eyes
from its pictures or its letter-press my vision prints the eidolons of
wild flowers everywhere, as it prints the image of the sun against the
air after dwelling on his brightness. The rose-mallow flaunts along
Fifth Avenue and the golden threads of the dodder embroider the house
fronts on the principal cross streets; and I might think at times that it
was all mere fancy, it has so much the quality of a pleasing illusion.

Yet Mrs. Creevey's book is not one to lend itself to such a deceit by any
of the ordinary arts. It is rather matter of fact in form and manner,
and largely owes what magic it has to the inherent charm of its subject.
One feels this in merely glancing at the index, and reading such titles
of chapters as "Wet Meadows and Low Grounds"; "Dry Fields--Waste Places--
Waysides"; "Hills and Rocky Woods, Open Woods"; and "Deep, Cool, Moist
Woods"; each a poem in itself, lyric or pastoral, and of a surpassing
opulence of suggestion. The spring and, summer months pass in stately
processional through the book, each with her fillet inscribed with the
names of her characteristic flowers or blossoms, and brightened with the
blooms themselves.

They are plucked from where nature bade them grow in the wild places, or
their own wayward wills led them astray. A singularly fascinating
chapter is that called "Escaped from Gardens," in which some of these
pretty runagates are catalogued. I supposed in my liberal ignorance that
the Bouncing Bet was the only one of these, but I have learned that the
Pansy and the Sweet Violet love to gad, and that the Caraway, the
Snapdragon, the Prince's Feather, the Summer Savory, the Star of
Bethlehem, the Day-Lily, and the Tiger-Lily, and even the sluggish Stone
Crop are of the vagrant, fragrant company. One is not surprised to meet
the Tiger-Lily in it; that must always have had the jungle in its heart;
but that the Baby's Breath should be found wandering by the road-sides
from Massachusetts and Virginia to Ohio, gives one a tender pang as for a
lost child. Perhaps the poor human tramps, who sleep in barns and feed
at back doors along those dusty ways, are mindful of the Baby's Breath,
and keep a kindly eye out for the little truant.


As I was writing those homely names I felt again how fit and lovely they
were, how much more fit and lovely than the scientific names of the
flowers. Mrs. Creevey will make a botanist of you if you will let her,
and I fancy a very good botanist, though I cannot speak from experience,
but she will make a poet of you in spite of yourself, as I very well
know; and she will do this simply by giving you first the familiar name
of the flowers she loves to write of. I am not saying that the Day-Lily
would not smell as sweet by her title of 'Hemerocallis Fulva', or that
the homely, hearty Bouncing Bet would not kiss as deliciously in her
scholar's cap and gown of 'Saponaria Officinalis'; but merely that their
college degrees do not lend themselves so willingly to verse, or even
melodious prose, which is what the poet is often after nowadays. So I
like best to hail the flowers by the names that the fairies gave them,
and the children know them by, especially when my longing for them makes
them grow here in the city streets. I have a fancy that they would all
vanish away if I saluted them in botanical terms. As long as I talk of
cat-tail rushes, the homeless grimalkins of the areas and the back fences
help me to a vision of the swamps thickly studded with their stiff
spears; but if I called them 'Typha Latifolia', or even 'Typha
Angustifolia', there is not the hardiest and fiercest prowler of the roof
and the fire-escape but would fly the sound of my voice and leave me
forlorn amid the withered foliage of my dream. The street sparrows,
pestiferous and persistent as they are, would forsake my sylvan pageant
if I spoke of the Bird-foot Violet as the 'Viola Pedata'; and the
commonest cur would run howling if he beard the gentle Poison Dogwood
maligned as the 'Rhus Venenata'. The very milk-cans would turn to their
native pumps in disgust from my attempt to invoke our simple American
Cowslip as the 'Dodecatheon Meadia'.


Yet I do not deny that such scientific nomenclature has its uses; and I
should be far from undervaluing this side of Mrs. Creevey's book. In
fact, I secretly respect it the more for its botanical lore, and if ever
I get into the woods or fields again I mean to go up to some of the
humblest flowers, such as I can feel myself on easy terms with, and tell
them what they are in Latin. I think it will surprise them, and I dare
say they will some of them like it, and will want their initials
inscribed on their leaves, like those signatures which the medicinal
plants bear, or are supposed to bear. But as long as I am engaged in
their culture amid this stone and iron and asphalt, I find it best to
invite their presence by their familiar names, and I hope they will not
think them too familiar. I should like to get them all naturalized here,
so that the thousands of poor city children, who never saw them growing
in their native places, might have some notion of how bountifully the
world is equipped with beauty, and how it is governed by many laws which
are not enforced by policemen. I think that would interest them very
much, and I shall not mind their plucking my Barmecide blossoms, and
carrying them home by the armfuls. When good-will costs nothing we ought
to practise it even with the tramps, and these are very welcome, in their
wanderings over the city pave, to rest their weary limbs in any of my
pleached bowers they come to.


We dwellers in cities and large towns, if we are well-to-do, have more
than our fill of pleasures of all kinds; and for now many years past we
have been used to a form of circus where surfeit is nearly as great
misery as famine in that kind could be. For our sins, or some of our
friends' sins, perhaps, we have now gone so long to circuses of three
rings and two raised-platforms that we scarcely realize that in the
country there are still circuses of one ring and no platform at all.
We are accustomed, in the gross and foolish-superfluity of these city
circuses, to see no feat quite through, but to turn our greedy eyes at
the most important instant in the hope of greater wonders in another
ring. We have four or five clowns, in as many varieties of grotesque
costume, as well as a lady clown in befitting dress; but we hear none of
them speak, not even the lady clown, while in the country circus the old
clown of our childhood, one and indivisible, makes the same style of
jokes, if not the very same jokes, that we used to hear there. It is not
easy to believe all this, and I do not know that I should quite believe
it myself if I had not lately been witness of it in the suburban village
where I was passing the summer.


The circus announced itself in the good old way weeks beforehand by the
vast posters of former days and by a profusion of small bills which fell
upon the village as from the clouds, and left it littered everywhere with
their festive pink. They prophesied it in a name borne by the first
circus I ever saw, which was also an animal show, but the animals must
all have died during the fifty years past, for there is now no menagerie
attached to it. I did not know this when I heard the band braying
through the streets of the village on the morning of the performance,
and for me the mangy old camels and the pimpled elephants of yore led the
procession through accompanying ranks of boys who have mostly been in
their graves for half a lifetime; the distracted ostrich thrust an
advertising neck through the top of its cage, and the lion roared to
himself in the darkness of his moving prison. I felt the old thrill of
excitement, the vain hope of something preternatural and impossible, and
I do not know what could have kept me from that circus as soon as I had
done lunch. My heart rose at sight of the large tent (which was yet so
very little in comparison with the tents of the three-ring and two-
platform circuses); the alluring and illusory sideshows of fat women and
lean men; the horses tethered in the background and stamping under the
fly-bites; the old, weather-beaten grand chariot, which looked like the
ghost of the grand chariot which used to drag me captive in its triumph;
and the canvas shelters where the cooks were already at work over their
kettles on the evening meal of the circus folk.

I expected to be kept a long while from the ticket-wagon by the crowd,
but there was no crowd, and perhaps there never used to be much of a
crowd. I bought my admittances without a moment's delay, and the man who
sold me my reserve seats had even leisure to call me back and ask to look
at the change he had given me, mostly nickels. "I thought I didn't give
you enough," he said, and he added one more, and sent me on to the
doorkeeper with my faith in human nature confirmed and refreshed.
It was cool enough outside, but within it was very warm, as it should be,
to give the men with palm-leaf fans and ice-cold lemonade a chance. They
were already making their rounds, and crying their wares with voices from
the tombs of the dead past; and the child of the young mother who took my
seat-ticket from me was going to sleep at full length on the lowermost
tread of the benches, so that I had to step across its prostrate form.
These reserved seats were carpeted; but I had forgotten how little one
rank was raised above another, and how very trying they were upon the
back and legs. But for the carpeting, I could not see how I was
advantaged above the commoner folk in the unreserved seats, and I
reflected how often in this world we paid for an inappreciable splendor.
I could not see but they were as well off as I; they were much more gayly
dressed, and some of them were even smoking cigars, while they were
nearly all younger by ten, twenty, forty, or fifty years, and even more.
They did not look like the country people whom I rather hoped and
expected to see, but were apparently my fellow-villagers, in different
stages of excitement. They manifested by the usual signs their
impatience to have the performance begin, and I confess that I shared
this, though I did not take part in the demonstration.


I have no intention of following the events seriatim. Front time to time
during their progress I renewed my old one-sided acquaintance with the
circus-men. They were quite the same people, I believe, but strangely
softened and ameliorated, as I hope I am, and looking not a day older,
which I cannot say of myself, exactly. The supernumeraries were patently
farmer boys who had entered newly upon that life in a spirit of
adventure, and who wore their partial liveries, a braided coat here and a
pair of striped trousers there, with a sort of timorous pride, a
deprecating bravado, as if they expected to be hooted by the spectators
and were very glad when they were not. The man who went round with a dog
to keep boys from hooking in under the curtain had grown gentler, and his
dog did not look as if he would bite the worst boy in town. The man came
up and asked the young mother about her sleeping child, and I inferred
that the child had been sick, and was therefore unusually interesting to
all the great, kind-hearted, simple circus family. He was good to the
poor supes, and instructed them, not at all sneeringly, how best to
manage the guy ropes for the nets when the trapeze events began.

There was, in fact, an air of pleasing domesticity diffused over the
whole circus. This was, perhaps, partly an effect from our extreme
proximity to its performances; I had never been on quite such intimate
terms with equitation and aerostation of all kinds; but I think it was
also largely from the good hearts of the whole company. A circus must
become, during the season, a great brotherhood and sisterhood, especially
sisterhood, and its members must forget finally that they are not united
by ties of blood. I dare say they often become so, as husbands and wives
and fathers and mothers, if not as brothers.

The domestic effect was heightened almost poignantly when a young lady in
a Turkish-towel bath-gown came out and stood close by the band, waiting
for her act on a barebacked horse of a conventional pattern. She really
looked like a young goddess in a Turkish-towel bath-gown: goddesses must
have worn bath-gowns, especially Venus, who was often imagined in the
bath, or just out of it. But when this goddess threw off her bath-gown,
and came bounding into the ring as gracefully as the clogs she wore on
her slippers would let her, she was much more modestly dressed than most
goddesses. What I am trying to say, however, is that, while she stood
there by the band, she no more interested the musicians than if she were
their collective sister. They were all in their shirt-sleeves for the
sake of the coolness, and they banged and trumpeted and fluted away as
indifferent to her as so many born brothers.

Indeed, when the gyrations of her horse brought her to our side of the
ring, she was visibly not so youthful and not so divine as she might have
been; but the girl who did the trapeze acts, and did them wonderfully,
left nothing to be desired in that regard; though really I do not see why
we who have neither youth nor beauty should always expect it of other
people. I think it would have been quite enough for her to do the
trapeze acts so perfectly; but her being so pretty certainly added a
poignancy to the contemplation of her perils. One could follow every
motion of her anxiety in that close proximity: the tremor of her chin as
she bit her lips before taking her flight through the air, the straining
eagerness of her eye as she measured the distance, the frown with which
she forbade herself any shrinking or reluctance.


How strange is life, how sad and perplexing its contradictions! Why
should such an exhibition as that be supposed to give pleasure? Perhaps
it does not give pleasure, but is only a necessary fulfilment of one of
the many delusions we are in with regard to each other in this
bewildering world. They are of all sorts and degrees, these delusions,
and I suppose that in the last analysis it was not pleasure I got from
the clown and his clowning, clowned he ever so merrily. I remember that
I liked hearing his old jokes, not because they were jokes, but because
they were old and endeared by long association. He sang one song which I
must have heard him sing at my first circus (I am sure it was he), about
"Things that I don't like to see," and I heartily agreed with him that
his book of songs, which he sent round to be sold, was fully worth the
half-dime asked for it, though I did not buy it.

Perhaps the rival author in me withheld me, but, as a brother man, I will
not allow that I did not feel for him and suffer with him because of the
thick, white pigment which plentifully coated his face, and, with the
sweat drops upon it, made me think of a newly painted wall in the rain.
He was infinitely older than his personality, than his oldest joke
(though you never can be sure how old a joke is), and, representatively,
I dare say he outdated the pyramids. They must have made clowns whiten
their faces in the dawn of time, and no doubt there were drolls among the
antediluvians who enhanced the effect of their fun by that means. All
the same, I pitied this clown for it, and I fancied in his wildest
waggery the note of a real irascibility. Shall I say that he seemed the
only member of that little circus who was not of an amiable temper? But
I do not blame him, and I think it much to have seen a clown once more
who jested audibly with the ringmaster and always got the better of him
in repartee. It was long since I had known that pleasure.


Throughout the performance at this circus I was troubled by a curious
question, whether it were really of the same moral and material grandeur
as the circuses it brought to memory, or whether these were thin and
slight, too. We all know how the places of our childhood, the heights,
the distances, shrink and dwindle when we go back to them, and was it
possible that I had been deceived in the splendor of my early circuses?
The doubt was painful, but I was forced to own that there might be more
truth in it than in a blind fealty to their remembered magnificence.
Very likely circuses have grown not only in size, but in the richness and
variety of their entertainments, and I was spoiled for the simple joys
of this. But I could see no reflection of my dissatisfaction on the
young faces around me, and I must confess that there was at least so much
of the circus that I left when it was half over. I meant to go into the
side-shows and see the fat woman and the living skeleton, and take the
giant by the hand and the armless man by his friendly foot, if I might be
so honored. But I did none of these things, and I am willing to believe
the fault was in me, if I was disappointed in the circus. It was I who
had shrunk and dwindled, and not it. To real boys it was still the size
of the firmament, and was a world of wonders and delights. At least I
can recognize this fact now, and can rejoice in the peaceful progress all
over the country of the simple circuses which the towns never see, but
which help to render the summer fairer and brighter to the unspoiled eyes
and hearts they appeal to. I hope it will be long before they cease to
find profit in the pleasure they give.


The other night as I sat before the curtain of the Garden Theatre and
waited for it to rise upon the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt, a thrill of the
rich expectation which cannot fail to precede the rise of any curtain
upon any Hamlet passed through my eager frame. There is, indeed, no
scene of drama which is of a finer horror (eighteenth-century horror)
than that which opens the great tragedy. The sentry pacing up and down
upon the platform at Elsinore under the winter night; the greeting
between him and the comrade arriving to relieve him, with its hints of
the bitter cold; the entrance of Horatio and Marcellus to these before
they can part; the mention of the ghost, and, while the soldiers are in
the act of protesting it a veridical phantom, the apparition of the
ghost, taking the word from their lips and hushing all into a pulseless
awe: what could be more simply and sublimely real, more naturally
supernatural? What promise of high mystical things to come there is in
the mere syllabling of the noble verse, and how it enlarges us from
ourselves, for that time at least, to a disembodied unity with the
troubled soul whose martyry seems foreboded in the solemn accents!
As the many Hamlets on which the curtain had risen in my time passed in
long procession through my memory, I seemed to myself so much of their
world, and so little of the world that arrogantly calls itself the actual
one, that I should hardly have been surprised to find myself one of the
less considered persons of the drama who were seen but not heard in its


The trouble in judging anything is that if you have the materials for an
intelligent criticism, the case is already prejudiced in your hands.
You do not bring a free mind to it, and all your efforts to free your
mind are a species of gymnastics more or less admirable, but not really
effective for the purpose. The best way is to own yourself unfair at the
start, and then you can have some hope of doing yourself justice, if not
your subject. In other words, if you went to see the Hamlet of Mme.
Bernhardt frankly expecting to be disappointed, you were less likely in
the end to be disappointed in your expectations, and you could not blame
her if you were. To be ideally fair to that representation, it would be
better not to have known any other Hamlet, and, above all, the Hamlet of

From the first it was evident that she had three things overwhelmingly
against her--her sex, her race, and her speech. You never ceased to feel
for a moment that it was a woman who was doing that melancholy Dane, and
that the woman was a Jewess, and the Jewess a French Jewess. These three
removes put a gulf impassable between her utmost skill and the
impassioned irresolution of that inscrutable Northern nature which is in
nothing so masculine as its feminine reluctances and hesitations, or so
little French as in those obscure emotions which the English poetry
expressed with more than Gallic clearness, but which the French words
always failed to convey. The battle was lost from the first, and all you
could feel about it for the rest was that if it was magnificent it was
not war.

While the battle went on I was the more anxious to be fair, because I
had, as it were, pre-espoused the winning side; and I welcomed, in the
interest of critical impartiality, another Hamlet which came to mind,
through readily traceable associations. This was a Hamlet also of French
extraction in the skill and school of the actor, but as much more deeply
derived than the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt as the large imagination of
Charles Fechter transcended in its virile range the effect of her
subtlest womanish intuition. His was the first blond Hamlet known to our
stage, and hers was also blond, if a reddish-yellow wig may stand for a
complexion; and it was of the quality of his Hamlet in masterly


The Hamlet of Fechter, which rose ghostlike out of the gulf of the past,
and cloudily possessed the stage where the Hamlet of Mme. Bernhardt was
figuring, was called a romantic Hamlet thirty years ago; and so it was in
being a break from the classic Hamlets of the Anglo-American theatre.
It was romantic as Shakespeare himself was romantic, in an elder sense of
the word, and not romanticistic as Dumas was romanticistic. It was,
therefore, the most realistic Hamlet ever yet seen, because the most
naturally poetic. Mme. Bernhardt recalled it by the perfection of her
school; for Fechter's poetic naturalness differed from the
conventionality of the accepted Hamlets in nothing so much as the
superiority of its self-instruction. In Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet, as in
his, nothing was trusted to chance, or "inspiration." Good or bad, what
one saw was what was meant to be seen. When Fechter played Edmond Dantes
or Claude Melnotte, he put reality into those preposterous inventions,
and in Hamlet even his alien accent helped him vitalize the part; it
might be held to be nearer the Elizabethan accent than ours; and after
all, you said Hamlet was a foreigner, and in your high content with what
he gave you did not mind its being in a broken vessel. When he
challenged the ghost with "I call thee keeng, father, rawl-Dane," you
Would hardly have had the erring utterance bettered. It sufficed as it
was; and when he said to Rosencrantz, "Will you pleh upon this pyip?"
it was with such a princely authority and comradely entreaty that you
made no note of the slips in the vowels except to have pleasure of their
quaintness afterwards. For the most part you were not aware of these
betrayals of his speech; and in certain high things it was soul
interpreted to soul through the poetry of Shakespeare so finely, so
directly, that there was scarcely a sense of the histrionic means.

He put such divine despair into the words, "Except my life, except my
life, except my life!" following the mockery with which he had assured
Polonius there was nothing he would more willingly part withal than his
leave, that the heart-break of them had lingered with me for thirty
years, and I had been alert for them with every Hamlet since. But before
I knew, Mme. Bernhardt had uttered them with no effect whatever. Her
Hamlet, indeed, cut many of the things that we have learned to think the
points of Hamlet, and it so transformed others by its interpretation of
the translator's interpretation of Shakespeare that they passed
unrecognized. Soliloquies are the weak invention of the enemy, for the
most part, but as such things go that soliloquy of Hamlet's, "To be or
not to be," is at least very noble poetry; and yet Mme. Bernhardt was so
unimpressive in it that you scarcely noticed the act of its delivery.
Perhaps this happened because the sumptuous and sombre melancholy of
Shakespeare's thought was transmitted in phrases that refused it its
proper mystery. But there was always a hardness, not always from the
translation, upon this feminine Hamlet. It was like a thick shell with
no crevice in it through which the tenderness of Shakespeare's Hamlet
could show, except for the one moment at Ophelia's grave, where he
reproaches Laertes with those pathetic words

"What is the reason that you use me thus?
I loved you ever; but it is no matter."

Here Mme. Bernhardt betrayed a real grief, but as a woman would, and not
a man. At the close of the Gonzago play, when Hamlet triumphs in a mad
whirl, her Hamlet hopped up and down like a mischievous crow, a
mischievous she-crow.

There was no repose in her Hamlet, though there were moments of leaden
lapse which suggested physical exhaustion; and there was no range in her
elocution expressive of the large vibration of that tormented spirit.
Her voice dropped out, or jerked itself out, and in the crises of strong
emotion it was the voice of a scolding or a hysterical woman. At times
her movements, which she must have studied so hard to master, were drolly
womanish, especially those of the whole person. Her quickened pace was a
woman's nervous little run, and not a man's swift stride; and to give
herself due stature, it was her foible to wear a woman's high heels to
her shoes, and she could not help tilting on them.

In the scene with the queen after the play, most English and American
Hamlets have required her to look upon the counterfeit presentment of two
brothers in miniatures something the size of tea-plates; but Mme.
Bernhardt's preferred full-length, life-size family portraits. The dead
king's effigy did not appear a flattered likeness in the scene-painter's
art, but it was useful in disclosing his ghost by giving place to it in
the wall at the right moment. She achieved a novelty by this treatment
of the portraits, and she achieved a novelty in the tone she took with
the wretched queen. Hamlet appeared to scold her mother, but though it
could be said that her mother deserved a scolding, was it the part of a
good daughter to give it her?

One should, of course, say a good son, but long before this it had become
impossible to think at all of Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet as a man, if it
ever had been possible. She had traversed the bounds which tradition as
well as nature has set, and violated the only condition upon which an
actress may personate a man. This condition is that there shall be
always a hint of comedy in the part, that the spectator shall know all
the time that the actress is a woman, and that she shall confess herself
such before the play is over; she shall be fascinating in the guise of a
man only because she is so much more intensely a woman in it.
Shakespeare had rather a fancy for women in men's roles, which, as
women's roles in his time were always taken by pretty and clever boys,
could be more naturally managed then than now. But when it came to the
eclaircissement, and the pretty boys, who had been playing the parts of
women disguised as men, had to own themselves women, the effect must have
been confused if not weakened. If Mme. Bernhardt, in the necessity of
doing something Shakespearean, had chosen to do Rosalind, or Viola, or
Portia, she could have done it with all the modern advantages of women in
men's roles. These characters are, of course, "lighter motions bounded
in a shallower brain" than the creation she aimed at; but she could at
least have made much of them, and she does not make much of Hamlet.


The strongest reason against any woman Hamlet is that it does violence to
an ideal. Literature is not so rich in great imaginary masculine types
that we can afford to have them transformed to women; and after seeing
Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet no one can altogether liberate himself from the
fancy that the Prince of Denmark was a girl of uncertain age, with crises
of mannishness in which she did not seem quite a lady. Hamlet is in
nothing more a man than in the things to which as a man he found himself
unequal; for as a woman he would have been easily superior to them.
If we could suppose him a woman as Mme. Bernhardt, in spite of herself,
invites us to do, we could only suppose him to have solved his
perplexities with the delightful precipitation of his putative sex.
As the niece of a wicked uncle, who in that case would have had to be a
wicked aunt, wedded to Hamlet's father hard upon the murder of her
mother, she would have made short work of her vengeance. No fine
scruples would have delayed her; she would not have had a moment's
question whether she had not better kill herself; she would have out with
her bare bodkin and ended the doubt by first passing it through her
aunt's breast.

To be sure, there would then have been no play of "Hamlet," as we have
it; but a Hamlet like that imagined, a frankly feminine Hamlet, Mme.
Bernhardt could have rendered wonderfully. It is in attempting a
masculine Hamlet that she transcends the imaginable and violates an
ideal. It is not thinkable. After you have seen it done, you say, as
Mr. Clemens is said to have said of bicycling: "Yes, I have seen it, but
it's impossible. It doesn't stand to reason."

Art, like law, is the perfection of reason, and whatever is unreasonable
in the work of an artist is inartistic. By the time I had reached these
bold conclusions I was ready to deduce a principle from them, and to
declare that in a true civilization such a thing as that Hamlet would be
forbidden, as an offence against public morals, a violence to something
precious and sacred.

In the absence of any public regulation the precious and sacred ideals in
the arts must be trusted to the several artists, who bring themselves to
judgment when they violate them. After Mme. Bernhardt was perversely
willing to attempt the part of Hamlet, the question whether she did it
well or not was of slight consequence. She had already made her failure
in wishing to play the part. Her wish impugned her greatness as an
artist; of a really great actress it would have been as unimaginable as
the assumption of a sublime feminine role by a really great actor. There
is an obscure law in this matter which it would be interesting to trace,
but for the present I must leave the inquiry with the reader. I can note
merely that it seems somehow more permissible for women in imaginary
actions to figure as men than for men to figure as women. In the theatre
we have conjectured how and why this may be, but the privilege, for less
obvious reasons, seems yet more liberally granted in fiction. A woman
may tell a story in the character of a man and not give offence, but a
man cannot write a novel in autobiographical form from the personality of
a woman without imparting the sense of something unwholesome. One feels
this true even in the work of such a master as Tolstoy, whose Katia is a
case in point. Perhaps a woman may play Hamlet with a less shocking
effect than a man may play Desdemona, but all the same she must not play
Hamlet at all. That sublime ideal is the property of the human
imagination, and may not be profaned by a talent enamoured of the
impossible. No harm could be done by the broadest burlesque, the most
irreverent travesty, for these would still leave the ideal untouched.
Hamlet, after all the horse-play, would be Hamlet; but Hamlet played by a
woman, to satisfy her caprice, or to feed her famine for a fresh effect,
is Hamlet disabled, for a long time, at least, in its vital essence.
I felt that it would take many returns to the Hamlet of Shakespeare to
efface the impression of Mme. Bernhardt's Hamlet; and as I prepared to
escape from my row of stalls in the darkening theatre, I experienced a
noble shame for having seen the Dane so disnatured, to use Mr. Lowell's
word. I had not been obliged to come; I had voluntarily shared in the
wrong done; by my presence I had made myself an accomplice in the wrong.
It was high ground, but not too high for me, and I recovered a measure of
self-respect in assuming it.


He had often heard of it. Connoisseurs of such matters, young newspaper
men trying to make literature out of life and smuggle it into print under
the guard of unwary editors, and young authors eager to get life into
their literature, had recommended it to him as one of the most impressive
sights of the city; and he had willingly agreed with them that he ought
to see it. He imagined it very dramatic, and he was surprised to find it
in his experience so largely subjective. If there was any drama at all
it was wholly in his own consciousness. But the thing was certainly
impressive in its way.


He thought it a great piece of luck that he should come upon it by
chance, and so long after he had forgotten about it that he was surprised
to recognize it for the spectacle he had often promised himself the
pleasure of seeing.

Pleasure is the right word; for pleasure of the painful sort that all
hedonists will easily imagine was what he expected to get from it; though
upon the face of it there seems no reason why a man should delight to see
his fellow-men waiting in the winter street for the midnight dole of
bread which must in some cases be their only meal from the last midnight
to the next midnight. But the mere thought of it gave him pleasure, and
the sight of it, from the very first instant. He was proud of knowing
just what it was at once, with the sort of pride which one has in knowing
an earthquake, though one has never felt one before. He saw the double
file of men stretching up one street, and stretching down the other from
the corner of the bakery where the loaves were to be given out on the
stroke of twelve, and he hugged himself in a luxurious content with his

It was all the more comfortable to do this because he was in a coup,
warmly shut against the sharp, wholesome Christmas-week weather, and was
wrapped to the chin in a long fur overcoat, which he wore that night as a
duty to his family, with a conscience against taking cold and alarming
them for his health. He now practised another piece of self-denial: he
let the cabman drive rapidly past the interesting spectacle, and carry
him to the house where he was going to fetch away the child from the
Christmas party. He wished to be in good time, so as to save the child
from anxiety about his coming; but he promised himself to stop, going
back, and glut his sensibility in a leisurely study of the scene. He got
the child, with her arms full of things from the Christmas-tree, into the
coup, and then he said to the cabman, respectfully leaning as far over
from his box to listen as his thick greatcoat would let him: "When you
get up there near that bakery again, drive slowly. I want to have a look
at those men."

"All right, sir," said the driver intelligently, and he found his why
skilfully out of the street among the high banks of the seasonable
Christmas-week snow, which the street-cleaners had heaped up there till
they could get round to it with their carts.

When they were in Broadway again it seemed lonelier and silenter than it
was a few minutes before. Except for their own coup, the cable-cars,
with their flaming foreheads, and the mechanical clangor of their gongs
at the corners, seemed to have it altogether to themselves. A tall,
lumbering United States mail van rolled by, and impressed my friend in
the coup with a cheap and agreeable sense of mystery relative to the
letters it was carrying to their varied destination at the Grand Central
Station. He listened with half an ear to the child's account of the fun
she had at the party, and he watched with both eyes for the sight of the
men waiting at the bakery for the charity of the midnight loaves.

He played with a fear that they might all have vanished, and with an
apprehension that the cabman might forget and whirl him rapidly by the
place where he had left them. But the driver remembered, and checked his
horses in good time; and there were the men still, but in even greater
number than before, stretching farther up Broadway and farther out along
the side street. They stood slouched in dim and solemn phalanx under the
night sky, so seasonably, clear and frostily atwinkle with Christmas-week
stars; two by two they stood, slouched close together, perhaps for their
mutual warmth, perhaps in an unconscious effort to get near the door
where the loaves were to be given out, in time to share in them before
they were all gone.


My friend's heart beat with glad anticipation. He was really to see this
important, this representative thing to the greatest possible advantage.
He rapidly explained to his companion that the giver of the midnight
loaves got rid of what was left of his daily bread in that way: the next
day it could not be sold, and he preferred to give it away to those who
needed it, rather than try to find his account in it otherwise. She
understood, and he tried to think that sometimes coffee was given with
the bread, but he could not make sure of this, though he would have liked
very much to have it done; it would have been much more dramatic.
Afterwards he learned that it was done, and he was proud of having
fancied it.

He decided that when he came alongside of the Broadway file he would get
out, and go to the side door of the bakery and watch the men receiving
the bread. Perhaps he would find courage to speak to them, and ask them
about themselves. At the time it did not strike him that it would be

A great many things about them were open to reasonable conjecture. It
was not probable that they were any of them there for their health, as
the saying is. They were all there because they were hungry, or else
they were there in behalf of some one else who was hungry. But it was
always possible that some of them were impostors, and he wondered if any
test was applied to them that would prove them deserving or undeserving.
If one were poor, one ought to be deserving; if one were rich, it did not
so much matter.

It seemed to him very likely that if he asked these men questions they
would tell him lies. A fantastic association of their double files and
those of the galley-slaves whom Don Quixote released, with the tonguey
Gines de Passamonte at their head, came into his mind. He smiled, and
then he thought how these men were really a sort of slaves and convicts
--slaves to want and self-convicted of poverty. All at once he fancied
them actually manacled there together, two by two, a coffle of captives
taken in some cruel foray, and driven to a market where no man wanted to
buy. He thought how old their slavery was; and he wondered if it would
ever be abolished, as other slaveries had been. Would the world ever
outlive it? Would some New-Year's day come when some President would
proclaim, amid some dire struggle, that their slavery was to be no more?
That would be fine.


He noticed how still the most of them were. A few of them stepped a
little out of the line, and stamped to shake off the cold; but all the
rest remained motionless, shrinking into themselves, and closer together.
They might have been their own dismal ghosts, they were so still, with no
more need of defence from the cold than the dead have.

He observed now that not one among them had a fur overcoat on; and at a
second glance he saw that there was not an overcoat of any kind among
them. He made his reflection that if any of them were impostors, and not
true men, with real hunger, and if they were alive to feel that stiff,
wholesome, Christmas-week cold, they were justly punished for their

He was interested by the celerity, the simultaneity of his impressions,
his reflections. It occurred to him that his abnormal alertness must be
something like that of a drowning person, or a person in mortal peril,
and being perfectly safe and well, he was obscurely flattered by the

To test his condition further he took note of the fine mass of the great
dry-goods store on the hither corner, blocking itself out of the blue-
black night, and of the Gothic beauty of the church beyond, so near that
the coffle of captives might have issued from its sculptured portal,
after vain prayer.

Fragments of conjecture, of speculation, drifted through his mind. How
early did these files begin to form themselves for the midnight dole of
bread? As early as ten, as nine o'clock? If so, did the fact argue
habitual destitution, or merely habitual leisure? Did the slaves in the
coffle make acquaintance, or remain strangers to one another, though they
were closely neighbored night after night by their misery? Perhaps they
joked away the weary hours of waiting; they must have their jokes. Which
of them were old-comers, and which novices? Did they ever quarrel over
questions of precedence? Had they some comity, some etiquette, which a
man forced to leave his place could appeal to, and so get it back? Could
one say to his next-hand man, "Will you please keep my place?" and would
this man say to an interloper, "Excuse me, this place is engaged"? How
was it with them, when the coffle worked slowly or swiftly past the door
where the bread and coffee were given out, and word passed to the rear
that the supply was exhausted? This must sometimes happen, and what did
they do then?


My friend did not quite like to think. Vague, reproachful thoughts for
all the remote and immediate luxury of his life passed through his mind.
If he reformed that and gave the saving to hunger and cold? But what was
the use? There was so much hunger, so much cold, that it could not go

The cabman was obeying his orders too faithfully. He was not only
walking by the Broadway coffle, he was creeping by. His action caught
the notice of the slaves, and as the coups passed them they all turned
and faced it, like soldiers under review making ready to salute a
superior. They were perfectly silent, perfectly respectful, but their
eyes seemed to pierce the coupe through and through.

My friend was suddenly aware of a certain quality of representivity; he
stood to these men for all the ease and safety that they could never,
never hope to know. He was Society: Society that was to be preserved
because it embodies Civilization. He wondered if they hated him in his
capacity of Better Classes. He no longer thought of getting out and
watching their behavior as they took their bread and coffee. He would
have liked to excuse that thought, and protest that he was ashamed of it;
that he was their friend, and wished them well--as well as might be
without the sacrifice of his own advantages or superfluities, which he
could have persuaded them would be perfectly useless. He put his hand on
that of his companion trembling on his arm with sympathy, or at least
with intelligence.

"You mustn't mind. What we are and what we do is all right. It's what
they are and what they suffer that's all wrong."


"Does that view of the situation still satisfy you?" I asked, when he
had told me of this singular experience; I liked his apparently not
coloring it at all.

"I don't know," he answered. "It seems to be the only way out."

"Well, it's an easy way," I admitted, "and it's an idea that ought to
gratify the midnight platoon."


I confess that I cannot hear people rejoice in their summer sojourn as
beyond the reach of excursionists without a certain rebellion; and yet I
have to confess also that after spending a Sunday afternoon of late July,
four or five years ago, with the excursionists at one of the beaches near
New York, I was rather glad that my own summer sojourn was not within
reach of them. I know very well that the excursionists must go
somewhere, and as a man and a brother I am willing they should go
anywhere, but as a friend of quiet and seclusion I should be sorry to
have them come much where I am. It is not because I would deny them a
share of any pleasure I enjoy, but because they are so many and I am so
few that I think they would get all the pleasure and I none. I hope the
reader will see how this attitude distinguishes me from the selfish
people who inhumanly exult in their remoteness from excursionists.


It was at Rockaway Beach that I saw these fellow-beings whose mere
multitude was too much for me. They were otherwise wholly without
offence towards me, and so far as I noted, towards each other; they were,
in fact, the most entirely peaceable multitude I ever saw in any country,
and the very quietest.

There were thousands, mounting well up towards tens of thousands, of
them, in every variety of age and sex; yet I heard no voice lifted above
the conversational level, except that of some infant ignorant of its
privileges in a day at the sea-side, or some showman crying the
attractions of the spectacle in his charge. I used to think the American
crowds rather boisterous and unruly, and many years ago, when I lived in
Italy, I celebrated the greater amiability and self-control of the
Italian crowds. But we have certainly changed all that within a
generation, and if what I saw the other day was a typical New York crowd,
then the popular joy of our poorer classes is no longer the terror it
once was to the peaceful observer. The tough was not visibly present,
nor the toughness, either of the pure native East Side stock or of the
Celtic extraction; yet there were large numbers of Americans with rather
fewer recognizable Irish among the masses, who were mainly Germans,
Russians, Poles, and the Jews of these several nationalities.

There was eating and drinking without limit, on every hand and in every
kind, at the booths abounding in fried seafood, and at the tables under
all the wide-spreading verandas of the hotels and restaurants; yet I saw
not one drunken man, and of course not any drunken women. No one that I
saw was even affected by drink, and no one was guilty of any rude or
unseemly behavior. The crowd was, in short, a monument to the democratic
ideal of life in that very important expression of life, personal
conduct, I have not any notion who or what the people were, or how
virtuous or vicious they privately might be; but I am sure that no
society assemblage could be of a goodlier outside; and to be of a goodly
outside is all that the mere spectator has a right to ask of any crowd.

I fancied, however, that great numbers of this crowd, or at least all the
Americans in it, were Long-Islanders from the inland farms and villages
within easy distance of the beach. They had probably the hereditary
habit of coming to it, for it was a favorite resort in the time of their
fathers and grandfathers, who had

--"many an hour whiled away
Listening to the breakers' roar
That washed the beach at Rockaway."

But the clothing store and the paper pattern have equalized the cheaper
dress of the people so that you can no longer know citizen and countryman
apart by their clothes, still less citizeness and countrywoman; and I can
only conjecture that the foreign-looking folk I saw were from New York
and Brooklyn. They came by boat, and came and went by the continually
arriving and departing trains, and last but not least by bicycles, both
sexes. A few came in the public carriages and omnibuses of the
neighborhood, but by far the vaster number whom neither the boats nor the
trains had brought had their own vehicles, the all-pervading bicycles,
which no one seemed so poor as not to be able to keep. The bicyclers
stormed into the frantic village of the beach the whole afternoon, in the
proportion of one woman to five men, and most of these must have ridden
down on their wheels from the great cities. Boys ran about in the
roadway with bunches of brasses, to check the wheels, and put them for
safekeeping in what had once been the stable-yards of the hotels; the
restaurants had racks for them, where you could see them in solid masses,
side by side, for a hundred feet, and no shop was without its door-side
rack, which the wheelman might slide his wheel into when he stopped for a
soda, a cigar, or a sandwich. All along the road the gay bicycler and
bicycless swarmed upon the piazzas of the inns, munching, lunching, while
their wheels formed a fantastic decoration for the underpinning of the
house and a novel balustering for the steps.


The amusements provided for these throngs of people were not different
from those provided for throngs of people everywhere, who must be of much
the same mind and taste the world over. I had fine moments when I moved
in an illusion of the Midway Plaisance; again I was at the Fete de
Neuilly, with all of Paris but the accent about me; yet again the county
agricultural fairs of my youth spread their spectral joys before me. At
none of these places, however, was there a sounding sea or a mountainous
chute, and I made haste to experience the variety these afforded,
beginning with the chute, since the sea was always there, and the chute
might be closed for the day if I waited to view it last. I meant only to
enjoy the pleasure of others in it, and I confined my own participation
to the ascent of the height from which the boat plunges down the watery
steep into the oblong pool below. When I bought my ticket for the car
that carried passengers up, they gave me also a pasteboard medal,
certifying for me, "You have shot the chute," and I resolved to keep this
and show it to doubting friends as a proof of my daring; but it is a
curious evidence of my unfitness for such deceptions that I afterwards
could not find the medal. So I will frankly own that for me it was quite
enough to see others shoot the chute, and that I came tamely down myself
in the car. There is a very charming view from the top, of the sea with
its ships, and all the mad gayety of the shore, but of course my main
object was to exult in the wild absurdity of those who shot the chute.
There was always a lady among the people in the clumsy flat-boat that
flew down the long track, and she tried usually to be a pretty girl, who
clutched her friends and lovers and shrieked aloud in her flight; but
sometimes it was a sober mother of a family, with her brood about her,
who was probably meditating, all the way, the inculpation of their father
for any harm that came of it. Apparently no harm came of it in any case.

The boat struck the water with the impetus gained from a half-
perpendicular slide of a hundred feet, bounded high into the air, struck
again and again, and so flounced awkwardly across the pond to the farther
shore, where the passengers debarked and went away to commune with their
viscera, and to get their breath as they could. I did not ask any of
them what their emotions or sensations were, but, so far as I could
conjecture, the experience of shooting the chute must comprise the rare
transport of a fall from a ten-story building and the delight of a
tempestuous passage of the Atlantic, powerfully condensed.

The mere sight was so athletic that it took away any appetite I might
have had to witness the feats of strength performed by Madame La Noire at
the nearest booth on my coming out, though madame herself was at the
door-to testify, in her own living picture, how much muscular force may
be masked in vast masses of adipose. She had a weary, bored look, and
was not without her pathos, poor soul, as few of those are who amuse the
public; but I could not find her quite justifiable as a Sunday
entertainment. One forgot, however, what day it was, and for the time I
did not pretend to be so much better than my neighbors that I would not
compromise upon a visit to, an animal show a little farther on. It was a
pretty fair collection of beasts that had once been wild, perhaps, and in
the cage of the lions there was a slight, sad-looking, long-haired young
man, exciting them to madness by blows of a whip and pistol-shots whom I
was extremely glad to have get away without being torn in pieces, or at
least bitten in two. A little later I saw him at the door of the tent,
very breathless, dishevelled, and as to his dress not of the spotlessness
one could wish. But perhaps spotlessness is not compatible with the
intimacy of lions and lionesses. He had had his little triumph; one
spectator of his feat had declared that you would not see anything like
that at Coney Island; and soiled and dusty as he was in his cotton
tights, he was preferable to the living picture of a young lady whom he
replaced as an attraction of the show. It was professedly a moral show;
the manager exhorted us as we came out to say whether it was good or not;
and in the box-office sat a kind and motherly faced matron who would have
apparently abhorred to look upon a living picture at any distance, much
less have it at her elbow.

Upon the whole, there seemed a melancholy mistake in it all; the people
to whom the showmen made their appeal were all so much better, evidently,
than the showmen supposed; the showmen themselves appeared harmless
enough, and one could not say that there was personally any harm in the
living picture; rather she looked listless and dull, but as to the face
respectable enough.

I would not give the impression that most of the amusements were not in
every respect decorous. As a means of pleasure, the merry-go-round, both
horizontal with horses and vertical with swinging cradles, prevailed, and
was none the worse for being called by the French name of carrousel, for
our people aniglicize the word, and squeeze the last drop of Gallic
wickedness from it by pronouncing it carousal. At every other step there
were machines for weighing you and ascertaining your height; there were
photographers' booths, and X-ray apparatus for showing you the inside of
your watch; and in one open tent I saw a gentleman (with his back to the
public) having his fortune read in the lines of his hand by an Egyptian
seeress. Of course there was everywhere soda, and places of the softer
drinks abounded.


I think you could only get a hard drink by ordering something to eat and
sitting down to your wine or beer at a table. Again I say that I saw no
effects of drink in the crowd, and in one of the great restaurants built
out over the sea on piers, where there was perpetual dancing to the
braying of a brass-band, the cotillon had no fire imparted to its figures
by the fumes of the bar. In fact it was a very rigid sobriety that
reigned here, governing the common behavior by means of the placards
which hung from the roof over the heads of the dancers, and repeatedly
announced that gentlemen were not allowed to dance together, or to carry
umbrellas or canes while dancing, while all were entreated not to spit on
the floor.

The dancers looked happy and harmless, if not very wise or splendid; they
seemed people of the same simple neighborhoods, village lovers, young
wives and husbands, and parties of friends who had come together for the
day's pleasure. A slight mother, much weighed down by a heavy baby,
passed, rapt in an innocent envy of them, and I think she and the child's
father meant to join them as soon as they could find a place where to lay
it. Almost any place would do; at another great restaurant I saw two
chairs faced together, and a baby sleeping on them as quietly amid the
coming and going of lagers and frankfurters as if in its cradle at home.

Lagers and frankfurters were much in evidence everywhere, especially
frankfurters, which seemed to have whole booths devoted to broiling them.
They disputed this dignity with soft-shell crabs, and sections of eels,
piled attractively on large platters, or sizzling to an impassioned brown
in deep skillets of fat. The old acrid smell of frying brought back many
holidays of Italy to me, and I was again at times on the Riva at Venice,
and in the Mercato Vecchio at Florence. But the Continental Sunday
cannot be felt to have quite replaced the old American Sabbath yet; the
Puritan leaven works still, and though so many of our own people consent
willingly to the transformation, I fancy they always enjoy themselves on
Sunday with a certain consciousness of wrong-doing.


I have already said that the spectator quite lost sense of what day it
was. Nothing could be more secular than all the sights and sounds. It
was the Fourth of July, less the fire-crackers and the drunkenness, and
it was the high day of the week. But if it was very wicked, and I must
recognize that the scene would be shocking to most of my readers, I feel
bound to say that the people themselves did not look wicked. They looked
harmless; they even looked good, the most of them. I am sorry to say
they were not very good-looking. The women were pretty enough, and the
men were handsome enough; perhaps the average was higher in respect of
beauty than the average is anywhere else; I was lately from New England,
where the people were distinctly more hard-favored; but among all those
thousands at Rockaway I found no striking types. It may be that as we
grow older and our satisfaction with our own looks wanes, we become more
fastidious as to the looks of others. At any rate, there seems to be
much less beauty in the world than there was thirty or forty years ago.

On the other hand, the dresses seem indefinitely prettier, as they should
be in compensation. When we were all so handsome we could well afford to
wear hoops or peg-top trousers, but now it is different, and the poor
things must eke out their personal ungainliness with all the devices of
the modiste and the tailor. I do not mean that there was any distinction
in the dress of the crowd, but I saw nothing positively ugly or
grotesquely out of taste. The costumes were as good as the customs, and
I have already celebrated the manners of this crowd. I believe I must
except the costumes of the bicyclesses, who were unfailingly dumpy in
effect when dismounted, and who were all the more lamentable for
tottering about, in their short skirts, upon the tips of their narrow
little, sharp-pointed, silly high-heeled shoes. How severe I am!
But those high heels seemed to take all honesty from their daring in the
wholesome exercise of the wheel, and to keep them in the tradition of
cheap coquetry still, and imbecilly dependent.


I have almost forgotten in the interest of the human spectacle that there
is a sea somewhere about at Rockaway Beach, and it is this that the
people have come for. I might well forget that modest sea, it is so
built out of sight by the restaurants and bath-houses and switch-backs
and shops that border it, and by the hotels and saloons and shows flaring
along the road that divides the village, and the planked streets that
intersect this. But if you walk southward on any of the streets, you
presently find the planks foundering in sand, which drifts far up over
them, and then you find yourself in full sight of the ocean and the ocean
bathing. Swarms and heaps of people in all lolling and lying and
wallowing shapes strew the beach, and the water is full of slopping and
shouting and shrieking human creatures, clinging with bare white arms to
the life-lines that run from the shore to the buoys; beyond these the
lifeguard stays himself in his boat with outspread oars, and rocks on the
incoming surf.

All that you can say of it is that it is queer. It is not picturesque,
or poetic, or dramatic; it is queer. An enfilading glance gives this
impression and no other; if you go to the balcony of the nearest marine
restaurant for a flanking eye-shot, it is still queer, with the added
effect, in all those arms upstretched to the life-lines, of frogs' legs
inverted in a downward plunge.

On the sand before this spectacle I talked with a philosopher of humble
condition who backed upon me and knocked my umbrella out of my hand.
This made us beg each other's pardon; he said that he did not know I was
there, and I said it did not matter. Then we both looked at the bathing,
and he said:

"I don't like that."

"Why," I asked, "do you see any harm in it?"

"No. But I don't like the looks of it. It ain't nice. It's queer."

It was indeed like one of those uncomfortable dreams where you are not
dressed sufficiently for company, or perhaps at all, and yet are making a
very public appearance. This promiscuous bathing was not much in excess
of the convention that governs the sea-bathing of the politest people; it
could not be; and it was marked by no grave misconduct. Here and there a
gentleman was teaching a lady to swim, with his arms round her; here and
there a wild nereid was splashing another; a young Jew pursued a flight
of naiads with a section of dead eel in his hand. But otherwise all was
a damp and dreary decorum. I challenged my philosopher in vain for a
specific cause of his dislike of the scene.

Most of the people on the sand were in bathing-dress, but there were a
multitude of others who had apparently come for the sea-air and not the
sea-bathing. A mother sat with a sick child on her knees; babies were
cradled in the sand asleep, and people walked carefully round and over
them. There were everywhere a great many poor mothers and children, who
seemed getting the most of the good that was going.


But upon the whole, though I drove away from the beach celebrating the
good temper and the good order of the scene to an applausive driver, I
have since thought of it as rather melancholy. It was in fact no wiser
or livelier than a society function in the means of enjoyment it
afforded. The best thing about it was that it left the guests very much
to their own devices. The established pleasures were clumsy and
tiresome-looking; but one could eschew them. The more of them one
eschewed, the merrier perhaps; for I doubt if the race is formed for much
pleasure; and even a day's rest is more than most people can bear. They
endure it in passing, but they get home weary and cross, even after a
twenty-mile run on the wheel. The road, by-the-by, was full of homeward
wheels by this time, single and double and tandem, and my driver
professed that their multitude greatly increased the difficulties of his


It was in the old Roman arena of beautiful Verona that the circus events
I wish to speak of took place; in fact, I had the honor and profit of
seeing two circuses there. Or, strictly speaking, it was one entire
circus that I saw, and the unique speciality of another, the dying glory
of a circus on its last legs, the triumphal fall of a circus superb in


The entire circus was altogether Italian, with the exception of the
clowns, who, to the credit of our nation, are always Americans, or
advertised as such, in Italy. Its chief and almost absorbing event was a
reproduction of the tournament which had then lately been held at Rome in
celebration of Prince Tommaso's coming of age, and for a copy of a copy
it was really fine. It had fitness in the arena, which must have
witnessed many such mediaeval shows in their time, and I am sensible
still of the pleasure its effects of color gave me. There was one
beautiful woman, a red blonde in a green velvet gown, who might have
ridden, as she was, out of a canvas of Titian's, if he had ever painted
equestrian pictures, and who at any rate was an excellent Carpaccio.
Then, the 'Clowns Americani' were very amusing, from a platform devoted
solely to them, and it was a source of pride if not of joy with me to
think that we were almost the only people present who understood their
jokes. In the vast oval of the arena, however, the circus ring looked
very little, not half so large, say, as the rim of a lady's hat in front
of you at the play; and on the gradines of the ancient amphitheatre we
were all such a great way off that a good field-glass would have been
needed to distinguish the features of the actors. I could not make out,
therefore, whether the 'Clowns Americani' had the national expression or
not, but one of them, I am sorry to say, spoke the United States language
with a cockney accent. I suspect that he was an Englishman who had
passed himself off upon the Italian management as a true Yankee, and who
had formed himself upon our school of clowning, just as some of the
recent English humorists have patterned after certain famous wits of
ours. I do not know that I would have exposed this impostor, even if
occasion had offered, for, after all, his fraud was a tribute to our own
primacy in clowning, and the Veronese were none the worse for his erring

The audience was for me the best part of the spectacle, as the audience
always is in Italy, and I indulged my fancy in some cheap excursions
concerning the place and people. I reflected that it was the same race
essentially as that which used to watch the gladiatorial shows in that
arena when it was new, and that very possibly there were among these
spectators persons of the same blood as those Veronese patricians who had
left their names carved on the front of the gradines in places, to claim
this or that seat for their own. In fact, there was so little
difference, probably, in their qualities, from that time to this, that I
felt the process of the generations to be a sort of impertinence; and if
Nature had been present, I might very well have asked her why, when she
had once arrived at a given expression of humanity, she must go on
repeating it indefinitely? How were all those similar souls to know
themselves apart in their common eternity? Merely to have been
differently circumstanced in time did not seem enough; and I think Nature
would have been puzzled to answer me. But perhaps not; she may have had
her reasons, as that you cannot have too much of a good thing, and that
when the type was so fine in most respects as the Italian you could not
do better than go on repeating impressions from it.

Certainly I myself could have wished no variation from it in the young
officer of 'bersaglieri', who had come down from antiquity to the topmost
gradine of the arena over against me, and stood there defined against the
clear evening sky, one hand on his hip, and the other at his side, while
his thin cockerel plumes streamed in the light wind. I have since
wondered if he knew how beautiful he was, and I am sure that, if he did
not, all the women there did, and that was doubtless enough for the young
officer of 'bersaglieri'.


I think that he was preliminary to the sole event of that partial circus
I have mentioned. This event was one that I have often witnessed
elsewhere, but never in such noble and worthy keeping. The top of the
outer arena wall must itself be fifty feet high, and the pole in the
centre of its oval seemed to rise fifty feet higher yet. At its base an
immense net was stretched, and a man in a Prince Albert coat and a derby
hat was figuring about, anxiously directing the workmen who were fixing
the guy-ropes, and testing every particular of the preparation with his
own hands. While this went on, a young girl ran out into the arena, and,
after a bow to the spectators, quickly mounted to the top of the pole,
where she presently stood in statuesque beauty that took all eyes even
from the loveliness of the officer of 'bersaglieri'. There the man in
the Prince Albert coat and the derby hat stepped back from the net and
looked up at her.

She called down, in English that sounded like some delocalized,
denaturalized speech, it was so strange then and there, "Is it all

He shouted back in the same alienated tongue, "Yes; keep to the left,"
and she dived straight downward in the long plunge, till, just before she
reached the net, she turned a quick somersault into its elastic mesh.

It was all so exquisitely graceful that one forgot how wickedly dangerous
it was; but I think that the brief English colloquy was the great wonder
of the event for me, and I doubt if I could ever have been perfectly
happy again, if chance had not amiably suffered me to satisfy my
curiosity concerning the speakers. A few evenings after that, I was at
that copy of a copy of a tournament, and, a few gradines below me, I saw
the man of the Prince Albert coat and the derby hat. I had already made
up my mind that he was an American, for I supposed that an Englishman
would rather perish than wear such a coat with such a hat, and as I had
wished all my life to speak to a circus-man, I went down and boldly
accosted him. "Are you a brother Yankee?" I asked, and he laughed, and
confessed that he was an Englishman, but he said he was glad to meet any
one who spoke English, and he made a place for me by his side. He was
very willing to tell how he happened to be there, and he explained that
he was the manager of a circus, which had been playing to very good
business all winter in Spain. In an evil hour he decided to come to
Italy, but he found the prices so ruinously low that he was forced to
disband his company. This diving girl was all that remained to him of
its many attractions, and he was trying to make a living for both in a
country where the admission to a circus was six of our cents, with fifty
for a reserved seat. But he was about to give it up and come to America,
where he said Barnum had offered him an engagement. I hope he found it
profitable, and is long since an American citizen, with as good right as
any of us to wear a Prince Albert coat with a derby hat.


There used to be very good circuses in Venice, where many Venetians had
the only opportunity of their lives to see a horse. The horses were the
great attraction for them, and, perhaps in concession to their habitual
destitution in this respect, the riding was providentially very good. It
was so good that it did not bore me, as circus-riding mostly does,
especially that of the silk-clad jockey who stands in his high boots, on
his back-bared horse, and ends by waving an American flag in triumph at
having been so tiresome.

I am at a loss to know why they make such an ado about the lady who jumps
through paper hoops, which have first had holes poked in them to render
her transit easy, or why it should be thought such a merit in her to hop
over a succession of banners which are swept under her feet in a manner
to minify her exertion almost to nothing, but I observe it is so at all
circuses. At my first Venetian circus, which was on a broad expanse of
the Riva degli Schiavoni, there was a girl who flung herself to the
ground and back to her horse again, holding by his mane with one hand,
quite like the goddess out of the bath-gown at my village circus the
other day; and apparently there are more circuses in the world than
circus events. It must be as hard to think up anything new in that kind
as in romanticistic fiction, which circus-acting otherwise largely

At a circus which played all one winter in Florence I saw for the first
time-outside of polite society--the clown in evening dress, who now seems
essential to all circuses of metropolitan pretensions, and whom I missed
so gladly at my village circus. He is nearly as futile as the lady
clown, who is one of the saddest and strangest developments of New

Of the clowns who do not speak, I believe I like most the clown who
catches a succession of peak-crowned soft hats on his head, when thrown
across the ring by an accomplice. This is a very pretty sight always,
and at the Hippodrome in Paris I once saw a gifted creature take his
stand high up on the benches among the audience and catch these hats on
his head from a flight of a hundred feet through the air. This made me
proud of human nature, which is often so humiliating; and altogether I do
not think that after a real country circus there are many better things
in life than the Hippodrome. It had a state, a dignity, a smoothness, a
polish, which I should not know where to match, and when the superb coach
drove into the ring to convey the lady performers to the scene of their
events, there was a majesty in the effect which I doubt if courts have
the power to rival. Still, it should be remembered that I have never
been at court, and speak from a knowledge of the Hippodrome only.


Back to Full Books