The Native Son
Inez Haynes Irwin
This etext was produced by David A. Schwan
The Native Son
By Inez Haynes Irwin
To Those Proud Native Sons
James W. Coffroth
J. Cal Ewing
Andrew J. Gallagher
And To Those Apologetic Adopted Sons
Albert M. Bender
All of Whom Have Played
Some Graceful Part In Translating
California To Me
This Appreciation is Dedicated
The Native Son
The only drawback to writing about California is that scenery and
climate - and weather even - will creep in. Inevitably anything you
produce sounds like a cross between a railroad folder and a circus
program. You can't discuss the people without describing their
background; for they reflect it perfectly; or their climate, because it
has helped to make them the superb beings they are. A tendency manifests
itself in you to revel in superlatives and to wallow in italics. You
find yourself comparing adjectives that cannot be compared - unique for
instance. Unique is a persistent temptation. For, the rules of grammar
not-withstanding, California is really the most unique spot on the
earth's surface. As for adjectives like enormous, colossal, surpassing,
overpowering and nouns like marvel, wonder, grandeur, vastness, they are
as common in your copy as commas.
Another difficulty is that nobody outside California ever believes you.
I don't blame them. Once I didn't believe it myself. If there was
anything that formerly bored me to the marrow of my soul, it was talk
about California by a regular dyed-in-the-wool Californiac. But I got
mine ultimately. Even as I was irritated, I now irritate. Even as I was
bored, I now bore. Ever since I first saw California, and became,
inevitably, a Californiac, I have been talking about it, irritating and
boring uncounted thousands. I begin placatingly enough, "Yes, I know you
aren't going to believe this," I say. "Once I didn't believe it myself.
I realize that it all sounds impossible. But after you've once been
there - " Then I'm off. When I've finished, there isn't an hysterical
superlative adjective or a complimentary abstract noun unused in my
vocabulary. I've told all the East about California. I've told many of
the countries of Europe about California. I even tell Californians about
California. I will say to the credit of Californians though that they
listen. Listen! did I say listen? They drink it down like a child
absorbing its first fairy tale.
In another little volume devoted to the praise of California, Willie
Britt is on record as saying that he'd rather be a busted lamp-post on
Battery Street than the Waldorf-Astoria. I said once that I'd rather be
sick in California than well anywhere else. I'm prepared to go further.
I'd rather be in prison in California than free anywhere else. San
Quentin is without doubt the most delightfully situated prison in the
whole world. Besides I have a lot of friends - but I won't go into that
now. Anyway if I ever do get that severe jail-sentence which a
long-suffering family has always prophesied for me, I'm going to
petition for San Quentin. Moreover, I would rather talk about California
than any other spot on earth. I'd rather write about California than any
other spot on earth. Is it possible that any Californian Chamber of
Commerce has to pay a press agent? Incredible! Inexplicable! I wonder
that local millionaires don't bid their entire fortune for the
privilege. Now what has Willie Britt to say?
Yes, my idea of a pleasant occupation would be listing, cataloguing,
inventorying, describing and - oh joy! - visiting the wonders of
California. But that would be impossible for any one enthusiast to
accomplish in the mere three-score-and-ten of Scriptural allotment.
Methusalah might have attempted it. But in these short-lived days,
ridiculous to make a start. And so, perforce, I must share this joyous
task with other and more able chroniclers. I am willing to leave the
beauty of the scenery to Mary Austin, the wonder of the weather to Jesse
Williams, the frenzy of its politics to Sam Blythe, the beauty of its
women to Julian Street, the glory of the old San Francisco to Will
Irwin, the splendor of the new San Francisco to Rufas Steele, its
care-free atmosphere to Allan Dunn, if I may place my laurel wreath at
the foot of the Native Son. Indeed, when it comes to the Native Son, I
yield the privilege of praise to no one.
For the Native Son is an unique product, as distinctively and
characteristically Californian as the gigantic redwood, the flower
festival, the ferocious flea, the moving-picture film, the annual boxing
and tennis champion, the golden poppy or the purple prune. There is only
one other Californian product that can compare with him and that's the
Native Daughter. And as for the Native Daughter - - But if I start up
that squirrel track I'll never get back to the trail. Nevertheless some
day I'm going to pick out a diamond-pointed pen, dip it in wine and on
paper made from orange-tawny POPPY petals, try to do justice to the
Native Daughter. For this inflexible moment, however, my subject is the
Native Son. But if scenery and climate - and weather even - do creep in,
don't blame me. Remember I warned you. Besides sooner or later I shall
be sure to get back to the main theme.
In the January of 1917 I made my annual pilgrimage to California. On the
train was a Native Son who was the hero of the following astonishing
tale. He was one of a large family, of which the only girl had married a
German, a professor in an American university. Shortly before the Great
War, the German brother-in-law went back to the Fatherland to spend his
sabbatical year in study at a German university. Letters came regularly
for a while after the war began; then they stopped. His wife was very
much worried. Our hero decided in his simple western fashion to go to
Germany and find his brother-in-law. He traveled across the country,
cajoled the authorities in Washington into giving him a passport,
crossed the ocean, ran the British blockade and entered the forbidden
land. Straight as an arrow he went to the last address in his
brother-in-law's letters. That gentleman, coming home to his lunch,
tired, worried and almost penniless, found his Californian kinsman
smoking calmly in his room. The Native Son left money enough to pay for
the rest of the year of study and the journey home. Then he started on
the long trip back.
In the English port at which his ship touched, he was mistaken for a
disloyal newspaper man for whom the British Secret Service had long been
seeking. He was arrested, searched and submitted to a very disquieting
third degree. When they asked him in violent explosive tones what he
went into Germany for, he replied in his mild, unexcited Western voice -
to give his brother-in-law some money. All Europe is accustomed to crazy
Americans of course, but this strained credulity to the breaking point;
for nobody who has not tried to travel in the war countries can realize
the sheer unbelievability of such guilelessness. The British laughed
loud and long. His papers were taken away and sent to London but in a
few days everything was returned. A mistake had been made, the
authorities admitted, and proper apologies were tendered. But they
released him with looks and gestures in which an abashed bewilderment
struggled with a growing irritation.
That is a typical Native Son story.
If you are an Easterner and meet the Native Son first in New York (and
the only criticism to be brought against him is that he sometimes
chooses - think of that - chooses to live outside his native State!) you
wonder at the clear-eyed composure, the calm-visioned unexcitability
with which he views the metropolis. There is a story of a San Francisco
newspaper man who landed for the first time in New York early in the
morning. Before night he had explored the city, written a scathing
philippic on it and sold it to a leading newspaper. New York had not
daunted him. It had only annoyed him. He was quite impervious to its
hydra-headed appeal. But you don't get the answer to that imperviousness
until you visit the California which has produced the Native Son. Then
Yes, Reader, your worst fears are justified; I'm going to talk about
scenery. But don't say that I didn't warn you! However, as it's got to
be done sometime, why not now? I'll be perfectly fair, though; so -
For the Native Son has come from a State whose back yard is two hundred
thousand square miles (more or less) of American continent and whose
front yard is five hundred thousand square miles (less or more) or
Pacific Ocean, whose back fence is ten thousand miles (or thereabouts)
of bristling snow-capped mountains and whose front hedge is ten thousand
miles (or approximately) of golden foam-topped combers; a State that
looks up one clear and unimpeded waterway to the evasive North Pole, and
down another clear and unimpeded waterway to the elusive South Pole and
across a third clear and unimpeded water way straight to the magical,
mystical, mysterious Orient. This sense of amplitude gives the Native
Son an air of superiority . . . Yes, you're quite right, it has a touch
of superciliousness - very difficult to understand and much more
difficult to endure when you haven't seen California; but completely
understandable and endurable when you have.
- Californiacs read every word, Easterners skip this paragraph -
Man helped nature to place Italy, Spain, Japan among the wonder regions
of the world; but nature placed California there without assistance from
anybody. I do not refer alone to the scenery of California which is
duplicated in no other spot of the sidereal system; nor to the climate
which matches it; nor to its super-mundane fertility, nor to its
super-solar fecundity. The railroad folder with its voluble vocabulary
has already beaten me to it. I do not refer solely to that rich
yellow-and-violet, springtime bourgeoning which turns California into
one huge Botticelli background of flower colors and sheens. I do not
refer to that heavy purple-and-gold, autumn fruitage, which changes it
to a theme for Titian and Veronese. I am thinking particularly of those
surprising phenomena left over from pre-historic eras; the "big" trees -
the sequoia gigantea, which really belong to the early fairy-tales of
H. G. Wells, and to those other trees, not so big but still giants - the
sequoia sempivirens or redwoods, which make of California forests
black-and-silver compositions of filmy fluttering light and solid bedded
shade. I am thinking also of that patch of pre-historic cypresses in
Monterey. These differ from the straight, symmetrical classic redwoods
as Rodin's "Thinker" differs from the Apollo. Monstrous, contorted
shapes - those Monterey cypresses look like creatures born underground,
who, at the price of almost unbearable torture, have torn through the
earth's crust, thrusting and twisting themselves airward. I refer even
to that astonishing detail in the general Californian sulphitism, the
seals which frequent beach rocks close to the shore, a short car ride
from the heart of a city as big as San Francisco.
- and this -
California, because of rich gold deposits, and a richer golden,
sunshine, its golden spring poppy and its golden summer verdure, seems
both literally and figuratively, a golden land golden and gay. It is a
land full of contradictions however. For those amazing memorials from a
prehistoric past give it in places a strange air of tragedy. I challenge
this grey old earth to produce a strip of country more beautiful, also
more poignant and catastrophic in natural connotation, than the one
which includes these cypresses of Monterey. Yet this same mordant area
holds Point Lobos, a headland which displays in moss and lichens all the
minute delicacy of a gleeful, elfin world. I challenge the earth to
produce a region more beautiful, yet also more gay and debonair in
natural connotation, than the one which enfolds San Francisco. For here
the water presents gorgeous, plastic color, alternating blue and gold.
Here Mount Tamalpais lifts its long straight slopes out of the sea and
thrusts them high in the sky. Here Marin County offers contours of
dimpled velvet bursting with a gay irridescence of wildflowers. Yet that
same gracious area frames the grim cliff-cup which holds San Francisco
bay - a spot of Dantesque sheerness and bareness.
- and this.
This is what nature has done. But man has added his deepening touch in
one direction and his enlivening touch in another. The early fathers -
Spanish - erected Missions from one end of the State to the other. These
are time-mellowed, mediaeval structures with bell-towers, cloisters and
gardens, sunbaked, shadow-colored; and in spots they make California as
old and sad as Spain. Later emigrants - French - have built in the
vicinity of San Francisco many tiny roadside inns where one can drink
the soft wines of the country. Framed in hills that are garlanded with
vineyards, these inns are often mere rose-hidden bowers. They make
California seem as gay as France. I can best put it by saying that I
know of no place so "haunted" in every poetic and plaintive sense as
California; yet I know of no place so perfectly suited to carnival and
All of this is part of the reason why you can't surprise a Californian.
This looks like respite, but there's no real relief in sight Easterners.
Keep right on reading, Californiacs!
Yes, California is beautiful.
Once upon a time, a Native Son lay dying. He did not know that he was
going to die. His physician had to break the news to him. He told the
Californian that the process would not be long or painful. He would go
to sleep presently and when he woke up, the great journey would have
been accomplished. His words fulfilled themselves. Soon the Native Son
fell into a coma. When he opened his eyes he was in Paradise. He raised
himself up, gave one look about and exclaimed, "What a boob that doctor
was! Whad'da he mean - Paradise! Here I am still in California."
Man has of course, here as elsewhere, chained nature; set her to toil
for him. She is a willing worker everywhere, but in California she puts
no stay nor stint on her productive efforts. California produces - Now
up to this moment I have held myself in. Looking back on my copy I see
only such meager words as "beauty", "glory", "splendor", such pale,
inadequate phrases as "super-mundane fertility" and "super-solar
fecundity". What use are words and phrases when one speaks of
California. It is time for us to abandon them both and resort to some
bright, snappy sparkling statistics.
Reader, I had to soft-pedal here. If I gave you the correct statistics,
You wouldn't believe me.
So here goes!
California produces forty per cent of the gold, fifty per cent of the
wheat, sixty per cent of the oranges, seventy per cent of the prunes,
eighty per cent of the asparagus and (including the Native Daughters)
ninety-nine and ninety-nine one-hundredths per cent of the peaches of
the world. I pause to say here that none of these figures is true. They
are all made up for the occasion. But don't despair! I am sure that they
don't do California justice by half. Any other Californiac - with the
mathematical memory which I unfortunately lack - will provide the
correct data. Somebody told me once, I seem to recall, that the Santa
Clara valley produces sixty per cent of the worlds prunes. But I may be
mistaken. What I prefer to remember is one day's trip in that springtide
of prune bloom. For hours and hours of motor speed, we glided through a
snowy world that showed no speck of black bark or fleck of green leaf; a
world in which the sole relief from a silent white blizzard of blossom
was the blue of the sky arch, the purple of distant lupines alternating
with the gold of blood-centered poppies, pouring like avalanches down
hills of emerald green.
Getting out of the scenery zone only to fall into the climate zone.
Reader, it's just the same with the climate as the scenery. It's got to
be done some time, so why not now?
That's what California produces in the way of scenery and fodder. So
now, let's consider the climate, even if I am invading Jesse Williams's
territory. For it has magical properties - that climate of California.
It makes people grow big and beautiful and strenuous; it makes flowers
grow big and beautiful; it makes fleas grow big and - strenuous. It
offers, except in the most southern or the most mountainous regions, no
such extremes of heat or cold as are found elsewhere in the country. Its
marvel is of course the season which corresponds to our winter. The
visitor coming, let us say in February, from the ice-bound and
frost-locked East through the flat, dreary Middle West, and stalled
possibly on the way, remains glued in stupefaction to the car window. In
a very few hours he slides from the white, glittering snow-covered
heights of the evergreen-packed Sierras through their purple, hazy,
snow-filled depths into the sudden warmth of California.
It is like waking suddenly from a nightmare of winter to a poets or a
painter's vision of spring.
Who, having seen this picture in January, could resist describing it?
Easterners, I appeal to your sense of justice.
At one side, perhaps close to the train, near hills, on which the live
oaks spread big, ebon-emerald umbrellas, serpentine endlessly into the
distance. On the other side, far hills, bathed in an amethystine mist,
invade the horizon. Between stretches the flat green field of the
valley, gashed with tawny streaks that are roads and dotted with soft,
silvery bunches that are frisking new-born lambs. Little white houses,
with a coquettish air of perpetual summer, flaunt long windows and
wooden-lace balconies, Early roses flask pink flames here and there. The
green-black meshes of the eucalyptus hedges film the distance. The
madrone, richly leaved like the laurel, reflects the sunlight from a
bole glistening as though freshly carved from wet gold.
Cheer up! We're getting out of scenery and climate into
The race - a blend of many rich bloods - that California has evolved
with the help of this scenery and climate is a rare brew. The physical
background is Anglo-Saxon of course; and it still breaks through in the
prevailing Anglo-Saxon type. To this, the Celt has brought his poetry
and mysticism. To it, the Latin has contributed his art instinct; and
not art instinct alone but in an infinity of combinations, the dignity
of the Spaniard, the spirit of the French, the passion of the Italian.
- into -
All the foregoing is put in, not to make it harder, but because - as a
Californiac - I couldn't help it, and to show you what, in the way of a
State, the Native Son is accustomed to. You will have to admit that it
is some State. The emblem on the California flag is singularly apposite
- it's a bear.
- oh boy! - San Francisco!
And if, in addition to being a Californian, this Native Son visiting the
East for the first time, is also a San Franciscan, he has come from a
city which is, with the exception of peacetime Paris, the gayest and
with the exception of none, the happiest city in the world; a city of
extraordinary picturesqueness of situation and an equally notable
cosmopolitanism of atmosphere; a city which is, above all cities, a
paradise for men.
San Francisco, which invents much American slang, must have provided
that phrase - "this man's town." For that is what San Francisco is - a
I dare not appeal to Easterners; but Californiacs, I ask you how could I
forbear to say something about "the city"?
San Francisco, or "the city"', as Californians so proudly and lovingly
term her, is peculiarly fortunate in her situation and her weather.
Riding a series of hills as lightly as a ship the waves, she makes real
exercise of any walking within her limits. Moreover the streets are tied
so intimately and inextricably to seashore and country that San
Francisco's life is, in one sense, less like city life than that of any
other city in the United States. Yet by the curious paradox of her
climate, which compels much indoor night entertainment, reinforced by
that cosmopolitanism of atmosphere, life there is city life raised to
the highest limit. Last of all, its size - and personally I think there
should be a federal law forbidding cities to grow any bigger than San
Francisco - makes it an engaging combination of provincialism and
Not scenery this time, Reader, nor climate, but weather. Like scenery
and climate, it must be done. Hurdle this paragraph, Easterners! Keep on
The "city" does its best to put the San Franciscan in good condition.
And the weather reinforces this effort by keeping him out of doors.
Because of a happy collaboration of land with sea, the region about San
Francisco, the "bay" region - individual in this as in everything else -
has a climate of its own. It is, notwithstanding its brief rainy season,
a singularly pleasant climate. It cannot be described as "temperate" in
the sense, for instance, that New England's climate is temperate. That
is too harsh. Neither can it be described as "semi-tropical" in the way
that Hawaii, for example, is semi-tropical. That is too soft. It combines
the advantages of both with the disabilities of neither.
You may begin to read again, Easterners; for at last I've returned to
the Native Son.
That sparkling briskness - the tang - which is the best the temperate
climate has to offer, gives the Native Son his high powered strenuosity.
That developing softness - lush - (every Native Son will admit the lush)
which is the best the semi-tropical element has to contribute, gives him
his size and comeliness. The weather of San Francisco keeps the Native
Son out of doors whenever it is possible through the day time. To take
care of this flight into the open are seashore and mountain, city parks
and country roads. That same weather drives him indoors during the
evenings. And to meet this demand are hotels, restaurants, theatres,
moving-picture houses, in numbers out of all proportion to the
population. Again, the weather permits him to play baseball and football
for unusual periods with ease, to play tennis and golf three-quarters of
the year with comfort, to walk and swim all the year with joy.
Notwithstanding the combination of heavy rains with startling hill
heights, he never ceases to motor day or night, winter or summer. The
weather not only allows this, but the climate drives him to it.
These are the reasons why there is nothing hectic about the hordes of
Native Sons who nightly motor about San Francisco, who fill its theatres
and restaurants. An after-theatre group in San Francisco is as different
from the tallowy, gas-bred, after-theatre groups on Broadway as it is
possible to imagine. In San Francisco, many of them look as though they
had just come from State-long motor trips; from camping expeditions on
the beach, among the redwoods, or in the desert; from long, cold Arctic
cruises, or long, hot Pacific ones. Moreover the Native Son's club
encourages all this athletic instinct by offering spacious and beautiful
gymnasium quarters in which to develop it. Lacking a club, he can turn
to the public baths, surely the biggest and most beautiful in the world.
Just as there is a different physical aspect to the Native Son, there
is, compared to the rest of the country, a different social aspect to
him. California is still young, still pioneer in outlook. Society has
not yet shaken down into those tightly stratified layers, typical of the
East. There is a real spirit of democracy in the air.
The first time I visited San Francisco I was impressed with the remarks
of a Native son of moderate salary who had traveled much in the East.
"This here and now San Francisco is a real man's town", he said. "I
don't know so much about the women, but the men certainly can have a
better time here than in any other city in the country. And then again,
a poor man can live in a way and do things in a style that would be
impossible in New York. At my club I meet all kinds of men. Many of them
are prominent citizens and many of them have large fortunes. I mix with
them all. I don't mean to say I run constantly with the prom. cits. and
the millionaires. I don't. I cant afford that. But they occasionally
entertain me. And I as often entertain them. So many restaurants here
are both inexpensive and good that I can return their hospitality
self-respectingly and without undue expense. In New York I would not
only never meet that type of man, but I could not afford to entertain
him if I did."
Allied to this, perhaps, is a quality, typical of San Francisco, which I
can describe only as promiscuity. That promiscuity is in its best phase
a frankness; a fearlessness; a gorgeous candor which made possible the
epigram that San Francisco has every vice but hypocrisy. Civically, two
cross currents cut through the city's life; one of, a high visioned
enlightenment which astounds the visiting stranger by its force, its
white-fire enthusiasm; the other a black sordidness and soddenness which
displays but one redeeming quality - the characteristic San Franciscan
candor. That openness is physical as well as spiritual. The city,
dropped over its many hills like a great loose cobweb weighted thickly
with the pearl cubes of buildings, with its wide streets; its frequent
parks; its broad-spaced residential areas; its gardened houses in which
high windows crystallize every view and sun parlors or sleeping porches
catch both the first and last hint of daylight - the city itself has the
effect of living in the open. Everybody is frankly interested in
everybody else and in what is going on. Of all the cities the country,
San Francisco is by weather and temperament, most adapted to the
pleasant French habit of open-air eating. The clients in the barber
shops, lathered like clowns and trussed up in what is perhaps the least
heroic posture and costume possible for man, are seated at the windows,
where they may enjoy the outside procession during the boresome
processes of the shave and the hair-cut. In the windows of the downtown
shops, with no pretence whatever of the curtains customary in the East,
men clerks disrobe and re-robe life-sized female models of an appalling
nude flesh-likeness. They dress these helpless ladies in all the
fripperies of femininity from the wax out, oblivious to the flippant
comments of gathering crowds. It's all a part of that civic candor
somehow. Nowhere I think are eyes so clear, glances so direct and
expressions so frank as in California. Nowhere is conversation and
discussion more straightforward and courageous.
All that I have written thus far is only by way of preliminary to
showing you what the background of the Native Son has been and to
explaining why Europe does not dazzle him much and the East not at all.
Remember that he is instinctively an athlete and that he has never
dissipated his magnificent strength in fighting weather. If he is a
little - mind you, I say only a little - inclined to use that strength
on more entertaining dissipation, he is as likely to restore the balance
by much physical exercise.
There I go again! Enormous! Superb! Splendid! Spacious! You see how
impossible it is to keep your vocabulary down when California is your
subject. Another moment and I shall be saying more unique.
Remember that all his life he has gazed on beauty - beauty tragic and
haunting, beauty gorgeous and gay. Remember he is accustomed to enormous
sizes; superb heights; splendid distances; spacious vistas. That
California does not produce an annual crop of megalo-maniacs is the best
argument I know for the superiority of heredity over environment.
Remember, too, that all his life the Native Son has soaked in an art
atmosphere potentially as strong and individual as ancient Greece or
renaisance Italy. The dazzling country side, the sulphitic brew of
races, the cosmopolitan "city" have taken care of that. That art-spirit
accounts for such minor California phenomena as photography raised to
unequalled art levels and shops whose simple beautiful interiors
resemble the private galleries of art collectors; it accounts for such
major phenomena as the Stevenson monument, the "Lark", the annual Grove
Play of the Bohemian Club, and the Exposition of 1915.
The tiny monument to Stevenson, tucked away in a corner soaked with
romantic memories - Portsmouth Square - compares favorably with the
charming memorials to the French dead. It is a thing of beautiful
proportions. A little stone column supports a bronze ship, its sails
bellying robustly to the whip of the Pacific winds. The inscription - a
well known quotation from the author - is topped simply by "To remember
Robert Louis Stevenson."
Perhaps you will object that some of these are not Native Sons. But
hush! Californians consider anybody who has stayed five minutes in the
State - a real Californian. And believe us, Reader, by that time most of
them have become not Californians but Californiacs.
The "Lark" is perhaps the most delicious bit of literary fooling that
this country has ever produced. It raised its blythe song at the Golden
Gate, but it was heard across a whole continent. For two years, Gelett
Burgess, Bruce Porter, Porter Garnett, Willis Polk, Ernest Peixotto, and
Florence Lundborg performed in it all the artistic antics that their
youth, their originality, their high spirits suggested. Professor
Norton, speaking to a class at Harvard University, and that the two
literary events of the decade between 1890 and 1900 were the fiction of
the young Kipling and the verse that appeared in the " Lark."
The Grove-Play is an annual incident of which I fancy only California
could be capable. Of course the calculable quality of the weather helps
in this possibility. But the art-spirit, born and bred in the
Californian, is the driving force. Every year the Bohemian Club produces
in its summer annex - a beautiful grove of redwoods beside the Russian
river - a play in praise of the forest. The stage is a natural one, a
cleared hill slope with redwoods for wings. The play is written, staged,
produced and acted by members of the club. The incidental music is also
written by them. Scarcely has one year's play been produced before the
rehearsals for the next begin. The result is a performance of a finished
beauty which not only astounds Easterners, but surprises Europeans.
Although undoubtedly it is the best, it is only one of numberless
out-of-door masques, plays and pageants produced all over California.
As for the Exposition of 1915, when I say that for many Californians, it
will take the edge off some of the beauty of Europe, I am quite serious.
For it was colored in the gorgeous gamut of the Orient, clamant yellows,
oranges, golds, combined with mysterious blues, muted scarlets. And it
was illuminated as no Exposition has ever before been illuminated; with
lights that dripped down from the cornices of the buildings; or shot up
from their foundations; or gleamed through transparent pillars; or
glistened behind tumbling waters; or sparkled within leaping fountains.
Some of this light even floated from enormous braziers, thereby filling
the night with clouds of mist-flame; or flooded across the bay from
reservoirs of tinted glass, thereby sluicing the whole dream-world with
fluid color. All this was reflected in still lakes and quiet pools. The
procession of one year's seasons gradually subdued its gorgeousness to
an effect of antiquity, toned but still colorful. The quick-growing
California vines covered it with an age-old luxuriance of green. As for
the architecture - I repeat that the Californian, seeing for the first
time the square of St. Peter's in Rome and of St. Mark's in Venice, is
likely to suffer a transitory but definite sense of disappointment. For
the big central court of the Exposition held suggestions of both these
squares. It seemed quite as old and permanent. And it was much more
striking in situation, with the bay offering an immense, flat blue
extension at one side and the city hills, pricked with lights, slanting
up and away from the other. By day, the joyous, whimsical fantasy of the
colossal Tower of Jewels, which caught the light in millions of rainbow
sparkles, must, for children at least, have made of its entrance the
door to fairyland. At night, there was the tragedy of old history about
those faintly fiery facades . . . those enormous shadow-haunted hulks .
Remember, last of all, as naturally as from infancy the Native Son has
breathed the tonic and toxic air of California, he has breathed the
spirit of democracy. That spirit of democracy is so strong, indeed, that
the enfranchised women of California give intelligent guidance to the
feminists of a whole nation; public opinion is so enlightened that it
sets a pace for the rest of the country and labor is so progressive that
it is a revelation to the visiting sociologist.
Indeed, nowhere in the whole world, I fancy, is labor so healthy, so
happy, so prosperous. California brings to the workers' problems the
free enlightened attitude characteristic of her. As between on the one
hand hordes of unemployed; huge slums; poverty spots; and on the other a
well-paid laboring class with fair hours, she chooses the latter,
thereby storing up for herself eugenic capital.
I have always wished that California would strike off a series of medals
symbolic of some of the Utopian conditions which prevail there. I would
like to suggest a model for one. I was walking once in the vicinity of
the Ferry with a woman who knows the labor movement of California as
well as an outsider may. Suddenly she whispered in my ear, " Oh look!
Isn't he a typical California labor man?"
It was his noon hour and, in his shirt sleeves, he was leaning against
the wall, a pipe in his mouth. He was tall and lean; not an ounce of
superfluous flesh on his splendid frame, but a great deal of muscle that
lay in long, faintly swelling contours against it. He was black haired
and black-mustached; both hair and mustache were lightly touched with
grey. His thicklashed blue eyes sparkled as clear and happy as a
child's. In their expression and, indeed, in the whole relaxed attitude
of his fine, long figure, was an entertained, contented interest, an
amused tolerance of the passing crowd. You will see this type, among
others equally fine, again and again, in the unions of California.
Yes, that spirit of democracy is not only strong but militant.
Militant! I never could make up my mind which made the fightingest
reading in the San Francisco papers, the account of Friday's boxing
contest or of Monday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors. They do say
that a visiting Easterner was taken to the Board of Supervisors one
afternoon. In the evening he was regaled with a battle royal. And, and -
they do say - he fell asleep at the battle royal because it seemed so
tame in comparison with the Board of Supervisors.
The athletic instinct in the Native Son accounts for the star athletes,
boxers, tennis players, ball players; that art instinct for the
painters, illustrators, sculptors, playwrights, fiction writers, poets,
actors, photographers, producers; that spirit of democracy for the labor
leaders and politicians with whom California has inundated the rest of
I started to make a list of the famous Californians in all these
classes. But, when I had filled one sheet with names, realizing that no
matter how hard I cudgelled my memory, I would inevitably forget
somebody of importance, I tore it. up. Take a copy of "Who's Who" and
cut out the lives of all those who don't come from California and see
what a respectable-sized volume you have left.
If any woman tourist should ask me what was the greatest menace to the
peace of mind of a woman travelling alone in California, I should answer
instantly - the Native Son. I wish I could draw a picture of him.
Perhaps he's too good looking. Myself, I think the enfranchised women of
California should bring injunctions - or whatever is the proper legal
weapon - against so dangerous a degree of male pulchritude. Of course
the Native Son could reply that, in this respect, he has nothing on the
Native Daughter, she being without doubt the most beautiful woman in the
world. To, this, however, she could retort that that is as it should be,
but it's no fair for mere men to be stealing her stuff.
This is misleading!
That agglomeration of the Anglo-Saxon, the Celt and the Latin, has
endowed the Native Son with the pulchritude of all three races. In
eugenic combination with Ireland, California is peculiarly happy. The
climate has made him tall and big. His athletic habits has made him
shapely and strong. Both have given him clear eyes, a smooth skin, swift
grace of motion. Those clear eyes invest him with alook of innocence and
unsophistication. He is as rich in dimples as though they had been
shaken onto him from a salt-cellar. One in each cheek, one in his chin -
count them - three! The Native Daughter would have a license to complain
of this if she herself didn't look as thou she'd been sprinkled with
dimples from a pepper-caster. In addition - oh, but what's the use? Who
ever managed to paint the lily with complimentary words or gild refined
gold with fancy phrases? The region bounded by Post, Bush, Mason and
Taylor Streets contains San Francisco's most famous clubs. Any Congress
of Eugenists wishing to establish a standard of male beauty for the
human race has only to place a moving-picture machine at the entrance of
any one of these - let us say the Athletic Club. The results will at the
same time enrapture and discourage a dazzled world. I will prophesy that
some time those same enfranchised women of California are going to
realize the danger of such a sight bursting unexpectedly on the
unprepared woman tenderfoot. Then they'll rope off that dangerous area,
establish guards at the corners and put up "Stop! Look! Listen!" signs
where they'll do the most good. And as proof of all these statements, I
refer you to that array of young gods, filing endlessly over the
sporting pages of the California newspapers.
And I'll pay for the privilege. What the Chamber of Commerce ought to
do, though, is to advertise that this concession will be put up at
auction. Indeed, if this sale were made an annual event, women bidders
would flock to California from all over the world.
A Native Son told me once that he had been given the star-assignment of
newspaper history. Somebody offered a prize to the most beautiful
daughter of California. And his job was to travel all over the State to
inspect the candidates. He said it was a shame to take his pay and I
agreed that it was sheer burglary. All I've got to say is that if
anybody wants to offer a prize for the handsomest Native Son in
California, I'll give my services as judge. I will add that after nearly
two years of war-time Europe, in which I have had an opportunity to
study some of the best military material of England, France, Italy,
Portugal, Spain and Switzerland - the Native Son leads them all. I am
inclined to think he is the best physical specimen in the world.
But there is a great deal more to the Native Son than mere comeliness.
That long list of nationally-famous Californians proves this in one way,
the high average of his citizenship in another. Physically he is a big,
strong, high-geared, high-powered racing machine; and he has an
inexhaustible supply of energy for motive fluid and an extraordinary
degree of initiative and enterprise for driving forces. That initiative
and enterprise spring part from his inalienable pep, his vivid interest
in life; and part from that constructive looseness of the social
structure, which gives them both full play. If the Native Son sees
anything he wants to do, he instantly does it. If he sees anything that
he wants to get, he promptly takes it. If he sees anything that he wants
to be, he immediately is it. He saunters into New York in a degage way
and takes the whole city by storm. He strolls through Europe with an
insouciant air and finds it almost as good as California. All this,
supplemented by his abiding conviction that California must have the
most and best and biggest of everything, accounts for what California
has done in the sixty-odd years of her existence, accounts for what San
Francisco has done in the decade since her great disaster, accounts for
that wartime Exposition; perhaps the most elaborate, certainly the most
beautiful the world has ever seen.
The Native Son has a strong sense of humor and he invents his own
slang. He expresses himself with the picturesqueness of diction
inevitable to the West and with much of its sly, dry humor. But there is
a joyous quality to the San Francisco blague which sets it apart, even
in the West. You find its counterpart only in Paris. Perhaps it is that,
being reenforced by wit, it explodes more quickly than the humor of the
rest of the country. The Californian with his bulk, his beauty, his
boast and his blague descending on New York is very like the native of
the Midi who with similar qualities, is always taking Paris by storm.
Marseilles, the chief metropolis of the Midi, has a famous promenade -
less than half a dozen blocks, packed tight with the peoples and colors
and odors of two continents - called the Cannebiere. The Marseillais,
returning from his first visit to Paris, remarks with condescending
scorn that Paris has no Cannebiere. Of course Paris has her network of
Grand Boulevards but - So the Californiac patronizingly discovers that
New York has no Market Street, no Golden Gate Park, no Twin Peaks, no
Mt. Tamalpais, no seals. Above all - and this is the final thrust - New
York is flat.
Somebody ought to invent a serum that renders the victim immune.
Some day medical journals will give the same space to the victims of
California hospitality that they now allot to victims of Oriental
famines. For with Californians, hospitality is first an instinct, then
an art, then a religion and finally a mania. It is utterly impossible to
resist it, but it takes a strong constitution to survive. Californians
will go to any length or trouble in this matter; their hospitality is
all mixed up with their art instinct and their sense of humor. For no
matter what graceful tribute they pay to famous visiting aliens, its
formality is always leavened by their delicious wit. And no matter how
much fun they poke at departing or returning friends, it is always
accompanied by some social tribute of great charm and originality.
A loyal Adopted Son of California, a novelist and muckraker, returned a
few years ago to the beloved land of his adoption. His arrival was made
the occasion of a dinner by his Club. He had come back specifically on a
muckraking tour. But it happened that during his absence he had written
a series of fiction stories, all revolving about the figure of a
middle-aged woman medium. In the midst of the dinner, a fellow clubman
disguised as a middle-aged woman medium began to read the future of the
guests. She discoursed long and accurately on the personal New York
affairs of the returned muckraker. To get such information, the wires
between the committee who got up the dinner and his friends in New York
must have been kept hot for hours. Moreover, just after midnight, a
newsboy arrived with editions of a morning paper of which the whole
first page was devoted to him. There were many, highly-colored accounts
of all-night revelries; expense accounts, of which every second item was
champagne and every fifth bromo-selzer, etc., etc.
Of course but a limited number of papers with this extraneous sheet were
printed and those distributed only at the dinner. One, however, was sent
to the Eastern magazine which had dispatched our muckraking hero to the
Golden Gate. They replied instantly and heatedly by wire to go on with
his work, that in spite of the outrageous slander of the opposition,
they absolutely trusted him.
This was only one of an endless succession of dinners which dot the
social year with their originality.
During the course of the Exposition, the governing officials presented
so many engraved placques to California citizens and to visiting
notabilities that after a while, the Californians began to josh the
system. A certain San Franciscan is famous for much generous and
unobtrusive philanthropy. Also his self-evolved translation of the
duties of friendship is the last word on that subject. He was visited
unexpectedly at his office one day by a group of friends. With much
ceremony, they presented him with a placque - an amusing plaster
burlesque of the real article. He had the Californian sense of humor and
he thoroughly enjoyed the situation. Admitting that the joke was on him,
he celebrated according to time-honored rites. After his friends had
left, he found on his desk a small uninscribed package which had
apparently been left by accident. He opened it. Inside was a beautiful
leather box showing his initials in gold. And within the box was a small
bronze placque exquisitely engraved by a master-artist . . . bearing a
message of appreciation exquisitely phrased . . . the names of all his
friends. I know of no incident more typical of the taste and the humor
with which the Native Son performs every social function. That sense of
humor does not lessen but it lightens the gallantry and chivalry which
is the earmark of Westerners. It makes for that natural perfection of
manners which is also typical of the Native Son,
Touching the matter of their manners . . . A woman writer I know very
well once went to a boxing-match in San Francisco. Women are forbidden
to attend such events, so that a special permission had to be obtained
for her. She was warned beforehand that the audience might manifest its
disapproval in terms both audible and uncomplimentary. She entered the
arena in considerable trepidation of spirit. It was an important match -
for the lightweight championship of the world. She occupied a ring-side
box where, it is likely, everybody saw her. There were ten thousand men
in the arena and she was the only woman. But in all the two hours she
sat there, she was not once made conscious, by a word or glance in her
direction, that anybody had noticed her presence. That I think is a
perfect example of perfect mob-manners.
Perhaps that instinct, not only for fair but for chivalrous play, which
also characterizes the Native Son, comes from pioneer days. Certainly it
is deepened by a very active interest in all kinds of sports. I draw my
two examples of this from the boxing world. This is a story that Sam
Berger tells about Andrew Gallagher.
It happened in that period when both men were amateur lightweights and
Mr. Gallagher was champion of the Pacific Coast. Mr. Berger challenged
Mr. Gallagher and defeated him. The margin of victory was so narrow,
however, that Mr. Gallagher felt justified in as asking for another
match, and got it.
This time Mr. Berger's victory was complete. In a letter, Mr. Berger
said, "A woman cannot possibly understand what being a champion means to
a man. It isn't so much the championship itself but it's the slap on the
shoulder and the whispered comment as you pass, 'There goes our
champion!' that counts. Looking back at it from the thirties, it isn't
so important; but in the twenties it means a lot. My dressing room was
near Gallagher's, so that, although he didn't know this, I could not
help overhearing much that was said there. After we got back to our
rooms, I heard some friend of Gallagher's refer to me as 'a damn Jew'.
What was my delight at Gallagher's magnanimity to hear him answer, 'Why
do you call him a damn Jew? He is a very fine fellow and a better boxer
than me, the best day I ever saw.' "
That incident seems to me typical of the Native Son; and the long
unbroken friendship that grew out of it, equally so.
A few years ago an interview with Willie Ritchie appeared in a New York
paper. He had just boxed Johnny Dundee, defeating him. In passing I may
state that Mr. Ritchie was, during that winter, taking an agricultural
course at Columbia College, and that this is quite typical of the kind
of professional athlete California turns out. You would have expected
that in a long two-column interview, Mr. Ritchie would have devoted much
of the space to himself, his record, his future plans. Not at all. It
was all about Johnnie Dundee, for whom personally he seems to have an
affectionate friendship and for whose work a rueful and decidedly
humorous appreciation. He analyzed with great sapience the psychological
effect on the audience of Mr. Dundee's ring-system of perpetual motion.
He described with great delight a punch that Mr. Dundee had landed on
the very top of his head. In fact Mr. Dundee's publicity manager could
do no better than to use parts of this interview for advertising
I began that last paragraph with the phrase, "A few years ago". But
since that time a whole era seems to have passed - that heart-breaking
era of the Great War. And now the Native Son has entered into and
emerged from a new and terrible game. He has needed - and I doubt not
displayed - all that he has of strength, natural and developed; of
keenness and coolness; of bravery and fortitude; of capacity to endure
and yet josh on.
Perhaps after all, though, the best example of the Native Son's fairness
was his enfranchisement of the Native Daughter and the way in which he
did it. Sometime, when the stories of all the suffrage fights are told,
we shall get the personal experiences of the women who worked in that
whirlwind campaign. It will make interesting reading; for it is both
dramatic and picturesque. And it will redound forever and ever and ever
to the glory of the Native Son.
The Native Son - in the truest sense of the romantic - is a romantic
figure. He could scarcely avoid being that, for he comes from the most
romantic State in the Union and, if from San Francisco, the most
romantic city in our modern world. It is, I believe, mainly his sense of
romance that drives him into the organization which he himself has
called the Native Sons of the Golden West; an adventurous instinct that
has come down to us from mediaeval times, urging men to form into
congenial company for offence and defence, and to offer personality the
opportunity for picturesque masquerade.
That romantic background not only explains the Native Son but the long
line of extraordinary fiction, with California for a background, which
California has produced. California though is the despair of fiction
writers. It offers so many epochs; such a mixture of nationalities; so
many and such violently contrasted atmospheres, that it is difficult to
make it credible. The gold rush . . . the pioneers . . . the Vigilantes
. . . the Sand Lot days . . . San Francisco before the fire . . . the
period of reconstruction. As for the drama lying submerged everywhere in
the labor movement . . . the novelists have not even begun to mine below
the surface. To the fiction-writer, the real, everyday life is so
dramatic that the temptation is to substitute for invention the literal
records of some literary moving-picture machine.
In fact, all the time you stay in California you're living in a story.
The San Franciscans will inundate you with stories of that old San
Francisco. And what stories they are! The water-front, Chinatown, the
Barbary Coast and particularly that picturesque neighborhood, south of
Market Street - here were four of the great drama-breeding areas of the
world. The San Franciscans of the past generation will tell you that the
new San Francisco is tamed and ordered. That may be all true. But to one
at least who never saw the old city, romance shows her bewildering face
everywhere in the new one. Almost anything can happen there and almost
everything does. Life explodes. It's as though there were a romantic
dynamite in solution in the air. You make a step in any direction and -
bang! - you bump into adventure. There is something about the sparkle
and bustle and gaiety of the streets . . . There is something about the
friendliness and the vivacity of the people . . . There is something
about the intimacy and color and gaiety of the restaurants. . . .
Let me tell some stories to prove my point. Anybody who has lived in San
Francisco has heard them by scores. I pick one or two at random.
A group of Native Sons were once dining in one of the little Bohemian
restaurants of San Francisco. Two of them made a bet with the others
that they could kiss every woman in the room. They went from table to
table and in mellifluous accents, plus a strain of hyperbole, explained
their predicament to each lady, concluding with a respectful demand for
a kiss. Every woman in the room (with the gallant indulgence of her
swain) acceded to this amazing request. In fifteen minutes all the
kisses were collected and the wager won. I don't know on which this
story reflects the greater credit - the Native Daughter or the Native
Son. But I do know that it couldn't have happened anywhere but in
The first time I visited San Francisco shortly after the fire, I was
walking one day in rather a lonely part of the city. There were many
burnt areas about: only a few pedestrians. Presently, I saw a man and
woman leaning against a fence, absorbed in conversation. Apparently they
did not hear my approach; they were too deep in talk. They did not look
out of the ordinary and, indeed, I should not have given them a second
glance if, as I passed, I had not heard the woman say, "And did you kill
A man told me that once early in the morning he was walking through
Chinatown. There was nobody else on the street except, a little distance
ahead, a child carrying a small bundle. Suddenly just as she passed, a
panel in one of the houses slid open . . . a hand came out . . . the
child slipped the bundle into the hand . . . the hand disappeared . . .
the wall panel closed up. The child trotted on as though nothing had
happened . . . disappeared around the corner. When my friend reached the
house, it was impossible to locate the panel.
A reporter I know was leaving his home one morning when there came a
ring at his telephone. "There is something wrong in apartment number
blank, house number blank, on your street," said Central. "Will you
please go over there at once?" He went. Somehow he got into the house.
Nobody answered his ring at the apartment; he had to break the door
open. Inside a very beautiful girl in a gay negligee was lying dead on a
couch, a bottle of poison on the floor beside her. He investigated the
case. The dead girl had been in the habit of calling a certain number,
and she always used a curious identifying code-phrase. The reporter
investigated that number. The rest of the story is long and thrilling,
but finally he ran down a group of lawbreakers who had been selling the
dead girl drugs, were indirectly responsible for her suicide. Do you
suppose such a ripe story could have dropped straight from the Tree of
Life into the hand of a reporter anywhere except in California?
A woman I know was once waiting on the corner for a car. Near, she
happened casually to notice, was a Chinaman of a noticeable, dried
antiquity, shuffling along under the weight of a bunch of bananas. She
was at that moment considering a curious mental problem and, in her
preoccupation, she drew her hand down the length of her face in a
gesture that her friends recognize as characteristic. Did she, by
accident, stumble on one of the secret signals of a great secret
traffic? That is her only explanation of what followed. For suddenly the
old Chinaman shuffled to her side, unobtrusively turned his back towards
her. One of the bananas on top the bunch, easy to the reach of her hand,
was opened, displaying itself to be emptied of fruit. But in its place
was something - something little, wrapped in tissue paper. Her complete
astonishment apparently warned the vendor of drugs of his mistake. He
scuttled across the street; in a flash had vanished in a back alley.
One could go on forever. I cannot forbear another. A woman was passing
through the theatrical district of San Francisco one night, just before
the theatres let out. The street was fairly deserted. Suddenly she was
accosted by a strange gentleman of suave address. Obviously he had
dallied with the demon and was spectacularly the worse for it. He was
carrying an enormous, a very beautiful - and a very expensive - bouquet.
In a short speech of an impassioned eloquence and quite as flowery as
his tribute, he presented her with the bouquet. She tried to avoid
accepting it. But this was not, without undue publicity, to be done.
Finally to put an end to the scene, she bore off her booty. She has
often wondered what actress was deprived of her over-the-foot-lights
trophy by the sudden freak of an exhilarated messenger.
I know that the Native Son works and works hard. The proof of that is
California itself. San Francisco twice rebuilt, the progressive city of
Los Angeles, all the merry enterprising smaller California cities and
towns. But, somehow, he plays so hard at his work and works so hard at
his play that you are always wondering whether it's all the time he
works or all the time he plays. At any rate, out of his work comes
gaiety and out of his play seriousness. His activities are so many that
when I try to make my imagined program of his average day, I should
provide one not of twenty-four hours, but of seventy-two.
I imagine him going down to his office at about nine in the morning,
working until noon as though driven by steam and electricity; then
lunching with a party of Native Sons, all filled with jocund japeful
joshing Native Son humor which brims over in showers of Native Son wit.
I imagine him returning to an afternoon of brief but concentrated
strenuous labor, then going for a run in the Park, or tennis, or golf,
ending with a swim; presenting himself fine and fit at his club at
first-cocktail time. I imagine him dining at his club or at a restaurant
or at a stag-dinner, always in the company of other joyous Native Sons;
going to the Orpheum, motoring through the Park afterwards; and finally
indulging in another bite before he gets to bed. Sometime during the
process, he has assisted in playing a graceful practical joke on a
trusting friend. He has attended a meeting to boost a big, new
developing project for California. He has made a speech. He has
contributed to some pressing charity. He has swung into at least two
political fights. He has attended a pageant or a fiesta or a carnival.
And he has managed to conduct his wooing of that beautiful (and
fortunate) Native Daughter who will some day become Mrs. Native Son.
Really my favorite hour is every hour.
Every hour in San Francisco is a charming hour. Perhaps my favorite
comes anywhere between six and eight. Then "The City" is brilliant with
lights; street lamps, shop windows, roof advertising signs. The hotels
are a-dance and a-dazzle with life. Flowers and greens make mats and
cushions of gorgeous color at the downtown corners. At one end of Market
Street, the Ferry building is outlined in electricity, sometimes in
color; at the other end the delicate outlines of Twin Peaks are merging
with night. Perhaps swinging towards the horizon there is a crescent
moon - that gay strong young bow which should be the emblem of
California's perpetual youth and of her augmenting power. Perhaps close
to the crescent flickers the evening star - that jewel on the brow of
night which should be a symbol of San Francisco's eternal sparkle. And,
perhaps floating over the City, a sheer high fog mutes the crescent's
gold to a daffodil yellow; winds moist gauzes over the thrilling evening
star. At the top of the high hill-streets, the lamps run in straight
strings or pendant necklaces. Down their astonishing slopes slide cars
like glass boxes filled with liquid light; motors whose front lamps
flood the asphalt with bubbling gold. If it be Christmas - and nowhere
is Christmas so Christmasy as in California - the clubs and hotels show
facades covered with jewel-designs in red and green lights; mistletoe,
holly, stack high the sidewalks on each side of the flower stands. The
beautiful Native Daughter, eyes dancing, lips smiling, dressed with much
color and more chic, is everywhere. And everywhere too, crowding the
streets, thronging the cafes, jamming the theatres, flooding the parks,
filling the endless files of motor-car, until before your very eyes,
"the city" seems to spawn men, is -
Generous, genial, gay; handsome; frank and fine; careless and care-free;
vital, virile, vigorous; engaging and debonair; witty and winning and
wise; humorous and human; kindly and courteous; high-minded,
high-hearted, high-spirited; here's to him! Ladies, this toast must be
drunk standing - the Native Son.
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