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Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells by William Dean Howells

Part 11 out of 78

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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.


"I see," said my friend, "that you have been writing a good deal about
the theatre during the past winter. You have been attacking its high
hats and its high prices, and its low morals; and I suppose that you
think you have done good, as people call it."


This seemed like a challenge of some sort, and I prepared myself to take
it up warily. I said I should be very sorry to do good, as people called
it; because such a line of action nearly always ended in spiritual pride
for the doer and general demoralization for the doee. Still, I said, a
law had lately been passed in Ohio giving a man who found himself behind
a high hat at the theatre a claim for damages against the manager; and if
the passage of this law could be traced ever so faintly and indirectly to
my teachings, I should not altogether grieve for the good I had done.
I added that if all the States should pass such a law, and other laws
fixing a low price for a certain number of seats at the theatres, or
obliging the managers to give one free performance every month, as the
law does in Paris, and should then forbid indecent and immoral plays--

"I see what you mean," said my friend, a little impatiently. "You mean
sumptuary legislation. But I have not come to talk to you upon that
subject, for then you would probably want to do all the talking yourself.
I want to ask you if you have visited any of the cheaper amusements of
this metropolis, or know anything of the really clever and charming
things one may see there for a very little money."

"Ten cents, for instance?"


I answered that I would never own to having come as low down as that; and
I expressed a hardy and somewhat inconsistent doubt of the quality of the
amusement that could be had for that money. I questioned if anything
intellectual could be had for it.

"What do you say to the ten-cent magazines?" my friend retorted. "And
do you pretend that the two-dollar drama is intellectual?"

I had to confess that it generally was not, and that this was part of my
grief with it.

Then he said: "I don't contend that it is intellectual, but I say that it
is often clever and charming at the ten-cent shows, just as it is less
often clever and charming in the ten-cent magazines. I think the average
of propriety is rather higher than it is at the two-dollar theatres; and
it is much more instructive at the ten-cent shows, if you come to that.
The other day," said my friend, and in squaring himself comfortably in
his chair and finding room for his elbow on the corner of my table he
knocked off some books for review, "I went to a dime museum for an hour
that I had between two appointments, and I must say that I never passed
an hour's time more agreeably. In the curio hall, as one of the
lecturers on the curios called it--they had several lecturers in white
wigs and scholars' caps and gowns--there was not a great deal to see, I
confess; but everything was very high-class. There was the inventor of a
perpetual motion, who lectured upon it and explained it from a diagram.
There was a fortune-teller in a three-foot tent whom I did not interview;
there were five macaws in one cage, and two gloomy apes in another. On a
platform at the end of the hall was an Australian family a good deal
gloomier than the apes, who sat in the costume of our latitude, staring
down the room with varying expressions all verging upon melancholy
madness, and who gave me such a pang of compassion as I have seldom got
from the tragedy of the two-dollar theatres. They allowed me to come
quite close up to them, and to feed my pity upon their wild dejection in
exile without stint. I couldn't enter into conversation with them, and
express my regret at finding them so far from their native boomerangs and
kangaroos and pinetree grubs, but I know they felt my sympathy, it was so
evident. I didn't see their performance, and I don't know that they had
any. They may simply have been there ethnologically, but this was a good
object, and the sight of their spiritual misery was alone worth the price
of admission.

"After the inventor of the perpetual motion had brought his harangue to a
close, we all went round to the dais where a lady in blue spectacles
lectured us upon a fire-escape which she had invented, and operated a
small model of it. None of the events were so exciting that we could
regret it when the chief lecturer announced that this was the end of the
entertainment in the curio hall, and that now the performance in the
theatre was about to begin. He invited us to buy tickets at an
additional charge of five, ten, or fifteen cents for the gallery,
orchestra circle, or orchestra.

"I thought I could afford an orchestra stall, for once. We were three in
the orchestra, another man and a young mother, not counting the little
boy she had with her; there were two people in the gallery, and a dozen
at least in the orchestra circle. An attendant shouted, 'Hats off!' and
the other man and I uncovered, and a lady came up from under the stage
and began to play the piano in front of it. The curtain rose, and the
entertainment began at once. It was a passage apparently from real life,
and it involved a dissatisfied boarder and the daughter of the landlady.
There was not much coherence in it, but there was a good deal of
conscience on the part of the actors, who toiled through it with
unflagging energy. The young woman was equipped for the dance she
brought into it at one point rather than for the part she had to sustain
in the drama. It was a very blameless dance, and she gave it as if she
was tired of it, but was not going to falter. She delivered her lines
with a hard, Southwestern accent, and I liked fancying her having come up
in a simpler-hearted section of the country than ours, encouraged by a
strong local belief that she was destined to do Juliet and Lady Macbeth,
or Peg Woffington at the least; but very likely she had not.

"Her performance was followed by an event involving a single character.
The actor, naturally, was blackened as to his skin, but as to his dress
he was all in white, and at the first glance I could see that he had
temperament. I suspect that he thought I had, too, for he began to
address his entire drama to me. This was not surprising, for it would
not have been the thing for him to single out the young mother; and the
other man in the orchestra stalls seemed a vague and inexperienced youth,
whom he would hardly have given the preference over me. I felt the
compliment, but upon the whole it embarrassed me; it was too intimate,
and it gave me a publicity I would willingly have foregone. I did what I
could to reject it, by feigning an indifference to his jokes; I even
frowned a measure of disapproval; but this merely stimulated his
ambition. He was really a merry creature, and when he had got off a
number of very good things which were received in perfect silence, and
looked over his audience with a woe-begone eye, and said, with an effect
of delicate apology, 'I hope I'm not disturbing you any,' I broke down
and laughed, and that delivered me into his hand. He immediately said to
me that now he would tell me about a friend of his, who had a pretty
large family, eight of them living, and one in Philadelphia; and then for
no reason he seemed to change his mind, and said he would sing me a song
written expressly for him--by an expressman; and he went on from one wild
gayety to another, until he had worked his audience up to quite a frenzy
of enthusiasm, and almost had a recall when he went off.

"I was rather glad to be rid of him, and I was glad that the next
performers, who were a lady and a gentleman contortionist of Spanish-
American extraction, behaved more impartially. They were really
remarkable artists in their way, and though it's a painful way, I
couldn't help admiring their gift in bowknots and other difficult poses.
The gentleman got abundant applause, but the lady at first got none. I
think perhaps it was because, with the correct feeling that prevailed
among us, we could not see a lady contort herself with so much approval
as a gentleman, and that there was a wound to our sense of propriety in
witnessing her skill. But I could see that the poor girl was hurt in her
artist pride by our severity, and at the next thing she did I led off the
applause with my umbrella. She instantly lighted up with a joyful smile,
and the young mother in the orchestra leaned forward to nod her sympathy
to me while she clapped. We were fast becoming a domestic circle, and it
was very pleasant, but I thought that upon the whole I had better go."

"And do you think you had a profitable hour at that show?" I asked, with
a smile that was meant to be sceptical.

"Profitable?" said my friend. "I said agreeable. I don't know about
the profit. But it was very good variety, and it was very cheap. I
understand that this is the kind of thing you want the two-dollar theatre
to come down to, or up to."

"Not exactly, or not quite," I returned, thoughtfully, "though I must say
I think your time was as well spent as it would have been at most of the
plays I have seen this winter."

My friend left the point, and said, with a dreamy air: "It was all very
pathetic, in a way. Three out of those five people were really clever,
and certainly artists. That colored brother was almost a genius, a very
common variety of genius, but still a genius, with a gift for his calling
that couldn't be disputed. He was a genuine humorist, and I sorrowed
over him--after I got safely away from his intimacy--as I should over
some author who was struggling along without winning his public. Why
not? One is as much in the show business as the other. There is a
difference of quality rather than of kind. Perhaps by-and-by my colored
humorist will make a strike with his branch of the public, as you are
always hoping to do with yours."

"You don't think you're making yourself rather offensive?" I suggested.

"Not intentionally. Aren't the arts one? How can you say that any art
is higher than the others? Why is it nobler to contort the mind than to
contort the body?"

"I am always saying that it is not at all noble to contort the mind,"
I returned, "and I feel that to aim at nothing higher than the amusement
of your readers is to bring yourself most distinctly to the level of the
show business."

"Yes, I know that is your pose," said my friend. "And I dare say you
really think that you make a distinction in facts when you make a
distinction in terms. If you don't amuse your readers, you don't keep
them; practically, you cease to exist. You may call it interesting them,
if you like; but, really, what is the difference? You do your little
act, and because the stage is large and the house is fine, you fancy you
are not of that sad brotherhood which aims to please in humbler places,
with perhaps cruder means--"

"I don't know whether I like your saws less than your instances, or your
instances less than your saws," I broke in. "Have you been at the circus


"Yet?" demanded my friend. "I went the first night, and I have been a
good deal interested in the examination of my emotions ever since.
I can't find out just why I have so much pleasure in the trapeze.
Half the time I want to shut my eyes, and a good part of the time I do
look away; but I wouldn't spare any actor the most dangerous feat.
One of the poor girls, that night, dropped awkwardly into the net after
her performance, and limped off to the dressing-room with a sprained
ankle. It made me rather sad to think that now she must perhaps give up
her perilous work for a while, and pay a doctor, and lose her salary, but
it didn't take away my interest in the other trapezists flying through
the air above another net.

"If I had honestly complained of anything it would have been of the
superfluity which glutted rather than fed me. How can you watch three
sets of trapezists at once? You really see neither well. It's the same
with the three rings. There should be one ring, and each act should have
a fair chance with the spectator, if it took six hours; I would willingly
give the time. Fancy three stages at the theatre, with three plays going
on at once!"

"No, don't fancy that!" I entreated. "One play is bad enough."

"Or fancy reading three novels simultaneously, and listening at the same
time to a lecture and a sermon, which could represent the two platforms
between the rings," my friend calmly persisted. "The three rings are an
abuse and an outrage, but I don't know but I object still more to the
silencing of the clowns. They have a great many clowns now, but they are
all dumb, and you only get half the good you used to get out of the
single clown of the old one-ring circus. Why, it's as if the literary
humorist were to lead up to a charming conceit or a subtle jest, and then
put asterisks where the humor ought to come in."

"Don't you think you are going from bad to worse?" I asked.

My friend went on: "I'm afraid the circus is spoiled for me. It has
become too much of a good thing; for it is a good thing; almost the best
thing in the way of an entertainment that there is. I'm still very fond
of it, but I come away defeated and defrauded because I have been
embarrassed with riches, and have been given more than I was able to
grasp. My greed has been overfed. I think I must keep to those
entertainments where you can come at ten in the morning and stay till ten
at night, with a perpetual change of bill, only one stage, and no fall of
the curtain. I suppose you would object to them because they're getting
rather dear; at the best of them now they ask you a dollar for the first

I said that I did not think this too much for twelve hours, if the
intellectual character of the entertainment was correspondingly high.

"It's as high as that of some magazines," said my friend, "though I could
sometimes wish it were higher. It's like the matter in the Sunday
papers--about that average. Some of it's good, and most of it isn't.
Some of it could hardly be worse. But there is a great deal of it, and
you get it consecutively and not simultaneously. That constitutes its
advantage over the circus."

My friend stopped, with a vague smile, and I asked:

"Then, do I understand that you would advise me to recommend the dime
museums, the circus, and the perpetual-motion varieties in the place of
the theatres?"

"You have recommended books instead, and that notion doesn't seem to have
met with much favor, though you urged their comparative cheapness. Now,
why not suggest something that is really level with the popular taste?"


A recently lecturing Englishman is reported to have noted the unenviable
primacy of the United States among countries where the struggle for
material prosperity has been disastrous to the pursuit of literature.
He said, or is said to have said (one cannot be too careful in
attributing to a public man the thoughts that may be really due to an
imaginative frame in the reporter), that among us, "the old race of
writers of distinction, such as Longfellow, Bryant, Holmes, and
Washington Irving, have (sic) died out, and the Americans who are most
prominent in cultivated European opinion in art or literature, like
Sargent, Henry James, or Marion Crawford, live habitually out of America,
and draw their inspiration from England, France, and Italy."


If this were true, I confess that I am so indifferent to what many
Americans glory in that it would not distress me, or wound me in the sort
of self-love which calls itself patriotism. If it would at all help to
put an end to that struggle for material prosperity which has eventuated
with us in so many millionaires and so many tramps, I should be glad to
believe that it was driving our literary men out of the country. This
would be a tremendous object-lesson, and might be a warning to the
millionaires and the tramps. But I am afraid it would not have this
effect, for neither our very rich nor our very poor care at all for the
state of polite learning among us; though for the matter of that, I
believe that economic conditions have little to do with it; and that if a
general mediocrity of fortune prevailed and there were no haste to be
rich and to get poor, the state of polite learning would not be
considerably affected. As matters stand, I think we may reasonably ask
whether the Americans "most prominent in cultivated European opinion,"
the Americans who "live habitually out of America," are not less exiles
than advance agents of the expansion now advertising itself to the world.
They may be the vanguard of the great army of adventurers destined to
overrun the earth from these shores, and exploit all foreign countries to
our advantage. They probably themselves do not know it, but in the act
of "drawing their inspiration" from alien scenes, or taking their own
where they find it, are not they simply transporting to Europe "the
struggle for material prosperity," which Sir Lepel supposes to be fatal
to them here?

There is a question, however, which comes before this, and that is the
question whether they have quitted us in such numbers as justly to alarm
our patriotism. Qualitatively, in the authors named and in the late Mr.
Bret Harte, Mr. Harry Harland, and the late Mr. Harold Frederic, as well
as in Mark Twain, once temporarily resident abroad, the defection is very
great; but quantitatively it is not such as to leave us without a fair
measure of home-keeping authorship. Our destitution is not nearly so
great now in the absence of Mr. James and Mr. Crawford as it was in the
times before the "struggle for material prosperity" when Washington
Irving went and lived in England and on the European continent well-nigh
half his life.

Sir Lepel Griffin--or Sir Lepel Griffin's reporter--seems to forget the
fact of Irving's long absenteeism when he classes him with "the old race"
of eminent American authors who stayed at home. But really none of those
he names were so constant to our air as he seems--or his reporter seems--
to think. Longfellow sojourned three or four years in Germany, Spain,
and Italy; Holmes spent as great time in Paris; Bryant was a frequent
traveller, and each of them "drew his inspiration" now and then from
alien sources. Lowell was many years in Italy, Spain, and England;
Motley spent more than half his life abroad; Hawthorne was away from us
nearly a decade.


If I seem to be proving too much in one way, I do not feel that I am
proving too much in another. My facts go to show that the literary
spirit is the true world-citizen, and is at home everywhere. If any good
American were distressed by the absenteeism of our authors, I should
first advise him that American literature was not derived from the folk-
lore of the red Indians, but was, as I have said once before, a condition
of English literature, and was independent even of our independence.
Then I should entreat him to consider the case of foreign authors who had
found it more comfortable or more profitable to live out of their
respective countries than in them. I should allege for his consolation
the case of Byron, Shelley, and Leigh Hunt, and more latterly that of the
Brownings and Walter Savage Landor, who preferred an Italian to an
English sojourn; and yet more recently that of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, who
voluntarily lived several years in Vermont, and has "drawn his
inspiration" in notable instances from the life of these States. It will
serve him also to consider that the two greatest Norwegian authors,
Bjornsen and Ibsen, have both lived long in France and Italy. Heinrich
Heine loved to live in Paris much better than in Dusseldorf, or even in
Hamburg; and Tourguenief himself, who said that any man's country could
get on without him, but no man could get on without his country, managed
to dispense with his own in the French capital, and died there after he
was quite free to go back to St. Petersburg. In the last century
Rousseau lived in France rather than Switzerland; Voltaire at least tried
to live in Prussia, and was obliged to a long exile elsewhere; Goldoni
left fame and friends in Venice for the favor of princes in Paris.

Literary absenteeism, it seems to me, is not peculiarly an American vice
or an American virtue. It is an expression and a proof of the modern
sense which enlarges one's country to the bounds of civilization.
I cannot think it justly a reproach in the eyes of the world, and if any
American feels it a grievance, I suggest that he do what he can to have
embodied in the platform of his party a plank affirming the right of
American authors to a public provision that will enable them to live as
agreeably at home as they can abroad on the same money. In the mean
time, their absenteeism is not a consequence of "the struggle for
material prosperity," not a high disdain of the strife which goes on not
less in Europe than in America, and must, of course, go on everywhere as
long as competitive conditions endure, but is the result of chances and
preferences which mean nothing nationally calamitous or discreditable.


"As good as the circus--not so good as the circus--better than the
circus." These were my varying impressions, as I sat looking down upon
the tanbark, the other day, at the Horse Show in Madison Square Garden;
and I came away with their blend for my final opinion.


I might think that the Horse Show (which is so largely a Man Show and a
Woman Show) was better or worse than the circus, or about as good; but I
could not get away from the circus, in my impression of it. Perhaps the
circus is the norm of all splendors where the horse and his master are
joined for an effect upon the imagination of the spectator. I am sure
that I have never been able quite to dissociate from it the
picturesqueness of chivalry, and that it will hereafter always suggest to
me the last correctness of fashion. It is through the horse that these
far extremes meet; in all times the horse has been the supreme expression
of aristocracy; and it may very well be that a dream of the elder world
prophesied the ultimate type of the future, when the Swell shall have
evolved into the Centaur.

Some such teasing notion of their mystical affinity is what haunts you as
you make your round of the vast ellipse, with the well-groomed men about
you and the well-groomed horses beyond the barrier.

In this first affair of the new--comer, the horses are not so much on
show as the swells; you get only glimpses of shining coats and tossing
manes, with a glint here and there of a flying hoof through the lines of
people coming and going, and the ranks of people, three or four feet
deep, against the rails of the ellipse; but the swells are there in
perfect relief, and it is they who finally embody the Horse Show to you.
The fact is that they are there to see, of course, but the effect is that
they are there to be seen.

The whole spectacle had an historical quality, which I tasted with
pleasure. It was the thing that had eventuated in every civilization,
and the American might feel a characteristic pride that what came to Rome
in five hundred years had come to America in a single century. There was
something fine in the absolutely fatal nature of the result, and I
perceived that nowhere else in our life, which is apt to be reclusive in
its exclusiveness, is the prime motive at work in it so dramatically
apparent. "Yes," I found myself thinking, "this is what it all comes to:
the 'subiti guadagni' of the new rich, made in large masses and seeking a
swift and eager exploitation, and the slowly accumulated fortunes, put
together from sparing and scrimping, from slaving and enslaving, in
former times, and now in the stainless white hands of the second or third
generation, they both meet here to the purpose of a common ostentation,
and create a Horse Show."

I cannot say that its creators looked much as if they liked it, now they
had got it; and, so far as I have been able to observe them, people of
wealth and fashion always dissemble their joy, and have the air of being
bored in the midst of their amusements. This reserve of rapture may be
their delicacy, their unwillingness to awaken envy in the less prospered;
and I should not have objected to the swells at the Horse Show looking
dreary if they had looked more like swells; except for a certain hardness
of the countenance (which I found my own sympathetically taking on) I
should not have thought them very patrician, and this hardness may have
been merely the consequence of being so much stared at. Perhaps, indeed,
they were not swells whom I saw in the boxes, but only companies of
ordinary people who had clubbed together and hired their boxes;
I understand that this can be done, and the student of civilization so
far misled. But certainly if they were swells they did not look quite up
to themselves; though, for that matter, neither do the nobilities of
foreign countries, and on one or two occasions when I have seen them,
kings and emperors have failed me in like manner. They have all wanted
that indescribable something which I have found so satisfying in
aristocracies and royalties on the stage; and here at the Horse Show,
while I made my tour, I constantly met handsome, actor-like folk on foot
who could much better have taken the role of the people in the boxes.
The promenaders may not have been actors at all; they may have been the
real thing for which I was in vain scanning the boxes, but they looked
like actors, who indeed set an example to us all in personal beauty and
in correctness of dress.

I mean nothing offensive either to swells or to actors. We have not
distinction, as a people; Matthew Arnold noted that; and it is not our
business to have it: When it is our business our swells will have it,
just as our actors now have it, especially our actors of English birth.
I had not this reflection about me at the time to console me for my
disappointment, and it only now occurs to me that what I took for an
absence of distinction may have been such a universal prevalence of it
that the result was necessarily a species of indistinction. But in the
complexion of any social assembly we Americans are at a disadvantage with
Europeans from the want of uniforms. A few military scattered about in
those boxes, or even a few sporting bishops in shovel-hats and aprons,
would have done much to relieve them from the reproach I have been
heaping upon them. Our women, indeed, poor things, always do their duty
in personal splendor, and it is not of a poverty in their modes at the
Horse Show that I am complaining. If the men had borne their part as
well, there would not have been these tears: and yet, what am I saying?
There was here and there a clean-shaven face (which I will not believe
was always an actor's), and here and there a figure superbly set up, and
so faultlessly appointed as to shoes, trousers, coat, tie, hat, and
gloves as to have a salience from the mass of good looks and good clothes
which I will not at last call less than distinction.


At any rate, I missed these marked presences when I left the lines of the
promenaders around the ellipse, and climbed to a seat some tiers above
the boxes. I am rather anxious to have it known that my seat was not one
of those cheap ones in the upper gallery, but was with the virtuous poor
who could afford to pay a dollar and a half for their tickets. I bought
it of a speculator on the sidewalk, who said it was his last, so that I
conceived it the last in the house; but I found the chairs by no means
all filled, though it was as good an audience as I have sometimes seen in
the same place at other circuses. The people about me were such as I had
noted at the other circuses, hotel-sojourners, kindly-looking comers from
provincial towns and cities, whom I instantly felt myself at home with,
and free to put off that gloomy severity of aspect which had grown upon
me during my association with the swells below. My neighbors were
sufficiently well dressed, and if they had no more distinction than their
betters, or their richers, they had not the burden of the occasion upon
them, and seemed really glad of what was going on in the ring.

There again I was sensible of the vast advantage of costume. The bugler
who stood up at one end of the central platform and blew a fine fanfare
(I hope it was a fanfare) towards the gates where the horses were to
enter from their stalls in the basement was a hussar-like shape that
filled my romantic soul with joy; and the other figures of the management
I thought very fortunate compromises between grooms and ringmasters. At
any rate, their nondescript costumes were gay, and a relief from the
fashions in the boxes and the promenade; they were costumes, and costumes
are always more sincere, if not more effective, than fashions. As I have
hinted, I do not know just what costumes they were, but they took the
light well from the girandole far aloof and from the thousands of little
electric bulbs that beaded the roof in long lines, and dispersed the
sullenness of the dull, rainy afternoon. When the knights entered the
lists on the seats of their dog-carts, with their squires beside them,
and their shining tandems before them, they took the light well, too, and
the spectacle was so brilliant that I trust my imagery may be forgiven a
novelist pining for the pageantries of the past. I do not know to this
moment whether these knights were bona fide gentlemen, or only their
deputies, driving their tandems for them, and I am equally at a loss to
account for the variety, of their hats. Some wore tall, shining silk
hats; some flat-topped, brown derbys; some simple black pot-hats;--and is
there, then, no rigor as to the head-gear of people driving tandems?
I felt that there ought to be, and that there ought to be some rule as to
where the number of each tandem should be displayed. As it was, this was
sometimes carelessly stuck into the seat of the cart; sometimes it was
worn at the back of the groom's waist, and sometimes full upon his
stomach. In the last position it gave a touch of burlesque which wounded
me; for these are vital matters, and I found myself very exacting in

With the horses themselves I could find no fault upon the grounds of my
censure of the show in some other ways. They had distinction; they were
patrician; they were swell. They felt it, they showed it, they rejoiced
in it; and the most reluctant observer could not deny them the glory of
blood, of birth, which the thoroughbred horse has expressed in all lands
and ages. Their lordly port was a thing that no one could dispute, and
for an aristocracy I suppose that they had a high average of
intelligence, though there might be two minds about this. They made me
think of mettled youths and haughty dames; they abashed the humble spirit
of the beholder with the pride of their high-stepping, their curvetting
and caracoling, as they jingled in their shining harness around the long
ring. Their noble uselessness took the fancy, for I suppose that there
is nothing so superbly superfluous as a tandem, outside or inside of the
best society. It is something which only the ambition of wealth and
unbroken leisure can mount to; and I was glad that the display of tandems
was the first event of the Horse Show which I witnessed, for it seemed to
me that it must beyond all others typify the power which created the
Horse Show. I wished that the human side of it could have been more
unquestionably adequate, but the equine side of the event was perfect.
Still, I felt a certain relief, as in something innocent and simple and
childlike, in the next event.


This was the inundation of the tan-bark with troops of pretty Shetland
ponies of all ages, sizes, and colors. A cry of delight went up from a
group of little people near me, and the spell of the Horse Show was
broken. It was no longer a solemnity of fashion, it was a sweet and
kindly pleasure which every one could share, or every one who had ever
had, or ever wished to have, a Shetland pony; the touch of nature made
the whole show kin. I could not see that the freakish, kittenish
creatures did anything to claim our admiration, but they won our
affection by every trait of ponyish caprice and obstinacy. The small
colts broke away from the small mares, and gambolled over the tanbark in
wanton groups, with gay or plaintive whinnyings, which might well have
touched a responsive chord in the bosom of fashion itself: I dare say it
is not so hard as it looks. The scene remanded us to a moment of
childhood; and I found myself so fond of all the ponies that I felt it
invidious of the judges to choose among them for the prizes; they ought
every one to have had the prize.

I suppose a Shetland pony is not a very useful animal in our conditions;
no doubt a good, tough, stubbed donkey would be worth all their tribe
when it came down to hard work; but we cannot all be hard-working
donkeys, and some of us may be toys and playthings without too great
reproach. I gazed after the broken, refluent wave of these amiable
creatures, with the vague toleration here formulated, but I was not quite
at peace in it, or fully consoled in my habitual ethicism till the next
event brought the hunters with their high-jumping into the ring. These
noble animals unite use and beauty in such measure that the censor must
be of Catonian severity who can refuse them his praise. When I reflected
that by them and their devoted riders our civilization had been
assimilated to that of the mother-country in its finest expression, and
another tie added to those that bind us to her through the language of
Shakespeare and Milton; that they had tamed the haughty spirit of the
American farmer in several parts of the country so that he submitted for
a consideration to have his crops ridden over, and that they had all but
exterminated the ferocious anise-seed bag, once so common and destructive
among us, I was in a fit mood to welcome the bars and hurdles which were
now set up at four or five places for the purposes of the high-jumping.
As to the beauty of the hunting-horse, though, I think I must hedge a
little, while I stand firmly to my admiration of his use. To be honest,
the tandem horse is more to my taste. He is better shaped, and he bears
himself more proudly. The hunter is apt to behave, whatever his reserve
of intelligence, like an excited hen; he is apt to be ewe-necked and bred
away to nothing where the ideal horse abounds; he has the behavior of a
turkey-hen when not behaving like the common or garden hen. But there
can be no question of his jumping, which seems to be his chief business
in a world where we are all appointed our several duties, and I at once
began to take a vivid pleasure in his proficiency. I have always felt a
blind and insensate joy in running races, which has no relation to any
particular horse, and I now experienced an impartial rapture in the
performances of these hunters. They looked very much alike, and if it
had not been for the changing numbers on the sign-board in the centre of
the ring announcing that 650, 675, or 602 was now jumping, I might have
thought it was 650 all the time.

A high jump is not so fine a sight as a running race when the horses have
got half a mile away and look like a covey of swift birds, but it is
still a fine sight. I became very fastidious as to which moment of it
was the finest, whether when the horse rose in profile, or when his
aerial hoof touched the ground (with the effect of half jerking his
rider's head half off), or when he showed a flying heel in perspective;
and I do not know to this hour which I prefer. But I suppose I was
becoming gradually spoiled by my pleasure, for as time went on I noticed
that I was not satisfied with the monotonous excellence of the horses'
execution. Will it be credited that I became willing something should
happen, anything, to vary it? I asked myself why, if some of the more
exciting incidents of the hunting-field which I had read of must befall;
I should not see them. Several of the horses had balked at the barriers,
and almost thrown their riders across them over their necks, but not
quite done it; several had carried away the green-tufted top rail with
their heels; when suddenly there came a loud clatter from the farther
side of the ellipse, where a whole panel of fence had gone down. I
looked eagerly for the prostrate horse and rider under the bars, but they
were cantering safely away.


It was enough, however. I perceived that I was becoming demoralized, and
that if I were to write of the Horse Show with at all the superiority one
likes to feel towards the rich and great, I had better come away. But I
came away critical, even in my downfall, and feeling that, circus for
circus, the Greatest Show on Earth which I had often seen in that place
had certain distinct advantages of the Horse Show. It had three rings
and two platforms; and, for another thing, the drivers and riders in the
races, when they won, bore the banner of victory aloft in their hands,
instead of poorly letting a blue or red ribbon flicker at their horses'
ears. The events were more frequent and rapid; the costumes infinitely
more varied and picturesque. As for the people in the boxes, I do not
know that they were less distinguished than these at the Horse Show, but
if they were not of the same high level in which distinction was
impossible, they did not show it in their looks.

The Horse Show, in fine, struck me as a circus of not all the first
qualities; and I had moments of suspecting that it was no more than the
evolution of the county cattle show. But in any case I had to own that
its great success was quite legitimate; for the horse, upon the whole,
appeals to a wider range of humanity, vertically as well as horizontally,
than any other interest, not excepting politics or religion. I cannot,
indeed, regard him as a civilizing influence; but then we cannot be
always civilizing.


It has sometimes seemed to me that the solution of the problem how and
where to spend the summer was simplest with those who were obliged to
spend it as they spent the winter, and increasingly difficult in the
proportion of one's ability to spend it wherever and however one chose.
Few are absolutely released to this choice, however, and those few are
greatly to be pitied. I know that they are often envied and hated for it
by those who have no such choice, but that is a pathetic mistake. If we
could look into their hearts, indeed, we should witness there so much

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