Part 10 out of 15
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
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
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 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
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
SAWDUST IN THE ARENA
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.
AT A DIME MUSEUM
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
AMERICAN LITERATURE IN EXILE
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.
THE HORSE SHOW
"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
THE PROBLEM OF THE SUMMER
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
misery that we should wish rather to weep over them than to reproach them
with their better fortune, or what appeared so.
For most people choice is a curse, and it is this curse that the summer
brings upon great numbers who would not perhaps otherwise be afflicted.
They are not in the happy case of those who must stay at home; their hard
necessity is that they can go away, and try to be more agreeably placed
somewhere else; but although I say they are in great numbers, they are an
infinitesimal minority of the whole bulk of our population. Their bane
is not, in its highest form, that of the average American who has no
choice of the kind; and when one begins to speak of the summer problem,
one must begin at once to distinguish. It is the problem of the East
rather than of the West (where people are much more in the habit of
staying at home the year round), and it is the problem of the city and
not of the country. I am not sure that there is one practical farmer in
the whole United States who is obliged to witness in his household those
sad dissensions which almost separate the families of professional men as
to where and how they shall pass the summer. People of this class, which
is a class with some measure of money, ease, and taste, are commonly of
varying and decided minds, and I once knew a family of the sort whose
combined ideal for their summer outing was summed up in the simple desire
for society and solitude, mountain-air and sea-bathing. They spent the
whole months of April, May, and June in a futile inquiry for a resort
uniting these attractions, and on the first of July they drove to the
station with no definite point in view. But they found that they could
get return tickets for a certain place on an inland lake at a low figure,
and they took the first train for it. There they decided next morning to
push on to the mountains, and sent their baggage to the station, but
before it was checked they changed their minds, and remained two weeks
where they were. Then they took train for a place on the coast, but in
the cars a friend told them they ought to go to another place; they
decided to go there, but before arriving at the junction they decided
again to keep on. They arrived at their original destination, and the
following day telegraphed for rooms at a hotel farther down the coast.
The answer came that there were no rooms, and being by this time ready to
start, they started, and in due time reported themselves at the hotel.
The landlord saw that something must be done, and he got them rooms, at a
smaller house, and 'mealed' them (as it used to be called at Mt. Desert)
in his own. But upon experiment of the fare at the smaller house they
liked it so well that they resolved to live there altogether, and they
spent a summer of the greatest comfort there, so that they would hardly
come away when the house closed in the fall.
This was an extreme case, and perhaps such a venture might not always
turn out so happily; but I think that people might oftener trust
themselves to Providence in these matters than they do. There is really
an infinite variety of pleasant resorts of all kinds now, and one could
quite safely leave it to the man in the ticket-office where one should
go, and check one's baggage accordingly. I think the chances of an
agreeable summer would be as good in that way as in making a hard-and-
fast choice of a certain place and sticking to it. My own experience is
that in these things chance makes a very good choice for one, as it does
in most non-moral things.
A joke dies hard, and I am not sure that the life is yet quite out of the
kindly ridicule that was cast for a whole generation upon the people who
left their comfortable houses in town to starve upon farm-board or stifle
in the narrow rooms of mountain and seaside hotels. Yet such people were
in the right, and their mockers were in the wrong, and their patient
persistence in going out of town for the summer in the face of severe
discouragements has multiplied indefinitely the kinds of summer resorts,
and reformed them altogether. I believe the city boarding-house remains
very much what it used to be; but I am bound to say that the country
boarding-house has vastly improved since I began to know it. As for the
summer hotel, by steep or by strand, it leaves little to be complained of
except the prices. I take it for granted, therefore, that the out-of-
town summer has come to stay, for all who can afford it, and that the
chief sorrow attending it is that curse of choice, which I have already
I have rather favored chance than choice, because, whatever choice you
make, you are pretty sure to regret it, with a bitter sense of
responsibility added, which you cannot feel if chance has chosen for you.
I observe that people who own summer cottages are often apt to wish they
did not, and were foot-loose to roam where they listed, and I have been
told that even a yacht is not a source of unmixed content, though so
eminently detachable. To great numbers Europe looks from this shore like
a safe refuge from the American summer problem; and yet I am not sure
that it is altogether so; for it is not enough merely to go to Europe;
one has to choose where to go when one has got there. A European city is
certainly always more tolerable than an American city, but one cannot
very well pass the summer in Paris, or even in London. The heart there,
as here, will yearn for some blessed seat
"Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,"
and still, after your keel touches the strand of that alluring old world,
you must buy your ticket and register your trunk for somewhere in
It is truly a terrible stress, this summer problem, and, as I say, my
heart aches much more for those who have to solve it and suffer the
consequences of their choice than for those who have no choice, but must
stay the summer through where their work is, and be humbly glad that they
have any work to keep them there. I am not meaning now, of course,
business men obliged to remain in the city to earn the bread--or, more
correctly, the cake--of their families in the country, or even their
clerks and bookkeepers, and porters and messengers, but such people as I
sometimes catch sight of from the elevated trains (in my reluctant
midsummer flights through the city), sweltering in upper rooms over
sewing-machines or lap-boards, or stewing in the breathless tenement
streets, or driving clangorous trucks, or monotonous cars, or bending
over wash-tubs at open windows for breaths of the no-air without.
These all get on somehow, and at the end of the summer they have not to
accuse themselves of folly in going to one place rather than another.
Their fate is decided for them, and they submit to it; whereas those who
decide their fate are always rebelling against it. They it is whom I am
truly sorry for, and whom I write of with tears in my ink. Their case is
hard, and it will seem all the harder if we consider how foolish they
will look and how flat they will feel at the judgment-day, when they are
asked about their summer outings. I do not really suppose we shall be
held to a very strict account for our pleasures because everybody else
has not enjoyed them, too; that would be a pity of our lives; and yet
there is an old-fashioned compunction which will sometimes visit the
heart if we take our pleasures ungraciously, when so many have no
pleasures to take. I would suggest, then, to those on whom the curse of
choice between pleasures rests, that they should keep in mind those who
have chiefly pains to their portion in life.
I am not, I hope, urging my readers to any active benevolence, or
counselling them to share their pleasures with others; it has been
accurately ascertained that there are not pleasures enough to go round,
as things now are; but I would seriously entreat them to consider whether
they could not somewhat alleviate the hardships of their own lot at the
sea-side or among the mountains, by contrasting it with the lot of others
in the sweat-shops and the boiler-factories of life. I know very well
that it is no longer considered very good sense or very good morality to
take comfort in one's advantages from the disadvantages of others, and
this is not quite what I mean to teach. Perhaps I mean nothing more than
an overhauling of the whole subject of advantages and disadvantages,
which would be a light and agreeable occupation for the leisure of the
summer outer. It might be very interesting, and possibly it might be
amusing, for one stretched upon the beach or swaying in the hammock to
inquire into the reasons for his or her being so favored, and it is not
beyond the bounds of expectation that a consensus of summer opinion on
this subject would go far to enlighten the world upon a question that has
vexed the world ever since mankind was divided into those who work too
much and those who rest too much.
AESTHETIC NEW YORK FIFTY-ODD YEARS AGO
A study of New York civilization in 1849 has lately come into my hands,
with a mortifying effect, which I should like to share with the reader,
to my pride of modernity. I had somehow believed that after half a
century of material prosperity, such as the world has never seen before,
New York in 1902 must be very different from New York in 1849, but if I
am to trust either the impressions of the earlier student or my own, New
York is essentially the same now that it was then. The spirit of the
place has not changed; it is as it was, splendidly and sordidly
commercial. Even the body of it has undergone little or no alteration;
it was as shapeless, as incongruous; as ugly when the author of 'New York
in Slices' wrote as it is at this writing; it has simply grown, or
overgrown, on the moral and material lines which seem to have been
structural in it from the beginning. He felt in his time the same
vulgarity, the same violence, in its architectural anarchy that I have
felt in my time, and he noted how all dignity and beauty perished, amid
the warring forms, with a prescience of my own affliction, which deprives
me of the satisfaction of a discoverer and leaves me merely the sense of
being rather old-fashioned in my painful emotions.
I wish I could pretend that my author philosophized the facts of his New
York with something less than the raw haste of the young journalist; but
I am afraid I must own that 'New York in Slices' affects one as having
first been printed in an evening paper, and that the writer brings to the
study of the metropolis something like the eager horror of a country
visitor. This probably enabled him to heighten the effect he wished to
make with readers of a kindred tradition, and for me it adds a certain
innocent charm to his work. I may make myself better understood if I say
that his attitude towards the depravities of a smaller New York is much
the same as that of Mr. Stead towards the wickedness of a much larger
Chicago. He seizes with some such avidity upon the darker facts of the
prisons, the slums, the gambling-houses, the mock auctions, the toughs
(who then called themselves b'hoys and g'hals), the quacks, the theatres,
and even the intelligence offices, and exploits their iniquities with a
ready virtue which the wickedest reader can enjoy with him.
But if he treated of these things alone, I should not perhaps have
brought his curious little book to the polite notice of my readers.
He treats also of the press, the drama, the art, and, above all,
"the literary soirees" of that remote New York of his in a manner to make
us latest New-Yorkers feel our close proximity to it. Fifty-odd years
ago journalism had already become "the absorbing, remorseless, clamorous
thing" we now know, and very different from the thing it was when
"expresses were unheard of, and telegraphs were uncrystallized from the
lightning's blue and fiery film." Reporterism was beginning to assume
its present importance, but it had not yet become the paramount
intellectual interest, and did not yet "stand shoulder to shoulder" with
the counting-room in authority. Great editors, then as now, ranked great
authors in the public esteem, or achieved a double primacy by uniting
journalism and literature in the same personality. They were often the
owners as well as the writers of their respective papers, and they
indulged for the advantage of the community the rancorous rivalries,
recriminations, and scurrilities which often form the charm, if not the
chief use, of our contemporaneous journals. Apparently, however,
notarially authenticated boasts of circulation had not yet been made the
delight of their readers, and the press had not become the detective
agency that it now is, nor the organizer and distributer of charities.
But as dark a cloud of doubt rested upon its relations to the theatre as
still eclipses the popular faith in dramatic criticism. "How can you
expect," our author asks, "a frank and unbiassed criticism upon the
performance of George Frederick Cooke Snooks . . . when the editor or
reporter who is to write it has just been supping on beefsteak and stewed
potatoes at Windust's, and regaling himself on brandy-and-water cold,
without, at the expense of the aforesaid George Frederick Cooke Snooks?"
The severest censor of the press, however, would hardly declare now that
"as to such a thing as impartial and independent criticism upon theatres
in the present state of the relations between editors, reporters,
managers, actors--and actresses--the thing is palpably out of the
question," and if matters were really at the pass hinted, the press has
certainly improved in fifty years, if one may judge from its present
frank condemnations of plays and players. The theatre apparently has
not, for we read that at that period "a very great majority of the
standard plays and farces on the stage depend mostly for their piquancy
and their power of interesting an audience upon intrigues with married
women, elopements, seductions, bribery, cheating, and fraud of every
description . . . . Stage costume, too, wherever there is half a
chance, is usually made as lascivious and immodest as possible; and a
freedom and impropriety prevails among the characters of the piece which
would be kicked out of private society the instant it would have the
audacity to make its appearance there."
I hope private society in New York would still be found as correct if not
quite so violent; and I wish I could believe that the fine arts were
presently in as flourishing a condition among us as they were in 1849.
That was the prosperous day of the Art Unions, in which the artists
clubbed their output, and the subscribers parted the works among
themselves by something so very like raffling that the Art Unions were
finally suppressed under the law against lotteries. While they lasted,
however, they had exhibitions thronged by our wealth, fashion, and
intellect (to name them in the order they hold the New York mind), as our
private views now are, or ought to be; and the author "devotes an entire
number" of his series "to a single institution"--fearless of being
accused of partiality by any who rightly appreciate the influences of the
fine arts upon the morals and refinement of mankind.
He devotes even more than an entire number to literature; for, besides
treating of various literary celebrities at the "literary soirees," he
imagines encountering several of them at the high-class restaurants.
At Delmonico's, where if you had "French and money" you could get in that
day "a dinner which, as a work of art, ranks with a picture by
Huntington, a poem by Willis, or a statue by Powers," he meets such a
musical critic as Richard Grant White, such an intellectual epicurean as
N. P. Willis, such a lyric poet as Charles Fenno Hoffman. But it would
be a warm day for Delmonico's when the observer in this epoch could
chance upon so much genius at its tables, perhaps because genius among us
has no longer the French or the money. Indeed, the author of 'New York
in Slices' seems finally to think that he has gone too far, even for his
own period, and brings himself up with the qualifying reservation that if
Willis and Hoffman never did dine together at Delmonico's, they ought to
have done so. He has apparently no misgivings as to the famous musical
critic, and he has no scruple in assembling for us at his "literary
soiree" a dozen distinguished-looking men and "twice as many women....
listening to a tall, deaconly man, who stands between two candles held by
a couple of sticks summoned from the recesses of the back parlor, reading
a basketful of gilt-edged notes. It is . . . the annual Valentine
Party, to which all the male and female authors have contributed for the
purpose of saying on paper charming things of each other, and at which,
for a few hours, all are gratified with the full meed of that praise
which a cold world is chary of bestowing upon its literary cobweb-
It must be owned that we have no longer anything so like a 'salon' as
this. It is, indeed, rather terrible, and it is of a quality in its
celebrities which may well carry dismay to any among us presently
intending immortality. Shall we, one day, we who are now in the rich
and full enjoyment of our far-reaching fame, affect the imagination of
posterity as these phantoms of the past affect ours? Shall we, too,
appear in some pale limbo of unimportance as thin and faded as "John
Inman, the getter-up of innumerable things for the annuals and
magazines," or as Dr. Rufus Griswold, supposed for picturesque purposes
to be "stalking about with an immense quarto volume under his arm . . .
an early copy of his forthcoming 'Female Poets of America'"; or as Lewis
Gaylord Clark, the "sunnyfaced, smiling" editor of the Knickerbocker
Magazine, "who don't look as if the Ink-Fiend had ever heard of him,"
as he stands up to dance a polka with "a demure lady who has evidently
spilled the inkstand over her dress"; or as "the stately Mrs. Seba Smith,
bending aristocratically over the centre-table, and talking in a bright,
cold, steady stream, like an antique fountain by moonlight"; or as "the
spiritual and dainty Fanny Osgood, clapping her hands and crowing like a
baby," where she sits "nestled under a shawl of heraldic devices, like a
bird escaped from its cage"; or as Margaret Fuller, "her large, gray eyes
Tamping inspiration, and her thin, quivering lip prophesying like a
I hope not; I earnestly hope not. Whatever I said at the outset,
affirming the persistent equality of New York characteristics and
circumstances, I wish to take back at this point; and I wish to warn
malign foreign observers, of the sort who have so often refused to see us
as we see ourselves, that they must not expect to find us now grouped in
the taste of 1849. Possibly it was not so much the taste of 1849 as the
author of 'New York in Slices' would have us believe; and perhaps any one
who trusted his pictures of life among us otherwise would be deceived by
a parity of the spirit in which they are portrayed with that of our
modern "society journalism."
FROM NEW YORK INTO NEW ENGLAND
There is, of course, almost a world's difference between England and the
Continent anywhere; but I do not recall just now any transition between
Continental countries which involves a more distinct change in the
superficial aspect of things than the passage from the Middle States into
New England. It is all American, but American of diverse ideals; and you
are hardly over the border before you are sensible of diverse effects,
which are the more apparent to you the more American you are. If you
want the contrast at its sharpest you had better leave New York on a
Sound boat; for then you sleep out of the Middle State civilization and
wake into the civilization of New England, which seems to give its stamp
to nature herself. As to man, he takes it whether native or alien; and
if he is foreign-born it marks him another Irishman, Italian, Canadian,
Jew, or negro from his brother in any other part of the United States.
When you have a theory of any kind, proofs of it are apt to seek you out,
and I, who am rather fond of my faith in New England's influence of this
sort, had as pretty an instance of it the day after my arrival as I could
wish. A colored brother of Massachusetts birth, as black as a man can
well be, and of a merely anthropoidal profile, was driving me along shore
in search of a sea-side hotel when we came upon a weak-minded young
chicken in the road. The natural expectation is that any chicken in
these circumstances will wait for your vehicle, and then fly up before it
with a loud screech; but this chicken may have been overcome by the heat
(it was a land breeze and it drew like the breath of a furnace over the
hay-cocks and the clover), or it may have mistimed the wheel, which
passed over its head and left it to flop a moment in the dust and then
fall still. The poor little tragedy was sufficiently distressful to me,
but I bore it well, compared with my driver. He could hardly stop
lamenting it; and when presently we met a young farmer, he pulled up.
"You goin' past Jim Marden's?" "Yes." "Well, I wish you'd tell him I
just run over a chicken of his, and I killed it, I guess. I guess it was
a pretty big one." "Oh no," I put in, "it was only a broiler. What do
you think it was worth?" I took out some money, and the farmer noted the
largest coin in my hand; "About half a dollar, I guess." On this I put
it all back in my pocket, and then he said, "Well, if a chicken don't
know enough to get out of the road, I guess you ain't to blame."
I expressed that this was my own view of the case, and we drove on. When
we parted I gave the half-dollar to my driver, and begged him not to let
the owner of the chicken come on me for damages; and though he chuckled
his pleasure in the joke, I could see that he was still unhappy, and I
have no doubt that he has that pullet on his conscience yet, unless he
has paid for it. He was of a race which elsewhere has so immemorially
plundered hen-roosts that chickens are as free to it as the air it
breathes, without any conceivable taint of private ownership. But the
spirit of New England had so deeply entered into him that the imbecile
broiler of another, slain by pure accident and by its own contributory
negligence, was saddening him, while I was off in my train without a pang
for the owner and with only an agreeable pathos for the pullet.
The instance is perhaps extreme; and, at any rate, it has carried me in a
psychological direction away from the simpler differences which I meant
to note in New England. They were evident as soon as our train began to
run from the steamboat landing into the country, and they have
intensified, if they have not multiplied, themselves as I have penetrated
deeper and deeper into the beautiful region. The land is poorer than the
land to the southward--one sees that at once; the soil is thin, and often
so thickly burdened with granite bowlders that it could never have borne
any other crop since the first Puritans, or Pilgrims, cut away the
primeval woods and betrayed its hopeless sterility to the light. But
wherever you come to a farm-house, whether standing alone or in one of
the village groups that New England farm-houses have always liked to
gather themselves into, it is of a neatness that brings despair, and of a
repair that ought to bring shame to the beholder from more easy-going
conditions. Everything is kept up with a strenuous virtue that imparts
an air of self-respect to the landscape, which the bleaching and
blackening stone walls, wandering over the hill-slopes, divide into wood
lots of white birch and pine, stony pastures, and little patches of
potatoes and corn. The mowing-lands alone are rich; and if the New
England year is in the glory of the latest June, the breath of the clover
blows honey--sweet into the car windows, and the fragrance of the new-cut
hay rises hot from the heavy swaths that seem to smoke in the sun.
We have struck a hot spell, one of those torrid mood of continental
weather which we have telegraphed us ahead to heighten our suffering by
anticipation. But the farmsteads and village houses are safe in the
shade of their sheltering trees amid the fluctuation of the grass that
grows so tall about them that the June roses have to strain upward to get
themselves free of it. Behind each dwelling is a billowy mass of
orchard, and before it the Gothic archway of the elms stretches above the
quiet street. There is no tree in the world so full of sentiment as the
American elm, and it is nowhere so graceful as in these New England
villages, which are themselves, I think, the prettiest and wholesomest of
mortal sojourns. By a happy instinct, their wooden houses are all
painted white, to a marble effect that suits our meridional sky, and the
contrast of their dark-green shutters is deliciously refreshing. There
was an evil hour, the terrible moment of the aesthetic revival now
happily past, when white walls and green blinds were thought in bad
taste, and the village houses were often tinged a dreary ground color, or
a doleful olive, or a gloomy red, but now they have returned to their
earlier love. Not the first love; that was a pale buff with white trim;
but I doubt if it were good for all kinds of village houses; the eye
rather demands the white. The pale buff does very well for large
colonial mansions, like Lowell's or Longfellow's in Cambridge; but when
you come, say, to see the great square houses built in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire; early in this century, and painted white, you find that white,
after all, is the thing for our climate, even in the towns.
In such a village as my colored brother drove me through on the way to
the beach it was of an absolute fitness; and I wish I could convey a due
sense of the exquisite keeping of the place. Each white house was more
or less closely belted in with a white fence, of panels or pickets; the
grassy door-yards glowed with flowers, and often a climbing rose
embowered the door-way with its bloom. Away backward or sidewise
stretched the woodshed from the dwelling to the barn, and shut the whole
under one cover; the turf grew to the wheel-tracks of the road-way, over
which the elms rose and drooped; and from one end of the village to the
other you could not, as the saying is, find a stone to throw at a dog.
I know Holland; I have seen the wives of Scheveningen scrubbing up for
Sunday to the very middle of their brick streets, but I doubt if Dutch
cleanliness goes so far without, or comes from so deep a scruple within,
as the cleanliness of New England. I felt so keenly the feminine quality
of its motive as I passed through that village, that I think if I had
dropped so much as a piece of paper in the street I must have knocked at
the first door and begged the lady of the house (who would have opened it
in person after wiping her hands from her work, taking off her apron, and
giving a glance at herself in the mirror and at me through the window
blind) to report me to the selectmen in the interest of good morals.
I did not know at once quite how to reconcile the present foulness of the
New England capital with the fairness of the New England country; and I
am still somewhat embarrassed to own that after New York (even under the
relaxing rule of Tammany) Boston seemed very dirty when we arrived there.
At best I was never more than a naturalized Bostonian; but it used to
give me great pleasure--so penetratingly does the place qualify even the
sojourning Westerner--to think of the defect of New York in the virtue
that is next to godliness; and now I had to hang my head for shame at the
mortifying contrast of the Boston streets to the well-swept asphalt which
I had left frying in the New York sun the afternoon before. Later,
however, when I began to meet the sort of Boston faces I remembered so
well--good, just, pure, but set and severe, with their look of challenge,
of interrogation, almost of reproof--they not only ignored the
disgraceful untidiness of the streets, but they convinced me of a state
of transition which would leave the place swept and garnished behind it;
and comforted me against the litter of the winding thoroughfares and
narrow lanes, where the dust had blown up against the brick walls, and
seemed permanently to have smutched and discolored them.
In New York you see the American face as Europe characterizes it; in
Boston you see it as it characterizes Europe; and it is in Boston that
you can best imagine the strenuous grapple of the native forces which all
alien things must yield to till they take the American cast. It is
almost dismaying, that physiognomy, before it familiarizes itself anew;
and in the brief first moment while it is yet objective, you ransack your
conscience for any sins you may have committed in your absence from it
and make ready to do penance for them. I felt almost as if I had brought
the dirty streets with me, and were guilty of having left them lying
about, so impossible were they with reference to the Boston face.
It is a face that expresses care, even to the point of anxiety, and it
looked into the window of our carriage with the serious eyes of our
elderly hackman to make perfectly sure of our destination before we drove
away from the station. It was a little rigorous with us, as requiring us
to have a clear mind; but it was not unfriendly, not unkind, and it was
patient from long experience. In New York there are no elderly hackmen;
but in Boston they abound, and I cannot believe they would be capable of
bad faith with travellers. In fact, I doubt if this class is anywhere as
predatory as it is painted; but in Boston it appears to have the public
honor in its keeping. I do not mean that it was less mature, less self-
respectful in Portsmouth, where we were next to arrive; more so it could
not be; an equal sense of safety, of ease, began with it in both places,
and all through New England it is of native birth, while in New York it
is composed of men of many nations, with a weight in numbers towards the
Celtic strain. The prevalence of the native in New England helps you
sensibly to realize from the first moment that here you are in America as
the first Americans imagined and meant it; and nowhere in New England is
the original tradition more purely kept than in the beautiful old seaport
of New Hampshire. In fact, without being quite prepared to defend a
thesis to this effect, I believe that Portsmouth is preeminently
American, and in this it differs from Newburyport and from Salem, which
have suffered from different causes an equal commercial decline, and,
though among the earliest of the great Puritan towns after Boston, are
now largely made up of aliens in race and religion; these are actually
the majority, I believe, in Newburyport.
The adversity of Portsmouth began early in the century, but before that
time she had prospered so greatly that her merchant princes were able to
build themselves wooden palaces with white walls and green shutters, of a
grandeur and beauty unmatched elsewhere in the country. I do not know
what architect had his way with them, though his name is richly worth
remembrance, but they let him make them habitations of such graceful
proportion and of such delicate ornament that they have become shrines of
pious pilgrimage with the young architects of our day who hope to house
our well-to-do people fitly in country or suburbs. The decoration is
oftenest spent on a porch or portal, or a frieze of peculiar refinement;
or perhaps it feels its way to the carven casements or to the delicate
iron-work of the transoms; the rest is a simplicity and a faultless
propriety of form in the stately mansions which stand under the arching
elms, with their gardens sloping, or dropping by easy terraces behind
them to the river, or to the borders of other pleasances. They are all
of wood, except for the granite foundations and doorsteps, but the stout
edifices rarely sway out of the true line given them, and they look as if
they might keep it yet another century.
Between them, in the sun-shotten shade, lie the quiet streets, whose
gravelled stretch is probably never cleaned because it never needs
cleaning. Even the business streets, and the quaint square which gives
the most American of towns an air so foreign and Old Worldly, look as if
the wind and rain alone cared for them; but they are not foul, and the
narrower avenues, where the smaller houses of gray, unpainted wood crowd
each other, flush upon the pavements, towards the water--side, are
doubtless unvisited by the hoe or broom, and must be kept clean by a New
England conscience against getting them untidy.
When you get to the river-side there is one stretch of narrow, high-
shouldered warehouses which recall Holland, especially in a few with
their gables broken in steps, after the Dutch fashion. These, with their
mouldering piers and grass-grown wharves, have their pathos, and the
whole place embodies in its architecture an interesting record of the
past, from the time when the homesick exiles huddled close to the water's
edge till the period of post-colonial prosperity, when proud merchants
and opulent captains set their vast square houses each in its handsome
space of gardened ground.
My adjectives might mislead as to size, but they could not as to beauty,
and I seek in vain for those that can duly impart the peculiar charm of
the town. Portsmouth still awaits her novelist; he will find a rich
field when he comes; and I hope he will come of the right sex, for it
needs some minute and subtle feminine skill, like that of Jane Austen, to
express a fit sense of its life in the past. Of its life in the present
I know nothing. I could only go by those delightful, silent houses, and
sigh my longing soul into their dim interiors. When now and then a young
shape in summer silk, or a group of young shapes in diaphanous muslin,
fluttered out of them, I was no wiser; and doubtless my elderly fancy
would have been unable to deal with what went on in them. Some girl of
those flitting through the warm, odorous twilight must become the
creative historian of the place; I can at least imagine a Jane Austen now
growing up in Portsmouth.
If Miss Jewett were of a little longer breath than she has yet shown
herself in fiction, I might say the Jane Austen of Portsmouth was already
with us, and had merely not yet begun to deal with its precious material.
One day when we crossed the Piscataqua from New Hampshire into Maine, and
took the trolley-line for a run along through the lovely coast country,
we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of her own people, who are a
little different sort of New-Englanders from those of Miss Wilkins. They
began to flock into the car, young maidens and old, mothers and
grandmothers, and nice boys and girls, with a very, very few farmer youth
of marriageable age, and more rustic and seafaring elders long past it,
all in the Sunday best which they had worn to the graduation exercises at
the High School, where we took them mostly up. The womenkind were in a
nervous twitter of talk and laughter, and the men tolerantly gay beyond
their wont, "passing the time of day" with one another, and helping the
more tumultuous sex to get settled in the overcrowded open car. They
courteously made room for one another, and let the children stand between
their knees, or took them in their laps, with that unfailing American
kindness which I am prouder of than the American valor in battle,
observing in all that American decorum which is no bad thing either. We
had chanced upon the high and mighty occasion of the neighborhood year,
when people might well have been a little off their balance, but there
was not a boisterous note in the subdued affair. As we passed the
school-house door, three dear, pretty maids in white gowns and white
slippers stood on the steps and gently smiled upon our company. One
could see that they were inwardly glowing and thrilling with the
excitement of their graduation, but were controlling their emotions to a
calm worthy of the august event, so that no one might ever have it to say
that they had appeared silly.
The car swept on, and stopped to set down passengers at their doors or
gates, where they severally left it, with an easy air as of private
ownership, into some sense of which the trolley promptly flatters people
along its obliging lines. One comfortable matron, in a cinnamon silk,
was just such a figure as that in the Miss Wilkins's story where the
bridegroom fails to come on the wedding-day; but, as I say, they made me
think more of Miss Jewett's people. The shore folk and the Down-Easters
are specifically hers; and these were just such as might have belonged in
'The Country of the Pointed Firs', or 'Sister Wisby's Courtship', or
'Dulham Ladies', or 'An Autumn Ramble', or twenty other entrancing tales.
Sometimes one of them would try her front door, and then, with a bridling
toss of the head, express that she had forgotten locking it, and slip
round to the kitchen; but most of the ladies made their way back at once
between the roses and syringas of their grassy door-yards, which were as
neat and prim as their own persons, or the best chamber in their white-
walled, green-shuttered, story-and-a-half house, and as perfectly kept as
the very kitchen itself.
The trolley-line had been opened only since the last September, but in an
effect of familiar use it was as if it had always been there, and it
climbed and crooked and clambered about with the easy freedom of the
country road which it followed. It is a land of low hills, broken by
frequent reaches of the sea, and it is most amusing, most amazing, to see
how frankly the trolley-car takes and overcomes its difficulties. It
scrambles up and down the little steeps like a cat, and whisks round a
sharp and sudden curve with a feline screech, broadening into a loud
caterwaul as it darts over the estuaries on its trestles. Its course
does not lack excitement, and I suppose it does not lack danger; but as
yet there have been no accidents, and it is not so disfiguring as one
would think. The landscape has already accepted it, and is making the
best of it; and to the country people it is an inestimable convenience.
It passes everybody's front door or back door, and the farmers can get
themselves or their produce (for it runs an express car) into Portsmouth
in an hour, twice an hour, all day long. In summer the cars are open,
with transverse seats, and stout curtains that quite shut out a squall of
wind or rain. In winter the cars are closed, and heated by electricity.
The young motorman whom I spoke with, while we waited on a siding to let
a car from the opposite direction get by, told me that he was caught out
in a blizzard last Winter, and passed the night in a snowdrift. "But the
cah was so wa'm, I neva suff'ed a mite."
"Well," I summarized, "it must be a great advantage to all the people
along the line."
"Well, you wouldn't 'a' thought so, from the kick they made."
"I suppose the cottagers"--the summer colony--"didn't like the noise."
"Oh yes; that's what I mean. The's whe' the kick was. The natives like
it. I guess the summa folks 'll like it, too."
He looked round at me with enjoyment of his joke in his eye, for we both
understood that the summer folks could not help themselves, and must bow
to the will of the majority.
THE ART OF THE ADSMITH
The other day, a friend of mine, who professes all the intimacy of a bad
conscience with many of my thoughts and convictions, came in with a bulky
book under his arm, and said, "I see by a guilty look in your eye that
you are meaning to write about spring."
"I am not," I retorted, "and if I were, it would be because none of the
new things have been said yet about spring, and because spring is never
an old story, any more than youth or love."
"I have heard something like that before," said my friend, "and I
understand. The simple truth of the matter is that this is the fag-end
of the season, and you have run low in your subjects. Now take my advice
and don't write about spring; it will make everybody hate you, and will
do no good. Write about advertising." He tapped the book under his arm
significantly. "Here is a theme for you."
He had no sooner pronounced these words than I began to feel a weird and
potent fascination in his suggestion. I took the book from him and
looked it eagerly through. It was called Good Advertising, and it was
written by one of the experts in the business who have advanced it almost
to the grade of an art, or a humanity.
"But I see nothing here," I said, musingly, "which would enable a self-
respecting author to come to the help of his publisher in giving due hold
upon the public interest those charming characteristics of his book which
no one else can feel so penetratingly or celebrate so persuasively."
"I expected some such objection from you," said my friend. "You will
admit that there is everything else here?"
"Everything but that most essential thing. You know how we all feel
about it: the bitter disappointment, the heart-sickening sense of
insufficiency that the advertised praises of our books give us poor
authors. The effect is far worse than that of the reviews, for the
reviewer is not your ally and copartner, while your publisher--"
"I see what you mean," said my friend. "But you must have patience.
If the author of this book can write so luminously of advertising in
other respects, I am sure he will yet be able to cast a satisfactory
light upon your problem. The question is, I believe, how to translate
into irresistible terms all that fond and exultant regard which a writer
feels for his book, all his pervasive appreciation of its singular
beauty, unique value, and utter charm, and transfer it to print, without
infringing upon the delicate and shrinking modesty which is the
distinguishing ornament of the literary spirit?"
"Something like that. But you understand."
"Perhaps a Roentgen ray might be got to do it," said my friend,
thoughtfully, "or perhaps this author may bring his mind to bear upon it
yet. He seems to have considered every kind of advertising except book-
"The most important of all!" I cried, impatiently.
"You think so because you are in that line. If you were in the line of
varnish, or bicycles, or soap, or typewriters, or extract of beef, or of
"Still I should be interested in book--advertising, because it is the
most vital of human interests."
"Tell me," said my friend, "do you read the advertisements of the books
of rival authors?"
"Brother authors," I corrected him.
"Well, brother authors."
I said, No, candidly, I did not; and I forbore to add that I thought them
little better than a waste of the publishers' money.
My friend did not pursue his inquiry to my personal disadvantage, but
seemed to prefer a more general philosophy of the matter.
"I have often wondered," he said, "at the enormous expansion of
advertising, and doubted whether it was not mostly wasted. But my
author, here, has suggested a brilliant fact which I was unwittingly
groping for. When you take up a Sunday paper"--I shuddered, and my
friend smiled intelligence--" you are simply appalled at the miles of
announcements of all sorts. Who can possibly read them? Who cares even
to look at them? But if you want something in particular--to furnish a
house, or buy a suburban place, or take a steamer for Europe, or go, to
the theatre--then you find out at once who reads the advertisements, and
cares to look at them. They respond to the multifarious wants of the
whole community. You have before you the living operation of that law of
demand and supply which it has always been such a bore to hear about.
As often happens, the supply seems to come before the demand; but that's
only an appearance. You wanted something, and you found an offer to meet
"Then you don't believe that the offer to meet your want suggested it?"
"I see that my author believes something of the kind. We may be full of
all sorts of unconscious wants which merely need the vivifying influence
of an advertisement to make them spring into active being; but I have a
feeling that the money paid for advertising which appeals to potential
wants is largely thrown away. You must want a thing, or think you want
it; otherwise you resent the proffer of it as a kind of impertinence."
"There are some kinds of advertisements, all the same, that I read
without the slightest interest in the subject matter. Simply the beauty
of the style attracts me."
"I know. But does it ever move you to get what you don't want?"
"Never; and I should be glad to know what your author thinks of that sort
of advertising: the literary, or dramatic, or humorous, or quaint."
"He doesn't contemn it, quite. But I think he feels that it may have had
its day. Do you still read such advertisements with your early zest?"
"No; the zest for nearly everything goes. I don't care so much for
Tourguenief as I used. Still, if I come upon the jaunty and laconic
suggestions of a certain well-known clothing-house, concerning the
season's wear, I read them with a measure of satisfaction. The
"This author calls him the adsmith."
"Delightful! Ad is a loathly little word, but we must come to it. It's
as legitimate as lunch. But as I was saying, the adsmith seems to have
caught the American business tone, as perfectly as any of our novelists
have caught the American social tone."
"Yes," said my friend, "and he seems to have prospered as richly by it.
You know some of those chaps make fifteen or twenty thousand dollars by
adsmithing. They have put their art quite on a level with fiction
"Perhaps it is a branch of fiction."
"No; they claim that it is pure fact. My author discourages the
slightest admixture of fable. The truth, clearly and simply expressed,
is the best in an ad.
"It is best in a wof, too. I am always saying that."
"Well, work of fiction. It's another new word, like lunch or ad."
"But in a wof," said my friend, instantly adopting it, "my author
insinuates that the fashion of payment tempts you to verbosity, while in
an ad the conditions oblige you to the greatest possible succinctness.
In one case you are paid by the word; in the other you pay by the word.
That is where the adsmith stands upon higher moral ground than the
"I should think your author might have written a recent article in
'The ---------, reproaching fiction with its unhallowed gains."
"If you mean that for a sneer, it is misplaced. He would have been
incapable of it. My author is no more the friend of honesty in
adsmithing than he is of propriety, He deprecates jocosity in
apothecaries and undertakers, not only as bad taste, but as bad business;
and he is as severe as any one could be upon ads that seize the attention
by disgusting or shocking the reader.
"He is to be praised for that, and for the other thing; and I shouldn't
have minded his criticising the ready wofsmith. I hope he attacks the
use of display type, which makes our newspapers look like the poster-
plastered fences around vacant lots. In New York there is only one paper
whose advertisements are not typographically a shock to the nerves."
"Well," said my friend, "he attacks foolish and ineffective display."
"It is all foolish and ineffective. It is like a crowd of people trying
to make themselves heard by shouting each at the top of his voice.
A paper full of display advertisements is an image of our whole congested
and delirious state of competition; but even in competitive conditions it
is unnecessary, and it is futile. Compare any New York paper but one
with the London papers, and you will see what I mean. Of course I refer
to the ad pages; the rest of our exception is as offensive with pictures
and scare heads as all the rest. I wish your author could revise his
opinions and condemn all display in ads."
"I dare say he will when he knows what you think," said my friend, with
"I wish," I went on, "that he would give us some philosophy of the
prodigious increase of advertising within the last twenty-five years, and
some conjecture as to the end of it all. Evidently, it can't keep on
increasing at the present rate. If it does, there will presently be no
room in the world for things; it will be filled up with the
advertisements of things."
"Before that time, perhaps," my friend suggested, "adsmithing will have
become so fine and potent an art that advertising will be reduced in
bulk, while keeping all its energy and even increasing its
"Perhaps," I said, "some silent electrical process will be contrived, so
that the attractions of a new line of dress-goods or the fascination of a
spring or fall opening may be imparted to a lady's consciousness without
even the agency of words. All other facts of commercial and industrial
interest could be dealt with in the same way. A fine thrill could be
made to go from the last new book through the whole community, so that
people would not willingly rest till they had it. Yes, one can see an
indefinite future for advertising in that way. The adsmith may be the
supreme artist of the twentieth century. He may assemble in his grasp,
and employ at will, all the arts and sciences."
"Yes," said my friend, with a sort of fall in his voice, "that is very
well. But what is to become of the race when it is penetrated at every
pore with a sense of the world's demand and supply?"
"Oh, that is another affair. I was merely imagining the possible
resources of invention in providing for the increase of advertising while
guarding the integrity of the planet. I think, very likely, if the thing