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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

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he would be jeered by such remarks as "Nigger, dat cue ain't no
hoe-handle." I noticed that among this class of colored men the word
"nigger" was freely used in about the same sense as the word "fellow,"
and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that
its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.

I stood watching this pool game until I was called by my friends, who
were still in the bar-room, to go upstairs. On the second floor there
were two large rooms. From the hall I looked into the one on the
front. There was a large, round table in the center, at which five
or six men were seated playing poker. The air and conduct here were
greatly in contrast to what I had just seen in the pool-room; these
men were evidently the aristocrats of the place; they were well,
perhaps a bit flashily, dressed and spoke in low modulated voices,
frequently using the word "gentlemen"; in fact, they seemed to be
practicing a sort of Chesterfieldian politeness towards each other. I
was watching these men with a great deal of interest and some degree
of admiration when I was again called by the members of our party, and
I followed them on to the back room. There was a door-keeper at this
room, and we were admitted only after inspection. When we got inside,
I saw a crowd of men of all ages and kinds grouped about an old
billiard table, regarding some of whom, in supposing them to be white,
I made no mistake. At first I did not know what these men were doing;
they were using terms that were strange to me. I could hear only a
confusion of voices exclaiming: "Shoot the two!" "Shoot the four!"
"Fate me! Fate me!" "I've got you fated!" "Twenty-five cents he don't
turn!" This was the ancient and terribly fascinating game of
dice, popularly known as "craps." I myself had played pool in
Jacksonville--it is a favorite game among cigar makers--and I had seen
others play cards; but here was something new. I edged my way in to
the table and stood between one of my new-found New York friends and a
tall, slender, black fellow, who was making side bets while the dice
were at the other end of the table. My companion explained to me the
principles of the game; and they are so simple that they hardly need
to be explained twice. The dice came around the table until they
reached the man on the other side of the tall, black fellow. He lost,
and the latter said: "Gimme the bones." He threw a dollar on the table
and said: "Shoot the dollar." His style of play was so strenuous that
he had to be allowed plenty of room. He shook the dice high above his
head, and each time he threw them on the table, he emitted a grunt
such as men give when they are putting forth physical exertion with a
rhythmic regularity. He frequently whirled completely around on his
heels, throwing the dice the entire length of the table, and talking
to them as though they were trained animals. He appealed to them in
short singsong phrases. "Come, dice," he would say. "Little Phoebe,"
"Little Joe," "'Way down yonder in the cornfield." Whether these
mystic incantations were efficacious or not I could not say, but, at
any rate, his luck was great, and he had what gamblers term "nerve."
"Shoot the dollar!" "Shoot the two!" "Shoot the four!" "Shoot the
eight!" came from his lips as quickly as the dice turned to his
advantage. My companion asked me if I had ever played. I told him no.
He said that I ought to try my luck: that everybody won at first. The
tall man at my side was waving his arms in the air, exclaiming: "Shoot
the sixteen!" "Shoot the sixteen!" "Fate me!" Whether it was my
companion's suggestion or some latent dare-devil strain in my blood
which suddenly sprang into activity I do not know; but with a thrill
of excitement which went through my whole body I threw a twenty-dollar
bill on the table and said in a trembling voice: "I fate you."

I could feel that I had gained the attention and respect of everybody
in the room, every eye was fixed on me, and the widespread question,
"Who is he?" went around. This was gratifying to a certain sense of
vanity of which I have never been able to rid myself, and I felt that
it was worth the money even if I lost. The tall man, with a whirl on
his heels and a double grunt, threw the dice; four was the number
which turned up. This is considered as a hard "point" to make. He
redoubled his contortions and his grunts and his pleadings to the
dice; but on his third or fourth throw the fateful seven turned up,
and I had won. My companion and all my friends shouted to me to follow
up my luck. The fever was on me. I seized the dice. My hands were so
hot that the bits of bone felt like pieces of ice. I shouted as loudly
as I could: "Shoot it all!" but the blood was tingling so about my
ears that I could not hear my own voice. I was soon "fated." I threw
the dice--sevens--I had won. "Shoot it all!" I cried again. There was
a pause; the stake was more than one man cared to or could cover. I
was finally "fated" by several men taking each a part of it. I then
threw the dice again. Seven. I had won. "Shoot it all!" I shouted
excitedly. After a short delay I was "fated." Again I rolled the dice.
Eleven. Again I won. My friends now surrounded me and, much against
my inclination, forced me to take down all of the money except five
dollars. I tried my luck once more, and threw some small "point" which
failed to make, and the dice passed on to the next man.

In less than three minutes I had won more than two hundred dollars, a
sum which afterwards cost me dearly. I was the hero of the moment and
was soon surrounded by a group of men who expressed admiration for my
"nerve" and predicted for me a brilliant future as a gambler. Although
at the time I had no thought of becoming a gambler, I felt proud of my
success. I felt a bit ashamed, too, that I had allowed my friends to
persuade me to take down my money so soon. Another set of men also got
around me and begged me for twenty-five or fifty cents to put them
back into the game. I gave each of them something. I saw that several
of them had on linen dusters, and as I looked about, I noticed that
there were perhaps a dozen men in the room similarly clad. I asked the
fellow who had been my prompter at the dice table why they dressed
in such a manner. He told me that men who had lost all the money and
jewelry they possessed, frequently, in an effort to recoup their
losses, would gamble away all their outer clothing and even their
shoes; and that the proprietor kept on hand a supply of linen dusters
for all who were so unfortunate. My informant went on to say that
sometimes a fellow would become almost completely dressed and then,
by a turn of the dice, would be thrown back into a state of
semi-nakedness. Some of them were virtually prisoners and unable
to get into the streets for days at a time. They ate at the lunch
counter, where their credit was good so long as they were fair
gamblers and did not attempt to jump their debts, and they slept
around in chairs. They importuned friends and winners to put them back
in the game, and kept at it until fortune again smiled on them. I
laughed heartily at this, not thinking the day was coming which would
find me in the same ludicrous predicament.

On passing downstairs I was told that the third and top floor of the
house was occupied by the proprietor. When we passed through the bar,
I treated everybody in the room--and that was no small number, for
eight or ten had followed us down. Then our party went out. It was now
about half past twelve, but my nerves were at such a tension that I
could not endure the mere thought of going to bed. I asked if there
was no other place to which we could go; our guides said yes, and
suggested that we go to the "Club." We went to Sixth Avenue, walked
two blocks, and turned to the west into another street. We stopped in
front of a house with three stories and a basement. In the basement
was a Chinese chop-suey restaurant. There was a red lantern at the
iron gate to the area way, inside of which the Chinaman's name was
printed. We went up the steps of the stoop, rang the bell, and were
admitted without any delay. From the outside the house bore a rather
gloomy aspect, the windows being absolutely dark, but within, it was a
veritable house of mirth. When we had passed through a small vestibule
and reached the hallway, we heard mingled sounds of music and
laughter, the clink of glasses, and the pop of bottles. We went into
the main room and I was little prepared for what I saw. The brilliancy
of the place, the display of diamond rings, scarf-pins, ear-rings, and
breast-pins, the big rolls of money that were brought into evidence
when drinks were paid for, and the air of gaiety that pervaded the
place, all completely dazzled and dazed me. I felt positively giddy,
and it was several minutes before I was able to make any clear and
definite observations.

We at length secured places at a table in a corner of the room and,
as soon as we could attract the attention of one of the busy waiters,
ordered a round of drinks. When I had somewhat collected my senses, I
realized that in a large back room into which the main room opened,
there was a young fellow singing a song, accompanied on the piano by a
short, thickset, dark man. After each verse he did some dance steps,
which brought forth great applause and a shower of small coins at his
feet. After the singer had responded to a rousing encore, the stout
man at the piano began to run his fingers up and down the keyboard.
This he did in a manner which indicated that he was master of a good
deal of technique. Then he began to play; and such playing! I stopped
talking to listen. It was music of a kind I had never heard before.
It was music that demanded physical response, patting of the feet,
drumming of the fingers, or nodding of the head in time with the beat.
The barbaric harmonies, the audacious resolutions, often consisting of
an abrupt jump from one key to another, the intricate rhythms in which
the accents fell in the most unexpected places, but in which the
beat was never lost, produced a most curious effect. And, too, the
player--the dexterity of his left hand in making rapid octave runs
and jumps was little short of marvelous; and with his right hand he
frequently swept half the keyboard with clean-cut chromatics which he
fitted in so nicely as never to fail to arouse in his listeners a sort
of pleasant surprise at the accomplishment of the feat.

This was ragtime music, then a novelty in New York, and just growing
to be a rage, which has not yet subsided. It was originated in the
questionable resorts about Memphis and St. Louis by Negro piano
players who knew no more of the theory of music than they did of the
theory of the universe, but were guided by natural musical instinct
and talent. It made its way to Chicago, where it was popular some time
before it reached New York. These players often improvised crude and,
at times, vulgar words to fit the melodies. This was the beginning of
the ragtime song. Several of these improvisations were taken down by
white men, the words slightly altered, and published under the names
of the arrangers. They sprang into immediate popularity and earned
small fortunes, of which the Negro originators got only a few dollars.
But I have learned that since that time a number of colored men, of
not only musical talent, but training, are writing out their own
melodies and words and reaping the reward of their work. I have
learned also that they have a large number of white imitators and

American musicians, instead of investigating ragtime, attempt to
ignore it, or dismiss it with a contemptuous word. But that has always
been the course of scholasticism in every branch of art. Whatever new
thing the people like is pooh-poohed; whatever is popular is spoken
of as not worth the while. The fact is, nothing great or enduring,
especially in music, has ever sprung full-fledged and unprecedented
from the brain of any master; the best that he gives to the world he
gathers from the hearts of the people, and runs it through the alembic
of his genius. In spite of the bans which musicians and music teachers
have placed upon it, the people still demand and enjoy ragtime. One
thing cannot be denied; it is music which possesses at least one
strong element of greatness: it appeals universally; not only the
American, but the English, the French, and even the German people find
delight in it. In fact, there is not a corner of the civilized world
in which it is not known, and this proves its originality; for if it
were an imitation, the people of Europe, anyhow, would not have
found it a novelty. Anyone who doubts that there is a peculiar
heel-tickling, smile-provoking, joy-awakening charm in ragtime needs
only to hear a skillful performer play the genuine article to be
convinced. I believe that it has its place as well as the music which
draws from us sighs and tears.

I became so interested in both the music and the player that I left
the table where I was sitting, and made my way through the hall into
the back room, where I could see as well as hear. I talked to the
piano-player between the musical numbers and found out that he was
just a natural musician, never having taken a lesson in his life. Not
only could he play almost anything he heard, but he could accompany
singers in songs he had never heard. He had, by ear alone, composed
some pieces, several of which he played over for me; each of them was
properly proportioned and balanced. I began to wonder what this man
with such a lavish natural endowment would have done had he been
trained. Perhaps he wouldn't have done anything at all; he might have
become, at best, a mediocre imitator of the great masters in what they
have already done to a finish, or one of the modern innovators who
strive after originality by seeing how cleverly they can dodge about
through the rules of harmony and at the same time avoid melody. It
is certain that he would not have been so delightful as he was in

I sat by, watching and listening to this man until I was dragged
away by my friends. The place was now almost deserted; only a few
stragglers hung on, and they were all the, worse for drink. My friends
were well up in this class. We passed into the street; the lamps were
pale against the sky; day was just breaking. We went home and got into
bed. I fell into a fitful sort of sleep, with ragtime music ringing
continually in my ears.


I shall take advantage of this pause in my narrative to describe more
closely the "Club" spoken of in the latter part of the preceding
chapter--to describe it as I afterwards came to know it, as an
habitue. I shall do this not only because of the direct influence it
had on my life, but also because it was at that time the most famous
place of its kind in New York, and was well known to both white and
colored people of certain classes.

I have already stated that in the basement of the house there was a
Chinese restaurant. The Chinaman who kept it did an exceptionally good
business; for chop-suey was a favorite dish among the frequenters of
the place. It is a food that, somehow, has the power of absorbing
alcoholic liquors that have been taken into the stomach. I have
heard men claim that they could sober up on chop-suey. Perhaps that
accounted, in some degree, for its popularity. On the main floor there
were two large rooms: a parlor about thirty feet in length, and a
large, square back room into which the parlor opened. The floor of the
parlor was carpeted; small tables and chairs were arranged about the
room; the windows were draped with lace curtains, and the walls were
literally covered with photographs or lithographs of every colored
man in America who had ever "done anything." There were pictures of
Frederick Douglass and of Peter Jackson, of all the lesser lights
of the prize-fighting ring, of all the famous jockeys and the stage
celebrities, down to the newest song and dance team. The most of these
photographs were autographed and, in a sense, made a really valuable
collection. In the back room there was a piano, and tables were placed
around the wall. The floor was bare and the center was left vacant for
singers, dancers, and others who entertained the patrons. In a closet
in this room which jutted out into the hall the proprietor kept
his buffet. There was no open bar, because the place had no liquor
license. In this back room the tables were sometimes pushed aside, and
the floor given over to general dancing. The front room on the next
floor was a sort of private party room; a back room on the same floor
contained no furniture and was devoted to the use of new and ambitious
performers. In this room song and dance teams practiced their steps,
acrobatic teams practiced their tumbles, and many other kinds of
"acts" rehearsed their "turns." The other rooms of the house were used
as sleeping-apartments.

No gambling was allowed, and the conduct of the place was surprisingly
orderly. It was, in short, a center of colored Bohemians and sports.
Here the great prize fighters were wont to come, the famous jockeys,
the noted minstrels, whose names and faces were familiar on every
bill-board in the country; and these drew a multitude of those
who love to dwell in the shadow of greatness. There were then no
organizations giving performances of such order as are now given by
several colored companies; that was because no manager could imagine
that audiences would pay to see Negro performers in any other role
than that of Mississippi River roustabouts; but there was lots of
talent and ambition. I often heard the younger and brighter men
discussing the time when they would compel the public to recognize
that they could do something more than grin and cut pigeon-wings.

Sometimes one or two of the visiting stage professionals, after being
sufficiently urged, would go into the back room and take the places
of the regular amateur entertainers, but they were very sparing with
these favors, and the patrons regarded them as special treats. There
was one man, a minstrel, who, whenever he responded to a request
to "do something," never essayed anything below a reading from
Shakespeare. How well he read I do not know, but he greatly impressed
me; and I can say that at least he had a voice which strangely stirred
those who heard it. Here was a man who made people laugh at the size
of his mouth, while he carried in his heart a burning ambition to be a
tragedian; and so after all he did play a part in a tragedy.

These notables of the ring, the turf, and the stage, drew to the place
crowds of admirers, both white and colored. Whenever one of them came
in, there were awe-inspired whispers from those who knew him by sight,
in which they enlightened those around them as to his identity, and
hinted darkly at their great intimacy with the noted one. Those who
were on terms of approach immediately showed their privilege over
others less fortunate by gathering around their divinity. I was, at
first, among those who dwelt in darkness. Most of these celebrities I
had never heard of. This made me an object of pity among many of my
new associates. I soon learned, however, to fake a knowledge for the
benefit of those who were greener than I; and, finally, I became
personally acquainted with the majority of the famous personages who
came to the "Club."

A great deal of money was spent here, so many of the patrons were men
who earned large sums. I remember one night a dapper little brown-skin
fellow was pointed out to me and I was told that he was the most
popular jockey of the day, and that he earned $12,000 a year. This
latter statement I couldn't doubt, for with my own eyes I saw him
spending at about thirty times that rate. For his friends and those
who were introduced to him he bought nothing but wine--in sporting
circles, "wine" means champagne--and paid for it at five dollars
a quart. He sent a quart to every table in the place with his
compliments; and on the table at which he and his party were seated
there were more than a dozen bottles. It was the custom at the "Club"
for the waiter not to remove the bottles when champagne was being
drunk until the party had finished. There were reasons for this;
it advertised the brand of wine, it advertised that the party was
drinking wine, and advertised how much they had bought. This jockey
had won a great race that day, and he was rewarding his admirers for
the homage they paid him, all of which he accepted with a fine air of

Besides the people I have just been describing, there was at the place
almost every night one or two parties of white people, men and women,
who were out sight-seeing, or slumming. They generally came in cabs;
some of them would stay only for a few minutes, while others sometimes
stayed until morning. There was also another set of white people who
came frequently; it was made up of variety performers and others who
delineated "darky characters"; they came to get their imitations first
hand from the Negro entertainers they saw there.

There was still another set of white patrons, composed of women; these
were not occasional visitors, but five or six of them were regular
habituees. When I first saw them, I was not sure that they were white.
In the first place, among the many colored women who came to the
"Club" there were several just as fair; and, secondly, I always saw
these women in company with colored men. They were all good-looking
and well-dressed, and seemed to be women of some education. One of
these in particular attracted my attention; she was an exceedingly
beautiful woman of perhaps thirty-five; she had glistening
copper-colored hair, very white skin, and eyes very much like Du
Maurier's conception of Trilby's "twin gray stars." When I came to
know her, I found that she was a woman of considerable culture; she
had traveled in Europe, spoke French, and played the piano well. She
was always dressed elegantly, but in absolute good taste. She always
came to the "Club" in a cab, and was soon joined by a well-set-up,
very black young fellow. He was always faultlessly dressed; one of the
most exclusive tailors in New York made his clothes, and he wore a
number of diamonds in about as good taste as they could be worn in by
a man. I learned that she paid for his clothes and his diamonds. I
learned, too, that he was not the only one of his kind. More that I
learned would be better suited to a book on social phenomena than to a
narrative of my life.

This woman was known at the "Club" as the rich widow. She went by a
very aristocratic-sounding name, which corresponded to her appearance.
I shall never forget how hard it was for me to get over my feelings
of surprise, perhaps more than surprise, at seeing her with her black
companion; somehow I never exactly enjoyed the sight. I have devoted
so much time to this pair, the "widow" and her companion, because it
was through them that another decided turn was brought about in my


On the day following our night at the "Club" we slept until late in
the afternoon; so late that beginning search for work was entirely out
of the question. This did not cause me much worry, for I had more than
three hundred dollars, and New York had impressed me as a place where
there was lots of money and not much difficulty in getting it. It is
needless to inform my readers that I did not long hold this opinion.
We got out of the house about dark, went to a restaurant on Sixth
Avenue and ate something, then walked around for a couple of hours.
I finally suggested that we visit the same places we had been in
the night before. Following my suggestion, we started first to the
gambling house. The man on the door let us in without any question; I
accredited this to my success of the night before. We went straight
to the "crap" room, and I at once made my way to a table, where I was
rather flattered by the murmur of recognition which went around. I
played in up and down luck for three or four hours; then, worn with
nervous excitement, quit, having lost about fifty dollars. But I was
so strongly possessed with the thought that I would make up my losses
the next time I played that I left the place with a light heart.

When we got into the street our party was divided against itself; two
were for going home at once and getting to bed. They gave as a reason
that we were to get up early and look for jobs. I think the real
reason was that they had each lost several dollars in the game. I
lived to learn that in the world of sport all men win alike, but lose
differently; and so gamblers are rated, not by the way in which they
win, but by the way in which they lose. Some men lose with a careless
smile, recognizing that losing is a part of the game; others curse
their luck and rail at fortune; and others, still, lose sadly; after
each such experience they are swept by a wave of reform; they resolve
to stop gambling and be good. When in this frame of mind it would take
very little persuasion to lead them into a prayer-meeting. Those in
the first class are looked upon with admiration; those in the second
class are merely commonplace; while those in the third are regarded
with contempt. I believe these distinctions hold good in all the
ventures of life. After some minutes one of my friends and I succeeded
in convincing the other two that a while at the "Club" would put us
all in better spirits; and they consented to go, on our promise not
to stay longer than an hour. We found the place crowded, and the same
sort of thing going on which we had seen the night before. I took a
seat at once by the side of the piano player, and was soon lost
to everything except the novel charm of the music. I watched the
performer with the idea of catching the trick, and during one of his
intermissions I took his place at the piano and made an attempt to
imitate him, but even my quick ear and ready fingers were unequal to
the task on first trial.

We did not stay at the "Club" very long, but went home to bed in order
to be up early the next day. We had no difficulty in finding work, and
my third morning in New York found me at a table rolling cigars. I
worked steadily for some weeks, at the same time spending my earnings
between the "crap" game and the "Club." Making cigars became more and
more irksome to me; perhaps my more congenial work as a "reader" had
unfitted me for work at the table. And, too, the late hours I was
keeping made such a sedentary occupation almost beyond the powers of
will and endurance. I often found it hard to keep my eyes open and
sometimes had to get up and move around to keep from falling asleep.
I began to miss whole days from the factory, days on which I was
compelled to stay at home and sleep.

My luck at the gambling table was varied; sometimes I was fifty to a
hundred dollars ahead, and at other times I had to borrow money from
my fellow workmen to settle my room rent and pay for my meals. Each
night after leaving the dice game I went to the "Club" to hear the
music and watch the gaiety. If I had won, this was in accord with my
mood; if I had lost, it made me forget. I at last realized that making
cigars for a living and gambling for a living could not both be
carried on at the same time, and I resolved to give up the cigar
making. This resolution led me into a life which held me bound more
than a year. During that period my regular time for going to bed was
somewhere between four and six o'clock in the mornings. I got up late
in the afternoons, walked about a little, then went to the gambling
house or the "Club." My New York was limited to ten blocks; the
boundaries were Sixth Avenue from Twenty-third to Thirty-third
Streets, with the cross streets one block to the west. Central Park
was a distant forest, and the lower part of the city a foreign land.
I look back upon the life I then led with a shudder when I think what
would have been had I not escaped it. But had I not escaped it, I
should have been no more unfortunate than are many young colored men
who come to New York. During that dark period I became acquainted with
a score of bright, intelligent young fellows who had come up to the
great city with high hopes and ambitions and who had fallen under the
spell of this under life, a spell they could not throw off. There
was one popularly known as "the doctor"; he had had two years in the
Harvard Medical School, but here he was, living this gas-light life,
his will and moral sense so enervated and deadened that it was
impossible for him to break away. I do not doubt that the same thing
is going on now, but I have sympathy rather than censure for these
victims, for I know how easy it is to slip into a slough from which it
takes a herculean effort to leap.

I regret that I cannot contrast my views of life among colored people
of New York; but the truth is, during my entire stay in this city I
did not become acquainted with a single respectable family. I knew
that there were several colored men worth a hundred or so thousand
dollars each, and some families who proudly dated their free ancestry
back a half-dozen generations. I also learned that in Brooklyn there
lived quite a large colony in comfortable homes which they owned; but
at no point did my life come in contact with theirs.

In my gambling experiences I passed through all the states and
conditions that a gambler is heir to. Some days found me able to peel
ten and twenty-dollar bills from a roll, and others found me clad in a
linen duster and carpet slippers. I finally caught up another method
of earning money, and so did not have to depend entirely upon the
caprices of fortune at the gaming table. Through continually listening
to the music at the "Club," and through my own previous training, my
natural talent and perseverance, I developed into a remarkable player
of ragtime; indeed, I had the name at that time of being the best
ragtime-player in New York. I brought all my knowledge of classic
music to bear and, in so doing, achieved some novelties which pleased
and even astonished my listeners. It was I who first made ragtime
transcriptions of familiar classic selections. I used to play
Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" in a manner that never failed to arouse
enthusiasm among the patrons of the "Club." Very few nights passed
during which I was not asked to play it. It was no secret that
the great increase in slumming visitors was due to my playing. By
mastering ragtime I gained several things: first of all, I gained
the title of professor. I was known as "the professor" as long as I
remained in that world. Then, too, I gained the means of earning a
rather fair livelihood. This work took up much of my time and kept me
almost entirely away from the gambling table. Through it I also gained
a friend who was the means by which I escaped from this lower world.
And, finally, I secured a wedge which has opened to me more doors and
made me a welcome guest than my playing of Beethoven and Chopin could
ever have done.

The greater part of the money I now began to earn came through the
friend to whom I alluded in the foregoing paragraph. Among the other
white "slummers" there came into the "Club" one night a clean-cut,
slender, but athletic-looking man, who would have been taken for a
youth had it not been for the tinge of gray about his temples. He was
clean-shaven and had regular features, and all of his movements bore
the indefinable but unmistakable stamp of culture. He spoke to no one,
but sat languidly puffing cigarettes and sipping a glass of beer. He
was the center of a great deal of attention; all of the old-timers
were wondering who he was. When I had finished playing, he called a
waiter and by him sent me a five-dollar bill. For about a month after
that he was at the "Club" one or two nights each week, and each time
after I had played, he gave me five dollars. One night he sent for me
to come to his table; he asked me several questions about myself; then
told me that he had an engagement which he wanted me to fill. He gave
me a card containing his address and asked me to be there on a certain

I was on hand promptly and found that he was giving a dinner in his
own apartments to a party of ladies and gentlemen and that I was
expected to furnish the musical entertainment. When the grave,
dignified man at the door let me in, the place struck me as being
almost dark, my eyes had been so accustomed to the garish light of the
"Club." He took my coat and hat, bade me take a seat, and went to tell
his master that I had come. When my eyes were adjusted to the soft
light, I saw that I was in the midst of elegance and luxury in a
degree such as I had never seen; but not the elegance which makes
one ill at ease. As I sank into a great chair, the subdued tone, the
delicately sensuous harmony of my surroundings, drew from me a deep
sigh of relief and comfort. How long the man was gone I do not know,
but I was startled by a voice saying: "Come this way, if you please,
sir," and I saw him standing by my chair. I had been asleep; and I
awoke very much confused and a little ashamed, because I did not know
how many times he may have called me. I followed him through into the
dining-room, where the butler was putting the finishing touches to a
table which already looked like a big jewel. The doorman turned me
over to the butler, and I passed with the butler on back to where
several waiters were busy polishing and assorting table utensils.
Without being asked whether I was hungry or not, I was placed at a
table and given something to eat. Before I had finished eating, I
heard the laughter and talk of the guests who were arriving. Soon
afterwards I was called in to begin my work.

I passed in to where the company was gathered and went directly to the
piano. According to a suggestion from the host, I began with
classic music. During the first number there was absolute quiet and
appreciative attention, and when I had finished, I was given a round
of generous applause. After that the talk and the laughter began to
grow until the music was only an accompaniment to the chatter. This,
however, did not disconcert me as it once would have done, for I had
become accustomed to playing in the midst of uproarious noise. As the
guests began to pay less attention to me, I was enabled to pay more to
them. There were about a dozen of them. The men ranged in appearance
from a girlish-looking youth to a big grizzled man whom everybody
addressed as "Judge." None of the women appeared to be under thirty,
but each of them struck me as being handsome. I was not long in
finding out that they were all decidedly blase. Several of the women
smoked cigarettes, and with a careless grace which showed they were
used to the habit. Occasionally a "Damn it!" escaped from the lips
of some one of them, but in such a charming way as to rob it of all
vulgarity. The most notable thing which I observed was that the
reserve of the host increased in direct proportion with the hilarity
of his guests. I thought that there was something going wrong which
displeased him. I afterwards learned that it was his habitual manner
on such occasions. He seemed to take cynical delight in watching
and studying others indulging in excess. His guests were evidently
accustomed to his rather non-participating attitude, for it did not
seem in any degree to dampen their spirits.

When dinner was served, the piano was moved and the door left open, so
that the company might hear the music while eating. At a word from the
host I struck up one of my liveliest ragtime pieces. The effect was
surprising, perhaps even to the host; the ragtime music came very near
spoiling the party so far as eating the dinner was concerned. As soon
as I began, the conversation suddenly stopped. It was a pleasure to me
to watch the expression of astonishment and delight that grew on the
faces of everybody. These were people--and they represented a large
class--who were ever expecting to find happiness in novelty, each day
restlessly exploring and exhausting every resource of this great city
that might possibly furnish a new sensation or awaken a fresh emotion,
and who were always grateful to anyone who aided them in their quest.
Several of the women left the table and gathered about the piano. They
watched my fingers and asked what kind of music it was that I was
playing, where I had learned it, and a host of other questions. It
was only by being repeatedly called back to the table that they were
induced to finish their dinner. When the guests arose, I struck up my
ragtime transcription of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," playing
it with terrific chromatic octave runs in the bass. This raised
everybody's spirits to the highest point of gaiety, and the whole
company involuntarily and unconsciously did an impromptu cake-walk.
From that time on until the time of leaving they kept me so busy that
my arms ached. I obtained a little respite when the girlish-looking
youth and one or two of the ladies sang several songs, but after each
of these it was "back to ragtime."

In leaving, the guests were enthusiastic in telling the host that
he had furnished them the most unusual entertainment they had ever
enjoyed. When they had gone, my millionaire friend--for he was
reported to be a millionaire--said to me with a smile: "Well, I have
given them something they've never had before." After I had put on my
coat and was ready to leave, he made me take a glass of wine; he then
gave me a cigar and twenty dollars in bills. He told me that he would
give me lots of work, his only stipulation being that I should not
play any engagements such as I had just filled for him, except by his
instructions. I readily accepted the proposition, for I was sure that
I could not be the loser by such a contract. I afterwards played for
him at many dinners and parties of one kind or another. Occasionally
he "loaned" me to some of his friends. And, too, I often played for
him alone at his apartments. At such times he was quite a puzzle to me
until I became accustomed to his manners. He would sometimes sit for
three or four hours hearing me play, his eyes almost closed, making
scarcely a motion except to light a fresh cigarette, and never
commenting one way or another on the music. At first I sometimes
thought he had fallen asleep and would pause in playing. The stopping
of the music always aroused him enough to tell me to play this or
that; and I soon learned that my task was not to be considered
finished until he got up from his chair and said: "That will do."
The man's powers of endurance in listening often exceeded mine in
performing--yet I am not sure that he was always listening. At times
I became so oppressed with fatigue and sleepiness that it took almost
superhuman effort to keep my fingers going; in fact, I believe I
sometimes did so while dozing. During such moments this man sitting
there so mysteriously silent, almost hid in a cloud of heavy-scented
smoke, filled me with a sort of unearthly terror. He seemed to be some
grim, mute, but relentless tyrant, possessing over me a supernatural
power which he used to drive me on mercilessly to exhaustion. But
these feelings came very rarely; besides, he paid me so liberally I
could forget much. There at length grew between us a familiar and warm
relationship, and I am sure he had a decided personal liking for me.
On my part, I looked upon him at that time as about all a man could
wish to be.

The "Club" still remained my headquarters, and when I was not playing
for my good patron, I was generally to be found there. However, I no
longer depended on playing at the "Club" to earn my living; I rather
took rank with the visiting celebrities and, occasionally, after being
sufficiently urged, would favor my old and new admirers with a number
or two. I say, without any egotistic pride, that among my admirers
were several of the best-looking women who frequented the place, and
who made no secret of the fact that they admired me as much as they
did my playing. Among these was the "widow"; indeed, her attentions
became so marked that one of my friends warned me to beware of her
black companion, who was generally known as a "bad man." He said
there was much more reason to be careful because the pair had lately
quarreled and had not been together at the "Club" for some nights.
This warning greatly impressed me and I resolved to stop the affair
before it should go any further; but the woman was so beautiful that
my native gallantry and delicacy would not allow me to repulse her; my
finer feelings entirely overcame my judgment. The warning also opened
my eyes sufficiently to see that though my artistic temperament and
skill made me interesting and attractive to the woman, she was, after
all, using me only to excite the jealousy of her companion and revenge
herself upon him. It was this surly, black despot who held sway over
her deepest emotions.

One night, shortly afterwards, I went into the "Club" and saw the
"widow" sitting at a table in company with another woman. She at once
beckoned for me to come to her. I went, knowing that I was committing
worse than folly. She ordered a quart of champagne and insisted that
I sit down and drink with her. I took a chair on the opposite side of
the table and began to sip a glass of the wine. Suddenly I noticed by
an expression on the "widow's" face that something had occurred.

I instinctively glanced around and saw that her companion had just
entered. His ugly look completely frightened me. My back was turned to
him, but by watching the "widow's" eyes I judged that he was pacing
back and forth across the room. My feelings were far from being
comfortable; I expected every moment to feel a blow on my head. She,
too, was very nervous; she was trying hard to appear unconcerned, but
could not succeed in hiding her real feelings. I decided that it was
best to get out of such a predicament even at the expense of appearing
cowardly, and I made a motion to rise. Just as I partly turned in my
chair, I saw the black fellow approaching; he walked directly to our
table and leaned over. The "widow" evidently feared he was going to
strike her, and she threw back her head. Instead of striking her he
whipped out a revolver and fired; the first shot went straight into
her throat. There were other shots fired, but how many I do not know;
for the first knowledge I had of my surroundings and actions was that
I was rushing through the chop-suey restaurant into the street. Just
which streets I followed when I got outside I do not know, but I think
I must have gone towards Eighth Avenue, then down towards Twenty-third
Street and across towards Fifth Avenue. I traveled, not by sight, but
instinctively. I felt like one fleeing in a horrible nightmare.

How long and far I walked I cannot tell; but on Fifth Avenue, under a
light, I passed a cab containing a solitary occupant, who called to
me, and I recognized the voice and face of my millionaire friend. He
stopped the cab and asked: "What on earth are you doing strolling in
this part of the town?" For answer I got into the cab and related to
him all that had happened. He reassured me by saying that no charge of
any kind could be brought against me; then added: "But of course you
don't want to be mixed up in such an affair." He directed the driver
to turn around and go into the park, and then went on to say: "I
decided last night that I'd go to Europe tomorrow. I think I'll take
you along instead of Walter." Walter was his valet. It was settled
that I should go to his apartments for the rest of the night and sail
with him in the morning.

We drove around through the park, exchanging only an occasional word.
The cool air somewhat calmed my nerves and I lay back and closed my
eyes; but still I could see that beautiful white throat with the ugly
wound. The jet of blood pulsing from it had placed an indelible red
stain on my memory.


I did not feel at ease until the ship was well out of New York harbor;
and, notwithstanding the repeated reassurances of my millionaire
friend and my own knowledge of the facts in the case, I somehow
could not rid myself of the sentiment that I was, in a great degree,
responsible for the "widow's" tragic end. We had brought most of the
morning papers aboard with us, but my great fear of seeing my name in
connection with the killing would not permit me to read the accounts,
although, in one of the papers, I did look at the picture of the
victim, which did not in the least resemble her. This morbid state of
mind, together with sea-sickness, kept me miserable for three or four
days. At the end of that time my spirits began to revive, and I took
an interest in the ship, my fellow passengers, and the voyage in
general. On the second or third day out we passed several spouting
whales, but I could not arouse myself to make the effort to go to the
other side of the ship to see them. A little later we ran in close
proximity to a large iceberg. I was curious enough to get up and look
at it, and I was fully repaid for my pains. The sun was shining full
upon it, and it glistened like a mammoth diamond, cut with a million
facets. As we passed, it constantly changed its shape; at each
different angle of vision it assumed new and astonishing forms of
beauty. I watched it through a pair of glasses, seeking to verify
my early conception of an iceberg--in the geographies of my grammar
school days the pictures of icebergs always included a stranded polar
bear, standing desolately upon one of the snowy crags. I looked
for the bear, but if he was there, he refused to put himself on

It was not, however, until the morning that we entered the harbor of
Havre that I was able to shake off my gloom. Then the strange sights,
the chatter in an unfamiliar tongue, and the excitement of landing
and passing the customs officials caused me to forget completely the
events of a few days before. Indeed, I grew so lighthearted that when
I caught my first sight of the train which was to take us to Paris,
I enjoyed a hearty laugh. The toy-looking engine, the stuffy little
compartment cars, with tiny, old-fashioned wheels, struck me as being
extremely funny. But before we reached Paris my respect for our train
rose considerably. I found that the "tiny" engine made remarkably fast
time, and that the old-fashioned wheels ran very smoothly. I even
began to appreciate the "stuffy" cars for their privacy. As I watched
the passing scenery from the car window, it seemed too beautiful to be
real. The bright-colored houses against the green background impressed
me as the work of some idealistic painter. Before we arrived in Paris,
there was awakened in my heart a love for France which continued to
grow stronger, a love which to-day makes that country for me the one
above all others to be desired.

We rolled into the station Saint Lazare about four o'clock in
the afternoon and drove immediately to the Hotel Continental. My
benefactor, humoring my curiosity and enthusiasm, which seemed to
please him very much, suggested that we take a short walk before
dinner. We stepped out of the hotel and turned to the right into the
rue de Rivoli. When the vista of the Place de la Concorde and the
Champs Elysees suddenly burst on me, I could hardly credit my own
eyes. I shall attempt no such supererogatory task as a description
of Paris. I wish only to give briefly the impressions which that
wonderful city made upon me. It impressed me as the perfect and
perfectly beautiful city; and even after I had been there for some
time, and seen not only its avenues and palaces, but its most squalid
alleys and hovels, this impression was not weakened. Paris became for
me a charmed spot, and whenever I have returned there, I have fallen
under the spell, a spell which compels admiration for all of its
manners and customs and justification of even its follies and sins.

We walked a short distance up the Champs Elysees and sat for a while
in chairs along the sidewalk, watching the passing crowds on foot and
in carriages. It was with reluctance that I went back to the hotel for
dinner. After dinner we went to one of the summer theatres, and after
the performance my friend took me to a large cafe on one of the Grands
Boulevards. Here it was that I had my first glimpse of the French life
of popular literature, so different from real French life. There were
several hundred people, men and women, in the place drinking, smoking,
talking, and listening to the music. My millionaire friend and I took
seats at a table, where we sat smoking and watching the crowd. It
was not long before we were joined by two or three good-looking,
well-dressed young women. My friend talked to them in French and
bought drinks for the whole party. I tried to recall my high-school
French, but the effort availed me little. I could stammer out a few
phrases, but, very naturally, could not understand a word that was
said to me. We stayed at the cafe a couple of hours, then went back to
the hotel. The next day we spent several hours in the shops and at
the tailor's. I had no clothes except what I had been able to gather
together at my benefactor's apartments the night before we sailed. He
bought me the same kind of clothes which he himself wore, and that
was the best; and he treated me in every way as he dressed me, as an
equal, not as a servant. In fact, I don't think anyone could have
guessed that such a relation existed. My duties were light and few,
and he was a man full of life and vigor, who rather enjoyed doing
things for himself. He kept me supplied with money far beyond what
ordinary wages would have amounted to. For the first two weeks we were
together almost constantly, seeing the sights, sights old to him, but
from which he seemed to get new pleasure in showing them to me. During
the day we took in the places of interest, and at night the theatres
and cafes. This sort of life appealed to me as ideal, and I asked him
one day how long he intended to stay in Paris. He answered: "Oh, until
I get tired of it." I could not understand how that could ever happen.
As it was, including several short trips to the Mediterranean, to
Spain, to Brussels, and to Ostend, we did remain there fourteen or
fifteen months. We stayed at the Hotel Continental about two months
of this time. Then my millionaire took apartments, hired a piano, and
lived almost the same life he lived in New York. He entertained a
great deal, some of the parties being a good deal more blase than the
New York ones. I played for the guests at all of them with an effect
which to relate would be but a tiresome repetition to the reader. I
played not only for the guests, but continued, as I used to do in New
York, to play often for the host when he was alone. This man of the
world, who grew weary of everything and was always searching for
something new, appeared never to grow tired of my music; he seemed
to take it as a drug. He fell into a habit which caused me no little
annoyance; sometimes he would come in during the early hours of the
morning and, finding me in bed asleep, would wake me up and ask me to
play something. This, so far as I can remember, was my only hardship
during my whole stay with him in Europe.

After the first few weeks spent in sight-seeing I had a great deal of
time left to myself; my friend was often I did not know where. When
not with him, I spent the day nosing about all the curious nooks and
corners of Paris; of this I never grew tired. At night I usually went
to some theatre, but always ended up at the big cafe on the Grands
Boulevards. I wish the reader to know that it was not alone the gaiety
which drew me there; aside from that I had a laudable purpose. I had
purchased an English-French conversational dictionary, and I went
there every night to take a language lesson. I used to get three or
four of the young women who frequented the place at a table and buy
beer and cigarettes for them. In return I received my lesson. I got
more than my money's worth, for they actually compelled me to speak
the language. This, together with reading the papers every day,
enabled me within a few months to express myself fairly well, and,
before I left Paris, to have more than an ordinary command of French.
Of course, every person who goes to Paris could not dare to learn
French in this manner, but I can think of no easier or quicker way of
doing it. The acquiring of another foreign language awoke me to the
fact that with a little effort I could secure an added accomplishment
as fine and as valuable as music; so I determined to make myself as
much of a linguist as possible. I bought a Spanish newspaper every
day in order to freshen my memory of that language, and, for French,
devised what was, so far as I knew, an original system of study. I
compiled a list which I termed "Three hundred necessary words." These
I thoroughly committed to memory, also the conjugation of the verbs
which were included in the list. I studied these words over and over,
much as children of a couple of generations ago studied the alphabet.
I also practiced a set of phrases like the following: "How?" "What did
you say?" "What does the word ---- mean?" "I understand all you say
except ----." "Please repeat." "What do you call ----?" "How do you
say ----?" These I called my working sentences. In an astonishingly
short time I reached the point where the language taught itself--where
I learned to speak merely by speaking. This point is the place which
students taught foreign languages in our schools and colleges find
great difficulty in reaching. I think the main trouble is that
they learn too much of a language at a time. A French child with a
vocabulary of two hundred words can express more spoken ideas than
a student of French can with a knowledge of two thousand. A small
vocabulary, the smaller the better, which embraces the common,
everyday-used ideas, thoroughly mastered, is the key to a language.
When that much is acquired the vocabulary can be increased simply by
talking. And it is easy. Who cannot commit three hundred words to
memory? Later I tried my method, if I may so term it, with German, and
found that it worked in the same way.

I spent a good many evenings at the Opera. The music there made me
strangely reminiscent of my life in Connecticut; it was an atmosphere
in which I caught a fresh breath of my boyhood days and early youth.
Generally, in the morning after I had attended a performance, I would
sit at the piano and for a couple of hours play the music which I used
to play in my mother's little parlor.

One night I went to hear _Faust_. I got into my seat just as the
lights went down for the first act. At the end of the act I noticed
that my neighbor on the left was a young girl. I cannot describe her
either as to feature, or color of her hair, or of her eyes; she was so
young, so fair, so ethereal, that I felt to stare at her would be a
violation; yet I was distinctly conscious of her beauty. During the
intermission she spoke English in a low voice to a gentleman and a
lady who sat in the seats to her left, addressing them as father and
mother. I held my program as though studying it, but listened to catch
every sound of her voice. Her observations on the performance and the
audience were so fresh and naive as to be almost amusing. I gathered
that she was just out of school, and that this was her first trip to
Paris. I occasionally stole a glance at her, and each time I did so my
heart leaped into my throat. Once I glanced beyond to the gentleman
who sat next to her. My glance immediately turned into a stare. Yes,
there he was, unmistakably, my father! looking hardly a day older than
when I had seen him some ten years before. What a strange coincidence!
What should I say to him? What would he say to me? Before I had
recovered from my first surprise, there came another shock in the
realization that the beautiful, tender girl at my side was my sister.
Then all the springs of affection in my heart, stopped since my
mother's death, burst out in fresh and terrible torrents, and I could
have fallen at her feet and worshiped her. They were singing the
second act, but I did not hear the music. Slowly the desolate
loneliness of my position became clear to me. I knew that I could not
speak, but I would have given a part of my life to touch her hand with
mine and call her "sister." I sat through the opera until I could
stand it no longer. I felt that I was suffocating. Valentine's love
seemed like mockery, and I felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to
rise up and scream to the audience: "Here, here in your very midst, is
a tragedy, a real tragedy!" This impulse grew so strong that I became
afraid of myself, and in the darkness of one of the scenes I stumbled
out of the theatre. I walked aimlessly about for an hour or so, my
feelings divided between a desire to weep and a desire to curse. I
finally took a cab and went from cafe to cafe, and for one of the very
few times in my life drank myself into a stupor.

It was unwelcome news for me when my benefactor--I could not think of
him as employer--informed me that he was at last tired of Paris. This
news gave me, I think, a passing doubt as to his sanity. I had enjoyed
life in Paris, and, taking all things into consideration, enjoyed it
wholesomely. One thing which greatly contributed to my enjoyment was
the fact that I was an American. Americans are immensely popular in
Paris; and this is not due solely to the fact that they spend lots of
money there, for they spend just as much or more in London, and in
the latter city they are merely tolerated because they do spend. The
Londoner seems to think that Americans are people whose only claim to
be classed as civilized is that they have money, and the regrettable
thing about that is that the money is not English. But the French
are more logical and freer from prejudices than the British; so the
difference of attitude is easily explained. Only once in Paris did I
have cause to blush for my American citizenship. I had become quite
friendly with a young man from Luxemburg whom I had met at the big
cafe. He was a stolid, slow-witted fellow, but, as we say, with a
heart of gold. He and I grew attached to each other and were together
frequently. He was a great admirer of the United States and never grew
tired of talking to me about the country and asking for information.
It was his intention to try his fortune there some day. One night
he asked me in a tone of voice which indicated that he expected an
authoritative denial of an ugly rumor: "Did they really burn a man
alive in the United States?" I never knew what I stammered out to him
as an answer. I should have felt relieved if I could even have said to
him: "Well, only one."

When we arrived in London, my sadness at leaving Paris was turned into
despair. After my long stay in the French capital, huge, ponderous,
massive London seemed to me as ugly a thing as man could contrive to
make. I thought of Paris as a beauty spot on the face of the earth,
and of London as a big freckle. But soon London's massiveness, I might
say its very ugliness, began to impress me. I began to experience that
sense of grandeur which one feels when he looks at a great mountain or
a mighty river. Beside London Paris becomes a toy, a pretty plaything.
And I must own that before I left the world's metropolis I discovered
much there that was beautiful. The beauty in and about London is
entirely different from that in and about Paris; and I could not but
admit that the beauty of the French city seemed hand-made, artificial,
as though set up for the photographer's camera, everything nicely
adjusted so as not to spoil the picture; while that of the English
city was rugged, natural, and fresh.

How these two cities typify the two peoples who built them! Even the
sound of their names expresses a certain racial difference. Paris is
the concrete expression of the gaiety, regard for symmetry, love of
art, and, I might well add, of the morality of the French
people. London stands for the conservatism, the solidarity, the
utilitarianism, and, I might well add, the hypocrisy of the
Anglo-Saxon. It may sound odd to speak of the morality of the French,
if not of the hypocrisy of the English; but this seeming paradox
impresses me as a deep truth. I saw many things in Paris which were
immoral according to English standards, but the absence of hypocrisy,
the absence of the spirit to do the thing if it might only be done in
secret, robbed these very immoralities of the damning influence of the
same evils in London. I have walked along the terrace cafes of Paris
and seen hundreds of men and women sipping their wine and beer,
without observing a sign of drunkenness. As they drank, they chatted
and laughed and watched the passing crowds; the drinking seemed to be
a secondary thing. This I have witnessed, not only in the cafes along
the Grands Boulevards, but in the out-of-the-way places patronized by
the working classes. In London I have seen in the "pubs" men and women
crowded in stuffy little compartments, drinking seemingly only for the
pleasure of swallowing as much as they could hold. I have seen there
women from eighteen to eighty, some in tatters, and some clutching
babes in their arms, drinking the heavy English ales and whiskies
served to them by women. In the whole scene, not one ray of
brightness, not one flash of gaiety, only maudlin joviality or grim
despair. And I have thought, if some men and women will drink--and it
is certain that some will--is it not better that they do so under the
open sky, in the fresh air, than huddled together in some close, smoky
room? There is a sort of frankness about the evils of Paris which robs
them of much of the seductiveness of things forbidden, and with that
frankness goes a certain cleanliness of thought belonging to things
not hidden. London will do whatever Paris does, provided exterior
morals are not shocked. As a result, Paris has the appearance only of
being the more immoral city. The difference may be summed up in this:
Paris practices its sins as lightly as it does its religion, while
London practices both very seriously.

I should not neglect to mention what impressed me most forcibly during
my stay in London. It was not St. Paul's nor the British Museum nor
Westminster Abbey. It was nothing more or less than the simple phrase
"Thank you," or sometimes more elaborated, "Thank you very kindly,
sir." I was continually surprised by the varied uses to which it was
put; and, strange to say, its use as an expression of politeness
seemed more limited than any other. One night I was in a cheap
music hall and accidentally bumped into a waiter who was carrying a
tray-load of beer, almost bringing him to several shillings' worth of
grief. To my amazement he righted himself and said: "Thank ye, sir,"
and left me wondering whether he meant that he thanked me for not
completely spilling his beer, or that he would thank me for keeping
out of his way.

I also found cause to wonder upon what ground the English accuse
Americans of corrupting the language by introducing slang words. I
think I heard more and more different kinds of slang during my few
weeks' stay in London than in my whole "tenderloin" life in New York.
But I suppose the English feel that the language is theirs, and that
they may do with it as they please without at the same time allowing
that privilege to others.

My millionaire was not so long in growing tired of London as of Paris.
After a stay of six or eight weeks we went across into Holland.
Amsterdam was a great surprise to me. I had always thought of Venice
as the city of canals; it had never entered my mind that I should find
similar conditions in a Dutch town. I don't suppose the comparison
goes far beyond the fact that there are canals in both cities--I
have never seen Venice--but Amsterdam struck me as being extremely
picturesque. From Holland we went to Germany, where we spent five or
six months, most of the time in Berlin. I found Berlin more to my
taste than London, and occasionally I had to admit that in some things
it was superior to Paris.

In Berlin I especially enjoyed the orchestral concerts, and I attended
a large number of them. I formed the acquaintance of a good many
musicians, several of whom spoke of my playing in high terms. It was
in Berlin that my inspiration was renewed.

One night my millionaire entertained a party of men composed of
artists, musicians, writers, and, for aught I know, a count or
two. They drank and smoked a great deal, talked art and music, and
discussed, it seemed to me, everything that ever entered man's mind.
I could only follow the general drift of what they were saying. When
they discussed music, it was more interesting to me; for then some
fellow would run excitedly to the piano and give a demonstration of
his opinions, and another would follow quickly, doing the same. In
this way, I learned that, regardless of what his specialty might
be, every man in the party was a musician. I was at the same time
impressed with the falsity of the general idea that Frenchmen are
excitable and emotional, and that Germans are calm and phlegmatic.
Frenchmen are merely gay and never overwhelmed by their emotions. When
they talk loud and fast, it is merely talk, while Germans get worked
up and red in the face when sustaining an opinion, and in heated
discussions are likely to allow their emotions to sweep them off their

My millionaire planned, in the midst of the discussion on music, to
have me play the "new American music" and astonish everybody present.
The result was that I was more astonished than anyone else. I went to
the piano and played the most intricate ragtime piece I knew. Before
there was time for anybody to express an opinion on what I had done, a
big bespectacled, bushy-headed man rushed over, and, shoving me out
of the chair, exclaimed: "Get up! Get up!" He seated himself at the
piano, and, taking the theme of my ragtime, played it through first
in straight chords; then varied and developed it through every known
musical form. I sat amazed. I had been turning classic music into
ragtime, a comparatively easy task; and this man had taken ragtime and
made it classic. The thought came across me like a flash--It can be
done, why can't I do it? From that moment my mind was made up. I
clearly saw the way of carrying out the ambition I had formed when a

I now lost interest in our trip. I thought: "Here I am a man, no
longer a boy, and what am I doing but wasting my time and abusing my
talent? What use am I making of my gifts? What future have I before me
following my present course?" These thoughts made me feel remorseful
and put me in a fever to get to work, to begin to do something. Of
course I know now that I was not wasting time; that there was nothing
I could have done at that age which would have benefited me more than
going to Europe as I did. The desire to begin work grew stronger each
day. I could think of nothing else. I made up my mind to go back into
the very heart of the South, to live among the people, and drink in my
inspiration firsthand. I gloated over the immense amount of material
I had to work with, not only modern ragtime, but also the old slave
songs--material which no one had yet touched.

The more decided and anxious I became to return to the United States,
the more I dreaded the ordeal of breaking with my millionaire. Between
this peculiar man and me there had grown a very strong bond of
affection, backed up by a debt which each owed to the other. He had
taken me from a terrible life in New York and, by giving me the
opportunity of traveling and of coming in contact with the people with
whom he associated, had made me a polished man of the world. On the
other hand, I was his chief means of disposing of the thing which
seemed to sum up all in life that he dreaded--time. As I remember him
now, I can see that time was what he was always endeavoring to escape,
to bridge over, to blot out; and it is not strange that some years
later he did escape it forever, by leaping into eternity.

For some weeks I waited for just the right moment in which to tell my
patron of my decision. Those weeks were a trying time to me. I felt
that I was playing the part of a traitor to my best friend. At length,
one day he said to me: "Well, get ready for a long trip; we are going
to Egypt, and then to Japan." The temptation was for an instant almost
overwhelming, but I summoned determination enough to say: "I don't
think I want to go." "What!" he exclaimed, "you want to go back to
your dear Paris? You still think that the only spot on earth? Wait
until you see Cairo and Tokyo, you may change your mind." "No," I
stammered, "it is not because I want to go back to Paris. I want to go
back to the United States." He wished to know my reason, and I told
him, as best I could, my dreams, my ambition, and my decision. While
I was talking, he watched me with a curious, almost cynical, smile
growing on his lips. When I had finished he put his hand on my
shoulder--this was the first physical expression of tender regard he
had ever shown me--and looking at me in a big-brotherly way, said: "My
boy, you are by blood, by appearance, by education, and by tastes a
white man. Now, why do you want to throw your life away amidst the
poverty and ignorance, in the hopeless struggle, of the black people
of the United States? Then look at the terrible handicap you are
placing on yourself by going home and working as a Negro composer;
you can never be able to get the hearing for your work which it might
deserve. I doubt that even a white musician of recognized ability
could succeed there by working on the theory that American music
should be based on Negro themes. Music is a universal art; anybody's
music belongs to everybody; you can't limit it to race or country.
Now, if you want to become a composer, why not stay right here in
Europe? I will put you under the best teachers on the Continent. Then
if you want to write music on Negro themes, why, go ahead and do it."

We talked for some time on music and the race question. On the latter
subject I had never before heard him express any opinion. Between him
and me no suggestion of racial differences had ever come up. I found
that he was a man entirely free from prejudice, but he recognized
that prejudice was a big stubborn entity which had to be taken into
account. He went on to say: "This idea you have of making a Negro out
of yourself is nothing more than a sentiment; and you do not realize
the fearful import of what you intend to do. What kind of a Negro
would you make now, especially in the South? If you had remained
there, or perhaps even in your club in New York, you might have
succeeded very well; but now you would be miserable. I can imagine no
more dissatisfied human being than an educated, cultured, and refined
colored man in the United States. I have given more study to the race
question in the United States than you may suppose, and I sympathize
with the Negroes there; but what's the use? I can't right their
wrongs, and neither can you; they must do that themselves. They are
unfortunate in having wrongs to right, and you would be foolish to
take their wrongs unnecessarily on your shoulders. Perhaps some day,
through study and observation, you will come to see that evil is
a force, and, like the physical and chemical forces, we cannot
annihilate it; we may only change its form. We light upon one evil and
hit it with all the might of our civilization, but only succeed in
scattering it into a dozen other forms. We hit slavery through a great
civil war. Did we destroy it? No, we only changed it into hatred
between sections of the country: in the South, into political
corruption and chicanery, the degradation of the blacks through
peonage, unjust laws, unfair and cruel treatment; and the degradation
of the whites by their resorting to these practices, the paralyzation
of the public conscience, and the ever over-hanging dread of what the
future may bring. Modern civilization hit ignorance of the masses
through the means of popular education. What has it done but turn
ignorance into anarchy, socialism, strikes, hatred between poor and
rich, and universal discontent? In like manner, modern philanthropy
hit at suffering and disease through asylums and hospitals; it
prolongs the sufferers' lives, it is true, but is, at the same time,
sending down strains of insanity and weakness into future generations.
My philosophy of life is this: make yourself as happy as possible, and
try to make those happy whose lives come in touch with yours; but to
attempt to right the wrongs and ease the sufferings of the world in
general is a waste of effort. You had just as well try to bail the
Atlantic by pouring the water into the Pacific."

This tremendous flow of serious talk from a man I was accustomed to
see either gay or taciturn so surprised and overwhelmed me that I
could not frame a reply. He left me thinking over what he had said.
Whatever was the soundness of his logic or the moral tone of his
philosophy, his argument greatly impressed me. I could see, in spite
of the absolute selfishness upon which it was based, that there was
reason and common sense in it. I began to analyze my own motives, and
found that they, too, were very largely mixed with selfishness. Was it
more a desire to help those I considered my people, or more a desire
to distinguish myself, which was leading me back to the United States?
That is a question I have never definitely answered.

For several weeks longer I was in a troubled state of mind. Added to
the fact that I was loath to leave my good friend was the weight of
the question he had aroused in my mind, whether I was not making a
fatal mistake. I suffered more than one sleepless night during that
time. Finally, I settled the question on purely selfish grounds, in
accordance with my millionaire's philosophy. I argued that music
offered me a better future than anything else I had any knowledge of,
and, in opposition to my friend's opinion, that I should have greater
chances of attracting attention as a colored composer than as a white
one. But I must own that I also felt stirred by an unselfish desire
to voice all the joys and sorrows, the hopes and ambitions, of the
American Negro, in classic musical form.

When my mind was fully made up, I told my friend. He asked me when I
intended to start. I replied that I would do so at once. He then asked
me how much money I had. I told him that I had saved several hundred
dollars out of sums he had given me. He gave me a check for five
hundred dollars, told me to write to him in care of his Paris bankers
if I ever needed his help, wished me good luck, and bade me good-by.
All this he did almost coldly; and I often wondered whether he was in
a hurry to get rid of what he considered a fool, or whether he was
striving to hide deeper feelings.

And so I separated from the man who was, all in all, the best friend I
ever had, except my mother, the man who exerted the greatest influence
ever brought into my life, except that exerted by my mother. My
affection for him was so strong, my recollections of him are so
distinct, he was such a peculiar and striking character, that I could
easily fill several chapters with reminiscences of him; but for fear
of tiring the reader I shall go on with my narration.

I decided to go to Liverpool and take ship for Boston. I still had an
uneasy feeling about returning to New York; and in a few days I found
myself aboard ship headed for home.


Among the first of my fellow-passengers of whom I took any particular
notice was a tall, broad-shouldered, almost gigantic, colored man.
His dark-brown face was clean-shaven; he was well-dressed and bore a
decidedly distinguished air. In fact, if he was not handsome, he at
least compelled admiration for his fine physical proportions. He
attracted general attention as he strode the deck in a sort of
majestic loneliness. I became curious to know who he was and
determined to strike up an acquaintance with him at the first
opportune moment. The chance came a day or two later. He was sitting
in the smoking-room, with a cigar, which had gone out, in his mouth,
reading a novel. I sat down beside him and, offering him a fresh
cigar, said: "You don't mind my telling you something unpleasant, do
you?" He looked at me with a smile, accepted the proffered cigar,
and replied in a voice which comported perfectly with his size and
appearance: "I think my curiosity overcomes any objections I might
have." "Well," I said, "have you noticed that the man who sat at your
right in the saloon during the first meal has not sat there since?" He
frowned slightly without answering my question. "Well," I continued,
"he asked the steward to remove him; and not only that, he attempted
to persuade a number of the passengers to protest against your
presence in the dining-saloon." The big man at my side took a long
draw from his cigar, threw his head back, and slowly blew a great
cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. Then turning to me he said: "Do you
know, I don't object to anyone's having prejudices so long as those
prejudices don't interfere with my personal liberty. Now, the man you
are speaking of had a perfect right to change his seat if I in any way
interfered with his appetite or his digestion. I should have no reason
to complain if he removed to the farthest corner of the saloon, or
even if he got off the ship; but when his prejudice attempts to move
_me_ one foot, one inch, out of the place where I am comfortably
located, then I object." On the word "object" he brought his great
fist down on the table in front of us with such a crash that
everyone in the room turned to look. We both covered up the slight
embarrassment with a laugh and strolled out on the deck.

We walked the deck for an hour or more, discussing different phases
of the Negro question. In referring to the race I used the personal
pronoun "we"; my companion made no comment about it, nor evinced any
surprise, except to raise his eyebrows slightly the first time he
caught the significance of the word. He was the broadest-minded
colored man I have ever talked with on the Negro question. He even
went so far as to sympathize with and offer excuses for some white
Southern points of view. I asked him what were his main reasons for
being so hopeful. He replied: "In spite of all that is written, said,
and done, this great, big, incontrovertible fact stands out--the Negro
is progressing, and that disproves all the arguments in the world
that he is incapable of progress. I was born in slavery, and at
emancipation was set adrift a ragged, penniless bit of humanity. I
have seen the Negro in every grade, and I know what I am talking
about. Our detractors point to the increase of crime as evidence
against us; certainly we have progressed in crime as in other things;
what less could be expected? And yet, in this respect, we are far from
the point which has been reached by the more highly civilized white
race. As we continue to progress, crime among us will gradually lose
much of its brutal, vulgar, I might say healthy, aspect, and become
more delicate, refined, and subtle. Then it will be less shocking and
noticeable, although more dangerous to society." Then dropping his
tone of irony, he continued with some show of eloquence: "But, above
all, when I am discouraged and disheartened, I have this to fall back
on: if there is a principle of right in the world, which finally
prevails, and I believe that there is; if there is a merciful but
justice-loving God in heaven, and I believe that there is, we shall
win; for we have right on our side, while those who oppose us can
defend themselves by nothing in the moral law, nor even by anything in
the enlightened thought of the present age."

For several days, together with other topics, we discussed the race
problem, not only of the United States, but as it affected native
Africans and Jews. Finally, before we reached Boston, our conversation
had grown familiar and personal. I had told him something of my past
and much about my intentions for the future. I learned that he was a
physician, a graduate of Howard University, Washington, and had done
post-graduate work in Philadelphia; and this was his second trip
abroad to attend professional courses. He had practiced for some years
in the city of Washington, and though he did not say so, I gathered
that his practice was a lucrative one. Before we left the ship, he
had made me promise that I would stop two or three days in Washington
before going on south.

We put up at a hotel in Boston for a couple of days and visited
several of my new friend's acquaintances; they were all people of
education and culture and, apparently, of means. I could not help
being struck by the great difference between them and the same class
of colored people in the South. In speech and thought they were
genuine Yankees. The difference was especially noticeable in their
speech. There was none of that heavy-tongued enunciation which
characterizes even the best-educated colored people of the South. It
is remarkable, after all, what an adaptable creature the Negro is.
I have seen the black West Indian gentleman in London, and he is in
speech and manners a perfect Englishman. I have seen natives of Haiti
and Martinique in Paris, and they are more Frenchy than a Frenchman.
I have no doubt that the Negro would make a good Chinaman, with
exception of the pigtail.

My stay in Washington, instead of being two or three days, was two or
three weeks. This was my first visit to the national capital, and
I was, of course, interested in seeing the public buildings and
something of the working of the government; but most of my time I
spent with the doctor among his friends and acquaintances. The social
phase of life among colored people is more developed in Washington
than in any other city in the country. This is on account of the large
number of individuals earning good salaries and having a reasonable
amount of leisure time to draw from. There are dozens of physicians
and lawyers, scores of school teachers, and hundreds of clerks in the
departments. As to the colored department clerks, I think it fair to
say that in educational equipment they average above the white clerks
of the same grade; for, whereas a colored college graduate will seek
such a job, the white university man goes into one of the many higher
vocations which are open to him.

In a previous chapter I spoke of social life among colored people; so
there is no need to take it up again here. But there is one thing
I did not mention: among Negroes themselves there is the peculiar
inconsistency of a color question. Its existence is rarely admitted
and hardly ever mentioned; it may not be too strong a statement to say
that the greater portion of the race is unconscious of its influence;
yet this influence, though silent, is constant. It is evidenced most
plainly in marriage selection; thus the black men generally marry
women fairer than themselves; while, on the other hand, the dark
women of stronger mental endowment are very often married to
light-complexioned men; the effect is a tendency toward lighter
complexions, especially among the more active elements in the race.
Some might claim that this is a tacit admission of colored people
among themselves of their own inferiority judged by the color line. I
do not think so. What I have termed an inconsistency is, after all,
most natural; it is, in fact, a tendency in accordance with what might
be called an economic necessity. So far as racial differences go, the
United States puts a greater premium on color, or, better, lack of
color, than upon anything else in the world. To paraphrase, "Have a
white skin, and all things else may be added unto you." I have seen
advertisements in newspapers for waiters, bell-boys, or elevator men,
which read: "Light-colored man wanted." It is this tremendous pressure
which the sentiment of the country exerts that is operating on the
race. There is involved not only the question of higher opportunity,
but often the question of earning a livelihood; and so I say it is not
strange, but a natural tendency. Nor is it any more a sacrifice of
self-respect that a black man should give to his children every
advantage he can which complexion of the skin carries than that the
new or vulgar rich should purchase for their children the advantages
which ancestry, aristocracy, and social position carry. I once heard a
colored man sum it up in these words: "It's no disgrace to be black,
but it's often very inconvenient."

Washington shows the Negro not only at his best, but also at his
worst. As I drove around with the doctor, he commented rather harshly
on those of the latter class which we saw. He remarked: "You see those
lazy, loafing, good-for-nothing darkies; they're not worth digging
graves for; yet they are the ones who create impressions of the race
for the casual observer. It's because they are always in evidence on
the street corners, while the rest of us are hard at work, and
you know a dozen loafing darkies make a bigger crowd and a worse
impression in this country than fifty white men of the same class. But
they ought not to represent the race. We are the race, and the race
ought to be judged by us, not by them. Every race and every nation
should be judged by the best it has been able to produce, not by the

The recollection of my stay in Washington is a pleasure to me now.
In company with the doctor I visited Howard University, the public
schools, the excellent colored hospital, with which he was in some
way connected, if I remember correctly, and many comfortable and even
elegant homes. It was with some reluctance that I continued my journey
south. The doctor was very kind in giving me letters to people in
Richmond and Nashville when I told him that I intended to stop in
both of these cities. In Richmond a man who was then editing a very
creditable colored newspaper gave me a great deal of his time and made
my stay there of three or four days very pleasant. In Nashville
I spent a whole day at Fisk University, the home of the "Jubilee
Singers," and was more than repaid for my time. Among my letters of
introduction was one to a very prosperous physician. He drove me about
the city and introduced me to a number of people. From Nashville I
went to Atlanta, where I stayed long enough to gratify an old desire
to see Atlanta University again. I then continued my journey to Macon.

During the trip from Nashville to Atlanta I went into the
smoking-compartment of the car to smoke a cigar. I was traveling in a
Pullman, not because of an abundance of funds, but because through my
experience with my millionaire a certain amount of comfort and luxury
had become a necessity to me whenever it was obtainable. When I
entered the car, I found only a couple of men there; but in a
half-hour there were half a dozen or more. From the general
conversation I learned that a fat Jewish-looking man was a cigar
manufacturer, and was experimenting in growing Havana tobacco in
Florida; that a slender bespectacled young man was from Ohio and
a professor in some State institution in Alabama; that a
white-mustached, well-dressed man was an old Union soldier who had
fought through the Civil War; and that a tall, raw-boned, red-faced
man, who seemed bent on leaving nobody in ignorance of the fact that
he was from Texas, was a cotton planter.

In the North men may ride together for hours in a "smoker" and unless
they are acquainted with each other never exchange a word; in the
South men thrown together in such manner are friends in fifteen
minutes. There is always present a warm-hearted cordiality which will
melt down the most frigid reserve. It may be because Southerners are
very much like Frenchmen in that they must talk; and not only must
they talk, but they must express their opinions.

The talk in the car was for a while miscellaneous--on the weather,
crops, business prospects; the old Union soldier had invested capital
in Atlanta, and he predicted that that city would soon be one of the
greatest in the country. Finally the conversation drifted to politics;
then, as a natural sequence, turned upon the Negro question.

In the discussion of the race question the diplomacy of the Jew was
something to be admired; he had the faculty of agreeing with everybody
without losing his allegiance to any side. He knew that to sanction
Negro oppression would be to sanction Jewish oppression and would
expose him to a shot along that line from the old soldier, who stood
firmly on the ground of equal rights and opportunity to all men; long
traditions and business instincts told him when in Rome to act as a
Roman. Altogether his position was a delicate one, and I gave him
credit for the skill he displayed in maintaining it. The young
professor was apologetic. He had had the same views as the G.A.R. man;
but a year in the South had opened his eyes, and he had to confess
that the problem could hardly be handled any better than it was being
handled by the Southern whites. To which the G.A.R. man responded
somewhat rudely that he had spent ten times as many years in the South
as his young friend and that he could easily understand how holding a
position in a State institution in Alabama would bring about a change
of views. The professor turned very red and had very little more to
say. The Texan was fierce, eloquent, and profane in his argument, and,
in a lower sense, there was a direct logic in what he said, which was
convincing; it was only by taking higher ground, by dealing in what
Southerners call "theories," that he could be combated. Occasionally
some one of the several other men in the "smoker" would throw in a
remark to reinforce what he said, but he really didn't need any help;
he was sufficient in himself.

In the course of a short time the controversy narrowed itself down
to an argument between the old soldier and the Texan. The latter
maintained hotly that the Civil War was a criminal mistake on the part
of the North and that the humiliation which the South suffered during
Reconstruction could never be forgotten. The Union man retorted just
as hotly that the South was responsible for the war and that the
spirit of unforgetfulness on its part was the greatest cause of
present friction; that it seemed to be the one great aim of the South
to convince the North that the latter made a mistake in fighting to
preserve the Union and liberate the slaves. "Can you imagine," he went
on to say, "what would have been the condition of things eventually if
there had been no war, and the South had been allowed to follow its
course? Instead of one great, prosperous country with nothing before
it but the conquests of peace, a score of petty republics, as in
Central and South America, wasting their energies in war with each
other or in revolutions."

"Well," replied the Texan, "anything--no country at all--is better
than having niggers over you. But anyhow, the war was fought and the
niggers were freed; for it's no use beating around the bush, the
niggers, and not the Union, was the cause of it; and now do you
believe that all the niggers on earth are worth the good white blood
that was spilt? You freed the nigger and you gave him the ballot, but
you couldn't make a citizen out of him. He don't know what he's voting
for, and we buy 'em like so many hogs. You're giving 'em education,
but that only makes slick rascals out of 'em."

"Don't fancy for a moment," said the Northern man, "that you have any
monopoly in buying ignorant votes. The same thing is done on a larger
scale in New York and Boston, and in Chicago and San Francisco; and
they are not black votes either. As to education's making the Negro
worse, you might just as well tell me that religion does the same
thing. And, by the way, how many educated colored men do you know

The Texan admitted that he knew only one, and added that he was in
the penitentiary. "But," he said, "do you mean to claim, ballot or
no ballot, education or no education, that niggers are the equals of
white men?"

"That's not the question," answered the other, "but if the Negro is so
distinctly inferior, it is a strange thing to me that it takes such
tremendous effort on the part of the white man to make him realize it,
and to keep him in the same place into which inferior men naturally
fall. However, let us grant for sake of argument that the Negro is
inferior in every respect to the white man; that fact only increases
our moral responsibility in regard to our actions toward him.
Inequalities of numbers, wealth, and power, even of intelligence and
morals, should make no difference in the essential rights of men."

"If he's inferior and weaker, and is shoved to the wall, that's his
own look-out," said the Texan. "That's the law of nature; and he's
bound to go to the wall; for no race in the world has ever been able
to stand competition with the Anglo-Saxon. The Anglo-Saxon race has
always been and always will be the masters of the world, and the
niggers in the South ain't going to change all the records of

"My friend," said the old soldier slowly, "if you have studied
history, will you tell me, as confidentially between white men, what
the Anglo-Saxon has ever done?"

The Texan was too much astonished by the question to venture any

His opponent continued: "Can you name a single one of the great
fundamental and original intellectual achievements which have
raised man in the scale of civilization that may be credited to the
Anglo-Saxon? The art of letters, of poetry, of music, of sculpture, of
painting, of the drama, of architecture; the science of mathematics,
of astronomy, of philosophy, of logic, of physics, of chemistry, the
use of the metals, and the principles of mechanics, were all invented
or discovered by darker and what we now call inferior races and
nations. We have carried many of these to their highest point of
perfection, but the foundation was laid by others. Do you know the
only original contribution to civilization we can claim is what we
have done in steam and electricity and in making implements of war
more deadly? And there we worked largely on principles which we did
not discover. Why, we didn't even originate the religion we use. We
are a great race, the greatest in the world today, but we ought to
remember that we are standing on a pile of past races, and enjoy our
position with a little less show of arrogance. We are simply having
our turn at the game, and we were a long time getting to it. After
all, racial supremacy is merely a matter of dates in history. The man
here who belongs to what is, all in all, the greatest race the world
ever produced, is almost ashamed to own it. If the Anglo-Saxon is
the source of everything good and great in the human race from
the beginning, why wasn't the German forest the birthplace of
civilization, rather than the valley of the Nile?"

The Texan was somewhat disconcerted, for the argument had passed a
little beyond his limits, but he swung it back to where he was sure of
his ground by saying: "All that may be true, but it hasn't got much to
do with us and the niggers here in the South. We've got 'em here,
and we've got 'em to live with, and it's a question of white man or
nigger, no middle ground. You want us to treat niggers as equals. Do
you want to see 'em sitting around in our parlors? Do you want to see
a mulatto South? To bring it right home to you, would you let your
daughter marry a nigger?"

"No, I wouldn't consent to my daughter's marrying a nigger, but that
doesn't prevent my treating a black man fairly. And I don't see what
fair treatment has to do with niggers sitting around in your parlors;
they can't come there unless they're invited. Out of all the white men
I know, only a hundred or so have the privilege of sitting around in
my parlor. As to the mulatto South, if you Southerners have one boast
that is stronger than another, it is your women; you put them on a
pinnacle of purity and virtue and bow down in a chivalric worship
before them; yet you talk and act as though, should you treat the
Negro fairly and take the anti-inter-marriage laws off your statute
books, these same women would rush into the arms of black lovers and
husbands. It's a wonder to me that they don't rise up and resent the

"Colonel," said the Texan, as he reached into his handbag and brought
out a large flask of whisky, "you might argue from now until hell
freezes over, and you might convince me that you're right, but you'll
never convince me that I'm wrong. All you say sounds very good, but
it's got nothing to do with facts. You can say what men ought to be,
but they ain't that; so there you are. Down here in the South we're up
against facts, and we're meeting 'em like facts. We don't believe the
nigger is or ever will be the equal of the white man, and we ain't
going to treat him as an equal; I'll be damned if we will. Have a
drink." Everybody except the professor partook of the generous Texan's
flask, and the argument closed in a general laugh and good feeling.

I went back into the main part of the car with the conversation on my
mind. Here I had before me the bald, raw, naked aspects of the race
question in the South; and, in consideration of the step I was just
taking, it was far from encouraging. The sentiments of the Texan--and
he expressed the sentiments of the South--fell upon me like a chill. I
was sick at heart. Yet I must confess that underneath it all I felt a
certain sort of admiration for the man who could not be swayed from
what he held as his principles. Contrasted with him, the young Ohio
professor was indeed a pitiable character. And all along, in spite of
myself, I have been compelled to accord the same kind of admiration to
the Southern white man for the manner in which he defends not only his
virtues, but his vices. He knows that, judged by a high standard, he
is narrow and prejudiced, that he is guilty of unfairness, oppression,
and cruelty, but this he defends as stoutly as he would his better
qualities. This same spirit obtains in a great degree among the
blacks; they, too, defend their faults and failings. This they
generally do whenever white people are concerned. And yet among
themselves they are their own most merciless critics. I have never
heard the race so terribly arraigned as I have by colored speakers to
strictly colored audiences. It is the spirit of the South to defend
everything belonging to it. The North is too cosmopolitan and tolerant
for such a spirit. If you should say to an Easterner that Paris is a
gayer city than New York, he would be likely to agree with you, or
at least to let you have your own way; but to suggest to a South
Carolinian that Boston is a nicer city to live in than Charleston
would be to stir his greatest depths of argument and eloquence.

But to-day, as I think over that smoking-car argument, I can see it
in a different light. The Texan's position does not render things
so hopeless, for it indicates that the main difficulty of the race
question does not lie so much in the actual condition of the blacks as
it does in the mental attitude of the whites; and a mental attitude,
especially one not based on truth, can be changed more easily than
actual conditions. That is to say, the burden of the question is not
that the whites are struggling to save ten million despondent and
moribund people from sinking into a hopeless slough of ignorance,
poverty, and barbarity in their very midst, but that they are
unwilling to open certain doors of opportunity and to accord certain
treatment to ten million aspiring, education-and-property-acquiring
people. In a word, the difficulty of the problem is not so much due to
the facts presented as to the hypothesis assumed for its solution. In
this it is similar to the problem of the solar system. By a complex,
confusing, and almost contradictory mathematical process, by the use
of zigzags instead of straight lines, the earth can be proved to be
the center of things celestial; but by an operation so simple that it
can be comprehended by a schoolboy, its position can be verified
among the other worlds which revolve about the sun, and its movements
harmonized with the laws of the universe. So, when the white race
assumes as a hypothesis that it is the main object of creation and
that all things else are merely subsidiary to its well-being,
sophism, subterfuge, perversion of conscience, arrogance, injustice,
oppression, cruelty, sacrifice of human blood, all are required to
maintain the position, and its dealings with other races become
indeed a problem, a problem which, if based on a hypothesis of common
humanity, could be solved by the simple rules of justice.

When I reached Macon, I decided to leave my trunk and all my surplus
belongings, to pack my bag, and strike out into the interior. This
I did; and by train, by mule and ox-cart, I traveled through many
counties. This was my first real experience among rural colored
people, and all that I saw was interesting to me; but there was a
great deal which does not require description at my hands; for log
cabins and plantations and dialect-speaking "darkies" are perhaps
better known in American literature than any other single picture of
our national life. Indeed, they form an ideal and exclusive literary
concept of the American Negro to such an extent that it is almost
impossible to get the reading public to recognize him in any other
setting; so I shall endeavor to avoid giving the reader any already
overworked and hackneyed descriptions. This generally accepted
literary ideal of the American Negro constitutes what is really an
obstacle in the way of the thoughtful and progressive element of
the race. His character has been established as a happy-go-lucky,
laughing, shuffling, banjo-picking being, and the reading public has
not yet been prevailed upon to take him seriously. His efforts
to elevate himself socially are looked upon as a sort of absurd
caricature of "white civilization." A novel dealing with colored
people who lived in respectable homes and amidst a fair degree of
culture and who naturally acted "just like white folks" would be taken
in a comic-opera sense. In this respect the Negro is much in the
position of a great comedian who gives up the lighter roles to play
tragedy. No matter how well he may portray the deeper passions,
the public is loath to give him up in his old character; they even
conspire to make him a failure in serious work, in order to force him
back into comedy. In the same respect, the public is not too much
to be blamed, for great comedians are far more scarce than mediocre
tragedians; every amateur actor is a tragedian. However, this very
fact constitutes the opportunity of the future Negro novelist and poet
to give the country something new and unknown, in depicting the life,
the ambitions, the struggles, and the passions of those of their race
who are striving to break the narrow limits of traditions. A beginning
has already been made in that remarkable book by Dr. Du Bois, _The
Souls of Black Folk_.

Much, too, that I saw while on this trip, in spite of my enthusiasm,
was disheartening. Often I thought of what my millionaire had said to
me, and wished myself back in Europe. The houses in which I had to
stay were generally uncomfortable, sometimes worse. I often had to
sleep in a division or compartment with several other people. Once or
twice I was not so fortunate as to find divisions; everybody slept
on pallets on the floor. Frequently I was able to lie down and
contemplate the stars which were in their zenith. The food was at
times so distasteful and poorly cooked that I could not eat it. I
remember that once I lived for a week or more on buttermilk, on
account of not being able to stomach the fat bacon, the rank
turnip-tops, and the heavy damp mixture of meal, salt, and water which
was called corn bread. It was only my ambition to do the work which I
had planned that kept me steadfast to my purpose. Occasionally I would
meet with some signs of progress and uplift in even one of these
back-wood settlements--houses built of boards, with windows, and
divided into rooms; decent food, and a fair standard of living. This
condition was due to the fact that there was in the community some
exceptionally capable Negro farmer whose thrift served as an example.
As I went about among these dull, simple people--the great majority
of them hard working, in their relations with the whites submissive,
faithful, and often affectionate, negatively content with their
lot--and contrasted them with those of the race who had been quickened
by the forces of thought, I could not but appreciate the logic of the
position held by those Southern leaders who have been bold enough to
proclaim against the education of the Negro. They are consistent in
their public speech with Southern sentiment and desires. Those public
men of the South who have not been daring or heedless enough to
defy the ideals of twentieth-century civilization and of modern
humanitarianism and philanthropy, find themselves in the embarrassing
situation of preaching one thing and praying for another. They are in
the position of the fashionable woman who is compelled by the laws of
polite society to say to her dearest enemy: "How happy I am to see

And yet in this respect how perplexing is Southern character; for, in
opposition to the above, it may be said that the claim of the Southern
whites that they love the Negro better than the Northern whites do is
in a manner true. Northern white people love the Negro in a sort of
abstract way, as a race; through a sense of justice, charity, and
philanthropy, they will liberally assist in his elevation. A number of
them have heroically spent their lives in this effort (and just here I
wish to say that when the colored people reach the monument-building
stage, they should not forget the men and women who went South after
the war and founded schools for them). Yet, generally speaking, they
have no particular liking for individuals of the race. Southern white
people despise the Negro as a race, and will do nothing to aid in his
elevation as such; but for certain individuals they have a strong
affection, and are helpful to them in many ways. With these individual
members of the race they live on terms of the greatest intimacy; they
entrust to them their children, their family treasures, and their
family secrets; in trouble they often go to them for comfort
and counsel; in sickness they often rely upon their care. This
affectionate relation between the Southern whites and those blacks
who come into close touch with them has not been overdrawn even in

This perplexity of Southern character extends even to the intermixture
of the races. That is spoken of as though it were dreaded worse than
smallpox, leprosy, or the plague. Yet, when I was in Jacksonville, I
knew several prominent families there with large colored branches,
which went by the same name and were known and acknowledged as blood
relatives. And what is more, there seemed to exist between these
black brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts a decidedly friendly

I said above that Southern whites would do nothing for the Negro as
a race. I know the South claims that it has spent millions for
the education of the blacks, and that it has of its own free will
shouldered this awful burden. It seems to be forgetful of the fact
that these millions have been taken from the public tax funds for
education, and that the law of political economy which recognizes the
land owner as the one who really pays the taxes is not tenable. It
would be just as reasonable for the relatively few land owners of
Manhattan to complain that they had to stand the financial burden of
the education of the thousands and thousands of children whose parents
pay rent for tenements and flats. Let the millions of producing and
consuming Negroes be taken out of the South, and it would be quickly
seen how much less of public funds there would be to appropriate for
education or any other purpose.

In thus traveling about through the country I was sometimes amused
on arriving at some little railroad-station town to be taken for and
treated as a white man, and six hours later, when it was learned that
I was stopping at the house of the colored preacher or school teacher,
to note the attitude of the whole town change. At times this led even
to embarrassment. Yet it cannot be so embarrassing for a colored man
to be taken for white as for a white man to be taken for colored; and
I have heard of several cases of the latter kind.

All this while I was gathering material for work, jotting down in my
note-book themes and melodies, and trying to catch the spirit of the
Negro in his relatively primitive state. I began to feel the necessity
of hurrying so that I might get back to some city like Nashville to
begin my compositions and at the same time earn at least a living
by teaching and performing before my funds gave out. At the last
settlement in which I stopped I found a mine of material. This was due
to the fact that "big meeting" was in progress. "Big meeting" is an
institution something like camp-meeting, the difference being that it
is held in a permanent church, and not in a temporary structure. All
the churches of some one denomination--of course, either Methodist or
Baptist--in a county, or, perhaps, in several adjoining counties, are
closed, and the congregations unite at some centrally located church
for a series of meetings lasting a week. It is really a social as well
as a religious function. The people come in great numbers, making the
trip, according to their financial status, in buggies drawn by sleek,
fleet-footed mules, in ox-carts, or on foot. It was amusing to see
some of the latter class trudging down the hot and dusty road, with
their shoes, which were brand-new, strung across their shoulders. When
they got near the church, they sat on the side of the road and, with
many grimaces, tenderly packed their feet into those instruments of
torture. This furnished, indeed, a trying test of their religion. The
famous preachers come from near and far and take turns in warning
sinners of the day of wrath. Food, in the form of those two Southern
luxuries, fried chicken and roast pork, is plentiful, and no one need
go hungry. On the opening Sunday the women are immaculate in starched
stiff white dresses adorned with ribbons, either red or blue. Even a
great many of the men wear streamers of vari-colored ribbons in the
buttonholes of their coats. A few of them carefully cultivate a
forelock of hair by wrapping it in twine, and on such festive
occasions decorate it with a narrow ribbon streamer. Big meetings
afford a fine opportunity to the younger people to meet each other
dressed in their Sunday clothes, and much rustic courting, which is as
enjoyable as any other kind, is indulged in.

This big meeting which I was lucky enough to catch was particularly
well attended; the extra large attendance was due principally to two
attractions, a man by the name of John Brown, who was renowned as the
most powerful preacher for miles around; and a wonderful leader of
singing, who was known as "Singing Johnson." These two men were a
study and a revelation to me. They caused me to reflect upon how great
an influence their types have been in the development of the Negro
in America. Both these types are now looked upon generally with
condescension or contempt by the progressive element among the colored
people; but it should never be forgotten that it was they who led the
race from paganism and kept it steadfast to Christianity through all
the long, dark years of slavery.

John Brown was a jet-black man of medium size, with a strikingly
intelligent head and face, and a voice like an organ peal. He preached
each night after several lesser lights had successively held the
pulpit during an hour or so. As far as subject-matter is concerned,
all of the sermons were alike: each began with the fall of man, ran
through various trials and tribulations of the Hebrew children, on
to the redemption by Christ, and ended with a fervid picture of the
judgment day and the fate of the damned. But John Brown possessed
magnetism and an imagination so free and daring that he was able to
carry through what the other preachers would not attempt. He knew all
the arts and tricks of oratory, the modulation of the voice to almost
a whisper, the pause for effect, the rise through light, rapid-fire
sentences to the terrific, thundering outburst of an electrifying
climax. In addition, he had the intuition of a born theatrical
manager. Night after night this man held me fascinated. He convinced
me that, after all, eloquence consists more in the manner of saying
than in what is said. It is largely a matter of tone pictures.

The most striking example of John Brown's magnetism and imagination
was his "heavenly march"; I shall never forget how it impressed
me when I heard it. He opened his sermon in the usual way; then,
proclaiming to his listeners that he was going to take them on the
heavenly march, he seized the Bible under his arm and began to pace up
and down the pulpit platform. The congregation immediately began with
their feet a tramp, tramp, tramp, in time with the preacher's march
in the pulpit, all the while singing in an undertone a hymn about
marching to Zion. Suddenly he cried: "Halt!" Every foot stopped with
the precision of a company of well-drilled soldiers, and the singing
ceased. The morning star had been reached. Here the preacher described
the beauties of that celestial body. Then the march, the tramp, tramp,
tramp, and the singing were again taken up. Another "Halt!" They
had reached the evening star. And so on, past the sun and moon--the
intensity of religious emotion all the time increasing--along the
milky way, on up to the gates of heaven. Here the halt was longer,
and the preacher described at length the gates and walls of the New
Jerusalem. Then he took his hearers through the pearly gates, along
the golden streets, pointing out the glories of the city, pausing
occasionally to greet some patriarchal members of the church,
well-known to most of his listeners in life, who had had "the tears
wiped from their eyes, were clad in robes of spotless white, with
crowns of gold upon their heads and harps within their hands," and
ended his march before the great white throne. To the reader this may
sound ridiculous, but listened to under the circumstances, it was
highly and effectively dramatic. I was a more or less sophisticated
and non-religious man of the world, but the torrent of the preacher's
words, moving with the rhythm and glowing with the eloquence of
primitive poetry, swept me along, and I, too, felt like joining in the
shouts of "Amen! Hallelujah!"

John Brown's powers in describing the delights of heaven were no
greater than those in depicting the horrors of hell. I saw great,
strapping fellows trembling and weeping like children at the
"mourners' bench." His warnings to sinners were truly terrible. I
shall never forget one expression that he used, which for originality
and aptness could not be excelled. In my opinion, it is more graphic
and, for us, far more expressive than St. Paul's "It is hard to
kick against the pricks." He struck the attitude of a pugilist and
thundered out: "Young man, your arm's too short to box with God!"

Interesting as was John Brown to me, the other man, "Singing Johnson,"
was more so. He was a small, dark-brown, one-eyed man, with a clear,
strong, high-pitched voice, a leader of singing, a maker of songs, a
man who could improvise at the moment lines to fit the occasion. Not
so striking a figure as John Brown, but, at "big meetings," equally
important. It is indispensable to the success of the singing, when
the congregation is a large one made up of people from different
communities, to have someone with a strong voice who knows just what
hymn to sing and when to sing it, who can pitch it in the right key,
and who has all the leading lines committed to memory. Sometimes it
devolves upon the leader to "sing down" a long-winded or uninteresting
speaker. Committing to memory the leading lines of all the Negro
spiritual songs is no easy task, for they run up into the hundreds.
But the accomplished leader must know them all, because the
congregation sings only the refrains and repeats; every ear in the
church is fixed upon him, and if he becomes mixed in his lines or
forgets them, the responsibility falls directly on his shoulders.

For example, most of these hymns are constructed to be sung in the
following manner:

Leader. _Swing low, sweet chariot._
Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
Leader. _Swing low, sweet chariot._
Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
Leader. _I look over yonder, what do I see?_
Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
Leader. _Two little angels coming after me._
Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home...._

The solitary and plaintive voice of the leader is answered by a sound
like the roll of the sea, producing a most curious effect.

In only a few of these songs do the leader and the congregation start
off together. Such a song is the well-known "Steal away to Jesus."

The leader and the congregation begin with part-singing:

_Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus;
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain't got long to stay here._

Then the leader alone or the congregation in unison:

_My Lord he calls me,
He calls me by the thunder,
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul._

Then all together:

_I ain't got long to stay here._

The leader and the congregation again take up the opening refrain;
then the leader sings three more leading lines alone, and so on almost
_ad infinitum_. It will be seen that even here most of the work falls
upon the leader, for the congregation sings the same lines over and
over, while his memory and ingenuity are taxed to keep the songs

Generally the parts taken up by the congregation are sung in a
three-part harmony, the women singing the soprano and a transposed
tenor, the men with high voices singing the melody, and those with
low voices a thundering bass. In a few of these songs, however, the
leading part is sung in unison by the whole congregation, down to
the last line, which is harmonized. The effect of this is intensely
thrilling. Such a hymn is "Go down, Moses." It stirs the heart like a
trumpet call.

"Singing Johnson" was an ideal leader, and his services were in great
demand. He spent his time going about the country from one church
to another. He received his support in much the same way as the
preachers--part of a collection, food and lodging. All of his leisure
time he devoted to originating new words and melodies and new lines
for old songs. He always sang with his eyes--or, to be more exact, his
eye--closed, indicating the _tempo_ by swinging his head to and fro.
He was a great judge of the proper hymn to sing at a particular
moment; and I noticed several times, when the preacher reached a
certain climax, or expressed a certain sentiment, that Johnson broke
in with a line or two of some appropriate hymn. The speaker understood
and would pause until the singing ceased.

As I listened to the singing of these songs, the wonder of their
production grew upon me more and more. How did the men who originated
them manage to do it? The sentiments are easily accounted for; they
are mostly taken from the Bible; but the melodies, where did they come
from? Some of them so weirdly sweet, and others so wonderfully strong.
Take, for instance, "Go down, Moses." I doubt that there is a stronger
theme in the whole musical literature of the world. And so many of
these songs contain more than mere melody; there is sounded in them
that elusive undertone, the note in music which is not heard with the
ears. I sat often with the tears rolling down my cheeks and my heart
melted within me. Any musical person who has never heard a Negro
congregation under the spell of religious fervor sing these old songs
has missed one of the most thrilling emotions which the human heart
may experience. Anyone who without shedding tears can listen to
Negroes sing "Nobody knows de trouble I see, Nobody knows but Jesus"
must indeed have a heart of stone.

As yet, the Negroes themselves do not fully appreciate these old slave
songs. The educated classes are rather ashamed of them and prefer to
sing hymns from books. This feeling is natural; they are still too
close to the conditions under which the songs were produced; but
the day will come when this slave music will be the most treasured
heritage of the American Negro.

At the close of the "big meeting" I left the settlement where it was
being held, full of enthusiasm. I was in that frame of mind which, in
the artistic temperament, amounts to inspiration. I was now ready and
anxious to get to some place where I might settle down to work, and
give expression to the ideas which were teeming in my head; but I
strayed into another deviation from my path of life as I had it marked
out, which led me upon an entirely different road. Instead of going
to the nearest and most convenient railroad station, I accepted the
invitation of a young man who had been present the closing Sunday at
the meeting to drive with him some miles farther to the town in which
he taught school, and there take the train. My conversation with
this young man as we drove along through the country was
extremely interesting. He had been a student in one of the Negro
colleges--strange coincidence, in the very college, as I learned
through him, in which "Shiny" was now a professor. I was, of course,
curious to hear about my boyhood friend; and had it not been vacation
time, and that I was not sure that I should find him, I should have
gone out of my way to pay him a visit; but I determined to write to
him as soon as the school opened. My companion talked to me about his
work among the people, of his hopes and his discouragements. He was
tremendously in earnest; I might say, too much so. In fact, it may
be said that the majority of intelligent colored people are, in some
degree, too much in earnest over the race question. They assume and
carry so much that their progress is at times impeded and they are
unable to see things in their proper proportions. In many instances a
slight exercise of the sense of humor would save much anxiety of soul.
Anyone who marks the general tone of editorials in colored newspapers

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