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The Point of View by Henry James

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This etext was scanned by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1886 Macmillan and Co. edition. Proofing was by Christine
Merriman, Judith Lando-Deurvorst and Twister Dragon


by Henry James


. . . My dear child, the bromide of sodium (if that's what you call
it) proved perfectly useless. I don't mean that it did me no good,
but that I never had occasion to take the bottle out of my bag. It
might have done wonders for me if I had needed it; but I didn't,
simply because I have been a wonder myself. Will you believe that I
have spent the whole voyage on deck, in the most animated
conversation and exercise? Twelve times round the deck make a mile,
I believe; and by this measurement I have been walking twenty miles
a day. And down to every meal, if you please, where I have
displayed the appetite of a fish-wife. Of course the weather has
been lovely; so there's no great merit. The wicked old Atlantic has
been as blue as the sapphire in my only ring (a rather good one),
and as smooth as the slippery floor of Madame Galopin's dining-room.
We have been for the last three hours in sight of land, and we are
soon to enter the Bay of New York, which is said to be exquisitely
beautiful. But of course you recall it, though they say that
everything changes so fast over here. I find I don't remember
anything, for my recollections of our voyage to Europe, so many
years ago, are exceedingly dim; I only have a painful impression
that mamma shut me up for an hour every day in the state-room, and
made me learn by heart some religious poem. I was only five years
old, and I believe that as a child I was extremely timid; on the
other hand, mamma, as you know, was dreadfully severe. She is
severe to this day; only I have become indifferent; I have been so
pinched and pushed--morally speaking, bien entendu. It is true,
however, that there are children of five on the vessel today who
have been extremely conspicuous--ranging all over the ship, and
always under one's feet. Of course they are little compatriots,
which means that they are little barbarians. I don't mean that all
our compatriots are barbarous; they seem to improve, somehow, after
their first communion. I don't know whether it's that ceremony that
improves them, especially as so few of them go in for it; but the
women are certainly nicer than the little girls; I mean, of course,
in proportion, you know. You warned me not to generalise, and you
see I have already begun, before we have arrived. But I suppose
there is no harm in it so long as it is favourable. Isn't it
favourable when I say that I have had the most lovely time? I have
never had so much liberty in my life, and I have been out alone, as
you may say, every day of the voyage. If it is a foretaste of what
is to come, I shall take to that very kindly. When I say that I
have been out alone, I mean that we have always been two. But we
two were alone, so to speak, and it was not like always having
mamma, or Madame Galopin, or some lady in the pension, or the
temporary cook. Mamma has been very poorly; she is so very well on
land, it's a wonder to see her at all taken down. She says,
however, that it isn't the being at sea; it's, on the contrary,
approaching the land. She is not in a hurry to arrive; she says
that great disillusions await us. I didn't know that she had any
illusions--she's so stern, so philosophic. She is very serious; she
sits for hours in perfect silence, with her eyes fixed on the
horizon. I heard her say yesterday to an English gentleman--a very
odd Mr. Antrobus, the only person with whom she converses--that she
was afraid she shouldn't like her native land, and that she
shouldn't like not liking it. But this is a mistake--she will like
that immensely (I mean not liking it). If it should prove at all
agreeable, mamma will be furious, for that will go against her
system. You know all about mamma's system; I have explained that so
often. It goes against her system that we should come back at all;
that was MY system--I have had at last to invent one! She consented
to come only because she saw that, having no dot, I should never
marry in Europe; and I pretended to be immensely pre-occupied with
this idea, in order to make her start. In reality cela m'est
parfaitement egal. I am only afraid I shall like it too much (I
don't mean marriage, of course, but one's native land). Say what
you will, it's a charming thing to go out alone, and I have given
notice to mamma that I mean to be always en course. When I tell her
that, she looks at me in the same silence; her eye dilates, and then
she slowly closes it. It's as if the sea were affecting her a
little, though it's so beautifully calm. I ask her if she will try
my bromide, which is there in my bag; but she motions me off, and I
begin to walk again, tapping my little boot-soles upon the smooth
clean deck. This allusion to my boot-soles, by the way, is not
prompted by vanity; but it's a fact that at sea one's feet and one's
shoes assume the most extraordinary importance, so that we should
take the precaution to have nice ones. They are all you seem to see
as the people walk about the deck; you get to know them intimately,
and to dislike some of them so much. I am afraid you will think
that I have already broken loose; and for aught I know, I am writing
as a demoiselle bien-elevee should not write. I don't know whether
it's the American air; if it is, all I can say is that the American
air is very charming. It makes me impatient and restless, and I sit
scribbling here because I am so eager to arrive, and the time passes
better if I occupy myself. I am in the saloon, where we have our
meals, and opposite to me is a big round porthole, wide open, to let
in the smell of the land. Every now and then I rise a little and
look through it, to see whether we are arriving. I mean in the Bay,
you know, for we shall not come up to the city till dark. I don't
want to lose the Bay; it appears that it's so wonderful. I don't
exactly understand what it contains, except some beautiful islands;
but I suppose you will know all about that. It is easy to see that
these are the last hours, for all the people about me are writing
letters to put into the post as soon as we come up to the dock. I
believe they are dreadful at the custom-house, and you will remember
how many new things you persuaded mamma that (with my pre-occupation
of marriage) I should take to this country, where even the prettiest
girls are expected not to go unadorned. We ruined ourselves in
Paris (that is part of mamma's solemnity); mais au moins je serai
belle! Moreover, I believe that mamma is prepared to say or to do
anything that may be necessary for escaping from their odious
duties; as she very justly remarks, she can't afford to be ruined
twice. I don't know how one approaches these terrible douaniers,
but I mean to invent something very charming. I mean to say,
"Voyons, Messieurs, a young girl like me, brought up in the
strictest foreign traditions, kept always in the background by a
very superior mother--la voila; you can see for yourself!--what is
it possible that she should attempt to smuggle in? Nothing but a
few simple relics of her convent!" I won't tell them that my
convent was called the Magasin du Bon Marche. Mamma began to scold
me three days ago for insisting on so many trunks, and the truth is
that, between us, we have not fewer than seven. For relics, that's
a good many! We are all writing very long letters--or at least we
are writing a great number. There is no news of the Bay as yet.
Mr. Antrobus, mamma's friend, opposite to me, is beginning on his
ninth. He is an Honourable, and a Member of Parliament; he has
written, during the voyage, about a hundred letters, and he seems
greatly alarmed at the number of stamps he will have to buy when he
arrives. He is full of information; but he has not enough, for he
asks as many questions as mamma when she goes to hire apartments.
He is going to "look into" various things; he speaks as if they had
a little hole for the purpose. He walks almost as much as I, and he
has very big shoes. He asks questions even of me, and I tell him
again and again that I know nothing about America. But it makes no
difference; he always begins again, and, indeed, it is not strange
that he should find my ignorance incredible. "Now, how would it be
in one of your South-Western States?"--that's his favourite way of
opening conversation. Fancy me giving an account of the South-
Western States! I tell him he had better ask mamma--a little to
tease that lady, who knows no more about such places than I. Mr.
Antrobus is very big and black; he speaks with a sort of brogue; he
has a wife and ten children; he is not very romantic. But he has
lots of letters to people la-bas (I forget that we are just
arriving), and mamma, who takes an interest in him in spite of his
views (which are dreadfully advanced, and not at all like mamma's
own), has promised to give him the entree to the best society. I
don't know what she knows about the best society over here today,
for we have not kept up our connections at all, and no one will know
(or, I am afraid, care) anything about us. She has an idea that we
shall be immensely recognised; but really, except the poor little
Rucks, who are bankrupt, and, I am told, in no society at all, I
don't know on whom we can count. C'est egal. Mamma has an idea
that, whether or not we appreciate America ourselves, we shall at
least be universally appreciated. It's true that we have begun to
be, a little; you would see that by the way that Mr. Cockerel and
Mr. Louis Leverett are always inviting me to walk. Both of these
gentlemen, who are Americans, have asked leave to call upon me in
New York, and I have said, Mon Dieu, oui, if it's the custom of the
country. Of course I have not dared to tell this to mamma, who
flatters herself that we have brought with us in our trunks a
complete set of customs of our own, and that we shall only have to
shake them out a little and put them on when we arrive. If only the
two gentlemen I just spoke of don't call at the same time, I don't
think I shall be too much frightened. If they do, on the other
hand, I won't answer for it. They have a particular aversion to
each other, and they are ready to fight about poor little me. I am
only the pretext, however; for, as Mr. Leverett says, it's really
the opposition of temperaments. I hope they won't cut each other's
throats, for I am not crazy about either of them. They are very
well for the deck of a ship, but I shouldn't care about them in a
salon; they are not at all distinguished. They think they are, but
they are not; at least Mr. Louis Leverett does; Mr. Cockerel doesn't
appear to care so much. They are extremely different (with their
opposed temperaments), and each very amusing for a while; but I
should get dreadfully tired of passing my life with either. Neither
has proposed that, as yet; but it is evidently what they are coming
to. It will be in a great measure to spite each other, for I think
that au fond they don't quite believe in me. If they don't, it's
the only point on which they agree. They hate each other awfully;
they take such different views. That is, Mr. Cockerel hates Mr.
Leverett--he calls him a sickly little ass; he says that his
opinions are half affectation, and the other half dyspepsia. Mr.
Leverett speaks of Mr. Cockerel as a "strident savage," but he
declares he finds him most diverting. He says there is nothing in
which we can't find a certain entertainment, if we only look at it
in the right way, and that we have no business with either hating or
loving; we ought only to strive to understand. To understand is to
forgive, he says. That is very pretty, but I don't like the
suppression of our affections, though I have no desire to fix mine
upon Mr. Leverett. He is very artistic, and talks like an article
in some review, he has lived a great deal in Paris, and Mr. Cockerel
says that is what has made him such an idiot. That is not
complimentary to you, dear Louisa, and still less to your brilliant
brother; for Mr. Cockerel explains that he means it (the bad effect
of Paris) chiefly of the men. In fact, he means the bad effect of
Europe altogether. This, however, is compromising to mamma; and I
am afraid there is no doubt that (from what I have told him) he
thinks mamma also an idiot. (I am not responsible, you know--I have
always wanted to go home.) If mamma knew him, which she doesn't,
for she always closes her eyes when I pass on his arm, she would
think him disgusting. Mr. Leverett, however, tells me he is nothing
to what we shall see yet. He is from Philadelphia (Mr. Cockerel);
he insists that we shall go and see Philadelphia, but mamma says she
saw it in 1855, and it was then affreux. Mr. Cockerel says that
mamma is evidently not familiar with the march of improvement in
this country; he speaks of 1855 as if it were a hundred years ago.
Mamma says she knows it goes only too fast--it goes so fast that it
has time to do nothing well; and then Mr. Cockerel, who, to do him
justice, is perfectly good-natured, remarks that she had better wait
till she has been ashore and seen the improvements. Mamma rejoins
that she sees them from here, the improvements, and that they give
her a sinking of the heart. (This little exchange of ideas is
carried on through me; they have never spoken to each other.) Mr.
Cockerel, as I say, is extremely good-natured, and he carries out
what I have heard said about the men in America being very
considerate of the women. They evidently listen to them a great
deal; they don't contradict them, but it seems to me that this is
rather negative. There is very little gallantry in not
contradicting one; and it strikes me that there are some things the
men don't express. There are others on the ship whom I've noticed.
It's as if they were all one's brothers or one's cousins. But I
promised you not to generalise, and perhaps there will be more
expression when we arrive. Mr. Cockerel returns to America, after a
general tour, with a renewed conviction that this is the only
country. I left him on deck an hour ago looking at the coast-line
with an opera-glass, and saying it was the prettiest thing he had
seen in all his tour. When I remarked that the coast seemed rather
low, he said it would be all the easier to get ashore; Mr. Leverett
doesn't seem in a hurry to get ashore; he is sitting within sight of
me in a corner of the saloon--writing letters, I suppose, but
looking, from the way he bites his pen and rolls his eyes about, as
if he were composing a sonnet and waiting for a rhyme. Perhaps the
sonnet is addressed to me; but I forget that he suppresses the
affections! The only person in whom mamma takes much interest is
the great French critic, M. Lejaune, whom we have the honour to
carry with us. We have read a few of his works, though mamma
disapproves of his tendencies and thinks him a dreadful materialist.
We have read them for the style; you know he is one of the new
Academicians. He is a Frenchman like any other, except that he is
rather more quiet; and he has a gray mustache and the ribbon of the
Legion of Honour. He is the first French writer of distinction who
has been to America since De Tocqueville; the French, in such
matters, are not very enterprising. Also, he has the air of
wondering what he is doing dans cette galere. He has come with his
beau-frere, who is an engineer, and is looking after some mines, and
he talks with scarcely any one else, as he speaks no English, and
appears to take for granted that no one speaks French. Mamma would
be delighted to assure him of the contrary; she has never conversed
with an Academician. She always makes a little vague inclination,
with a smile, when he passes her, and he answers with a most
respectful bow; but it goes no farther, to mamma's disappointment.
He is always with the beau-frere, a rather untidy, fat, bearded man,
decorated, too, always smoking and looking at the feet of the
ladies, whom mamma (though she has very good feet) has not the
courage to aborder. I believe M. Lejaune is going to write a book
about America, and Mr. Leverett says it will be terrible. Mr.
Leverett has made his acquaintance, and says M. Lejaune will put him
into his book; he says the movement of the French intellect is
superb. As a general thing, he doesn't care for Academicians, but
he thinks M. Lejaune is an exception, he is so living, so personal.
I asked Mr. Cockerel what he thought of M. Lejaune's plan of writing
a book, and he answered that he didn't see what it mattered to him
that a Frenchman the more should make a monkey of himself. I asked
him why he hadn't written a book about Europe, and he said that, in
the first place, Europe isn't worth writing about, and, in the
second, if he said what he thought, people would think it was a
joke. He said they are very superstitious about Europe over here;
he wants people in America to behave as if Europe didn't exist. I
told this to Mr. Leverett, and he answered that if Europe didn't
exist America wouldn't, for Europe keeps us alive by buying our
corn. He said, also, that the trouble with America in the future
will be that she will produce things in such enormous quantities
that there won't be enough people in the rest of the world to buy
them, and that we shall be left with our productions--most of them
very hideous--on our hands. I asked him if he thought corn a
hideous production, and he replied that there is nothing more
unbeautiful than too much food. I think that to feed the world too
well, however, that will be, after all, a beau role. Of course I
don't understand these things, and I don't believe Mr. Leverett
does; but Mr. Cockerel seems to know what he is talking about, and
he says that America is complete in herself. I don't know exactly
what he means, but he speaks as if human affairs had somehow moved
over to this side of the world. It may be a very good place for
them, and Heaven knows I am extremely tired of Europe, which mamma
has always insisted so on my appreciating; but I don't think I like
the idea of our being so completely cut off. Mr. Cockerel says it
is not we that are cut off, but Europe, and he seems to think that
Europe has deserved it somehow. That may be; our life over there
was sometimes extremely tiresome, though mamma says it is now that
our real fatigues will begin. I like to abuse those dreadful old
countries myself, but I am not sure that I am pleased when others do
the same. We had some rather pretty moments there, after all; and
at Piacenza we certainly lived on four francs a day. Mamma is
already in a terrible state of mind about the expenses here; she is
frightened by what people on the ship (the few that she has spoken
to) have told her. There is one comfort, at any rate--we have spent
so much money in coming here that we shall have none left to get
away. I am scribbling along, as you see, to occupy me till we get
news of the islands. Here comes Mr. Cockerel to bring it. Yes,
they are in sight; he tells me that they are lovelier than ever, and
that I must come right up right away. I suppose you will think that
I am already beginning to use the language of the country. It is
certain that at the end of a month I shall speak nothing else. I
have picked up every dialect, wherever we have travelled; you have
heard my Platt-Deutsch and my Neapolitan. But, voyons un peu the
Bay! I have just called to Mr. Leverett to remind him of the
islands. "The islands--the islands? Ah, my dear young lady, I have
seen Capri, I have seen Ischia!" Well, so have I, but that doesn't
prevent . . . (A little later.)--I have seen the islands; they are
rather queer.


October 17, 1880.

If I felt far away from you in the middle of that deplorable
Atlantic, chere Madame, how do I feel now, in the heart of this
extraordinary city? We have arrived,--we have arrived, dear friend;
but I don't know whether to tell you that I consider that an
advantage. If we had been given our choice of coming safely to land
or going down to the bottom of the sea, I should doubtless have
chosen the former course; for I hold, with your noble husband, and
in opposition to the general tendency of modern thought, that our
lives are not our own to dispose of, but a sacred trust from a
higher power, by whom we shall be held responsible. Nevertheless,
if I had foreseen more vividly some of the impressions that awaited
me here, I am not sure that, for my daughter at least, I should not
have preferred on the spot to hand in our account. Should I not
have been less (rather than more) guilty in presuming to dispose of
HER destiny, than of my own? There is a nice point for dear M.
Galopin to settle--one of those points which I have heard him
discuss in the pulpit with such elevation. We are safe, however, as
I say; by which I mean that we are physically safe. We have taken
up the thread of our familiar pension-life, but under strikingly
different conditions. We have found a refuge in a boarding-house
which has been highly recommended to me, and where the arrangements
partake of that barbarous magnificence which in this country is the
only alternative from primitive rudeness. The terms, per week, are
as magnificent as all the rest. The landlady wears diamond ear-
rings; and the drawing-rooms are decorated with marble statues. I
should indeed be sorry to let you know how I have allowed myself to
be ranconnee; and I--should be still more sorry that it should come
to the ears of any of my good friends in Geneva, who know me less
well than you and might judge me more harshly. There is no wine
given for dinner, and I have vainly requested the person who
conducts the establishment to garnish her table more liberally. She
says I may have all the wine I want if I will order it at the
merchant's, and settle the matter with him. But I have never, as
you know, consented to regard our modest allowance of eau rougie as
an extra; indeed, I remember that it is largely to your excellent
advice that I have owed my habit of being firm on this point. There
are, however, greater difficulties than the question of what we
shall drink for dinner, chere Madame. Still, I have never lost
courage, and I shall not lose courage now. At the worst, we can re-
embark again, and seek repose and refreshment on the shores of your
beautiful lake. (There is absolutely no scenery here!) We shall
not, perhaps, in that case have achieved what we desired, but we
shall at least have made an honourable retreat. What we desire--I
know it is just this that puzzles you, dear friend; I don't think
you ever really comprehended my motives in taking this formidable
step, though you were good enough, and your magnanimous husband was
good enough, to press my hand at parting in a way that seemed to say
that you would still be with me, even if I was wrong. To be very
brief, I wished to put an end to the reclamations of my daughter.
Many Americans had assured her that she was wasting her youth in
those historic lands which it was her privilege to see so
intimately, and this unfortunate conviction had taken possession of
her. "Let me at least see for myself," she used to say; "if I
should dislike it over there as much as you promise me, so much the
better for you. In that case we will come back and make a new
arrangement at Stuttgart." The experiment is a terribly expensive
one; but you know that my devotion never has shrunk from an ordeal.
There is another point, moreover, which, from a mother to a mother,
it would be affectation not to touch upon. I remember the just
satisfaction with which you announced to me the betrothal of your
charming Cecile. You know with what earnest care my Aurora has been
educated,--how thoroughly she is acquainted with the principal
results of modern research. We have always studied together; we
have always enjoyed together. It will perhaps surprise you to hear
that she makes these very advantages a reproach to me,--represents
them as an injury to herself. "In this country," she says, "the
gentlemen have not those accomplishments; they care nothing for the
results of modern research; and it will not help a young person to
be sought in marriage that she can give an account of the last
German theory of Pessimism." That is possible; and I have never
concealed from her that it was not for this country that I had
educated her. If she marries in the United States it is, of course,
my intention that my son-in-law shall accompany us to Europe. But,
when she calls my attention more and more to these facts, I feel
that we are moving in a different world. This is more and more the
country of the many; the few find less and less place for them; and
the individual--well, the individual has quite ceased to be
recognised. He is recognised as a voter, but he is not recognised
as a gentleman--still less as a lady. My daughter and I, of course,
can only pretend to constitute a FEW! You know that I have never
for a moment remitted my pretensions as an individual, though, among
the agitations of pension-life, I have sometimes needed all my
energy to uphold them. "Oh, yes, I may be poor," I have had
occasion to say, "I may be unprotected, I may be reserved, I may
occupy a small apartment in the quatrieme, and be unable to scatter
unscrupulous bribes among the domestics; but at least I am a PERSON,
with personal rights." In this country the people have rights, but
the person has none. You would have perceived that if you had come
with me to make arrangements at this establishment. The very fine
lady who condescends to preside over it kept me waiting twenty
minutes, and then came sailing in without a word of apology. I had
sat very silent, with my eyes on the clock; Aurora amused herself
with a false admiration of the room,--a wonderful drawing-room, with
magenta curtains, frescoed walls, and photographs of the landlady's
friends--as if one cared anything about her friends! When this
exalted personage came in, she simply remarked that she had just
been trying on a dress--that it took so long to get a skirt to hang.
"It seems to take very long indeed!" I answered. "But I hope the
skirt is right at last. You might have sent for us to come up and
look at it!" She evidently didn't understand, and when I asked her
to show us her rooms, she handed us over to a negro as degingande as
herself. While we looked at them I heard her sit down to the piano
in the drawing-room; she began to sing an air from a comic opera. I
began to fear we had gone quite astray; I didn't know in what house
we could be, and was only reassured by seeing a Bible in every room.
When we came down our musical hostess expressed no hope that the
rooms had pleased us, and seemed quite indifferent to our taking
them. She would not consent, moreover, to the least diminution, and
was inflexible, as I told you, on the subject of wine. When I
pushed this point, she was so good as to observe that she didn't
keep a cabaret. One is not in the least considered; there is no
respect for one's privacy, for one's preferences, for one's
reserves. The familiarity is without limits, and I have already
made a dozen acquaintances, of whom I know, and wish to know,
nothing. Aurora tells me that she is the "belle of the boarding-
house." It appears that this is a great distinction. It brings me
back to my poor child and her prospects. She takes a very critical
view of them herself: she tells me that I have given her a false
education, and that no one will marry her today. No American will
marry her, because she is too much of a foreigner, and no foreigner
will marry her because she is too much of an American. I remind her
that scarcely a day passes that a foreigner, usually of distinction,
doesn't select an American bride, and she answers me that in these
cases the young lady is not married for her fine eyes. Not always,
I reply; and then she declares that she would marry no foreigner who
should not be one of the first of the first. You will say,
doubtless, that she should content herself with advantages that have
not been deemed insufficient for Cecile; but I will not repeat to
you the remark she made when I once made use of this argument. You
will doubtless be surprised to hear that I have ceased to argue; but
it is time I should tell you that I have at last agreed to let her
act for herself. She is to live for three months a l'Americaine,
and I am to be a mere spectator. You will feel with me that this is
a cruel position for a coeur de mere. I count the days till our
three months are over, and I know that you will join with me in my
prayers. Aurora walks the streets alone. She goes out in the
tramway; a voiture de place costs five francs for the least little
course. (I beseech you not to let it be known that I have sometimes
had the weakness . . .) My daughter is sometimes accompanied by a
gentleman--by a dozen gentlemen; she remains out for hours, and her
conduct excites no surprise in this establishment. I know but too
well the emotions it will excite in your quiet home. If you betray
us, chere Madame, we are lost; and why, after all, should any one
know of these things in Geneva? Aurora pretends that she has been
able to persuade herself that she doesn't care who knows them; but
there is a strange expression in her face, which proves that her
conscience is not at rest. I watch her, I let her go, but I sit
with my hands clasped. There is a peculiar custom in this country--
I shouldn't know how to express it in Genevese--it is called "being
attentive," and young girls are the object of the attention. It has
not necessarily anything to do with projects of marriage--though it
is the privilege only of the unmarried, and though, at the same time
(fortunately, and this may surprise you) it has no relation to other
projects. It is simply an invention by which young persons of the
two sexes pass their time together. How shall I muster courage to
tell you that Aurora is now engaged in this delassement, in company
with several gentlemen? Though it has no relation to marriage, it
happily does not exclude it, and marriages have been known to take
place in consequence (or in spite) of it. It is true that even in
this country a young lady may marry but one husband at a time,
whereas she may receive at once the attentions of several gentlemen,
who are equally entitled "admirers." My daughter, then, has
admirers to an indefinite number. You will think I am joking,
perhaps, when I tell you that I am unable to be exact--I who was
formerly l'exactitude meme. Two of these gentlemen are, to a
certain extent, old friends, having been passengers on the steamer
which carried us so far from you. One of them, still young, is
typical of the American character, but a respectable person, and a
lawyer in considerable practice. Every one in this country follows
a profession; but it must be admitted that the professions are more
highly remunerated than chez vous. Mr. Cockerel, even while I write
you, is in complete possession of my daughter. He called for her an
hour ago in a "boghey,"--a strange, unsafe, rickety vehicle, mounted
on enormous wheels, which holds two persons very near together; and
I watched her from the window take her place at his side. Then he
whirled her away, behind two little horses with terribly thin legs;
the whole equipage--and most of all her being in it--was in the most
questionable taste. But she will return, and she will return very
much as she went. It is the same when she goes down to Mr. Louis
Leverett, who has no vehicle, and who merely comes and sits with her
in the front salon. He has lived a great deal in Europe, and is
very fond of the arts, and though I am not sure I agree with him in
his views of the relation of art to life and life to art, and in his
interpretation of some of the great works that Aurora and I have
studied together, he seems to me a sufficiently serious and
intelligent young man. I do not regard him as intrinsically
dangerous; but on the other hand, he offers absolutely no
guarantees. I have no means whatever of ascertaining his pecuniary
situation. There is a vagueness on these points which is extremely
embarrassing, and it never occurs to young men to offer you a
reference. In Geneva I should not be at a loss; I should come to
you, chere Madame, with my little inquiry, and what you should not
be able to tell me would not be worth knowing. But no one in New
York can give me the smallest information about the etat de fortune
of Mr. Louis Leverett. It is true that he is a native of Boston,
where most of his friends reside; I cannot, however, go to the
expense of a journey to Boston simply to learn, perhaps, that Mr.
Leverett (the young Louis) has an income of five thousand francs.
As I say, however, he does not strike me as dangerous. When Aurora
comes back to me, after having passed an hour with the young Louis,
she says that he has described to her his emotions on visiting the
home of Shelley, or discussed some of the differences between the
Boston Temperament and that of the Italians of the Renaissance. You
will not enter into these rapprochements, and I can't blame you.
But you won't betray me, chere Madame?


September 30.

I promised to tell you how I like it, but the truth is, I have gone
to and fro so often that I have ceased to like and dislike. Nothing
strikes me as unexpected; I expect everything in its order. Then,
too, you know, I am not a critic; I have no talent for keen
analysis, as the magazines say; I don't go into the reasons of
things. It is true I have been for a longer time than usual on the
wrong side of the water, and I admit that I feel a little out of
training for American life. They are breaking me in very fast,
however. I don't mean that they bully me; I absolutely decline to
be bullied. I say what I think, because I believe that I have, on
the whole, the advantage of knowing what I think--when I think
anything--which is half the battle. Sometimes, indeed, I think
nothing at all. They don't like that over here; they like you to
have impressions. That they like these impressions to be favourable
appears to me perfectly natural; I don't make a crime to them of
that; it seems to me, on the contrary, a very amiable quality. When
individuals have it, we call them sympathetic; I don't see why we
shouldn't give nations the same benefit. But there are things I
haven't the least desire to have an opinion about. The privilege of
indifference is the dearest one we possess, and I hold that
intelligent people are known by the way they exercise it. Life is
full of rubbish, and we have at least our share of it over here.
When you wake up in the morning you find that during the night a
cartload has been deposited in your front garden. I decline,
however, to have any of it in my premises; there are thousands of
things I want to know nothing about. I have outlived the necessity
of being hypocritical; I have nothing to gain and everything to
lose. When one is fifty years old--single, stout, and red in the
face--one has outlived a good many necessities. They tell me over
here that my increase of weight is extremely marked, and though they
don't tell me that I am coarse, I am sure they think me so. There
is very little coarseness here--not quite enough, I think--though
there is plenty of vulgarity, which is a very different thing. On
the whole, the country is becoming much more agreeable. It isn't
that the people are charming, for that they always were (the best of
them, I mean, for it isn't true of the others), but that places and
things as well have acquired the art of pleasing. The houses are
extremely good, and they look so extraordinarily fresh and clean.
European interiors, in comparison, seem musty and gritty. We have a
great deal of taste; I shouldn't wonder if we should end by
inventing something pretty; we only need a little time. Of course,
as yet, it's all imitation, except, by the way, these piazzas. I am
sitting on one now; I am writing to you with my portfolio on my
knees. This broad light loggia surrounds the house with a movement
as free as the expanded wings of a bird, and the wandering airs come
up from the deep sea, which murmurs on the rocks at the end of the
lawn. Newport is more charming even than you remember it; like
everything else over here, it has improved. It is very exquisite
today; it is, indeed, I think, in all the world, the only exquisite
watering-place, for I detest the whole genus. The crowd has left it
now, which makes it all the better, though plenty of talkers remain
in these large, light, luxurious houses, which are planted with a
kind of Dutch definiteness all over the green carpet of the cliff.
This carpet is very neatly laid and wonderfully well swept, and the
sea, just at hand, is capable of prodigies of blue. Here and there
a pretty woman strolls over one of the lawns, which all touch each
other, you know, without hedges or fences; the light looks intense
as it plays upon her brilliant dress; her large parasol shines like
a silver dome. The long lines of the far shores are soft and pure,
though they are places that one hasn't the least desire to visit.
Altogether the effect is very delicate, and anything that is
delicate counts immensely over here; for delicacy, I think, is as
rare as coarseness. I am talking to you of the sea, however,
without having told you a word of my voyage. It was very
comfortable and amusing; I should like to take another next month.
You know I am almost offensively well at sea--that I breast the
weather and brave the storm. We had no storm fortunately, and I had
brought with me a supply of light literature; so I passed nine days
on deck in my sea-chair, with my heels up, reading Tauchnitz novels.
There was a great lot of people, but no one in particular, save some
fifty American girls. You know all about the American girl,
however, having been one yourself. They are, on the whole, very
nice, but fifty is too many; there are always too many. There was
an inquiring Briton, a radical M.P., by name Mr. Antrobus, who
entertained me as much as any one else. He is an excellent man; I
even asked him to come down here and spend a couple of days. He
looked rather frightened, till I told him he shouldn't be alone with
me, that the house was my brother's, and that I gave the invitation
in his name. He came a week ago; he goes everywhere; we have heard
of him in a dozen places. The English are very simple, or at least
they seem so over here. Their old measurements and comparisons
desert them; they don't know whether it's all a joke, or whether
it's too serious by half. We are quicker than they, though we talk
so much more slowly. We think fast, and yet we talk as deliberately
as if we were speaking a foreign language. They toss off their
sentences with an air of easy familiarity with the tongue, and yet
they misunderstand two-thirds of what people say to them. Perhaps,
after all, it is only OUR thoughts they think slowly; they think
their own often to a lively tune enough. Mr. Antrobus arrived here
at eight o'clock in the morning; I don't know how he managed it; it
appears to be his favourite hour; wherever we have heard of him he
has come in with the dawn. In England he would arrive at 5.30 p.m.
He asks innumerable questions, but they are easy to answer, for he
has a sweet credulity. He made me rather ashamed; he is a better
American than so many of us; he takes us more seriously than we take
ourselves. He seems to think that an oligarchy of wealth is growing
up here, and he advised me to be on my guard against it. I don't
know exactly what I can do, but I promised him to look out. He is
fearfully energetic; the energy of the people here is nothing to
that of the inquiring Briton. If we should devote half the energy
to building up our institutions that they devote to obtaining
information about them, we should have a very satisfactory country.
Mr. Antrobus seemed to think very well of us, which surprised me, on
the whole, because, say what one will, it's not so agreeable as
England. It's very horrid that this should be; and it's delightful,
when one thinks of it, that some things in England are, after all,
so disagreeable. At the same time, Mr. Antrobus appeared to be a
good deal pre-occupied with our dangers. I don't understand, quite,
what they are; they seem to me so few, on a Newport piazza, on this
bright, still day. But, after all, what one sees on a Newport
piazza is not America; it's the back of Europe! I don't mean to say
that I haven't noticed any dangers since my return; there are two or
three that seem to me very serious, but they are not those that Mr.
Antrobus means. One, for instance, is that we shall cease to speak
the English language, which I prefer so much to any other. It's
less and less spoken; American is crowding it out. All the children
speak American, and as a child's language it's dreadfully rough.
It's exclusively in use in the schools; all the magazines and
newspapers are in American. Of course, a people of fifty millions,
who have invented a new civilisation, have a right to a language of
their own; that's what they tell me, and I can't quarrel with it.
But I wish they had made it as pretty as the mother-tongue, from
which, after all, it is more or less derived. We ought to have
invented something as noble as our country. They tell me it's more
expressive, and yet some admirable things have been said in the
Queen's English. There can be no question of the Queen over here,
of course, and American no doubt is the music of the future. Poor
dear future, how "expressive" you'll be! For women and children, as
I say, it strikes one as very rough; and moreover, they don't speak
it well, their own though it be. My little nephews, when I first
came home, had not gone back to school, and it distressed me to see
that, though they are charming children, they had the vocal
inflections of little news-boys. My niece is sixteen years old; she
has the sweetest nature possible; she is extremely well-bred, and is
dressed to perfection. She chatters from morning till night; but it
isn't a pleasant sound! These little persons are in the opposite
case from so many English girls, who know how to speak, but don't
know how to talk. My niece knows how to talk, but doesn't know how
to speak. A propos of the young people, that is our other danger;
the young people are eating us up,--there is nothing in America but
the young people. The country is made for the rising generation;
life is arranged for them; they are the destruction of society.
People talk of them, consider them, defer to them, bow down to them.
They are always present, and whenever they are present there is an
end to everything else. They are often very pretty; and physically,
they are wonderfully looked after; they are scoured and brushed,
they wear hygienic clothes, they go every week to the dentist's.
But the little boys kick your shins, and the little girls offer to
slap your face! There is an immense literature entirely addressed
to them, in which the kicking of shins and the slapping of faces is
much recommended. As a woman of fifty, I protest. I insist on
being judged by my peers. It's too late, however, for several
millions of little feet are actively engaged in stamping out
conversation, and I don't see how they can long fail to keep it
under. The future is theirs; maturity will evidently be at an
increasing discount. Longfellow wrote a charming little poem called
"The Children's Hour," but he ought to have called it "The
Children's Century." And by children, of course, I don't mean
simple infants; I mean everything of less than twenty. The social
importance of the young American increases steadily up to that age,
and then it suddenly stops. The young girls, of course, are more
important than the lads; but the lads are very important too. I am
struck with the way they are known and talked about; they are little
celebrities; they have reputations and pretentions; they are taken
very seriously. As for the young girls, as I said just now, there
are too many. You will say, perhaps, that I am jealous of them,
with my fifty years and my red face. I don't think so, because I
don't suffer; my red face doesn't frighten people away, and I always
find plenty of talkers. The young girls themselves, I believe, like
me very much; and as for me, I delight in the young girls. They are
often very pretty; not so pretty as people say in the magazines, but
pretty enough. The magazines rather overdo that; they make a
mistake. I have seen no great beauties, but the level of prettiness
is high, and occasionally one sees a woman completely handsome. (As
a general thing, a pretty person here means a person with a pretty
face. The figure is rarely mentioned, though there are several good
ones.) The level of prettiness is high, but the level of
conversation is low; that's one of the signs of its being a young
ladies' country. There are a good many things young ladies can't
talk about; but think of all the things they can, when they are as
clever as most of these. Perhaps one ought to content one's self
with that measure, but it's difficult if one has lived for a while
by a larger one. This one is decidedly narrow; I stretch it
sometimes till it cracks. Then it is that they call me coarse,
which I undoubtedly am, thank Heaven! People's talk is of course
much more chatiee over here than in Europe; I am struck with that
wherever I go. There are certain things that are never said at all,
certain allusions that are never made. There are no light stories,
no propos risques. I don't know exactly what people talk about, for
the supply of scandal is small, and it's poor in quality. They
don't seem, however, to lack topics. The young girls are always
there; they keep the gates of conversation; very little passes that
is not innocent. I find we do very well without wickedness; and,
for myself, as I take my ease, I don't miss my liberties. You
remember what I thought of the tone of your table in Florence, and
how surprised you were when I asked you why you allowed such things.
You said they were like the courses of the seasons; one couldn't
prevent them; also that to change the tone of your table you would
have to change so many other things. Of course, in your house one
never saw a young girl; I was the only spinster, and no one was
afraid of me! Of course, too, if talk is more innocent in this
country, manners are so, to begin with. The liberty of the young
people is the strongest proof of it. The young girls are let loose
in the world, and the world gets more good of it than ces
demoiselles get harm. In your world--excuse me, but you know what I
mean--this wouldn't do at all. Your world is a sad affair, and the
young ladies would encounter all sorts of horrors. Over here,
considering the way they knock about, they remain wonderfully
simple, and the reason is that society protects them instead of
setting them traps. There is almost no gallantry, as you understand
it; the flirtations are child's play. People have no time for
making love; the men, in particular, are extremely busy. I am told
that sort of thing consumes hours; I have never had any time for it
myself. If the leisure class should increase here considerably,
there may possibly be a change; but I doubt it, for the women seem
to me in all essentials exceedingly reserved. Great superficial
frankness, but an extreme dread of complications. The men strike me
as very good fellows. I think that at bottom they are better than
the women, who are very subtle, but rather hard. They are not so
nice to the men as the men are to them; I mean, of course, in
proportion, you know. But women are not so nice as men, "anyhow,"
as they say here. The men, of course, are professional, commercial;
there are very few gentlemen pure and simple. This personage needs
to be very well done, however, to be of great utility; and I suppose
you won't pretend that he is always well done in your countries.
When he's not, the less of him the better. It's very much the same,
however, with the system on which the young girls in this country
are brought up. (You see, I have to come back to the young girls.)
When it succeeds, they are the most charming possible; when it
doesn't, the failure is disastrous. If a girl is a very nice girl,
the American method brings her to great completeness--makes all her
graces flower; but if she isn't nice, it makes her exceedingly
disagreeable--elaborately and fatally perverts her. In a word, the
American girl is rarely negative, and when she isn't a great success
she is a great warning. In nineteen cases out of twenty, among the
people who know how to live--I won't say what THEIR proportion is--
the results are highly satisfactory. The girls are not shy, but I
don't know why they should be, for there is really nothing here to
be afraid of. Manners are very gentle, very humane; the democratic
system deprives people of weapons that every one doesn't equally
possess. No one is formidable; no one is on stilts; no one has
great pretensions or any recognised right to be arrogant. I think
there is not much wickedness, and there is certainly less cruelty
than with you. Every one can sit; no one is kept standing. One is
much less liable to be snubbed, which you will say is a pity. I
think it is to a certain extent; but, on the other hand, folly is
less fatuous, in form, than in your countries; and as people
generally have fewer revenges to take, there is less need of their
being stamped on in advance. The general good nature, the social
equality, deprive them of triumphs on the one hand, and of
grievances on the other. There is extremely little impertinence;
there is almost none. You will say I am describing a terrible
society,--a society without great figures or great social prizes.
You have hit it, my dear; there are no great figures. (The great
prize, of course, in Europe, is the opportunity to be a great
figure.) You would miss these things a good deal,--you who delight
to contemplate greatness; and my advice to you, of course, is never
to come back. You would miss the small people even more than the
great; every one is middle-sized, and you can never have that
momentary sense of tallness which is so agreeable in Europe. There
are no brilliant types; the most important people seem to lack
dignity. They are very bourgeois; they make little jokes; on
occasion they make puns; they have no form; they are too good-
natured. The men have no style; the women, who are fidgety and talk
too much, have it only in their coiffure, where they have it
superabundantly. But I console myself with the greater bonhomie.
Have you ever arrived at an English country-house in the dusk of a
winter's day? Have you ever made a call in London, when you knew
nobody but the hostess? People here are more expressive, more
demonstrative and it is a pleasure, when one comes back (if one
happens, like me, to be no one in particular), to feel one's social
value rise. They attend to you more; they have you on their mind;
they talk to you; they listen to you. That is, the men do; the
women listen very little--not enough. They interrupt; they talk too
much; one feels their presence too much as a sound. I imagine it is
partly because their wits are quick, and they think of a good many
things to say; not that they always say such wonders. Perfect
repose, after all, is not ALL self-control; it is also partly
stupidity. American women, however, make too many vague
exclamations--say too many indefinite things. In short, they have a
great deal of nature. On the whole, I find very little affectation,
though we shall probably have more as we improve. As yet, people
haven't the assurance that carries those things off; they know too
much about each other. The trouble is that over here we have all
been brought up together. You will think this a picture of a
dreadfully insipid society; but I hasten to add that it's not all so
tame as that. I have been speaking of the people that one meets
socially; and these are the smallest part of American life. The
others--those one meets on a basis of mere convenience--are much
more exciting; they keep one's temper in healthy exercise. I mean
the people in the shops, and on the railroads; the servants, the
hackmen, the labourers, every one of whom you buy anything or have
occasion to make an inquiry. With them you need all your best
manners, for you must always have enough for two. If you think we
are TOO democratic, taste a little of American life in these walks,
and you will be reassured. This is the region of inequality, and
you will find plenty of people to make your courtesy to. You see it
from below--the weight of inequality is on your own back. You asked
me to tell you about prices; they are simply dreadful.


October 17.

My Dear Susan--I sent you a post-card on the 13th and a native
newspaper yesterday; I really have had no time to write. I sent you
the newspaper partly because it contained a report--extremely
incorrect--of some remarks I made at the meeting of the Association
of the Teachers of New England; partly because it is so curious that
I thought it would interest you and the children. I cut out some
portions which I didn't think it would be well for the children to
see; the parts remaining contain the most striking features. Please
point out to the children the peculiar orthography, which probably
will be adopted in England by the time they are grown up; the
amusing oddities of expression, etc. Some of them are intentional;
you will have heard of the celebrated American humour, etc. (remind
me, by the way, on my return to Thistleton, to give you a few
examples of it); others are unconscious, and are perhaps on that
account the more diverting. Point out to the children the
difference (in so far as you are sure that you yourself perceive
it). You must excuse me if these lines are not very legible; I am
writing them by the light of a railway lamp, which rattles above my
left ear; it being only at odd moments that I can find time to look
into everything that I wish to. You will say that this is a very
odd moment, indeed, when I tell you that I am in bed in a sleeping-
car. I occupy the upper berth (I will explain to you the
arrangement when I return), while the lower forms the couch--the
jolts are fearful--of an unknown female. You will be very anxious
for my explanation; but I assure you that it is the custom of the
country. I myself am assured that a lady may travel in this manner
all over the Union (the Union of States) without a loss of
consideration. In case of her occupying the upper berth I presume
it would be different; but I must make inquiries on this point.
Whether it be the fact that a mysterious being of another sex has
retired to rest behind the same curtains, or whether it be the swing
of the train, which rushes through the air with very much the same
movement as the tail of a kite, the situation is, at any rate, so
anomalous that I am unable to sleep. A ventilator is open just over
my head, and a lively draught, mingled with a drizzle of cinders,
pours in through this ingenious orifice. (I will describe to you
its form on my return.) If I had occupied the lower berth I should
have had a whole window to myself, and by drawing back the blind (a
safe proceeding at the dead of night), I should have been able, by
the light of an extraordinary brilliant moon, to see a little better
what I write. The question occurs to me, however,--Would the lady
below me in that case have ascended to the upper berth? (You know
my old taste for contingent inquiries.) I incline to think (from
what I have seen) that she would simply have requested me to
evacuate my own couch. (The ladies in this country ask for anything
they want.) In this case, I suppose, I should have had an extensive
view of the country, which, from what I saw of it before I turned in
(while the lady beneath me was going to bed), offered a rather
ragged expanse, dotted with little white wooden houses, which looked
in the moonshine like pasteboard boxes. I have been unable to
ascertain as precisely as I should wish by whom these modest
residences are occupied; for they are too small to be the homes of
country gentlemen, there is no peasantry here, and (in New England,
for all the corn comes from the far West) there are no yeomen nor
farmers. The information that one receives in this country is apt
to be rather conflicting, but I am determined to sift the mystery to
the bottom. I have already noted down a multitude of facts bearing
upon the points that interest me most--the operation of the school-
boards, the co-education of the sexes, the elevation of the tone of
the lower classes, the participation of the latter in political
life. Political life, indeed, is almost wholly confined to the
lower middle class, and the upper section of the lower class. In
some of the large towns, indeed, the lowest order of all
participates considerably--a very interesting phrase, to which I
shall give more attention. It is very gratifying to see the taste
for public affairs pervading so many social strata; but the
indifference of the gentry is a fact not to be lightly considered.
It may be objected, indeed, that there are no gentry; and it is very
true that I have not yet encountered a character of the type of Lord
Bottomley,--a type which I am free to confess I should be sorry to
see disappear from our English system, if system it may be called,
where so much is the growth of blind and incoherent forces. It is
nevertheless obvious that an idle and luxurious class exists in this
country, and that it is less exempt than in our own from the
reproach of preferring inglorious ease to the furtherance of liberal
ideas. It is rapidly increasing, and I am not sure that the
indefinite growth of the dilettante spirit, in connection with large
and lavishly-expended wealth, is an unmixed good, even in a society
in which freedom of development has obtained so many interesting
triumphs. The fact that this body is not represented in the
governing class, is perhaps as much the result of the jealousy with
which it is viewed by the more earnest workers as of its own--I dare
not, perhaps, apply a harsher term than--levity. Such, at least, is
the impression I have gathered in the Middle States and in New
England; in the South-west, the North-west, and the far West, it
will doubtless be liable to correction. These divisions are
probably new to you; but they are the general denomination of large
and flourishing communities, with which I hope to make myself at
least superficially acquainted. The fatigue of traversing, as I
habitually do, three or four hundred miles at a bound, is, of
course, considerable; but there is usually much to inquire into by
the way. The conductors of the trains, with whom I freely converse,
are often men of vigorous and original minds, and even of some
social eminence. One of them, a few days ago, gave me a letter of
introduction to his brother-in-law, who is president of a Western
University. Don't have any fear, therefore, that I am not in the
best society! The arrangements for travelling are, as a general
thing, extremely ingenious, as you will probably have inferred from
what I told you above; but it must at the same time be conceded that
some of them are more ingenious than happy. Some of the facilities,
with regard to luggage, the transmission of parcels, etc., are
doubtless very useful when explained, but I have not yet succeeded
in mastering the intricacies. There are, on the other hand, no cabs
and no porters, and I have calculated that I have myself carried my
impedimenta--which, you know, are somewhat numerous, and from which
I cannot bear to be separated--some seventy, or eighty miles. I
have sometimes thought it was a great mistake not to bring
Plummeridge; he would have been useful on such occasions. On the
other hand, the startling question would have presented itself--Who
would have carried Plummeridge's portmanteau? He would have been
useful, indeed, for brushing and packing my clothes, and getting me
my tub; I travel with a large tin one--there are none to be obtained
at the inns--and the transport of this receptacle often presents the
most insoluble difficulties. It is often, too, an object of
considerable embarrassment in arriving at private houses, where the
servants have less reserve of manner than in England; and to tell
you the truth, I am by no means certain at the present moment that
the tub has been placed in the train with me. "On board" the train
is the consecrated phrase here; it is an allusion to the tossing and
pitching of the concatenation of cars, so similar to that of a
vessel in a storm. As I was about to inquire, however, Who would
get Plummeridge HIS tub, and attend to his little comforts? We
could not very well make our appearance, on coming to stay with
people, with TWO of the utensils I have named; though, as regards a
single one, I have had the courage, as I may say, of a life-long
habit. It would hardly be expected that we should both use the
same; though there have been occasions in my travels, as to which I
see no way of blinking the fact, that Plummeridge would have had to
sit down to dinner with me. Such a contingency would completely
have unnerved him; and, on the whole, it was doubtless the wiser
part to leave him respectfully touching his hat on the tender in the
Mersey. No one touches his hat over here, and though it is
doubtless the sign of a more advanced social order, I confess that
when I see poor Plummeridge again, this familiar little gesture--
familiar, I mean, only in the sense of being often seen--will give
me a measurable satisfaction. You will see from what I tell you
that democracy is not a mere word in this country, and I could give
you many more instances of its universal reign. This, however, is
what we come here to look at, and, in so far as there seems to be
proper occasion, to admire; though I am by no means sure that we can
hope to establish within an appreciable time a corresponding change
in the somewhat rigid fabric of English manners. I am not even
prepared to affirm that such a change is desirable; you know this is
one of the points on which I do not as yet see my way to going as
far as Lord B-- . I have always held that there is a certain social
ideal of inequality as well as of equality, and if I have found the
people of this country, as a general thing, quite equal to each
other, I am not sure that I am prepared to go so far as to say that,
as a whole, they are equal to--excuse that dreadful blot! The
movement of the train and the precarious nature of the light--it is
close to my nose, and most offensive--would, I flatter myself, long
since have got the better of a less resolute diarist! What I was
not prepared for was the very considerable body of aristocratic
feeling that lurks beneath this republican simplicity. I have on
several occasions been made the confidant of these romantic but
delusive vagaries, of which the stronghold appears to be the Empire
City,--a slang name for New York. I was assured in many quarters
that that locality, at least, is ripe for a monarchy, and if one of
the Queen's sons would come and talk it over, he would meet with the
highest encouragement. This information was given me in strict
confidence, with closed doors, as it were; it reminded me a good
deal of the dreams of the old Jacobites, when they whispered their
messages to the king across the water. I doubt, however, whether
these less excusable visionaries will be able to secure the services
of a Pretender, for I fear that in such a case he would encounter a
still more fatal Culloden. I have given a good deal of time, as I
told you, to the educational system, and have visited no fewer than
one hundred and forty--three schools and colleges. It is
extraordinary, the number of persons who are being educated in this
country; and yet, at the same time, the tone of the people is less
scholarly than one might expect. A lady, a few days since,
described to me her daughter as being always "on the go," which I
take to be a jocular way of saying that the young lady was very fond
of paying visits. Another person, the wife of a United States
senator, informed me that if I should go to Washington in January, I
should be quite "in the swim." I inquired the meaning of the
phrase, but her explanation made it rather more than less ambiguous.
To say that I am on the go describes very accurately my own
situation. I went yesterday to the Pognanuc High School, to hear
fifty-seven boys and girls recite in unison a most remarkable ode to
the American flag, and shortly afterward attended a ladies' lunch,
at which some eighty or ninety of the sex were present. There was
only one individual in trousers--his trousers, by the way, though he
brought a dozen pair, are getting rather seedy. The men in America
do not partake of this meal, at which ladies assemble in large
numbers to discuss religions, political, and social topics. These
immense female symposia (at which every delicacy is provided) are
one of the most striking features of American life, and would seem
to prove that men are not so indispensable in the scheme of creation
as they sometimes suppose. I have been admitted on the footing of
an Englishman--"just to show you some of our bright women," the
hostess yesterday remarked. ("Bright" here has the meaning of
INTELLECTUAL.) I perceived, indeed, a great many intellectual
foreheads. These curious collations are organised according to age.
I have also been present as an inquiring stranger at several "girls'
lunches," from which married ladies are rigidly excluded, but where
the fair revellers are equally numerous and equally bright. There
is a good deal I should like to tell you about my study of the
educational question, but my position is somewhat cramped, and I
must dismiss it briefly. My leading impression is that the children
in this country are better educated than the adults. The position
of a child is, on the whole, one of great distinction. There is a
popular ballad of which the refrain, if I am not mistaken, is "Make
me a child again, just for to-night!" and which seems to express the
sentiment of regret for lost privileges. At all events they are a
powerful and independent class, and have organs, of immense
circulation, in the press. They are often extremely "bright." I
have talked with a great many teachers, most of them lady-teachers,
as they are called in this country. The phrase does not mean
teachers of ladies, as you might suppose, but applies to the sex of
the instructress, who often has large classes of young men under her
control. I was lately introduced to a young woman of twenty-three,
who occupies the chair of Moral Philosophy and Belles-Lettres in a
Western college, and who told me with the utmost frankness that she
was adored by the undergraduates. This young woman was the daughter
of a petty trader in one of the South western States, and had
studied at Amanda College, in Missourah, an institution at which
young people of the two sexes pursue their education together. She
was very pretty and modest, and expressed a great desire to see
something of English country life, in consequence of which I made
her promise to come down to Thistleton in the event of her crossing
the Atlantic. She is not the least like Gwendolen or Charlotte, and
I am not prepared to say how they would get on with her; the boys
would probably do better. Still, I think her acquaintance would be
of value to Miss Bumpus, and the two might pass their time very
pleasantly in the school-room. I grant you freely that those I have
seen here are much less comfortable than the school-room at
Thistleton. Has Charlotte, by the way, designed any more texts for
the walls? I have been extremely interested in my visit to
Philadelphia, where I saw several thousand little red houses with
white steps, occupied by intelligent artizans, and arranged (in
streets) on the rectangular system. Improved cooking-stoves,
rosewood pianos, gas, and hot water, aesthetic furniture, and
complete sets of the British Essayists. A tramway through every
street; every block of equal length; blocks and houses
scientifically lettered and numbered. There is absolutely no loss
of time, and no need of looking for anything, or, indeed, at
anything. The mind always on one's object; it is very delightful.



The scales have turned, my sympathetic Harvard, and the beam that
has lifted you up has dropped me again on this terribly hard spot.
I am extremely sorry to have missed you in London, but I received
your little note, and took due heed of your injunction to let you
know how I got on. I don't get on at all, my dear Harvard--I am
consumed with the love of the farther shore. I have been so long
away that I have dropped out of my place in this little Boston
world, and the shallow tides of New England life have closed over
it. I am a stranger here, and I find it hard to believe that I ever
was a native. It is very hard, very cold, very vacant. I think of
your warm, rich Paris; I think of the Boulevard St. Michel on the
mild spring evenings. I see the little corner by the window (of the
Cafe de la Jeunesse)--where I used to sit; the doors are open, the
soft deep breath of the great city comes in. It is brilliant, yet
there is a kind of tone, of body, in the brightness; the mighty
murmur of the ripest civilisation in the world comes in; the dear
old peuple de Paris, the most interesting people in the world, pass
by. I have a little book in my pocket; it is exquisitely printed, a
modern Elzevir. It is a lyric cry from the heart of young France,
and is full of the sentiment of form. There is no form here, dear
Harvard; I had no idea how little form there was. I don't know what
I shall do; I feel so undraped, so uncurtained, so uncushioned; I
feel as if I were sitting in the centre of a mighty "reflector." A
terrible crude glare is over everything; the earth looks peeled and
excoriated; the raw heavens seem to bleed with the quick hard light.
I have not got back my rooms in West Cedar Street; they are occupied
by a mesmeric healer. I am staying at an hotel, and it is very
dreadful. Nothing for one's self; nothing for one's preferences and
habits. No one to receive you when you arrive; you push in through
a crowd, you edge up to a counter; you write your name in a horrible
book, where every one may come and stare at it and finger it. A man
behind the counter stares at you in silence; his stare seems to say
to you, "What the devil do YOU want?" But after this stare he never
looks at you again. He tosses down a key at you; he presses a bell;
a savage Irishman arrives. "Take him away," he seems to say to the
Irishman; but it is all done in silence; there is no answer to your
own speech,--"What is to be done with me, please?" "Wait and you
will see," the awful silence seems to say. There is a great crowd
around you, but there is also a great stillness; every now and then
you hear some one expectorate. There are a thousand people in this
huge and hideous structure; they feed together in a big white-walled
room. It is lighted by a thousand gas-jets, and heated by cast-iron
screens, which vomit forth torrents of scorching air. The
temperature is terrible; the atmosphere is more so; the furious
light and heat seem to intensify the dreadful definiteness. When
things are so ugly, they should not be so definite; and they are
terribly ugly here. There is no mystery in the corners; there is no
light and shade in the types. The people are haggard and joyless;
they look as if they had no passions, no tastes, no senses. They
sit feeding in silence, in the dry hard light; occasionally I hear
the high firm note of a child. The servants are black and familiar;
their faces shine as they shuffle about; there are blue tones in
their dark masks. They have no manners; they address you, but they
don't answer you; they plant themselves at your elbow (it rubs their
clothes as you eat), and watch you as if your proceedings were
strange. They deluge you with iced water; it's the only thing they
will bring you; if you look round to summon them, they have gone for
more. If you read the newspaper--which I don't, gracious Heaven! I
can't--they hang over your shoulder and peruse it also. I always
fold it up and present it to them; the newspapers here are indeed
for an African taste. There are long corridors defended by gusts of
hot air; down the middle swoops a pale little girl on parlour
skates. "Get out of my way!" she shrieks as she passes; she has
ribbons in her hair and frills on her dress; she makes the tour of
the immense hotel. I think of Puck, who put a girdle round the
earth in forty minutes, and wonder what he said as he flitted by. A
black waiter marches past me, bearing a tray, which he thrusts into
my spine as he goes. It is laden with large white jugs; they tinkle
as he moves, and I recognise the unconsoling fluid. We are dying of
iced water, of hot air, of gas. I sit in my room thinking of these
things--this room of mine which is a chamber of pain. The walls are
white and bare, they shine in the rays of a horrible chandelier of
imitation bronze, which depends from the middle of the ceiling. It
flings a patch of shadow on a small table covered with white marble,
of which the genial surface supports at the present moment the sheet
of paper on which I address you; and when I go to bed (I like to
read in bed, Harvard) it becomes an object of mockery and torment.
It dangles at inaccessible heights; it stares me in the face; it
flings the light upon the covers of my book, but not upon the page--
the little French Elzevir that I love so well. I rise and put out
the gas, and then my room becomes even lighter than before. Then a
crude illumination from the hall, from the neighbouring room, pours
through the glass openings that surmount the two doors of my
apartment. It covers my bed, where I toss and groan; it beats in
through my closed lids; it is accompanied by the most vulgar, though
the most human, sounds. I spring up to call for some help, some
remedy; but there is no bell, and I feel desolate and weak. There
is only a strange orifice in the wall, through which the traveller
in distress may transmit his appeal. I fill it with incoherent
sounds, and sounds more incoherent yet come back to me. I gather at
last their meaning; they appear to constitute a somewhat stern
inquiry. A hollow impersonal voice wishes to know what I want, and
the very question paralyses me. I want everything--yet I want
nothing--nothing this hard impersonality can give! I want my little
corner of Paris; I want the rich, the deep, the dark Old World; I
want to be out of this horrible place. Yet I can't confide all this
to that mechanical tube; it would be of no use; a mocking laugh
would come up from the office. Fancy appealing in these sacred,
these intimate moments, to an "office"; fancy calling out into
indifferent space for a candle, for a curtain! I pay incalculable
sums in this dreadful house, and yet I haven't a servant to wait
upon me. I fling myself back on my couch, and for a long time
afterward the orifice in the wall emits strange murmurs and
rumblings. It seems unsatisfied, indignant; it is evidently
scolding me for my vagueness. My vagueness, indeed, dear Harvard!
I loathe their horrible arrangements; isn't that definite enough?
You asked me to tell you whom I see, and what I think of my friends.
I haven't very many; I don't feel at all en rapport. The people are
very good, very serious, very devoted to their work; but there is a
terrible absence of variety of type. Every one is Mr. Jones, Mr.
Brown; and every one looks like Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown. They are
thin; they are diluted in the great tepid bath of Democracy! They
lack completeness of identity; they are quite without modelling.
No, they are not beautiful, my poor Harvard; it must be whispered
that they are not beautiful. You may say that they are as beautiful
as the French, as the Germans; but I can't agree with you there.
The French, the Germans, have the greatest beauty of all--the beauty
of their ugliness--the beauty of the strange, the grotesque. These
people are not even ugly; they are only plain. Many of the girls
are pretty; but to be only pretty is (to my sense) to be plain. Yet
I have had some talk. I have seen a woman. She was on the steamer,
and I afterward saw her in New York--a peculiar type, a real
personality; a great deal of modelling, a great deal of colour, and
yet a great deal of mystery. She was not, however, of this country;
she was a compound of far-off things. But she was looking for
something here--like me. We found each other, and for a moment that
was enough. I have lost her now; I am sorry, because she liked to
listen to me. She has passed away; I shall not see her again. She
liked to listen to me; she almost understood!


Washington, October 5.

I give you my little notes; you must make allowances for haste, for
bad inns, for the perpetual scramble, for ill-humour. Everywhere
the same impression--the platitude of unbalanced democracy
intensified by the platitude of the spirit of commerce. Everything
on an immense scale--everything illustrated by millions of examples.
My brother-in-law is always busy; he has appointments, inspections,
interviews, disputes. The people, it appears, are incredibly sharp
in conversation, in argument; they wait for you in silence at the
corner of the road, and then they suddenly discharge their revolver.
If you fall, they empty your pockets; the only chance is to shoot
them first. With that, no amenities, no preliminaries, no manners,
no care for the appearance. I wander about while my brother is
occupied; I lounge along the streets; I stop at the corners; I look
into the shops; je regarde passer les femmes. It's an easy country
to see; one sees everything there is; the civilisation is skin deep;
you don't have to dig. This positive, practical, pushing
bourgeoisie is always about its business; it lives in the street, in
the hotel, in the train; one is always in a crowd--there are
seventy-five people in the tramway. They sit in your lap; they
stand on your toes; when they wish to pass they simply push you.
Everything in silence; they know that silence is golden, and they
have the worship of gold. When the conductor wishes your fare he
gives you a poke, very serious, without a word. As for the types--
but there is only one--they are all variations of the same--the
commis-voyageur minus the gaiety. The women are often pretty; you
meet the young ones in the streets, in the trains, in search of a
husband. They look at you frankly, coldly, judicially, to see if
you will serve; but they don't want what you might think (du moins
on me l'assure); they only want the husband. A Frenchman may
mistake; he needs to be sure he is right, and I always make sure.
They begin at fifteen; the mother sends them out; it lasts all day
(with an interval for dinner at a pastry-cook's); sometimes it goes
on for ten years. If they haven't found the husband then, they give
it up; they make place for the cadettes, as the number of women is
enormous. No salons, no society, no conversation; people don't
receive at home; the young girls have to look for the husband where
they can. It is no disgrace not to find him--several have never
done so. They continue to go about unmarried--from the force of
habit, from the love of movement, without hopes, without regret--no
imagination, no sensibility, no desire for the convent. We have
made several journeys--few of less than three hundred miles.
Enormous trains, enormous waggons, with beds and lavatories, and
negroes who brush you with a big broom, as if they were grooming a
horse. A bounding movement, a roaring noise, a crowd of people who
look horribly tired, a boy who passes up and down throwing pamphlets
and sweetmeats into your lap--that is an American journey. There
are windows in the waggons--enormous, like everything else; but
there is nothing to see. The country is a void--no features, no
objects, no details, nothing to show you that you are in one place
more than another. Aussi, you are not in one place, you are
everywhere, anywhere; the train goes a hundred miles an hour. The
cities are all the same; little houses ten feet high, or else big
ones two hundred; tramways, telegraph-poles, enormous signs, holes
in the pavement, oceans of mud, commis-voyageurs, young ladies
looking for the husband. On the other hand, no beggars and no
cocottes--none, at least, that you see. A colossal mediocrity,
except (my brother-in-law tells me) in the machinery, which is
magnificent. Naturally, no architecture (they make houses of wood
and of iron), no art, no literature, no theatre. I have opened some
of the books; mais ils ne se laissent pas lire. No form, no matter,
no style, no general ideas! they seem to be written for children and
young ladies. The most successful (those that they praise most) are
the facetious; they sell in thousands of editions. I have looked
into some of the most vantes; but you need to be forewarned, to know
that they are amusing; des plaisanteries de croquemort. They have a
novelist with pretensions to literature, who writes about the chase
for the husband and the adventures of the rich Americans in our
corrupt old Europe, where their primaeval candour puts the Europeans
to shame. C'est proprement ecrit; but it's terribly pale. What
isn't pale is the newspapers--enormous, like everything else (fifty
columns of advertisements), and full of the commerages of a
continent. And such a tone, grand Dieu! The amenities, the
personalities, the recriminations, are like so many coups de
revolver. Headings six inches tall; correspondences from places one
never heard of; telegrams from Europe about Sarah Bernhardt; little
paragraphs about nothing at all; the menu of the neighbour's dinner;
articles on the European situation a pouffer de rire; all the
tripotage of local politics. The reportage is incredible; I am
chased up and down by the interviewers. The matrimonial
infelicities of M. and Madame X. (they give the name), tout au long,
with every detail--not in six lines, discreetly veiled, with an art
of insinuation, as with us; but with all the facts (or the
fictions), the letters, the dates, the places, the hours. I open a
paper at hazard, and I find au beau milieu, a propos of nothing, the
announcement--"Miss Susan Green has the longest nose in Western New
York." Miss Susan Green (je me renseigne) is a celebrated
authoress; and the Americans have the reputation of spoiling their
women. They spoil them a coups de poing. We have seen few
interiors (no one speaks French); but if the newspapers give an idea
of the domestic moeurs, the moeurs must be curious. The passport is
abolished, but they have printed my signalement in these sheets,--
perhaps for the young ladies who look for the husband. We went one
night to the theatre; the piece was French (they are the only ones),
but the acting was American--too American; we came out in the
middle. The want of taste is incredible. An Englishman whom I met
tells me that even the language corrupts itself from day to day; an
Englishman ceases to understand. It encourages me to find that I am
not the only one. There are things every day that one can't
describe. Such is Washington, where we arrived this morning, coming
from Philadelphia. My brother-in-law wishes to see the Bureau of
Patents, and on our arrival he went to look at his machines, while I
walked about the streets and visited the Capitol! The human machine
is what interests me most. I don't even care for the political--for
that's what they call their Government here--"the machine." It
operates very roughly, and some day, evidently, it will explode. It
is true that you would never suspect that they have a government;
this is the principal seat, but, save for three or four big
buildings, most of them affreux, it looks like a settlement of
negroes. No movement, no officials, no authority, no embodiment of
the state. Enormous streets, comme toujours, lined with little red
houses where nothing ever passes but the tramway. The Capitol--a
vast structure, false classic, white marble, iron and stucco, which
has assez grand air--must be seen to be appreciated. The goddess of
liberty on the top, dressed in a bear's skin; their liberty over
here is the liberty of bears. You go into the Capitol as you would
into a railway station; you walk about as you would in the Palais
Royal. No functionaries, no door-keepers, no officers, no uniforms,
no badges, no restrictions, no authority--nothing but a crowd of
shabby people circulating in a labyrinth of spittoons. We are too
much governed, perhaps, in France; but at least we have a certain
incarnation of the national conscience, of the national dignity.
The dignity is absent here, and I am told that the conscience is an
abyss. "L'etat c'est moi" even--I like that better than the
spittoons. These implements are architectural, monumental; they are
the only monuments. En somme, the country is interesting, now that
we too have the Republic; it is the biggest illustration, the
biggest warning. It is the last word of democracy, and that word
is--flatness. It is very big, very rich, and perfectly ugly. A
Frenchman couldn't live here; for life with us, after all, at the
worst is a sort of appreciation. Here, there is nothing to
appreciate. As for the people, they are the English MINUS the
conventions. You can fancy what remains. The women, pourtant, are
sometimes--rather well turned. There was one at Philadelphia--I
made her acquaintance by accident--whom it is probable I shall see
again. She is not looking for the husband; she has already got one.
It was at the hotel; I think the husband doesn't matter. A
Frenchman, as I have said, may mistake, and he needs to be sure he
is right. Aussi, I always make sure!


October 25.

I ought to have written to you long before this, for I have had your
last excellent letter for four months in my hands. The first half
of that time I was still in Europe; the last I have spent on my
native soil. I think, therefore, my silence is owing to the fact
that over there I was too miserable to write, and that here I have
been too happy. I got back the 1st of September--you will have seen
it in the papers. Delightful country, where one sees everything in
the papers--the big, familiar, vulgar, good-natured, delightful
papers, none of which has any reputation to keep up for anything but
getting the news! I really think that has had as much to do as
anything else with my satisfaction at getting home--the difference
in what they call the "tone of the press." In Europe it's too
dreary--the sapience, the solemnity, the false respectability, the
verbosity, the long disquisitions on superannuated subjects. Here
the newspapers are like the railroad trains, which carry everything
that comes to the station, and have only the religion of
punctuality. As a woman, however, you probably detest them; you
think they are (the great word) vulgar. I admitted it just now, and
I am very happy to have an early opportunity to announce to you that
that idea has quite ceased to have any terrors for me. There are
some conceptions to which the female mind can never rise. Vulgarity
is a stupid, superficial, question-begging accusation, which has
become today the easiest refuge of mediocrity. Better than anything
else, it saves people the trouble of thinking, and anything which
does that, succeeds. You must know that in these last three years
in Europe I have become terribly vulgar myself; that's one service
my travels have rendered me. By three years in Europe I mean three
years in foreign parts altogether, for I spent several months of
that time in Japan, India, and the rest of the East. Do you
remember when you bade me good-bye in San Francisco, the night
before I embarked for Yokohama? You foretold that I should take
such a fancy to foreign life that America would never see me more,
and that if YOU should wish to see me (an event you were good enough
to regard as possible), you would have to make a rendezvous in Paris
or in Rome. I think we made one (which you never kept), but I shall
never make another for those cities. It was in Paris, however, that
I got your letter; I remember the moment as well as if it were (to
my honour) much more recent. You must know that, among many places
I dislike, Paris carries the palm. I am bored to death there; it's
the home of every humbug. The life is full of that false comfort
which is worse than discomfort, and the small, fat, irritable
people, give me the shivers. I had been making these reflections
even more devoutly than usual one very tiresome evening toward the
beginning of last summer, when, as I re-entered my hotel at ten
o'clock, the little reptile of a portress handed me your gracious
lines. I was in a villainous humour. I had been having an over-
dressed dinner in a stuffy restaurant, and had gone from there to a
suffocating theatre, where, by way of amusement, I saw a play in
which blood and lies were the least of the horrors. The theatres
over there are insupportable; the atmosphere is pestilential.
People sit with their elbows in your sides; they squeeze past you
every half-hour. It was one of my bad moments; I have a great many
in Europe. The conventional perfunctory play, all in falsetto,
which I seemed to have seen a thousand times; the horrible faces of
the people; the pushing, bullying ouvreuse, with her false
politeness, and her real rapacity, drove me out of the place at the
end of an hour; and, as it was too early to go home, I sat down
before a cafe on the Boulevard, where they served me a glass of
sour, watery beer. There on the Boulevard, in the summer night,
life itself was even uglier than the play, and it wouldn't do for me
to tell you what I saw. Besides, I was sick of the Boulevard, with
its eternal grimace, and the deadly sameness of the article de
Paris, which pretends to be so various--the shop-windows a
wilderness of rubbish, and the passers-by a procession of manikins.
Suddenly it came over me that I was supposed to be amusing myself--
my face was a yard long--and that you probably at that moment were
saying to your husband: "He stays away so long! What a good time
he must be having!" The idea was the first thing that had made me
smile for a month; I got up and walked home, reflecting, as I went,
that I was "seeing Europe," and that, after all, one MUST see
Europe. It was because I had been convinced of this that I came
out, and it is because the operation has been brought to a close
that I have been so happy for the last eight weeks. I was very
conscientious about it, and, though your letter that night made me
abominably homesick, I held out to the end, knowing it to be once
for all. I sha'n't trouble Europe again; I shall see America for
the rest of my days. My long delay has had the advantage that now,
at least, I can give you my impressions--I don't mean of Europe;
impressions of Europe are easy to get--but of this country, as it
strikes the re-instated exile. Very likely you'll think them queer;
but keep my letter, and twenty years hence they will be quite
commonplace. They won't even be vulgar. It was very deliberate, my
going round the world. I knew that one ought to see for one's self,
and that I should have eternity, so to speak, to rest. I travelled
energetically; I went everywhere and saw everything; took as many
letters as possible, and made as many acquaintances. In short, I
held my nose to the grindstone. The upshot of it all is that I have
got rid of a superstition. We have so many, that one the less--
perhaps the biggest of all--makes a real difference in one's
comfort. The superstition in question--of course you have it--is
that there is no salvation but through Europe. Our salvation is
here, if we have eyes to see it, and the salvation of Europe into
the bargain; that is, if Europe is to be saved, which I rather
doubt. Of course you'll call me a bird of freedom, a braggart, a
waver of the stars and stripes; but I'm in the delightful position
of not minding in the least what any one calls me. I haven't a
mission; I don't want to preach; I have simply arrived at a state of
mind; I have got Europe off my back. You have no idea how it
simplifies things, and how jolly it makes me feel. Now I can live;
now I can talk. If we wretched Americans could only say once for
all, "Oh, Europe be hanged!" we should attend much better to our
proper business. We have simply to live our life, and the rest will
look after itself. You will probably inquire what it is that I like
better over here, and I will answer that it's simply--life.
Disagreeables for disagreeables, I prefer our own. The way I have
been bored and bullied in foreign parts, and the way I have had to
say I found it pleasant! For a good while this appeared to be a
sort of congenital obligation, but one fine day it occurred to me
that there was no obligation at all, and that it would ease me
immensely to admit to myself that (for me, at least) all those
things had no importance. I mean the things they rub into you in
Europe; the tiresome international topics, the petty politics, the
stupid social customs, the baby-house scenery. The vastness and
freshness of this American world, the great scale and great pace of
our development, the good sense and good nature of the people,
console me for there being no cathedrals and no Titians. I hear
nothing about Prince Bismarck and Gambetta, about the Emperor
William and the Czar of Russia, about Lord Beaconsfield and the
Prince of Wales. I used to get so tired of their Mumbo-Jumbo of a
Bismarck, of his secrets and surprises, his mysterious intentions
and oracular words. They revile us for our party politics; but what
are all the European jealousies and rivalries, their armaments and
their wars, their rapacities and their mutual lies, but the
intensity of the spirit of party? what question, what interest, what
idea, what need of mankind, is involved in any of these things?
Their big, pompous armies, drawn up in great silly rows, their gold
lace, their salaams, their hierarchies, seem a pastime for children;
there's a sense of humour and of reality over here that laughs at
all that. Yes, we are nearer the reality--we are nearer what they
will all have to come to. The questions of the future are social
questions, which the Bismarcks and Beaconsfields are very much
afraid to see settled; and the sight of a row of supercilious
potentates holding their peoples like their personal property, and
bristling all over, to make a mutual impression, with feathers and
sabres, strikes us as a mixture of the grotesque and the abominable.
What do we care for the mutual impressions of potentates who amuse
themselves with sitting on people? Those things are their own
affair, and they ought to be shut up in a dark room to have it out
together. Once one feels, over here, that the great questions of
the future are social questions, that a mighty tide is sweeping the
world to democracy, and that this country is the biggest stage on
which the drama can be enacted, the fashionable European topics seem
petty and parochial. They talk about things that we have settled
ages ago, and the solemnity with which they propound to you their
little domestic embarrassments makes a heavy draft on one's good
nature. In England they were talking about the Hares and Rabbits
Bill, about the extension of the County Franchise, about the
Dissenters' Burials, about the Deceased Wife's Sister, about the
abolition of the House of Lords, about heaven knows what ridiculous
little measure for the propping-up of their ridiculous little
country. And they call US provincial! It is hard to sit and look
respectable while people discuss the utility of the House of Lords,
and the beauty of a State Church, and it's only in a dowdy musty
civilisation that you'll find them doing such things. The lightness
and clearness of the social air, that's the great relief in these
parts. The gentility of bishops, the propriety of parsons, even the
impressiveness of a restored cathedral, give less of a charm to life
than that. I used to be furious with the bishops and parsons, with
the humbuggery of the whole affair, which every one was conscious
of, but which people agreed not to expose, because they would be
compromised all round. The convenience of life over here, the quick
and simple arrangements, the absence of the spirit of routine, are a
blessed change from the stupid stiffness with which I struggled for
two long years. There were people with swords and cockades, who
used to order me about; for the simplest operation of life I had to
kootoo to some bloated official. When it was a question of my doing
a little differently from others, the bloated official gasped as if
I had given him a blow on the stomach; he needed to take a week to
think of it. On the other hand, it's impossible to take an American
by surprise; he is ashamed to confess that he has not the wit to do
a thing that another man has had the wit to think of. Besides being
as good as his neighbour, he must therefore be as clever--which is
an affliction only to people who are afraid he may be cleverer. If
this general efficiency and spontaneity of the people--the union of
the sense of freedom with the love of knowledge--isn't the very
essence of a high civilisation, I don't know what a high
civilisation is. I felt this greater ease on my first railroad
journey--felt the blessing of sitting in a train where I could move
about, where I could stretch my legs, and come and go, where I had a
seat and a window to myself, where there were chairs, and tables,
and food, and drink. The villainous little boxes on the European
trains, in which you are stuck down in a corner, with doubled-up
knees, opposite to a row of people--often most offensive types, who
stare at you for ten hours on end--these were part of my two years'
ordeal. The large free way of doing things here is everywhere a
pleasure. In London, at my hotel, they used to come to me on
Saturday to make me order my Sunday's dinner, and when I asked for a
sheet of paper, they put it into the bill. The meagreness, the
stinginess, the perpetual expectation of a sixpence, used to
exasperate me. Of course, I saw a great many people who were
pleasant; but as I am writing to you, and not to one of them, I may
say that they were dreadfully apt to be dull. The imagination among
the people I see here is more flexible; and then they have the
advantage of a larger horizon. It's not bounded on the north by the
British aristocracy, and on the south by the scrutin de liste. (I
mix up the countries a little, but they are not worth the keeping
apart.) The absence of little conventional measurements, of little
cut-and-dried judgments, is an immense refreshment. We are more
analytic, more discriminating, more familiar with realities. As for
manners, there are bad manners everywhere, but an aristocracy is bad
manners organised. (I don't mean that they may not be polite among
themselves, but they are rude to every one else.) The sight of all
these growing millions simply minding their business, is impressive
to me,--more so than all the gilt buttons and padded chests of the
Old World; and there is a certain powerful type of "practical"
American (you'll find him chiefly in the West) who doesn't brag as I
do (I'm not practical), but who quietly feels that he has the Future
in his vitals--a type that strikes me more than any I met in your
favourite countries. Of course you'll come back to the cathedrals
and Titians, but there's a thought that helps one to do without
them--the thought that though there's an immense deal of plainness,
there's little misery, little squalor, little degradation. There is
no regular wife-beating class, and there are none of the stultified
peasants of whom it takes so many to make a European noble. The
people here are more conscious of things; they invent, they act,
they answer for themselves; they are not (I speak of social matters)
tied up by authority and precedent. We shall have all the Titians
by and by, and we shall move over a few cathedrals. You had better
stay here if you want to have the best. Of course, I am a roaring
Yankee; but you'll call me that if I say the least, so I may as well
take my ease, and say the most. Washington's a most entertaining
place; and here at least, at the seat of government, one isn't
overgoverned. In fact, there's no government at all to speak of; it
seems too good to be true. The first day I was here I went to the
Capitol, and it took me ever so long to figure to myself that I had
as good a right there as any one else--that the whole magnificent
pile (it IS magnificent, by the way) was in fact my own. In Europe
one doesn't rise to such conceptions, and my spirit had been broken
in Europe. The doors were gaping wide--I walked all about; there
were no door-keepers, no officers, nor flunkeys--not even a
policeman to be seen. It seemed strange not to see a uniform, if
only as a patch of colour. But this isn't government by livery.
The absence of these things is odd at first; you seem to miss
something, to fancy the machine has stopped. It hasn't, though; it
only works without fire and smoke. At the end of three days this
simple negative impression--the fact is, that there are no soldiers
nor spies, nothing but plain black coats--begins to affect the
imagination, becomes vivid, majestic, symbolic. It ends by being
more impressive than the biggest review I saw in Germany. Of
course, I'm a roaring Yankee; but one has to take a big brush to
copy a big model. The future is here, of course; but it isn't only
that--the present is here as well. You will complain that I don't
give you any personal news; but I am more modest for myself than for
my country. I spent a month in New York, and while I was there I
saw a good deal of a rather interesting girl who came over with me
in the steamer, and whom for a day or two I thought I should like to
marry. But I shouldn't. She has been spoiled by Europe!


January 9.

I told you (after we landed) about my agreement with mamma--that I
was to have my liberty for three months, and if at the end of this
time I shouldn't have made a good use of it, I was to give it back
to her. Well, the time is up today, and I am very much afraid I
haven't made a good use of it. In fact, I haven't made any use of
it at all--I haven't got married, for that is what mamma meant by
our little bargain. She has been trying to marry me in Europe, for
years, without a dot, and as she has never (to the best of my
knowledge) even come near it, she thought at last that, if she were
to leave it to me, I might do better. I couldn't certainly do
worse. Well, my dear, I have done very badly--that is, I haven't
done at all. I haven't even tried. I had an idea that this affair
came of itself over here; but it hasn't come to me. I won't say I
am disappointed, for I haven't, on the whole, seen any one I should
like to marry. When you marry people over here, they expect you to
love them, and I haven't seen any one I should like to love. I
don't know what the reason is, but they are none of them what I have
thought of. It may be that I have thought of the impossible; and
yet I have seen people in Europe whom I should have liked to marry.
It is true, they were almost always married to some one else. What
I AM disappointed in is simply having to give back my liberty. I
don't wish particularly to be married; and I do wish to do as I
like--as I have been doing for the last month. All the same, I am
sorry for poor mamma, as nothing has happened that she wished to
happen. To begin with, we are not appreciated, not even by the
Rucks, who have disappeared, in the strange way in which people over
here seem to vanish from the world. We have made no sensation; my
new dresses count for nothing (they all have better ones); our
philological and historical studies don't show. We have been told
we might do better in Boston; but, on the other hand, mamma hears
that in Boston the people only marry their cousins. Then mamma is
out of sorts because the country is exceedingly dear and we have
spent all our money. Moreover, I have neither eloped, nor been
insulted, nor been talked about, nor--so far as I know--deteriorated
in manners or character; so that mamma is wrong in all her
previsions. I think she would have rather liked me to be insulted.
But I have been insulted as little as I have been adored. They
don't adore you over here; they only make you think they are going
to. Do you remember the two gentlemen who were on the ship, and
who, after we arrived here, came to see me a tour de role? At first
I never dreamed they were making love to me, though mamma was sure
it must be that; then, as it went on a good while, I thought perhaps
it WAS that; and I ended by seeing that it wasn't anything! It was
simply conversation; they are very fond of conversation over here.
Mr. Leverett and Mr. Cockerel disappeared one fine day, without the
smallest pretension to having broken my heart, I am sure, though it
only depended on me to think they had! All the gentlemen are like
that; you can't tell what they mean; everything is very confused;
society appears to consist of a sort of innocent jilting. I think,
on the whole, I AM a little disappointed--I don't mean about one's
not marrying; I mean about the life generally. It seems so
different at first, that you expect it will be very exciting; and
then you find that, after all, when you have walked out for a week
or two by yourself, and driven out with a gentleman in a buggy,
that's about all there is of it, as they say here. Mamma is very
angry at not finding more to dislike; she admitted yesterday that,
once one has got a little settled, the country has not even the
merit of being hateful. This has evidently something to do with her
suddenly proposing three days ago that we should go to the West.
Imagine my surprise at such an idea coming from mamma! The people
in the pension--who, as usual, wish immensely to get rid of her--
have talked to her about the West, and she has taken it up with a
kind of desperation. You see, we must do something; we can't simply
remain here. We are rapidly being ruined, and we are not--so to
speak--getting married. Perhaps it will be easier in the West; at
any rate, it will be cheaper, and the country will have the
advantage of being more hateful. It is a question between that and
returning to Europe, and for the moment mamma is balancing. I say
nothing: I am really indifferent; perhaps I shall marry a pioneer.
I am just thinking how I shall give back my liberty. It really
won't be possible; I haven't got it any more; I have given it away
to others. Mamma may recover it, if she can, from THEM! She comes
in at this moment to say that we must push farther--she has decided
for the West. Wonderful mamma! It appears that my real chance is
for a pioneer--they have sometimes millions. But, fancy us in the

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