Produced by Eric Eldred, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
BY W. D. HOWELLS
[Illustration: HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT]
I. METEOROLOGICAL EMOTIONS
II. CIVIC AND SOCIAL COMPARISONS, MOSTLY ODIOUS
III. SHOWS AND SIDE-SHOWS OF STATE
IV. THE DUN YEAR’S BRILLIANT FLOWER
V. THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF THE STREETS
VI. SOME MISGIVINGS AS TO THE AMERICAN INVASION
VII. IN THE GALLERY OF THE COMMONS
VIII. THE MEANS OF SOJOURN
IX. CERTAIN TRAITS OF THE LONDON SPRINGTIME
X. SOME VOLUNTARY AND INVOLUNTARY SIGHTSEEING
XI. GLIMPSES OF THE LOWLY AND THE LOWLIER
XII. TWICE-SEEN SIGHTS AND HALF-FANCIED FACTS
XIII. AN AFTERNOON AT HAMPTON COURT
XIV. A SUNDAY MORNING IN THE COUNTRY
XV. FISHING FOR WHITEBAIT
XVI. HENLEY DAY
XVII. AMERICAN ORIGINS–MOSTLY NORTHERN
XVIII. AMERICAN ORIGINS–MOSTLY SOUTHERN
XIX. ASPECTS AND INTIMATIONS
XX. PARTING GUESTS
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
FLEET STREET AND ST. DUNSTAN’S CHURCH
THE CARRIAGES DRAWN UP BESIDE THE SACRED CLOSE
SUNDAY AFTERNOON, HYDE PARK
A BLOCK IN THE STRAND
ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
THE HORSE GUARDS, WHITEHALL
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE AND CLOCK TOWER
A HOUSE-BOAT ON THE THAMES AT HENLEY
THE CROWD OF SIGHT-SEERS AT HENLEY
THE TOWER OF LONDON
ST. OLAVE’S, TOOLEY STREET
THE ANCIENT CHURCH OF ST. MAGNUS
THE EAST INDIA HOUSE OF CHARLES LAMB’S TIME
CHURCH OF THE DUTCH REFUGEES
BOW-BELLS (ST. MARY-LE-BOW, CHEAPSIDE)
STAPLE INN, HOLBORN
CLIFFORD’S INN HALL
ANCIENT CHURCH OF ST. MARTINS-IN-THE-FIELDS
HYDE PARK IN OCTOBER
Whoever carries a mental kodak with him (as I suspect I was in the habit of doing long before I knew it) must be aware of the uncertain value of the different exposures. This can be determined only by the process of developing, which requires a dark room and other apparatus not always at hand; and so much depends upon the process that it might be well if it could always be left to some one who makes a specialty of it, as in the case of the real amateur photographer. Then one’s faulty impressions might be so treated as to yield a pictorial result of interest, or frankly thrown away if they showed hopeless to the instructed eye. Otherwise, one must do one’s own developing, and trust the result, whatever it is, to the imaginative kindness of the reader, who will surely, if he is the right sort of reader, be able to sharpen the blurred details, to soften the harsh lights, and blend the shadows in a subordination giving due relief to the best meaning of the print. This is what I fancy myself to be doing now, and if any one shall say that my little pictures are superficial, I shall not be able to gainsay him. I can only answer that most pictures represent the surfaces of things; but at the same time I can fully share the disappointment of those who would prefer some such result as the employment of the Roentgen rays would have given, if applied to certain aspects of the London world.
Of a world so vast, only small parts can be known to a life-long dweller. To the sojourner scarcely more will vouchsafe itself than to the passing stranger, and it is chiefly to home-keeping folk who have never broken their ignorance of London that one can venture to speak with confidence from the cumulative misgiving which seems to sum the impressions of many sojourns of differing lengths and dates. One could have used the authority of a profound observer after the first few days in 1861 and 1865, but the experience of weeks stretching to months in 1882 and 1883, clouded rather than cleared the air through which one earliest saw one’s London; and the successive pauses in 1894 and 1897, with the longest and latest stays in 1904, have but served to confirm one in the diffident inconclusion on all important points to which I hope the pages following will bear witness.
What appears to be a fact, fixed and absolute amid a shimmer of self- question, is that any one coming to London in the beginning of April, after devious delays in the South and West of England, is destined to have printed upon his mental films a succession of meteorological changes quite past computation. Yet if one were as willing to be honest as one is willing to be graphic, one would allow that probably the weather on the other side of the Atlantic was then behaving with quite as swift and reckless caprice. The difference is that at home, having one’s proper business, one leaves the weather to look after its own affairs in its own way; but being cast upon the necessary idleness of sojourn abroad, one becomes critical, becomes censorious. If I were to be a little honester still, I should confess that I do not know of any place where the month of April can be meaner, more _poison_, upon occasion, than in New York. Of course it has its moments of relenting, of showing that warm, soft, winning phase which is the reverse of its obverse shrewishness, when the heart melts to it in a grateful tenderness for the wide, high, blue sky, the flood of white light, the joy of the flocking birds, and the transport of the buds which you can all but hear bursting in an eager rapture. It is a sudden glut of delight, a great, wholesale emotion of pure joy, filling the soul to overflowing, which the more scrupulously adjusted meteorology of England is incapable of at least so instantly imparting. Our weather is of public largeness and universal application, and is perhaps rather for the greatest good of the greatest number; admirable for the seed-time and harvest, and for the growing crops in the seasons between. The English weather is of a more private quality, and apportioned to the personal preference, or the personal endurance. It is as if it were influenced by the same genius which operates the whole of English life, and allows each to identify himself as the object of specific care, irrespective of the interests of the mass. This may be a little too fanciful, and I do not insist that it is scientific or even sociological. Yet I think the reader who rejects it might do worse than agree with me that the first impression of a foreign country visited or revisited is stamped in a sense of the weather and the season.
Nothing made me so much at home in England as reading, one day, that there was a lower or a higher pressure in a part of Scotland, just as I might have read of a lower or a higher pressure in the region of the lakes. “Now,” I said to myself, “we shall have something like real weather, the weather that is worth telegraphing ahead, and is going to be decisively this or that.” But I could not see that the weather following differed from the weather we had been having. It was the same small, individual weather, offered as it were in samples of warm, cold, damp and dry, but mostly cold and damp, especially in-doors. The day often opened gray and cloudy, but by-and-by you found that the sun was unobtrusively shining; then it rained, and there was rather a bitter wind; but presently it was sunny again, and you felt secure of the spring, for the birds were singing: the birds of literature, the lark, the golden-billed blackbird, the true robin, and the various finches; and round and over all the rooks were calling like voices in a dream. Full of this certainty of spring you went in-doors, and found it winter.
If you can keep out-of-doors in England you are very well, and that is why the English, who have been philosophizing their climate for a thousand and some odd years, keep out-of-doors so much. When they go indoors they take all the outer air they can with them, instinctively realizing that they will be more comfortable with it than in the atmosphere awaiting them. If their houses could be built reversible, so as to be turned inside out in some weathers, one would be very comfortable in them. Lowell used whimsically to hold that the English rain did not wet you, and he might have argued that the English cold would not chill you if only you stayed out-of-doors in it.
Why will not travellers be honest with foreign countries? Is it because they think they may some day come back? For my part, I am going to be heroic, and say that the in-doors cold in England is constant suffering to the American born. It is not that there is no sizzling or crackling radiator, no tropic-breathing register; but that the grate in most of the houses that the traveler sees, the public-houses namely, seems to have shrunken to a most sordid meanness of size. In Exeter, for example, where there is such a beautiful cathedral, one found a bedroom grate of the capacity of a quart pot, and the heating capabilities of a glowworm. I might say the same of the Plymouth grate, but not quite the same of the grates of Bath or Southampton; if I pause before arriving at the grate of London, it is because daring must stop somewhere. I think it is probable that the American, if he stayed long enough, would heed the injunction to suffer and be strong from the cold, as the Englishman has so largely done, but I am not sure. At one point of my devious progress to the capital I met an Englishman who had spent ten years in Canada, and who constrained me to a mild deprecation by the wrath with which he denounced the in-doors cold he had found everywhere at home. He said that England was a hundred, five hundred, years behind in such matters; and I could not deny that, even when cowering over the quart pot to warm the hands and face, one was aware of a gelid mediaeval back behind one. To be warm all round in an English house is a thing impossible, at least to the traveller, who finds the natives living in what seems to him a whorl of draughts. In entering his own room he is apt to find the window has been put down, but this is not merely to let in some of the outside warmth; it is also to make a current of air to the open door. Even if the window has not been put down, it has always so much play in its frame, to allow for swelling from the damp, that in anything like dry weather the cold whistles round it, and you do not know which way to turn your mediaeval back.
In the corridors of one of the provincial hotels there were radiators, but not hot ones, and in a dining-room where they were hot the natives found them oppressive, while the foreigners were warming their fingers on the bottoms of their plates. Yet it is useless for these to pretend that the suffering they experience has not apparently resulted in the strength they see. Our contemporary ancestors are a splendid-looking race, in the higher average, and if in the lower average they often look pinched and stunted, why, we are not ourselves giants without exception. The ancestral race does often look stunted and poor; persons of small build and stature abound; and nature is
“So careful of the single type”
of beefy Briton as to show it very rarely. But in the matter of complexion, if we count that a proof of health, we are quite out of it in comparison with the English, and beside them must look like a nation of invalids. There are few English so poor as not, in youth at least, to afford cheeks of a redness which all our money could not buy with us. I do not say the color does not look a little overdone in cases, or that the violent explosion of pinks and roses, especially in the cheeks of small children, does not make one pause in question whether paste or putty might not be more tasteful. But it is best not to be too critical. Putty and paste, apart from association, are not pretty tints, and pinks and roses are; and the English children look not only fresher but sturdier and healthier than ours. Whether they are really so I do not know; but I doubt if the English live longer than we for living less comfortably. The lower classes seem always to have colds; the middle classes, rheumatism; and the upper, gout, by what one sees or hears. Rheumatism one might almost say (or quite, if one did not mind what one said) is universal in England, and all ranks of society have the facilities for it in the in-doors cold in which they otherwise often undeniably flourish. At the end, it is a question of whether you would rather be warm and well, or cold and well; we choose the first course and they choose the last.
If we leave this question apart, I think it will be the experience of the careful observer that there is a summit of healthful looks in England, which we do not touch in America, whatever the large table-land or foot-hill average we reach; and in like manner there is an exceptional distinction of presence as one encounters it, rarely enough, in the London streets, which one never encounters with us. I am not envying the one, or at least not regretting the other. Distinction is the one thing for which I think humanity certainly pays too much; only, in America, we pay too much for too many other things to take any great comfort in our want of distinction. I own the truth without grief or shame, while I enjoy the sight of distinction in England as I enjoy other spectacles for which I cannot help letting the English pay too much. I was not appreciably the poorer myself, perhaps I was actually the richer, in seeing, one fine chill Sunday afternoon, in the aristocratic region where I was taking my walk, the encounter of an elderly gentleman and lady who bowed to each other on the pavement before me, and then went and came their several ways. In him I saw that his distinction was passive and resided largely in his drab spats, but hers I beheld active, positive, as she marched my way with the tall cane that helped her steps, herself tall in proportion, with a head, ashen gray, held high, and a straight well-fitted figure dressed in such keeping that there was nothing for the eye to dwell on in her various black. She looked not only authoritative; people often do that with us; she looked authorized; she had been empowered by the vested rights and interests to look so her whole life; one could not be mistaken in her, any more than in the black trees and their electric-green buds in the high-fenced square, or in the vast, high, heavy, handsome houses where, in the cellary or sepulchral cold, she would presently resume the rheumatic pangs of which the comparative warmth of the outer air had momentarily relieved her stately bulk.
But what is this? While I am noting the terrors of the English clime, they have all turned themselves into allures and delights. There have come three or four days, since I arrived in London, of so fine and mellow a warmth, of skies so tenderly blue, and so heaped with such soft masses of white clouds, that one wonders what there was ever to complain of. In the parks and in the gardened spaces which so abound, the leaves have grown perceptibly, and the grass thickened so that you can smell it, if you cannot hear it, growing. The birds insist, and in the air is that miraculous lift, as if nature, having had this banquet of the year long simmering, had suddenly taken the lid off, to let you perceive with every gladdening sense what a feast you were going to have presently in the way of summer. From the delectable vision rises a subtile haze, which veils the day just a little from its own loveliness, and lies upon the sighing and expectant city like the substance of a dream made visible. It has the magic to transmute you to this substance yourself, so that while you dawdle afoot, or whisk by in your hansom, or rumble earthquakingly aloft on your omnibus-top, you are aware of being a part, very dim, very subtile, of the passer’s blissful consciousness. It is flattering, but you feel like warning him not to go in-doors, or he will lose you and all the rest of it; for having tried it yourself you know that it is still winter within the house walls, and will not be April there till well into June.
CIVIC AND SOCIAL COMPARISONS, MOSTLY ODIOUS
It might be, somewhat overhardily, advanced that there is no such thing as positive fact, but only relative fact. The mind, in an instinctive perception of this hazardous truth, clings to contrast as the only basis of inference, and in now taking my tenth or twentieth look at London I have been careful to keep about me a pocket vision of New York, so as to see what London is like by making constantly sure what it is not like. A pocket vision, say, of Paris, would not serve the same purpose. That is a city of a legal loveliness, of a beauty obedient to a just municipal control, of a grandeur studied and authorized in proportion and relation to the design of a magnificent entirety; it is a capital nobly realized on lines nobly imagined. But New York and London may always be intelligibly compared because they are both the effect of an indefinite succession of anarchistic impulses, sometimes correcting and sometimes promoting, or at best sometimes annulling one another. Each has been mainly built at the pleasure of the private person, with the community now and then swooping down upon him, and turning him out of house and home to the common advantage. Nothing but our racial illogicality has saved us from the effect of our racial anarchy in the social structure as well as the material structure, but if we could see London and New York as lawless in the one way as in the other, we should perhaps see how ugly they collectively are.
The sum of such involuntary reflection with me has been the perception that London was and is and shall be, and New York is and shall be, but has hardly yet been. New York is therefore one-third less morally, as she is one-third less numerically, than London. In her future she has no past, but only a present to retrieve; though perhaps a present like hers is enough. She is also one less architecturally than London; she is two- thirds as splendid, as grand, as impressive. In fact, if I more closely examine my pocket vision, I am afraid that I must hedge from this modest claim, for we have as yet nothing to compare with at least a half of London magnificence, whatever we may have in the seventeen or eighteen hundred years that shall bring us of her actual age. As we go fast in all things, we may then surpass her; but this is not certain, for in her more deliberate way she goes fast, too. In the mean time the materials of comparison, as they lie dispersed in the pocket vision, seem few. The sky-scrapers, Brooklyn Bridge, Madison Square Garden, and some vast rocketing hotels offer themselves rather shrinkingly for the contrast with those miles of imperial and municipal architecture which in London make you forget the leagues of mean little houses, and remember the palaces, the law-courts, the great private mansions, the dignified and shapely flats, the large department stores, the immense hotels, the bridges, the monuments of every kind.
One reason, I think, why London is so much more striking is in the unbroken line which the irregularly divided streets often present to the passer. Here is a chance for architecture to extend, while with us it has only a chance to tower, on the short up-town block which is the extreme dimension of our proudest edifice, public or private. Another reason is in the London atmosphere, which deepens and heightens all the effects, while the lunar bareness of our perspectives mercilessly reveals the facts. After you leave the last cliff behind on lower Broadway the only incident of the long, straight avenue which distracts you from the varied commonplace of the commercial structures on either hand is the loveliness of Grace Church; but in the Strand and Fleet Street you have a succession of edifices which overwhelm you with the sense of a life in which trade is only one of the incidents. If the day is such as a lover of the picturesque would choose, or may rather often have without choosing, when the scene is rolled in vaporous smoke, and a lurid gloom hovers from the hidden sky, you have an effect of majesty and grandeur that no other city can offer. As the shadow momently thickens or thins in the absence or the presence of the yellowish-green light, the massive structures are shown or hid, and the meaner houses render the rifts between more impressively chasmal. The tremendous volume of life that flows through the narrow and winding channels past the dim cliffs and pinnacles, and the lower banks which the lesser buildings form, is such that the highest tide of Broadway or Fifth Avenue seems a scanty ebb beside it. The swelling and towering omnibuses, the huge trucks and wagons and carriages, the impetuous hansoms and the more sobered four-wheelers, the pony-carts, donkey-carts, handcarts, and bicycles which fearlessly find their way amid the turmoil, with foot-passengers winding in and out, and covering the sidewalks with their multitude, give the effect of a single monstrous organism, which writhes swiftly along the channel where it had run in the figure of a flood till you were tired of that metaphor. You are now a molecule of that vast organism, as you sit under your umbrella on your omnibus-top, with the public waterproof apron across your knees, and feel in supreme degree the insensate exultation of being part of the largest thing of its kind in the world, or perhaps the universe.
[Illustration: FLEET STREET AND ST. DUNSTAN’S CHURCH]
It is an emotion which supports the American visitor even against the immensity he shares, and he is able to reflect that New York would not look so relatively little, so comparatively thin, if New York were a capital on the same lines as London. If New York were, like London, a political as well as a commercial capital, she would have the national edifices of Washington added to the sky-scrapers in which she is now unrivalled, and her competition would be architecturally much more formidable than it is. She would be the legislative centre of the different States of the Union, as London is of the different counties of the United Kingdom; she would have collected in her borders all their capitols and public buildings; and their variety, if not dignity, would valiantly abet her in the rivalry from which one must now recoil on her behalf. She could not, of course, except on such rare days of fog as seem to greet Englishmen in New York on purpose to vex us, have the adventitious aid which the London atmosphere renders; her air is of such a helpless sincerity that nothing in it shows larger than it is; no mist clothes the sky-scraper in gigantic vagueness, the hideous tops soar into the clear heaven distinct in their naked ugliness; and the low buildings cower unrelieved about their bases. Nothing could be done in palliation of the comparative want of antiquity in New York, for the present, at least; but it is altogether probable that in the fulfilment of her destiny she will be one day as old as London now is.
If one thinks, however, how old London now is, it is rather crazing; much more crazing than the same sort of thought in the cities of lands more exclusively associated with antiquity. In Italy you forget the present; there seems nothing above the past, or only so thin a layer of actuality that you have scarcely the sense of it. In England you remember with an effort Briton, and Roman, and Saxon, and Norman, and the long centuries of the mediaeval and modern English; the living interests, ambitions, motives, are so dense that you cannot penetrate them and consort quietly with the dead alone. Men whose names are in the directory as well as men whose names are in history, keep you company, and push the shades of heroes, martyrs, saints, poets, and princes to the wall. They do not shoulder them willingly out of the way, but helplessly; there is no place in the world where the material present is so reverently, so tenderly mindful of the material past. Perhaps, therefore, I felt safe in so largely leaving the English past to the English present, and, having in London long ago satisfied that hunger for the old which the new American brings with him to Europe, I now went about enjoying the modern in its manifold aspects and possibly fancying characteristic traits where I did not find them. I did not care how trivial some of these were, but I hesitate to confide to the more serious reader that I was at one moment much interested in what seemed the growing informality of Englishmen in dress, as I noted it in the streets and parks, or thought I noted it.
To my vision, or any illusion, they wore every sort of careless cap, slouch felt hat, and straw hat; any sort of tunic, jacket, and cutaway. The top-hat and frock-coat still appear, but their combination is evidently no longer imperative, as it formerly was at all daytime functions. I do not mean to say that you do not often see that stately garment on persons of authority, but only that it is apparently not of the supremacy expressed in the drawings of Du Maurier in the eighties and nineties of the last century. Certainly, when it comes to the artist at Truefitt’s wearing a frock-coat while cutting your hair, you cannot help asking yourself whether its hour has not struck. Yet, when one has said this, one must hedge from a conjecture so extreme. The king wears a frock-coat, a long, gray one, with a white top-hat and lavender gloves, and those who like to be like a king conform to his taste. No one, upon his life, may yet wear a frock and a derby, but many people now wear top-hats, though black ones, with sack-coats, with any sort of coats; and, above all, the Londoner affects in summer a straw hat either of a flat top and a pasteboard stiffness, or of the operatically picturesque Alpine pattern, or of a slouching Panama shapelessness. What was often the derision, the abhorrence of the English in the dress of other nations has now become their pleasure, and, with the English genius of doing what they like, it may be that they overdo their pleasure. But at the worst the effect is more interesting than our uniformity. The conventional evening dress alone remains inviolate, but how long this will remain, who can say? The simple-hearted American, arriving with his scrupulous dress suit in London, may yet find himself going out to dinner with a company of Englishmen in white linen jackets or tennis flannels.
If, however, the men’s dress in England is informal, impatient, I think one will be well within the lines of safety in saying that above everything the English women’s dress expresses _sentiment_, though I suppose it is no more expressive of personal sentiment than the chic of our women’s dress is expressive of personal chic; in either case the dressmaker, male or female, has impersonally much to do with it. Under correction of those countrywomen of ours who will not allow that the Englishwomen know how to dress, I will venture to say that their expression of sentiment in dress is charming, but how charming it comparatively is I shall be far from saying. I will only make so bold as to affirm that it seems more adapted to the slender fluency of youth than some realizations of the American ideal; and that after the azaleas and rhododendrons in the Park there is nothing in nature more suggestive of girlish sweetness and loveliness than the costumes in which the wearers flow by the flowery expanses in carriage or on foot. The colors worn are often as courageous as the vegetable tints; the vaporous air softens and subdues crimsons and yellows that I am told would shriek aloud in our arid atmosphere; but mostly the shades worn tend to soft pallors, lavender, and pink, and creamy white. A group of girlish shapes in these colors, seen newly lighted at a doorway from a passing carriage, gave as they pressed eagerly forward a supreme effect of that sentiment in English dress which I hope I am not recreant in liking. Occasionally, also, there was a scarf, lightly escaping, lightly caught, which, with an endearing sash, renewed for a fleeting moment a bygone age of Sensibility, as we find it recorded in many a graceful page, on many a glowing canvas.
Pictorial, rather than picturesque, might be the word for the present dress of Englishwomen. It forms in itself a lovely picture to the eye, and is not merely the material or the inspiration of a picture. It is therefore the more difficult of transference to the imagination of the reader who has not also been a spectator, and before such a scene as one may witness in a certain space of the Park on a fair Sunday after church in the morning, or before dinner in the early evening, the boldest kodak may well close its single eye in despair. As yet even the mental photograph cannot impart the tints of nature, and the reader who wishes to assist at this scene must do his best to fancy them for himself. At the right moment of the ripening London season the foliage of the trees is densely yet freshly green and flatteringly soft to the eye; the grass below has that closeness of texture which only English grass has the secret of. At fit distances the wide beds of rhododendrons and azaleas are glowing; the sky is tenderly blue, and the drifted clouds in it are washed clean of their London grime. If it is in the afternoon, these beautiful women begin to appear about the time when you may have bidden yourself abandon the hope of them for that day. Some drift from the carriages that draw up on the drive beside the sacred close where they are to sit on penny chairs, spreading far over the green; others glide on foot from elect neighborhoods, or from vehicles left afar, perhaps that they may give themselves the effect of coming informally. They arrive in twos and threes, young girls commonly with their mothers, but sometimes together, in varied raptures of millinery, and with the rainbow range in their delicately floating, delicately clinging draperies. But their hats, their gowns, always express sentiment, even when they cannot always express simplicity; and the just observer is obliged to own that their calm faces often express, if not simplicity, sentiment. Their beauty is very, very great, not a beauty of coloring alone, but a beauty of feature which is able to be patrician without being unkind; and if, as some American women say, they do not carry themselves well, it takes an American woman to see it. They move naturally and lightly–that is, the young girls do; mothers in England, as elsewhere, are apt to put on weight; but many of the mothers are as handsome in their well-wearing English way as their daughters.
Several irregular spaces are enclosed by low iron barriers, and in one of these the arriving groups of authorized people found other people of their kind, where the unauthorized people seemed by common consent to leave them. There was especially one enclosure which seemed consecrated to the highest comers; it was not necessary that they should make the others feel they were not wanted there; the others felt it of themselves, and did not attempt to enter that especial fairy ring, or fairy triangle. Those within looked as much at home as if in their own drawing-rooms, and after the usual greetings of friends sat down in their penny chairs for the talk which the present kodak would not have overheard if it could.
If any one were to ask me how I knew that these beautiful creatures were of supreme social value, I should be obliged to own that it was largely an assumption based upon hearsay. For all I can avouch personally in the matter they might have been women come to see the women who had not come. Still, if the effects of high breeding are visible, then they were the sort they looked. Not only the women, but the men, old and young, had the aristocratic air which is not aggressive, the patrician bearing which is passive and not active, and which in the English seems consistent with so much that is human and kindly. There is always the question whether this sort of game is worth the candle; but that is a moral consideration which would take me too far from the little scene I am trying to suggest; it is sufficient for the present purpose that the English think it is worth it. A main fact of the scene was the constant movement of distinguished figures within the sacred close, and up and down the paths past the rows of on-lookers on their penny chairs. The distinguished figures were apparently not the least molested by the multiplied and concentrated gazes of the on-lookers, who were, as it were, outside the window, and of the street. What struck one accustomed to the heterogeneous Sunday crowds of Central Park, where any such scene would be so inexpressibly impossible, was the almost wholly English personnel of the crowd within and without the sacred close. Here and there a Continental presence, French or German or Italian, pronounced its nationality in dress and bearing; one of the many dark subject races of Great Britain was represented in the swarthy skin and lustrous black hair and eyes of a solitary individual; there were doubtless various colonials among the spectators, and in one’s nerves one was aware of some other Americans. But these exceptions only accented the absolutely English dominance of the spectacle. The alien elements were less evident in the observed than in the observers, where, beyond the barrier, which there was nothing to prevent their passing, they sat in passive rows, in passive pairs, in passive ones, and stared and stared. The observers were mostly men, and largely men of the age when the hands folded on the top of the stick express a pause in the emotions and the energies which has its pathos. There were women among them, of course, but the women were also of the age when the keener sensibilities are taking a rest; and such aliens of their sex as qualified the purely English nature of the affair lost whatever was aggressive in their difference.
[Illustration: THE CARRIAGES DRAWN UP BESIDE THE SACRED CLOSE]
It was necessary to the transaction of the drama that from time to time the agents of the penny-chair company should go about in the close and collect money for the chairs; and it became a question, never rightly solved, how the ladies who had come unattended managed, with their pocketless dresses, to carry coins unequalled in bulk since the iron currency of Sparta; or whether they held the pennies frankly in their hands till they paid them away. In England the situation, if it is really the situation, is always accepted with implicit confidence, and if it had been the custom to bring pennies in their hands, these ladies would have no more minded doing it than they minded being looked at by people whose gaze dedicated them to an inviolate superiority.
With us the public affirmation of class, if it were imaginable, could not be imaginable except upon the terms of a mutinous protest in the spectators which would not have been less real for being silent. But again I say the thing would not have been possible with us in New York; though in Newport, where the aristocratic tradition is said to have been successfully transplanted to our plutocratic soil, something analogous might at least be dramatized. Elsewhere that tradition does not come to flower in the open American air; it is potted and grown under glass; and can be carried out-doors only under special conditions. The American must still come to England for the realization of certain social ideals towards which we may be now straining, but which do not yet enjoy general acceptance. The reader who knows New York has but to try and fancy its best, or even its better, society dispersing itself on certain grassy limits of Central Park on a Sunday noon or afternoon; or, on some week-day evening, leaving its equipages along the drives and strolling out over the herbage; or receiving in its carriages the greetings of acquaintance who make their way in and out among the wheels. Police and populace would join forces in their several sorts to spoil a spectacle which in Hyde Park appeals, in high degree, to the aesthetic sense, and which might stimulate the historic imagination to feats of agreeable invention if one had that sort of imagination.
The spectacle is a condition of that old, secure society which we have not yet lived long enough to have known, and which we very probably never shall know. Such civilization as we have will continue to be public and impersonal, like our politics, and our society in its specific events will remain within walls. It could not manifest itself outside without being questioned, challenged, denied; and upon reflection there might appear reasons why it is well so.
SHOWS AND SIDE-SHOWS OF STATE
We are quite as domestic as the English, but with us the family is of the personal life, while with them it is of the general life, so that when their domesticity imparts itself to their out-door pleasures no one feels it strange. One has read of something like this without the sense of it which constantly penetrates one in London. One must come to England in order to realize from countless little occasions, little experiences, how entirely English life, public as well as private, is an affair of family. We know from our reading how a comparatively few families administer, if they do not govern, but we have still to learn how the other families are apparently content to share the form in which authority resides, since they cannot share the authority. At the very top I offer the conjecture towards the solution of that mystery which constantly bewilders the republican witness, the mystery of loyalty–is, of course, the royal family; and the rash conclusion of the American is that it is revered because it is the _royal_ family. But possibly a truer interpretation of the fact would be that it is dear and sacred to the vaster British public because it is the royal _family_. A bachelor king could hardly dominate the English imagination like a royal husband and father, even if his being a husband and father were not one of the implications of that tacit Constitution in whose silence English power resides. With us, family has less and less to do with society, even; but with the English it has more and more to do, since the royal family is practically without political power, and not only may, but almost must, devote itself to society. It goes and comes on visits to other principalities and powers; it opens parliaments; it lays corner- stones and presides at the dedication of edifices of varied purpose; it receives deputations and listens to addresses; it holds courts and levees; it reviews regiments and fleets, and assists at charity entertainments and at plays and shows of divers sorts; it plays races; it is in constant demand for occasions requiring exalted presences for their prosperity. These events seem public, and if they were imaginable of a democracy like ours they would be so; but in the close-linked order of English things they are social, they are domestic, they are from one family to every other family directly or indirectly; the king is for these ends not more a royalty than the rest of his family, and for the most part he acts as a family man; his purely official acts are few. Things that in a republic are entirely personal, as marriages, births, christenings, deaths, and burials, whether of high or low, in a monarchy are, if they affect royalty, of public and national concern, and it would not be easy to show how one royal act differed from another in greater or less publicity.
If you were of a very bold conjecture, or of a willingness to generalize from wholly insufficient grounds, and take the chances of hitting or missing, you might affirm a domestic simplicity of feeling in some phases of functions exalted far beyond the range of republican experiences or means of comparison. In the polite intelligence which we sometimes have cabled to our press at home, by more than usually ardent enterprise, one may have read that the king held a levee at St. James’s; and one conceived of it as something dramatic, something historic, something, on the grand scale, civic. But if one happened to be walking in Pall Mall on the morning of that levee, one saw merely a sort of irregular coming and going in almost every kind of vehicle, or, as regarded the spiritual and temporal armies, sometimes on foot. A thin fringe of rather incurious but not unfriendly bystanders lined the curbstone, and looked at the people arriving in the carriages, victorias, hansoms, and four-wheelers; behind the bystanders loitered dignitaries of the church; and military and naval officers made their way through the fringe and crossed the street among the wheels and horses. No one concerned seemed to feel anything odd in the effect, though to the unwonted American the sight of a dignitary in full canonicals or regimentals going to a royal levee in a cab or on foot is not a vision which realizes the ideal inspired by romance. At one moment a middle-aged lady in the line of vehicles put her person well out of the window of her four-wheeler, and craned her head up to instruct her driver in something. She may not have been going to the levee, but one felt that if she had been she would still have done what it abashed the alien to see.
We are, in fact, much more exacting than the English in matters of English state; we, who have no state at all require them to live up to theirs, just as quite plain, elderly observers expect every woman to be young and pretty, and take it hard when she is not. But possibly the secret of enduring so much state as the English have lies in knowing how and when to shirk it, to drop it. No doubt, the alien who counted upon this fact, if it is a fact, would find his knuckles warningly rapped when he reached too confidingly through air that seemed empty of etiquette. But the rapping would be very gentle, very kindly, for this is the genius of English rule where it is not concerned with criminal offence. You must keep off wellnigh all the grass on the island, but you are “requested” to keep off it, and not forbidden in the harsh imperatives of our brief authorities. It is again the difference between the social and the public, which is perhaps the main difference between an oligarchy and a democracy. The sensibilities are more spared in the one and the self-respect in the other, though this is saying it too loosely, and may not be saying it truly; it is only a conjecture with which I am parleying while I am getting round to add that such part of the levee as I saw in plain day, though there was vastly more of it, was much less filling to the imagination than a glimpse which I had of a court one night. I am rather proud of being able to explain that the late queen held court in the early afternoon and the present king holds court at night; but, lest any envious reader suspect me of knowing the fact at first-hand, I hasten to say that the glimpse I had of the function that night only revealed to me in my cab a royal coach driving out of a palace gate, and showing larger than human, through a thin rain, the blood-red figures of the coachmen and footmen gowned from head to foot in their ensanguined colors, with the black-gleaming body of the coach between them, and the horses trampling heraldically before out of the legendary past. The want of definition in the fact, which I beheld in softly blurred outline, enhanced its value, which was so supreme that I could not perhaps do justice to the vague splendors of inferior courtward equipages, as my cab flashed by them, moving in a slow line towards the front of Buckingham Palace.
[Illustration: SUNDAY AFTERNOON, HYDE PARK]
The carriages were doubtless full of titles, any one of which would enrich my page beyond the dreams of fiction, and it is said that in the time of the one-o’clock court they used to receive a full share of the attention which I could only so scantily and fleetingly bestow. They were often halted, as that night I saw them halting, in their progress, and this favored the plebeian witnesses, who ranged along their course and invited themselves and one another to a study of the looks and dresses of the titles, and to open comment on both. The study and the comment must have had their limits; the observed knew how much to bear if the observers did not know how little to forbear; and it is not probable that the London spectators went the lengths which our outsiders go in trying to verify an English duke who is about to marry an American heiress. The London vulgar, if not better bred than our vulgar, are better fed on the sight of social grandeur, and have not a lifelong famine to satisfy, as ours have. Besides, whatever gulf birth and wealth have fixed between the English classes, it is mystically bridged by that sentiment of family which I have imagined the ruling influence in England. In a country where equality has been glorified as it has been in ours, the contrast of conditions must breed a bitterness in those of a lower condition which is not in their hearts there; or if it is, the alien does not know it.
What seems certain is the interest with which every outward manifestation of royal and social state is followed, and the leisure which the poor have for a vicarious indulgence in its luxuries and splendors. One would say that there was a large leisure class entirely devoted to these pleasures, which cost it nothing, but which may have palled on the taste of those who pay for them. Of course, something like this is the case in every great city; but in London, where society is enlarged to the bounds of the national interests, the demand of such a leisure class might very well be supposed to have created the supply. Throughout the London season, and measurably throughout the London year, there is an incessant appeal to the curiosity of the common people which is never made in vain. Somewhere a drum is throbbing or a bugle sounding from dawn till dusk; the red coat is always passing singly or in battalions, afoot or on horseback; the tall bear-skin cap weighs upon the grenadier’s brow,
“And the hapless soldier’s sigh,”
if it does not “run in blood down palace walls,” must often exhale from lips tremulous with hushed profanity. One bright, hot morning of mid-July the suffering from that cruel folly in the men of a regiment marching from their barracks to Buckingham Palace and sweltering under those shaggy cliffs was evident in their distorted eyes, streaming cheeks, and panting mouths. But why do I select the bear-skin cap as peculiarly cruel and foolish, merely because it is archaic? All war and all the images of it are cruel and foolish.
The April morning, however, when I first carried out my sensitized surfaces for the impression which I hoped to receive from a certain historic spectacle was very different. There was even a suggestion of comfort in the archaic bear-skins; they were worn, and they had been worn, every day for nearly two hundred years, as part of the ceremonial of changing the regimental colors before Buckingham Palace. I will not be asked why this is imperative; it has always been done and probably always will be done, and to most civilian onlookers will remain as unintelligible in detail as it was to me. When the regiment was drawn up under the palace windows, a part detached itself from the main body and went off to a gate of the palace, and continued mysteriously stationary there. In the mean time the ranks left behind closed or separated amid the shouting of sergeants or corporals, and the men relieved themselves of the strain from their knapsacks, or satisfied an exacting military ideal, by hopping at will into the air and bouncing their knapsacks, dragging lower down, up to the napes of their necks, where they rested under the very fringe of their bear-skin caps. A couple of officers, with swords drawn, walked up and down behind the ranks, but, though they were tall, fine fellows, and expressed in the nonchalant fulfilment of their part a high sense of boredom, they did not give the scene any such poignant interest as it had from the men in performing a duty, or indulging a privilege, by hopping into the air and bouncing their knapsacks up to their necks. After what seemed an unreasonable delay, but was doubtless requisite for the transaction, the detachment sent for the change of colors returned with the proper standards. The historic rite was then completed, the troops formed in order, and marched back to their barracks to the exultant strains of their band.
The crowd outside the palace yard, which this daily sight attracts, dispersed reluctantly, its particles doubtless holding themselves ready to reassemble at the slightest notice. It formed a small portion only of the population of London which has volunteer charge of the goings and comings at Buckingham Palace. Certain of its members are on guard there from morning till night, and probably no detail of ceremony escapes their vigilance. If asked what they are expecting to see, they are not able to say; they only know that they are there to see what happens. They make the most of any carriage entering or issuing from the yard; they note the rare civilians who leave or approach the palace door on foot, the half-dozen plain policemen who stand at their appointed places within the barrier which none of the crowd ever dreams of passing must share its interest. Neither these policemen nor the sentries who pace their beat before the high iron fence are apparently willing to molest the representatives of the public interest. On the April morning in case, during the momentary absence of the policeman who should have restrained the crowd, the sentry found himself embarrassed by a spectator who had intruded on his beat. He faltered, blushing as well as he could through his high English color, and then said, gently, “A little back, please,” and the intruder begged pardon and retired.
In the simple incident there was nothing of the nervousness observable in either the official or the officious repositories of the nationality which one sees in Continental countries, and especially in Germany. It was plain that England, though a military power, is not militarized. The English shows of force are civil. Nowhere but in England does the European hand of iron wear the glove of velvet. There is always an English war going on somewhere, but one does not relate to it the kindly-looking young fellows whom one sees suffering under their bear-skin caps in the ranks, or loitering at liberty in the parks, and courting the flattered girls who flutter like moths about the flame of their red jackets, up and down the paths and on the public benches. The soldiers are under the law of military obedience, and are so far in slavery, as all soldiers are, but nothing of their slavery is visible, and they are the idols of an unstinted devotion, which adds to the picturesqueness and, no doubt, the pathos of the great London spectacle. It is said that they sometimes abuse their apparent supremacy, and that their uniform generally bars them from places of amusement; but one sees nothing of their insubordination or exclusion in the public ways, where one sometimes sees them pushing baby-carriages to free the nurse-maids to more unrestricted flirtation, or straying over the grass and under the trees with maids who are not burdened by any sort of present duty.
After all, as compared with the civilians, they are few even in that game of love which is always playing itself wherever youth meets youth, and which in London is only evident in proportion to the vastness of the city. Their individual life is, like that of the royalty which they decorate, public more than private, and one can scarcely dissociate them, with all their personal humility, from the exalted figures whose eminence they directly or indirectly contribute to throw into relief. I do not mean that they are seen much or little in the king’s company. The English king, though he wears many land and sea uniforms, is essentially civilian, and though vast numbers of soldiers exist for his state in London, they do not obviously attend him, except on occasions of the very highest state. I make this observation rather hazardously, for the fact, which I feel bound to share with the reader, is that I never saw in London any of the royalties who so abound there.
I did, indeed, see the king before I left England, but it was in a place far from his capital, and the king was the only one of his large family I saw anywhere. I hope this will not greatly disappoint my readers, especially such as have scruples against royalties; but it is best to be honest. I can be quite as honest in adding that I had always a vague, underlying curiosity concerning royalty, and a hope that it would somehow come my way, but it never did, to my knowledge, and somehow, with the best will towards it; I never went its way. This I now think rather stupid, for every day the morning papers predicted the movements of royalty, which seemed to be in perpetual movement, so that it must have been by chance that I never saw it arriving or departing at the stations where I was often doing the same.
Of course, no private person, not even the greatest nobleman, let alone the passing stranger, can possibly arrive and depart so much as the king and queen, and their many children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, and cousins of every remove. For the sovereigns themselves this incessant motion, though mitigated by every device of loyal affection and devotion on the part of their subjects, must be a great hardship, and greater as they get into years. The king’s formal office is simply to reign, but one wonders when he finds the time for reigning. He seems to be always setting out for Germany or Denmark or France, when he is not coming from Wales or Scotland or Ireland; and, when quietly at home in England, he is constantly away on visits to the houses of favored subjects, shooting pheasants or grouse or deer; or he is going from one horse-race to another or to some yacht-race or garden-party or whatever corresponds in England to a church sociable. It is impossible to enumerate the pleasures which must poison his life, as if the cares were not enough. In the case of the present king, who is so much liked and is so amiable and active, the perpetual movement affects the plebeian foreigner as something terrible. Never to be quiet; never to have a stretch of those long days and weeks of unbroken continuity dear to later life; ever to sit at strange tables and sample strange cookeries; to sleep under a different preacher every Sunday, and in a different bed every night; to wear all sorts of uniforms for all sorts of occasions, three or four times a day; to receive every manner of deputation, and try to show an interest in every manner of object–who would reign on such terms as these, if there were any choice of not reigning?
Evidently such a career cannot be managed without the help, the pretty constant help, of armed men; and the movement of troops in London from one point to another is one of the evidences of state which is so little static, so largely dynamic. It is a pretty sight, and makes one wish one were a child that one might fully enjoy it, whether it is the movement of a great mass of blood-red backs of men, or here and there a flaming squad, or a single vidette spurring on some swift errand, with his pennoned lance erect from his toe and his horse-hair crest streaming behind him. The soldiers always lend a brilliancy to the dull hue of civil life, and there is a never-failing sensation in the spectator as they pass afar or near. Of course, the supreme attraction in their sort for the newly arrived American is the pair of statuesque warriors who motionlessly sit their motionless steeds at the gates of the Horse- Guards, and express an archaic uselessness as perfectly as if they were Highlanders taking snuff before a tobacconist’s shop. When I first arrived in London in the earliest of those sad eighteen-sixties when our English brethren were equipping our Confederate brethren to sweep our commerce from the seas, I think I must have gone to see those images at the Horse-Guards even before I visited the monuments in Westminster Abbey, and they then perfectly filled my vast expectation; they might have been Gog and Magog, for their gigantic stature. In after visits, though I had a sneaking desire to see them again, I somehow could not find their place, being ashamed to ask for it, in my hope of happening on it, and I had formed the notion, which I confidently urged, that they had been taken down, like the Wellington statue from the arch. But the other day (or month, rather), when I was looking for Whitehall, suddenly there they were again, sitting their horses in the gateways as of yore, and as woodenly as if they had never stirred since 1861. They were unchanged in attitude, but how changed they were in person: so dwarfed, so shrunken, as if the intervening years had sapped the juices of their joints and let their bones fall together, like those of withered old men!
This was, of course, the unjust effect of my original exaggeration of their length and breadth. The troops that I saw marching through the streets where we first lodged were fine, large men. I myself saw no choice in the different bodies, but the little housemaid much preferred the grenadier guards to the Scotch guards; perhaps there was one grenadier guard who lent beauty and grandeur to the rest. I think Scotch caps are much gayer than those busbies which the grenadiers wear, but that, again, is a matter of taste; I certainly did not think the plaid pantaloons with which the Scotch guards hid the knees that ought to have been naked were as good as the plain trousers of their rivals. But they were all well enough, and the officers who sauntered along out of step on the sidewalk, or stoop-shoulderedly, as the English military fashion now is, followed the troops on horseback, were splendid fellows, who would go to battle as simply as to afternoon tea, and get themselves shot in some imperial cause as impersonally as their men.
There were large barracks in our neighborhood where one might have glimpses of the intimate life of the troops, such as shirt-sleeved figures smoking short pipes at the windows, or red coats hanging from the sills, or sometimes a stately bear-skin dangling from a shutter by its throat-latch. We were also near to the Chelsea Hospital, where soldiering had come to its last word in the old pensioners pottering about the garden-paths or sitting in the shade or sun. Wherever a red coat appeared it had its honorable obsequy in the popular interest, and if I might venture to sum up my impression of what I saw of soldiering in London I should say that it keeps its romance for the spectator far more than soldiering does in the Continental capitals, where it seems a slavery consciously sad and clearly discerned. It may be that a glamour clings to the English soldier because he has voluntarily enslaved himself as a recruit, and has not been torn an unwilling captive from his home and work, like the conscripts of other countries. On the same terms our own military are romantic.
THE DUN YEAR’S BRILLIANT FLOWER
I had thought–rather cheaply, as I now realize–of offering, as a pendant for the scene of Fashion Meeting Itself in the Park on the Sunday noons and afternoons which I have tried to photograph, some picture of open-air life in the slums. But upon reflection I have decided that the true counterpart of that scene is to be found any week-day evening, when the weather is fair, on the grassy stretches which the Park rises into somewhat beyond the sacred close of high life. This space is also enclosed, but the iron fence which bounds it is higher and firmer, and there is nothing of such seclusion as embowering foliage gives. There are no trees on any side for many acres, and the golden-red sunset glow hovers with an Indian-summer mellowness in the low English heaven; or at least it did so at the end of one sultry day which I have in mind. From all the paths leading up out of Piccadilly there was a streaming tendency to the pleasant level, thickly and softly turfed, and already strewn with sitting and reclining shapes which a more impassioned imagination than mine might figure as the dead and wounded in some field of the incessant struggle of life. But, besides having no use for such a figure, I am withheld from it by a conscience against its unreality. Those people, mostly young people, are either sitting there in gossiping groups, or whispering pairs, or singly breathing a mute rapture of release from the day’s work. A young fellow lies stretched upon his stomach, propped by his elbows above the newspaper which the lingering light allows him to read; another has an open book under his eyes; but commonly each has the companionship of some fearless girl in the abandonment of the conventionalities which with us is a convention of summer ease on the sands beside the sea, but which is here without that extreme effect which the bathing-costume imparts on our beaches. These young people stretched side by side on the grass in Hyde Park added a pastoral charm to the scene, a suggestion of the
“Bella età, dell’ oro”
not to be had elsewhere in our iron civilization. One might accuse their taste, but certainly they were more interesting than the rows of young men perched on the top course of the fence, in a wide variety of straw hats, or even than the red-coated soldiers who boldly occupied the penny chairs along the walks and enjoyed each the vigorous rivalry of girls worshipping him on either hand.
They boldly occupied the penny chairs, for the danger that they would be made to pay was small. The sole collector, a man well in years and of a benevolent reluctance, passed casually among the rows of seats, and took pennies only from those who could most clearly afford it. There was a fence round a pavilion where a band was playing, and within there were spendthrifts who paid fourpence for their chairs, when the music could be perfectly well heard without charge outside. It was, in fact, heard there by a large audience of bicyclers of both sexes, who stood by their wheels in numbers unknown in New York since the fad of bicycling began to pass several years ago. The lamps shed a pleasant light upon the crowd, after the long afterglow of the sunset had passed and the first stars began to pierce the clear heavens. But there was always enough kindly obscurity to hide emotions that did not mind being seen, and to soften the details which could not be called beautiful. As the dark deepened, the prone shapes scattered by hundreds over the grass looked like peaceful flocks whose repose was not disturbed by the human voices or by the human feet that incessantly went and came on the paths. It was a touch, however illusory, of the rusticity which lingers in so many sorts at the heart of the immense city, and renders it at unexpected moments simple and homelike above all other cities.
The evening when this London pastoral offered itself was the close of a day of almost American heat. The mercury never went above eighty-three degrees, but the blood mounted ten degrees higher; though I think a good deal of the heat imparted itself through the eye from the lurid horizons paling upward into the dull, unbroken blue of the heavens, ordinarily overcast or heaped with masses of white cloud. A good deal came also from the thronged streets, in which the season had scarcely begun to waver, and the pulses of the plethoric town throbbed with a sense of choking fulness. The feverish activity of the cabs contributed to the effect of the currents and counter-currents, as they insinuated themselves into every crevice of the frequent “blocks,” where the populations of the bus-tops, deprived in their arrest of the artificial movement of air, sweltered in the sun, and the classes in private carriages of every order and degree suffered in a helpless equality with the perspiring masses.
Suddenly all London had burst into a passion of straw hats; and where one lately saw only the variance from silken cylinders to the different types of derbies and fedoras, there was now the glisten of every shape of panama, tuscan, and chip head-gear, with a prevalence of the low, flat-topped hard-brimmed things that mocked with the rigidity of sheet-iron the conception of straw as a light and yielding material. Men with as yet only one foot in the grave can easily remember when the American picked himself out in the London crowd by his summer hat, but now, in his belated conformity to an extinct ideal, his head is apt to be one of the few cylindered or derbied heads in the swarming processions of Piccadilly or the paths in the Park. No shape of straw hat is peculiar to any class, but the slouching panama is for pecuniary reasons more the wear of rank and wealth. With a brim flared up in front and scooped down behind, it justifies its greater acceptance with youth; age and middle-age wear its weave and the tuscan braid in the fedora form; and now and then one saw the venerable convention of the cockaded footman’s and coachman’s silk hat mocked in straw. No concession more extreme could be made to the heat, and these strange cylinders, together with the linen liveries which accompanied them, accented the excesses in which the English are apt to indulge their common-sense when they decide to give way to it. They have apparently decided to give way to it in the dress of both sexes on the bridle-paths of the Park, where individual caprice is the sole law that obtains amid a general anarchy.
[Illustration: ROTTEN ROW.]
The effect, upon the whole, is exhilarating, and suggests the daring thought that, if ever their race decides to get on without government of any sort, they will rid themselves of it with a thoroughness and swiftness past the energy of dynamite, and cast church and state, with all their dignities, to the winds as lightly as they have discarded the traditional costumes of Rotten Row. The young girls and young men in flapping panamas, in tunics and jackets of every kind and color, gave certainly an agreeable liveliness to the spectacle, which their elders emulated by expressions of taste as personal and unconventional. A lady in the old-fashioned riding-habit and a black top-hat with a floating veil recalled a former day, but she was obviously riding to lose weight, in a brief emergence from the past to which she belonged. One man similarly hatted, but frock-coated and not veiled, is scarcely worthy of note; but no doubt he was gratifying an individual preference as distinct as that of the rest. He did not contribute so much to the sense of liberation from the heat as the others who, when it reached its height, frankly confessed its power by riding in greatly diminished numbers. By twelve o’clock scarcely one left of all those joyous youths, those jolly sires and grandsires, those happy children, matched in size with their ponies, as the elders were in their different mounts, remains to distract the eye from the occupants of the two rows of penny chairs and the promenaders between them.
It was a less formidable but possibly more interesting show of what seemed society at home than the Sunday-afternoon reception in the consecrated closes on the grass. People who knew one another stopped and gossiped, and people who knew nobody passed on and tried to ignore them. But that could not have been easy. The women whom those handsome, aristocratic men bowed over, or dropped into chairs beside, or saluted as they went by, were very beautiful women, and dressed with that sentiment which has already been celebrated. Their draperies fluttered in the gay breeze which vied with the brilliant sun in dappling them with tremulous leaf-shadows, and in making them the life of a picture to be seen nowhere else. It was not necessary to know just who, or just of what quality they were, in order to realize their loveliness.
Behind the walks and under the trees the grass had still something of its early summer freshness; but in its farther stretches it was of our August brown, and in certain spaces looked burned to the roots. The trees themselves had begun to relax their earlier vigor, and the wind blew showers of yellowing leaves from their drooping boughs. Towards the close of the season, on the withered grass, quite in the vicinity of those consecrated social closes, to which I am always returning with a snobbish fondness, I saw signs of the advance of the great weary army which would possess the pleasure-grounds of the town when the pleasurers had left it. Already the dead-tired, or possibly the dead-drunk, had cast themselves, as if they had been shot down there, with their faces in the lifeless grass, and lay in greasy heaps and coils where the delicate foot of fashion had pressed the green herbage. As among the spectators I thought I noted an increasing number of my countrymen and women, so in the passing vehicles I fancied more and more of them in the hired turnouts which cannot long keep their secret from the critical eye. These were as obvious to conjecture as some other turnouts, which I fancied of a decayed ancestrality: cumbrous landaus and victorias, with rubberless tires, which grumbled and grieved in their course for the _passati tempi_, and expressed a rheumatic scorn for the parvenu carriages, and for all the types of motors which more and more invade the drives of the Park. They had a literary quality, and were out of Thackeray and Trollope, in the dearth of any modern society novelists great enough for them to be out of.
If such novelists had not been wanting I am sure I should not be left with the problem of an extremely pretty and charming woman whose scarf one morning so much engaged the eye of the gentleman sitting beside another extremely pretty and charming woman, that he left her and came and sat down by the new-comer, who let him play with the fringe of her scarf. Was she in a manner playing _him_ with it? A thoroughly equipped society fiction, such as the English now lack, would have instructed me, and taught me the mystic meaning of the young girls who fluttered up and down the paths by twos and threes, exquisite complexions, exquisite shapes, exquisite profiles, exquisite costumes, in a glad momentary freedom from chaperonage. It would fix even the exact social value of that companion of a lady stopped in chat by that other lady, who was always hopping up and stopping people of her acquaintance. The companion was not of her acquaintance, nor was she now made of it; she stood statue-still and sphinx-patient in the walk, and only an eye ever avid of story could be aware of the impassioned tapping of the little foot whose mute drama faintly agitated the hem of her drapery. Was she poor and proud, or was she rich and scornful in her relation to the encounter from which she remained excluded? The lady who had left her standing rejoined her and they drifted off together into the vast of the unfathomed, but not, I like to believe, the unfathomable.
When the heat broke at last, after a fortnight, of course it did not break. That would have been a violence of which English weather would not have been capable. There was no abrupt drop of the mercury, as if a trap were sprung under it, after the fashion with us. It softly gave way in a gradual, delicious coolness, which again mellowed at the edges, as it were, and dissolved in a gentle, tentative rain. But how far the rain might finally go, we did not stay to see: we had fled from the “anguish of the solstice,” as we had felt it in London, and by the time the first shower insinuated itself we were in the heart of the Malvern Hills.
Of course, this heated term was not as the heated terms of New York are; but it excelled them in length, if not in breadth and thickness. The nights were always cool, and that was a saving grace which our nights do not know; with nights like ours so long a heat would have been unendurable, but in London one woke each morning with renewed hope and renewed strength. Very likely there were parts of London where people despaired and weakened through the night, but in these polite perspectives I am trying to exclude such places; and whenever I say “one” in this relation, I am imagining one of the many Americans who witness the London season perhaps oftener from the outside than the inside, but who still can appreciate and revere its facts.
The season was said to begin very late, and it was said to be a very “bad” season, throughout May, when the charges of those who live by it ordinarily feel an expansive rise; when rooms at hotels become difficult, become impossible; when the rents of apartments double themselves, and apartments are often not to be had at any price; when the face of the cabman clouds if you say you want him by the hour, and clears if you add that you will make it all right with him; when every form of service begins to have the courage of its dependence; and the manifold fees which ease the social machine seem to lubricate it so much less than the same fees in April; when the whole vast body of London groans with a sense of repletion such as no American city knows except in the rare congestion produced by a universal exposition or a national convention. Such a congestion is of annual occurrence in London, and is the symptomatic expression of the season; but the symptoms ordinarily recognizable in May were absent until June in the actual year. They were said to have been suppressed by the reluctance of the tardy spring, and again by the king’s visit to Ireland. As the king is the fountain of social prosperity it is probable that he had more to do with delaying the season than the weather had; but by what one hears said of him he would not have willingly delayed it. He is not only a well-meaning and well-doing prince, one hears from people of every opinion, but a promoter of peace and international concord (especially with France, where his good offices are believed to have been peculiarly effective), and he is, rather more expectedly, a cheerful sovereign, loving the gayety as well as the splendor of state, and fond of seeing the world enjoy itself.
It is no betrayal of the national confidence to repeat what every one says concerning the present outburst of fashion, that it is a glad compliance with the king’s liking; the more eager because of its long suppression during the late queen’s reign and the more anxious because of a pathetic apprehension inspired by the well-known serious temperament of the heir-apparent to the throne. No doubt the joyful rebound from the depression of the Boer war is also still felt; but for whatever reason London life is gay and glad, it is certainly making its hay while the sun shines, and it mixes as many poppies and daisies with the crop as possible against the time when only grass may be acceptable. In other terms the prevailing passion for pretty clothes in the masses as well as the classes is the inspiration of the court, while the free personal preferences expressed are probably the effect of that strong, that headstrong, instinct of being like one’s self, whether one is like others or not, which has always moulded precedence and tradition to individual convenience with the English. One would not have said that a frock-coat of lustrous black alpaca was just the wear for a tall middle-aged gentleman in a silk hat and other scrupulous appointments; but when he appeared in it one hottest Sunday afternoon in that consecrated close of Hyde Park, and was welcomed by the inmost flower-group of the gorgeous parterre, one had to own a force of logic in it. If a frock-coat was the proper thing for the occasion in general, then the lightest and coolest fabric was the thing for that occasion in particular. So the wearer had reasoned in sublime self-reliance, and so, probably, the others reasoned in intelligent acquiescence.
Just what quality he had the courage of one could not have guessed at a distance, and he must remain part of the immense question which London continues for the inquirer to the last; but it is safe to say that he looked distinguished. Out of season, the London type of man looked undistinguished, but when the season began to make London over, the pavement of Piccadilly sprouted in a race of giants who were as trees walking. They were mostly young giants, who had great beauty of complexion, of course, and as great beauty of feature. They were doubtless the result of a natural selection, to which money for buying perfect conditions had contributed as much as the time necessary for growing a type. Mostly their faces were gentle and kind, and only now and then hard or cruel; but one need not be especially averse to the English classification of our species to feel that they had cost more than they were worth. The very handsomest man I saw, with the most perfectly patrician profile (if we imagine something delicately aquiline to be particularly patrician), was a groom who sat his horse beside Rotten Row, waiting till his master should come to command the services of both. He too had the look of long descent, but if it could not be said that he had cost the nation too much time and money, it might still be conjectured that he had cost some one too much of something better.
Next after these beautiful people I think that in the multitudinously varied crowd of London I saw no men so splendidly, so brilliantly, so lustrously handsome as three of those imperial British whose lives are safer, but whose social status is scarcely better than that of our negroes. They were three tall young Hindoos, in native dress, and white- turbaned to their swarthy foreheads, who suddenly filed out of the crowd, looking more mystery from their liquid eyes than they could well have corroborated in word or thought, and bringing to the metropolis of the West the gorgeous and foolish magnificence of the sensuous East. What did they make of the metropolis? Were they conscious, with or without rebellion, of their subjection, their absolute inferiority in the imperial scheme? If looks went for what looks rarely do, except in women, they should have been the lords of those they met; but as it was they were simply the representatives of one of the suppressed races which, if they joined hands, could girdle the globe under British rule. Somehow they brought the sense of this home to the beholder, as none of the monuments or memorials of England’s imperial glory had done, and then, having fulfilled their office, lost themselves in the crowd.
THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF THE STREETS
The specialization of those fatuous Orientals, transient as it was, was of far greater duration than that of most individual impressions from the London crowd. London is a flood of life, from which in a powerful light you may catch the shimmering facet of a specific wavelet; but these fleeting glimpses leave only a blurred record with the most instantaneous apparatus. What remains of the vision of that long succession of streets called by successive names from Knightsbridge to Ludgate Hill is the rush of a human torrent, in which you are scarcely more aware of the single life than of any given ripple in a river. Men, women, children form the torrent, but each has been lost to himself in order to give it the collective immensity which abides in your mind’s eye.
To the American city-dweller the London omnibus is archaic. Except for the few slow stages that lumber up and down Fifth Avenue, we have hardly anything of the omnibus kind in the whole length and breadth of our continent, and it is with perpetual astonishment and amusement that one finds it still prevailing in London, quite as if it were not as gross an anachronism as the war-chariot or the sedan-chair. It is ugly, and bewilderingly painted over with the names of its destinations, and clad with signs of patent medicines and new plays and breakfast foods in every color but the colors of the rainbow. It is ponderous and it rumbles forward with a sound of thunder, and the motion of a steamer when they put the table-racks on. Seen from the pavement, or from the top of another omnibus, it is of barbaric majesty; not, indeed, in the single example, but as part of the interminable line of omnibuses coming towards you. Then its clumsiness is lost in the collective uncouthness which becomes of a tremendous grandeur. The procession bears onward whole populations lifted high in the air, and swaying and lurching with the elephantine gait of things which can no more capsize than they can keep an even pace. Of all the sights of London streets, this procession of the omnibuses is the most impressive, and the common herd of Londoners of both sexes which it bears aloft seems to suffer a change into something almost as rich as strange. They are no longer ordinary or less than ordinary men and women bent on the shabby businesses that preoccupy the most of us; they are conquering princes, making a progress in a long triumph, and looking down upon a lower order of human beings from their wobbling steeps. It enhances their apparent dignity that they whom they look down upon are not merely the drivers of trucks and wagons of low degree, but often ladies of title in their family carriages, under the care of the august family coachman and footman, or gentlemen driving in their own traps or carts, or fares in the hansoms that steal their swift course through and by these ranks; the omnibuses are always the most monumental fact of the scene. They dominate it in bulk and height; they form the chief impulse of the tremendous movement, and it is they that choke from time to time the channel of the mighty torrent, and helplessly hold it in the arrest of a _block_.
[Illustration: A BLOCK IN THE STRAND.]
No one can forecast the moment when, or the place where, a block may happen; but mostly it occurs in mid-afternoon, at the intersection of some street where a line of vehicles is crossing the channel of the torrent. Suddenly all is at a stand-still, and one of those wonderful English policemen, who look so slight and young after the vast blue bulks of our Irish force, shows himself in the middle of the channel, and holds back its rapids with the quiet gesture of extended hands. The currents and counter-currents gather and press from the rear and solidify, but in the narrow fissure the policeman stands motionless, with only some such slight stir of his extended hands as a cat imparts to her “conscious tail” when she waits to spring upon her prey.
The mute language of his hands, down to the lightest accent of the fingers, is intelligible to the dullest of those concerned in its interpretation, and is telepathically despatched from the nearest to the farthest driver in the block. While the policeman stands there in the open space, no wheel or hoof stirs, and it does not seem as if the particles of the mass could detach themselves for such separate movement as they have at the best. Softly, almost imperceptibly, he drops his arms, and lets fall the viewless barrier which he had raised with them; he remains where he was, but the immense bodies he had stayed liquefy and move in their opposite courses, and for that time the block is over.
If ever London has her epic poet, I think he will sing the omnibus; but the poet who sings the hansom must be of a lyrical note. I do not see how he could be too lyrical, for anything more like song does not move on wheels, and its rapid rhythm suggests the quick play of fancy in that impetuous form. We have the hansom with us, but it does not perform the essential part in New York life that it does in London life. In New York you _may_ take a hansom; in London you _must_. You serve yourself of it as at home you serve yourself of the electric car; but not by any means at the same rate. Nothing is more deceitful than the cheapness of the hansom, for it is of such an immediate and constant convenience that the unwary stranger’s shilling has slipped from him in a sovereign before he knows, with the swift succession of occasions when the hansom seems imperative. A ‘bus is inexpensive, but it is stolid and bewildering; a hansom is always cheerfully intelligent. It will set you down at the very place you seek; you need walk neither to it nor from it; a nod, a glance, summons it or dismisses. The ‘bus may be kind, but it is not flattering, and the hansom is flattering as well as kind; flattering to one’s pride, one’s doubt, one’s timid hope. It takes all the responsibility for your prompt and unerring arrival; and you may trust it almost implicitly. At any point in London you can bid it go to any other with a confidence that I rarely found abused. Once, indeed, my cabman carried me a long way about at midnight, and when he finally left me at my door, he was disposed to be critical of its remoteness, while he apologized for the delay. I suggested that in a difficulty like his a map of London would be a good thing; but though he was so far in drink as to be able to take the joke in good part, he denied that a map would be of the least use to a cabman. Probably he was right; my map was not of the least use to me; and his craft seemed to feel their way about through the maze of streets and squares and circles by the same instinct that serves a pilot on a river in the dark. Their knowledge is a thing of the nerves, not of the brains, if there is a difference; or if there is none, then it is an affair of the subliminal consciousness, it is inspiration, it is genius. It could not well be overpaid, and the cabmen are careful that it is not underpaid. I heard, indeed, of two American ladies who succeeded in underpaying their cabman; this was their belief resting upon his solemn declaration; but I myself failed in every attempt of the kind. My cabman always said that it was not enough; and then I compromised by giving him too much. Many stories are told of the abusiveness of the class, but a simple and effective rule is to overpay them at once and be done with it. I have sometimes had one cast a sorrowing glance at the just fare pressed into his down-stretched palm, and drive off in thankless silence; but any excess of payment was met with eager gratitude. I preferred to buy the cabman’s good-will, because I find this is a world in which I am constantly buying the good-will of people whom I do not care the least for, and I did not see why I should make an exception of cabmen. Only once did I hold out against an extortionate demand of theirs. That was with a cabman who drove me to the station, and said: “I’ll have to get another sixpence for this, sir.” “Well,” I returned, with a hardihood which astonished me, “you won’t get it of me.” But I was then leaving London, and was no longer afraid. Now, such is the perversity of the human spirit, I am sorry he did not get the other sixpence of me. One always regrets these acts of justice, especially towards any class of fellow-beings whose habits of prey are a sort of vested rights. It is even in your own interest to suffer yourself to be plundered a little; it stimulates the imagination of the plunderer to high conceptions of equity, of generosity, which eventuate in deeds of exemplary honesty. Once, one of the party left a shawl in the hansom of a cabman whom I had, after my custom and principle, overpaid, and who had left us at a restaurant upon our second thought against a gallery where we had first proposed to be put down. We duly despaired, but we went and saw the pictures, and when we came out of the gallery there was our good cabman lying in wait to identify us as the losers of the shawl which he had found in his cab. Is it credible that if he had been paid only his legal fare he would have been at such virtuous pains? It may, indeed, be surmised that if the shawl was not worth more than an imaginable reward for its restoration he was actuated by self-interest, but this is a view of our common nature which I will not take.
One hears a good deal of the greater quiet of London after New York. I think that what you notice is a difference in the quality of the noise in London. What is with us mainly a harsh, metallic shriek, a grind of trolley wheels upon trolley tracks, and a wild battering of their polygonized circles upon the rails, is in London the dull, tormented roar of the omnibuses and the incessant cloop-cloop of the cab-horses’ hoofs. Between the two sorts of noise there is little choice for one who abhors both. The real difference is that in many neighborhoods you can more or less get away from the specialized noises in London, but you never can do this in New York. You hear people saying that in these refuges the London noise is mellowed to a soft pour of sound, like the steady fall of a cataract, which effectively is silence; but that is not accurate. The noise is broken and crushed in a huge rumble without a specialized sound, except when, after midnight, the headlong clatter of a cab-horse distinguishes itself from the prevailing bulk. But the New York noise is never broken and crushed into a rumble; it bristles with specific accents, night and day, which agonizingly assort themselves one from another, and there is no nook or corner where you can be safe from them, as you can measurably be in London.
London is, if anything, rather more infested than New York with motors, as the English more simply and briefly call automobiles. The perspective is seldom free of them, and from time to time the air is tainted with their breath, which is now one of the most characteristic stenches of civilization. They share equally with other vehicles the drives in the parks, though their speed is tempered there to the prevalent pace. They add to the general noise the shuddering bursts of their swift percussions, and make the soul shrink from a forecast of what the aeroplane may be when it shall come hurtling overhead with some peculiar screech as yet unimagined. The motor plays an even more prominent part in the country than in London, especially in those remnants of time which the English call weekends, and which stretch from Friday afternoon to the next Monday morning. It is within these limits that people are ordinarily “asked down,” and as the host usually lives from five to ten miles from the nearest station, the guest is met there by a motor which hurls him over the intervening ground at the speed of the train he has just left. The motor is still the rich man’s pleasure, as the week-end is his holiday; and it will be long before the one will be the poor man’s use, or the other his leisure. For the present he must content himself, in England, at least, with his own legs, and with the bank-holiday which now comes so often as to be dreaded by his betters when it lets him loose upon their travel and sojourn in excursional multitude. This is not likely ever to come under question of affecting the London season, as one heard the week-end accused of doing. It was theorized that people went out of town so much, in order to be at home in the country for their friends, that with two afternoons and three nights lost to the festivities of London, the season was sensibly if not vitally affected. But that was in the early weeks of it. As it grew and prospered through the latter half of June and the whole of July, the week-end, as an inimical factor, was no longer mentioned. It even began to be recognized as an essential element of the season. Like the king’s visits to Denmark, to Ireland, to Germany, it really served to intensify the season.
At this point, I find it no longer possible to continue celebrating that great moment in the social life of a vast empire without accusing myself of triviality and hypocrisy. I have become aware that I really care nothing about it, and know almost as little. I fancy that with most English people who have passed the heyday of their youth, perhaps without having drunk deeply, or at all, of the delirious fountain of fashion, it is much the same. The purpose that the season clearly serves is annually gathering into the capital great numbers of the people best worth meeting from all parts of the world-wide English dominion, with many aliens of distinction, not counting Americans, who are held a kind of middle species by the natives. It is a time of perpetual breakfasts, lunches, teas, and dinners, receptions, concerts, and for those who can bear it, balls till the day of twenty-four hours’ pleasure begins again, with the early rites of Rotten Row. Those who have a superfluity of invitations go on at night from one house to another till they fall lifeless into bed at their own. One may fancy, if one likes, that they show the effects of their pleasure the next day, that many a soft cheek pales its English rose under the flapping panama hats among the riders in the Park, and that, lively as they still are, they tend rather to be phantoms of delight. But perhaps this is not so. What is certain is that for those who do not abuse the season it is a time of fine as well as high enjoyment, when the alien, or the middle species, if he is known, or even tolerably imagined, may taste a cup of social kindness, of hospitality, deeper if not richer than any in the world. I do not say that one of the middle species will find in it the delicate, the wild, the piquant flavors of certain remembered cups of kindness at home; and I should not say this even if it were true; but he will be an ungrateful and ungracious guest if he criticises. He will more wisely and justly accuse himself of having lost his earlier zest, if he does not come away always thinking, “What interesting people I have met!”
SOME MISGIVINGS AS TO THE AMERICAN INVASION
It is perhaps more than possible that among the interesting people one meets at luncheons and teas and dinners, there will be, or have been, other Americans; and this suggests the perilous question whether the English like the Americans better than formerly. An Englishman might counter by asking whether the Americans like the English better than formerly; but that would not be answering the question, which I hope to leave very much where I found it. Yet Americans have heard and read so much of their increasing national favor with their contemporary ancestors that they may be excused if not satisfied in a curiosity as to the fact. Is the universal favor which an emotional and imaginative press like ours has portrayed them as presently enjoying in England a reality, or is it one of the dreams which our press now and then indulges, and of which the best that can be said is that they do no harm?
One not only hears of this favor at home, but when one goes to England one still hears of it. To be sure one hears of it mainly from Americans, but they have the best means of knowing the fact; they are chiefly concerned, and they are supported in their belief by the almost unvaried amenity of the English journals, which now very rarely take the tone towards Americans formerly habitual with them. Their change of tone is the most obvious change which I think Americans can count upon noting when they come to England, and I am far from reckoning it insignificant. It did not happen of the newspapers themselves; it must be the expression of a prevalent mood, if not a very deeply rooted feeling in their readers. One hears of their interest, their kindness, not from the Americans alone; the English themselves sometimes profess it, and if they overestimate us, the generous error is in the right direction. At the end it must cease to be an error, for, as we Americans all know, we need only to be better understood in order to be more highly prized. Besides, liking is much oftener the effect of willing than has been supposed.
But if the case were quite the contrary, if it were obvious to the casual experience of the American traveller or sojourner in England, that his nationality was now liked less rather than more there, I should still be sorry to disturb what is at the worst no worse than a fond illusion. The case is by no means the contrary, and yet in consenting to some reason in the iridescence which the situation wears in the American fancy I should wish to distinguish. For a beginning I should not wish to go farther than to say that the sort of Englishmen who have always liked Americans, because they have liked the American ideal and the kind of character realized from it, now probably like them better than ever. They are indeed less critical of our departure from our old ideal than some Americans, perhaps because they have not foreseen, as such Americans have foreseen, the necessary effect in American character. They can still allow themselves the pleasure which comes from being confirmed in an impression by events, and in that pleasure they may somewhat romance us; but even such Englishmen are not blindly fond of us. The other sort of Englishmen, the sort that never liked our ideal or our character, probably now like us as little as ever, except as they have noted our change of ideal, and expect a change of character. To them we may very well have seemed a sort of civic dissenters, with the implication of some such quality of offence as the notion of dissent suggests to minds like theirs. We had a political religion like their own, with a hierarchy, a ritual, an establishment all complete, and we violently broke with it. But it is safe to conjecture that this sort of Englishman is too old or too old-fashioned to live much longer; he suffers with the decay of certain English interests which the American prosperity imperilled before it began to imperil English ideals, if it has indeed done so. His dying out counts for an increase of favor for us; we enjoy through it a sort of promotion by seniority.
But a new kind of Englishman has come up of late years, and so far as he is friendly to us his friendliness should be more gratifying than that even of our older friends. He has been in America, either much or little, and has come to like us because he has seen us at home. If such an Englishman is rich and noble, he has seen our plutocracy, and has liked it because it is lively and inventive in its amusements and profusely original in its splendors; but he need not be poor and plebeian to have seen something of our better life, and divined something of our real meaning from it. He will not be to blame if he has not divined our whole meaning; for we are at present rather in the dark as to that ourselves, and certainly no American who met him in England could wish to blame him, for his cordiality forms the warmest welcome that the American can have there. If he has been in America and not liked us, or our order or ideal, he has still the English good-nature, and if you do not insist upon being taken nationally, there are many chances that he will take you personally, and if he finds you not at all like an American, he will like you, as he liked others in America whom he found not at all like Americans.
It is the foible, however, of many Americans, both at home and abroad, that they want to be taken nationally, and not personally, by foreigners. Beyond any other people we wish to be loved by other peoples, even by others whom we do not love, and we wish to be loved in the lump. We would like to believe that somehow our sheer Americanism rouses the honor and evokes the veneration of the alien, and as we have long had a grudge against the English, we would be particularly glad to forget it in a sense of English respect and affection. We would fain believe that the English have essentially changed towards us, but we might easily deceive ourselves, as we could realize if we asked ourselves the reasons for such a change.
The English are very polite, far politer than they have been represented, and they will not wittingly wound the American visitor, unless for just cause, like business, or the truth. Still, I should say that the American will fare best with them if he allows himself to be taken individually, rather than typically. One’s nationality is to others, after a first moment of surprise, a bore and a nuisance, which cannot be got out of the way too soon. I cannot keep my interest in a German or an Italian because he is such; and why should not it be the same with an Englishman in regard to Americans? If he thinks about our nationality at all, in its historical character, it is rather a pill, which he may be supposed to take unwillingly, whether he believes we were historically right or not. He may say just things about it, but he will say them more for the profit of Englishmen than for the pleasure of Americans. With our pleasure nationally an Englishman is very little concerned, and either he thinks it out of taste to show any curiosity concerning us, in the bulk, or else he feels none. He has lately read and heard a good deal of talk about us; but I doubt if it has indelibly impressed him. If we have lately done things which in their way could not be ignored, they could certainly be forgotten, and many Englishmen, in spite of them, still remain immensely incurious about us. The American who wishes to be taken nationally by them must often inspire them with a curiosity about us, before he can gratify it, and that is a species of self-indulgence which leaves a pang.
The English have, or they often express, an amiable notion of us as enormously rich, and perhaps they think we are vain of our millionaires, and would be flattered by an implication of wealth as common to us all as our varying accent. But it is as hard for some of us to live up to a full pocket as for others to live up to a full brain. It is hard even to meet the expectation that you will know, or know about, our tremendously moneyed people; but here is a curiosity which you do not have to inspire before you gratify it, for it exists already, while as to our political affairs, or even our military or naval affairs, not to speak of our scientific or literary affairs, the curiosity that you gratify you must first have inspired.
Their curiosity as to our riches does not judge the English, as might be supposed. They are very romantic, with a young, lusty appetite for the bizarre and the marvellous, as their taste in fiction evinces; and they need not be contemned as sordid admirers of money because they wish to know the lengths it can go to with the people who seem to be just now making the most money. Their interest in a phenomenon which we ourselves have not every reason to be proud of, is not without justification, as we must allow if we consider a little, for if we consider, we must own that our greatest achievement in the last twenty or thirty years has been in the heaping up of riches. Our magnificent success in that sort really eclipses our successes in every other, and the average American who comes abroad must be content to shine in the reflected glory of those Americans who have recently, more than any others, rendered our name illustrious. If we do not like the fact all that we have to do is to set about doing commensurate things in art, in science, in letters, or even in arms.
It will not quite do to say that the non-millionaire American enjoys in England the interest mixed with commiseration which is the lot of a poor relation of the great among kindly people. That would not be true, and possibly the fact is merely that the name American first awakens in the English some such associations with riches as the name South African awakened before it awakened others more poignant and more personal. Already the South African had begun to rival the American in the popular imagination; as the Boer war fades more and more into the past, the time may come when we shall be confusedly welcomed as Africanders or South Americans.
If I were to offer what I have been saying as my opinions, or my conclusions from sufficient observations I should be unfair, if not uncandid. The sum of what one sees and hears in a foreign country is as nothing to the sum of what one does not see and hear; and the immense balance may be so far against the foregoing inferences that it is the part of mere prudence to declare that they are not my opinions or conclusions, but are only impressions, vague and hurried, guesses from cursory observations, deductions from slight casual incidents. They are mere gleams from social facets, sparks struck out by chance encounter, and never glancing lights from the rarefied atmosphere in which the two nations have their formal reciprocities. For all that I have really the right to say from substantial evidence to the contrary, I might very well say that the English value us for those things of the mind and soul which we are somewhat neglectful of ourselves, and I insist the more, therefore, that it is only their love of fairy-tales which is taken with the notion of an opulence so widespread among us as to constitute us a nation of potential, if not actual, millionaires.
They would hasten to reproach me, I am afraid, for speaking of England, though merely for purposes of illustration, as a foreign country. One is promptly told that Americans are not regarded as foreigners in England, and is left to conjecture one’s self a sort of compromise between English and alien, a little less kin than Canadian and more kind than Australian. The idea has its quaintness; but the American in England has been singularly unfortunate if he has had reason to believe that the kindness done him is not felt. What has always been true of the English is true now. They do not say or do the thing which is not, out of politeness; their hypocrisies, if they have any, are for their God, and not for their fellow-man. When they talk of their American brethren, they mean it; just as when they do not talk of them so they mean something less, or nothing at all. The American who wishes to be taken nationally, may trust any expression friendly to our nation that he hears; but still I think he will have a better time if he prefers being taken personally. That is really making one’s self at home in a different, I will no longer say a foreign, country; the English are eager hosts, and wish you to make yourself at home–if they like you. Nationally we cannot make ourselves, or be made at home, except in the United States. To any other people, to people sometimes claiming to be nearer than the first degree of cousinship, our nationality, taking it in bulk, is necessarily a mystery. We are so very like them; why should we be so very unlike them? The difference puzzles them, annoys them; why seek points of it, and turn them to the light? The same mystery distresses the American when the points of their difference are turned to the light. A man’s nationality is something he is justly proud of, but not till it is put aside can the man of another nation have any joy of him humanly, spiritually. If you insist upon talking to the English about American things, you have them in an unknown world, a really unknowable world, as you yourself know it; and you bewilder and weary them, unless they are studying Americanism, and then they still do not understand you. You are speaking English, but the meaning is a strange tongue.
I say again that I do not know why any one should wish to be caressed for his nationality. I think one might more self-respectfully wish to be liked for one’s self than joined with a hundred million compatriots, and loved in the lump. If the English, however, are now trying to love us nationally we should be careful not to tax their affections too heavily, or demand too much of them. We must remember that they are more apt to be deceived by our likeness to themselves than by our unlikeness. When an Englishman and an American meet on common ground they have arrived from opposite poles. The Englishman, though he knows the road the American has come, cannot really imagine it. His whole experience of life has taught him that if you have come that road, you are not the kind of man you seem; therefore, you have not come that road, or else you are another kind of man. He revolves in a maze of hopeless conjecture; he gives up trying to guess your conundrum, and reads into you the character of some Englishman of parallel tradition. If he likes you after that, you may be sure it is for yourself and not for your nation. All the same he may not know it, and may think he likes you because you are an agreeable American.
My line of reasoning, or I had better say of fancying (that, on such dangerous ground, is safest), is forcing an inference from which I shrink a little; it seems so very bold, so very contrary to recent prepossessions. But the candor which I would be so glad not to practise, obliges me to say that I think the American who is himself interesting, would have been as welcome in England twenty-five years ago as at this day, and he would not have been expected to be rich, or to have the acquaintance of rich Americans. Already, at that remote period, certain fellow-countrymen of ours had satisfied the English taste for wildness in us. There had been Buffalo Bill, with his show, and there had been other Buffalo Bills, literary ones, who were themselves shows. There had then arisen a conjecture, a tardy surmise, of an American fineness, which might be as well in its way as the American wildness, and the American who had any imaginable touch of this found as warm a liking ready for him then as the wild American found earlier, or the rich American finds later.
In fact, interesting Americans have always been personally liked in England, if I must really go to the extreme of saying it. What the English now join in owning, if the question of greater kindness between the two countries comes up, is that their ruling class made a vast mistake in choosing, officiously though not officially, the side of the South in our Civil War. They own it frankly, eagerly. But they owned the same thing frankly, if not so eagerly, twenty-five years ago. Even during the Civil War, I doubt if an acceptable American would have suffered personally among them. He would have suffered nationally, but he has now and then to suffer so still, for they cannot have the same measure of his nationality as he, and they necessarily tread upon its subtile circumferences here and there.
From the very beginning of Americanism the case has been the same. The American in England during the Civil War was strangely unfortunate if he did not meet many and great Englishmen who thought and felt with him; and if there were now any American so stricken in years as to be able to testify from his own experience of the English attitude towards us in the War of Independence, he could tell us of the outspoken and constant sympathy of Chatham, Burke, Fox, Walpole, and their like, with the American cause–which they counted the English cause. He could tell of the deep undercurrent of favor among the English people, which the superficial course of power belied and at last ceased to control, in our earlier vital war as well as in our later.
So much for that consideration of us nationally, which I do not think England, in her quality of hostess, is bound to show her several American guests. I do not blame her that the sympathy of her greatest sons, so far as it has been shown us nationally, has been shown in her interest, which they believed the supreme interest of mankind, rather than in our interest, which it is for us to believe the supreme interest of mankind. Even when they are talking America they are thinking England; they cannot otherwise; they must; it is imperative; it is essential that they should. We talk of England on the same terms, with our own inner version.
There is another point in this inquiry which I hesitate to touch, and which if I were better advised I should not touch–that is, the English interest in the beauty and brilliancy of our women. Their charm is now magnanimously conceded and now violently confuted in their public prints; now and then an Englishman lets himself go–over his own signature even, at times–and denounces our women, their loveliness, their liveliness, their goodness, in terms which if I repeated them would make some timider spirits pause in their resolution to marry English dukes and run English society. But his hot words are hardly cold before another Englishman comes to the rescue of our countrywomen, and lifts them again to that pinnacle where their merits quite as much as the imagination of their novelists have placed them. Almost as much as our millionaires they are the object of a curiosity which one has not had to inspire. Where, in what part, in which favored city, do they most abound? What is the secret of their dazzling wit and beauty, the heart of their mystery? The most ardent of their votaries must flush in generous deprecation when those orphic inquiries flow from lips quite as divine as their own.
For the rest, if there is really that present liking for Americans in England, which we must wish to touch with all delicacy as the precious bloom of a century-plant at last coming to flower, the explanation may be sought perhaps in an effect of the English nature to which I shall not be the one to limit it. They have not substantially so much as phenomenally changed towards us. They are, like ourselves, always taking stock, examining themselves to see what they have on hand. From time to time they will, say, accuse themselves of being insular, and then, suddenly, they invite themselves to be continental, to be French, to be German, to be Italian, to be Bulgarian, or whatever; and for a while they believe that they have become so. All this time they remain immutably English. It is not that they are insensible of their defects; they tell themselves of them in clamorous tones; and of late, possibly, they have asked themselves why they are not what they think the Americans are in certain things. If the logic of their emotions in this direction were a resolution to like all the Americans with a universal affection, I should admire their spirit, but I should feel a difficulty in its operation for a reason which I hesitate to confess; I do not like _all_ the Americans myself.
IN THE GALLERY OF THE COMMONS
In speaking of any specific social experience it is always a question of how far one may pardonably err on the side of indiscretion; and if I remember here a dinner in the basement of the House of Commons–in a small room of the architectural effect of a chapel in a cathedral crypt–it is with the sufficiently meek hope of keeping well within bounds which only the nerves can ascertain.
The quaintness of the place may have contributed to an uncommon charm in the occasion; but its charm was perhaps a happy accident which would have tried in vain to repeat itself even there. It ended in a visit to the House, where the strangers were admitted on the rigid terms and in the strict limits to which non-members must submit themselves. But one might well undergo much more in order to hear John Burns speak in the place to which he has fought his right under a system of things as averse as can be imagined to a working-man’s sharing in the legislation for working-men. The matter in hand that night chanced to be one peculiarly interesting to a believer in the people’s doing as many things as possible for themselves, as the body politic, instead of leaving them to a variety of bodies corporate. The steamboat service on the Thames had grown so insufficient and so inconvenient that it was now a question of having it performed by the London County Council, which should be authorized to run lines of boats solely in the public interest, and not merely for the pleasure and profit of directors and stockholders. The monstrous proposition did not alarm those fears of socialism which anything of the kind would have roused with us; nobody seemed to expect that blowing up the Parliament buildings with dynamite would be the next step towards anarchy. There was a good deal of hear-hearing from Mr. Burns’s friends, with some friendly chaffing from his enemies as he went on, steadily and quietly, with his statement of the case; but there was no serious opposition to the measure which was afterwards carried in due course of legislation.
I was left to think two or three things about the matter which, though not strictly photographic, are yet so superficial that they will not be out of place here. Several members spoke besides Mr. Burns, but the labor leader was easily first, not only in the business quality of what he said, but in his business fashion of saying it. As much as any of them, as the oldest-familied and longest-leisured of them, his manners had
Which marks the caste of Vere de Vere,”
and is supposed to distinguish them from those of the castes of Smith and Brown. But I quickly forgot this in considering how far socialism had got itself realized in London through the activities of the County Council, which are so largely in the direction of municipal control. One hears and reads as little of socialism now in London as in New York, but that is because it has so effectually passed from the debated principle to the accomplished fact. It has been embodied in so many admirable works that the presumption is rather in favor of it as something truly conservative. It is not, as with us, still under the ban of a prejudice too ignorant to know in how many things it is already effective; but this is, of course, mainly because English administration is so much honester than ours. It can be safely taken for granted that a thing ostensibly done for the greatest good of the greatest number is not really done for the profit of a few on the inside. The English can let the County Council put municipal boats on the Thames with the full assurance that the County Council will never be in case to retire on a cumulative income from them.
But apparently the English can do this only by laying the duty and responsibility upon the imperial legislature. It was droll to sit there and hear a body, ultimately if not immediately charged with the welfare of a state conscious in every continent and the islands of every sea, debating whether the municipal steamboats would not be too solely for the behoof of the London suburb of West Ham. England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, with any of their tremendous interests, must rest in abeyance while that question concerning West Ham was pending. We, in our way, would have settled it by the vote of a Board of Aldermen, subject to the veto of a mayor; but we might not have settled it so justly as the British Parliament did in concentrating the collective wisdom of a world-empire upon it.
The House of Commons took its tremendous responsibility lightly, even gayly. Except for the dramatic division into government and opposition benches, the spectacle was in no wise impressive. There was a restless going and coming of members, as if they could not stand being bored by their duties any longer, and then, after a brief absence, found strength for them. Some sat with their hats on, some with their hats off; some with their legs stretched out, some with their legs pulled in. One could easily distinguish the well-known faces of ministers, who paid no more heed, apparently, to what was going on than the least recognizable members unknown to caricature. The reporters, in their gallery, alone seemed to give any attention to the proceedings, but doubtless the speaker, under his official wig, concerned himself with them. The people apparently most interested were, like myself, in the visitors’ gallery. From time to time one of them asked the nearest usher who it was that was speaking; in his eagerness to see and hear, one of them would rise up and crane forward, and then the nearest usher would make him sit down; but the ushers were generally very lenient, and upon the whole looked quite up to the level of the average visitor in intelligence.
I am speaking of the men visitors; the intellectual light of the women visitors, whatever it was, was much dispersed and intercepted by the screen behind which they were placed. I do not know why the women should be thus obscured, for, if the minds of members were in danger of being distracted by their presence, I should think they would be still more