An October Abroad by John Burroughs

Story type: Essay


I will say at the outset, as I believe some one else has said on a like occasion, that in this narrative I shall probably describe myself more than the objects I look upon. The facts and particulars of the case have already been set down in the guidebooks and in innumerable books of travel. I shall only attempt to give an account of the pleasure and satisfaction I had in coming face to face with things in the mother country, seeing them as I did with kindred and sympathizing eyes.

The ocean was a dread fascination to me,–a world whose dominion I had never entered; but I proved to be such a wretched sailor that I am obliged to confess, Hibernian fashion, that the happiest moment I spent upon the sea was when I set my foot upon the land.

It is a wide and fearful gulf that separates the two worlds. The landsman can know little of the wildness, savageness, and mercilessness of nature till he has been upon the sea. It is as if he had taken a leap off into the interstellar spaces. In voyaging to Mars or Jupiter, he might cross such a desert,–might confront such awful purity and coldness. An astronomic solitariness and remoteness encompass the sea. The earth and all remembrance of it is blotted out; there is no hint of it anywhere. This is not water, this cold, blue-black, vitreous liquid. It suggests, not life, but death. Indeed, the regions of everlasting ice and snow are not more cold and inhuman than is the sea.

Almost the only thing about my first sea voyage that I remember with pleasure is the circumstance of the little birds that, during the first few days out, took refuge on the steamer. The first afternoon, just as we were losing sight of land, a delicate little wood-bird, the black and white creeping warbler,–having lost its reckoning in making perhaps its first southern voyage,–came aboard. It was much fatigued, and had a disheartened, demoralized look. After an hour or two it disappeared, having, I fear, a hard pull to reach the land in the face of the wind that was blowing, if indeed it reached it at all.

The next day, just at night, I observed a small hawk sailing about conveniently near the vessel, but with a very lofty, independent mien, as if he had just happened that way on his travels, and was only lingering to take a good view of us. It was amusing to observe his coolness and haughty unconcern in that sad plight he was in; by nothing in his manner betraying that he was several hundred miles at sea, and did not know how he was going to get back to land. But presently I noticed he found it not inconsistent with his dignity to alight on the rigging under friendly cover of the tops’l, where I saw his feathers rudely ruffled by the wind, till darkness set in. If the sailors did not disturb him during the night, he certainly needed all his fortitude in the morning to put a cheerful face on his situation.

The third day, when we were perhaps off Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, the American pipit or titlark, from the far north, a brown bird about the size of a sparrow, dropped upon the deck of the ship, so nearly exhausted that one of the sailors was on the point of covering it with his hat. It stayed about the vessel nearly all day, flitting from point to point, or hopping along a few feet in front of the promenaders, and prying into every crack and crevice for food. Time after time I saw it start off with a reassuring chirp, as if determined to seek the land; but before it had got many rods from the ship its heart would seem to fail it, and, after circling about for a few moments, back it would come, more discouraged than ever.

These little waifs from the shore! I gazed upon them with a strange, sad interest. They were friends in distress; but the sea-birds, skimming along indifferent to us, or darting in and out among those watery hills, I seemed to look upon as my natural enemies. They were the nurslings and favorites of the sea, and I had no sympathy with them.

No doubt the number of our land-birds that actually perish in the sea during their autumn migration, being carried far out of their course by the prevailing westerly winds of this season, is very great. Occasionally one makes the passage to Great Britain by following the ships, and finding them at convenient distances along the route; and I have been told that over fifty different species of our more common birds, such as robins, starlings, grosbeaks, thrushes, etc., have been found in Ireland, having, of course, crossed in this way. What numbers of these little navigators of the air are misled and wrecked, during those dark and stormy nights, on the lighthouses alone that line the Atlantic coast! Is it Celia Thaxter who tells of having picked up her apron full of sparrows, warblers, flycatchers, etc., at the foot of the lighthouse on the Isles of Shoals, one morning after a storm, the ground being still strewn with birds of all kinds that had dashed themselves against the beacon, bewildered and fascinated by its tremendous light?

If a land-bird perishes at sea, a sea-bird is equally cast away upon the land; and I have known the sooty tern, with its almost omnipotent wing, to fall down, utterly famished and exhausted, two hundred miles from salt water.

But my interest in these things did not last beyond the third day. About this time we entered what the sailors call the “devil’s hole,” and a very respectably sized hole it is, extending from the banks of Newfoundland to Ireland, and in all seasons and weathers it seems to be well stirred up.

Amidst the tossing and rolling, the groaning of penitent travelers, and the laboring of the vessel as she climbed those dark unstable mountains, my mind reverted feebly to Huxley’s statement, that the bottom of this sea, for over a thousand miles, presents to the eye of science a vast chalk plain, over which one might drive as over a floor, and I tried to solace myself by dwelling upon the spectacle of a solitary traveler whipping up his steed across it. The imaginary rattle of his wagon was like the sound of lutes and harps, and I would rather have clung to his axletree than have been rocked in the best berth in the ship.


On the tenth day, about four o’clock in the afternoon, we sighted Ireland. The ship came up from behind the horizon, where for so many days she had been buffeting with the winds and the waves, but had never lost the clew, bearing straight as an arrow for the mark. I think, if she had been aimed at a fair-sized artillery target, she would have crossed the ocean and struck the bull’s-eye.

In Ireland, instead of an emerald isle rising out of the sea, I beheld a succession of cold, purplish mountains, stretching along the northeastern horizon, but I am bound to say that no tints of bloom or verdure were ever half so welcome to me as were those dark, heather-clad ranges. It is a feeling which a man can have but once in his life, when he first sets eyes upon a foreign land; and in my case, to this feeling was added the delightful thought that the “devil’s hole” would soon be cleared and my long fast over.

Presently, after the darkness had set in, signal rockets were let off from the stern of the vessel, writing their burning messages upon the night; and when answering rockets rose slowly up far ahead, I suppose we all felt that the voyage was essentially done, and no doubt a message flashed back under the ocean that the Scotia had arrived.

The sight of the land had been such medicine to me that I could now hold up my head and walk about, and so went down for the first time and took a look at the engines,–those twin monsters that had not stopped once, or apparently varied their stroke at all, since leaving Sandy Hook; I felt like patting their enormous cranks and shafts with my hand,–then at the coal bunks, vast cavernous recesses in the belly of the ship, like the chambers of the original mine in the mountains, and saw the men and firemen at work in a sort of purgatory of heat and dust. When it is remembered that one of these ocean steamers consumes about one hundred tons of coal per day, it is easy to imagine what a burden the coal for a voyage alone must be, and one is not at all disposed to laugh at Dr. Lardner, who proved so convincingly that no steamship could ever cross the ocean, because it could not carry coal enough to enable it to make the passage.

On the morrow, a calm, lustrous day, we steamed at our leisure up the Channel and across the Irish Sea, the coast of Wales, and her groups of lofty mountains, in full view nearly all day. The mountains were in profile like the Catskills viewed from the Hudson below, only it was evident there were no trees or shrubbery upon them, and their summits, on this last day of September, were white with snow.


The first day or half day ashore is, of course, the most novel and exciting; but who, as Mr. Higginson says, can describe his sensations and emotions this first half day? It is a page of travel that has not yet been written. Paradoxical as it may seem, one generally comes out of pickle much fresher than he went in. The sea has given him an enormous appetite for the land. Every one of his senses is like a hungry wolf clamorous to be fed. For my part, I had suddenly emerged from a condition bordering on that of the hibernating animals–a condition in which I had neither eaten, nor slept, nor thought, nor moved, when I could help it–into not only a full, but a keen and joyous, possession of my health and faculties. It was almost a metamorphosis. I was no longer the clod I had been, but a bird exulting in the earth and air, and in the liberty of motion. Then to remember it was a new earth and a new sky that I was beholding,–that it was England, the old mother at last, no longer a faith or a fable, but an actual fact there before my eyes and under my feet,–why should I not exult? Go to! I will be indulged. Those trees, those fields, that bird darting along the hedge-rows, those men and boys picking blackberries in October, those English flowers by the roadside (stop the carriage while I leap out and pluck them), the homely, domestic looks of things, those houses, those queer vehicles, those thick-coated horses, those big-footed, coarsely clad, clear-skinned men and women, this massive, homely, compact architecture,–let me have a good look, for this is my first hour in England, and I am drunk with the joy of seeing! This house-fly even, let me inspect it [Footnote: The English house-fly actually seemed coarser and more hairy than ours.]; and that swallow skimming along so familiarly,–is he the same I saw trying to cling to the sails of the vessel the third day out? or is the swallow the swallow the world over? This grass I certainly have seen before, and this red and white clover, but this daisy and dandelion are not the same; and I have come three thousand miles to see the mullein cultivated in a garden, and christened the velvet plant.

As we sped through the land, the heart of England, toward London, I thought my eyes would never get their fill of the landscape, and that I would lose them out of my head by their eagerness to catch every object as we rushed along! How they reveled, how they followed the birds and the game, how they glanced ahead on the track–that marvelous track!–or shot off over the fields and downs, finding their delight in the streams, the roads, the bridges, the splendid breeds of cattle and sheep in the fields, the superb husbandry, the rich mellow soil, the drainage, the hedges,–in the inconspicuousness of any given feature, and the mellow tone and homely sincerity of all; now dwelling fondly upon the groups of neatly modeled stacks, then upon the field occupations, the gathering of turnips and cabbages, or the digging of potatoes,–how I longed to turn up the historic soil, into which had passed the sweat and virtue of so many generations, with my own spade,–then upon the quaint, old, thatched houses, or the cluster of tiled roofs, then catching at a church spire across a meadow (and it is all meadow), or at the remains of tower or wall overrun with ivy.

Here, something almost human looks out at you from the landscape; Nature here has been so long under the dominion of man, has been taken up and laid down by him so many times, worked over and over with his hands, fed and fattened by his toil and industry, and, on the whole, has proved herself so willing and tractable, that she has taken on something of his image, and seems to radiate his presence. She is completely domesticated, and no doubt loves the titillation of the harrow and plow. The fields look half conscious; and if ever the cattle have “great and tranquil thoughts,” as Emerson suggests they do, it must be when lying upon these lawns and meadows. I noticed that the trees, the oaks and elms, looked like fruit trees, or as if they had felt the humanizing influences of so many generations of men, and were betaking themselves from the woods to the orchard. The game is more than half tame, and one could easily understand that it had a keeper.

But the look of those fields and parks went straight to my heart. It is not merely that they were so smooth and cultivated, but that they were so benign and maternal, so redolent of cattle and sheep and of patient, homely farm labor. One gets only here and there a glimpse of such in this country. I see occasionally about our farms a patch of an acre or half acre upon which has settled this atmosphere of ripe and loving husbandry; a choice bit of meadow about the barn or orchard, or near the house, which has had some special fattening, perhaps been the site of some former garden, or barn, or homestead, or which has had the wash of some building, where the feet of children have played for generations, and the flocks and herds have been fed in winter, and where they love to lie and ruminate at night,–a piece of sward thick and smooth, and full of warmth and nutriment, where the grass is greenest and freshest in spring, and the hay finest and thickest in summer.

This is the character of the whole of England that I saw. I had been told I should see a garden, but I did not know before to what an extent the earth could become a living repository of the virtues of so many generations of gardeners. The tendency to run to weeds and wild growths seems to have been utterly eradicated from the soil; and if anything were to spring upspontaneously, I think it would be cabbage and turnips, or grass and grain.

And yet, to American eyes, the country seems quite uninhabited, there are so few dwellings and so, few people. Such a landscape at home would be dotted all over with thrifty farmhouses, each with its group of painted outbuildings, and along every road and highway would be seen the well-to-do turnouts of the independent freeholders. But in England the dwellings of the people, the farmers, are so humble and inconspicuous and are really so far apart, and the halls and the country-seats of the aristocracy are so hidden in the midst of vast estates, that the landscape seems almost deserted, and it is not till you see the towns and great cities that you can understand where so vast a population keeps itself.

Another thing that would be quite sure to strike my eye on this my first ride across British soil, and on all subsequent rides, was the enormous number of birds and fowls of various kinds that swarmed in the air or covered the ground. It was truly amazing It seemed as if the feathered life of a whole continent must have been concentrated on this island. Indeed, I doubt if a sweeping together of all the birds of the United States into any two of the largest States would people the earth and air more fully. There appeared to be a plover, a crow, a rook, a blackbird, and a sparrow to every square yard of ground. They know the value of birds in Britain,–that they are the friends, not the enemies, of the farmer. It must be the paradise of crows and rooks. It did me good to see them so much at home about the fields and even in the towns. I was glad also to see that the British crow was not a stranger to me, and that he differed from his brother on the American side of the Atlantic only in being less alert and cautious, having less use for these qualities.

Now and then the train would start up some more tempting game. A brace or two of partridges or a covey of quails would settle down in the stubble, or a cock pheasant drop head and tail and slide into the copse. Rabbits also would scamper back from the borders of the fields into the thickets or peep slyly out, making my sportsman’s fingers tingle.

I have no doubt I should be a notorious poacher in England. How could an American see so much game and not wish to exterminate it entirely as he does at home? But sporting is an expensive luxury here. In the first place a man pays a heavy tax on his gun, nearly or quite half its value; then he has to have a license to hunt, for which he pays smartly; then permission from the owner of the land upon which he wishes to hunt; so that the game is hedged about by a triple safeguard.

An American, also, will be at once struck with the look of greater substantiality and completeness in everything he sees here. No temporizing, no makeshifts, no evidence of hurry, or failure, or contract work; no wood and little paint, but plenty of iron and brick and stone. This people have taken plenty of time, and have built broad and deep, and placed the cap-stone on. All this I had been told, but it pleased me so in the seeing that I must tell it again. It is worth a voyage across the Atlantic to see the bridges alone. I believe I had seen little other than wooden bridges before, and in England I saw not one such, but everywhere solid arches of masonry, that were refreshing and reassuring to behold. Even the lanes and byways about the farm, I noticed, crossed the little creeks with a span upon which an elephant would not hesitate to tread, or artillery trains to pass. There is no form so pleasing to look upon as the arch, or that affords so much food and suggestion to the mind. It seems to stimulate the volition, the will-power, and for my part I cannot look upon a noble span without a feeling of envy, for I know the hearts of heroes are thus keyed and fortified. The arch is the symbol of strength and activity, and of rectitude.

In Europe I took a new lease of this feeling, this partiality for the span, and had daily opportunities to indulge and confirm it. In London I had immense satisfaction in observing the bridges there, and in walking over them, firm as the geological strata and as enduring. London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Blackfriars, clearing the river in a few gigantic leaps, like things of life and motion,–to pass over one of these bridges, or to sail under it, awakens the emotion of the sublime. I think the moral value of such a bridge as the Waterloo must be inestimable. It seems to me the British Empire itself is stronger for such a bridge, and that all public and private virtues are stronger. In Paris, too, those superb monuments over the Seine,–I think they alone ought to inspire the citizens with a love of permanence, and help hold them to stricter notions of law and dependence. No doubt kings and tyrants know the value of these things, and as yet they certainly have the monopoly of them.


I am too good a countryman to feel much at home in cities, and usually value them only as conveniences, but for London I conceived quite an affection; perhaps because it is so much like a natural formation itself, and strikes less loudly, or perhaps sharply, upon the senses than our great cities do. It is a forest of brick and stone of the most stupendous dimensions, and one traverses it in the same adventurous kind of way that he does woods and mountains. The maze and tangle of streets is something fearful, and any generalization of them a step not to be hastily taken. My experience heretofore had been that cities generally were fractions that could be greatly reduced, but London I found I could not simplify, and every morning for weeks, when I came out of my hotel, it was a question whether my course lay in this, or in exactly the opposite direction. It has no unit of structure, but is a vast aggregation of streets and houses, or in fact of towns and cities, which have to be mastered in detail. I tried the third or fourth day to get a bird’s-eye view from the top of St. Paul’s, but saw through the rifts in the smoke only a waste,–literally a waste of red tiles and chimney pots. The confusion and desolation were complete.

But I finally mastered the city, in a measure, by the aid of a shilling map, which I carried with me wherever I went, and upon which, when I was lost, I would hunt myself up, thus making in the end a very suggestive and entertaining map. Indeed, every inch of this piece of colored paper is alive to me. If I did not make the map itself, I at least verified it, which is nearly as good, and the verification, on street corner by day and under lamp or by shop window at night, was often a matter of so much concern that I doubt if the original surveyor himself put more heart into certain parts of his work than I did in the proof of them.

London has less metropolitan splendor than New York, and less of the full-blown pride of the shopman. Its stores are not nearly so big, and it has no signboards that contain over one thousand feet of lumber; neither did I see any names painted on the gable ends of the buildings that the man in the moon could read without his opera-glass. I went out one day to look up one of the great, publishing houses, and passed it and repassed it several times trying to find the sign. Finally, having made sure of the building, I found the name of the firm cut into the door jamb.

London seems to have been built and peopled by countrymen, who have preserved all the rural reminiscences possible. All its great streets or avenues are called roads, as King’s Road, City Road, Edgware Road, Tottenham Court Road, with innumerable lesser roads. Then there are lanes and walks, and such rural names among the streets as Long Acre, Snowhill, Poultry, Bush-lane, Hill-road, Houndsditch, and not one grand street or imperial avenue.

My visit fell at a most favorable juncture as to weather, there being but few rainy days and but little fog. I had imagined that they had barely enough fair weather in London, at any season, to keep alive the tradition of sunshine and of blue sky, but the October days I spent there were not so very far behind what we have at home at this season. London often puts on a nightcap of smoke and fog, which it pulls down over its ears pretty close at times; and the sun has a habit of lying abed very late in the morning, which all the people imitate; but I remember some very pleasant weather there, and some bright moonlight nights.

I saw but one full-blown characteristic London fog. I was in the National Gallery one day, trying to make up my mind about Turner, when this chimney-pot meteor came down. It was like a great yellow dog taking possession of the world. The light faded from the room, the pictures ran together in confused masses of shadow on the walls, and in the street only a dim yellowish twilight prevailed, through which faintly twinkled the lights in the shop windows. Vehicles came slowly out of the dirty obscurity on one side and plunged into it on the other. Waterloo Bridge gave one or two leaps and disappeared, and the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square was obliterated for half its length. Travel was impeded, boats stopped on the river, trains stood still on the track, and for an hour and a half London lay buried beneath this sickening eruption. I say eruption, because a London fog is only a London smoke tempered by a moist atmosphere. It is called “fog” by courtesy, but lampblack is its chief ingredient. It is not wet like our fogs, but quite dry, and makes the eyes smart and the nose tingle. Whenever the sun can be seen through it, his face is red and dirty; seen through a bona fide fog, his face is clean and white. English coal–or “coals,” as they say here–in burning gives out an enormous quantity of thick, yellowish smoke, which is at no time absorbed or dissipated as it would be in our hard, dry atmosphere, and which at certain times is not absorbed at all, but falls down swollen and augmented by the prevailing moisture. The atmosphere of the whole island is more or less impregnated with smoke, even on the fairest days, and it becomes more and more dense as you approach the great towns. Yet this compound of smut, fog, and common air is an elixir of youth; and this is one of the surprises of London, to see amid so much soot and dinginess such fresh, blooming complexions, and in general such a fine physical tone and full-bloodedness among the people,–such as one has come to associate only with the best air and the purest, wholesomest country influences. What the secret of it may be, I am at a loss to know, unless it is that the moist atmosphere does not dry up the blood as our air does, and that the carbon and creosote have some rare antiseptic and preservative qualities, as doubtless they have, that are efficacious in the human physiology. It is no doubt true, also, that the people do not tan in this climate, as in ours, and that the delicate flesh tints show more on that account.

See also  Rambler 181 [The history of an adventurer in lotteries] by Samuel Johnson

I speak thus of these things with reference to our standards at home, because I found that these standards were ever present in my mind, and that I was unconsciously applying them to whatever I saw and wherever I went, and often, as I shall have occasion to show, to their discredit.

Climate is a great matter, and no doubt many of the differences between the English stock at home and its offshoot in our country are traceable to this source. Our climate is more heady and less stomachic than the English; sharpens the wit, but dries up the fluids and viscera; favors an irregular, nervous energy, but exhausts the animal spirits. It is, perhaps, on this account that I have felt since my return how much easier it is to be a dyspeptic here than in Great Britain. One’s appetite is keener and more ravenous, and the temptation to bolt one’s food greater. The American is not so hearty an eater as the Englishman, but the forces of his body are constantly leaving his stomach in the lurch, and running off into his hands and feet and head. His eyes are bigger than his belly, but an Englishman’s belly is a deal bigger than his eyes, and the number of plum puddings and the amount of Welsh rarebit he devours annually would send the best of us to his grave in half that time. We have not enough constitutional inertia and stolidity; our climate gives us no rest, but goads us day and night; and the consequent wear and tear of life is no doubt greater in this country than in any other on the globe. We are playing the game more rapidly, and I fear less thoroughly and sincerely, than the mother country.

The more uniform good health of English women is thought to be a matter of exercise in the open air, as walking, riding, driving, but the prime reason is mainly a climatic one, uniform habits of exercise being more easily kept up in that climate than in this, and being less exhaustive, one day with another. You can walk there every day in the year without much discomfort, and the stimulus is about the same. Here it is too hot in summer and too cold in winter, or else it keys you up too tight one day and unstrings you the next; all fire and motion in the morning, and all listlessness and ennui in the afternoon; a spur one hour and a sedative the next.

A watch will not keep as steady time here as in Britain, and the human clock-work is more liable to get out of repair for the same reason. Our women, especially, break down prematurely, and the decay of maternity in this country is no doubt greater than in any of the oldest civilized communities. One reason, doubtless, is that our women are the greatest slaves of fashion in the whole world, and, in following the whims of that famous courtesan, have the most fickle and destructive climate to contend with.

English women all have good-sized feet, and Englishmen, too, and wear large, comfortable shoes. This was a noticeable feature at once: coarse, loosefitting clothes of both sexes, and large boots and shoes with low heels. They evidently knew the use of their feet, and had none of the French, or American, or Chinese fastidiousness about this part of their anatomy. I notice that, when a family begins to run out, it turns out its toes, drops off at the heel, shortens its jaw, and dotes on small feet and hands.

Another promoter of health in England is woolen clothes, which are worn the year round, the summer driving people into no such extremities as here. And the good, honest woolen stuffs of one kind and another that fill the shops attest the need and the taste that prevail. They had a garment when I was in London called the Ulster overcoat,–a coarse, shaggy, bungling coat, with a skirt reaching nearly to the feet, very ugly, tried by the fashion plates, but very comfortable, and quite the fashion. This very sensible garment has since become well known in America.

The Americans in London were put out with the tailors, and could rarely get suited, on account of the loose cutting and the want of “style.” But “style” is the hiatus that threatens to swallow us all one of these days. About the only monstrosity I saw in the British man’s dress was the stove-pipe hat, which everybody wears. At first I feared it might be a police regulation, or a requirement of the British Constitution, for I seemed to be about the only man in the kingdom with a soft hat on, and I had noticed that before leaving the steamer every man brought out from its hiding-place one of these polished brain-squeezers. Even the boys wear them,–youths of nine and ten years with little stovepipe hats on; and at Eton School I saw black swarms of them: even the boys in the field were playing football in stove-pipe bats.

What we call beauty in woman is so much a matter of youth and health that the average of female beauty in London is, I believe, higher than in this country. English women are comely and good-looking. It is an extremely fresh and pleasant face that you see everywhere,–softer, less clearly and sharply cut than the typical female face in this country,–less spirituelle, less perfect in form, but stronger and sweeter. There is more blood, and heart, and substance back of it. The American race of the present generation is doubtless the most shapely, both in face and figure, that has yet appeared. American children are far less crude, and lumpy, and awkward-looking than the European children. One generation in this country suffices vastly to improve the looks of the offspring of the Irish or German or Norwegian emigrant. There is surely something in our climate or conditions that speedily refines and sharpens–and, shall I add, hardens?–the human features. The face loses something, but it comes into shape; and of such beauty as is the product of this tendency we can undoubtedly show more, especially in our women, than the parent stock in Europe; while American schoolgirls, I believe, have the most bewitching beauty in the world.

The English plainness of speech is observable even in the signs or notices along the streets. Instead of “Lodging,” “Lodging,” as with us, one sees “Beds,” “Beds,” which has a very homely sound; and in place of “gentlemen’s” this, that, or the other, about public places, the word “men’s” is used.

I suppose, if it were not for the bond of a written language and perpetual intercourse, the two nations would not be able to understand each other in the course of a hundred years, the inflection and accentuation are so different. I recently heard an English lady say, referring to the American speech, that she could hardly believe her own language could be spoken so strangely.


One sees right away that the English are a home people, a domestic people; and he does not need to go into their houses or homes to find this out. It is in the air and in the general aspect of things. Everywhere you see the virtue and quality that we ascribe to home-made articles. It seems as if things had been made by hand, and with care and affection, as they have been. The land of caste and kings, there is yet less glitter and display than in this country, less publicity, and, of course, less rivalry and emulation also, for which we pay very dearly. You have got to where the word homely preserves its true signification, and is no longer a term of disparagement, but expressive of a cardinal virtue.

I liked the English habit of naming their houses; it shows the importance they attach to their homes. All about the suburbs of London and in the outlying villages I noticed nearly every house and cottage had some appropriate designation, as Terrace House, Oaktree House, Ivy Cottage, or some Villa, usually cut into the stone gate-post, and this name is put on the address of the letters. How much better to be known by your name than by your number! I believe the same custom prevails in the country, and is common to the middle classes as well as to the aristocracy. It is a good feature. A house or a farm with an appropriate name, which everybody recognizes, must have an added value and importance.

Modern English houses are less showy than ours, and have more weight and permanence,–no flat roofs and no painted outside shutters. Indeed, that pride of American country people, and that abomination in the landscape, a white house with green blinds, I did not see a specimen of in England. They do not aim to make their houses conspicuous, but the contrary. They make a large, yellowish brick that has a pleasing effect in the wall. Then a very short space of time in that climate suffices to take off the effect of newness, and give a mellow, sober hue to the building. Another advantage of the climate is that it permits outside plastering. Thus almost any stone may be imitated, and the work endure for ages; while our sudden changes, and extremes of heat and cold, of dampness and dryness, will cause the best work of this kind to peel off in a few years.

Then this people have better taste in building than we have, perhaps because they have the noblest samples and specimens of architecture constantly before them,–those old feudal castles and royal residences, for instance. I was astonished to see how homely and good they looked, how little they challenged admiration, and how much they emulated rocks and trees. They were surely built in a simpler and more poetic age than this. It was like meeting some plain, natural nobleman after contact with one of the bedizened, artificial sort. The Tower of London, for instance, is as pleasing to the eye, has the same fitness and harmony, as a hut in the woods; and I should think an artist might have the same pleasure in copying it into his picture as he would in copying a pioneer’s log cabin. So with Windsor Castle, which has the beauty of a ledge of rocks, and crowns the hill like a vast natural formation. The warm, simple interior, too, of these castles and palaces, the honest oak without paint or varnish, the rich wood carvings, the ripe human tone and atmosphere,–how it all contrasts, for instance, with the showy, gilded, cast-iron interior of our commercial or political palaces, where everything that smacks of life or nature is studiously excluded under the necessity of making the building fire-proof.

I was not less pleased with the higher ornamental architecture,–the old churches and cathedrals,–which appealed to me in a way architecture had never before done. In fact, I found that I had never seen architecture before,–a building with genius and power in it, and that one could look at with the eye of the imagination. Not mechanics merely, but poets, had wrought and planned here, and the granite was tender with human qualities. The plants and weeds growing in the niches and hollows of the walls, the rooks and martins and jackdaws inhabiting the towers and breeding about the eaves, are but types of the feelings and emotions of the human heart that flit and hover over these old piles, and find affectionate lodgment in them.

Time, of course, has done a great deal for this old architecture. Nature has taken it lovingly to herself, has set her seal upon it, and adopted it into her system. Just the foil which beauty–especially the crystallic beauty of architecture–needs has been given by this hazy, mellowing atmosphere. As the grace and suggestiveness of all objects are enhanced by a fall of snow,–forest, fence, hive, shed, knoll, rock, tree, all being laid under the same white enchantment,–so time has wrought in softening and toning down this old religious architecture, and bringing it into harmony with nature.

Our climate has a much keener edge, both of frost and fire, and touches nothing so gently or creatively; yet time would, no doubt, do much for our architecture, if we would give it a chance,–for that apotheosis of prose, the National Capitol at Washington, upon which, I notice, a returned traveler bases our claim to be considered “ahead” of the Old World, even in architecture; but the reigning gods interfere, and each spring or fall give the building a clean shirt in the shape of a coat of white paint. In like manner, other public buildings never become acclimated, but are. annually scoured with soap and sand, the national passion for the brightness of newness interfering to defeat any benison which the gods might be disposed to pronounce upon them. Spotlessness, I know, is not a characteristic of our politics, though it is said that whitewashing is, which may account for this ceaseless paint-pot renovation of our public buildings. In a world lit only by the moon, our Capitol would be a paragon of beauty, and the spring whitewashing could also be endured; but under our blazing sun and merciless sky it parches the vision, and makes it turn with a feeling of relief to rocks and trees, or to some weather-stained, dilapidated shed or hovel.

How winningly and picturesquely in comparison the old architecture of London addresses itself to the eye,–St. Paul’s Cathedral, for instance, with its vast blotches and stains, as if it had been dipped in some black Lethe of oblivion, and then left to be restored by the rains and the elements! This black Lethe is the London smoke and fog, which has left a dark deposit over all the building, except the upper and more exposed parts, where the original silvery whiteness of the stone shows through, the effect of the whole thus being like one of those graphic Rembrandt photographs or carbons, the prominences in a strong light, and the rest in deepest shadow. I was never tired of looking at this noble building, and of going out of my way to walk around it; but I am at a loss to know whether the pleasure I had in it arose from my love of nature, or from a susceptibility to art for which I had never given myself credit. Perhaps from both, for I seemed to behold Art turning toward and reverently acknowledging Nature,-indeed, in a manner already become Nature.

I believe the critics of such things find plenty of fault with St. Paul’s; and even I could see that its bigness was a little prosy, that it suggested the historic rather than the poetic muse; yet, for all that, I could never look at it without a profound emotion. Viewed coolly and critically, it might seem like a vast specimen of Episcopalianism in architecture. Miltonic in its grandeur and proportions, and Miltonic in its prosiness and mongrel classicism also, yet its power and effectiveness are unmistakable. The beholder has no vantage-ground from which to view it, or to take in its total effect, on account of its being so closely beset by such a mob of shops and buildings; yet the glimpses he does get here and there through the opening made by some street, when passing in its vicinity, are very striking and suggestive; the thin veil of smoke, which is here as constant and uniform as the atmosphere itself, wrapping it about with the enchantment of time and distance.

The interior I found even more impressive than the exterior, perhaps because I was unprepared for it. I had become used to imposing exteriors at home, and did not reflect that in a structure like this I should see an interior also, and that here alone the soul of the building would be fully revealed. It was Miltonic in the best sense; it was like the mightiest organ music put into form. Such depths, such solemn vastness, such gulfs and abysses of architectural space, the rich, mellow light, the haze outside becoming a mysterious, hallowing presence within, quite mastered me, and I sat down upon a seat, feeling my first genuine cathedral intoxication. As it was really an intoxication, a sense of majesty and power quite overwhelming in my then uncloyed condition, I speak of it the more freely. My companions rushed about as if each one had had a searchwarrant in his pocket; but I was content to uncover my head and drop into a seat, and busy my mind with some simple object near at hand, while the sublimity that soared about me stole into my soul and possessed it. My sensation was like that imparted by suddenly reaching a great altitude: there was a sort of relaxation of the muscles, followed by a sense of physical weakness; and after half an hour or so I felt compelled to go out into the open air, and leave till another day the final survey of the building. Next day I came back, but there can be only one first time, and I could not again surprise myself with the same feeling of wonder and intoxication. But St. Paul’s will bear many visits. I came again and again, and never grew tired of it. Crossing its threshold was entering another world, where the silence and solitude were so profound and overpowering that the noise of the streets outside, or of the stream of visitors, or of the workmen engaged on the statuary, made no impression. They were all belittled, lost, like the humming of flies. Even the afternoon services, the chanting, and the tremendous organ, were no interruption, and left me just as much alone as ever. They only served to set off the silence, to fathom its depth.

The dome of St. Paul’s is the original of our dome at Washington; but externally I think ours is the more graceful, though the effect inside is tame and flat in comparison. This is owing partly to its lesser size and height, and partly to our hard, transparent atmosphere, which lends no charm or illusion, but mainly to the stupid, unimaginative plan of it. Our dome shuts down like an inverted iron pot; there is no vista, no outlook, no relation, and hence no proportion. You open a door and are in a circular pen, and can look in only one direction,–up. If the iron pot were slashed through here and there, or if it rested on a row of tall columns or piers, and were shown to be a legitimate part of the building, it would not appear the exhausted receiver it does now.

The dome of St. Paul’s is the culmination of the whole interior of the building. Rising over the central area, it seems to gather up the power and majesty of the nave, the aisles, the transepts, the choir, and give them expression and expansion in its lofty firmament.

Then those colossal piers, forty feet broad some of them, and nearly one hundred feet high,–they easily eclipsed what I had recently seen in a mine, and which I at the time imagined shamed all the architecture of the world,–where the mountain was upheld over a vast space by massive piers left by the miners, with a ceiling unrolled over your head, and apparently descending upon you, that looked like a petrified thunder-cloud.

The view from the upper gallery, or top of the dome, looking down inside, is most impressive. The public are not admitted to this gallery, for fear, the keeper told me, it would become the scene of suicides; people unable to withstand the terrible fascination would leap into the yawning gulf. But, with the privilege usually accorded to Americans, I stepped down into the narrow circle, and, leaning over the balustrade, coolly looked the horrible temptation in the face.

On the whole, St. Paul’s is so vast and imposing that one wonders what occasion or what ceremony can rise to the importance of not being utterly dwarfed within its walls. The annual gathering of the charity children, ten or twelve thousand in number, must make a ripple or two upon its solitude, or an exhibition like the thanksgiving of the Queen, when sixteen or eighteen thousand persons were assembled beneath its roof. But one cannot forget that it is, for the most part, a great toy,–a mammoth shell, whose bigness bears no proportion to the living (if, indeed, it is living), indwelling necessity. It is a tenement so large that the tenant looks cold and forlorn, and in danger of being lost within it.

No such objection can be made to Westminster Abbey, which is a mellow, picturesque old place, the interior arrangement and architecture of which affects one like some ancient, dilapidated forest. Even the sunlight streaming through the dim windows, and falling athwart the misty air, was like the sunlight of a long-gone age. The very atmosphere was pensive, and filled the tall spaces like a memory and a dream. I sat down and listened to the choral service and to the organ, which blended perfectly with the spirit and sentiment of the place.


One of my best days in England was spent amid the singing of skylarks on the South Down Hills, near an old town at the mouth of the Little Ouse, where I paused on my way to France. The prospect of hearing one or two of the classical birds of the Old World had not been the least of the attractions of my visit, though I knew the chances were against me so late in the season, and I have to thank my good genius for guiding me to the right place at the right time. To get out of London was delight enough, and then to find myself quite unexpectedly on these soft rolling hills, of a mild October day, in full sight of the sea, with the larks pouring out their gladness overhead, was to me good fortune indeed.

The South Downs form a very remarkable feature of this part of England, and are totally unlike any other landscape I ever saw. I believe it is Huxley who applies to them the epithet of muttony, which they certainly deserve, for they are like the backs of immense sheep, smooth, and round, and fat,–so smooth, indeed, that the eye can hardly find a place to take hold of, not a tree, or bush, or fence, or house, or rock, or stone, or other object, for miles and miles, save here and there a group of strawcapped stacks, or a flock of sheep crawling slowly over them, attended by a shepherd and dog, and the only lines visible those which bound the squares where different crops had been gathered. The soil was rich and mellow, like a garden,–hills of chalk with a pellicle of black loam.

These hills stretch a great distance along the coast, and are cut squarely off by the sea, presenting on this side a chain of white chalk cliffs suggesting the old Latin name of this land, Albion.

Before I had got fifty yards from the station I began to hear the larks, and being unprepared for them I was a little puzzled at first, but was not long discovering what luck I was in. The song disappointed me at first, being less sweet and melodious than I had expected to hear; indeed, I thought it a little sharp and harsh,–a little stubbly,–but in other respects, in strength and gladness and continuity, it was wonderful. And the more I heard it the better I liked it, until I would gladly have given any of my songsters at home for a bird that could shower down such notes, even in autumn. Up, up, went the bird, describing a large easy spiral till he attained an altitude of three or four hundred feet, when, spread out against the sky for a space of ten or fifteen minutes or more, he poured out his delight, filling all the vault with sound. The song is of the sparrow kind, and, in its best parts, perpetually suggested the notes of our vesper sparrow; but the wonder of it is its copiousness and sustained strength. There is no theme, no beginning, middle, or end, like most of our best birdsongs, but a perfect swarm of notes pouring out like bees from a hive, and resembling each other nearly as closely, and only ceasing as the bird nears the earth again. We have many more melodious songsters; the bobolink in the meadows for instance, the vesper sparrow in the pastures, the purple finch in the groves, the winter wren, or any of the thrushes in the woods, or the wood-wagtail, whose air song is of a similar character to that of the skylark, and is even more rapid and ringing, and is delivered in nearly the same manner; but our birds all stop when the skylark has only just begun. Away he goes on quivering wing, inflating his throat fuller and fuller, mounting and mounting, and turning to all points of the compass as if to embrace the whole landscape in his song, the notes still raining upon you, as distinct as ever, after you have left him far behind. You feel that you need be in no hurry to observe the song lest the bird finish; you walk along, your mind reverts to other things, you examine the grass and weeds, or search for a curious stone, still there goes the bird; you sit down and study the landscape, or send your thoughts out toward France or Spain, or across the sea to your own land, and yet, when you get them back, there is that song above you, almost as unceasing as the light of a star. This strain indeed suggests some rare pyrotechnic display, musical sounds being substituted for the many-colored sparks and lights. And yet I will add, what perhaps the best readers do not need to be told, that neither the lark-song, nor any other bird-song in the open air and under the sky, is as noticeable a feature as my description of it might imply, or as the poets would have us believe; and that most persons, not especially interested in birds or their notes, and intent upon the general beauty of the landscape, would probably pass it by unremarked.

I suspect that it is a little higher flight than the facts will bear out when the writers make the birds go out of sight into the sky. I could easily follow them on this occasion, though, if I took my eye away for a moment, it was very difficult to get it back again. I had to search for them as the astronomer searches for a star. It may be that in the spring, when the atmosphere is less clear and the heart of the bird full of a more mad and reckless love, that the climax is not reached until the eye loses sight of the singer.

Several attempts have been made to introduce the lark into this country, but for some reason or other the experiment has never succeeded. The birds have been liberated in Virginia and on Long Island, but do not seem ever to have been heard of afterwards. I see no reason why they should not thrive anywhere along our Atlantic seaboard, and I think the question of introducing them worthy of more thorough and serious attention than has yet been given it, for the lark is really an institution; and as he sings long after the other birds are silent,–as if he had perpetual spring in his heart,–he would be a great acquisition to our fields and meadows. It may be that he cannot stand the extremes of our climate, though the English sparrow thrives well enough. The Smithsonian Institution has received specimens of the skylark from Alaska, where, no doubt, they find a climate more like the English.

See also  Meditations Upon A Broomstick by Jonathan Swift

They have another prominent singer in England, namely, the robin,–the original robin redbreast,–a slight, quick, active bird with an orange front and an olive back, and a bright, musical warble that I caught by every garden, lane, and hedge-row. It suggests our bluebird, and has similar habits and manners, though it is a much better musician.

The European bird that corresponds to our robin is the blackbird, of which Tennyson sings:–

“O Blackbird, sing me something well;
While all the neighbors shoot thee round
I keep smooth plats of fruitful ground
Where thou may’st warble, eat, and dwell.”

It quite startled me to see such a resemblance,–to see, indeed, a black robin. In size, form, flight, manners, note, call, there is hardly an appreciable difference. The bird starts up with the same flirt of the wings, and calls out in the same jocund, salutatory way, as he hastens off. The nest, of coarse mortar in the fork of a tree, or in an outbuilding, or in the side of a wall, is also the same.

The bird I wished most to hear, namely, the nightingale, had already departed on its southern journey. I saw one in the Zoological Gardens in London, and took a good look at him. He struck me as bearing a close resemblance to our hermit thrush, with something in his manners that suggested the water-thrush also. Carlyle said he first recognized its song from the description of it in “Wilhelm Meister,” and that it was a “sudden burst,” which is like the song of our water-thrush.

I have little doubt our songsters excel in melody, while the European birds excel in profuseness and volubility. I heard many bright, animated notes and many harsh ones, but few that were melodious. This fact did not harmonize with the general drift of the rest of my observations, for one of the first things that strikes an American in Europe is the mellowness and rich tone of things. The European is softer-voiced than the American and milder-mannered, but the bird voices seem an exception to this rule.


While in London I had much pleasure in strolling through the great parks, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St. James Park, Victoria Park, and in making Sunday excursions to Richmond Park, Hampden Court Parks, and the great parks at Windsor Castle. The magnitude of all these parks was something I was entirely unprepared for, and their freedom also; one could roam where he pleased. Not once did I see a signboard, “Keep off the grass,” or go here or go there. There was grass enough, and one could launch out in every direction without fear of trespassing on forbidden ground. One gets used, at least I do, to such petty parks at home, and walks amid them so cautiously and circumspectly, every shrub and tree and grass plat saying “Hands off,” that it is a new sensation to enter a city pleasure ground like Hyde Park,–a vast natural landscape, nearly two miles long and a mile wide, with broad, rolling plains, with herds of sheep grazing, and forests and lakes, and all as free as the air. He have some quite sizable parks and reservations in Washington, and the citizen has the right of way over their tortuous gravel walks, but he puts his foot upon the grass at the risk of being insolently hailed by the local police. I have even been called to order for reclining upon a seat under a tree in the Smithsonian grounds. I must sit upright as in church. But in Hyde Park or Regent’s Park I could not only walk upon the grass, but lie upon it, or roll upon it, or play “one catch all” with children, boys, dogs, or sheep upon it; and I took my revenge for once for being so long confined to gravel walks, and gave the grass an opportunity to grow under my foot whenever I entered one of these parks.

This free-and-easy rural character of the London parks is quite in keeping with the tone and atmosphere of the great metropolis itself, which in so many respects has a country homeliness and sincerity, and shows the essentially bucolic taste of the people; contrasting in this respect with the parks and gardens of Paris, which show as unmistakably the citizen and the taste for art and the beauty of design and ornamentation. Hyde Park seems to me the perfection of a city pleasure ground of this kind, because it is so free and so thoroughly a piece of the country, and so exempt from any petty artistic displays.

In walking over Richmond Park I found I had quite a day’s work before me, as it was like traversing a township; while the great park at Windsor Castle, being upwards of fifty miles around, might well make the boldest pedestrian hesitate. My first excursion was to Hampton Court, an old royal residence, where I spent a delicious October day wandering through Bushy Park, and looking with covetous, though admiring eyes upon the vast herds of deer that dotted the plains, or gave way before me as I entered the woods. There seemed literally to be many thousands of these beautiful animals in this park, and the loud, hankering sounds of the bucks, as they pursued or circled around the does, was a new sound to my ears. The rabbits and pheasants also were objects of the liveliest interest to me, and I found that after all a good shot at them with the eye, especially when I could credit myself with alertness or stealthiness, was satisfaction enough.

I thought it worthy of note that, though these great parks in and about London were so free, and apparently without any police regulations whatever, yet I never saw prowling about them any of those vicious, ruffianly looking characters that generally infest the neighborhood of our great cities, especially of a Sunday. There were troops of boys, but they were astonishingly quiet and innoxious, very unlike American boys, white or black, a band of whom making excursions into the country are always a band of outlaws. Ruffianism with us is no doubt much more brazen and pronounced, not merely because the law is lax, but because such is the genius of the people.


England is a mellow country, and the English people are a mellow people. They have hung on the tree of nations a long time, and will, no doubt, hang as much longer; for windfalls, I reckon, are not the order in this island. We are pitched several degrees higher in this country. By contrast, things here are loud, sharp, and garish. Our geography is loud; the manners of the people are loud; our climate is loud, very loud, so dry and sharp, and full of violent changes and contrasts; and our goings-out and comings-in as a nation are anything but silent. Do we not occasionally give the door an extra slam just for effect?

In England everything is on a lower key, slower, steadier, gentler. Life is, no doubt, as full, or fuller, in its material forms and measures, but less violent and aggressive. The buffers the English have between their cars to break the shock are typical of much one sees there.

All sounds are softer in England; the surface of things is less hard. The eye of day and the face of Nature are less bright. Everything has a mellow, subdued cast. There is no abruptness in the landscape, no sharp and violent contrasts, no brilliant and striking tints in the foliage. A soft, pale yellow is all one sees in the way of tints along the borders of the autumn woods. English apples (very small and inferior, by the way) are not so highly colored as ours. The blackberries, just ripening in October, are less pungent and acid; and the garden vegetables, such as cabbage, celery, cauliflower, beet, and other root crops, are less rank and fibrous; and I am very sure that the meats also are tenderer and sweeter. There can be no doubt about the superiority of English mutton; and the tender and succulent grass, and the moist and agreeable climate, must tell upon the beef also.

English coal is all soft coal, and the stone is soft stone. The foundations of the hills are chalk instead of granite. The stone with which most of the old churches and cathedrals are built would not endure in our climate half a century; but in Britain the tooth of Time is much blunter, and the hunger of the old man less ravenous, and the ancient architecture stands half a millennium, or until it is slowly worn away by the gentle attrition of the wind and rain.

At Chester, the old Roman wall that surrounds the town, built in the first century and repaired in the ninth, is still standing without a break or a swerve, though in some places the outer face of the wall is worn through. The Cathedral, and St. John’s Church, in the same town, present to the beholder outlines as jagged and broken as rocks and cliffs; and yet it is only chip by chip, or grain by grain, that ruin approaches. The timber also lasts an incredibly long time. Beneath one of the arched ways, in the Chester wall above referred to, I saw timbers that must have been in place five or six hundred years. The beams in the old houses, also fully exposed to the weather, seem incapable of decay; those dating from Shakespeare’s time being apparently as firm as ever.

I noticed that the characteristic aspect of the clouds in England was different from ours,–soft, fleecy, vapory, indistinguishable,–never the firm, compact, sharply, defined, deeply dyed masses and fragments so common in our own sky. It rains easily but slowly. The average rainfall of London is less than that of New York, and yet it doubtless rains ten days in the former to one in the latter. Storms accompanied with thunder are rare; while the crashing, wrenching, explosive thunder-gusts so common with us, deluging the earth and convulsing the heavens, are seldom known.

In keeping with this elemental control and moderation, I found the character and manners of the people gentler and sweeter than I had been led to believe they were. No loudness, brazenness, impertinence; no oaths, no swaggering, no leering at women, no irreverence, no flippancy, no bullying, no insolence of porters or clerks or conductors, no importunity of bootblacks or newsboys, no omnivorousness, of hackmen,–at least, comparatively none,–all of which an American is apt to notice, and, I hope, appreciate. In London the bootblack salutes you with a respectful bow and touches his cap, and would no more think of pursuing you or answering your refusal than he would of jumping into the Thames. The same is true of the newsboys. If they were to scream and bellow in London as they do in New York or Washington, they would be suppressed by the police, as they ought to be. The vender of papers stands at the comer of the street, with his goods in his arms, and a large placard spread out at his feet, giving in big letters the principal news-headings.

Street-cries of all kinds are less noticeable, less aggressive, than in this country, and the manners of the shopmen make you feel you are conferring a benefit instead of receiving one. Even their locomotives are less noisy than ours, having a shrill, infantile whistle that contrasts strongly with the loud, demoniac yell that makes a residence near a railway or a depot, in this country, so unbearable. The trains themselves move with wonderful smoothness and celerity, making a mere fraction of the racket made by our flying palaces as they go swaying and jolting over our hasty, ill-ballasted roads.

It is characteristic of the English prudence and plain dealing, that they put so little on the cars and so much on the road, while the reverse process is equally characteristic of American enterprise. Our railway system no doubt has certain advantages, or rather conveniences, over the English, but, for my part, I had rather ride smoothly, swiftly, and safely in a luggage van than be jerked and jolted to destruction in the velvet and veneering of our palace cars. Upholster the road first, and let us ride on bare boards until a cushion can be afforded; not till after the bridges are of granite and iron, and the rails of steel, do we want this more than aristocratic splendor and luxury of palace and drawingroom cars. To me there is no more marked sign of essential vulgarity of the national manners than these princely cars and beggarly, clap-trap roads. It is like a man wearing a ruffled and jeweled shirtfront, but too poor to afford a shirt itself.

I have said the English are a sweet and mellow people. There is, indeed, a charm about these ancestral races that goes to the heart. And herein was one of the profoundest surprises of my visit, namely, that, in coming from the New World to the Old, from a people the most recently out of the woods of any, to one of the ripest and venerablest of the European nationalities, I should find a race more simple, youthful, and less sophisticated than the one I had left behind me. Yet this was my impression. We have lost immensely in some things, and what we have gained is not yet so obvious or so definable. We have lost in reverence, in homeliness, in heart and conscience,–in virtue, using the word in its proper sense. To some, the difference which I note may appear a difference in favor of the great cuteness, wideawakeness, and enterprise of the American, but it is simply a difference expressive of our greater forwardness. We are a forward people, and the god we worship is Smartness. In one of the worst tendencies of the age, namely, an impudent, superficial, journalistic intellectuality and glibness, America, in her polite and literary circles, no doubt leads all other nations. English books and newspapers show more homely veracity, more singleness of purpose, in short more character, than ours. The great charm of such a man as Darwin, for instance, is his simple manliness and transparent good faith, and the absence in him of that finical, self-complacent smartness which is the bane of our literature.

The poet Clough thought the New England man more simple than the man of Old England. Hawthorne, on the other hand, seemed reluctant to admit that the English were a “franker and simpler people, from peer to peasant,” than we are; and that they had not yet wandered so far from that “healthful and primitive simplicity in which man was created” as have their descendants in America. My own impression accords with Hawthorne’s. We are a more alert and curious people, but not so simple,–not so easily angered, nor so easily amused. We have partaken more largely of the fruit of the forbidden tree. The English have more of the stay-at-home virtues, which, on the other hand, they no doubt pay pretty well for by their more insular tendencies.

The youths and maidens seemed more simple, with their softer and less intellectual faces. When I returned from Paris, the only person in the second-class compartment of the car with me, for a long distance, was an English youth eighteen or twenty years old, returning home to London after an absence of nearly a year, which he had spent as waiter in a Parisian hotel. He was born in London and had spent nearly his whole life there, where his mother, a widow, then lived. He talked very freely with me, and told me his troubles, and plans, and hopes, as if we had long known each other. What especially struck me in the youth was a kind of sweetness and innocence–perhaps what some would call “greenness”–that at home I had associated only with country boys, and not even with them latterly. The smartness and knowingness and a certain hardness or keenness of our city youths,–there was no trace of it at all in this young Cockney. But he liked American travelers better than those from his own country. They were more friendly and communicative,–were not so afraid to speak to “a fellow,” and at the hotel were more easily pleased.

The American is certainly not the grumbler the Englishman is; he is more cosmopolitan and conciliatory. The Englishman will not adapt himself to his surroundings; he is not the least bit an imitative animal; he will be nothing but an Englishman, and is out of place–an anomaly–in any country but his own. To understand him, you must see him at home in the British island where he grew, where he belongs, where he has expressed himself and justified himself, and where his interior, unconscious characteristics are revealed. There he is quite a different creature from what he is abroad. There he is “sweet,” but he sours the moment he steps off the island. In this country he is too generally arrogant, fault-finding, and supercilious. The very traits of loudness, sharpness, and unleavenedness, which I complain of in our national manners, he very frequently exemplifies in an exaggerated form.

The Scotch or German element no doubt fuses and mixes with ours much more readily than the purely British.

The traveler feels the past in England as of course he cannot feel it here; and, along with impressions of the present, one gets the flavor and influence of earlier, simpler times, which, no doubt, is a potent charm, and one source of the “rose-color” which some readers have found in my sketches, as the absence of it is one cause of the raw, acrid, unlovely character of much that there is in this country. If the English are the old wine, we are the new. We are not yet thoroughly leavened as a people, nor have we more than begun to transmute and humanize our surroundings; and as the digestive and assimilative powers of the American are clearly less than those of the Englishman, to say nothing of our harsher, more violent climate, I have no idea that ours can ever become the mellow land that Britain is.

As for the charge of brutality that is often brought against the English, and which is so successfully depicted by Dickens and Thackeray, there is doubtless good ground for it, though I actually saw very little of it during five weeks’ residence in London, and I poked about into all the dens and comers I could find, and perambulated the streets at nearly all hours of the night and day. Yet I am persuaded there is a kind of brutality among the lower orders in England that does not exist in the same measure in this country,–an ignorant animal coarseness, an insensibility, which gives rise to wife-beating and kindred offenses. But the brutality of ignorance and stolidity is not the worst form of the evil. It is good material to make something better of. It is an excess and not a perversion. It is not man fallen, but man undeveloped. Beware, rather, that refined, subsidized brutality; that thin, depleted, moral consciousness; or that contemptuous, cankerous, euphemistic brutality, of which, I believe, we can show vastly more samples than Great Britain. Indeed, I believe, for the most part, that the brutality of the English people is only the excess and plethora of that healthful, muscular robustness and full-bloodedness for which the nation has always been famous, and which it should prize beyond almost anything else. But for our brutality, our recklessness of life and property, the brazen ruffianism in our great cities, the hellish greed and robbery and plunder in high places, I should have to look a long time to find so plausible an excuse.

[But I notice with pleasure that English travelers are beginning to find more to admire than to condemn in this country, and that they accredit us with some virtues they do not find at home in the same measure. They are charmed with the independence, the self-respect, the good-nature, and the obliging dispositions shown by the mass of our people; while American travelers seem to be more and more ready to acknowledge the charm and the substantial qualities of the mother country. It is a good omen. One principal source of the pleasure which each takes in the other is no doubt to be found in the novelty of the impressions. It is like a change of cookery. The flavor of the dish is fresh and uncloying to each. The English probably tire of their own snobbishness and flunkeyism, and we of our own smartness and puppyism. After the American has got done bragging about his independence, and his “free and equal” prerogatives, he begins to see how these things run into impertinence and forwardness; and the Englishman, in visiting us, escapes from his social bonds and prejudices, to see for a moment how absurd they all are.]

A London crowd I thought the most normal and unsophisticated I had ever seen, with the least admixture of rowdyism and ruffianism. No doubt it is there, but this scum is not upon the surface, as with us. I went about very freely in the hundred and one places of amusement where the average working classes assemble, with their wives and daughters and sweethearts, and smoke villainous cigars and drink ale and stout. There was to me something notably fresh and canny about them, as if they had only yesterday ceased to be shepherds and shepherdesses. They certainly were less developed in certain directions, or shall I say less depraved, than similar crowds in our great cities. They are easily pleased, and laugh at the simple and childlike, but there is little that hints of an impure taste, or of abnormal appetites. I often smiled at the tameness and simplicity of the amusements, but my sense of fitness, or proportion, or decency was never once outraged. They always stop short of a certain point,–the point where wit degenerates into mockery, and liberty into license: nature is never put to shame, and will commonly bear much more. Especially to the American sense did their humorous and comic strokes, their negro-minstrelsy and attempts at Yankee comedy, seem in a minor key. There was not enough irreverence and slang and coarse ribaldry, in the whole evening’s entertainment, to have seasoned one line of some of our most popular comic poetry. But the music, and the gymnastic, acrobatic, and other feats, were of a very high order. And I will say here that the characteristic flavor of the humor and fun-making of the average English people, as it impressed my sense, is what one gets in Sterne,–very human and stomachic, and entirely free from the contempt and superciliousness of most current writers. I did not get one whiff of Dickens anywhere. No doubt it is there in some form or other, but it is not patent, or even appreciable, to the sense of such an observer as I am.

I was not less pleased by the simple good-will and bonhomie that pervaded the crowd. There is in all these gatherings an indiscriminate mingling of the sexes, a mingling without jar or noise or rudeness of any kind, and marked by a mutual respect on all sides that is novel and refreshing. Indeed, so uniform is the courtesy, and so human and considerate the interest, that I was often at a loss to discriminate the wife or the sister from the mistress or the acquaintance of the hour, and had many times to check my American curiosity and cold, criticising stare. For it was curious to see young men and women from the lowest social strata meet and mingle in a public hall without lewdness or badinage, but even with gentleness and consideration. The truth is, however, that the class of women known as victims of the social evil do not sink within many degrees as low in Europe as they do in this country, either in their own opinion or in that of the public; and there can be but little doubt that gatherings of the kind referred to, if permitted in our great cities, would be tenfold more scandalous and disgraceful than they are in London or Paris. There is something so reckless and desperate in the career of man or woman in this country, when they begin to go down, that the only feeling they too often excite is one of loathsomeness and disgust. The lowest depth must be reached, and it is reached quickly. But in London the same characters seem to keep a sweet side from corruption to the last, and you will see good manners everywhere.

We boast of our deference to woman, but if the Old World made her a tool, we are fast making her a toy; and the latter is the more hopeless condition. But among the better classes in England I am convinced that woman is regarded more as a sister and an equal than in this country, and is less subject to insult, and to leering, brutal comment, there than here. We are her slave or her tyrant; so seldom her brother and friend. I thought it a significant fact that I found no place of amusement set apart for the men; where one sex went the other went; what was sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose; and the spirit that prevailed was soft and human accordingly. The hotels had no “ladies’ entrance,” but all passed in and out the same door, and met and mingled commonly in the same room, and the place was as much for one as for the other. It was no more a masculine monopoly than it was a feminine. Indeed, in the country towns and villages the character of the inns is unmistakably given by woman; hence the sweet, domestic atmosphere that pervades and fills them is balm to the spirit. Even the larger hotels of Liverpool and London have a private, cozy, home character that is most delightful. On entering them, instead of finding yourself in a sort of public thoroughfare or political caucus, amid crowds of men talking and smoking and spitting, with stalls on either side where cigars and tobacco and books and papers are sold, you perceive you are in something like a larger hall of a private house, with perhaps a parlor and coffee-room on one side, and the office, and smoking-room, and stairway on the other. You may leave your coat and hat on the rack in the hall, and stand your umbrella there also, with full assurance that you will find them there when you want them, if it be the next morning or the next week. Instead of that petty tyrant the hotel clerk, a young woman sits in the office with her sewing or other needlework, and quietly receives you. She gives you your number on a card, rings for a chambermaid to show you to your room, and directs your luggage to be sent up; and there is something in the look of things, and the way they are done, that goes to the right spot at once.

See also  Of Diversion by Montaigne

At the hotel in London where I stayed, the daughters of the landlord, three fresh, comely young women, did the duties of the office; and their presence, so quiet and domestic, gave the prevailing hue and tone to the whole house. I wonder how long a young woman could preserve her self-respect and sensibility in such a position in New York or Washington?

The English regard us as a wonderfully patient people, and there can be no doubt that we put up with abuses unknown elsewhere. If we have no big tyrant, we have ten thousand little ones, who tread upon our toes at every turn. The tyranny of corporations, and of public servants of one kind and another, as the ticket-man, the railroad conductor, or even of the country stage-driver, seem to be features peculiar to American democracy. In England the traveler is never snubbed, or made to feel that it is by somebody’s sufferance that he is allowed aboard or to pass on his way.

If you get into an omnibus or a railroad or tramway carriage in London, you are sure of a seat. Not another person can get aboard after the seats are all full. Or, if you enter a public hall, you know you will not be required to stand up unless you pay the standing-up price. There is everywhere that system, and order, and fair dealing, which all men love. The science of living has been reduced to a fine point. You pay a sixpence and get a sixpence worth of whatever you buy. There are all grades and prices, and the robbery and extortion so current at home appear to be unknown.

I am not contending for the superiority of everything English, but would not disguise from myself or my readers the fact of the greater humanity and consideration that prevail in the mother country. Things here are yet in the green, but I trust there is no good reason to doubt that our fruit will mellow and ripen in time like the rest.


In coming over to France, I noticed that the chalk-hills, which were stopped so abruptly by the sea on the British side of the Channel, began again on the French side, only they had lost their smooth, pastoral character, and were more broken and rocky, and that they continued all the way to Paris, walling in the Seine, and giving the prevailing tone and hue to the country,–scrape away the green and brown epidermis of the hills anywhere, and out shines their white framework,–and that Paris itself was built of stone evidently quarried from this formation,–a light, cream-colored stone, so soft that rifle-bullets bury themselves in it nearly their own depth, thus pitting some of the more exposed fronts during the recent strife in a very noticeable manner, and which, in building, is put up in the rough, all the carving, sculpturing, and finishing being done after the blocks are in position in the wall.

Disregarding the counsel of friends, I braved the Channel at one of its wider points, taking the vixen by the waist instead of by the neck, and found her as placid as a lake, as I did also on my return a week later.

It was a bright October morning as we steamed into the little harbor at Dieppe, and the first scene that met my eye was, I suppose, a characteristic one,–four or five old men and women towing a vessel into a dock. They bent beneath the rope that passed from shoulder to shoulder, and tugged away doggedly at it, the women apparently more than able to do their part. There is no equalizer of the sexes like poverty and misery, and then it very often happens that the gray mare proves the better horse. Throughout the agricultural regions, as we passed along, the men apparently all wore petticoats; at least, the petticoats were the most active and prominent in the field occupations. Then wearers were digging potatoes, pulling beets, following the harrow (in one instance a thorn-bush drawn by a cow), and stirring the wet, new-mown grass. I believe the pantaloons were doing the mowing. But I looked in vain for any Maud Mullers in the meadows, and have concluded that these can be found only in New England hay-fields! And herein is one of the first surprises that await one on visiting the Old World countries,–the absence of graceful, girlish figures, and bright girlish faces, among the peasantry or rural population. In France I certainly expected to see female beauty everywhere, but did not get one gleam all that sunny day till I got to Paris. Is it a plant that flourishes only in cities on this side of the Atlantic, or do all the pretty girls, as soon as they are grown, pack their trunks, and leave for the gay metropolis?

At Dieppe I first saw the wooden shoe, and heard its dry, senseless clatter upon the pavement. How suggestive of the cramped and inflexible conditions with which human nature has borne so long in these lands!

A small paved square near the wharf was the scene of an early market, and afforded my first glimpse of the neatness and good taste that characterize nearly everything in France. Twenty or thirty peasant women, coarse and masculine, but very tidy, with their snow-white caps and short petticoats, and perhaps half as many men, were chattering and chaffering over little heaps of fresh country produce. The onions and potatoes and cauliflowers were prettily arranged on the clean pavement, or on white linen cloths, and the scene was altogether animated and agreeable.

La belle France is the woman’s country clearly, and it seems a mistake or an anomaly that woman is not at the top and leading in all departments, compelling the other sex to play second fiddle, as she so frequently has done for a brief time in isolated cases in the past; not that the man is effeminate, but that the woman seems so nearly his match and equal, and so often proves even his superior. In no other nation, during times of popular excitement and insurrection or revolution, do women emerge so conspicuously, often in the front ranks, the most furious and ungovernable of any. I think even a female conscription might be advisable in the present condition of France, if I may judge of her soldiers from the specimens I saw. Small, spiritless, inferior-looking men, all of them. They were like Number Three mackerel or the last run of shad, as doubtless they were,–the last pickings and resiftings of the population.

I don’t know how far it may be a national custom, but I observed that the women of the humbler classes, in meeting or parting with friends at the stations, saluted each other on both cheeks, never upon the mouth, as our dear creatures do, and I commended their good taste, though I certainly approve the American custom, too.

Among the male population I was struck with the frequent recurrence of the Louis Napoleon type of face. “Has this man,” I said, “succeeded in impressing himself even upon the physiognomy of the people? Has he taken such a hold of their imaginations that they have grown to look like him?” The guard that took our train down to Paris might easily play the double to the ex-emperor; and many times in Paris and among different classes I saw the same countenance.

Coming from England, the traveling seems very slow in this part of France, taking eight or nine hours to go from Dieppe to Paris, with an hour’s delay at Rouen. The valley of the Seine, which the road follows or skirts more than half the way, is very winding, with immense flats or plains shut in by a wall of steep, uniform hills, and, in the progress of the journey, is from time to time laid open to the traveler in a way that is full of novelty and surprise. The day was bright and lovely, and I found my eyes running riot the same as they had done during my first ride on British soil. The contrast between the two countries is quite marked, France in this region being much more broken and picturesque, with some waste or sterile land,–a thing I did not see at all in England. Had I awaked from a long sleep just before reaching Paris, I should have guessed I was riding through Maryland, and should soon see the dome of the Capitol at Washington rising above the trees. So much wild and bushy or barren and half-cultivated land, almost under the walls of the French capital, was a surprise.

Then there are few or none of those immense home-parks which one sees in England, the land being mostly held by a great number of small proprietors, and cultivated in strips, or long, narrow parallelograms, making the landscape look like many-colored patchwork. Everywhere along the Seine, stretching over the flats, or tilted up against the sides of the hills, in some places seeming almost to stand on end, were these acre or half-acre rectangular farms, without any dividing lines or fences, and of a great variety of shades and colors, according to the crop and the tillage.

I was glad to see my old friend, the beech-tree, all along the route. His bole wore the same gray and patched appearance it does at home, and no doubt Thoreau would have found his instep even fairer; for the beech on this side of the Atlantic is a more fluent and graceful tree than the American species, resembling, in its branchings and general form, our elm, though never developing such an immense green dome as our elm when standing alone, and I saw no European tree that does. The European elm is not unlike our beech in form and outline.

Going from London to Paris is, in some respects, like getting out of the chimney on to the housetop,–the latter city is, by contrast, so light and airy, and so American in its roominess. I had come to Paris for my dessert after my feast of London joints, and I suspect I was a little dainty in that most dainty of cities. In fact, I had become quite sated with sight-seeing, and the prospect of having to go on and “do” the rest of Europe after the usual manner of tourists, and as my companions did, would have been quite appalling. Said companions steered off like a pack of foxhounds in full blast. The game they were in quest of led them a wild chase up the Rhine, off through Germany and Italy, taking a turn back through Switzerland, giving them no rest, and apparently eluding them at last. I had felt obliged to cut loose from them at the outset, my capacity to digest kingdoms and empires at short notice being far below that of the average of my countrymen. My interest and delight had been too intense at the outset; I had partaken too heartily of the first courses; and now, where other travelers begin to warm to the subject, and to have the keenest relish, I began to wish the whole thing well through with. So that Paris was no paradise to one American at least. Yet the mere change of air and sky, and the escape from that sooty, all-pervasive, chimney-flue smell of London, was so sudden and complete, that the first hour of Paris was like a refreshing bath, and gave rise to satisfaction in which every pore of the skin participated. My room at the hotel was a gem of neatness and order, and the bed a marvel of art, comfort, and ease, three feet deep at least.

Then the uniform imperial grace and eclat of the city was a new experience. Here was the city of cities, the capital of taste and fashion, the pride and flower of a great race and a great history, the city of kings and emperors, and of a people which, after all, loves kings and emperors, and will not long, I fear, be happy without them,–a gregarious, urbane people, a people of genius and destiny, whose God is Art and whose devil is Communism. London has long ago outgrown itself, has spread, and multiplied, and accumulated, without a corresponding inward expansion and unification; but in Paris they have pulled down and built larger, and the spirit of centralization has had full play. Hence the French capital is superb, but soon grows monotonous. See one street and boulevard, and you have seen it all. It has the unity and consecutiveness of a thing deliberately planned and built to order, from beginning to end. Its stone is all from one quarry, and its designs are all the work of one architect. London has infinite variety, and quaintness, and picturesqueness, and is of all possible shades of dinginess and weather-stains. It shows its age, shows the work of innumerable generations, and is more an aggregation, a conglomeration, than is Paris. Paris shows the citizen, and is modern and democratic in its uniformity. On the whole, I liked London best, because I am so much of a countryman, I suppose, and affect so little the metropolitan spirit. In London there are a few grand things to be seen, and the pulse of the great city itself is like the throb of the ocean; but in Paris, owing either to my jaded senses or to some other cause, I saw nothing that was grand, but enough that was beautiful and pleasing. The more pretentious and elaborate specimens of architecture, like the Palace of the Tuileries or the Palais Royal, are truly superb, but they as truly do not touch that deeper chord whose awakening we call the emotion of the sublime.

But the fitness and good taste everywhere displayed in the French capital may well offset any considerations of this kind, and cannot fail to be refreshing to a traveler of any other land,–in the dress and manners of the people, in the shops and bazaars and show-windows, in the markets, the equipages, the furniture, the hotels. It is entirely a new sensation to an American to look into a Parisian theatre, and see the acting and hear the music. The chances are that, for the first time, he sees the interior of a theatre that does not have a hard, businesslike, matter-of-fact air. The auditors look comfortable and cozy, and quite at home, and do not, shoulder to shoulder and in solid lines, make a dead set at the play and the music. The theatre has warm hangings, warm colors, cozy boxes and stalls, and is in no sense the public, away-from-home place we are so familiar with in this country. Again, one might know it was Paris by the character of the prints and pictures in the shop windows; they are so clever as art that one becomes reprehensibly indifferent to their license. Whatever sins the French may be guilty of, they never sin against art and good taste (except when in the frenzy of revolution), and, if Propriety is sometimes obliged to cry out “For shame!” in the French capital, she must do so with ill-concealed admiration, like a fond mother chiding with word and gesture while she approves with tone and look. It is a foolish charge, often made, that the French make vice attractive: they make it provocative of laughter; the spark of wit is always evolved, and what is a better antidote to this kind of poison than mirth?

They carry their wit even into their cuisine. Every dish set before you at the table is a picture, and tickles your eye before it does your palate. When I ordered fried eggs, they were brought on a snow-white napkin, which was artistically folded upon a piece of ornamented tissue-paper that covered a china plate; if I asked for cold ham, it came in flakes, arrayed like great rose-leaves, with a green sprig or two of parsley dropped upon it, and surrounded by a border of calfs’-foot jelly, like a setting of crystals. The bread revealed new qualities in the wheat, it was so sweet and nutty; and the fried potatoes, with which your beefsteak comes snowed under, are the very flower of the culinary art, and I believe impossible in any other country.

Even the ruins are in excellent taste, and are by far the best-behaved ruins I ever saw for so recent ones. I came near passing some of the most noted, during my first walk, without observing them. The main walls were all standing, and the fronts were as imposing as ever. No litter or rubbish, no charred timbers or blackened walls; only vacant windows and wrecked interiors, which do not very much mar the general outside effect.

My first genuine surprise was the morning after my arrival, which, according to my reckoning, was Sunday; and when I heard the usual week-day sounds, and, sallying forth, saw the usual weekday occupations going on,–painters painting, glaziers glazing, masons on their scaffolds, and heavy drays and market-wagons going through the streets, and many shops and bazaars open,–I must have presented to a scrutinizing beholder the air and manner of a man in a dream, so absorbed was I in running over the events of the week to find where the mistake had occurred, where I had failed to turn a leaf, or else had turned over two leaves for one. But each day had a distinct record, and every count resulted the same. It must be Sunday. Then it all dawned upon me that this was Paris, and that the Parisians did not have the reputation of being very strict Sabbatarians.

The French give a touch of art to whatever they do. Even the drivers of drays and carts and trucks about the streets are not content with a plain, matter-of-fact whip, as an English or American laborer would be, but it must be a finely modeled stalk, with a long, tapering lash tipped with the best silk snapper. Always the inevitable snapper. I doubt if there is a whip in Paris without a snapper. Here is where the fine art, the rhetoric of driving, comes in. This converts a vulgar, prosy “gad” into a delicate instrument, to be wielded with pride and skill, and never literally to be applied to the backs of the animals, but to be launched to right and left into the air with a professional flourish, and a sharp, ringing report. Crack! crack! crack! all day long go these ten thousand whips, like the boys’ Fourth of July fusillade. It was invariably the first sound I heard when I opened my eyes in the morning, and generally the last one at night. Occasionally some belated drayman would come hurrying along just as I was going to sleep, or some early bird before I was fully awake in the morning, and let off in rapid succession, in front of my hotel, a volley from the tip of his lash that would make the street echo again, and that might well have been the envy of any ring-master that ever trod the tanbark. Now and then, during my ramblings, I would suddenly hear some master-whip, perhaps that of an old omnibus-driver, that would crack like a rifle, and, as it passed along, all the lesser whips, all the amateur snappers, would strike up with a jealous and envious emulation, making every foot-passenger wink, and one (myself) at least almost to shade his eyes from the imaginary missiles.

I record this fact because it “points a moral and adorns a ‘tail.’” The French always give this extra touch. Everything has its silk snapper. Are not the literary whips of Paris famous for their rhetorical tips and the sting there is in them? What French writer ever goaded his adversary with the belly of his lash, like the Germans and the English, when he could blister him with its silken end, and the percussion of wit be heard at every stroke?

In the shops, and windows, and public halls, this passion takes the form of mirrors,–mirrors, mirrors everywhere, on the walls, in the panels, in the cases, on the pillars, extending, multiplying, opening up vistas this way and that, and converting the smallest shop, with a solitary girl and a solitary customer, into an immense enchanted bazaar, across whose endless counters customers lean and pretty girls display goods. The French are always before the looking-glass, even when they eat and drink. I never went into a restaurant without seeing four or five facsimiles of myself approaching from as many different`directions, giving the order to the waiter and sitting down at the table. Hence I always had plenty of company at dinner, though we were none of us very social, and I was the only one who entered or passed out at the door. The show windows are the greatest cheat. What an expanse, how crowded, and how brilliant! You see, for instance, an immense array of jewelry, and pause to have a look. You begin at the end nearest you, and, after gazing a moment, take a step to run your eye along the dazzling display, when, presto! the trays of watches and diamonds vanish in a twinkling, and you find yourself looking into the door, or your delighted eyes suddenly bring up against a brick wall, disenchanted so quickly that you almost stagger.

I went into a popular music and dancing hall one night, and found myself in a perfect enchantment of mirrors. Not an inch of wall was anywhere visible. I was suddenly caught up into the seventh heaven of looking-glasses, from which I came down with a shock the moment I emerged into the street again. I observed that this mirror contagion had broken out in spots in London, and, in the narrow and crowded condition of the shops there, even this illusory enlargement would be a relief. It might not improve the air, or add to the available storage capacity of the establishment, but it would certainly give a wider range to the eye.

The American no sooner sets foot on the soil of France than he perceives he has entered a nation of drinkers as he has left a nation of eaters. Men do not live by bread here, but by wine. Drink, drink, drink everywhere,–along all the boulevards, and streets, and quays, and byways; in the restaurants and under awnings, and seated on the open sidewalk; social and convivial wine-bibbing,–not hastily and in large quantities, but leisurely and reposingly, and with much conversation and enjoyment.

Drink, drink, drink, and, with equal frequency and nearly as much openness, the reverse or diuretic side of the fact. (How our self-consciousness would writhe! We should all turn to stone!) Indeed, the ceaseless deglutition of mankind in this part of the world is equaled only by the answering and enormous activity of the human male kidneys. This latter was too astonishing and too public a fact to go unmentioned. At Dieppe, by the reeking tubs standing about, I suspected some local distemper; but when I got to Paris, and saw how fully and openly the wants of the male citizen in this respect were recognized by the sanitary and municipal regulations, and that the urinals were thicker than the lamp-posts, I concluded it must be a national trait; and at once abandoned the theory that had begun to take possession of my mind, namely, that diabetes was no doubt the cause of the decadence of France. Yet I suspect it is no more a peculiarity of French manners than of European manners generally, and in its light I relished immensely the history of a well-known statue which stands in a public square in one of the German cities. The statue commemorates the unblushing audacity of a peasant going to market with a goose under each arm, who ignored even the presence of the king, and it is at certain times dressed up and made the centre of holiday festivities. It is a public fountain, and its living streams of water make it one of the most appropriate and suggestive monuments in Europe. I would only suggest that they canonize the Little Man, and that the Parisians recognize a tutelar deity in the goddess Urea, who should have an appropriate monument somewhere in the Place de la Concorde!

One of the loveliest features of Paris is the Seine. I was never tired of walking along its course. Its granite embankments; its numberless superb bridges, throwing their graceful spans across it; its clear, limpid water; its paved bed; the women washing; the lively little boats; and the many noble buildings that look down upon it,–make it the most charming citizen-river I ever beheld. Rivers generally get badly soiled when they come to the city, like some other rural travelers; but the Seine is as pure as a meadow brook wherever I saw it, though I dare say it does not escape without some contamination. I believe it receives the sewerage discharges farther down, and is no doubt turbid and pitchy enough there, like its brother, the Thames, which comes into London with the sky and the clouds in its bosom, and leaves it reeking with filth and slime.

After I had tired of the city, I took a day to visit St. Cloud, and refresh myself by a glimpse of the imperial park there, and a little of Nature’s privacy, if such could be had, which proved to be the case, for a more agreeable day I have rarely passed. The park, toward which I at once made my way, is an immense natural forest, sweeping up over gentle hills from the banks of the Seine, and brought into order and perspective by a system of carriage-ways and avenues, which radiate from numerous centres like the boulevards of Paris. At these centres were fountains and statues, with sunlight falling upon them; and, looking along the cool, dusky avenues, as they opened, this way and that, upon these marble tableaux, the effect was very striking, and was not at all marred to my eye by the neglect into which the place had evidently fallen. The woods were just mellowing into October; the large, shining horse-chestnuts dropped at my feet as I walked along; the jay screamed over the trees; and occasionally a red squirrel–larger and softer-looking than ours, not so sleek, nor so noisy and vivacious–skipped among the branches. Soldiers passed, here and there, to and from some encampment on the farther side of the park; and, hidden from view somewhere in the forest-glades, a band of buglers filled the woods with wild musical strains.

See also  God’s Garrison by Gilbert Parker

English royal parks and pleasure grounds are quite different. There the prevailing character is pastoral,–immense stretches of lawn, dotted with the royal oak, and alive with deer. But the Frenchman loves forests evidently, and nearly all his pleasure grounds about Paris are immense woods. The Bois de Boulogne, the forests of Vincennes, of St. Germain, of Bondy, and I don’t know how many others, are near at hand, and are much prized. What the animus of this love may be is not so clear. It cannot be a love of solitude, for the French are characteristically a social and gregarious people. It cannot be the English poetical or Wordsworthian feeling for Nature, because French literature does not show this sense or this kind of perception. I am inclined to think the forest is congenial to their love of form and their sharp perceptions, but more especially to that kind of fear and wildness which they at times exhibit; for civilization has not quenched the primitive ardor and fierceness of the Frenchman yet, and it is to be hoped it never will. He is still more than half a wild man, and, if turned loose in the woods, I think would develop, in tooth and nail, and in all the savage, brute instincts, more rapidly than the men of any other race, except possibly the Slavic. Have not his descendants in this country–the Canadian French–turned and lived with the Indians, and taken to wild, savage customs with more relish and genius than have any other people? How hairy and vehement and pantomimic he is! How his eyes glance from under his heavy brows! His type among the animals is the wolf, and one readily recalls how largely the wolf figures in the traditions and legends and folklore of Continental Europe, and how closely his remains are associated with those of man in the bone-caves of the geologists. He has not stalked through their forests and fascinated their imaginations so long for nothing. The she-wolf suckled other founders beside those of Rome. Especially when I read of the adventures of Russian and Polish exiles in Siberia–men of aristocratic lineage wandering amid snow and arctic cold, sleeping on rocks or in hollow trees, and holding their own, empty-handed, against hunger and frost and their fiercer brute embodiments do I recognize a hardihood and a ferity whose wet-nurse, ages back, may well have been this gray slut of the woods.

It is this fierce, untamable core that gives the point and the splendid audacity to French literature and art,–its vehemence and impatience of restraint. It is the salt of their speech, the nitre of their wit. When morbid, it gives that rabid and epileptic tendency which sometimes shows itself in Victor Hugo. In this great writer, however, it more frequently takes the form of an aboriginal fierceness and hunger that glares and bristles, and is insatiable and omnivorous.

And how many times has Paris, that boudoir of beauty and fashion, proved to be a wolf’s lair, swarming with jaws athirst for human throats!–the lust for blood and the greed for plunder, sleeping, biding their time, never extinguished.

I do not contemn it. To the natural historian it is good. It is a return to first principles again after so much art, and culture, and lying, and chauvinisme, and shows these old civilizations in no danger of, becoming effete yet. It is like the hell of fire beneath our feet, which the geologists tell us is the life of the globe. Were it not for it, who would not at times despair of the French character? As long as this fiery core remains, I shall believe France capable of recovering from any disaster to her arms. The “mortal ripening” of the nation is stayed.

The English and Germans, on the other hand, are saved by great breadth and heartiness, and a constitutional tendency to coarseness of fibre which art and civilization abate very little. What is to save us in this country, I wonder, who have not the French regency and fire, nor the Teutonic heartiness and vis inertiae, and who are already in danger of refining or attenuating into a high-heeled, shortjawed, genteel race, with more brains than stomach, and more address than character?


I had imagined that the next best thing to seeing England would be to see Scotland; but, as this latter pleasure was denied me, certainly the next best thing was seeing Scotland’s greatest son. Carlyle has been so constantly and perhaps justly represented as a stormy and wrathful person, brewing bitter denunciation for America and Americans, that I cannot forbear to mention the sweet and genial mood in which we found him,–a gentle and affectionate grandfather, with his delicious Scotch brogue and rich, melodious talk, overflowing with reminiscences of his earlier life, of Scott and Goethe and Edinburgh, and other men and places he had known. Learning that I was especially interested in birds, he discoursed of the lark and the nightingale and the mavis, framing his remarks about them in some episode of his personal experience, and investing their songs with the double charm of his description and his adventure.

“It is only geese who get plucked there,” said my companion after we had left,–a man who had known Carlyle intimately for many years; “silly persons who have no veneration for the great man, and come to convert him or to change his convictions upon subjects to which he has devoted a lifetime of profound thought and meditation. With such persons he has no patience.”

Carlyle had just returned from Scotland, where he had spent the summer. The Scotch hills and mountains, he said, had an ancient, mournful look, as if the weight of immeasurable time had settled down upon them. Their look was in Ossian,–his spirit reflected theirs; and as I gazed upon the venerable man before me, and noted his homely and rugged yet profound and melancholy expression, I knew that their look was upon him also, and that a greater than Ossian had been nursed amid those lonely hills. Few men in literature have felt the burden of the world, the weight of the inexorable conscience, as has Carlyle, or drawn such fresh inspiration from that source. However we may differ from him (and almost in self-defense one must differ from a man of such intense and overweening personality), it must yet be admitted that he habitually speaks out of that primitive silence and solitude in which only the heroic soul dwells. Certainly not in contemporary British literature is there another writer whose bowstring has such a twang.

I left London in the early part of November, and turned my face westward, going leisurely through England and Wales, and stringing upon my thread a few of the famous places, as Oxford, Stratford, Warwick, Birmingham, Chester, and taking a last look at the benign land. The weather was fair; I was yoked to no companion, and was apparently the only tourist on that route. The field occupations drew my eye as usual. They were very simple, and consisted mainly of the gathering of root crops. I saw no building of fences, or of houses or barns, and no draining or improving of any kind worth mentioning, these things having all been done long ago. Speaking of barns reminds me that I do not remember to have seen a building of this kind while in England, much less a group or cluster of them as at home; hay and grain being always stacked, and the mildness of the climate rendering a protection of this kind unnecessary for the cattle and sheep. In contrast, America may be called the country of barns and outbuildings:–

“Thou lucky Mistress of the tranquil barns,”

as Walt Whitman apostrophizes the Union.

I missed also many familiar features in the autumn fields,–those given to our landscape by Indian corn, for instance, the tent-like stouts, the shucks, the rustling blades, the ripe pumpkins strewing the field; for, notwithstanding England is such a garden, our corn does not flourish there. I saw no buckwheat either, the red stubble and little squat figures of the upright sheaves of which are so noticeable in our farming districts at this season. Neither did I see, any gathering of apples, or orchards from which to gather them. “As sure as there are apples in Herefordshire” seems to be a proverb in England; yet it is very certain that the orchard is not the institution anywhere in Britain that it is in this country, or so prominent a feature in the landscape. The native apples are inferior in size and quality, and are sold by the pound. Pears were more abundant at the fruit stands, and were of superior excellence and very cheap.

I hope it will not be set down to any egotism of mine, but rather to the effect upon an ardent pilgrim of the associations of the place and its renown in literature, that all my experience at Stratford seems worthy of recording, and to be invested with a sort of poetical interest,–even the fact that I walked up from the station with a handsome young countrywoman who had chanced to occupy a seat in the same compartment of the car with me from Warwick, and who, learning the nature of my visit, volunteered to show me the Red Horse Inn, as her course led her that way. We walked mostly in the middle of the street, with our umbrellas hoisted, for it was raining slightly, while a boy whom we found lying in wait for such a chance trudged along in advance of us with my luggage.

At the Red Horse the pilgrim is in no danger of having the charm and the poetical atmosphere with which he has surrounded himself dispelled, but rather enhanced and deepened, especially if he has the luck I had, to find few other guests, and to fall into the hands of one of those simple, strawberry-like English housemaids, who gives him a cozy, snug little parlor all to himself, as was the luck of Irving also; who answers his every summons, and looks into his eyes with the simplicity and directness of a child; who could step from no page but that of Scott or the divine William himself; who puts the “coals” on your grate with her own hands, and, when you ask for a lunch, spreads the cloth on one end of the table while you sit reading or writing at the other, and places before you a whole haunch of delicious cold mutton, with bread and homebrewed ale, and requests you to help yourself; who, when bedtime arrives, lights you up to a clean, sweet chamber, with a high-canopied bed hung with snow-white curtains; who calls you in the morning, and makes ready your breakfast while you sit with your feet on the fender before the blazing grate; and to whom you pay your reckoning on leaving, having escaped entirely all the barrenness and publicity of hotel life, and had all the privacy and quiet of home without any of its cares or interruptions. And this, let me say here, is the great charm of the characteristic English inn; it has a domestic, homelike air. “Taking mine ease at mine inn” has a real significance in England. You can take your ease and more; you can take real solid comfort. In the first place, there is no bar-room, and consequently no loafers or pimps, or fumes of tobacco or whiskey; then there is no landlord or proprietor or hotel clerk to lord it over you. The host, if there is such a person, has a way of keeping himself in the background, or absolutely out of sight, that is entirely admirable. You are monarch of all you survey. You are not made to feel that it is in some one else’s house you are staying, and that you must court the master for his favor. It is your house, you are the master, and you have only to enjoy your own.

In the gray, misty afternoon, I walked out over the Avon, like all English streams full to its grassy brim, and its current betrayed only by a floating leaf or feather, and along English fields and roads, and noted the familiar sights and sounds and smells of autumn. The spire of the church where Shakespeare lies buried shot up stately and tall from the banks of the Avon, a little removed from the village; and the church itself, more like a cathedral in size and beauty, was also visible above the trees. Thitherward I soon bent my steps, and while I was lingering among the graves*, reading the names and dates so many centuries old, and surveying the gray and weather-worn exterior of the church, the slow tolling of the bell announced a funeral. Upon such a stage, and amid such surroundings, with all this past for a background, the shadowy figure of the peerless bard towering over all, the incident of the moment had a strange interest to me, and I looked about for the funeral cortege. Presently a group of three or four figures appeared at the head of the avenue of limes, the foremost of them a woman, bearing an infant’s coffin under her arm, wrapped in a white sheet. The clerk and sexton, with their robes on, went out to meet them, and conducted them into the church, where the service proper to such occasions was read, after which the coffin was taken out as it was brought in, and lowered into the grave. It was the smallest funeral I ever saw, and my effort to play the part of a sympathizing public by hovering in the background, I fear, was only an intrusion after all.

[* Footnote: In England the church always stands in the midst of the graveyard, and hence can be approached only on foot. People it seems, never go to church in carriages or wagons, but on foot, along paths and lanes.]

Having loitered to my heart’s content amid the stillness of the old church, and paced to and fro above the illustrious dead, I set out, with the sun about an hour high, to see the house of Anne Hathaway at Shottery, shunning the highway and following a path that followed hedge-rows, crossed meadows and pastures, skirted turnip-fields and cabbage-patches, to a quaint gathering of low thatched houses,–a little village of farmers and laborers, about a mile from Stratford. At the gate in front of the house a boy was hitching a little gray donkey, almost hidden beneath two immense panniers filled with coarse hay.

“Whose house is this?” inquired I, not being quite able to make out the name.

“Hann’ Ataway’s ‘ouse,” said he.

So I took a good look at Anne’s house,–a homely, human-looking habitation, with its old oak beams and thatched roof,–but did not go in, as Mrs. Baker, who was eying me from the door, evidently hoped I would, but chose rather to walk past it and up the slight rise of ground beyond, where I paused and looked out over the fields, just lit up by the setting sun. Returning, I stepped into the Shakespeare Tavern, a little, homely wayside place on a street, or more like a path, apart from the main road, and the good dame brought me some “home-brewed,” which I drank sitting by a rude table on a rude bench in a small, low room, with a stone floor and an immense chimney. The coals burned cheerily, and the crane and hooks in the fireplace called up visions of my earliest childhood. Apparently the house and the surroundings, and the atmosphere of the place and the ways of the people, were what they were three hundred years ago. It was all sweet and good, and I enjoyed it hugely, and was much refreshed.

Crossing the fields in the gloaming, I came up with some children, each with a tin bucket of milk, threading their way toward Stratford. The little girl, a child ten years old, having a larger bucket than the rest, was obliged to set down her burden every few rods and rest; so I lent her a helping hand. I thought her prattle, in that broad but musical patois, and along these old hedge-rows, the most delicious I ever heard. She said they came to Shottery for milk because it was much better than they got at Stratford. In America they had a cow of their own. Had she lived in America, then? “Oh, yes, four years,” and the stream of her talk was fuller at once. But I hardly recognized even the name of my own country in her innocent prattle; it seemed like a land of fable,–all had a remote mythological air, and I pressed my inquiries as if I was hearing of this strange land for the first time. She had an uncle still living in the “States of Hoio,” but exactly where her father had lived was not so clear. In the States somewhere, and in “Ogden’s Valley.” There was a lake there that had salt in it, and not far off was the sea. “In America,” she said, and she gave such a sweet and novel twang to her words, “we had a cow of our own, and two horses and a wagon and a dog.” “Yes,” joined in her little brother, “and nice chickens and a goose.” “But,” continued the sister, “we owns none o’ them here. In America ‘most everybody owned their houses, and we could ‘a’ owned a house if we had stayid.”

“What made you leave America?” I inquired.

“‘Cause me father wanted to see his friends.”

“Did your mother want to come back?”

“No, me mother wanted to stay in America.”

“Is food as plenty here,–do you have as much to eat as in the States?”

“Oh, yes, and more. The first year we were in America we could not get enough to eat.”

“But you do not get meat very often here, do you?”

“Quite often,”–not so confidently.

“How often?”

“Well, sometimes we has pig’s liver in the week time, and we allers has meat of a Sunday; we likes meat.”

Here we emerged from the fields into the highway, and the happy children went their way and I mine.

In the evening, as I was strolling about the town, a poor, crippled, half-witted fellow came jerking himself across the street after me and offered himself as a guide.

“I’m the Teller what showed Artemus Ward around when he was here. You’ve heerd on me, I expect? Not? Why, he characterized me in ‘Punch,’ he did. He asked me if Shakespeare took all the wit out of Stratford? And this is what I said to him: `No, he left some for me.’”

But not wishing to be guided just then, I bought the poor fellow off with a few pence, and kept on my way.

Stratford is a quiet old place, and seems mainly the abode of simple common folk. One sees no marked signs of either poverty or riches. It is situated in a beautiful expanse of rich, rolling farming country, but bears little resemblance to a rural town in America: not a tree, not a spear of grass; the houses packed close together and crowded up on the street, the older ones presenting their gables and showing their structure of oak beams. English oak seems incapable of decay even when exposed to the weather, while indoors it takes three or four centuries to give it its best polish and hue.

I took my last view of Stratford quite early of a bright Sunday morning, when the ground was white with a dense hoar-frost. The great church, as I approached it, loomed up under the sun through a bank of blue mist. The Avon was like glass, with little wraiths of vapor clinging here and there to its surface. Two white swans stood on its banks in front of the church, and, without regarding the mirror that so drew my eye, preened their plumage; while, farther up, a piebald cow reached down for some grass under the brink where the frost had not settled, and a piebald cow in the river reached up for the same morsel. Rooks and crows and jackdaws were noisy in the trees overhead and about the church spire. I stood a long while musing upon the scene.

At the birthplace of the poet, the keeper, an elderly woman, shivered with cold as she showed me about. The primitive, home-made appearance of things, the stone floor much worn and broken, the rude oak beams and doors, the leaden sash with the little window-panes scratched full of names, among others that of Walter Scott, the great chimneys where quite a family could literally sit in the chimney corner, were what I expected to see, and looked very human and good. It is impossible to associate anything but sterling qualities and simple, healthful characters with these early English birthplaces. They are nests built with faithfulness and affection, and through them one seems to get a glimpse of devouter, sturdier times.

From Stratford I went back to Warwick, thence to Birmingham, thence to Shrewsbury, thence to Chester, the old Roman camp, thence to Holyhead, being intent on getting a glimpse of Wales and the Welsh, and maybe taking a tramp up Snowdon or some of his congeners, for my legs literally ached for a mountain climb, a certain set of muscles being so long unused. In the course of my journeyings, I tried each class or compartment of the cars, first, second, and third, and found but little choice. The difference is simply in the upholstering, and, if you are provided with a good shawl or wrap-up, you need not be particular about that. In the first, the floor is carpeted and the seats substantially upholstered, usually in blue woolen cloth; in the second, the seat alone is cushioned; and in the third, you sit on a bare bench. But all classes go by the same train, and often in the same car, or carriage, as they say here. In the first class travel the real and the shoddy nobility and Americans; in the second, commercial and professional men; and in the third, the same, with such of the peasantry and humbler classes as travel by rail. The only annoyance I experienced in the third class arose from the freedom with which the smokers, always largely in the majority, indulged in their favorite pastime. (I perceive there is one advantage in being a smoker: you are never at a loss for something to do,–you can smoke.)

At Chester I stopped overnight, selecting my hotel for its name, the “Green Dragon.” It was Sunday night, and the only street scene my rambles afforded was quite a large gathering of persons on a corner, listening, apparently with indifference or curiosity, to an ignorant, hot-headed street preacher. “Now I am going to tell you something you will not like to hear, something that will make you angry. I know it will. It is this: I expect to go to heaven. I am perfectly confident I shall go there. I know you do not like that.” But why his hearers should not like that did not appear. For my part, I thought, for the good of all concerned, the sooner he went the better.

In the morning, I mounted the wall in front of the cathedral, and, with a very lively feeling of wonder and astonishment, walked completely around the town on top of it, a distance of about two miles. The wall, being in places as high as the houses, afforded some interesting views into attics, chambers, and back yards. I envied the citizens such a delightful promenade ground, full of variety and interest. Just the right distance, too, for a brisk turn to get up an appetite, or for a leisurely stroll to tone down a dinner; while as a place for chance meetings of happy lovers, or to get away from one’s companions if the flame must burn in secret and in silence, it is unsurpassed. I occasionally met or passed other pedestrians, but noticed that it required a brisk pace to lessen the distance between myself and an attractive girlish figure a few hundred feet in advance of me. The railroad cuts across one corner of the town, piercing the walls with two very carefully constructed archways. Indeed, the people are very choice of the wall, and one sees posted notices of the city authorities offering a reward for any one detected in injuring it. It has stood now some seven or eight centuries, and from appearances is good for one or two more. There are several towers on the wall, from one of which some English king, over two hundred years ago, witnessed the defeat of his army on Rowton Moor. But when I was there, though the sun was shining, the atmosphere was so loaded with smoke that I could not catch even a glimpse of the moor where the battle took place. There is a gateway through the wall on each of the four sides, and this slender and beautiful but blackened and worn span, as if to afford a transit from the chamber windows on one side of the street to those of the other, is the first glimpse the traveler gets of the wall. The gates beneath the arches have entirely disappeared. The ancient and carved oak fronts of the buildings on the main street, and the inclosed sidewalk that ran through the second stories of the shops and stores, were not less strange and novel to me. The sidewalk was like a gentle upheaval in its swervings and undulations, or like a walk through the woods, the oaken posts and braces on the outside answering for the trees, and the prospect ahead for the vista.

The ride along the coast of Wales was crowded with novelty and interest,–the sea on one side and the mountains on the other,–the latter bleak and heathery in the foreground, but cloud-capped and snow-white in the distance. The afternoon was dark and lowering, and just before entering Conway we had a very striking view. A turn in the road suddenly brought us to where we looked through a black framework of heathery hills, and beheld Snowdon and his chiefs apparently with the full rigors of winter upon them. It was so satisfying that I lost at once my desire to tramp up them. I barely had time to turn from the mountains to get a view of Conway Castle, one of the largest and most impressive ruins I saw. The train cuts close to the great round tower, and plunges through the wall of gray, shelving stone into the bluff beyond, giving the traveler only time to glance and marvel.

About the only glimpse I got of the Welsh character was on this route. At one of the stations, Abergele I think, a fresh, blooming young woman got into our compartment, occupied by myself and two commercial travelers (bag-men, or, as we say, “drummers”), and, before she could take her seat, was complimented by one of them on her good looks. Feeling in a measure responsible for the honor and good-breeding of the compartment, I could hardly conceal my embarrassment; but the young Abergeless herself did not seem to take it amiss, and when presently the jolly bag-man addressed his conversation to her, replied beseemingly and good-naturedly. As she arose to leave the car at her destination, a few stations beyond, he said “he thought it a pity that such a sweet, pretty girl should leave us so soon,” and seizing her hand the audacious rascal actually solicited a kiss. I expected this would be the one drop too much, and that we should have a scene, and began to regard myself in the light of an avenger of an insulted Welsh beauty, when my heroine paused, and I believe actually deliberated whether or not to comply before two spectators! Certain it is that she yielded the highwayman her hand, and, bidding him a gentle good-night in Welsh, smilingly and blushingly left the car. “Ah,” said the villain, “these Welsh girls are capital; I know them like a book, and have had many a lark with them.”

See also  The Daredevil Barber by Robert Lynd

At Holyhead I got another glimpse of the Welsh. I had booked for Dublin, and having several hours on my hands of a dark, threatening night before the departure of the steamer, I sallied out in the old town tilted up against the side of the hill, in the most adventurous spirit I could summon, threading my way through the dark, deserted streets, pausing for a moment in front of a small house with closed doors and closely, shuttered windows, where I heard suppressed voices, the monotonous scraping of a fiddle, and a lively shuffling of feet, and passing on finally entered, drawn by the musical strains, a quaint old place, where a blind harper, seated in the corner of a rude kind of coffee and sitting room, was playing on a harp. I liked the atmosphere of the place, so primitive and wholesome, and was quite willing to have my attention drawn off from the increasing storm without, and from the bitter cup which I knew the Irish sea was preparing for me. The harper presently struck up a livelier strain, when two Welsh girls, who were chatting before the grate, one of them as dumpy as a bag of meal and the other slender and tall, stepped into the middle of the floor and began to dance to the delicious music, a Welsh mechanic and myself drinking our ale and looking on approvingly. After a while the pleasant, modest-looking bar-maid, whom I had seen behind the beer-levers as I entered, came in, and, after looking on for a moment, was persuaded to lay down her sewing and join in the dance. Then there came in a sandy-haired Welshman, who could speak and understand only his native dialect, and finding his neighbors affiliating with an Englishman, as he supposed, and trying to speak the hateful tongue, proceeded to berate them sharply (for it appears the Welsh are still jealous of the English); but when they explained to him that I was not an Englishman, but an American, and had already twice stood the beer all around (at an outlay of sixpence), he subsided into a sulky silence, and regarded me intently.

About eleven o’clock a policeman paused at the door, and intimated that it was time the house was shut up and the music stopped, and to outward appearances his friendly warning was complied with; but the harp still discoursed in a minor key, and a light tripping and shuffling of responsive feet might occasionally have been heard for an hour later. When I arose to go, it was with a feeling of regret that I could not see more of this simple and social people, with whom I at once felt that “touch of nature” which “makes the whole world kin,” and my leave-taking was warm and hearty accordingly.

Through the wind and the darkness I threaded my way to the wharf, and in less than two hours afterward was a most penitent voyager, and fitfully joining in that doleful gastriloquial chorus that so often goes up from the cabins of those Channel steamers.

I hardly know why I went to Ireland, except it was to indulge the few drops of Irish blood in my veins, and maybe also with a view to shorten my sea voyage by a day. I also felt a desire to see one or two literary men there, and in this sense my journey was eminently gratifying; but so far from shortening my voyage by a day, it lengthened it by three days, that being the time it took me to recover from the effects of it; and as to the tie of blood, I think it must nearly all have run out, for I felt but few congenital throbs while in Ireland.

The Englishman at home is a much more lovable animal than the Englishman abroad, but Pat in Ireland is even more of a pig than in this country. Indeed, the squalor and poverty, and cold, skinny wretchedness one sees in Ireland, and (what freezes our sympathies) the groveling, swiny shiftlessness that pervades these hovels, no traveler can be prepared for. It is the bare prose of misery, the unheroic of tragedy. There is not one redeeming or mitigating feature.

Railway traveling in Ireland is not so rapid or so cheap as in England. Neither are the hotels so good or so clean, nor the fields so well kept, nor the look of the country so thrifty and peaceful. The dissatisfaction of the people is in the very air. Ireland looks sour and sad. She looks old, too, as do all those countries beyond seas,–old in a way that the American is a stranger to. It is not the age of nature, the unshaken permanence of the hills through long periods of time, but the weight of human years and human sorrows, as if the earth sympathized with man and took on his attributes and infirmities.

I did not go much about Dublin, and the most characteristic things I saw there were those queer, uncomfortable dog-carts,–a sort of Irish bull on wheels, with the driver on one side balancing the passenger on the other, and the luggage occupying the seat of safety between. It comes the nearest to riding on horseback, and on a side-saddle at that, of any vehicle-traveling I ever did.

I stopped part of a day at Mallow, an old town on the Blackwater, in one of the most fertile agricultural districts of Ireland. The situation is fine, and an American naturally expects to see a charming rural town, planted with trees and filled with clean, comfortable homes; but he finds instead a wretched place, smitten with a plague of filth and mud, and offering but one object upon which the eye can dwell with pleasure, and that is the ruins of an old castle, “Mallow Castle over Blackwater,” which dates back to the time of Queen Elizabeth. It stands amid noble trees on the banks of the river, and its walls, some of them thirty or forty feet high, are completely overrun with ivy. The Blackwater, a rapid, ambercolored stream, is spanned at this point by a superb granite bridge.

And I will say here that anything like a rural town in our sense,–a town with trees and grass and large spaces about the houses, gardens, yards, shrubbery, coolness, fragrance,–seems unknown in England or Ireland. The towns and villages are all remnants of feudal times, and seem to have been built with an eye to safety and compactness, or else men were more social, and loved to get closer together, then than now. Perhaps the damp, chilly climate made them draw nearer together. At any rate, the country towns are little cities; or rather it is as if another London had been cut up in little and big pieces and distributed over the land.

In the afternoon, to take the kinks out of my legs, and to quicken, if possible, my circulation a little, which since the passage over the Channel had felt as if it was thick and green, I walked rapidly to the top of the Knockmeledown Mountains, getting a good view of Irish fields and roads and fences as I went up, and a very wide and extensive view of the country after I had reached the summit, and improving the atmosphere of my physical tenement amazingly. These mountains have no trees or bushes or other growth than a harsh prickly heather, about a foot high, which begins exactly at the foot of the mountain. You are walking on smooth, fine meadow land, when you leap a fence and there is the heather. On the highest point of this mountain, and on the highest point of all the mountains around, was a low stone mound, which I was puzzled to know the meaning of. Standing there, the country rolled away beneath me under a cold, gray November sky, and, as was the case with the English landscape, looked singularly desolate,–the desolation of a dearth of human homes, industrial centres, families, workers, and owners of the soil. Few roads, scarce ever a vehicle, no barns, no groups of bright, well-ordered buildings, indeed no farms and neighborhoods and schoolhouses, but a wide spread of rich, highly cultivated country, with here and there, visible to close scrutiny, small gray stone houses with thatched roofs, the abodes of poverty and wretchedness. A recent English writer says the first thing that struck him in American landscape-painting was the absence of man and the domestic animals from the pictures, and the preponderance of rude, wild nature; and his first view of this country seems to have made the same impression. But it is certainly true that the traveler through any of our older States will see ten houses, rural habitations, to one in England or Ireland, though, as a matter of course, nature here looks much less domesticated, and much less expressive of human occupancy and contact. The Old World people have clung to the soil closer and more lovingly than we do. The ground has been more precious. They have had none to waste, and have made the most of every inch of it. Wherever they have touched they have taken root and thriven as best they could. Then the American is more cosmopolitan and less domestic. He is not so local in his feelings and attachments. He does not bestow himself upon the earth or upon his home as his ancestors did. He feathers his nest very little. Why should he? He may migrate tomorrow and build another. He is like the passenger pigeon that lays its eggs and rears its young upon a little platform of bare twigs. Our poverty and nakedness is in this respect, I think, beyond dispute. There is nothing nest-like about our homes, either in their interiors or exteriors. Even wealth and taste and foreign aids rarely attain that cozy, mellowing atmosphere that pervades not only the lowly birthplaces but the halls and manor houses of older lands. And what do our farms represent but so much real estate, so much cash value?

Only where man loves the soil, and nestles to it closely and long, will it take on this beneficent and human look which foreign travelers miss in our landscape; and only where homes are built with fondness and emotion, and in obedience to the social, paternal, and domestic instincts, will they hold the charm and radiate and be warm with the feeling I have described.

And, while I am upon the subject, I will add that European cities differ from ours in this same particular. They have a homelier character,–more the air of dwelling-places, the abodes of men drawn together for other purposes than traffic. People actually live in them, and find life sweet and festal. But what does our greatest city, New York, express besides commerce or politics, or what other reason has it for its existence? This is, of course, in a measure the result of the modern worldly and practical business spirit which more and more animates all nations, and which led Carlyle to say of his own countrymen that they were becoming daily more “flat, stupid, and mammonish.” Yet I am persuaded that in our case it is traceable also to the leanness and depletion of our social and convivial instincts, and to the fact that the material cares of life are more serious and engrossing with us than with any other people.

I spent part of a day at Cork, wandering about the town, threading my way through the back streets and alleys, and seeing life reduced to fewer makeshifts than I had ever before dreamed of. I went through, or rather skirted, a kind of secondhand market, where the most sorry and dilapidated articles of clothing and household utensils were offered for sale, and where the cobblers were cobbling up old shoes that would hardly hold together. Then the wretched old women one sees, without any sprinkling of young ones,–youth and age alike bloomless and unlovely.

In a meadow on the hills that encompass the city, I found the American dandelion in bloom, and some large red clover, and started up some skylarks as I might start up the field sparrows in our own uplying fields.

Is the magpie a Celt and a Catholic? I saw not one in England, but plenty of them in France, and again when I reached Ireland.

At Queenstown I awaited the steamer from Liverpool, and about nine o’clock in the morning was delighted to see her long black form moving up the bay. She came to anchor about a mile or two out, and a little tug was in readiness to take us off. A score or more of emigrants, each with a bag and a box, had been waiting all the morning at the wharf. When the time of embarkation arrived, the agent stepped aboard the tug and called out their names one by one, when Bridget and Catherine and Patrick and Michael, and the rest, came aboard, received their tickets, and passed “forward,” with a half-frightened, half-bewildered look. But not much emotion was displayed until the boat began to move off, when the tears fell freely, and they continued to fall faster and faster, and the sobs to come thicker and thicker, until, as the faces of friends began to fade on the wharf, both men and women burst out into a loud, unrestrained bawl. This sudden demonstration of grief seemed to frighten the children and smaller fry, who up to this time had been very jovial; but now, suspecting something was wrong, they all broke out in a most pitiful chorus, forming an anti-climax to the wail of their parents that was quite amusing, and that seemed to have its effect upon the “children of a larger growth,” for they instantly hushed their lamentations and turned their attention toward the great steamer. There was a rugged but bewildered old granny among them, on her way to join her daughter somewhere in the interior of New York, who seemed to regard me with a kindred eye, and toward whom, I confess, I felt some family affinity. Before we had got halfway to the vessel, the dear old creature missed a sheet from her precious bundle of worldly effects, and very confidentially told me that her suspicions pointed to the stoker, a bristling, sooty “wild Irishman.” The stoker resented the insinuation, and I overheard him berating the old lady in Irish so sharply and threateningly (I had no doubt of his guilt) that she was quite frightened, and ready to retract the charge to hush the man up. She seemed to think her troubles had just begun. If they behaved thus to her on the little tug, what would they not do on board the great black steamer itself? So when she got separated from her luggage in getting aboard the vessel, her excitement was great, and I met her following about the man whom she had accused of filching her bed linen, as if he must have the clew to the lost bed itself. Her face brightened when she saw me, and, giving me a terribly hard wink and a most expressive nudge, she said she wished I would keep near her a little. This I did, and soon had the pleasure of leaving her happy and reassured beside her box and bundle.

The passage home, though a rough one, was cheerfully and patiently borne. I found a compound motion,–the motion of a screw steamer, a roll and a plunge–less trying to my head than the simple rocking or pitching of the side-wheeled Scotia. One motion was in a measure a foil to the other. My brain, acted upon by two forces, was compelled to take the hypothenuse, and I think the concussion was considerably diminished thereby. The vessel was forever trembling upon the verge of immense watery chasms that opened now under her port bow, now under her starboard, and that almost made one catch his breath as he looked into them; yet the noble ship had a way of skirting them or striding across them that was quite wonderful. Only five days was, I compelled to “hole up” in my stateroom, hibernating, weathering the final rude shock of the Atlantic. Part of this time I was capable of feeling a languid interest in the oscillations of my coat suspended from a hook in the door. Back and forth, back and forth, all day long, vibrated this black pendulum, at long intervals touching the sides of the room, indicating great lateral or diagonal motion of the ship. The great waves, I observed, go in packs like wolves. Now one would pounce upon her, then another, then another, in quick succession, making the ship strain every nerve to shake them off. Then she would glide along quietly for some minutes, and my coat would register but a few degrees in its imaginary arc, when another band of the careering demons would cross our path and harass us as before. Sometimes they would pound and thump on the sides of the vessel like immense sledge-hammers, beginning away up toward the bows and quickly running down her whole length, jarring, raking, and venting their wrath in a very audible manner; or a wave would rake along the side with a sharp, ringing, metallic sound, like a huge spear-point seeking a vulnerable place; or some hard-backed monster would rise up from the deep and grate and bump the whole length of the keel, forcibly suggesting hidden rocks and consequent wreck and ruin.

Then it seems there is always some biggest wave to be met somewhere on the voyage,–a monster billow that engulfs disabled vessels, and sometimes carries away parts of the rigging of the stanchest. This big wave struck us the third day out about midnight, and nearly threw us all out of our berths, and careened the ship over so far that it seemed to take her last pound of strength to right herself up again. There was a slamming of doors, a rush of crockery, and a screaming of women, heard above the general din and confusion, while the steerage passengers thought their last hour had come. The vessel before us encountered this giant wave during a storm in mid-ocean, and was completely buried beneath it; one of the officers was swept over board, the engines suddenly stopped, and there was a terrible moment during which it seemed uncertain whether the vessel would shake off the sea or go to the bottom.

Besides observing the oscillations of my coat, I had at times a stupid satisfaction in seeing my two new London trunks belabor each other about my stateroom floor. Nearly every day they would break from their fastenings under my berth and start on a wild race for the opposite side of the room. Naturally enough, the little trunk would always get the start of the big one, but the big one followed close, and sometimes caught the little one in a very, uncomfortable manner. Once a knife and fork and a breakfast plate slipped off the sofa and joined in, the race; but, if not distanced, they got sadly the worst of it, especially the plate. But the carpet had the most reason to complain. Two or three turns sufficed to loosen it from the floor, when, shoved to one side, the two trunks took turns in butting it. I used to allow this sport to go on till it grew monotonous, when I would alternately shout and ring until “Robert” appeared and restored order.

The condition of certain picture-frames and vases and other frail articles among my effects, when I reached home, called to mind not very pleasantly this trunken frolic.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the ship in her struggles with the waves. You are lying there wedged into your berth, and she seems indeed a thing of life and conscious power. She is built entirely of iron, is 500 feet long, and, besides other freight, carries 2500 tons of railroad iron, which lies down there flat in her bottom, a dead, indigestible weight, so unlike a cargo in bulk; yet she is a quickened spirit for all that. You feel every wave that strikes her; you feel the sea bearing her down; she has run her nose into one of those huge swells, and a solid blue wall of water tons in weight comes over her bows and floods her forward deck; she braces herself, every rod and rivet and timber seems to lend its support; you almost expect to see the wooden walls of your room grow rigid with muscular contraction; she trembles from stem to stern, she recovers, she breaks the gripe of her antagonist, and, rising up, shakes the sea from her with a kind of gleeful wrath; I hear the torrents of water rush along the lower decks, and, finding a means of escape, pour back into the sea, glad to get away on any terms, and I say, “Noble ship! you are indeed a god!”

I wanted to see a first-class storm at sea, and perhaps ought to be satisfied with the heavy blow or hurricane we had when off Sable Island, but I confess I was not, though, by the lying to of the vessel and the frequent soundings, it was evident there was danger about. A dense fog uprose, which did not drift like a land fog, but was as immovable as iron; it was like a spell, a misty enchantment; and out of this fog came the wind, a steady, booming blast, that smote the ship over on her side and held her there, and howled in the rigging like a chorus of fiends. The waves did not know which way to flee; they were heaped up and then scattered in a twinkling. I thought of the terrible line of one of our poets:–

“The spasm of the sky and the shatter of the sea.”

The sea looked wrinkled and old and oh, so pitiless! I had stood long before Turner’s “Shipwreck” in the National Gallery in London, and this sea recalled his, and I appreciated more than ever the artist’s great powers.

These storms, it appears, are rotary in their wild dance and promenade up and down the seas. “Look the wind squarely in the teeth,” said an ex-sea-captain among the passengers, “and eight points to the right in the northern hemisphere will be the centre of the storm, and eight points to the left in the southern hemisphere.” I remembered that, in Victor Hugo’s terrible dynamics, storms revolved in the other direction in the northern hemisphere, or followed the hands of a watch, while south of the equator they no doubt have ways equally original.

Late in the afternoon the storm abated, the fog was suddenly laid, and, looking toward the setting sun, I saw him athwart the wildest, most desolate scene in which it was ever my fortune to behold the face of that god. The sea was terribly agitated, and the endless succession of leaping, frothing waves between me and the glowing west formed a picture I shall not soon forget.

I think the excuse that is often made in behalf of American literature, namely, that our people are too busy with other things yet, and will show the proper aptitude in this field, too, as soon as leisure is afforded, is fully justified by events of daily occurrence. Throw a number of them together without anything else to do, and they at once communicate to each other the itch of authorship. Confine them on board an ocean steamer, and by the third or fourth day a large number of them will break out all over with a sort of literary rash that nothing will assuage but some newspaper or journalistic enterprise which will give the poems and essays and jokes with which they are surcharged a chance to be seen and heard of men. I doubt if the like ever occurs among travelers of any other nationality. Englishmen or Frenchmen or Germans want something more warm and human, if less “refined;” but the average American, when in company, likes nothing so well as an opportunity to show the national trait of “smartness.” There is not a bit of danger that we shall ever relapse into barbarism while so much latent literature lies at the bottom of our daily cares and avocations, and is sure to come to the surface the moment the latter are suspended or annulled!

While abreast of New England, and I don’t know how many miles at sea, as I turned in my deck promenade, I distinctly scented the land, a subtle, delicious odor of farms and homesteads, warm and human, that floated on the wild sea air, a promise and a token. The broad red line that had been slowly creeping across our chart for so many weary days, indicating the path of the ship, had now completely bridged the chasm, and had got a good purchase down under the southern coast of New England; and according to the reckoning we ought to have made Sandy Hook that night; but though the position of the vessel was no doubt theoretically all right, yet practically she proved to be much farther out at sea, for all that afternoon and night she held steadily on her course, and not till next morning did the coast of Long Island, like a thin, broken cloud just defined on the horizon, come into view. But before many hours we had passed the Hook, and were moving slowly up the bay in the midday splendor of the powerful and dazzling light of the New World sun. And how good things looked to me after even so brief an absence!–the brilliancy, the roominess, the deep transparent blue of the sky, the clear, sharp outlines, the metropolitan splendor of New York, and especially of Broadway; and as I walked up that great thoroughfare, and noted the familiar physiognomy and the native nonchalance and independence, I experienced the delight that only the returned traveler can feel,–the instant preference of one’s own country and countrymen over all the rest of the world.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *