The Contributors’ Club: American Type

A new “race” emerges after a huge wave of immigration

One often wonders what sort of human being is likely to emerge from the racial confusion of centuries of intermarriage. At least I do, since it is my habit to worry most over matters about which I can do nothing.

I recently chanced to meet a Mr. Paul Washington on a railway train. There are not many white Washingtons left so America, and I feared that his first name might be George, since a parental Washington might be excused for yielding to the temptation to name a male child for the childless father of his country. But Mr. Washington explained that his excellent sire, with four sons at his disposal, refused to name any one of them George. This I thought showed rare restraint, and I pursued my genealogical inquiries. Presently I discovered that if this man Washington is not the American of the future, he is a long step in that direction.

Mr. Washington told me that his grandfather of that name was born in England. In return I informed him that all four of my grandparents were born in England; to be more precise, in a single county of England — Wiltshire. Racially, I am a pure bred Wiltshireman. Though born in the United States, I am as Wilts as Stonehenge, more English than Edward VIII, and British enough to be unable, in the pinches, to view the Empire objectively. Not so Mr. Washington. Each of his grandparents came front a different country. One grandfather was born in England, the other in Germany; one grandmother in France, the other in Ireland. What is more, my Washington had a touch of all these races in his manner.

Like the French, his hands were full of gestures — neat, friendly, illuminating little gestures which accented his every speech. He spoke quickly with little change of tense, in the English way, but with the lively, lifting features and darting glances of the Irish. Yet there ran through all his talk a strong thread of German precision. Talking of his studies at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, he was careful to give its full title — Wharton School of Finance and Commerce — and in mentioning a brother employed by Westinghouse he was equally precise — Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. Here, I thought, is a man in whom one racial trait holds another racial trait within bounds, so that he can be at the same moment quick yet precise, voluble yet modest. You felt he could talk yen into insuring against the next Ice Age.

It was a pleasure to listen to his flowing monotone which rippled along like a brook, with little undertones of delight in it, and to see his neat hands moving as delicately as willows alongshore. Here sat a being of many honest prides; proud of his brothers — one soon to be a sales engineer for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, another a food chemist with American Stores Company and once amateur welterweight boxing champion of the Middle Atlantic States; proud of his father, a Pennsylvania railway engineer who had been leader of the Democratic Party in the Assembly at Harrisburg and sometime mediator for the Department of Labor and Industry. 'A peacemaker.' He laid that phrase on his father's memory as reverently as if it had been a wreath, and a moment later I was surprised to learn that Washington pΦre was even then doing his many hours a day on the line between Altoona and Pittsburgh.

Frankness and genuineness warned his talk until the words fairly glowed good will. He rejoiced in his Grandfather Washington for making a fortune in coal mining by the age of forty after coming to this country as an adult unable to read or write — not at all humiliated to relate that, following this auspicious start, his ancestor retired to drink his way successfully through said fortune and die penniless. Not a censorious word did he utter to indicate that this long spree was in any sense an error, or to hint regret for the lost million. You gathered that the grandson felt competent to make his own million or not, as he chose.

This four sided complete American delighted in his business, which was insurance of the bond and liability sort. With a neat mingling of the legal and paternal, he spoke of his clients as 'my assured.' His stance for attacking the immense futurities of insurance is a village high in the Alleghenies. Swiftly he convinced me that his village is quite the loveliest and most prosperous in America, containing, 'with its environs,' more than six thousand souls of exceptional solvency and virtue. Accepting their quality, I questioned if they were numerous enough to provide all the prospects he needed. My worry was unnecessary. He was, literally, a free agent within the herders of Pennsylvania, and was already going afield for more than half of his business. For him his lofty village is jest a jumping off place from which to insure the universe; from his office window he beholds a world to save by contract.

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