Westward by Rail

A New Route to the West. By W. F. RAE. London : Longmans, Green, & Co.
IT is the correspondent of the London Daily News who tells of his American travels in a book dedicated to his American friends out of an affection for them that seems very abundant. Indeed, since real greatness, and knowledge of ourselves through knowledge of other nations, have made us the shrinkingly modest people we now are, there are very few Americans who would find it in their hearts to say all the kind things of themselves that Mr. Rae asks them to believe, —and asks with an air of such moderation and candor that it seems almost a rudeness to doubt him. Is it possible, we question, before laying the flattering unction to our souls that our political system is not a bubble destined to burst as soon as the country is settled, that our steamboats do not similarly explode at short intervals, and are altogether decenter and pleasanter than English boats ; that our railroad cars, as idealized by Mr. Pullman, are delightful to the civilized man ; that we do not all live in hotels upon pickles, and that our hotels have some small comforts and conveniences peculiar to them; that Mr. Punch’s American is not the real one ; that our accent is not so bad, and that at any rate it is very little matter about accent ; that our women are sometimes intelligent and lady-like ; that the New York Herald is not the great organ of public opinion ? Come, now, Mr. Rae (we feel like saying to this obliging tourist), do not allow a few personal friendships to sway you ; be honest and own that you think we are politically and morally in a horribly bad way ! You know that you saw spittoons in all genteel parlors in Boston, and found tire pews in Grace Church whittled by the pen-knives of the worshippers. We shall forgive you ; but you must acknowdedge that in the United States the men all put their feet on the mantel-piece, and the women all swing their skirts in walking. No ? Mr. Rae actually remains firm in his misperception of American facts ; and English readers must turn to other authorities for the truth about us.
It is not through want of opportunities for forming a better estimate that Mr. Rae mistakes us. He has travelled from New York to San Francisco by rail, and has come back to Boston, visiting route pretty nearly all the interesting things and places ; though much the greater part of his book is given to telling what he saw in California and the far West. The material resources of these regions, and their great prospects, he gladly recognizes ; but he believes that the Californians especially have still some trifling disparities to overcome before their promise and their performance are equalized. He tells them that their material greatness cannot long impress the world, and that the really surprising thing in their history is the early development of a spirited and excellent local literature, which he hints the typical Californians themselves do not know much about or care much for ; and, worse than all, he denies that the boasted hospitality of California exists in fact, or is much more than a half-Spanish flourish of phrases. He tells — with what we might call innocence in an American writer relating the like experience in England — how his San Francisco banker, who had placed all his worldly possessions at Mr. Rae’s disposal, feigned not to know him when he supposed him come to claim his courtesy, but turned hospitable again as soon as it appeared that Mr. Rae merely wished to take leave.
After more talk of this sort, our author says : “ A gentleman who was pointed out to me enjoyed immense popularity in San Francisco. He was very rich. His greatest merit, as far as I could learn, consisted in this, that he sometimes expended five hundred dollars a day in treating his friends to drinks. When, then, the Californians vaunt about their hospitality, they mean that they are the most liberal with their whiskey of any people on earth.” But Mr. Rae owns that there is a silver lining to this cloud, and that the Californians have produced already something very admirable in art as well as literature ; and he advises the California youth to look for their examples of success, not to the “pioneers” of 1849, who now form the ancient and hereditary nobility of their native State, but to the men who are giving her a name in civilization.
Mr. Rae has several chapters on Salt Lake City and the Mormons, which are all marked by a moderation, good sense, and good principle which we have hardly been taught to expect in English tourists, since Mr. Dixon set them his bad and vulgar example. Our author does not find the Saints either picturesque or comfortable. They are for the most part ignorant peasants without political rights, for the loss of which they are poorly compensated by their social license. They are very backward compared with other Americans, afraid of each other, and intolerant of the presence of other sects ; and their women are not treated as “intellectual human beings, but as mere human toys.” With these facts in view, he refuses to be enamored of Mormonism because the orchards of Utah “yield annually many thousand bushels of large ripe peaches and rosy-cheeked apples.”
There is a chapter on Boston City and Harvard University, which is written with a very generous appreciation of the merits of both, and with an intelligence rare among travellers of Mr. Rae’s nation. The wellknown local diffidence forbids us to quote from this chapter, though, as will have been seen, we were not slow to reproduce Mr. Rae’s praises of San Francisco. His book is not a very profound judgment of America. Much of its observation must seem superficial and trivial to American readers ; but it is probably interesting to Englishmen, and it is very amiable and good-natured to us, without being patronizing.