Habits of English Life

THE difference between manners — the subject of my last article on England— and habits of life is not great or strongly marked, and indeed the two things shade off into each other with such delicate gradation that it is difficult to point out where one ends and the other begins. There comes soon, however, a point on either side where we plainly see that one is what the other is not. This being the case, what I have to say now will seem in some respects a continuation of my previous article, but in others not so. If any of my readers are so bound to titles that this incongruity will disturb them, I am sorry; but I beg them to remember that on this occasion and in this respect the fault is not with the writer, but in the subject.

Whether discipline in the British army is stricter than it is in the army of the United States I do not know ; I had no opportunity of making a comparison. But the laws governing domestic life are much more strongly insisted on and much more rigidly observed than they are with us. I was much impressed and amused upon one occasion of observing this difference. It was on a visit to Knole, in Kent,— one of the most interesting among the remaining great houses of the Tudor period. I was visiting for a day or two at a house not many miles from Knole, and my host kindly drove over there with me one Sunday afternoon. My expectations of pleasure were very high ; for Knole is in perfect preservation, and is built on such a scale of magnificence that it contains, if I remember rightly, no less than eighty-seven staircases. Its oaken carvings, its corridors, and its bay-windows — known to me by prints and photographs — fully justify the epithet “ very noble ” which Pepys so often applies to his dinners, and as a whole are unsurpassed in England for their beauty and their character. It is indeed a perfect example of that admi rable and truly English style of domestic architecture which on the decay of feudalism succeeded the castle.

Our drive was delightful ; for the day was fine, and Kent is called the garden of England. Our little jaunt was not without its little incident, which although trifling was significant, because my cicerone was a nobleman of high rank, of historic name, in whose family there are no less than three peerages. As we were rolling along the smooth roads we met a party of two or three taking a Sunday stroll. When we drew near each other my host recognized them, and exclaiming, “ Oh, there are the -s! ” bade the coachman pull up. He sprang out, and greeted them warmly ; and there was a little chat, with reciprocal inquiries and invitations. On resuming his place at my side, he apologized for the interruption, saying good naturedly, “ The -s are very estimable people, and one does n’t like to pass one’s neighbors on a Sunday without a pleasant word.” This would have been nothing worth remark had not I known the -s by name and by reputation. They were very rich, and had recently established themselves in a country-seat in Kent; but according to English social gradation they were inferior in rank even to merchants; for they had grown rich, not by trade, but by a trade, and the family still carried on the practice of their art and mystery. Yet there could have been nothing simpler, franker, or heartier than my host’s manner with them. It was altogether unlike the manner that, according to generally preconceived notions, might have been expected under the circumstances from a nobleman of his rank and position. I fear that as he was apologizing to me there was a snobbish note of exclamation in one of my eyes, and one of interrogation in the other ; for, although I did not say a word or make a motion, he added kindly and simply, “ I don t think it’s kind or nice [nice is a great word in England] to treat such excellent people coldly when they are neighbors.” It is only right that I should add that, being a member of the government, in him popular manners were not only becoming, but might be serviceable, and that the -s had a great establishment. But truly, I do not believe that he was influenced by this consideration ; for when he was here in his younger days, he had been set down by all who knew him well as a thorough good fellow.

We soon entered Knole Park, a place the very sight of which begat in my soul a serene and placid joy. It is grandly timbered, and is more undulating than any other park that I had the good fortune to see. It was manifestly open to the whole neighborhood on Sunday afternoons at least; for we saw groups, some of them very rustic in appearance and manners, walking over the greensward, or sitting under the great trees. And these people seemed to enjoy themselves much more heartily than any that I had ever seen in America on a similar Sunday or Saturday outing. The chief reason of this difference appeared to be that they did not stand upon their dignity, nor give their minds to being or to seeming as elegant and as fine as anybody else. If the old French chronicler found that the English people took their pleasure sadly, according to their custom, what would he say to the pleasure-taking of the English race under the elevating influences of democratic institutions! Whenever we approached these strolling parties near enough, they saluted us deferentially, but cheerily ; and although my friend’s equipage and his face were probably well known in the neighborhood, my general observation leads me to believe that the same would have been the case if we had both been strangers.

All through the park were fine beeches ; and those which stood near the stone wall which shut in the gardens and private grounds, and over which the quaint but graceful gables of the great house peered, were the largest and grandest trees of the kind that I ever saw. Their roots, which, after the habit of the beech, began to spread well above ground, seemed sometimes to me like great buttresses of the majestic, towering trunks, and at others like monstrous claws thrust savagely out to clutch the earth and bear it up into the air. The beeches at Knole, as I learned afterwards, are famous as the finest in all England. I may remark here that I did not once look into a guide-book while I was in the country. I do not care much about critical literature of any grade, and rarely spend much time upon it, — possibly because, as the negro divine said when urged to hear a white brother celebrated for his eloquence, “ I’se a preacher myse’f.”

We drove to the gate-way, descended, and pulled the bell by a chain ending in a knobbed handle, which hung by the door-post, A little door in the great gate Opened, and a porter presented himself who was the very reverse of the “ proud portér ” of the old ballads. He was a fat little man, — so fat that he seemed to stick in the door-way. He wore a bright scarlet waistcoat, to the making of which there went much cloth. His face was beardless, sleek, and jolly, although it was sobered with evident effort to the decorum of his function ; possibly also by the consciousness of a disagreeable duty which he knew that he must perform. He was much such a looking man as the late distinguished comedian, Mr. William Blake, would have been if he had got himself up in a scarlet waistcoat as a porter. My companion gave him good-day, and saying that we should like to see the house stepped forward to lead the way in. “ Beg pa’don, m’lud,” said the fellow, keeping himself directly in the doorway, “ but Lord Sackville said that no one was to be allowed to come in wiles he was away. There ’s work goin’ on ; the ’ouse is a-bein’ repaired.” I saw my friend’s countenance fall; but he brightened up in a moment, and said, “ Could n’t you let us in ? I ’ve driven over just to show my friend the house.” " Very sorry, m’lud, that I can’t let you come in, but his lordship’s orders was very p’ticler : ” and he stood in the doorway, deferential, very deferential — in manner, but a very firm, immovable, round little fact. My kind companion was evidently much disappointed ; and seeing that the porter knew him he said, making another effort on my behalf, “ I’m sure that if my friend, Lord Sackville, were here he would let us in, and I wish very much to have this gentleman see the house. It’s his only opportunity.” “ No doubt, m’lud, his lordship would be most happy, if he was here; but my orders was very p’ticler, m’lud, — no one to come in wiles he was away.” Apology and firmness could not have been more completely or more happily combined than they were in the face and manner and speech of this jolly little red-waistcoated porter. My friend looked ruefully in my face, and we got into the carriage again. As we drove off, after expressing his sorrow that I should have been so disappointed, he said, “ I could have gone in, of course ; for Lord Sackville and I are friends, and I saw the mail knew me well. I could have easily pushed past him and have told him that I would make it all right with Lord Sackville, as of course I could have done ; but I did n’t exactly like to show him the example of disobeying orders. Indeed, I ’m very sorry.” As for me, I was sorely disappointed, but on the whole glad that the matter had ended as it did. It would have been a great pleasure to me to see Knole, with its eighty-seven staircases; but I don’t know that it would have been greater than to see a nobleman of my companion’s rank and position, a member of the government, and a county magistrate (a high position in England) yield gracefully and turn away from the door of his friend’s empty house, which he had driven miles to see, rather than by a little gentle aggression lead a mere liveried servant into what would have been only a constructive disobedience of orders. My respect for the porter was great; but my respect for my friend was even greater than it had been before.

The mention of the careless and hearty enjoyment of their Sunday’s pleasure by the rustic visitors of Knole Park reminds me that in London I came again and again upon little groups of children dancing in dingy courts upon the damp pavement. It might be drizzling rain, although not enough to wash their faces, and they were hatless and shoeless, — poor little things, almost breakfastless, not to say impransus, like Dr. Johnson (and yet that may have meant merely that he had not yet dined) but they danced, and danced merrily, without other music than that of their own little pipes, which they set up without rivaling Chaucer’s prioress by entuning in their nose full sweetly. Such a sight could not be seen among the free and enlightened inhabitants of this country, except indeed the children of German emigrants, whom I have seen tempted into street saltation by brass bands, and even by hand-organs. But where among the real Americans — the Yankees or the Virginians for example — would you find hatless and shoeless boys and girls dancing in the open air in mere childish gayety of heart? Let us not boast untruly; the hatlessness, the shoelessness, the rags, and the dirt, we might find; but where the capacity of happiness which can despise rags, rejoice in bare heads and feet, revel in dirt, and set at naught falling water?

And yet these people work much harder than we do, and for less wages. They do what I have never seen done in this country, —work in their gardens, if not in their fields, on Sunday. I have mentioned my surprise at hearing the cries of street venders in London on Sunday ; it was even a greater novelty to me to see on my Sunday walks in the country, wherever I went, men, evidently respectable and comfortable persons, at work with spade and hoe and rake among their vegetables. If I stopped to speak to them, which I did if I were near enough, they did not seem at all as if they were surprised in doing anything of which they should be ashamed, or show the least shyness. Shyness, however, they would not be likely to show in any case, as I soon discovered. The existence of established ranks has the effect of causing a greater freedom of manner than is our habit of life among people of all conditions of life. They have fewer reserves: they have need of fewer.

In illustration of this I recall a sight that I saw in Hyde Park one soft autumnal morning. I was to take luncheon at a house near the park; and as I was whiling away the latter part of the morning by a stroll through this noble pleasure-ground, I came upon two women, one sitting and the other reclining upon the grass. As I drew near them, I perceived that one was middle-aged and the other quite young. Their likeness showed that they were mother and daughter, although the look of the girl’s wan face and wistful eyes was very unlike the bright and rugged comeliness of the matron’s. In a moment it was plain that the mother had brought her ailing daughter there for the benefit of the sun and air. The girl lay upon a shawl, with her body all in the sun ; but her head rested in her mother’s lap, which was in the shade. I stopped and spoke to the mother. Her language was good, and the inflections of her voice, although hardly refined, were not coarse. They were evidently not what we should call poor people, but in comfortable circumstances, — so much so that I should not have thought of offering a gratuity (although the shilling-receptive faculty in England rises very high) ; but yet they sat out together in this way in such a very public place, and talked freely and pleasantly with a stranger, without any of that shyness and reserve and consciousness which would have been found under similar circumstances in America.

Most Englishmen of the lower middle class and the lower class in cities have a way of walking which is a distinguishing habit of common life. I had observed it in Englishmen of this sort in the streets of New York, where I could tell them by it as far as I could see them. They lay themselves out in their walking, as if they were doing a day’s work. They walk not only with their feet and legs, but with their hips and their shoulders and their arms, not swinging the latter, but arching them out more or less from their sides, and putting them forward stiffly as they step. Withal they look conscious of their walking, and seem well pleased that they are doing the correct thing. This gait and carriage of body is most remarkable in the soldiers that one sees about the streets of London and of garrison towns like Canterbury, and in the vulgar creature who has come to be known by the generic name ’Arry. You will meet two soldiers tightened up to the extreme of endurance in their scarlet shell jackets, with little flat caps so far down the sides of their heads that you cannot see why they hesitate at coming down all the way, and these two fellows, one of whom is pretty sure to carry a rattan with a jaunty air, will take up the room of three men by the set-out of their four arms from their four sides, and will walk as if their locomotion, instead of being by human muscles, were by clockwork and steam. The number of their imitators cannot be told ; but an English gentleman has none of this toilsome swagger. He walks quite easily and unconsciously, and generally with a good, manly stride, just as a man of corresponding condition of life in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia will walk. But in those places you will not see in persons of inferior condition that strange mode of locomotion which I have endeavored to describe.

Gentlemen in England have a very general fashion of wearing rings in what seemed to me a very lady-like way. A signet ring, engraved with a cipher, a crest, or a beautiful design, seems fit and becoming upon the hand of a man who can afford to keep it clean and out of danger of knocks and blows. Nor are we unaccustomed to see examples of annular gorgeousness—notably vast amethysts — upon hands which are not so cared for. But this is not the ringwearing of gentlemen in England. There small rings set with stones are in favor. Diamonds set in heavy hoops, rubies as eyes in the heads of golden snakes which coil three or four times around the finger, diamonds and rubies, diamonds and sapphires, in alternation, are seen upon the fingers of most of the men who are above the lower middle class, — noblemen, clergymen, army officers, university dons, hard-headed men of affairs, merchants. Not one ring only ; indeed, a single ring upon a man’s hand is rather exceptional. You shall see a big fellow with big brown hands, or an elderly man of staid business habits, with three or even four jeweled rings upon his fingers ; not unfrequently there will be two upon one finger. The turquoise is in great favor, — the most unmanly and womanproper of all precious stones, in my judgment ; most suitable to the fairest and softest of the sex. It is frequently alternated with the diamond on a heavy hoop, a wide space being left between the stones. The fashion impressed me as quite incongruous with manly dignity and simplicity. But perhaps this was merely because I was unaccustomed to it. I know that I saw a man with a diamond ring and a plain hoop on one finger, a turquoise on another, and a ruby-eyed snake whose coils covered one joint of a third, whom I knew to be a gentleman, and had good reason to believe thoroughly a man. If these men had not been of my own blood and speech I should not have thought this habit remarkable ; but thus it strikes a stranger who is yet not a foreigner.

One lovely trait of English life I must not forget, negative although it is. During the whole of my visit, neither in town nor country, north, south, east, or west, did I see a spittoon, — not one. I did not miss the things, and it was not until my visit was almost over that I noted their absence, although the difference of the two countries in this respect is a very noteworthy fact in household economy. For, looking out of a back window this morning, did I not count seventeen of them leaning against the house-wall of my neighbor, Mrs. Hashitt, who takes a few genteel hoarders ? — seventeen, so help me Santa Cloacina, gorgeous in crimson and green and gold, with their foul maws empty, and their great fuming mouths turned up to the blessed sun ! She, being a woman of elegant language, calls ’em cuspidores ; why, the genius of gentility which presides over her establishment, including the seventeen, only knows. But neither spittoon nor cuspidore saw I in England.

The absence of this unlovely utensil is due in a great measure to the fact that in England a decent man is as unlikely to chew tobacco as in America a decent man is likely to wish the ladies of his acquaintance to know that he chews it. (In vain, however, are all his concealments and devices; for the breath of a tobacco chewer harbingers his approach before he is visible.) But it is also to be remarked that the tendency to spitting of any kind is much less in England than it is here. Our climate — meaning chiefly the dry wind from west and northwest — causes an irritation of the throat and the nostrils which produces a secretion of saliva and of mucus that in England is almost unknown to those who are in health. It is almost impossible for a man to pass a day here, except in summer or in early autumn, without relieving his mouth of some irritation of this kind, at least — as Mr. Everett said that he blew his nose — “ in the privacy of me own apartment.” But while I was in England I was quite free from any such annoyance.

In England everybody seems to have leisure time. A gentleman is always supposed to have time to wait, to sit down, to chat, unless he has shut himself up that he may work. At an eating-house, unless you dine table d'hôte fashion, àla carte, the time which elapses between your sitting at table and the appearance of what you have ordered would be a sore trial to most Yankees. If I had opportunity to look about me and observe my neighbors, I did not mind it; but once or twice when I was shut up in a box all alone, with no company but thoughts and memories, I fretted at my forced idleness, although I do not believe that “ rapid transit ” is the greatest of all blessings. Perhaps it is because the Englishman moves so quickly and so punctually when he does move that he is able to take life leisurely at some time of day. Your very railway traveling seems there a form of leisure, a kind of rest, a soft, swift-passing silence. You are taken noiselessly off at an appointed minute, carried along with such nearly silent speed that you seem to be sitting still to see the world slip past you, and you are set noiselessly down at the appointed minute. You may not only read, but you may talk with as much ease and comfort as if you were in a library or a drawing-room, and indeed can write letters which may be read without difficulty. But as to leisure, even the poorest man seems to have it, if he quits his work at all. If an artisan takes a glass of beer with a friend, they sit down to it, if they sit on kegs with a barrel-head between them as a table. Their beer seems to be drunk not merely to supply fluid waste and to furnish needed stimulant, but rather as a festive accompaniment and decoration of a brief time of leisure. The making a mere gutter of the neck is in England, I believe that I may say in Europe, almost unknown. Indeed, there are other things besides the star of empire that westward take their way. The farther westward, the greater the tendency to perpendicularity in potation. The Oriental squats at his sherbet or his coffee; the ancients who dwelt around the Mediterranean Sea reclined as they drank ; the Frenchman sits at his ease over his thin limonade or his café noir ; the Englishman at least plumps himself down upon bench or settle, and sits there, even if in semi-silence, until his beer is drunk ; the American, standing erect and solemnly announcing “ My respects to you, sir,” pours the fluid into his person, sets down the glass, and silently makes off about his business. Leisure would seem to be almost undeniably a condition of mental ripeness and of bodily grace. Wisdom and fine manners have always come from the East.

One reason of the possession of leisure time by Englishmen in so notable a degree seemed to me to be that there is little time spent by them in seeming to be what they are not. For the doing of this is a great consumer of time. The endeavor to be as fine as anybody, to live, or to seem to live, as luxuriously as those of much larger means live, is in itself, and quite apart from the question of income and outgo, a heavy draft upon all the forces, intellectual, moral, and material ; and in particular it uses up that part of time which, not being given to work or to the daily round of duties, would otherwise be leisure. That the tendency to this endeavor is favored and increased by a democratic form of society is the least that can be said. In fact, democracy urges, spurs, goads, all those under its dominion, except the few who are so independent in thought and in feeling as to be sufficient unto themselves, into this kind of social dishonesty, — dishonesty, because it is an imposition upon one’s neighbors, and an attempted delusion of one’s self. For in a democratic society, although there are conditions of life, because democracy has not yet been able to do away with human nature, the absence of established rank, and even of any perceptible and admitted distinctions of class, involves also the absence of the idea of fitness, of that which is becoming to the individual. In such a society money is the only test and rule of estimation the propriety of which is generally recognized. That is fit for a man which he can afford; and whether it is becoming is a matter of personal taste, — a matter which is not to be disputed. Hence, the shocking and ridiculous incongruities in wealthy democratic societies. Probably in no other place since the world began has the jewel of gold been so often seen in the swine’s snout as in New York, — New York, which with the elements of the finest society in the world has really nothing which may be rightly called a society; because, not being a capital or even a metropolis, not being the centre of any interest, political, literary, artistic, or even social, other than a commercial interest, it has come to be merely a place for the speedy getting and the speedier spending of money.

That a condition of things having some likeness to this exists in England, and particularly in London, no one who is even moderately well informed upon the subject would think for a moment of disputing. But notwithstanding the social tendencies of the time, there are influences which greatly modify that condition and restrain its material manifestations. There is the influence of the nobility and gentry, unavoidable, indisputable, irresponsible; there is the influence of the great universities, a great and constant, although a silent force; there is the influence of the established church, and of the army and navy; and, moreover, there is the widely diffused sense of subordination and of decorum, all of which are checks upon the aggressiveness of mere rich and vulgar pretension. To go no higher, the man who is “in holy orders,” or he who “serves her majesty,” although he may not have two hundred pounds a year, has a position which, notwithstanding the boasted omnipotence of money and its real power in society, mere money cannot give in England. And although the clergyman and the soldier may fawn upon Crœsus, Crœsus knows this, and they know it; and because of it he lets them fawn, and pays them for their fawning.

Indeed, social shamming is of very little avail in England. The shamming must be very good to make any impression at all; and even then its success is short-lived. It is soon exposed, and quietly put down. The very country folk, the farmers, the villagers, and the farm laborers, will not put up with countrygentleman airs and old-family graces on the part of new landlords. Lord A-, wealthiest of such raw county magnates, was openly snubbed by his humble neighbors when he took upon himself the gracious airs of a lord of the soil, and was given to understand that with all his money and his newly acquired acres he was only a rich Londoner. And Lord Beueousfield cannot use such a word as “ aftermath ” to his rural neighbors around Hughenden, or speak to them of weather “ which gives that brightness to the barley which farmers love to see,” without being girded at by all the scoffing scribes of her majesty’s opposition. In which they are hardly fair; for Mr. Disraeli, Hebrew litterateur although he was, inherited his little manor of Hughenden, and surely may use any good English rural phrase with at least as much propriety as he may be an English earl.1 But Englishmen are notably intolerant of any social pretension of this sort, and even the slightest exhibition of it is sure to provoke derision.

The distinction between persons who are “ in trade ” and those who are not is insisted upon with constant vigilance. This discrimination is perpetuated and deepened by the etiquette of the court. If there are any American ladies who value their privilege of going to court (and at the United States legation it is believed that some such still remain), it would be well for them to remember this absolute law when they accept the marriage proposals of British subjects. I knew of a case in which one of them was married to a wealthy British merchant, and, going to England, lived very luxuriously ; but as the wife of a British subject in trade she could not go to court; while her unmarried sister, being what Pepys would have called a she-citizen of the United States, was solemnly and triumphantly presented. This distinction is carried to absurd extreme by some persons, generally women, who, although within the court circle, are of snobbish natures, and generally of newborn gentility. It has been told recently of an English lady, whose married name is of most “ base and mechanical ” origin, that, having had one interview with a governess whom she thought of engaging, and having been much pleased with her, she on the second interview informed her that she was sorry that she could not engage her, as she had discovered that she had lived in a family the head of which was “ in trade,” — Sir Bache Cunard. The governess was the gainer by this manifestation of vulgar pretense and fastidiousness, for her services were soon afterwards engaged by a duchess. But in an aristocratic society, no less than in a barber’s shop, a line must be drawn somewhere ; and the England of to-day draws it at trade. Nor does the consciousness of the consequent distinction, ever present with those who are either above or below the line, imply arrogance on the one part or subservience on the other. It is recognized and insisted on by no persons more than by domestic servants, who, as I have remarked before, are great sticklers upon rank and prceedence. A lady who was of rank both by birth and by marriage, and who was the mistress of a great house, told me, as she was kindly explaining to me some of the details of such an establishment, that she had once seen a very nice-looking young woman who offered herself for service, and being much pleased with her appearance had expressed a wish to the housekeeper that she should be engaged. But after a quasi-competitive examination of the candidate, the housekeeper reported and said, “ That girl is a nice girl, but she would not suit me at all. my lady. She has only lived at rich merchants’ houses in town, and at their little trumpery villas ; and she knows nothing of the ways of great houses.” The lady yielded ; for in such matters a person of her rank submits entirely to housekeeper and to butler, who are held responsible, and to whom all orders are generally given.

I have heretofore remarked that what is called an English basement house is, according to my observation, unknown in England. There is another little delusion very prevalent among us, — that, tea only is drunk at English breakfasts, which consist chiefly of eggs, toast, and tea ; and we have “ English breakfast tea ” as we have English basement houses, and one with about as much reason as the other. I found coffee much more generally taken at breakfast than tea, although both were usually on the table. Eggs I saw rarely, and toast hardly ever. Indeed, I was offered eggs at breakfast only once while I was in England, and then I did not get them, although it was at a country house. I was sitting next my hostess, who remarked across the table to her husband that the lawn, which was in sight from the window, seemed to need trimming. Within so short a time that it seemed almost like magic, three men were at work with hand mowing-machines under our eyes. Just then she asked me if I would not have an egg. I accepted the offer, and she rang a far-off bell by pulling a little contrivance at her side. A maid appeared (no servants are present at breakfast in England), and the order for boiled eggs was given. The maid quickly returned, and said, “ Please, my lady, there are no eggs this morning.” Here was an Englishwoman whose husband was lord of thousands of acres, and at her country house, although at a word she could have a company of gardeners to smooth her lawn to her liking, she had not an egg to her breakfast.

The talk at breakfast, and even at dinner, in such houses turns not unfrequently upon the estate and its management : what timber may be cut, what planting is needed, what farm leases are falling in, and whether the present tenants shall be continued, and how they manage their farms. In these consultations the ladies join and offer their opinions, which are received with consideration ; and the younger brothers, one or two of whom are almost always living at home, are looked to to take an interest and an active part in the management of the estate. This made the tabletalk much more interesting and instructive to me than if it had been confined to politics, society, and “ Shakespeare and the musical glasses,” although these latter subjects had their full share of attention. I was impressed, as I have heretofore remarked, with the wide range of topics upon which these sensible, highly educated women were able to give, in their quiet, modest way, sound opinions and suggestions. They were rarely “ smart,” but they were sagacious ; and they seemed to have the family interests much at heart.

The “ unprotected female.” who furnished John Leech with some of his happiest and most amusing subjects, I did not find so common as I had expected to find her; but I met with one beautiful specimen on my way to Canterbury. She was beautiful as a specimen; but the utmost stretch of gallantry would not allow me to predicate any kind of beauty of her as a woman. I had taken a cross-road from a little place which I was visiting, and I had some time to spend at the station, waiting for the train on the main line. As I walked the platform, there emerged from the booking office a short, dumpy, elderly woman in a gray stuff dress, which did not conceal her fatness or lengthen her shortness. She wore large, round, silverrimmed spectacles, carried a bulging umbrella, and her bonnet would have given a New York milliner, even in Division Street, a fit of nervous horror. But she was evidently a well-to-do person, and, although as fidgety and as confused as a weather-cock in a change of wind, quite able to take care of herself. She looked about for a few moments through her great glass artificial eyes, which seemed to have the effect of magnifying the unsatisfactory points of the condition of things before her, and then bustling up to a porter who was carrying an armful of parcels she exclaimed, “ Where’s my things? That’s mine [pointing with her hippopotamic umbrella to one of the parcels]. Put it down. What are you going to do with it ? I don’t want to go by this train. I don’t like this train. Where’s my tin box ? Miss -, she’s a young lady at Riverhead, told me that if I came here at a quarter past twelve I should have a nice train to take me to Tunbridge ; and now I’m to have a nasty train, and to wait till half past one.” The man smiled good-naturedly, and turning a half-winking eye to me, went on his way. She trotted after him, expostulating and clamoring for her tin box. Presently she trotted back, and went about pottering and cackling and stirring things up like an old hen in a muck heap. My time to go soon came, and I left her waiting for her nasty train.

I suppose that this old lady traveled second-class, as the phrase is in England. She would not have felt at home in a first-class carriage, and would besides have grudged the extra shillings ; and a third-class carriage she would surely have regarded as very nasty, that is, unpleasant. Between second-class people and first-class people there is less sympathy and good fellowship than there is between third-class and first-class. I remember hearing a peer and an Oxford don discuss the economy of railway traveling ; and they agreed heartily that it was pleasanter to travel third-class than second-class; third-class people were not so disagreeable as second-class. Now the third-class carriages are very cramped and uncomfortable, and the passengers are of the humblest and coarsest sort. But thus it ever is : we are more annoyed by the unpleasant peculiarities of those who are most like us, and yet are not of us, than by the stranger and perhaps more offensive habits of those whose remoteness from us relieves us from any implication with them or their affairs.

Clearly as classes are defined in England, in comparison with the uniformity in this country (for of course they shade into each other there, and the shading becomes year by year broader and more obliterative of the established lines), firstclass people are not always distinguished from even third-class by English people of dull perceptions. The friend at whose house I was going to lunch, when I saw the mother with her invalid daughter in Hyde Park, told me with much amusement of his being mistaken for a shoemaker. He is the second son of a distinguished man “ with a handle to his name,” and is himself a man of mark. A friend of his, quite inferior to him in social rank, had ordered a pair of shoes of peculiar make of his shoemaker, and by mistake they had been sent to his house. He was about calling upon his friend, and being a very easy-going man, and not at all fussy about his personal appearance, he took the shoes in a parcel with him. And by the way, to do this in London a man must be very easygoing indeed. For to carry a parcel, however small, or however elegantly wrapped, through London streets is something which a “ gentleman ” would not think of doing much sooner than he would think of walking through them in his shirt-sleeves. The tiniest purchase, which would not make your waistcoat pocket bulge, is solemnly sent home to you as a matter of course. But you may carry a book, if it is not too large and is not wrapped up. A book is a book ; but a parcel may be a pound of cheese, or a pair of shoes. At his friend’s door my shoe-carrying friend asked to see Mr. -, and was understood by the servant to ask for Mrs.-, to whom he was directly taken. The lady, who had never seen him before, looked up, and asked curtly, “ What have you there ?” “ Mr. ——’s shoes,” was the reply. “ Oh, yes ; quite so, quite so. It’s all right. Mr. - is out, but he’ll be in soon, and if you want to see him you ’d better take a seat in the hall, and wait till lie comes.” “ But, madam ” — began my friend. Never mind, never mind ; it’s all quite right. Step out in the hall, please, and wait for Mr.-.” The gentleman appreciated the situation at once, and had much too keen a sense of humor to spoil it by an explanation. So he did step out into the hall, intending to give the shoes to a servant and go on his way rejoicing. But he met his friend coming in, and, being too considerate of his friend’s wife to put her to the blush and enjoy her confusion by returning, he gave the shoes to their owner, and after a few words upon the occasion of his visit bade him good morning. If he should chance to read this number of The Atlantic, I hope that he will pardon me for repeating a story which in all respects is a most characteristic manifestation of English habits, and not the least so in his modest carelessness about the lady’s mistake, and his thoughtful care to protect her against the consequences of her blunder.

Richard Grant White.

  1. The correct pronunciation of Mr. Disraeli’s new title is with the first vowel sound short, — Beconsfield. The spelling Beaconsfleld is a corruption of the old spelling Becknesfield, — the name of a parish, —and is one of those corruptions of which many are known to philology, and which are the result of a mistaken assumption of meaning in the corrupted word.