Random Recollections of England
THE story of my sojourn in England will soon be ended. My readers need hardly be told that my recollections of that pleasant time include much with which I should not think of wearying them. It is no diary, no expanded notebook, that I have set before them. Indeed, I made hardly any notes when I was in England ; all my memorandums being contained in two tiny books which would go into my waistcoat pocket, and having been hastily scrawled as I was walking or riding. My purpose has been to put England and English folk and English life before my readers just as I saw them. To do this, it was not necessary to write either an itinerary or an account of all my personal experiences, including the valuable information that I daily rose and breakfasted and walked, or rode and dined and slept, well or ill as the case might be. But of that experience I have here recorded such incidents and facts as seemed to me characteristic. I have described such persons and such conditions of life as seemed, not, be it remarked, strange, striking, or amusing, but fairly representative of the country and the people. Because of a contrary practice, consequent upon a desire to produce a strong impression by the description of novelty, books of travel are too often either caricatures of the people whom they profess to describe, or correct descriptions of persons as novel and incidents almost as unusual to the denizen as to the stranger. This is notably the case with books of travel in the United States, and also, but in a less degree, in those which have described England to Americans. The people of the two countries are, or were until a few years ago, so exactly the same people, developing themselves under different forms of government and physical surroundings, that writing travelers, especially those from the motherland, have felt, it would seem, as if they must be sharply on the lookout for something strikingly characteristic. Tourists have gone about in both countries seizing eagerly upon the peculiar, the strange, the startling ; and this they have set forth as portraiture. Thus, also, illustrators with the pencil have done; and not only in each other’s country, but each in his own. The result of all which is distortion, confusion, misapprehension, ignorance instead of knowledge, aversion instead of liking.
Not unmindful of this, and yet doing only what seemed to me natural and right, I have been content to concern myself with that which is truly characteristic. Now the characteristic is always the common. True generally, this is particularly true of peoples and countries. In my descriptions of England, therefore, I have told only what almost any man might see there on almost any day, — only what I believe no Englishman would regard as strange. For it is these every-day occurrences, these stable, homely facts, these commonplaces of life, that show what a people, what a country, is, — what all the influences, political, moral, and telluric, that have been at work there for centuries have produced. And if, because I have not sought out the strange, the striking, and the grotesque, my recollections should lack interest, I pray my readers to remember that I have been dull in the interests of truth.
It may be well, also, that I should say that I saw and have written from a Yankee’s point of view, applying the term Yankee necessarily to the descendants of those to whom it was originally and peculiarly applied, in whatever part of the country they may now dwell. When I speak of my countrymen I mean only those whose families were here at the time of the Revolution, who only can be the true examples and representatives of the results of the social, political, and physical forces which have been in operation here for two centuries and a half. With others, who are spoken of and who speak of themselves by that very non-describing name “ Americans,” and who are the product of emigration during the last fifty years, I do not here concern myself, however respectable, wealthy, or politically influential they may have become (and some of them are very respectable, very wealthy, and politically very influential), or however tenacious they may be (and they are apt to be very tenacious) of their American status. But to me, from my present point of view, they are no more than if they had remained at home, and had there become respectable, wealthy, and politically influential. Indeed, they are rather less. How could it be otherwise ?
In regard to England, I have spoken freely as to myself, but with reserve as to others of the pleasure of my life there during my first short visit, — my only one. I have been sufficiently cautious, I hope, in my references to my personal experience, not to trespass upon privacy, nor to abuse hospitality. It has of course been necessary for me to refer to individuals ; and in writing of a country in which individuals are of different ranks it would have been an inept and confusing affectation to ignore them ; but I believe that I have told my story in a way to which, although my friends may recognize themselves in my pages, they will make no objection, and which I am sure will conceal their identity from all strangers.
I thought myself very fortunate in the way in which I saw England and the life there ; for it was such an informal, matter-of-course, untourist-like way. Of the kindness that was shown me there I shall say no more than I have said from time to time, as occasion suggested. I can never cease to remember it with pleasure; and of this kindness no small part was that which made me at home in English houses. And indeed I was hardly a stranger in any one into which I had the pleasure of being received; for, with two exceptions, I visited no one who had not visited me at home ; and I was not able to enter half the houses where for years I had been told that welcome awaited me. Moreover, I had the advantage of seeing England from two points of view, — that of a visiting stranger, and that of one who is at home. Accustomed to be mistaken in the United States and Canada, not only by my British cousins, but by my own countrymen, for an Englishman of British birth, I found the mistake still more common in Old England itself. There, by all who did not know me, it was quietly assumed as a matter of course that I was born on the soil ; and as all who did know me knew to the contrary, I did not travel by rail or afoot with the announcement that I was a Yankee pasted on my hat, nor in my casual intercourse with strangers did I make the needless declaration. Therefore, as I went about a great deal alone from choice, and as, if I went by a highway, I came back by a by-way, I saw Englishmen both as they appear to each other and as they appear to strangers. Under both aspects they commanded my respect and won my liking. Indeed, I must say of my sojourn in England, having both the people and the country in mind, that never that I can remember in my existence since I was a patch of protoplasm did I find it so easy to harmonize with the environment.
Among the minor material traits of England, none seemed more peculiar and characteristic than the by-ways and short cuts of common use through places that seemed closed to the public, and with us would be so. There is one of these in London, near the Albany, I believe, which goes right through a great block of houses. It is made of planks and has a hand-rail. It brings one out in a little lane where there are shops which, it seemed to me, might as well, so far as buying and selling was concerned, have been in the dome of St. Paul’s or the queen’s drawing-room. But the people knew their business, and the shops would not have been there if they had had no customers. I used this by-way frequently ; and one Thursday morning, when I was out early, in the midst of the Bulgarian horror time, I saw in the window of one of these little shops the Punch of the week. The cartoon was that one of John Tenniel’s which shows Disraeli reclining in the wrappings of a bather, while Mr. Gladstone (who had been making some very effective and disturbing speeches) approaches him as a sable attendant with coffee, and asks, “ How did you like your Turkish bath, sir ? ” and the Hebrew prime minister replies, “ Pretty well ; only you made it so confounded hot for me.” I looked at it, and was turning away with a smile, when a young fellow in his shirt-sleeves, who was taking down the shutters of the next shop, caught my eye, and, smiling in turn, said, “ Makes it rather hard for Dizzy, sir.” We enjoyed the fun together for a passing moment, and then parted with “ Good-morning.” It was another pleasing manifestation of that freedom of intercourse and mutual goodfeeling among strangers of all classes in England upon which I have before remarked. In New York the man would have gone silently about his business, without volunteering the remark which opened my day and his with a bright, warm little ray of common pleasure. Indeed, a man so engaged in New York would hardly have been apt to appreciate and enjoy such a caricature.
It needs hardly be said that in London I visited the South Kensington Museum more than once ; but I shall not undertake the superfluous task of describing this wilderness of treasures of art and of science. I remember, however, a few objects there which are of very general interest. There I saw Galileo’s telescope, by means of which he discovered, in the year 1601, the moons of Jupiter and the spots on the sun. It is only about a yard long ; and the object-glass, now badly cracked, through which he saw these wonders, is but two inches in diameter. Many a dandy uses a larger one nowadays to observe his star upon the stage. This instrument had been presented by Viviani to Leopold de Medici. There also was Newton’s telescope, the first reflector which he invented, and made with his own hand in 1671. It is only about one foot long, and is worked on a balland-socket joint, of wood. Two ungainly machines, looking like a cross between an old-fashioned fire-engine and a modern kitchen range, were George Stephenson’s locomotive engines, “ Puffing Billy ” and “ Rocket,” which made it “ vara bod for the coo,” and the latter of which had its name because it could go at the rate of thirty miles an hour!1
Very interesting, too, were the old standard measures of our forefathers, which are gathered together in a large case. There are the standard Winchester bushel, and the standard gallon of Henry VII.’s time, A. D. 1487 ; the gallon, quart, and pint of Queen Elizabeth’s day, A. D. 1601 ; and the gallon, quart, and pint of William II.’s time, A. D. 1700. The measures, which are of copper, are remarkable for their size, the capacities of all of them being much greater than those of measures of the same name in these days, — certainly degenerate in this respect. It is remarkable that measures, instead of growing larger as they grew older, diminished steadily in size with advancing years Those of William’s time were larger than ours, but much smaller than Elizabeth’s ; while hers were very much smaller than Henry VII.’s. Largest of all was one that was dated fifty years earlier, A. D. 1437. It seemed that if we could only go back far enough we should find a gallon, or certainly a bushel, as big as a bathing-tub. This diminution in size is a witness to the rapacity of traders, who gradually diminished the size of the measures by which they sold. And indeed has not our “bushel basket” dwindled away within the memory of living householders, until it now contains less than three pecks ? Established standards seem unable to resist the compressing force of greed.
I have not been unready to speak of the manifold comforts of England, nor half-hearted in doing so ; but I passed one morning of characteristic discomfort there which I never shall forget. On my second visit to Birmingham I was at the Queen’s Hotel for one night only, and was going to leave town by the midday train. I awoke ailing and in pain, to find that a cold fog had settled upon the place. Looking from my bedroom window at nine o’clock, I might have supposed myself on the banks of Newfoundland, but for the rays of a few street lamps faintly struggling through the watery gloom, in the midst of which, from time to time, appeared a phantom artisan or shop-girl on the way to work. It was only the 24th of October; but the cold went to my heart with a curdling chill that I had never felt before, even in a January northwester, with the mercury near zero. I dressed hastily, shuddering at the touch of water, and went to the coffee-room. It was as cheerless as the Mammoth Cave, — as damp, and almost as dark. There I breakfasted in the depressing vicinity of seven muffin-eating, Times-reading, commercial Britons. Their appetites were disgusting; their stolid calmness an offense. I took a chair by the hearth, where a chilly little fire was smouldering in the biggest, blackest grate I ever saw. The heat from it was imperceptible eighteen inches off. Again I doubted if fire was ever hot in England. I went down-stairs to pay my bill, and to make the brief preparations necessary just before departure. There was no parlor, no waiting-room, not even a chair ; and there I sat in a small passage-way, in the midst of disorderly heaps of luggage, on a cold, hard bench, with damp draughts pouring in upon me from all quarters. I think I was never more thoroughly wretched in my life than in this great hotel, the best in Birmingham; and I then thought how differently such things were managed among us Yankees, where, under such circumstances, in our hideous hotels a degree of comfort is yet attainable by every one which in England is rarely to be had except by those who have their own private parlors and their own servants. Comfort came to me in the shape of a Birmingham friend, who gave me that care and attention which I found Englishmen always so ready to bestow ; and once in the railway train the world soon brightened; for in fifteen minutes we steamed out of the fog, and left murky misery behind us. I shall ever remember the kindness, not only of that friend, in whose house I should have been but for the upturning consequent upon repairs, and as tenderly cared for as the wife wrapped in morell’s skin, but the kindness also of a good apothecary to whom I went to make a small purchase, and who, learning that I was a stranger in Birmingham and ill, had me at once up into his private parlor, and waited upon me, he and his servant, as if I had been left in his charge by the good Samaritan, and refused all recompense except my thanks and the price of the trifle I had come for. This was the sort of “ sulky ” Englishman that I found all over England.
I was surprised at the free-thinking and the free-speaking which I met with among English clergymen. Opinions as to the inspiration and the authority of the Bible, which not many years ago would have excited horror among all decent people, were expressed in private conversation by some of these gentlemen in orders with an astonishing absence of reserve. And the freedom of the thinking and of the speech seemed to me just in proportion to the intelligence and the scholarship of the speaker. One of these reverend gentlemen (and in England the title “reverend” is strictly applicable only to clergymen of the Established Church), who was also a college don and a scholar of repute, said to me, as we were discussing the value of the Speaker’s Commentary, “ I wish that every one of those men [the eminent divines and church dignitaries engaged upon the work] was obliged to prefix to each book a declaration, upon his honor, of the time at which and the person by whom he believed it to have been written ; ” and he emphasized “ his honor,” as if the honor of an English gentleman was something far more trustworthy as a guarantee of good faith than the professional declaration even of an English clergyman. The one came from the man as an individual ; the other was merely given as the member of a hierarchy, in the way of “ business”
The truth seems to be that the thoughtful and scholarly divines of the English church, those whose acquirements and mental independence fit them to be critical, are sorely perplexed by their position. For the Church of England is a political institution so interwoven with the structure of English society that, should it be shaken, the whole social fabric would go to ruin. The feeling is prevalent, as I gathered, although I did not hear it explicitly uttered, and it is reasonable, that doing without bishops would be the first step to dispensing with dukes. And what would England be without dukes? An Englishman might lead a godless life; but could he lead a dukeless one ? And the dukes themselves and the minor nobles look forward with the gravest apprehension to the time when, church and state being severed, a respect for rank and privilege will be no part of the English religion. For it is not to be concealed that the English church is the church of “gentlemen.” It not only teaches the lower classes deference to superiors, but its influence does much to breed that very admirable character, the English gentleman. Its teachings are wholly at variance with the spirit of social democracy. Its very catechism inculcates a content which is opposed to the restless and pushing tendencies of modern times. The catechumen is made to say, among other things, when asked what is his duty to his neighbor. “ My duty to my neighbor is . . . to submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters ; to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters;. . . and to learn and labor truly to get mine own living and to do my duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call me.” But now it seems to be the accepted duty of every man of English blood, no matter on which side of the great ocean he may be, to get himself out of that state of life, with what speed he may, into a better. The virtue of content is gone, and with it the grace of submission. I remember intuitions of this even in my boyhood as I repeated those words, and vainly strove to reconcile them with the struggle for advancement which I saw going on around me, even among the most religious people. And there was the old story in verse which began, —
Although he was poor, did not want to be richer.”
Honest John Tomkins was held up to me as the model of all the Christian virtues; and yet I saw everybody around me, including my teachers and spiritual pastors and masters, striving by day and by night to be richer. And when we consider that discontent is the mother of improvement, whether for the individual or the commonwealth, and that the betters of the man who is taught to order himself lowly and reverently to them became so because they or their ancestors were not satisfied with that state of life to which it had pleased God to call them, is it not plain that the religion which teaches content is doomed, and with it the whole system of governors and masters, spiritual and temporal ? But it will be a long time before this warfare is accomplished. Not easily nor quickly can a form of society be uptorn which is of such slow and sturdy growth as that of England, and whose roots, like those of some vast British oak, decayed and hollow at heart it may be, pierce the mould of centuries. There is much in England that is mere shell and seems mere sham ; but the shell was shaped from within by living substance, and it hardened into form through the sunshine and the tempests of hundreds of years ; and so it stands, and will yet stand long, although not forever. The very shams and surface shows of things in England are strong and stable.
Yet the process of change is plainly perceptible even to the eye of a passing stranger. I saw evidence of it in the very dress of the farmer folk and peasantry, in a morning’s walk that I took with a Sussex squire on Sunday. We met many of these people on their way to and from church. The wives and daughters of the farmers wore silk gowns and bonnets with feathers, and carried parasols. I observed some incongruity between the apparel and the mien of those who wore it, and remarked upon it to my companion, an elderly man, who at once relieved himself by a mild and good-humored, but none the less earnest, denunciation of the absurdity. He remembered, he said, when farmers’ wives never thought of appearing on Sundays in any other dress than a red cloak and a close black bonnet, and then they looked respectable; but now they come out dressed like fine ladies, — as they think. “ And look at those young fellows,” he said, “ with their cut-aways and chimney-pots ! They ’re positively ridiculous. See there ! ” pointing out an elderly man who wore a long brown linen garment and stout high-low shoes, which were somewhat incongruous with his shiny chimney-pot hat, — “ that’s better. A smock frock, breeches, gaiters, and a round hat is the proper Sunday costume of a Sussex peasant.” And indeed I thought, although I did not say, that such a dress would be more becoming to him and even more respectable than the caricature of his landlord’s — or of his landlord’s butler’s — costume which he actually did present to the naked eye.
But how, O Sussex squire, is it as to what the Sussex peasant himself thinks, and the Sussex peasantess, in her monstrous manifestation of millinery ? If they feel in their inner hearts that they are “ genteeler ” and more elegant, and therefore in their own eyes more respectable, in that rampant rigging, what matter is all your scoffing? And what can you expect but that they will wear it ? And what will you do to check this blossoming absurdity, unless you make instant and open war upon the liberty of the individual, and throw yourself in your gentleman’s dress before the wheels of progress? The eternal fitness of things ! But what is the eternal fitness of things, or the fitness of eternal things, to the fitness of fine raiment, and to the consciousness of being in the fashion, and of being dressed, at least one day in the week, “like a lady ” or a “gentleman”! Verily, your notions as to correct costume and the eternal fitnesses smack of the church catechism and its state of life to which it has pleased God to call us.
One day in London, as I was walking through New Bond Street, I saw upon the door-post of a house a small signboard, hardly larger than a man’s hand, on which was “Edwin James, Jurisconsult.” It was a sad sight. It brought up a story which is significantly illustrative of a likeness and a difference in social police between two peoples who are, or who have been until lately, the same in all the distinguishing characteristics of race, — the story of a man of such ability and such legal acquirement that he might reasonably have aspired to the highest honors attainable in his profession ; a member of Parliament; a co-worker with Garibaldi ; a man whose reputation had crossed the broad Atlantic, and yet who, because of misconduct in regard to a trust reposed in him, was disbarred. Coming to New York, he was received with facile and uninquiring welcome, and on motion of very distinguished members of the New York bar was admitted to practice in the courts of the State. When a cry of surprise went up from those who knew his history, and an effort was made to rectify the hasty error, it was found to be too late. The judges decided that, having been duly admitted to the bar, and having been guilty of no misconduct since his admission, his standing here was good, and he could not be disbarred. But the result was that the courts in New York were as effectually closed to him as those of London. He could not obtain the practice which a lawyer of his standing requires; he returned to England to set up his little sign as a “jurisconsult.” Never was a reputation more utterly wrecked and ruined ; never were fairer prospects more completely blasted. The moral tone of both bars and both communities was the same; but in England there would not have been the thoughtless precipitancy in his reception and admission which caused such a public scandal in the bar of New York. There would have been more caution, more reserve, more preliminary inquiry.
It is a characteristic distinction that at the Inns of Court men are “ called to the bar ” after a certain probation, while in the United States they are, upon examination, “ admitted to practice ” in the courts. The former mode is a voluntary act of grace by which the benchers ask a man to become one of their fraternity ; the latter is in the nature of the recognition of a right upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. A barrister’s profession in England is nominally of an honorary character, and his fee is an honorarium, which cannot be sued for at law as an attorney’s costs may. Practically, however, a barrister’s services of course are paid for like any other professional services, and the professional incomes of many successful English barristers are very large. Law is the noblest of all professions in England. It takes men into Parliament; it makes them peers and lord chancellors. I did not have the good fortune of seeing any of the great courts in session, for my visit was in the long vacation; but I saw a criminal cause tried in one of the minor courts in Liverpool, and was much interested in the proceedings. First of all, I was struck by the costume of the judge and of the barristers, whose wigs and gowns gave them an air of dignity and authority well suited to their functions and not without its practical value. The wigs, indeed, did seem somewhat ridiculous, because of their absurd likeness and unlikeness to the natural covering of the head. The judge’s wig was the least grotesque. It was quite like the large bob wig worn by all gentlemen in the latter part of the last century, — much like that, for example, represented in Dr. Johnson’s portraits. But the barrister’s wig is certainly the queerest covering that was ever put upon a human head. The gown gives dignity to the figure and grace to the action ; but I found it difficult to look at the wigs without laughing. Behind and at the sides there hang four little formal, isolated curls in double rows, so unlike anything human, and yet so plainly an imitation of curled and powdered human hair, that they would seem like caricature, if they did not, in their bald artificiality, pass all bounds of caricature. I spoke of their absurdity to a friend who was at the bar, and said that, while the gown seemed worthy of reverence and admiration, I wondered why the ridiculous little wigs were not discarded. “ Discard wigs ! ” was his reply. “ Why, we could n’t get on without them. I could n’t try a cause without my wig. I should feel as if I had no right to be in court; as if the judge would be justified in taking no notice of me; and as if the witnesses had me at their mercy, instead of me having them at mine. I should n’t dare to cross-question a witness without my wig.” “ In other words,” I said, " your wig gives you an authoritative position which enables you to bamboozle a witness.” “ Why, yes,” he answered, smiling, " that’s pretty much it, if you choose to put it so.” But to my trial.
The case was one of obtaining goods, silk and satin, under false pretenses, and among the witnesses were women, who were connected in some way with the fraud. I was impressed by the quiet ease of the proceedings, by the gently exercised authority of the judge, and by the deference of the barristers to the bench and to each other. It was a minor court, as I have said ; but propriety and courtesy seemed to reign absolutely within its walls. One of the counsel, taking advantage of his wigged condition, began to press one of the female witnesses rather hard in regard to her personal relations to the principal eulprit. After he had asked a question or two with this intent, under which she had winced visibly, the judge leaned forward, and said, in a tone of quiet and friendly remonstrance, “ Mr. —, I think I would n’t pursue that course of inquiry any further. It makes no difference as to the nature of the act charged, and the witness has been very frank in her testimony.” “ Very well, your honor,” was the reply, and the subject was dropped, and another line of inquiry was taken up. It seemed that this witness had kept some of the goods for a long time by her, not made up, and when she was told that she might leave the box, the judge called her to him, and as she stood before the bench entered into a conversation with her, in the tone which a father might adopt toward a daughter who had erred; in the course of which he asked her a few questions as to the reasons for her conduct, which seemed to bring out the truth of the whole matter more completely than the questioning and the cross-questioning of counsel. His manner was at once colloquial and authoritative, and while it commanded the woman’s respectful deference dismissed her fears, relieved her of her worry, and begat a confidence in his uprightness and impartiality. How the trial ended I do not know, for I could not remain until its close ; but I left the court-room feeling sure that essential justice would be done, and much impressed by this slight exhibition of the simplicity and dignity of the proceedings in British courts of law.
Newspapers, advertisements, posters, an organized police force, and the telegraph have made the town-crier a figure of the past, long as unknown in America as an old watchman or a ticket-porter. And yet I have been told by men who, although they have some gray in their beards, do not regard themselves as old that they remember him standing at the corners of the streets in the smaller towns, ringing his great bell, and crying lost children or other articles more valuable, and making other announcements which are now made by machinery, social or other. I supposed that in England, however, he had disappeared generations ago, and I should as soon have expected to find Dogberry, Verges, and that “ most senseless and fit man ” George Seacoal going about with their lanterns and halberts as he. But there he was. In Oxford I saw him, — a somewhat forlorn and solemn creature, sad of countenance and ruinous in raiment. He stood upon the curb-stone, and lifting up his voice he proclaimed lugubriously that certain articles would be sold by auction, and that the sale would commence — the very town-crier cannot say “ begin ” even in England—at six o’clock. He was a witness to the fast hold which old customs have upon society in England. Probably he was the last of his tribe, and had a vested interest in his office, from which he will pass away without a successor. He was allowed to display the vacuity of his mouth at street corners to get wherewith to put into it at home, and to fill his belly with something better than the east wind, in the teeth of which he uttered his proclamation. No one but me paid the slightest attention to him. He might as well have done his crying in the desert of Sahara or on the top of Mount Ararat. His voice sounded to me like a faint echo of the speech of past ages ; and I thanked the poor fellow in my heart that he did his superfluous office within my hearing.
Some of these random recollections are in regard to points which should have been remarked upon in what I had to say as to manners and habits of life in England. Of these one is an absence of reserve in speech and action in regard to matters as to which a certain reticence is dictated almost by self-respect. Over the weaker and unlovelier points and the homelier functions of our physical nature, self-love throws a veil, which by silent mutual consent is never lifted, unless at the bidding of a great need. To say that I did not find this in England would be quite untrue; but it is true that I found there enough disregard of it in a sufficient number of individuals to impress me very strongly. I shall refer only to two very mild manifestations of this unreserve. I was driving with two ladies, one of whom was of rank and herself of very ancient lineage, — a woman intelligent, accomplished, kind-hearted, and indeed, it could hardly be denied, well bred ; and, moreover, she was not yet middle-aged. And yet, it being a morning drive, this lady did not hesitate to complete, then and there, her toilet as to ears and nose, In the face of the sun and in the eyes of her companions, in a manner which was not only conspicuous, but pickuous; and she did it in such a matter-of-course way, although so thoroughly, that I am inclined to think that half an hour afterwards she would not have remembered this perfecting of her personal graces in public. I never saw such a performance on the part of a New England or New York woman of even tolerable goodbreeding or middling social position. My other example (and both are only samples of a sort) was an even more public manifestation of the same unreserve. In a railway carriage, first class, was a lady who evidently regarded herself as a very high and mighty personage. She, her young daughter, and a nurse with a child in arms some six months old occupied one side of the carriage, which was full. At intervals of some fifteen minutes this lady, who was large and loud of voice, would make inquiries of the nurse, in very precise and well-articulated words, as to the natural history of that infant ; and the particular attention which she gave to this subject went so far and was so very earnest that I began to look forward with some apprehension to what might be the consequences. Now, with an aversion to squeamishness and no respect for euphemism, I cannot but think that the feeling which would make such exhibitions as these, on the part of women of like condition, impossible in New England or New York is one which is not the mark of inferior sense, inferior civilization, or inferior manners.
One little trait of manners and customs amazed me. The evidence of it was a bit of printed pasteboard which in plain terms was the business card of a hangman. It came into my hands, but not into my possession, for the gentleman who showed it to me would not part with it. I took and have a copy of it, upon which, unfortunately, I cannot now put my hand ; but I can trust my memory sufficiently to say that it was in these words, and form like this : —
12 — STREET. BRISTOL.
N. B.Executions attended to with promptness and dispatch.
The variation that there probably is between this and the original is entirely immaterial. I thought this about the most amazing piece of paper that I ever looked upon. That a man should adopt the hanging of other men by the neck as his business, his vocation, is sufficiently astonishing ; but it is comprehensible. As it seems to be a settled thing that some men must be hanged, there must of course be others to hang them ; and from the days of the saintly Trois Eschelles and the jocular Petit André there has been a succession of professional executioners in France, where the business at last became an inheritance, and the trick of it traditional in one family, like violin-making among the Amatis. But that hanging other men should become such a business as requires a business card, with the promise of promptness and dispatch in the execution of all orders, that a man should thus openly seek such employment, would be incredible, were it not for this evidence. Should Mr. Marley have a trade-mark, think what a sickening thing the sign would be !
English footmen look like curates in livery. If I should say that the coachmen look like bishops on the box, it would be no compliment to the coachmen, who are, with rare exceptions, very fine men ; whereas English bishops are not as a bench remarkable for fine presence. As to dignity, what bishop, what archbishop, what cardinal, what Pope, could hope to equal the dignity of a first-rate English coachman in the discharge of his professional functions !
I had no opportunity of seeing the queen, nor did I hear much said of her; and what little I did hear did not convey to me the impression that she was personally liked, even by those who knew her as well as subjects can know a queen. One of these said to me when I mentioned my not having seen her, “ Oh, you could n’t expect that. She rarely shows in public ; only on great occasions. And you would n’t see much. She ’s a shabby, dowdy woman ; very close; and haughty and austere with the younger members of her family.”
It was while I was in England that the excitement about the Turkish atrocities was at its height. We not only supped, like Macbeth, full with horrors, but breakfasted full with horrors,— Bulgarian horrors ; for the newspapers seemed to contain little else. There were meetings and meetings upon the subject, and speeches and speeches. In the railway carriages, people, as they exchanged newspapers, talked of little else ; and few had even a word of excuse for the Turk. Now of this feeling I do not doubt the genuineness. According to my observation, there are no kindlier people than the English. Nor can it be fairly doubted that they are ready to strike a blow for the weak, and to use their power to enforce fair play. But I could not close my eyes to a strong under-current that was perceptible in all this, and much more apparent in private talk than in public discussion, — a feeling of disgust as much at Turkish impecuniosity and bankruptcy as at Turkish cruelty. It was very plain that the feeling, taken as a whole, was one of resentment at the atrocities of those nointerest-paying pagans. It was abominable to use British wealth and power to support a miserable set of Moslems, who made war in such a ferocious manner when they could n’t pay their debts. I could not but think that if the interest on the Turkish bonds had been ready there would have been less of white heat in the glow of British indignation. But how many of us have a pure and single motive in our conduct, individual or collective ? Has there been a war or a u movement” that ended in a great gain to human freedom which had not selfish interest among its springs and causes ? Magna Charta itself will not bear close investigation on this point, nor even our war for salvation of the Union and the extinction of slavery. Of all great political struggles that which was begun by a few English gentlemen in resistance to the tyranny of Charles I. seems purest in its origin ; and even that became debased by selfishness and greed before it was ended. As to this Turkish question, I could not but see, on the other hand, the elevating influence of the wideness and manifoldness of British interests. The scattering of British pounds, shillings, and pence all over the world makes the British people, — those of them who think and who have interests beyond that of their daily bread, — a people of wide sympathies and of varied and enriching anxieties. Their very solicitude for their profit and loss compels them to concern themselves in the affairs of the world at large. Their selfishness has become an element in their greatness. As Julius Cæsar’s success was in no small degree due to his enormous indebtedness, so, conversely, Great Britain has risen to imperial power because she has compelled the whole world to become her debtor. In recognizing this fact it is not necessary to admit the purity either of Cæsar’s or of Britain’s motives.
The enrichment of the intellectual life of England by these causes is manifest in British journalism. The leading newspapers of London, and even of the provinces, place day by day before their readers discussions which involve a knowledge of the world’s affairs “ from China to Peru.” Look through half a dozen numbers of the Saturday Review and of the Spectator, and see how the affairs of India, of Afghanistan, of Egypt, in fact of all the countries of the world, are discussed as if they were but British dependencies, which every man between John O'Groat’s and Land’s End must needs know something of and think about. The largeness and complexity of these discussions are almost bewildering. They make all other journalism seem thin and tame and narrow. And it is this vastness and variety of interest which in the last hundred years has raised the statesmanship of shop-keeping Britain to such a height that it is the noblest as well as the most exacting of all professions, and makes all other statesmanship seem like shop-keeping.
Richard Grant White.
- Some of my readers may not have heard how Stephenson, a north of England man, was asked by a peer, on a committee of inquiry into the feasibility of his proposed railways, if it would not be very bad if a cow got on the track before the engine. “Vara bod for the coo, my lord,” was the prompt reply.↩