Mr. Washington Adams in England


ONE bright September day I was on my way from London to — in — shire, where I expected to ramble for half a week among the farmsteads and cottages, unknowing and unknown, and then to visit a gentleman of the county, whom I had not seen since he parted from me at my own door, leaving pleasant memories behind him. I was alone in the railway carriage, and was as nearly in a state of perfect happiness as a man could be who was away from home and from those who make it home, and the desire of whose life was not only unattained but unattempted. The air was soft; the gray-blue sky was lightly clouded; the morning beamed with a mellow brightness that was like the smile of a happy woman. Sitting in the middle back seat, leaning at mine ease in mine inn, swift-moving, silent, secluded, luxurious, I looked alternately through one window and another upon that beautiful human scenery of England which was such a never-ending, evervarying source of delight to me that its only shadow was the regret which it now and then awakened that a certain steeple-crowned gentleman had not stayed at home and minded his business, instead of seeking that “ freedom to worship God,” which, having obtained, he immediately proceeded to deny to others.

My reveries did not attain the dignity of thought; and I was as nearly in the state of sweet-doing-nothing as is possible to a man of English blood and American birth in the nineteenth century. The speed of the train was diminished by almost insensible gradation, until we stopped at one of the minor way-stations, where I saw half a dozen persons waiting: a clergyman, manifestly, not only from the cut, and color of his coat, and his hat, and his white tie in the morning, but most of all from his very clerical but cheerful countenance; a hard featured commercial traveler or two; a lean, pale, spinster-looking gentlewoman, with a maid of dangerous freshness of lip and roundness of waist, carrying her bag ; and a farmer, not big and burly, but rather under-sized, with a gnarled and almost knotted visage. All these were evidently going short distances, and they disappeared into other carriages ; when, just as the train was about moving, my open door was darkened by a porter who had in his hand a small portmanteau, on which I at once saw, among others and relics of others, two labels that interested me, — Boston and Roma. “ Step quick, sir, please,” said the porter; and the passenger was in his seat, with his portmanteau at his feet, before I recognized him. “ Why, Humphreys, is it you ? How came you here ? ” “ In a fly,” he answered, with a smile, partly at his old joke, partly of pleasant recognition. After a grasp of the hand, which was somewhat closer than it would have been if we had met in Broadway or in Beacon Street, we fell into the quick inquiring and replying chat of compatriots who meet unexpectedly in a strange country.

Mansfield Humphreys, whose first name was William, but who was always called by his second, that of his mother’s family, was a New England man, who spent a great part of his time in New York. His people were of wellsettled respectability in the interior of Massachusetts: his father, a judge, an Episcopalian when Episcopalians were rare in the Old Commonwealth, an unflinching Federalist in the waning days of federalism ; his mother, the daughter of a Congregational minister. They were one of those numerous New England families who, having lived savingly in the past on fewer hundreds a year than many of them now have thousands, had yet been known through generations for their culture, their fine breeding, and their character. Whether all the men were brave we know not; and if all the women were not virtuous, that too was never known ; but they were of that order of New England folk among whom the doing of a shabby thing was almost social death, and for generations they had held their heads high with modest dignity; so that in the times when representatives were chosen because they were thought to be worthy of consideration, and the fittest men to speak and act for their fellow-citizens, the Humphreys sat again and again in the General Court of Massachusetts. He was a Harvard man, and a lawyer by profession; but he had appeared little in the courts, and was chiefly employed as counsel for railway companies, in one or two of which he was a shareholder. In the civil war, after standing uncertain for a while (for he was no abolitionist), he became a very pronounced Unionist; not because he went with the multitude, but chiefly, I suspect, because of his resentment of the political domineering and social arrogance of the South. He did not go into the army ; for although he was very young at the time, he thought he could do more service out of the field than in it. “ I’ve no military instincts,” he said ; “ if I were to put on a uniform, I should only feel as if I was going to a bal costumé in a character that did n’t suit me. I hardly know one end of a gun from the other; I never in my life fired even a revolver ; and in battle I should count only as one man, either to shoot or to be shot at; but of such perhaps if I stayed at home I might count for quite half a dozen.” Wherefore he stayed; and he did count for many half dozens by his energy and skill in affairs, and his indomitable spirit in the darkest days of the Union. He was very versatile; and one unexpected manifestation of a special talent brought us into close communion. In a series of amateur dramatic performances, got up for the purpose of combining social entertainment with the raising of funds for the equipment of a regiment, I had acted as a sort of stage manager, and he had been general business manager and treasurer; on the defection of one of the principal amateur artists, and the despair of the company at finding a remplaçant, he, to the surprise of all, declared that he would take the vacant rôle himself. To the still greater surprise of all, this sober lawyer and then nascent railway manager displayed a marked histrionic ability. Although he was a fine-looking fellow, he had a face and a figure that were not impressively individual, and when he appeared upon the stage he was dressed and made up with such skill that, if his name had not been known, his nearest friends would not have recognized him. He played with an entire unconsciousness of self, and with such a dry, pungent humor that his speeches told like rifle-bullets on his audience. His success did not turn his head. After the war was over he could not be induced to repeat his theatrical performances. He subsided again into his business, and grew quietly rich ; and in the mature man who looked after stocks and legislatures no one, except a few who remembered the young fellow of fifteen years before, would have supposed there was an amateur actor of the first quality.

This was the man who dropped by my side, out of the clouds into a railway carriage. As we chatted the train stopped again, and there entered our compartment a tall, fine-looking man, with dark eyes and hair, aquiline features, and military-looking moustache and whiskers in which a little gray was gleaming. He looked strong and alert, notwithstanding a pale face and a rather slender figure. Taking off his hat, after bidding us good-morning, he put it in the rack above his head, and substituted for it a little black silk smoking-cap. Then he took up a railway novel and began to read. Soon, turning to Humphreys, who was on the opposite seat, he said, “ I beg your pahdon, but would you kindly tell me if this is a fast train ? I forgot to inquire.”

“With pleasure,” said Humphreys; “ but I don’t know, myself. I’m quite a stranger here, — an American.”

If instead of this answer in Humpreys’ sweet, rich voice he had received a snub, he could not have shown more astonishment in the change of the expression of his face. His eye rested a moment on Humphreys, and with “Ah, thanks,” he slowly went back to his book. After reading a while, with an uneasy hitch or two of his elbows, he suddenly turned to Humphreys again, saying, “ I beg your pahdon, but you said you were au American. You were n’t jokin’?”

“Not at all and after a glance at me, with an affirmative glance in reply, “My friend here and I are both Americans,— Yankees. I’ve been here before, but I believe this is his first visit to England.”

“Indeed! That’s very surprisin’. Will you pahdon a stranger for saying so, but (I’ve never been in America) you ’re not at all the sort of person that we take Americans to be, and generally find ’em, if you ’ll excuse me for sayin’ so. Indeed, I know I ’m takin’ a liberty ; but I was so much surprised that — that — I’m sure — I hope you ’ll pahdon me.”

It is impossible to exaggerate the manly courtesy and deference of his manner as he spoke, looking frankly and modestly from his hazel eyes, and the little hesitation in his speech rather lent it grace and charm.

“ Pray don’t apologize,” said Humphreys, “ but let me ask in turn, What sort of creature do you expect an American to be, — black, with woolly hair, or copper-colored, with a scalp-lock and a tomahawk in hand?”

He laughed gently, and replied, “ Not exactly that; at least except in some cases. But the few Americans that I’ve seen could be told for American across a theatre : their faces, their figures, their carriage, the cut of their clothes, all told it; and if one were blind they could be known by their voices, and, if you ’ll pahdon me, by the very queer language they used, which was English merely because it was n’t anything else. I know I’ve no right to presume on these criticisms to you ; but you seemed to invite it, after kindly passin’ over my first intrusion.”

“ Pray be at ease on that score. We’re very glad, I’m sure, of a little enlightenment in regard to those very queer people, ’ the Americans,’ who you seem to think are all as like as Rosalind’s half pence. But now pardon me for saying, in my turn, that if you were to come to Boston you would be taken, by most of my friends, at least in your evening dress, for a Yankee, except by those whose quick ears detected some slight John Bullish inflections in your voice, or whose quick eyes discovered some kindred and equally slight peculiarities of manner.”

“ I taken for a Yankee ! ” and he looked blank, and even slightly aghast.

It was the nearest approach to unpleasantness that our fellow - traveler had yet been guilty of; but it was so honest and simple, so plainly without thought of offense, and so earnest, that Humphreys and I enjoyed it, and laughed; at which he blushed like a girl, and then laughed himself, with gleaming teeth and mobile lips.

“ Why,” said Humphreys, “are you not English ? ”

“ What a question ! To be sure I am.”

“ English for many generations ? ”

“For more than I know. My people were here when William the Conqueror came over.”

“ So were mine ; so were my friend’s ; so were those of most of our friends at home. Did you ever think of that? ”

“Ah — yes. Just so, quite so, quite so. That’s an old story. But has n’t there been some admixture — ah, some interminglin’, or — ah somethin’? Else how could we tell an American the moment we look at him, — the very moment, don’t you see ? You find ’em in Paris and all over the Continent, and you can tell ’em as you pass ’em in the street.”

“Hardly, it would seem; for here’s a case this morning, perhaps two,” with a glance at me, who kept silence, “ in which it seems the sure tests failed.”

“ Ah, yes,— ’m ; just so ; quite so, quite so. You’re right there. Bless my soul! I never was so astonished in my life as when you coolly told me you were an American.”

“ Coolly ? ”

“ I beg your pahdon ; ” and again he blushed. “ I meant no offense.”

“ Not more than I did, I ’m sure, when I said that you might be taken for a Yankee.”

I saw by his eye that he winced again, internally ; but he said nothing.

“ Of course,” said Humphreys, in an easy, off-hand manner, “ we can always tell an Englishman by his face and his figure, and his dress and his speech.”

“ Ah, just so ; I should think so,” with a little involuntary drawing of himself up.

“ Oh, yes ; we all know an Englishman by his being red-faced and bullnecked and clumsy, with coat and trousers of a furious check, and a waistcoat of a different suit, and a lot of chains and rings, and his saying Hengland for England and calling a hen an N. We can’t mistake them.” And as Humphreys told this off, there was a good-natured smile upon his lip and a twinkle in his eye that made it impossible for our carriage companion to take offense at what he himself had provoked. But he rejoined quickly and rather sharply, dropping his voice, —

“ I beg your pahdon, I beg your pahdon ; you said that you ’d been here before. Did you ever happen to be in the company of an English gentleman ? ”

“ This morning, at least, I hope and believe,” said Humphreys, bowing and looking him very steadily in the eye.

There was a slight pause, and then the Englishman said, “ I ask your pahdon, I ask your pahdon ; I see I was wrong. But it’s all so very odd, so very strange. The truth is that—you see that, as I told you, I’ve never been in America, and the few Americans I’ve seen I’ve met by chance, and did n’t know who or what they were, — and that, by the way, isn’t an easy thing to find out about Americans; and so — well, I suppose,” with a pleasant smile and a very sweet and simple courtesy, — “ I suppose I have n’t happened to fall in with an American gentleman until this morning.”

“ A Roland for my Oliver,” said Humphreys, with a frank smile ; “ but let us leave compliments and fencing, and talk a little plain common sense. What do you mean by an American?”

“ Oh, a man born in America, to be sure, — a man from the States.”

“ That’s a definition that would quickly land you on very queer and heterogeneous shores. For it would include some millions of negroes, some hundreds of thousands of Indians, to say nothing of a great number of sons of Irishmen and Germans, whose brothers and sisters, as well as whose parents, were born in Ireland or in Germany. Now all these people are almost as completely separated from each other, and from us Yankees, and from Virginians and South Carolinians, as if they or their parents had remained at home. The time will come when they — the whites among them at least — will all be blended into one people ; but many generations must pass away before that is brought about. Meantime, they are all citizens of the United States, just as all your Irishmen and Scotchmen and East Indiamen are British subjects. But although they are thus one people politically, and are scattered over half a continent that has no distinctive name, and thus for convenience’ sake are called Americans because there is no other way of designating them, they are in no sense one people, like the English people, or the Irish, or the Scotch, or the French, or like the Germans and the Italians, who have been distinctive races or peoples from prehistoric times, but only recently have become politically nations.”

“Ah, I see ; just so, just so. But what has that to do with my taking you and your friend, as a matter of course, for Englishmen, and my being taken for — for — a Yankee ? ”

“Well, this : Are you not apt to forget that New England and Virginia (and Virginia historically means all the South) were settled by Englishmen, who went over there in large numbers two centuries and a half ago, — Englishmen who were, so to speak, the most English of their kind, typical representatives of the Anglo-Saxon race as it had been developed in England during one thousand years ; the men who had beheaded Charles I. because he was a faithless tyrant, and who made the Commonwealth ? Don’t you forget that these men and their descendants, through a century and a half (with no important admixture), settled and built up the country, and framed a society and a system of government which, omitting only the elements of monarchy and aristocracy, was thoroughly English in its spirit, in its laws, and in its habits and customs — which indeed could not have been other than thoroughly English, because they were English; and that American society as they thus made it was subjected to no considerable external influences until about fifty years ago ? It is within that time, within the memory of men yet living and acting, that the emigration from other countries than England began. Fifty years ago the people of New England and Virginia (excluding the slaves) were probably the most thoroughly English people in the world.”

The Englishman raised his eyebrows, and looked inquiringly.

“ Because,” Humphreys continued, in reply to the look, “ there was less admixture of any foreign element among them than there was in England itself. You might then travel through New England in its length and breadth, and not encounter, in your journey, half a dozen names that were not English. Do you suppose that the blood, the nature, of these men was changed because, in contending for their rights as Englishmen, they had severed their political connection with the mother country ? Did the absence of monarchy affect their race, or change their race traits ? Were Cromwell’s Ironsides any less Englishmen than Goring’s troopers ? Were Englishmen any less English under the Commonwealth than they had been before under Charles I., or than they became afterwards under Charles II. ? ”

“ I suppose not. I never thought of that. But they were in England.”

“ And you suppose that that made them Englishmen? I thought, on the contrary, that Britain became England because Englishmen lived there, possessed the country, and ruled it.”

“ Very true. Just so ; quite so, quite so.”

“ Well, if a large body of Englishmen went to another country, and possessed it and ruled it, would they therefore cease to be Englishmen ? ”

“ N-n-no ; I can’t see exactly how they would. But they might change, you know, in time, and by intermixture with other people, — natives of the new country, the aborigines, you know ; and that would modify their language and their customs, and so gradually make them a different people.”

“ So it might, in a long period of time. But what are two centuries in the life of a race, and above all a race so scrupulously averse to social intermixture as the English race is when it colonizes? Aborigines ! Why, the Englishmen that came from Jutland into Britain did n’t sweep it so clean of the British tribes as the Englishmen who came from Old England to America swept their part of the country clean of Americans. Yes ” (in answer to a look of surprise at the word), “Americans ; for you’ve only to turn back less than a hundred years in English literature to find the word ’ American ’ applied (and rightly) only to the tribes for whose miserable remnants you have now to go to the Rocky Mountains, two thousand miles from Boston, — farther than from London to St. Petersburg. And then these Englishmen clung with singular tenacity to every element of their English birthright, its laws, its language ; and chiefly to its English Bible, which has been thus far the most indestructible of all the bonds of union between scattered men of English race, even the most godless of them, But we ’re getting into deep waters for a railway chat, and I’m almost lecturing you.”

“ No, no ; do go on. I suppose I knew all this before ; but I never saw it before quite in this light.”

“Well, however it all may be that I’ve just been telling you, at the risk of being trite and commonplace, is it not reasonable, in judging a country in which a new government and a new society have been established, to judge it by those who have been longest under the influences of the country, physical, political, and social ? Must not they be the best examples of what that new country, as you call it, and that new government and society have produced?”

“ Ah ! ’m ! seems so ; can’t say but they are.”

“ How could it be otherwise? Now the most thoroughly English-seeming men that you will find in America are New England men and Virginians whose families have been in New England and Virginia for two hundred years. I remember a man on shipboard whom not one of those whom you call Britishers ” —

“ We ? ”

“ Surely you, or nobody. It is a word never heard in the United States, absolutely unknown except as a quizzical quotation of what you must pardon me for calling British blundering.”

“ Well, well ! ” said our railway friend, a little testily. “ There would seem to be no end to our blunderin’. You mean, I suppose, your English shipmates.”

“Some were English, yes ; but some were Scotch, some Irish, and there was a handsome Welshman, with a sweet English wife. But they were all British subjects, as they might all have been citizens of the United States, might they not ? ”

“ I ’m afraid you ’re an American Socrates, and are gettin’ me into a corner with your questions; but I suppose that I must admit that they might.”

“And in that case would they have ceased to be English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh ? ”

“ To be sure they would.”

“How is that? Would the government under which they chose to live change their identity, their race, and make them other than they were born ?”

“ N-n-no. At least, I can’t say just now how it would. But are n’t you puttin’ rather too fine a point on it, as we say in England ? ”

“And as we say in New England. I think not. But be that as it may, this motley crowd of four races undertook to label some dozen or twenty of their fellow passengers as foreigners, because they were born in America, — men of as unmitigated English blood as could be found between the Humber and the Channel. But this one man to whom I alluded they positively refused to accept as an American, even upon the assurance of his countrymen insisting upon it, in a hooting sort of way, that he was English. And so he was, — as English as King Alfred; but, as I happened to know, he was from the interior of New England, where his father’s family and his mother’s had lived for more than two hundred years.”

“ A singular exception, I suppose. There must always be such exceptions, you know.”

“ Pardon me, rather as you know; just such exceptions as you found my friend here and myself.” And as Humphreys smiled, his good-natured colloquist smiled, too, and said, —

“You have me there. But you see, I’m no fair match for you. You have thought on this subject, and I haven’t.”

“And therefore you have undertaken to decide it; for yourself, at least.”

“ Come, come ! This is getting to be a little too much. I did n’t expect that when I asked a simple question I should be sat down upon in this awful way;” saying this in the pleasantest tone and with perfect good-nature, and yet evidently feeling a little nettled at Humphreys’ close pursuit.

“ Is n’t the truth of the matter that you — I mean you in the Old Home here — have done the sitting down yourselves for so long that you don’t quite like any change in the fashion ? ”

There was a silence of a few moments, broken only by the half-musical hum with which a fast English railway train pursues its swift but gentle course ; and I, looking out of the window, as we passed, upon a viaduct, over a pretty road, saw a great van tolling along just under us, and a humble foot-passenger resting himself on a bench under an old oak opposite a little inn, at the door of which stood a stout, red-faced woman, probably the wife of the publican. I had hardly had this glimpse, and we were whisking again through sproutfields and meadows, when the Englishman resumed the conversation, saying, “ Perhaps, perhaps. The truth is that perhaps we have been a little hard upon you, from Mrs. Trollope down.”

“Ay,” answered Humphreys; “you all begin with Mrs. Trollope’s damnable book. And yet Mrs. Trollope was right.”

“ Right! And you say that ? ”

“ I. So far as I have the means of knowing, Mrs. Trollope was quite correct in all her descriptions.”

“Quite so,” I said, putting in my little oar for the first time, as the Englishman turned to me with an astonished and inquiring eye.

“ And yet you called her book damnable.”

“ And so it was,” said Humphreys ; “ professing as it did to give a picture of the domestic manners of the Americans, and taken, as it was, to be a correct representation of society in the United States. It was written in a pleasing and picturesque style, — for Mrs. Trollope’s style was better than her son Anthony’s ; and that book has leavened, or rather soured and doughed, British opinion and tinged British feeling in regard to the Americans to this day.”

“ Correct, and yet damnable ; pleasing and picturesque, and yet souring and doughing ! Matters, I must say, are becoming rather complicated ; ‘ mixed ’ I believe it’s called in America.”

“ Do you know,” said Humphreys, sharply, “ anything of the geography of the United States, and did you ever hear of Botany Bay ? ”

“Oh, yes,” replied our companion, blandly brightening ; “ I’m pretty well up there. I know, of course, that the States lie south of Canada, and north of the island of Nassau; and I know all about your big rivers and lakes, and your immense prairies, and the Rocky Mountains, and California, and all that sort of thing. But what has that to do with Botany Bay ? ”

“ Do you know how far New Orleans and Cincinnati are from Boston and Philadelphia ? ”

“ New Orleans ? That’s where the British troops lost a battle. Washington defeated us there, didn’t he ? You see I ’m determined to be fair. Quite at the South, isn’t it ? And Cincinnatus, — one of your Western towns, is n’t it, near Chicago ? I suppose they must both be pretty well away from Boston ; some two or three hundred miles or so.”

“ And do you know when Mrs. Trollope wrote her book ? ”

“ I can answer that question of my American catechism, too,” he replied. “ I know it’s not a new book, — twenty or thirty years old ; and since that time, I know,” he continued, with a courtesy which I thought rather severely tried by Humphreys’ sharp lire of questions, “ the Americans have made great advances, — very great advances, indeed,” bowing to both of us.

“ My stars and garters ! nothing of the sort,” rejoined Humphreys, like a steel-trap. “If you mean that we’ve grown richer, and bigger, and stronger, very well ; that’s true enough. But if you mean that we’ve made great advances in morality, in social refinement, and particularly in domestic manners, to use Mrs. Trollope’s very good phrase, permit me to assure you, you ’re quite wrong. This was before my memory : I’m not praising the doings of the days when I was a boy. I spare you the quotation ” —

Sese puero” murmured our friend. — “but if you will look into the books of some British travelers who preceded Mrs. Trollope a generation or so, you will find that they present a picture of morals and manners in the United States much more admirable than could be composed from the columns of our own newspapers at the present day.”

“You have been deteriorating, then, you mean to say ? ”

“ Looking at the surface of our society without discrimination, it must be admitted that the deterioration has been great in those respects.”

“ I’m sorry to hear it ; and to tell you the truth, I think something of the same sort has been going on in England. To what do you attribute it ?”

“ Several causes; but chiefly, our great and sudden increase in wealth, the war, and — largely, European influence.”

“ Whew ! ” — a soft whistle of surprise.

“ Not such European influence as would be likely to be under your personal cognizance, or to occur to you in your estimate of social forces. But let me go on as I began. The deterioration in morals is so certain and so well known that no one thinks of disputing it. To look through a file of one of our leading newspapers for the last fifteen years is to be led to the conclusion that personal honesty has become the rarest of virtues in the United States, except public probity, which seems no longer to exist. The very ruins of it have disappeared. Our state legislatures, instead of being composed of men to whom their constituents looked up, are now composed of men upon whom their constituents look down, —not second rate, nor even third rate, but fourth and fifth rate men, sordid in morals and vulgar in manners, who do politics as a business, for the mere purpose of filling their own pockets. No one thinks of disputing this more than the presence of the bloodsucking insects of summer. Congress itself is openly declared by our own journals to be, because it is known to be, the most corrupt body in civilized Christendom. Within the last fifteen years we have seen men occupying the highest, the two very highest, positions in the government of the United States, who were not only purchasable, but who had been purchased, and at a very small price. I know what I say, and mean it” (in answer to a look of surprise). “ The cabinets, during the same period, have been so rotten with corruption that the presence in them of two or three men of integrity could not save them. Worse even than this, judges are openly called Mr. This-one’s judge, or Mr. That-one’s ; their owner being generally the controlling stockholder and manager of some great corporation, which coins wealth for him and his satellites by schemes of gigantic extortion. I know something of this by personal observation. There was a time when the bench of the United States was not inferior in probity, and hardly in learning or ability, to that of Great Britain. As to manners, did you see that social sketch in Punch ticketed “ In Mid-Atlantic,” in which a bishop or a dean, who has plainly been engaged in an upper-deck fair-day chat with an American mother, turns to her son, a lad in knickerbockers, and looking with benign reproof upon him says, ‘ My young friend, when I was of your age it was not thought decorous for young people to mingle in the conversations of their elders, unless they were requested to do so.’ And young Hopeful replies, ‘ That must have been eighty years ago, and we’ve changed all that now.’ The cut is hardly an exaggeration ; but here are my friend and myself, who are little more than half the age attributed to your bishop, and who can tell you that in our boyhood that point of breeding was not only taught and insisted on, but punctiliously observed among all respectable New England folk. And who, at that time, among such people, even not in our boyhood, would have ventured to come up to two persons engaged in conversation, and break directly in upon them with another topic, at his pleasure, or for his interest, as now is done constantly ? Deterioration of manners indeed ! ”

“ But these are comparatively trilling matters, mere surface marks, — not peculiar to America, you may be sure. Boys are saucier in England than they used to be ; and here rude men thrust themselves upon you now with a freedom that certainly shows the world is movin’ ; but as to which way, they and you might have a different opinion.”

“ Surface marks ! So are the bubbles on a stream ; but they float with its current, and the foul air that fills them comes from the bottom. Let me tell you, ex cathedra, what I know, but merely as every observing man who has the means of knowing knows: that the manners and the manner, as well as the morals, of America — let us say of Boston and Philadelphia, for example, and the surrounding country — were of a much finer type in the days of our fathers than they are in ours. Behavior is common now in splendid drawing-rooms, filled with every attainable object of luxury and of taste, which then would not have been tolerated in modest parlors of people who lived frugally and worked hard for their moderate incomes. Among them, young people did not lounge and loll about and talk slang in the presence of their elders and of ladies.”

“ Come, come ! Are n’t you playin’ the middle-aged cynic? That’s not at all peculiar to America. The very same change has been remarked upon here.”

“ And therefore,” remarked Humphreys, with a little smile, “ Americans have been becoming unlike Englishmen ? Strange, that among people so unlike, the social changes should have been the same within the same period of time ! ”

“ H’m ! Democratic tendencies ; influence of democracy in both countries; lack of deference for authority in both countries.”

“ Perhaps. But among the changes in manners in England have n’t you observed the incoming of a certain mildness and gentleness of tone, a considerate charity for weakness and misfortune, and for the feelings of inferiors ? Are personal defects and failings, and the ridicule that Juvenal tolls us is inherent in poverty, now openly made the butts of the more fortunate so much as they used to be, say, even when Miss Austen wrote her novels ? ”

“ No, they ’re not. In that respect I must say there has been a marked improvement. I suppose the same has taken place with you.”

“ No.”

“ No ? ”

“ Not at all: simply because it was not needed. I don’t know how it was at the South ; but among New England people of decent breeding in colonial days, and in the early years of the republic, any reflection upon personal defects or misfortune, any assumption of superiority because of mere money prosperity, was regarded as the most offensive form of ill-manners ; so much so that among such people it may be said to have been almost unknown. And this social trait may be taken as typical of the tone and the manners of New England society at the time we are speaking of.”

“Very admirable, if — pahdon me — you’re sure you’re correct; and quite destructive to a suggestion I was about to make,— that the Americans, whose manners and mental tone and habits you seem to think should be taken as characteristic, are not real Americans, products of your soil, but Europeanized Americans.”

“ Now,” said Humphreys, smartly, “ if you use that phrase and take that position, I shall — to adopt an expression of the elegant Miss Harriet Byron’s — ‘ rear up.’ The Americans of whom I am speaking are, true enough, not products of the soil ; — in the name of Christopher Columbus how could they be? — but they were those who had been free from European influence, not only from their birth, but for generations,— people who had never been in Europe, and whose forefathers had never been there from the time when they first went to America, two hundred and fifty years ago. They were the people who, Lord Lovelace said, in Queen Anne’s time, had, with their colonial and republican simplicity of life, the manners of courtiers, and wondered (ignorant as he was) where they could have got their manners. He reminds me of another more distinguished peer, or man who became a peer, — Bulwer, Lord Lytton. Once, at his own table, when there was a discussion as to some matter of taste as to which an American, there present, ventured to express an opinion adverse to that prevalent in England, and to refer to the standard in his own country, Bulwer said, turning pointedly to him, ‘We ’re not accustomed to look to America for opinions on matters of good taste,’—a speech which would have been regarded as very rude in America, even in the rural districts of New England ; above all, to a guest at one’s own table.”

“ Rather rough, I must confess. But you mustn’t judge all English gentlemen by that ; for, with all his fine talk, I ’m inclined to think that Bulwer was somethin’ of a sham.”

“ I’m not surprised to hear you say so ; and I don’t judge all English gentlemen by such a speech, — only some of them ; but unfortunately they are they whose voices are most frequently heard by Americans.”

“Ah, yes; just so, just so; just as the American voices that we most frequently hear are pitched in a tone not quite so agreeable as — those I’ve heard this morning. Pahdon me for being a little personal.”

“ With all my heart, so far as your intention goes; but as to the fact, I don’t know that your apology much helps the matter. For, excuse me for saying that your very apology shows either that you speak in ignorance, or that you pick out what is antipathetic to you, and label that, and that only, as American. Your countrymen, even the intelligent and kindly intentioned, are so stung with a craze after something peculiarly American from America that they refuse to accept anything as American that is not extravagant and grotesque. Even in literature they accept as American only that which is as strange and really as foreign to the taste and habits of the most thoroughbred Americans as it is to them.”

“ Bret Harte ? ”

“Verily: I should say so. The personages in Bret Harte’s brilliant sketches are just as strange, and in the same way strange, to decent people in Boston and Philadelphia as they are to people in London and in Oxford; and they interest the one exactly as they do the other, and for the same reasons: and they had no peculiarly American character.”

“ That’s an astonishing criticism.”

“ None but that given them by their scenes being laid in a part of America three thousand live hundred miles from Boston, farther in distance than from New York to London, and thrice as far in time. Any writer of Bret Harte’s talent, whose mother tongue was English, would — must — have made them just as American as he did. And besides, the men he wrote about were no more American than British. Half the early Californian mining population were of British birth, — English or Scotch, with a few Irish.”

“ Are you sure of that ? ”

“ Sure, if you don’t pin me down to tens in a row of figures. Don’t you remember in the letter of the Fifth Avenue belle to her California lover,

“ And how I went down the middle
With the man that shot Sandy McGee” ?

And don’t you remember that she herself was ould Follinsbee’s daughter ? Mr. McGee and Mr. Follinsbee were typical men, in whom your interest was as great as ours, and for whom your responsibility was much greater. But to turn back to Bulwer, and his pretty speech: he deserved, I hope you ’ll think, to have the truth told him, — that among Americans of the best breeding his earlier novels were condemned, although they were read.”

“ Ah, yes ; for their immorality, I suppose. I’ve always heard that in such matters you were of a most exemplary particularity ; although you seem, in those also ” (with a sly smile) “ to have made some progress.”

“ Less on that account than for their bad taste and their low social tone. Men of my age can remember hearing Bulwer spoken of in our boyhood, by our elders, as essentially vulgar, a snob, — a gilded snob, but none the less a snob. Is not that true ? ” turning to me.

“ Yes,” I answered ; “ but he improved in this respect astonishingly. There is hardly a more remarkable phenomenon in literature than Bulwer’s moral growth. You would hardly believe that the same soul and the same breeding were in the man who wrote Pelham and The Caxtons.”

“ But after all,” urged Humphreys, “ was n’t this the result rather of an intellectual perception of moral beauty than of a regenerate condition ? Had he in him, the man who wrote Pelham, the capacity of ever becoming, at heart, a gentleman ? ”

“ I’m afraid you ’re right,” said our friend; “ but have n’t we taken rather a flyer ? What has all this to do with Mrs. Trollope, and New Orleans, and Cincinnatus, and Botany Bay ? ”

“ This,” answered Humphreys, with a mild conclusive fall of his voice; “ the people who thus condemned Bulwer, just as you condemn him, on the score of taste and true good breeding, were the very Americans whose domestic manners Mrs. Trollope’s book misrepresented.”

“ Beg pahdon, I thought you said her book was true.”

So it was. It did not caricature, — or very little. What it did was to present to the ignorant and prejudiced people of England a carefully made, but lively and graphic, series of sketches of society, which were about as fair representations of the domestic manners of such Americans I ever met under a roof as a series of like sketches of the society of Botany Bay at that time would have been of any English people that you are likely to know anything about.”

“ I don’t quite understand. Pray explain.”

“ Mrs. Trollope published her book not twenty or thirty years ago, but fifty. She entered the America which she professed to describe, not at Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, but at New Orleans ; and going up the Mississippi a thousand miles,—yes ” (in answer to a look of astonished inquiry), “ one thousand miles, and more, — she established herself as the keeper of a sort of big milliner’s shop, or bazaar, at Cincinnati. Now Cincinnati is not two or three hundred miles from Boston or Philadelphia, but almost a thousand; and it ’s not near Chicago, but three hundred miles from it; and when she was there Chicago did n’t exist. Cincinnati was then not only its thousand miles from Boston and Philadelphia, but as socially remote from any of the centres of civilization in which the domestic manners of the Americans could be properly studied as Botany Bay was from London and Oxford.”

Doubt, astonishment, and interest were strongly expressed in the face of our fellow-traveler; and he said, in a low apologetic tone, “ But Botany Bay was a penal colony.”

“Of course,” said Humphreys, “I don’t mean to compare the two places in that respect. They had no such likeness, even at that time. I specified Botany Bay only for the sake of using a name that would bring to your mind vividly a very remote colony of Englishmen cut off from intercourse with established English society, surrounded by a wild country, and composed chiefly of people whom circumstances had made pioneers on the remotest confines of civilization. You in England have to reach your colonies of that sort by sea; we, so vast is the territory of the United States, reach ours by land. The country around Cincinnati then, within a few miles, was covered by the primeval forest, through which people who must travel passed, upon tracks rather than roads, on horseback or in vehicles of the rudest and most primitive construction. It was then the far West, and not only physically distant, but a great deal farther removed from the long-established and slowly-developed social centres of America than any place in the world is now from any other place, except the interior of Russia, Siberia, and Southern Africa. My father had to go to Ohio, at that time, or later, on some professional business connected with a land claim. He used to tell the story of it years afterward; and child as I was, I shall never forget his description of his experiences: how he was two weeks in getting there, creeping across the State of New York in a canal boat, traveling through Ohio on horseback, with saddle bags, his papers in one and his few toilet articles in another, and his scanty wardrobe in a leathern valise strapped behind his saddle — I ’ve got it yet:—his description of the queer, uncouth people that he met, the privations he endured : how one day, when he had ridden from morning almost till night without coming upon anything like an inn, he stopped at a house that seemed to consist of two or three rooms, and asked for something to eat; and how the mistress of the establishment, who was the only person visible, set before him a coarse earthen dish, in which were some slices of cold boiled pork surrounded by dirty congealed fat, some half-sodden cakes of Indian corn, and a jug of whisky ; and how the repulsiveness of the viands and of all the surroundings, including the slatternly woman, so affected him that, fatigued and famished as he was, he could not eat. For it’s apropos of our subject for me to say, after some acquaintance with society in England and on the Continent, that he was one of the daintiest and most fastidious of men, although his father had reared his family with difficulty upon a slender income. I remember that in his story this woman spoke of her husband as the Judge, or rather the Jedge.”

“ Yes, he was a justice of the peace.”

“ Judge!”

“ A justice of the peace ! Pakdon my repeatin’ your words.”

“ You are surprised : naturally. Your justices of the peace are county gentlemen and clergymen. With us a justice of the peace is the very lowest in consideration of all official dignities, simply because it is the least profitable.”

“ This is very strange, — a justice of the peace holdin’ his office for profit! ”

“ Yes ; that is one of the differences between the two countries. And you may set this down as an axiom of general application : that everything in America is done, every position is sought, with a single eye to pecuniary profit.”

“ And have you no gentlemen of leisure and character who might hold such an important position ? ”

“ Very few; and they don’t want official position. Why should they ? It would bring them no distinction, no honor among men of their own condition in life, and would subject them to experiences from which they would shrink. We have some men of wealth who, to become senator, with a chance for the presidency or a first-rate foreign mission, will spend a moderate fortune.”

“ Bless my soul! How, pray ? ”

“ In bribery : bribing caucus managers, bribing legislators, bribing even political parties ; and so establishing what in our politics are called claims. But we are wandering. It was in such society as she found in these then remote and uncivilized regions, and others little differing from them, that Mrs. Trollope drew her pictures, and labeled them Domestic Manners of the Americans. She has at the end of her book a few pages of kind approval of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Why, I can remember how our friend used to listen to my father’s descriptions of his Western travel as they would now if a man had returned from Patagonia or Japan ; quite ignorant that pictures of that strange life were accepted by the world of Europe as faithful descriptions of their manners and customs. The great difficulty with you here upon this subject is that to you America — you don’t know exactly what the name means — is simply America, all one and the same ; and that Americans are simply Americans, all alike. At the present day they are becoming more and more alike, under the shaping material and moral forces which have been developed during the last twenty years ; but before that limit of time the unlikeness was greater than you seem to be able to imagine.”

“ Quite so, I should say, from what you tell me of the effect of the strangeness upon yourselves.”

“ Strangeness, indeed ! Let me tell you a little characteristic story of old New England domestic manners, which you may compare with your recollections of Mrs. Trollope’s book. My friend here will assure you of its literal truth ; for he knows it. In 1789, when Washington was traveling slowly through New England, receiving and paying visits, he called at a house in Connecticut, the master of which although one of the leading men in his neighborhood, a scholar, and one who lived comfortably, never saw one thousand dollars in money (that’s two hundred pounds, you know) in a year in all his life. Washington, when he departed, was conducted to the door by his host and hostess, accompanied by their daughter, a young girl just in her ’teens. She of course did not presume to say good-by to General Washington ; but as she opened the door for him and stood modestly aside that he might pass out, the great ex-commander in chief of the ragged Continental army, looking down upon her from his six feet two of stature and from his Olympian top of grandeur, laid his hand with stately kindness upon her head, saying, ‘ Thank you, my little lady ; I wish you a better office.’ ’ Yes, sir,’ she replied, doing reverence with a gentle curtsey, ‘ to let you in.’ ”

“ By George! worthy of a duchess ! Only half of ’em would n’t be up to it. ’T would take Waldegrave to say that.”

“ I sha’n’t say it was n’t; but I know it is merely a somewhat salient and striking example of New England manners until within the last forty years or so ; and among people who were without servants that opened their doors for them on any occasion.”

“ Most extrawd’nary condition of society ! ”

“ Extraordinary to you, but quite natural to us at that time: the union of culture and character and fine manners with the absence even of moderate wealth was quite as common in New England as their union with wealth is here. Now the great mistake that you all make, in your uneasy search after ‘ the American ’ and the American thing, is that you don’t look for them among those who have made America what it is (or what it was till within the last few years), and who are the product of generations of American breeding, but among ” —

Here the train slowed, and our fellowtraveler, interrupting Humphreys hurriedly, said, “ This has been very interestin’ to me; but now I’m afraid I must say good-mornin’. Can’t I have the pleasure of seein’ you again, and your friend ? See ; this is my address,” taking out his card, and writing a word or two on it in pencil. “If you’re in my country, do look me up. Almost any one ’ll tell you where I live ; and I ‘ll be delighted to see you, gentlemen, both of you, and make you as comfortable as I can. Give you some good shoootin’, too, as you ’ll come after the 1st.” 1

We exchanged cards, and parted pleasantly.

“ Hi! ” said Humphreys (showing me the card, on which appeared in plain, bold script, every letter of which proclaimed Strongi’tharm — EARL OF TOPPINGHAM, and in pencil The Priory, Toppington), “ I’ve a letter to him in my pocket from Dr. Tooptoe, his old tutor at Oxford, who says he ’s one of the best fellows in the world, but too independent ; that is, from old Dr. Tooptoe’s point of view. You may think it queer that he asked two strangers, that he chanced upon in a railway carriage, to his house. With us, we should never venture on such a step ; but here a man like him can do almost anything in reason without risk, — not only because of his rank, but because he’s a tip-top man among his peers. And then we ’re Americans. If we were John Bulls, catch him at it ! Besides, Americans are always interesting subjects of study, and objects to be exhibited.”

“You know something of him, then. He seems, indeed a thorough good fellow, with charming manners.”

“ Only in a general way, and from what Dr. Tooptoe told me. Just think of it ! that man took a double first class ; and to do that at Oxford an earl must work like any other man ; besides, he counts for something in the House of Lords. And yet his ignorance ! New Orleans was to him a place where the British troops were defeated, and by Washington ! and the States lie to the north of the island of Nassau ! ”

“Well, well, what occasion has he had to know more ? If he had, he could learn it all, pretty well, in an hour’s smart reading.”

“ All the more ! Why the deuce, then, does n’t he read, and waste an hour upon such a country as the United States, and where so many of his kindred are ? Confound him ! he thinks much of himself, as well he may, because his forefathers were at Toppington when William came over. So was mine, or very near by ; and until the time of Henry VIII. they were both in very much the same rank of life. Then his ancestor was knighted, and soon got the Priory out of Cromwell, and then a peerage out of the king ; and they went on marrying money and rising in rank, till since Walpole’s time they’ve been earls.”

“You’ll go, of course, — with your letter and his invitation, too?”

“ H’m, I am not so sure of that. Where are you going now? ”

“ After knocking about a few days, as I told you, I shall go to Boreham Hall. Sir Charles has asked me there to spend two or three days.”

“ Boreham Hall ! You ’ll find it dreadfully dull there.”

“ Why ? Sir Charles was pleasant enough when he was in New York.”

“ He was well enough ten years ago ; good-natured, and a gentleman, and all that. But he has married, since, a brewer’s daughter, who brought him fifty thousand pounds, and who is as tame as a sheep, and bleats just like one ; and he’s settled down into a mere squire, and has grown burly and squirish. But that ’ll do very well. You ’re sure to go to Lord Toppingham’s. All these people know each other, and all about each other ; that’s one comfort of their society. Boreham Hall is only a few miles from Toppington Priory, — just a pleasant ride, or walk ; and you’re sure to go if you will. It suits me well.”

“ How ? ”

“ Why, you see these people are so beset with their craze after their real Americans that I’ve a notion to give my Lord Toppingham an opportunity of seeing one. In your few days of knocking about, I can find Washington Adams, who’s over here I believe, and who’s just the sort of man for the purpose. I ’ll send Dr. Tooptoe’s letter to Toppington Priory, inclosed in one saying I’m prevented from coming myself for the present, but that I shall take the liberty of introducing a friend, a real American. Yes,” with a brightening eye, “ by Jove, I ’ll do it! ”

“ Rather a cool proceeding, under the circumstances.”

“ Oh, it ‘ll do, — under the circumstances, as you say, — especially if you ’re there at the time. I know my man. So when you ’re going to the Priory just drop me a line at B—, and it ’ll be all right.”

“ But who is Washington Adams ? ”

“ Don’t you know Washington Adams, the Honorable Washington J. Adams, Wash Jack Adams, as they call him ? Why, he’s the Member of Assembly from your own district.”

“ Quite likely; but I don’t know him.”

“ That argues yourself unknown, as I once heard an editor say to him, with a sober face ;—and to see him expand and beam with credulous vanity ! He’s the son of old Phelim McAdam, who ran two gin-mills in Mackerelville, and who, instead of dying in the odor of drunkenness, as you’d suppose, hardly ever was drunk in his life ; he might have been a drunker and a better man ; he made some money by his gin-mills, set up respectability, and joined the republican party.”

“ An Irishman in New York join the republican party ! ”

“ Irishman yourself ! as he would have said. Mr. Phelim McAdam was an American born. Never was such a flagrant example of Americanism. Thus it was,” in answer to my look of wonder : " Phelim McAdam was the son of an Irish emigrant. He came near being born in no country, but under the British flag; for his mother was expecting his appearance on the voyage, as she approached the shores of the home of the free and the land of the brave. But the lady lagged, or the good ship hastened, and Phelim first saw the light of freedom dimmed by filtering through the dirty panes of the upper windows of a Mackerelville tenement house, and bloomed upon the world a true-born American, whatever that may be. His gin-mills brought him some money, as I said before, and he married the daughter of a Division Street pawn-broker, who came out of — the Lord knows where ! — but who was sharp and smart and ambitious ; and at her instigation he cut his Irish connection, moved up town, dropped the Me from his name and signed himself ‘ P. Adam,’ to which the lady, who erelong set up a visiting card, quietly added an s. And so, in ten or fifteen years,— you know fifteen years is the beginning of all things in New York, — no one recognized, in a paragraph mentioning, to the lady’s delight, ‘ P. Adams, Esq., of East Eleventh Street,’ the ‘ McAdam, Phelim, liquors, Essex Street,’ of the New York directory.”

“ You seem strangely well-informed on such a subject.”

“ You forget that I’ve been a railway lawyer, and am familiar with the lobby. He bought some shares in one, and, aided by his wife, got upon the Board.”

“ His wife ? ”

She was a handsome hussy, scheming and pushing, and as crafty as Satan ; and one winter she went to Albany, where I saw her, and had occasion to find out all about her, — all that was find-out-able. This was long ago ; during the civil war. Well, as I was saying, like most of his sort, he was exceedingly American; and oh, it was edifying to hear him, with an upper lip that weighed a pound, talk about ’ them low Irish.’ Consequent upon his American pride, his son — the only one with which his ‘lady’ condescended to favor him — was borne away from the font with the name Washington Jackson Adams ; which, when he went into politics — as he did soon after reaching his majority — was trimmed, in that elegant style so distinctive of New York politics, into Wash Jack Adams; often it became Washed Adams ; and this, after a certain investigation, the democratic Penny Trumpet converted into Whitewashed Adams, — a name that might have been fastened upon him if he had been important enough to be talked about. Now, he’s just the sort of creature that our friends here recognize as a real American ; he’s decent looking enough, — not at all Irish; took after his mother ; and I’ve a notion of giving some of them a chance to see him. So, goodby ! Don’t forget to let me know.” This passed as we neared his station. He and his portmanteau disappeared ; but just as the train was starting he came rushing back, and looking in said, “ You’ve never seen this Washington Adams ? ”

“ Not I.”

“ Well, if it should occur to you that you ever did at any time, keep quiet.”

“ As a pretty widow about her age.” And on I went toward Boreham.

Richard Grant White.

  1. It is only by the use of a superfluous o that I can indicate the prolonged vowel sound in this word, which is one of the very few and slight differences in pronunciation between English and New England or New York men of similar breeding. The dropping of the g from the syllable ing is not universal among men of this class in England, but it is very common ; much more common than in the class just below them.