Travels Here and There
THE summer vacation, always a busy season for the artist, has come to be a period of activity for the writer as well. At every summer resort the portable inkstand is set up alongside of the easel, landscape and figures are transferred to foolscap as well as to canvas, and atmospheric effects are sought after as eagerly by the word-painter as by his brother of the brush. Mr. James Payn, whose volumes have accompanied many a summer tourist, in his autobiography drew a pathetic picture of the unhappy author, forced to work while other people were playing, and envying the bank clerk his yearly outing. But that was in the days when summer reading was produced in Grub Street by the sweat of the brow, and before the genre of summer writing was invented. If Mr. Payn had been a globe-trotter, an outdoor writer, or an idylist, he could have taken a holiday and turned it to account. If a complete rest is denied the weary quill-driver, he can at least vary the monotony of the service by driving a four-in-hand, or going to sea in a bowl, or by taking his readers to some mountain height and instructing them in the open air with less formality and strenuousness than in the study or laboratory. The readers, too, ought to be gainers ; for if we cannot demand of holiday writers or travelers an achievement showing “ the long results of time,” we can at least look to them for novelty of information, or for some fresh bit of impressionism in literary art.
In characterizing the somewhat miscellaneous group of travel and outdoor volumes before us as a holiday harvest, we have not the intention of implying that they are all the product of that easy writing said by Sheridan to he hard reading. Mr. Norman’s book on Japan1 is the reverse of this. It represents considerable and efficient work in the accumulation of materials, and it is well written and thoroughly readable. Its chapters have been published, we are told, in English, French, and American journals, but they dovetail well and were well worth reprinting, their flavor of cosmopolitan journalism being for the most part thoroughly agreeable, though we confess to a shade of ennui on being called upon at every turn to admire the rare opportunities for information accorded to the author. We must take exception also to the title of the book, if not on behalf of those writers on Japan to whom we have hitherto felt indebted for information as well as pleasure, at least in the interest of readers of our own turn of mind, who may find that to have the whole truth thrust upon them in one pill is no more agreeable or reassuring in literature, or even journalism, than in dogma.
But when we are allowed to forget the finality and the price of the banquet set before us, we find Mr. Norman’s book full of interesting matter handled in an able and suggestive manner. His account of administrative and judicial affairs in Japan is a very vivid one. The Japanese, in their eclectic renovations, have formed an army of mingled French and German type, a navy after the model of the English. At their universities the teaching is German, while the strictness of discipline goes beyond that of an American college. They have the Continental method of thorough espionage ; they have a Bureau of Newspaper Censorship, which, as Mr. Norman tells us, “ has plagiarized the methods of Fate. It neither warns, nor explains, nor justifies ; it simply strikes.” The judicial procedure is French, but to this is joined a system of prison labor and discipline peculiarly their own. Not only various trades, but the finest kinds of art handiwork (the making of cloisonné, for example) are taught to common criminals, to each man according to his capacity, with no deterrent fear of competition of convict with other labor, and with the most admirable results in disciplineIn dealing with prostitution, too, the Japanese have their own method. Mr. Norman devotes one of his essays to what he terms the unwritten chapter of their life, the Yoshiwara, — a name applied to the quarter in every Japanese town set apart for the courtesan class, and hence to the system, which is that of high license and isolation. He does not make it quite clear how far this insures to the victims of the social evil, many of them the slaves of parental cupidity and of that filial obedience which is still absolute in Japan, an immunity from want; but that would seem to he one of the results of a solution of things which does not profess to be more than palliative, and which seems to work with success. It is not the less interesting from the fact that it may still be regarded as an experiment, having been in operation only about twenty-four years, and that in a country which is undergoing a phenomenal change. We are accustomed to think of new institutions in Japan as foreign, and of native ones as ancient; hut the Japanese administration, from Mr. Norman’s account, is evidently wanting neither in actuality, nor in disposition to retain the advantages of the old system, and to adjust carefully the importations to the existing conditions.
How far these elements will blend, and what shape the civilization of Japan will ultimately take, is certainly one of the most curious problems of the day. The spectacle of an entire nation with an Oriental past planning for itself an Occidental future ; of a people with a clear-cut idiosyncrasy, with traditions the opposite of our own and aptitudes absolutely unattainable by us, learning the language of our civilization down to its newest or finest shade of meaning, is a thing that “ may give us pause.” Of that most important and obscure element in the problem, the Japanese mind, Mr. Norman gives an analysis, probably as good as can be arrived at by foreign guessing; noting the inherited discipline and docility which are such aids to the excellent judicial and administrative results mentioned above, as well as the frequent occurrence of a high order of intelligence. He points out the development of the imitative faculty among the Japanese, and discusses the question how far their quick assimilation of foreign culture may be due to that faculty alone. Is it not possibly due also to the fact that electricity, bacteriology, and the higher criticism are shibboleths easily learned, that our culture is everywhere diffused by processes partly simian, and that an imitation of it is about as long and as broad as the original ?
Mr. B. Douglas Howard has also unearthed a race problem in the course of his travels,2 which appear to have been extensive. Having traveled to the outposts of Russian civilization in Siberia with the object of investigating the prisons and the condition ol the exiles, he was led, by a chance encounter with an Ainu, to visit the region occupied by that ancient race of savages in the island of Sakhalin. Here he spent a few summer weeks as an honored guest, and was even made chief wizard in an Ainu village. It will thus be seen that he enjoyed opportunities for study at least as great as those of Mr. Norman, — opportunities which most readers, however, will hardly he inclined to envy him, as the Ainas are, from his account, owing to other causes than shortness of temper, “ gey ill to live wi’.”
From Sakhalin Mr. Upward proceeded to Japan to study tlie Ainu population there, and to compare them with Ins Sakhalin friends, with a view to tracing the origin of the race. His book is thus partly ethnographical, but the greater part is a narrative of personal adventure of the old-fashioned sort; such a traveler’s tale as Dr. Johnson was wont to explain by the simple formula, Sir, there is no doubt that he lied.” And while we would not for a moment doubt the veracity of a writer who appears to be a God-fearing and enterprising Scotchman of unexceptional moral tone, we cannot ignore the resemblance to a certain class of fiction in the accuracy and precision with which his savages go through the conventional motions and genuflections, strike fire with a bow, pray to a whittled stick and to the stranger’s rifle, offer him their daughters in marriage, tattoo themselves, and lead exemplary lives on a diet of raw flesh. They appear to be mentally equal to the exercise of a certain order of masculine reason, for we are told, in explanation of the fact that women among them are not allowed to pray, or to take part in any religious exercise : “ The first reason for this is ancestral tradition : the next is that the men fear that if the women were allowed to pray, they would be sure to indulge in a lot of tittle-tattle to the gods about the men, and especially about their own husbands.” Which piece of simple wisdom among an ancient people may be taken either as proof of that Aryan origin which Mr. Howard claims for them, or as testimony to a permanence of type among jokes.
A little book of travels which comes to us from the Swiss press, En Bretagne,3 makes no claim to recondite sources of information and introduces no problems, but is interesting as a record of impressions at first hand. It is addressed, as Swiss books are apt to be, to an intimate audience: it has the gayety and vivacity of tone of bright conversation or correspondence, yet is careful and deft in form, and it gives a pleasant picture of a country which, though by no means inédit, is full of resource for writer as for painter. The book is the record of a summer tour which was not only its author’s first introduction to the country of Renan and Loti, but that of an inlander to the sea. The mighty deep is served up to him in French fashion at first, with the music of Miss Helyctt mingling with its murmurs, and it will not do to take it too seriously ; nevertheless the moment is one of importance. “ Never shall I forget the emotion which I felt on walking for the first time over that fine sand ; on breathing that air full of marine emanations, and hearing the gentle lapping of the waves which came up to expire at our feet.”
Scent and sound are mentioned first, hut throughout the book there are pictures of the sea in its various aspects. There is a sunset with a band of rose on the horizon, “ and then gold, liquid gold, and above the blue growing deeper and darker towards the zenith,” while
“the sea is blue, of a pale electric blue.” And there is this hit of landscape from the Landes: —
“To the right the sea, which is not always visible, but which one feels to be there ; to the left, far away, the gray spires of a few churches ; everywhere a gloomy horizon, a lande of infinite sadness under a brooding sky. No more cultivation, no more trees, no more bushes ; something neutral which is not yet the sea, and which is no longer the earth. And that silence, — that vast silence which recalls that of the high Alps, and which is broken from time to time by the wild, dismal cry of a seagull. . . . In the midst of this solitude a chapel, Notre Dame de Bon Voyage, and here and there an ancient stone calvary.”
There are glimpses of the Creizker with its “ adorable spire ” rising “ in the blue night among the pale, small stars ; ” there are little incidents of travel told with humor, and sketches from life of Breton figures effectively done, with a certain alertness of observation. And all this is the work of a blind man. M. Bessire, who is a journalist, a lecturer ou French literature at the University of Berne, and professor in the École Normale Supérieure of that city, is a native of Besancon, who lost his sight in 1872, at the age of twenty. Like Mr. Fawcett, he has ignored the deprivation, leading an active and cheerful life, full of literary and social interests. In the book before us there is no allusion to his blindness, and no evidence of it. In describing tilings seen through the report of other eyes, M. Bessire appears to be aided not only by a memory of unusual accuracy and scope, but also by a faculty which we may call sound connotation, each sound bringing to his mind a whole train of impressions. In other words, he sees with the imagination ; and without some such reseeing the writing even of things seen is of small account.
Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller also shows this faculty of recasting her observation into definite pictures.4 Of the Colorado landscape and the brilliant Colorado flowers, already so vividly described by H. H. and other writers, she lias made a new and effective use as a background to her figures of birds. The tiny cañon wren flitting before a niche of the precipice in which hangs a great golden columbine is a picture quite in the Audubon manner, and so is the redbird in the rosebush. But Mrs. Miller does not limit herself to word-painting. She follows up her birds, noting them as individuals, and watching their ways and habits from the eggshell. This method gives very pleasing results in observation and outdoor gossip. Her stories are vivaciously told, and if any reader is unfeeling enough to object to the endearments lavished on these little folk of the bird nursery, let him betake himself to a library of weightier tomes.
Though Mrs. Miller starts in Colorado, the closing chapters of her book are devoted to Utah, and the Salt Lake pasture described in them sounds very close to the Mormon village which is Miss Merriam’s camping-ground.5 Miss Merriam, however, has exchanged her ornithological themes for the study of human life as displayed in Mormonism. She has less literary instinct and training than Mrs. Miller; she gives us her material just as she has found it, and trusts too much to the inspiration of a bright naturalness of manner, and too little to the afterthought of art. She takes the reader too indiscriminately into her confidence, after the manner of those travelers who admit us to a haphazard intimacy during an hour’s talk in the train. She alludes confidingly, but unnecessarily, to “ my friend ” and “ my friend’s daughter ” without bringing them into view, and treats the persons who play a more important part in her narrative with a similar intimate vagueness. Miss Merriam does herself injustice by this want of restraint, for she shows a considerable aptitude for the delineation of character. In one, at least, of her figures — the landlady who cannot bear to ask for pay in advance of a class of transients who might cheat her, and whose large heart makes her, albeit a Gentile, the mother confessor of the Mormon village — we have a portrait which needed only a little more largeness of treatment to be as memorable as it is attractive. Miss Merriam gives, from her intercourse with Mormon women, a sympathetic account of the womanly virtues martyred to the cause, and of the religious exaltation, the hope of a heaven upon earth, which led in many cases to their voluntary sacrifice.
- The Real Japan. Studies of Contemporary Japanese Manners. Morals, Administration, and Politics. By HENRY NORMAN. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1894.↩
- Life with Trans-Siberian Savages. By B. DOUGLAS HOWARD, M. A. London : Longmans, Green & Co. 1894.↩
- En Bretagne. De Berne à Belle-Isle. Par ÉMILE BESSIRE. Genève: Ch. Eggimann et Cie. Paris: Librairie Fischbacher.↩
- A Bird - Lover in the Went. By OLIVE THORNE MILLER. Boston and New York ; Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1894.↩
- My Summer in a Mormon Village. By FLORENCE A. MERRIAM. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1894.↩